Into the Light
On the lower steps, you could just barely see him. A gray smoke. A whirl of ghostly gnats and ashes. Faintly glowing. On the move. Adrift but seeking. Rising up from the cellar’s darkness.
In the light. In a narrow place. Beneath the rococo wall of gold, he became invisible. And he waited. To take a lover. To kiss the first mouth that passed through him. To sup upon a soul and become manifest. To feast upon life so that he might return to flesh, and become a god.
Knock on Wood
I return to the house of my youth, where the newel post still stands at the foot of the stairs. Dear memories of childhood, that staircase with its banister, the game of Knock-on Wood. Down and around we children used to slide. At the landing, knock on wood, then change directions, plunging onward shrieking to the very bottom stair. There, we’d touch wood once more at the newel post, then scramble up to do it all again. The fastest one would take the win, such a lark in bygone days!
All too well, I remember Cousin James, who too often won the game. How he’d crow about his win, until the day I’d had enough, and pushed him downstairs to his death. I tell myself I’d meant no harm; it was just a game gone wrong. I go to leave, but a whuff of chill air stops me in my tracks. Suddenly afraid, I turn to see that newel post knows otherwise, a fiendish leer within its carved design. And, after all these years, there’ll be the devil to pay.
In darkness there is patience, a quiet that waits; a moment pregnant with pure malevolence.
I lay in the dark, sheet tucked to my chin on this sweltering night. The small bulb fixed to the tin wall barely a beacon, let alone a source of comfort. I can hear the crick of the wooden stairs as it stealthily begins the climb. Eyes shuttered tight, breath fetid by fear, my muscles seize — I feel it watching me. Minutes pass as I count slowly in my mind. Finally, I hear it turn, I hear its bones and crepe paper skin as it scrapes the railing and planks. I hear the slight squeal of the hinge as it opens the hatch set into the stairwell. I let out a small sigh and immediately regret my mistake. As I throw the sheet over my head, the thing pounds back up the treads and across the room; bones slamming every surface it passes. It leaps onto the bed, and in a frenzy, begins to pound and slash at my body; the bruising from the last assault not yet healed. Both of us scream. Mine, a high-pitched shriek of terror; its, an unholy wail that splits the night.
Abruptly, the onslaught stops. As I lay panting beneath the torn and bloodied bedclothes, it retreats to the stairs once more. In the near silent room, I hear the latch click as it pulls the door shut behind it.
Locked-In with Dreams
I eagerly wait for a new day inside my cold cell, even when the sun’s face is ready to give up on me. As usual, the sheets are unhappily twisted around me, hiding imprints from the vigour of my dreams. My secret light pollution. Only I can see them travelling on the train of my life going by, cabin by cabin. On waking, they are water spewing from a hose until it’s cut off mid-stream.
I am thirsty. So very thirsty.
Today I imagine myself escaping from a tower. I have grown my hair, and I lower myself down gently to the ground like precious cargo.
Outside, free from walls, stairs, and doors, I build a new country out of mirrors that heal fragmented reflections, like Picasso. I steal silver foil like magpies to protect my skin.
I skip stones across the pond – one, two, three – and bury seeds in the garden and water them in, then secure trellis for black-eyed Susans and ivy to spread over the ugliest and roughest of brickwork until this house disappears.
The precious things which I have lost shower like cherry blossom, and gusts of wind blow the soft-scented petals indoors, dispersed like breadcrumbs up the stairs, along the dark landing, to confetti beneath my locked bedroom door. If I try hard, I can catch their sweet scent.
Lee Andrew Forman
Each footfall echoes with unnatural intensity as I ascend. The newfound light draws me, body and soul—this first dawn to repel the suffocating darkness in which I exist, is irresistible. The edge of all my eyes have witnessed have been no more than shadows and illusions of the psyche. I climb, against all struggle, into the blinding gleam, to flee this domain of suffering and feast on all that is within my grasp. I hunger for more than the rotten scraps the cold metal tube provides. As I reach the barrier I’ve never dared near, I wonder how their flesh will taste—the mother who expelled me from her womb as though I were pestilence, and the father who scorned all I am.
In My Darkness
Miriam H. Harrison
The first time I saw her, she was little more than shadow. Walking through our sleeping city, she was a companion in my insomnia. A hope in my darkness. We had many more sleepless nights together, but the sunrises are what I remember best. The daily glow of warmth and colour filling her smile.
That was before the sickness came. Before it drained away her colour. Before all warmth faded to chills and aches. Still we spoke of our sunrises, but she was too weary to see new dawns rise. And without her, I saw no beauty in the light.
The longest, darkest night was when the sickness won. I dreaded the light of a new day, the start of my first day without her. But then, just before dawn, I saw her.
That last time I saw her, she was little more than light. Glowing like a sunrise in my home. Like hope in my darkness.
The Upper Room
He lived in a small room on the top floor of the monastery. A small space beyond narrow winding stairs that smelled of sour, musty age. The upper room they called it, at least the monks that spoke of it at all. Few wished to acknowledge its existence, nor the presence of its occupant.
“A holy man,” they sometimes murmured.
But no one truly knew. No soul saw him, not even the monks that brought him food, slipping it inside his darkened space. After all, who would wish to disturb a hermit lost to silent mediation and prayer?
Strange how the truth can be distorted over time. Equally strange how no one questioned the occasional missing traveller or how dissenting monks sometimes disappeared. Sin calls to sin after all.
