The Stairs


       Since Rachel Harvey first moved into her thirteenth floor apartment she often wondered what would happen if the elevators ever quit. It wasn't only the thought of trudging up twelve flights of stairs to reach her home that nagged her. There were also the stories that her fellow building tenants loved to tell at every opportunity. They were full of tales about strange noises that emanated from dusty stairwells and former tenants who disappeared after venturing up those stairs to see what was making the racket. Not that she really believed any of it. Still, it was enough to give the sensitive girl vivid nightmares after ingesting a late night slice of pizza.

       To say that Rachel was a sensitive gal is something of an understatement. Superstition invaded every aspect of her life. She was one of those people who stepped gingerly over every sidewalk crack and threw a handful of salt over her shoulder if she happened to spill some, even in an upscale restaurant. It seemed at odds then, rather mysterious, that a person like Rachel would take an apartment on the thirteenth floor.

       On a crisp, cold night in January, Rachel headed home after work, burdened down with bags of groceries and a purse that doubled as a weapon. It was one of those nights when the world was bathed in a beautiful silvery-blue by the full moon. It fell upon everything and lit up each nook and cranny. Despite the load she carried she was enjoying her walk home, filling her lungs with the cool, clean air and carefully skirting over the sidewalk cracks. Lost in thought and staring at the lovely night sky, she didn't see a small form dart furtively from behind a trash can and fall in step behind her.

       Rachel made quick headway toward home, hunger and mouth-watering thoughts of supper spurring her on. Less than half a block from her apartment building the city lights suddenly flickered and died, leaving the street ahead in darkness. Were it not for the brightness of the moon the remainder of the trek home would have been difficult. The girl was grateful for the dim light, glad that it sufficiently lit up her way.

       Reaching the main doors into her building Rachel let out a startled cry when something smooth and furry darted between her legs. She was surprised to see a sleek black cat, scrawny and unfed, heading to the door. An attempt to shoo the animal way with the toe of her boot caused the creature to meow pitifully and Rachel became instantly ashamed. The poor thing had probably smelled the bologna in her bags and was hoping for a bite. She shifted her load to one hand and opened the door, not even bothering to stop the little animal when it ran through ahead of her. She had already decided to share a bit of her meat with the poor starving vagrant.

       Not until she stepping into the dark foyer did it dawn on Rachel that the elevators would be down. The thought of using those creepy stairs caused a wave of nausea to flow over her. There was no way she was going up that way. She sat down in one of the puke green chairs along the wall, determined to wait it out. Surely the power wouldn't be off much longer. The little cat began to purr and rub adoringly against the girl's legs. Overcome with pity, Rachel reached into one of her parcels, pulled out a small piece of bologna and laid it on the tiled floor. With a tiny chirp of pleasure the hungry animal tore into the meat, downing it in the blink of an eye.

       An hour went by, two hours, and it became apparent to Rachel that her food would start to spoil if she didn't get it into her refrigerator soon. Warily, she glanced toward the door to the stairs. Summoning up all the courage within her, she got up and slowly, dreadfully, eased open the door. The stairs were swathed in black. No way she could ever go up there, especially not carrying a load of groceries. She turned back, deciding to wait it out all night if necessary, but before the stairwell door slammed shut Rachel was horrified to see the skinny feline dart through and go bounding up the musty stairs. Oh no! Now what could she do? She couldn't leave the poor animal up there. Not after all the stories she'd heard.

       It was the last thing she wanted to do, but in Rachel's heart kindness outweighed her fear and taking a deep breath she started up the dark stairs. Every now and then a meow would sound out ahead of her, encouraging the frightened girl to continue upward. It seemed to take forever, but at last Rachel counted the twelfth flight of stairs and knew she would come out onto her floor. Knowing the cat couldn't possibly open the door into the hallway she fully expected to find the animal sitting on the landing, but it wasn't there. Could it have gone past her, on its way back down, without her hearing it?

       Heading back down the stairs, Rachel stopped dead in her tracks at the sounds coming out of the darkness in front of her. It sounded like thousands of little feet, swarming, scratching, running toward her. Before she even had a chance to move, hundreds of furry little bodies were writhing about her legs, over her feet and gnawing on her boots. Realizing what they were, Rachel belted out a scream. Rats! Dozens of them, maybe hundreds of them!

       Grabbing onto the door Rachel ran through the opening and into what should have been her hallway. It wasn't the hallway. In disbelief the young woman saw that she was standing on the roof, perched precariously at its edge. She turned, not knowing which way to go, and, horror turning her heart to ice, saw the rats, shiny in the moonlight. Screaming, Rachel instinctively backed away. Backed away and - fell. Plummeting through the dark, she caught sight of the moon. She barely had time to register that the man in the moon seemed to be sneering. Sneering right at her.

*****************


       Rachel's fellow tenants gathered sorrowfully around her broken, twisted body. The little feline curled up next to the girl's head, purring contentedly and licking her ear. There was no need to say it aloud. They all knew she, like the others before her, hadn't heeded their warnings and used the stairs.

       Sirens pierced the night, coming rapidly closer and the small group of residents walked away, heading back to their cozy apartments.

Copyright © February 25, 2005 to Present,
by Charmaine V.
All Rights Reserved.






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