As a kid I was afraid to go into the basement alone, as were probably many kids. The basement of my parents’ house was full of clutter and shadows, only insufficiently lit by a lonely light bulb. And every time I was in there I was convinced that there was something else, always lurking just barely out of my field of view, and no matter how fast I turned my head, it would always be gone as soon as I looked for it.

There was one item in that basement that always seemed particularly ominous to me, my dad’s old coat. He hadn’t worn it in years and it was faded and full of moth holes, but for some reason he refused to throw it away. It hung near the entrance like a guardian and whenever I went down there I was absolutely certain it would start to move by itself at any moment.

Now, of course I’m certain this is a pretty common fear for kids and of course in an environment like that your brain conjures up all kinds of freaky things out of shapes and shadows. Heck, there’s even a name for this phenomenon: pareidolia.

Only in my case, I think it was something more than that.

Where other kids grow out of it, for me it only seemed to get worse over time. By my teens I could swear I saw all kinds of shadowy figures in my peripheral vision that would of course always turn out to be just a random configuration of objects on a closer look. But it happened invariably every time I was down there and only down there. Somehow I hardly ever got this… experience anywhere else, not even in other peoples basements.

And more often than not, the coat would somehow be involved in these spontaneous shadowplays.

One late afternoon, almost evening in fact, my parents weren’t home and I was out of lemonade. Well, not entirely. I knew there was one more crate in the basement. As much as I hated to go down there, I was really thirsty and damn it if I was going to drink tap water just because of some stupid children’s superstition of mine. So I turned on the puny light and went down the stairs.

As I walked towards the crate I watched out of the corner of my eye how the old coat combined with a lampshade a little further in the room to a menacing silhouette of a man in a wide-brimmed hat. Then, and I am absolutely positive I saw this, it started to move. The shadow person walked several steps until it was completely out of view, directly behind my back. I turned to follow it. The thing had walked a good 2 meters to an old cupboard where it froze and turned out to be simply a bunch of old towels hanging from a hook as soon as I focused on it. When I turned back, the coat and lampshade were still in their place, both covered in dust and neither showing any sign of having moved or been moved, within years.

Grown-up or not, I never set a foot in that basement again.