For the creature that lived in the upper room was no holy man, nor even a man. Not any longer. Once perhaps, a devout monk seeking enlightenment, seeking the divine. But pride drove him beyond sense and he found only demonic secrets. Ones that devoured his soul. Now he waits in the upper room, a prisoner, consuming the sins of occasional fools that venture too far inside his lair.
But he knows one day someone will make a mistake. They will forget to replenish the wards, or he’ll devour enough sins to break his bonds.
He knows one day he will escape.
Stairwell of the Liquid Souls
Edema steps up and down, up and down the stairs between the walls, under the light that never turns off. At the top, Edema cannot turn the corner because there is no corner. She can’t go through a door because one doesn’t exist. No turning, because her forehead’s becoming larger, her belly too, and her knees. Her body’s filling with liquid, what sort of liquid, she doesn’t know, all she does know is it is heavy and thick, seeping through from the walls, and it sloshes inside and slows her movements. Within her ears she hears a wailing, a crying in despair,
For God’s sake, get us out of here!
Her heartbeat thumps faster as the wailing rises, a heart that slops and slips as she climbs the stairs ever more slowly, hoping she may escape to freedom if she hits the walls hard enough, in this sick brown coloured stairwell with no night or day. Her forehead droops, her belly sags.
It’s her knees that first drag on the floor, her huge liquid filled knees. Then it’s the belly that drops, and now the forehead, pulling her head down, its creases lie flat on the upper stairs, her feet on the lower ones. Edema’s fluid engorged body fills the entire stairwell, a swampy miasma of skin, liquid soul and bones, she can’t climb any more though her legs continue in spasm. In her head the only thought is “For God’s sake, get me out of here!” how much time does her body lie there… ten days, a month, in stench and stink, seeping into the wood and plaster. Afterwards, the only indication that anything filled the empty space is a slightly brighter light atop the hallway of the liquid souls, an alabaster shimmering in the wall.
They parked, grabbed their gear and headed down the trail. Walking for about a mile, they reached a fork. Peter consulted the map. He was unfamiliar with the area, but their destination lay to the east, so he decided to follow the trail heading in that direction. Compared to the path heading west, this one was overgrown with grass and other foliage. It was clearly rarely used. Amanda was worried they were literally leaving the beaten path, but he had the map. Her instinct was correct; he’d chosen the wrong trail. It led to a remote, unpopulated part of the forest.
After an hour they entered a clearing. In the middle sat a ruined cabin. The lumber had decayed into indistinct piles. Only one part remained; a flight of stairs. In perfect condition, they climbed to a floor which no longer existed.
The sight was so incongruous, Amanda just had to take a closer look. She touched the bannister, but quickly withdrew her hand. It had vibrated. Peter placed his hand on the wood too, but felt nothing.
She started to climb the stairs. Her eyes were glazed and distant, as if she was seeing something Peter couldn’t. She reached the top and extended her hand. Her fingers mimicked opening a door. She stepped forward. Peter shouted she was about to fall. Instead, she simply disappeared. He ran up the stairs, but there was nothing. He had to get help. He headed back down the trail.
In the clearing, the ruined cabin sat quietly. The fresh varnish on the stairs reflected the evening sun, sending shafts of light to sparkle amongst the green leaves of nearby trees. There was a sense of calm and tranquility. The offering, although unexpected, had been acceptable.
The Servants’ Staircase
“I keep dreaming about the stairs.”
“The servants’ stairs?” Clay asked even though he knew the answer. His wife had complained of being haunted by the narrow staircase ever since they had been forced to relocate. She said there was bad energy trapped in the stairwell. He had caught her performing a ritual at the foot of the stairs.
“I wish you wouldn’t call it that…” Julia sighed.
“It’s historically accurate. Besides, neither of our families could have afforded servants. We have a clean slate.”
“Then explain the dreams.”
He tapped his forehead. “Your witchy brain, my dear.”
She frowned. “Can you try opening that weird cubby again? Maybe if I see the inside, the dreams will stop.”
“I’ve tried. It’s sealed shut.”
“Break the seal,” she pleaded.
Knowing that the landlord would not be thrilled with the act of vandalism but wanting his wife’s superstitions to stop, Clay tried the small door again, only to find that it opened easily.
“See, nothing—” Clay stopped when he spotted what looked like a sapphire ring peeking out of the dirt. “How did your ring get in there?”
Julia shrugged. “I bartered.”
Clay was confused. “Bartered? For what?”
As Julia swung the hammer at his forehead, Clay saw that the ring was garnishing a gnarled hand.
“Your life insurance policy.”
The hand grabbed Clay’s shirt just as the pain set in.
The last thing he heard was Julia say proudly, “Thank god for my witchy brain.”
Not one more word will I say
Not tomorrow nor today
I questioned too much when I was young
So she cut out my tongue
Since my father walked away
It’s been just me and Mother every day
muffling the sound of my tears
She cut off my ears
Devotion is what my mother craves
I must pledge it for all my living days
To stop me from seeing through her lies
She gouged out my eyes
She loves me, or so she says
But she decided to cut off my legs
To stop me from wandering evermore
She also bricked up my door
Fed from a tube I now survive
If only I could commit suicide
Although I know it’s much too late
Escape is not my fate
I lay here waiting to die
Unaware of Mother’s biggest lie
As death fills my endless dreams
From the cellar, my father, he still screams
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