Steps (Short Story – Pt 3 of 5)

Part One: https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/steps-short-story-pt-1-of-5/
Part Two: https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/steps-short-story-pt-2-of-5/
This is part three.

DAY THREE
He woke painfully, still clothed in night. The boots were a poor substitute for a plump pillow, the stone of the steps an unforgiving mattress. His leg and back muscles spasmed and cramped.

“Aaaarrrhhhh!”

He screamed, puncturing the bubble of silence, as he stretched his legs and pointed his toes to relieve the pain. His scream echoed oddly, the sound stretching and contracting, stopping abruptly.

He reached for the water bottle, optimistically holding the bottle upside down over his mouth and tapping the base. His mouth salivated in receipt of another mint, but he felt dehydrated, sluggish. Levering himself to his feet using the axe handle, he walked around shoeless on the step to stretch out the cramp. The cold slab felt pleasing against the soles of his feet, and he relished the brief respite from the increasing sensory deprivation. He tied the long laces of his boots together and slung them around his neck.

Onwards, downwards. Can’t be much further now.

He marked the passing of time by the brightness of his window to the skies, each step taking him further from the light, each hour bringing him closer to freedom.

He marched on at a steady pace, pausing frequently for breaks, mindful of becoming too exhausted without water.

Will my boss even notice I’m not at my desk today?
Will anyone think to stop by my house and check on me?
Should I have waited at the top for someone to find me?

No point second-guessing now. He needed to head down, and out.

He tried counting the steps off, but kept losing track, and eventually lost interest. His mind hopped from topic to topic, incapable of deep insight in any one area, conditioned by a life spent flitting from one shiny bauble to the next on the internet. He had no idea how many hours of funny cat videos he’d watched. Too many. He knew where to get the most salacious celebrity gossip. He knew the best free porn sites (rather too well). He knew nothing remotely useful for his current situation.

He reflected on his own, depressingly normal life. A few longish term girlfriends, but nothing had stuck. No great drama, just hadn’t quite worked out. Livvy, beautiful, sweet Livvy… she could have been the one… pity I wasn’t the only one for her. The usual imbalance of love. His parents had separated when he was young: he hadn’t seen his dad for twenty years. Mom had died a few years back, brain haemorrhage in the supermarket, dropped down dead, like a light switched off. He hadn’t thought about her for a while, and felt some guilt about that, but he’d never been one to dwell on the past. – As for work

He focused on the future, his future, with a hot little wife, a couple of kids – one boy, one girl, naturally – and a promotion at work to pay for the modern, classy, spacious house they were all going to live in. Something with high ceilings and natural light. Windows. Lots of windows. As dreams go, it wasn’t much, but it was all his, and all he had right now.

He slouched on down the steps.

He had never been one for religion. Never been to church, except for friends’ weddings. Never prayed. Never believed. Never had faith. He’d seen precious little evidence of any Divine power in his life, and the chaos he’d lived through. He was a man of evidence, of things grounded in the physical world that you could see and taste and hold. But he prayed now. He justified it to himself logically – can’t hurt to try – but it went far beyond that. He was losing hope, losing time. Losing his mind.

He needed to reach out to something.

He reached out, and he prayed. He prayed for his mom, in the way that a five-year old who skins their knee in the playground cries out automatically. He prayed for salvation – a hot meal, a beer, some bandages for my feet. He prayed for relief – a warm bath and a comfy bed. He prayed for forgiveness…

Hands clasped, head bowed, he prayed and prayed, feet taking him automatically, mechanically downwards. The repetition of each movement forward, the clacking of wood on stone, and the all-encompassing dark, had a hypnotic effect. His upper body swayed as the prayer became a chant, while his legs kept on taking him down the endless steps. He prayed and chanted for a long time, descending deeper and deeper. The chant became a rhyme, half-remembered.

In the darkest corners
Of every bedroom wall

In this place where dreams die
And spiders fear to crawl

Something old awakens
The smell seeps through the wall

Time has lost all meaning
His soul will surely fall

There’s nowhere left to hide
Nowhere left to hide
Nowhere left to hide…

He trailed off into silence. The man walked a little more, then stopped, sat, hugged his knees to his chest, rocking slightly.

