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Root Cellar

C Burrows, AL, USA
July 2003

Looking back on my experience now I realize that I probably encountered something that some people spend their lives wishing to experience. At the time however, I was not impressed, and my only thought was to put as many miles between myself and the root cellar as I possibly could.

That eventful summer I was fifteen years old. I had travelled from sunny Florida up to northern Alabama to spend a month with my grandparents. They were getting on up in years and my mom wanted me to get to know them better. I was less than thrilled with being confined to a farm in Alabama for four weeks, but really had no choice. Besides there were things to keep me occupied.

When I arrived one of my many uncles carried my bags to the back bedroom. Again I was less than thrilled because the "back bedroom" was literally at the back of the house by itself. To reach the room you had to travel down a dark hallway only to turn down another dark hallway with the room and the end of the second hall. None of my many cousins or myself liked to go back to the room, and we always drew straws to see who would end up sleeping there. However it seemed I had no choice I didn't want to seem ungrateful to my hosts.

I settled in and after a couple of days became interested with the activities of the farm. I managed to stay busy and was usually quite tired by the end of the day.

The morning of the first encounter I was awakened by the sight of my grandmother climbing out of a hole in the floor. When I showed my surprise she laughed and pointed her flashlight into the hole. The root cellar was what she called it. And it was by no means a basement for the only entry was the trap door in the hall. It was basically a deep hole with a ladder. The walls and floor were dirt and red clay. It had a musty smell and was quite cool. My grandmother explained that she stored canned foods and potatoes and such in it. She also confided that it was the safest place to be in case of a tornado. Good to know, I thought. Though the hole gave me the willies.

Throughout that day I helped with the chores around the farm and didn't give the root cellar much thought. When it came time to go to bed I travelled down the darkened hallway to my isolated room and shuddered at the thought of there being a large hole under the hallway. However I fell asleep without much trouble.

Around 1:30AM I felt a rush of cool air and heard the floor in the hallway creak. As I sat up and let my eyes adjust to the light I saw my grandmother going down into the root cellar. I remember wandering if perhaps there was a storm on it's way, and I called out to her. She stopped and turned to look at me, then just continued on down the ladder. I got up and put on my robe and went to the kitchen for some water and to look outside to see if it was beginning to storm. It wasn't so I headed back to bed. As I passed my grandparents room their door opened and out walked my grandmother. When I asked her why she was going into the root cellar at this time of night she looked at me like I was crazy and told me I must have been dreaming.

Two nights later I was awakened at about the same time. Once again I saw my grandmother climbing down into the hole in the floor. This time I turned on the light and went to the trap door. It was closed. When I opened it a rush of cold air hit me in the face. Too shakened to go back to sleep I went into the den and turned on the television.

Several nights went by and nothing happened. I was beginning to think that I had been dreaming. Then the activity began again.

At around 1:30 AM I heard movement coming down the hall. I heard the trap door to the root cellar open and I felt the cool air coming from below the house. When I sat up I saw a woman who was now standing at the foot of my bed. She was looking directly at me but it was as if she didn't see me. She was crying and it felt like I could feel all the sadness that the woman felt. She turned and walked back to the trap door. She handed something down the ladder and seemed to be talking to someone in the cellar. However there was nothing in her hands. She walked to the foot of the bed again and then again to the trap door. She again seemed to be handing something to someone below. Then she descended the ladder into the root cellar and the door shut.

This time I was shaking so hard that I could hardly breath. I grabbed my robe and raced to the front of the house jumping over the trap door in the floor. My grandparents found me on the couch in the den when they woke up. I told them that I was homesick and wanted to go back home early.

Several years later when my grandfather died my mother and I were helping sort out old papers and items for my grandmother, when we came across the deed and the bill of sale to the house and the land. To our amazement we discovered that my grandfather had purchased the house and 20 acres of land for the price of one dollar. When we asked my grandmother about it she sighed and told us that the house had been owned by a man who had a wife and two children. For some reason the man had gone crazy and killed and dismembered the two children. He put each of their bodies into a seperate flour sack and put them in the back bedroom. He then pulled up floor boards in the hallway and dug a deep hole (the root cellar) in the hallway. Upon completion of the cellar he lowered a ladder into it and climbed down. He then had his wife lower the flour sacks with the children into the hole. After she did this she climbed down into the hole. The man then shot her and then himself. The police found them after several weeks, when neighbors reported them missing.

Many years have gone by now. My grandmother has passed away, and the house sold to strangers. I now live in northern Alabama with my child. And though I have not been in the house in probably 20 years, I can still remember the expression of sadness on the face of the woman. And I wonder to this day if she still carries her dead children to the hole. The memory of the root cellar haunts my dreams.

C Burrows, AL, USA
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