The cover illustration features a plant-like hand emerging from behind a basement door.
Margaret and Casey's father has been acting very strangely since losing his job as a botanist at a nearby university. When Mrs. Brewer goes out of town, his obsession with his plants gets out of hand. Is Dr. Brewer just a workaholic? Or are the continuous warnings about the basement hiding something more sinister?
Siblings Margaret and Casey Brewer are playing Frisbee outside on a surprisingly warm winter day in California . Casey attempts to throw the frisbee to Dr. Brewer - his father - but he gruffly declines because he has too much work to do in the basement. Casey and Margaret's father is a scientist, specifically a botanist, and ever since he got fired from PolyTech, he's spent all his time in the basement, experimenting with his work. When Margaret and Casey try to go down to the basement to see their father, he appears at the bottom of the stairs, holding his bloodied right hand under the light, and bellows "Stay out of the Basement!". Soon after, their mother, Mrs. Brewer then has to leave for Tucson to visit her sister Eleanor (the kids' Aunt) in hospital. Mrs. Brewer reminds Casey, Margaret and even Margaret's friend Diane to be nice to Dr. Brewer and make sure he 'eats something once in a while'.
Once Dr. Brewer emerges from the basement, his hand is still bandaged as he leaves to take Mrs. Brewer to the airport. While the kids are hanging out in the living room, Diane suggests they go down to the basement and quickly see what Dr. Brewer' has been working on. After some initial complaining Casey agrees with the girls and even mentions that he'll go first. As they make their way down into the basement, they notice their fathers workroom is stacked to the ceiling with a variety, tall yet jungle-like plants. Some of the plants are bearing fruit, yet they all appear to be very large given they had only been growing for five to six weeks.
Casey strips down to his waist due to the intense humidity of the basement, and forgets his shirt there. He notices a large glass contraption similar to a phone booth hooked up to a generator in one corner. He walks over to touch it and pretends as though his bare body jolts with electric shocks. After admonishing him for his 'hilarious' prank, by tickling his bare chest and stomach, the girls stop to listen to the plants, which sound as though they are breathing. The tendrils of some of the plants begin to move 'like human arms shifting their positions', as if beckoning the children towards the plants, and indeed some of the plants were drawing long breaths in and letting the air escape with a 'sigh'. The children wisely decide to stay out of the basement after all, and scatter out just as Dr. Brewer pulls up in the driveway.
Suddenly Casey, looking down at his bare chest, remembers that he left his shirt down in the basement. He quickly runs down into the basement to retrieve, but is overcome by a wave of fear. He begins to hear the breathing and moaning of the plants again, amidst Margaret’s calls to ‘Hurry!’ He sees his shirt and moves slowly to get it but he is grabbed around the waist by two long tendrils of a plant. By this time Margaret has come down to help and they both pull at the tendrils until they go slack. As they race back to the bottom of the basement stairs they see their father glaring down angrily at them from the top.
Dr. Brewer calmly sits them down at the kitchen table and tells them that one day he will explain everything in the basement and they will all go down together, but until that day, they are not allowed in the basement. The next morning Margaret is surprised to find ‘her father was already at work, the basement door was shut tight, and a lock had been installed on the door.’
The next Saturday afternoon, Mrs. Brewer is on the phone with Margaret to tell her that her sister's surgery did not go as planned and she will be staying in Tucson a few more days. Margaret tells her mother about the basement and how Dr. Brewer has started wearing a Dodgers cap at all times. Mrs. Brewer tells her daughter that her father probably feels like he has something to prove to Mr. Martinez, his old boss.
After getting off the telephone with her mother, Margaret heads downstairs and spying on her father eating in the kitchen from a plastic bag. She soon discovers he is eating plant food! She tells Casey about this as she makes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but he does not seem to think it is all that weird that their father would be eating fertiliser. He then mocks her by pretending to be the Incredible Plant Man and she is Weed Woman.
A few days later, the two siblings and Diane are playing Frisbee, again. Casey tosses a Frisbee at their father, who has emerged briefly into the sunlight, but it hits him in the head, knocking his Dodgers cap off and revealing green leaves growing on his scalp! Dr. Brewer finally sits down with his children and explains that the leaves are just a side effect-- a side effect to what, he will not say, but he does explain his experiments. He asks if the children are familiar with DNA. He is trying to take animal cells and put them into plant cells to create hybrid plants that have never existed. The glass booths in the basement are his transports, and though he is real close to succeeding, he has not quite made it work yet. He then brushes off all the moral and ethical concerns of his children as he heads back to the basement.
