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My father has always been somewhat eccentric, prone to tall tales of his childhood, keeping collections of old knickknacks and assorted antiquities he’d find at auction, and strict adherence to bizarre house rules. Growing up in his home, the same home he grew up in, that was passed down from generation to generation, took a lot of willpower. He would say it “built a lot of character.” My mom would always say he was a character.

So it came as no surprise to me when a friend in the area called to let me know my dad had caught a case of pneumonia after they’d found him wandering around during the season’s heaviest snowfall in just an old pair of jeans and a wife beater. Since my mother had passed away, his bizarre behavior had grown increasingly erratic.

Some good Samaritans offered to drop in once or twice a day, but I didn’t want them to have to deal with my his idiosyncrasies, so I drove up to the old homestead to nurse him back to health myself. I hadn’t been back to that house since I’d finished school back in 1998. It had always been a point of contention between us, but I just never felt comfortable there.

When I arrived, my father was curled up on the couch in the living room, wrapped in blankets and watching old episodes of The Woodwright Shop on the same TV he’d had for thirty years. I gave him a hug which he mostly ignored in favor of sipping at a cup of tea.

“It’s good to see you, Dad.”

“You know, it shouldn’t take me catching pneumonia to get you to come visit,” he grunted.

“How’d you end up with no shoes in the middle of a snowstorm?”

He stared at the television, trying to ignore me.

“What were you doing out there, Dad?”

“If you’re going to stay, make sure you follow the rules. You remember the rules, don’cha?”

I sighed. “Yes, Sir.”

“So let’s hear them.”

“Don’t touch the thermostat. Don’t leave lights on in rooms you aren’t occupying. Replace any food you take from the fridge.”

“And stay out of the basement.”

The basement.

“Because of the Jack Monster,” I said.

My father nodded and sipped his tea.


Step back about thirty years.

We had moved into the house when I was five, after my grandfather passed away, leaving it to us in his will. Dad took a job teaching history at the local university, as his father had done before him. He called it “our legacy.” I wanted no part in it.

The house was grand: a pine green Victorian with a black roof built at the top of a long hill, beside approximately twenty-five acres of forest. It had a porch that extended all the way across the front. Three bedrooms, two baths, an attic and a basement.

The first couple years living there were peaceful. I went to school, my father walked to work, and my mother volunteered at an animal shelter. Dad would come home at the same hour every evening, sit in the living room and watch the news, then join my mother and me in the kitchen where we ate dinner and shared our days. Everything seemed normal.

It wasn’t until I was older that I became aware that my father spent an inordinate amount of time in the basement with the door locked. Stranger still, when he wasn’t in the basement, he had even more locks on the outside of the door. My mother said he was “tinkering in his workshop.” He’d come up with metal shavings in his clothes and beard or covered with sawdust. Regularly, brown parcels with no return address would arrive in the mail and he’d disappear into the cellar with them. We had weekly runs to Aubuchon Hardware to buy whatever tools he needed.

When a teacher prompted us to write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I wrote “I want to be a tinkerer like my dad.” During the next parent-teacher conference, I showed it off proudly to my parents. When we got home, my father was clearly agitated.

“It’s not tinkering!” he grumbled as we hung our coats up in the entryway, opposite the door to the basement..

My mother sighed and walked inside, leaving us alone.

“Can I help you with your work, Daddy?”

“Grading papers?”

“No, in the basement.”

He knelt beside me and put his strong hand on my shoulder, gripping it firmly, but gently.

“If I’m successful, someday you can come down. But for now, you gotta promise me you will never go into the basement.”

“But I want to be a–”

Promise me.”

I sniffled and struggled to fight back the tears of rejection welling up. “But why?”

“Because there’s a monster down there.”


That damned basement. As a child, the terrible mix of curiosity and fear it generated in me drove me mad with frustration. Now as an adult, with my father sick and seemingly confined to the couch or bed, I had the chance to once and for all see what he had been working on all those years. I needed to see what was in the basement, and Jack Monster be damned.

