‘Stairwell’

‘Stairwell’

Sometimes I play an odd ‘game’ when I walk up or down my stairs. I leave the light off. Perhaps ‘game’ isn’t the right word. When I was growing up, my father was obsessed with the idea of keeping the switch down (when ‘off’), and up (when ‘on’). To him, it was more important for it to be flipped ‘the correct way’, than for anyone to have light as they traversed the steps. As strange as it was to us, It was easier to accept his preference, than to argue about it. No one wanted to deal with his extreme reaction to discovering the light switch in reversed orientation. We resigned ourselves to a life of walking the stairs in the dark.

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To this day, I leave the light switch off in my own windowless stairwell. I guess the same OCD has rubbed off on me, or embedded itself under my skin. After all, I know how many steps I have; and that another is coming after the one I’m standing on. They all have the same ‘riser’ height and ‘tread’ width. The details are mapped in my muscle memory. The sense of sight isn’t normally necessary there. I guess I’ve come to trust what my body knows, over what most people feel is necessary to see.

A few nights ago, I went to ascend my stairs and reached for the firm reassurance of the banister. The hard polished oak handrail is a familiar feeling I use to justify this little nonsensical ‘game’. Strangely, It wasn’t where I knew it to be. I fanned my hands around in the dungeon-like darkened space for it. I assumed I’d only misjudged the distance to the wall but it wasn’t there. I was way outside the range of space that it should reside in, yet I was coming up empty. Then in frustration, I blindly sought the light switch. Nothing.

My feet slowly eased forward in expectation of bumping against the first step but the floor felt ‘different’ underfoot. It didn’t even feel like my floor at all. It was much harder and was possibly consisted of stone or concrete. My carpet wasn’t there! The switch and wall wasn’t present either. I had stumbled into unknown territory.

My first instinct was to immediately reverse direction and reopen the stairwell door behind me but it had mysteriously evaporated too! There in the darkness I fanned around in the air wildly, seeking the tactile reassure of familiar objects that should have been within reach. Mysteriously, nothing was ‘right’. I was rapidly becoming desperate to figure out what the hell was going on.

The corridor was so dark that my eyes never really adjusted. I didn’t even try to explain the complete change in my environment either. Those answers would have to come later. I was thrust into survival mode for the time being. Instead, I decided to crouch slightly and explored the foreign ground with my bare hands. Everything was completely alien to what I ‘knew’. There was a mossy vegetation covering where my thick shag carpeting should have been.

As if to add even more uncertainty, there was a cool, damp chill looming in the air. I felt like I’d stumbled into some alternate realm of chaos and worried there might be dangerous vertical pits ahead. Each step was made with the same tentative lack of confidence one would expect from walking in total darkness in a strange land.

Imagine inching forward nervously, expecting to feel a wall or step (but they never materialized). There were unfamiliar forest noises in the place my mind still wanted to believe was a narrow staircase. I made each step like a person who expected to be above a hole or loaded bear trap. Something unseen brushed against my leg and I let out an undignified shriek. It was terrifying. For all I knew, I was wandering in circles or lying on the floor of my home having a hallucination. My strange journey into the unknown felt so real. The boggy soil beneath my feet seemed so tactile and realistic to the touch. I began to worry I might never get back to the reality I left behind.

Just then, I felt the unmistakable sensation of a significantly large furry creature brush against me again! Was it the same one from before? More importantly, was it malicious? I was still having trouble grasping the paranormal experience I found myself stumbling through. It was even harder to accept the unwelcome possibility of wild creatures roaming my home.

Of course I had no way of knowing what kind of animal was following me through the darkness. I hoped it wasn’t feral or vicious. After all, it already knew I was there. It could’ve attacked me at any moment, if it wanted to. I was a ‘sitting duck’ in the surreal expanse of my mysterious staircase portal. The significant amount of unknown factors made the hairs on my arm bristle. I was in uncharted territory headed toward an uncertain fate.

