Steps (Short Story – Pt 1 of 5)

This week, by way of a change, I am going to post a short story over 5 days (it’s 4500 words in total). Would love to hear any comments or feedback 🙂

DAY ONE
The man leaned on his rake, looking up at his new, old house, browbeaten and brooding, all angles and shadows. He wiped the sweat from his head in the crook of his arm and sighed. What have I let myself in for? If I don’t get this garden finished this weekend, I’ll never even get started on that.

He felt the tickle of a bead of sweat as it broke from the pack and dripped from his nose. It briefly caught the sun as it fell, disappearing without a trace into the soft earth.

He toiled, silently for several hours at a high tempo, shirtless; taut muscles glistening as he methodically created order from the chaos of weeds and nettles at the far end of the – my – garden. Turning the soft soil over beneath one of the bushes, his shovel clanked against rock. He ignored it and continued apace, removing the bramble in sections, piling up rows to burn later. As he continued across the garden, he kept clanking into that same rock. Two hours and five meters later, he reached the far side of the stone.

Intrigued, he brushed the surface soil and remaining weeds away to see its entirety. It was a perfect circle of solid gray rock, weather-pitted but otherwise featureless, save for three small circle symbols at the center. A logo of some sort?

Should I clear this out, or cover it back up?

The man shrugged – it’s probably just the foundations for some old patio – and fetched the large pickaxe from the pile of shop-shiny tools. He stood dead center in the circle, bringing the pick down in the vicinity of the logo with a loud CRACK. His gloved hands vibrated from the shock, but the stone was unbowed. The man swung the pick again, higher and harder. Same result. Panting slightly, and shaking his wrists, the man breathed deeply and swung a third, fourth, fifth time. The rock splintered slightly along its surface.

The man put the axe aside to take a large swig of water from his bottle, and wipe the sweat from his eyes with a rag. Bracing himself for another jarring of his wrists, he heaved the pickaxe high, and brought it down at the same point with all his strength, grunting with the effort. There was another CRACK on impact. A pause. A faint whistling, whooshing noise of ancient air escaping. Pause. A tremendous, crunching ROAR as the rock disintegrated from the point of impact outwards, like a ripple on the surface of a pond. The ground beneath him disappeared, and the man fell into darkness.

He fell for an age, shocked and silent, a pile of loose soil breaking his fall. “AAAHHH!” he screamed in agony as the weight of his body went through his ankle, landing in a heap. A piece of falling rock smashed into his head, knocking him out. Blackness.

Coming to, he felt the lump on his head gingerly, wincing at the touch. At least there’s no blood. He sat up on one of the larger pieces of rock, trying to blow the dust from his nostrils, shaking chunks of rubble from his skin.

He was at the bottom of a circular chamber, the same diameter as the gray rock he’d just destroyed, and a good twenty meters deep. There were no lights, other than the sunlight coming in from above, no markings on the walls, or footholds to get back out. Nothing but smooth gray walls, and steps leading downwards, snaking around a central atrium.

“Help!” he shouted; a reflex. “HELP!”

The only sounds in reply were the birds singing in the trees, harmonious and mocking. His house was fairly isolated from its neighbors, and this end of the garden particularly so. That had been one of its main selling points.

So here I am.

He brushed the worst of the mud off, tossed the gloves to one side, and tried to stand. His ankle throbbed, but didn’t seem to be broken. He patted his pocket for his mobile. “Oh shit:” he’d left it in the shade on the patio, along with his watch. There was a lighter and some mints in one pocket, and half a bottle of water in the other, but nothing more.

He took in the scene around him. The pickaxe had snapped in two. The shaft of the axe lay on the floor near the top of the steps: the head was nowhere to be seen. He realised how lucky he had been, to have escaped the worst of the falling masonry, and to have missed tumbling straight down the atrium. He skirted the chamber, stepping over the debris, using his hands to feel for any clues on the rock. Nothing. No ladder. He glanced down the steps, but couldn’t see far as they spiralled away into darkness. No way out.

“HELP!”

“Anyone?”

“Can anyone hear me? Hello-o?”

Deep breath.

“HELP!”

He sat on a flat piece of rock and shouted intermittently as the sun tracked across the sky, before standing straight, coming to a decision. He picked up the pickaxe handle to use as a makeshift crutch.

Can’t go up. Guess I’m going down.

He carefully started down the steps. They were wide, gray, featureless, and completely regular, with a meter gap at the center allowing light down from above. The man leaned over slowly to peer down the center, but could not make out any details in the darkness below.

The steps have got to lead somewhere, right?

Part of him tingled with excitement about all this – a real life adventure, an exploration in my own garden, a discovery of something… ancient?
A cold war relic?
Something alien?
A forgotten access tunnel to an old railway line? Or sewer?
An impressively organised rabbit hole?

Only one way to find out. He whistled half a tune, a reassuring gesture. Just an exciting little adventure. Wait till I tell the boys in the gym this one!

He looked at the steps, rooted to the spot as the birds continued their spiteful song.

Who dares wins.

He hobbled down the spiralling steps, keeping one hand in contact with the wall at all times, fingers trailing along solid smooth stone. After fifteen minutes (he guessed), only the central section of the steps received any light from above, and with each minute the light dimmed further.

Looking up through the central column, he realised it was getting dark on the surface. The sun had set, and the first, brightest stars could now be seen. I must have been out for longer than I thought. A slight panic overtook him, and he half-ran down the steps, taking them two at a time, breathing heavily, cringing at every lunge forward.

Running through near-total darkness until fatigue kicked in, the man missed his footing, stumbled and fell down a half dozen steps, bruising his back on the sharply defined corners. He sat where he fell, hugging his knees tight to his chest. Exhaustion took mercy on him, and he slept.

to be continued…

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctory_1s_m1ne/872441928 – Creative Commons

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