I lay in bed in the guest room, listening to him downstairs as he watched back-to-back cop dramas on the television. It was going on midnight, and I was starting to wonder if he ever slept anymore, when the sound from the TV went quiet and the house fell silent. I waited, just to be sure he was sound asleep before I started sneaking around.

Stealth was of the utmost importance, but fortunately I grew up in that house, and knew every creaky board or squeaky hinge. I slid out of bed and crept down the hall to the master bedroom, moving quieter than the mouse when the cat’s on the prowl. The light from my phone illuminated the room with an eerie, bright glow. His bed was neatly tucked in and appeared to not have been slept in for days. I moved silently to his bedside table where he had always kept a chain of keys for every lock in the house. The sound they made as I lifted them rang like church bells in my head, and I gripped them tightly to keep them from rattling further.

Successfully pocketing the keys, I crept downstairs, avoiding the noisy steps, and moved like a shadow past my father’s sleeping form on the couch, down the hall, through the kitchen, to the entryway.


Telling your kid that there’s a monster in the basement naturally leads to all sorts of questions. How did it get there? What does it look like? Why doesn’t it eat you?

At first, I was too scared to ask questions. There was a monster in the basement. My father said so. Case closed. Stay out of the basement. Gotcha. But after the initial revelation did not result in the monster storming upstairs to eat me, I decided I wanted to know more.

“What kind of monster is it?” I asked my father as he did the Sunday crossword at the breakfast table. Just out of the blue. You know– come on, Dad, let’s talk about the basement monster over eggs and toast.

“It’s called the Jack Monster. Eat your cereal.”

“Why does it live in the basement?”

My father sighed and set down the newspaper. “Because it’s dark down there.”

“There aren’t any lights?”

“There are lights, but there aren’t any windows and it’s dank and dingy, perfect monster habitat.”

“Why aren’t you scared of it?”

He looked at me. “I was.”

“When you were a kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Why aren’t you afraid of it now?”

“Look, it’s a long story, and hopefully you never have to worry about it, so finish eating and get ready for school.”

“But why is it called the Jack Monster?”

“That’s its name.”


I spent a somber moment staring at the door, fiddling with the keys in my pocket. Three padlocks stood between me and the basement. It took several attempts to find the right one on the chain, but eventually I inserted the correct one into the first lock. It didn’t turn easily. Rust and corrosion fought with cold enthusiasm. It took a bit of strength to work the key, but after half a minute, I felt the housing give a satisfying click and the shackle popped out.

Pocketing the lock, I repeated the steps for the second and third. Then the deadbolt. Finally, I turned the knob and opened the door to the basement, slowly, in case the hinges needed oiling. Stale air wafted up from the darkness. It reminded me of the stories I’d read about the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb; of how the air had been centuries old and full of ancient germs. When was the last time my father was down there?

I descended the stairs carefully, holding the railing in case any of the boards were rotted and gave under my weight. There were no windows in the basement, just as my father had said. Not even moonlight penetrated the room. There was however a light bulb with a chain by the bottom of the stairs, so I turned that on. The room was washed in dim yellow light.

The floor of the basement was hard packed dirt, uneven in places. The ceiling was high enough that I couldn’t touch it standing up straight, and covered with some sort of thick insulation. Several thick support columns prevented the far side of the room from being illuminated, but I could see a number of workbenches. Tools lined the walls: hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, and five different types of wood saws. Propped against one of the workbenches was a shotgun.

On the nearest work area was a contraption that sent the skin on my arms crawling. It consisted of two halves of a bear trap screwed to a wood block with a sharp, metal spike protruding from the base. Several small fan blades were soldered to the spike in a helical pattern. On the back of the block was a lawnmower engine. The entire thing was attached to a long metal pole with a ripcord running from the engine to the grip.