Nowhere left to hide

Sitting there on the step, the dark seeped in through his eyes, his mouth, his ears, through his skin, and was carried along his veins and arteries into every organ, every cell in his body, until all light was gone, and he was one with the dark.

… to be continued

872441928_02723f1792_z
https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctory_1s_m1ne/872441928 – Creative Commons

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Steps (Short Story – Pt 2 of 5)

Part One: https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/steps-short-story-pt-1-of-5/
This is part two.

DAY TWO
He woke in dusky half-light, groggy and disoriented. Massaging his scalp, he could see light gray clouds high in the sky, a world away. Could be any time. His thirst was savage, and it took all his discipline not to finish the remaining water from the bottle.

Better save some water. Might take a while to get to the bottom.

Rustling in his pocket to find the mints, he edged one from the packet into his mouth. He pulled out the lighter at the same time, and lit it. The flash of the flame momentarily blinded him, but after a few moments he explored his surroundings further. He used the lighter as a torch, cupping his hand between his eyes and the flame. Smooth gray rock. Stairs leading down to his left, and back up to his right. That was it.

Should I go back up?

He stared back up and sighed. Somehow he knew that would be futile. The only way was down.

There’s no going back.

He put the lighter back in his shorts, blinked away the blind spot it had left, and stretched his legs. Gingerly, he tested his weight on his ankle, and winced. The weight of those worn, trusty garden boots was not helping, but he’d endured worse.

Setting off at a leisurely pace, he tried to think of songs matching the clack-clack rhythm of crutch on stone. Under pressure, his memory failed him, or the rhythm was just all wrong. Random snatches of nursery rhymes that he hadn’t heard since his own childhood came to mind. Rather a lot of men, and a single dog, went to mow a meadow. A million green bottles were sitting on the wall. He sang three blind mice repeatedly, just couldn’t shake it from his head.

He paused to rest. Calm, gray skies above, darkness below. Onwards and downwards, hour after hour, snatches of song the only breach in the oppressive silence. As he descended, the air became warmer, staler.

Wonder how long these steps have been here?

There was no sign of weathering or wear on any of them. Each step was identical to the previous, same height, same width, same depth, same shape. Utterly uniform. Despite this, he had the sensation of the steps beginning to close in on him.

There’s no way these can run much deeper, he reassured himself. They have to lead somewhere, soon.

This has to be an escape tunnel for some Cold War bunker. Too deep to be anything else.

That would mean food, and drink, a telephone, maybe even running water. His mind wandered…

M.I.C.
K.E.Y.
M.O.U.S.E.

Where had that one come from? A mystery….

Mr. E.

Edward Nigma, from the Batman films. Was that the one with nipples on the batsuit?

M.R.E…

There were few meals he wasn’t ready to eat by this time, freeze dried or not. His stomach growled and knotted in agreement.

He walked and thought, and thought and walked, circling down, step by step by step.

Peering up through his shrinking aperture to the world, the sky grew heavy with slate-gray clouds. Down, still, patient darkness awaited. He had walked the whole day, and seemed no closer to his goal.

Sipping the last of the water, he removed his boots, and sat on the stair, clenching and unclenching his toes on the cool stone. He took out the polished-steel lighter, flicking it open and lighting it in one smooth movement. Utterly uniform. He tore off the paper wrapper from the mints, lit it, and dropped it down the center of the stairwell. The flame quickly burnt through its fuel, revealing another level of steps, but nothing more.

Nothing.

He lay the boots down as a pillow, forcing himself to rest and save energy. He curled up on the step, nestling his head on the tops of the boots on the step above. Before the doubts could take hold, exhaustion won out.

He slept, fitfully and without dreams.

… to be continued

872441928_02723f1792_z
https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctory_1s_m1ne/872441928 – Creative Commons

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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…

872441928_02723f1792_z
https://www.flickr.com/photos/v1ctory_1s_m1ne/872441928 – Creative Commons

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Weekly Haiku Challenge – Gain & Hound

For Ronovan’s weekly challenge, the prompt words are: gain and hound. https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/ronovanwrites-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-50-gainhound/ I immediately wanted to do a Game of Thrones haiku for the “Hound” character, and then had an idea for a second one too. Hope you like these!

