We never—not even in our wildest Halloween moods—visited the basement at night. But sometimes, during the day, we were brave enough. And during those times, we sometimes thought we saw a cloudy white pattern on the dirt floor, a vague, shifting deposit of mold spreading like ringworm across the ground near the huge brick fireplace that had been added in the 1815 renovation. Once in a while we thought that the patch resembled a doubled-up human figure, like a grown person curled in the fetal position. Generally it looked nothing like that and often there was no whitish deposit at all. I do remember once, though, on a rainy afternoon when this illusion seemed exceptionally strong, I thought I saw a kind of thing, yellowish, shimmeringness in air, rising from the moldy area, perhaps either making its way or being pulled by air currents toward the fireplace.
I told my uncle Elias about it and he smiled, not as if my childish imagination had gotten away from me, but as if he were remembering something himself. Later, I learned that a similar notion was shared by the hunters and fishermen who were the only regular passersby of the house. They swore they sometimes saw smoke coming from the chimney in the oldest part of the house and that this smoke often took on a strange, almost wolfish shape as it slowly rose in the air. The great tree at the front of the house, too, they disliked, saying that the roots were shaped to suggest bad omens.