“That is not a toy.” I muttered to myself.

As if in response, I heard the rattling of a heavy chain from the shadows in the far corner of the room. Something was dragging across the dirt floor, behind one of the support columns.

I jumped, feeling like my heart leapt higher than the rest of me. My stomach twisted and prepared to launch itself up my throat. My phone, with its tiny little light, became my shield, held out at arms length to ward off whatever horror shambled forth. Only one thought ran through my head.

The Jack Monster.

It was a man. A middle-aged man, dressed in a torn shirt and boxers, he limped from the shadows, clutching his leg which was bound with a wrought-iron shackle attached to a chain that trailed off into the darkness. His face was bruised and swollen. Dirt and blood covered his arms. I noticed a makeshift bandage concealing where two of the fingers on his left hand were missing.

“Pleathe,” he moaned as he limped toward me, “Pleathe help me!”

“What the fuck?” was all I could muster.

The man collapsed at my feet, clutching my pant leg with his good hand. As he hunched over, I saw the back of his shirt, shredded with lashes that exposed the meat beneath his skin. He was sobbing, fumbling in the dust just trying to stay on his knees.

“He’th a monthter!” he choked through ragged breath. His jaw was so swollen he sounded like he was talking through a mouth full of cotton balls.

“Who are you?” I asked, dumbfounded.

The man looked up with eyes filled with panic and desperation.

“F-Foley. Jack Foley. Pleathe. Pleathe, get me outta here!”

I tried to step back, but the man held my pant leg and it sent him sprawling to the floor. “Did my father do this to you?”

“Yeth! L-look what he did! He t-t-took my f-fucking fingerth!” he tore at his hair and waved his bandaged hand up at me. His eyes were pinwheeling in their sockets.

Jesus, I thought, My father is insane.

“Hold still, and be quiet! He’s asleep, but he’s right upstairs.”

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” Jack sobbed, tears streaming down his filth-covered face.

I knelt down beside him and studied the manacle clasped onto his calf. They looked about a hundred years old, but my father had used some solder to write strings of symbols all over them. The chain was equally old and rusty. Setting down my phone, I wondered which of the keys belonged to this lock.

The light shone on a pile of blood-soaked clothes. I’m not talking about the clothes off the man who was weeping in front of me, I’m talking about three dozen pairs of pants at least. And shirts to go with them. And socks. And shoes. And a pile of wallets closest to me.

Wallets.

I got up and left the frangible shell of a man, huddling on the floor by my phone.

“Wha… what are you doing?”

“Hang on a second.”

“Pleeeeathe! He might wake up!”

I knelt down and picked a wallet off the top of the pile, cracked leather and bloated with business cards. Inside were credit cards, a gift card to a gas station, photos…

Photos.

Photos of children. Of a family, smiling together. A photo of a young man on a driver’s license that read,

“Jack T Polaski.”

“What?” The other Jack looked over at me. “Thath not me.”

I dropped the wallet at my feet and picked another one off the pile.

“Jack Grace.”

I went through four more before I felt sure I didn’t need to look any further. They were all named Jack. Every single man my father had dragged down there to torture and kill in our basement. Dozens. It made no sense. Where did he find so many people named Jack? Had this been going on all these years?

“Gemme outta here, pleathe!” Jack whispered loudly, clutching his leg iron and gesturing toward it with his free hand.

I hurried back to his side and handed him the keys. “It’s one of these.”

He fumbled with the keyring, dropping it for a moment, before shoving key after key frantically into the lock on his binding. The rest of the horrors of that basement had vanished from his mind, and only his inevitable freedom mattered.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “For all of this. Use my phone. Call the police. I have to confront my father. Be careful. Wait here.”

“Yeth. Yethyethyethyethyethyethhhh…” the poor man rambled. His fingers were trembling. I felt revulsion watching him scramble to undo the manacles. I wanted out of there. I wished I had never come down and discovered my father’s secret. I knew I was doing the right thing, but it was still my father upstairs, the real monster in that house.

