Downstairs Without Oscar

by Ernest Gordon Taulbee

They made a game of it, taking their girls downstairs to the basement where there were no windows.

The father had games for the girls down there. On Friday nights, he would drink beer after work, playing records for them. The mother would join them sipping wine and talking to the girls as the father paced and drank his stout.

Their dog, Oscar, remained upstairs— always more panicked than relaxed when in the basement. He stayed at the door, as if a sentinel.

They were told to expect a cruel shade of indigo. The wind would be soft, pulsing like waves. It would be almost calming until something foreboding settled and the air became bitter.

They thought it would be easy for most, but not the children. The scientists said the young would experience panic. 

The father prepared dinner and carried it downstairs. As he brought the tray, his wife spread a blanket on the floor. He distributed the plates; the mother said it was all their favorites.

After dinner, the father returned to the main floor. He stared out the window, paying attention to the horizon. The old dog walked to his side and received attention. Then, he gave Oscar more thoughtful consideration. The dog closed his eyes as his ears were scratched.

He returned to the basement.



“He wouldn’t come?”


“Why are we camping in the basement?” the girl asked.

“Just to do something fun.”

“You girls love playing games in the basement.”

The scientists said if the air descended through idle ventilation it should be easier for children. They would nod off first. Then, the parents would go within a half-hour. As long as they stayed at the lowest level, there should be no terror.

“Dance with me, Daddy.”

After dancing, the father played a cartoon. He inflated a mattress and placed blankets and pillows. The girls would be between them.

Oscar began emitting a low and steady growl.

The girls watched the old cartoons and sipped sodas, which were rarely allowed.

Their parents kept the children awake having fun, until the girls went to bed by their own accord.

“Go check on Oscar.”

The father complied. He opened the door without stepping out of the basement. He could see the fur. Uncharacteristic: the dog remained still.

The father returned to the mattress. He covered his wife and daughters and joined them under the blanket.

“Where’s Oscar?”


“I want him with us.”

“I’ll go when they’re gone. I don’t want them to see him.”

There was an old lamp in the corner. The girls appeared asleep. The mother closed her eyes, squeezing the father’s hand. He returned to the dog, carrying the awkward weight across his shoulders. He rested Oscar at their feet. He laid down, taking in the incandescent light.

Ernest Gordon Taulbee’s work has appeared in several literary journals. He can be found on facebook and @gordtaul for Twitter. He’s relatively private and does a piss-poor job maintaining said social media.
%d bloggers like this: