by Bridget Spindler
They never spoke about what was at the top of the old oak stairs. No one spoke a word when a curious child wandered away from his parents and crept up those ancient oak stairs. They did not attempt to stop him. The hotel staff said even less when the little boy did not come back down. The only sign that they even knew about the stairs was the guilty glances exchanged when sobbing parents begged for someone, anyone, to help them find their son.
But alas, this is not where this story starts. Rather, it starts two hundred years ago in a forest so old not even the oldest natives can remember a time when the branches did not touch the sky.
Richard cursed under his breath. He hated his job. He absolutely hated it. Today it filled him with even more hate than usual. His hands ached and it sent waves of pain to his brain every time he moved his legs. Richard wanted nothing more than to go back in time and continue his schooling. The stupidest thing he had ever done was skip school to get a job early. If he had gone to school, he wouldn’t be in this god-forsaken forest chopping down trees with a rusty ax.
“Get back to work Tennyson!” The angry growl of his boss interrupted his pessimistic train of thoughts. Richard scowled. In a few more chops he would have the tree down. There was no reason for the man to end his brief break. He swung his ax into the ancient oak. Once, twice, crack. The tree fell with an enormous crash. And then the explosion rocked the land. Or rather what the workers assumed was an explosion. It wasn’t till they had already sold the tree that they realized Richard’s body was the only thing burned.
Strange happenings followed the old oak Richard Tennyson had spent his last moments cutting down. The first carpenter to ever touch it drowned on dry land before he could even take his knife to the oak. The second had just bought the shockingly cheap wood when he had been sliced into hundreds of pieces by an invisible force. The third’s heart had been carved out by his own tools. Finally an old man building a hotel bought the oak wood. It had been sold with a warning that the elder paid no heed to. Surprisingly nothing happened to the old man. He used the wood to build the stairs to the third floor of his precious hotel. The week after the hotel was finished the old man died. He had been skinned alive.
The old man’s hotel was passed down from father to son, mother to daughter for decades. The secret of the third floor stairs was passed through the blood line. No one in the family touched the stairs. They valued their lives. And anyone who went up, well, that was too bad. They shouldn’t have gone up there in the first place. No one ever came down. That is, until someone did.
Sarah sent a fleeting glance towards the forbidden stairs. No one had gone up in months, to her relief. She hated watching them go up and never come down. It was depressing to think about all the people her family had caused to die, all the people she had caused to die. The little boy had been the worst. He had been so small, so sweet. She had wanted to scream, yell, beg the child to leave and never come back. She just wasn’t brave enough. Sarah had long since realized she was a selfish coward. A door creaked somewhere in the old house. Sarah frowned. No one should have been up. She glanced at the grandfather clock; 2:00AM. No one was supposed to be awake. The creak came again, this time louder. It was coming from the third floor Sarah realized, chills running down her spine. No one should be upstairs. Sarah froze. The creak came again. Someone or something was coming down the stairs. Thump. Thump. Thump. It was coming. Sarah couldn’t move, she couldn’t breathe. She was paralyzed with fear. Thump. Thump. Thump. Sarah clenched her eyes shut. She couldn’t look. The sound stopped. She wouldn’t look, she wouldn’t look, she wouldn’t… Sarah couldn’t help it. Her eyes flew open. Standing at the bottom of the steps was the most grossest thing she had ever seen. The thing looked like a patchwork quilt with human skin instead of cloth. Its right arm was a dark tan while its left was milky white. One of its eyes was a dark blue while the other a light brown. Every body part was a different shade of color. Where colors met it looked as if the flesh had been melded together. Sarah stared in horror. Her eyes drifted to the hands. They were child sized and with sickening clarity she knew they were the little boys.
“Thanks for the spare parts.” The creature grinned a blood soaked smile.
Richard Edwards has a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism from Bowling Green State University and an M.S. in Education from the University of Akron. Managing editor of Drunk Duck, poetry editor for Prairie Margins, reporter for Miscellany, Akron Journal, Lorain Journal, and The BG News. He has also worked as a professional writer and editor in the medical publishing industry for several years. For the last 15 years Richard has also taught literature and writing at the secondary and post-secondary levels. He works much of the time with at-risk students.