And I had to stop him.


My mother was tucking me into bed. I had gotten up for the fourth night in a row, crying because of nightmares where a woman with long, black hair terrorized me from my closet. My mom kissed me on the forehead. “There’s nothing in your closet,” she whispered, smoothing my hair, “There’s no such thing as monsters.”

“What about the Jack Monster?” I asked.

“That’s just your father’s way of keeping you from getting hurt on something in the basement.”

“Have you been in the basement?”

She looked off into the middle distant. “No. There’s nothing down there to see.”

“Then why does Daddy keep it locked from the outside?”

She didn’t answer me. She just pet my head gently and started to sing one of her songs about how much she loved me and how much I needed to go to sleep.


I knew now why he kept the basement locked from the outside, that son-of-a-bitch. I stomped up the stairs, listening as the sound of Jack struggling to find the correct key seemed to fade away as I passed the threshold of the door. Sound-proofing. That was one of the things he’d been working on down there. No wonder we never heard any screaming or other sounds coming from the cellar.

An unnatural, cold breeze blew past me as I entered the kitchen. It brushed past like moth wings, and sent a tremor through me. I was already shaking with a mixture of rage, fear and shame. Shame that neither my mother nor I had made even a modicum of effort to find out what my father was really up to. How many men– how many Jacks– died begging for mercy because of our apathy?

The living room was black as pitch, but I knew where everything was. I strode across the room with disgust, over to the couch where my father lay sleeping, and turned on the lamp on the side table, ready with a glare aimed right at his head.

The couch was unoccupied..

I glanced around the room. All that rage and anger I had just built up spiraled down the drain, leaving only apprehension. Where had he gone? His empty tea cup sat on the table, and the blanket he’d covered himself with was crumpled in a heap on the floor. Something was off, though, something was wrong. I picked up the blanket.

It was wet and sticky with blood.

I looked past it, at the carpet. Red droplets against the green polyester. A trail of them lead out into the hall and up the stairs to the second floor. I followed them cautiously, every nerve in my body firing off in an escalating sense of anxiety.

“Dad?” I called up the stairs. Had he hurt himself? “Dad, are you okay?”

No answer.

Without thinking, I bolted two steps at a time up to the second floor, down the hall, and into the master bedroom, no longer angry, just wanting to make sure he hadn’t harmed himself. He needed help, and he needed to be stopped, but he was still my father. Please, Dad, don’t have done something foolish.

I flipped the light switch, bathing the room in fluorescence. More blood. Lots more blood. A deep, crimson stain running down the foot of the bed. It all looked a sickly brown under the yellow light. The linens were a tangled mess of sheets and covers, like someone had engaged in an epic struggle on them. My stomach churned like Charybdis. In the center of the tangle of sheets, covered with streaked, bloody fingerprints, was my phone, a set of keys, and one pair of twisted, ruined, wrought-iron manacles. If I hadn’t gotten a good look at them earlier, with their delicately soldered runes, I wouldn’t have recognized the bindings that had kept the beast restrained for so many years.

On the wall above the headboard, the Jack Monster had left me one final message.

DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT


What have I done? How many years had my father spent down there, trying to figure out if The Jack Monster had a weakness? Maybe it went back further than that… had it been there with my grandfather too? Generations of my family, living in this house, trying to kill a single demon, while struggling to protect everyone they loved from it.

I called the police from the landline and sat in the kitchen with all the lights on. A pair of police cars arrived within minutes. Four uniformed officers. I showed them the living room, my father’s bedroom, and the message The Jack Monster had left.

“I know this sounds insane, but… yeah, don’t go in the basement.”

“Why?” one asked.

“Because there’s a monster down there,” I told them.

They went anyway, guns drawn. All four of them.

They’ve been down there for hours now.

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