I sensed my unknown ‘shadow’ was in the darkness nearby. I could feel it. Tentatively I reached out to make friendly contact. I’d either make a new ‘pal’, or possibly lose a couple fingers. For the first time, the creature emitted a low, throaty growl like a agitated canine. I pulled my hand back instinctively. The growling lessened and then ceased. I tried to adopt a non threatening posture. It could see me perfectly, from what I could tell. I had a general idea where ‘it’ was from the direction of the warning it emitted.

Assuming it was like a a nervous puppy, I elected to give it space and try to bribe it with a treat. I had a few pieces of hard candy in my pocket. I pulled one of them out and tore the wrapper open. The familiar smell of peppermint was in the air and I could tell it was curious. I held it at the edge of my fingers and coaxed it to take it. Nervously at first, I heard the creature sniff the candy and snatch it away, as if I wasn’t to be trusted. Immediately I heard it pulverizing the candy into dust all at once.

Assuming I’d pleased my new friend, I pulled out another peppermint. Again I tore away the cellophane. I could actually feel the heat of it’s breath of my hand. The candy was a huge hit. I held out the new piece. It was taken with the gentleness of a creature that was appreciative of what it was being given. In my mind, my non verbal companion was probably a large dog or similar domesticated animal. At least parts of it were soft and furry and it can up to mid thigh. I heard it crunch hard on the second piece. I only had one more in my pocket and I didn’t want to run out of treats while still trying to completely win it over. I elected to wait a few minutes before giving away the last one.

I held out my open hand again. I heard it sniff my fingers. It really wanted more candy but could see I wasn’t holding another piece yet. I was tempted to try to pet it, but didn’t want to spook the animal or risk getting bitten. Gradually it moved close enough that I felt the warmth of it’s head near my hand. Gently I brushed against it. There was a slight guttural protest but it was half hearted and reactionary. This time I was able to pet the unknown creature without any further resistance.

To my immense surprise, it definitely wasn’t a dog, or a pig, or any other animal I’d ever felt in my life. It had long patches of fur and several thorny spikes on its back! I almost recoiled in horror but managed to maintain the calming rhythm of my petting. The strange creature I was stroking in the pitch blackness seemed to be enjoying the attention but I sensed it could all deteriorate in an instant with the wrong move on my part. I kept going.

The spikes fortifying its back were natural defensive weapons. It had a club-like tail too that seemed to be off limits to my touch. I left that area be like the vulnerable belly of a cat. The beast’s head was enormous for an animal it’s size and I couldn’t help but notice the large fangs beside its furry muzzle. Whatever I was petting in the alternate universe of my stairwell, it was a fierce creature and had plenty of defense mechanisms.

I sat down on the soggy vegetation. The creature curled up beside me as if to ensure I continued to stroke it. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the last remaining piece of candy. The crinkling wrapper caught its attention. It actually let out a little squeal of excitement. I hoped it would still be my friend once the last peppermint was gone. This time it took the candy from me before I could even get the wrapper off. I guess the plastic wasn’t that much of a hinderance to a creature with 2 inch canines and cow sized lower mandible. After it was gone, my new friend curled up beside me on the ground and went to sleep. I had to be careful to avoid the back spikes. Eventually I fell asleep too.

When I awoke, I found myself lying on the second step of my stairs! I reached up in the dark and felt the switch. Instantly the stairwell was bathed in the light of my chandelier. I was alone. For the briefest of time I assumed it was either a vivid dream or a hallucination. There was no sign of my ‘peppermint pal’ but I did have some long strands of fur on my lap and some ground stains on the seat of my pants. I can’t explain what happened there in the dark but I did occur. Now whenever I wander up or down my stairs in the dark, I’m sure to have a pocketful of candy for my furry, prehistoric friend.

Submitted February 10, 2019 at 10:18PM by OpinionatedIMO

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