That night, Margaret again spies on her father in the bathroom. She watches him take off his bandage and the blood from his wound is bright green! She runs back to her room scared, unsure if her father saw her. After lying in bed for a while unable to sleep, she heads downstairs to the kitchen for a drink, jumping at the sight of Casey, who also couldn’t sleep. They hear more ‘human sounding’ noises from the basement. Before heading back to sleep, Margaret also takes a peek in his bedroom and notices that his bed is filled with moist dirt and crawling with worms.
The next afternoon, Margaret tells Casey all about her spying discoveries from the night before. Suddenly, Dr. Brewer appears and tells his children that he has made them lunch. The two are served what appear to be green mashed potatoes, and their father yells at them, and continually insists that they eat it. Luckily for the children, the doorbell rings and Dr. Brewer leaves to talk to Mr. Martinez, who has stopped by to check on Dr. Brewer's progress. The two children quickly scoop their green food into the trash and tell their father that they ate it.
The next day, Dr. Brewer tells his children he will be out for a few hours to help their neighbour install a bathroom sink. The children see this as their chance to further investigate the basement. As soon as he leaves, Casey picks the lock and they head downstairs. They come across Mr. Martinez's suit, neatly folded and hidden near a table. Then they realize that neither saw Mr. Martinez leave the house after visiting yesterday.
The two hear footsteps up in the house and realize their father has come back, so they quickly escape via the small rectangular basement window out into the backyard. The two emerge from the yard into the kitchen just in time to be caught by Dr. Brewer. He explains that Mr. Martinez simply got hot in the tropical climate of the basement and took off his suit and left without it. Dr. Brewer heads out to continue work on the sink. Before he goes, he threatens the children again, saying ‘Don’t go back in the basement, okay? It really could be dangerous. You could be very sorry.’
They next day Margaret returns from a bike ride with Dianne as Dr. Brewer is leaving to pick up Mrs. Brewer from the airport, and Casey mentions that he wants to fly kites in the backyard. The kids realise they are in the basement, so Casey picks the lock again and they go looking for them. They rummage around some lower shelves in the basement before finding the rest of Mr. Martinez’s clothes, realising their father had lied to them the previous day.
They suddenly hear loud repetitive thudding from the large supply closet in the basement. They agree to pry off the lock and open it, and inside they find strange plants with human looking features. Margaret then sees a pair of even more human looking feet behind the plants, before venturing in and discovering her father tied up on the floor with plant tendrils and gagged with elastic tape. They are confused given they thought their father has just left for the airport. They are hesitant to untie their dad, who says that the man who just left for the airport is a plant copy of him; however they give in and free him. Dr. Brewer then quickly makes his way across the basement and grabs an axe.
The ‘plant’ Dr. Brewer suddenly appears at the top of the basement stairs after returning home from the airport. He then falsely claims that the closet Dr. Brewer is the plant copy, in order to trick the kids. Margaret then leaps forward and grabs the axe from her father’s hands. She wields the axe around, confused as to which Dr. Brewer is her real father. She tells Casey to grab a knife for her from the tools hanging on the wall, before she pushes it into her real fathers arm, making a tiny puncture wound. The ‘plant’ Dr. Brewer then screams at Margaret saying she’s wrong, however it’s not long before the real Dr. Brewer swings his axe down into the plant copy, splitting him in two to reveal green ooze and stem-like insides.
One week later, Dr. Brewer is burning almost all of plant's plants in his yard, except a few that were transplanted into the garden beds. He tells his children that he wants to discontinue his experiments permanently. Meanwhile, one of the smaller plants begins to prod Margaret with its leaves while whispering "Margaret, help me. Please - help me. I’m your father! Really! I’m your real father."
Cover Art Gallery
- According to an interview with Goosebumps artist Tim Jacobus, Tim says that he did not create the original cover for Stay Out of the Basement. However, Tim did create the cover for the 2003 reprint.
- The original cover illustration (1992) featured a green plant monster hand opening a door, while a revised cover illustration (2003) featured a clothed plant monster in full view using chemistry equipment.
- The cover illustration (2015) for the Classic Goosebumps reprint is an homage to the original cover.
- The title is an allusion to the 1973 film The Forgotten, which was also released under the title Don't Look in the Basement.
- Margaret and Casey's father was mentioned by his first name in the book; Michael Brewer.
- This is one of the few Goosebumps books written in third-person, which was eventually phased out as the series continued.
- In the Dutch adaptation of the story there are some notable differences:
- The kids are 'Sandra' and 'Frank'
- The family name is 'Brouwers'
- 'Rosa' is Sandra's friend.
- Frank leaves his keys in the basement, not his sweatshirt.
- Mrs. Brouwer is on a business trip, not visiting the kids Aunt in Tucson.