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The Stairs

by Kendall Furlong

The man hesitated, then slowly lifted his foot. Something momentous waited at the top of the staircase that arched upward before him. He didn’t know how he knew, but he was sure. Why was he stepping forward? Go easy, he thought, no reason to hurry.

His wife accused him of having a type A personality; her curse, she said. He never understood that. His decisiveness was a pleasure, and it disturbed him when he couldn’t withdraw his foot. It seemed to imply an indecisiveness.

He put his weight gingerly on the first step, like you might on a wet cobblestone. As soon as he rested his full weight on the step, his left foot swung toward the second step. He struggled to stop it. Only with great effort did he gain control. By then it hovered in midair.

What was this place? He had never seen a structure along this stretch of road before, yet something had made him stop the car and get out. When did he leave the car and get here?

The suspended foot unbalanced him and he began to fall forward slowly until bracing himself on the next level. It seemed stable. He drew his other foot even.

He was now on the third step. Ahead, a landing divided the stairs into two sections, the upper one turning back on itself so that the top was directly above the door he had just entered, offset by exactly half the structure’s width. He looked up, twisting his neck, but was unable to see an opening.

His type-A personality defaulted, and he decided to go quickly for the landing where he could get a better feel for his situation. It was easy; just give in to this force that was drawing him upward. He reached the landing in two bounds.

From the vantage point he could see the stairs were enclosed in a well, with openings on the top and bottom but none on the walls. He looked up. He could see a door ajar and through it a flickering light of some kind. He looked down at the door he had entered and gasped; nothing was there. Not darkness, no haze or fog, nothing.

He recalled how once, after finishing a bottle of Irish whiskey in less than an hour on a bet, that suddenly his central field of vision went blank. The doctor called it macular edema. It wasn’t a hole in the middle of his sight; there was nothing. He had called it a “profound” nothing; not because he knew what that meant, but he knew it was not trivial, so he called it profound.

He stared at the nothingness. It fascinated him how he could remember the partial loss of sight incident, but couldn’t remember how he had come to these stairs. If he averted his eyes from the bottom of the stairs he could see everything, so this wasn’t a recurrence of macular edema. It was something else.

He realized the force that had drawn him to the landing had stopped. He could stay here a while to think about his predicament. Then he saw the nothingness ascending the stairs; no, more like consuming them for as it advanced the steps and rails and walls didn’t just disappear; the nothingness extinguished their very existence.

Desperate, he clawed at the curtain obscuring his memory. He recalled bright lights suddenly bearing down on him from nowhere. Instinctively, he raised his arms to block a blinding glare.

He was sweating, now and back on the landing; the nothingness almost on top of him. Panicked, he bounded to the door at the top of the stairwell, throwing out his arms to stop and plunging into an unknown.

A soft breeze came through the doorway. It soothed him, and for a moment he closed his eyes to enjoy cooling sensation of evaporating perspiration.

But soon he begin to feel cold: uncomfortably cold. He opened his eyes to find himself peering out into a void. There was no floor to step onto beyond the door, and behind him the nothingness that had reached the landing now turned to move up the stairs towards him; soon it would be on top of him.

In the void that stretched before him, images floated disconnectedly in what looked the inside of an inverted dome.

He could hear people talking. They were voices he recognized. His wife! He could just make out what she was saying. NO! He didn’t deserve this! He listened more closely. He could make out smoke and a jumbled pile of metal. They couldn’t find him they were saying; he must’ve been thrown clear. He tried to call out, I’m over here, but they kept talking.

The nothingness reached him, but it didn’t consume him like it had the stairs. Instead, it pushed. He looked around for a foothold, some place to grab. Leaning his head past the doors he tried to see if the void had a floor. He saw a roaring conflagration stretching in all directions below him. The nothingness pushed harder.

Copyright © 2008 by Kendall Furlong

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