It all began on one of those days - one of those stupid days when absolutely everything goes wrong.
First thing in the morning, when Tom tried to put on his jeans, he found that his darling sister had knotted the legs. Then he staggered into the bathroom, still half asleep. He brushed his teeth with Mom's face cream and banged his head against a cupboard door that some idiot had left open in the kitchen. Enough disasters to last him an entire day. And he hadn't even had breakfast yet.
Tom often had days like this. Stumbly, bumbly, everything-goes-wrong days. Well, at least everyone else got a good laugh out of them.
"Good morning," said Mom.
"What's so good about it?" snapped Tom.
Lola leaned back, smirking, to watch him. Lola was Tom's big sister - almost six years older than he was, and hopelessly ahead of him in every possible way.
"Hey, watch out everybody," she said. "Something awful's going to happen to Tom any minute now. It's another of his 'days'!"
Tom gave her a dirty look - and spilled his cocoa down his sweater. Cue shrieks of sisterly laughter.
"Oh Tom," sighed Mom. Go and get changed."
"Lamebrain!" his sister called after him.
It continued at school, of course. Tom gave everyone a whale of a time. Everyone except himself. On the way home, he stepped in a load of dog-doo, and after he walked into a newsstand, knocking papers all over the pavement, he decided to go straight to bed as soon as he got home. On days like this, bed was the only safe place to be.
But just as he was about to disappear quietly into his bedroom, it happened.
"Tom," said Mom. "Just run down and get some orange juice from the cellar, would you?"
From the cellar.
Mom knew full well that he was scared witless down there. Just the thought of the spiders gave him goose bumps - not to mention what else might be lurking in the darkness.
"Do I have to?" he asked.
"Oh no, don't start with your ghost stories again!" said Mom. "Off you go!"
Merciless. That's what she was. And he wasn't even ten years old yet. Sighing, Tom opened the apartment door.
Tom's family lived in a big building, where every apartment had it's own cellar. But Tom was convinced that their cellar was by far the spookiest, the darkest, and the most spider-infested of all. And he knew exactly why.
The caretaker, Mr. Igor Grouchman, hated children. And since Tom and Lola were the only children in the building, their family had been given the most horrendous cellar. Obviously!
Standing outside the dusty door, Tom pursed his lips and boldly adjusted his glasses. The narrow, cold corridor lined by the cellar doors was only dimly lit, and Tom, as always, had trouble getting the wretched key into their lock. The door creaked ominously as Tom pushed it open.
A musty-smelling blackness yawned back at him. Bravely, he took a step forward and fumbled for the light switch. Where on earth was the blasted thing?
It was an old-fashioned rotary switch, which you could easily sprain your fingers on. Phew, at last! There it was. Tom turned it. A pitifully small lightbulb flickered and - pop! - exploded into a thousand pieces.
Shocked, Tom stumbled backward - and hit the cellar door with his elbow. Clunk! The lock clicked shut. And there he was, standing in the pitch-black cellar, all alone.
Calm! he thought. Stay calm, Tom. It's just the stupid lightbulb that exploded.
But since when did lightbulbs just explode?
Tom felt his mouth turn as dry as sandpaper. He tried to take a step backward. But his shoes were stuck to something slimy and wet. He listened to his own breathing, and then heard a quiet rustling. As if something was gently brushing against the old newspapers that Mom had piled up somewhere in the darkness.
"Help!" whispered Tom. "Oh please help!"
"Aaaaaaaahooooo," came a moan from the darkness. Cold, musty-smelling breath chilled his face. And icy fingers gripped his throat.
"Get lost!" cried Tom, lashing out blindly. "Get lost you disgusting thing!"
The icy fingers let go of his throat and pulled him by the ears. Tom could see something gleaming pale in the darkness. Something with garish green eyes, flapping hair and a scornful smirk.
A ghost! Thought Tom, petrified. A real ghost!