's 2018 Horror Write-off:

At the Top of the Stairs

Submitted by C. Lonnquist

At the Top of the Stairs

It is at the top of the stairs and wanting me.

The old metal railing is cold under my left hand and I can’t see it and it is at the top of the stairs and wanting me. One of my feet is a step further down. I won’t turn my head right. I won’t acknowledge it, but it is there wanting me. The nightlight in my wife’s office should cast its shadow, but there’s nothing there, and it is at the top of the stairs and wanting me.

I stood outside a bar in December, and she was behind me. Not my wife; long before my wife. She asked me for a smoke, and a light. I was so much taller, she asked if she could stand behind me and hide from the wind. I agreed. We smoked. Her friends laughed, my friends laughed. I tried to laugh but she was behind me.

The carpet at the top of the stairs is softer than the carpet on the stairs. I can feel the difference between my toes, and the roughness under my right foot digs between my skin cells as I clutch the railing and it waits at the top of the stairs wanting me. To feel it watching, to feel it there. It makes its presence known and I clutch my phone in my right hand and the old metal railing with my left and I look at the place where the towel closet sticks out a little more than the bathroom and at the shadowed crack between the two and I feel it at the top of the stairs wanting me.

She talked to her friends from behind me with her cigarette in her hand and the other hand under my coat, pulling me back, even though I was over a foot taller than her. I smoked and felt her hand against my waist. Her thumb hooked into my belt. Her friends laughed and didn’t seem to pay attention. My friends laughed and grinned. I tried to laugh but she was behind me.

I am breathing but it is different and not the way I should breathe. Is it breathing too? Does it breathe? Are we breathing together or is it not there, wanting me? Is it watching me as I force myself to watch the wall straight ahead? I am cold and the air is cold and I am sweating and I drop my phone and the hard rubber case goes bump, bump, bump as it hops back down the stairs and hits the wall of the landing behind me with a clack. I don’t move and it doesn’t move and it is less than three feet away and it is wanting me.

She finished her cigarette and flicked it into the street. It guttered immediately in the slime of salt and snow across the pavement. She talked to her friends and slid her other hand around me, under my coat. She pulled my belt away from me and the cold slipped into newly opened space. We all laughed but I couldn’t see her and I was laughing because everyone was laughing and I couldn’t move. I was taller than her! She was using me to block the wind! I couldn’t move because she was behind me.

My right hand is shaking without my phone in it and I’m watching the wall in front of me and it’s there and I’m there and maybe it’s not there and maybe I’m asleep and maybe it feels a bit like a person because I can’t see what it looks like and maybe it’s a person and maybe people shouldn’t feel that dark and I can feel it at the top of the stairs and it is wanting me.

My friends laughed and her friends laughed and her hand slipped into the space where the cold was getting in and I tried to laugh but I didn’t want to laugh and I should have been able to run but I was so much bigger and what if I tried to run and people thought it was my fault that I didn’t laugh and what if I pushed her away and what if she got hurt and why wasn’t I laughing when everyone was laughing and why was there a space for the cold to get in and why is she behind me and why does she want me and why don’t I want her?

I can feel myself turning. It is there wanting me and I do not want it but I can’t do anything else and the air feels so cold like a night in December. It is there and I can’t see it and it feels like black pavement covered in a slime of snow and salt and it wants me and I still can’t run.