Gain?
Anniversary.
Hounded by your memory.
Gained only wisdom.

The Hound
The Hound lost a face:
Only dignity to gain
And he took his chance

ronovan_writes_haiku_prompt_badge_autumn_2014

Love Haiku #5

21
Ran five miles home,
A long sprint to hide my shame;
A longer shower

22
An empty vessel.
I won’t miss you when you’re gone
I tell myself now

23
Last look through the door.
My heart stretched to breaking point
To see you with him

24
A look, lingering
Slices through my defences,
Leaves my wound exposed

25
My sun and my sin,
Guiding me through moonless night
Blinding me to faults

26 – For Emma
Purple skirt kisses
Next to the bar quiz machine
You looked amazing

11407035_1090284951000198_121175283519658833_n

Picture by kind courtesy of NB Photography (you can find them and more amazing photos on Facebook, or at http://www.neilbarr.co.uk). “Ailsa Craig from Lendalfoot, Ayrshire”

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Love Haiku #4

16
Forbidden kisses
In the snow that Christmas Eve,
Furtive magic fell

17
Your love engorges
The heart’s necrotic chambers
With just a smile

18
I had brought you wine;
A thousand apologies.
Your heart’s course was set

19
Frozen heart shatters
Reflecting crystalline love
In her baby blues

20
Bitten by your ghost
Ethereal reminders
Liquefy reason

11145003_1090460177649342_2202425340351786773_o
Picture by kind courtesy of NB Photography (you can find them and more amazing photos on Facebook, or at http://www.neilbarr.co.uk). “Saltcoats”

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Love Haiku #2

For this week only, a batch of haiku every day on the general theme of “love”, in all its many guises. I’ll leave you to guess which ones are autobiographical 🙂

6
First night together,
Awkward passion moved the earth.
Fire alarm sounded

7
You will never know
What I went through to find you,
Just wasn’t worth it

8
My heart imploded
Seeing your face in the crowd.
But it wasn’t you

9
I’d no idea
That was the final goodbye.
A slow fade to grey

10
So lost without you,
Floating at the sea’s mercy
Bobbing on the tide

11147019_1086013411427352_1255287011112950446_o

Picture by kind courtesy of NB Photography (you can find them and more amazing photos on Facebook, or at http://www.neilbarr.co.uk). “Perch Light – Lighthouse at Port Glasgow, Inverclyde.”

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Love Haiku #1

Since taking part in Ronovan’s weekly haiku challenge, I’ve become a little addicted to writing haiku… So for this week, a batch of haiku every day on the general theme of “love”, in all its many guises. I’ll leave you to guess which ones are autobiographical 🙂

1
Deep breath. Loins girded.
Approach her slowly, and ask.
Flee in haste, denied

2
Moments of wonder
Imprison me in self-doubt.
Cage of my making

3
Office relations.
Colleagues have drinks; flirty fun,
Best to stop it there

4
Apocalypse love:
Last man on earth gets a shot
With homecoming queen

5
The dance was sublime,
Partners completely attuned
I began my pitch

11539009_1088767714485255_5416351226752058763_o

Picture by kind courtesy of NB Photography (you can find them and more amazing photos on Facebook, or at http://www.neilbarr.co.uk). “All quiet in the Glen – looking towards Rannoch Moor on a moonlit dawn, from up on Beinn a’Chrulaiste.”

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

“U is for… Used to be” (poem)

I used to be a secret agent, but tired of all that spying.
I used to be a hard worker, but found it much too trying.
I used to be as good as gold, but cashed it in for pennies.
I used to have a head of hair, but lost it in my twenties.

I used to believe; now my well of faith is dry
I used to have a future, before the years went by.
I used to give the orders: now I do what I’m told.
The worst thing about getting old is… getting old.

I used to be a copper, but rusted in the rain.
I used to be a cabbie, but longed to drive a train.
I used to be a wild animal: now I’m an indoor cat.
I used to be a little this, but now I’m more a that.

I used to be a Red, but now my colour’s Green.
I used to be Easter: now I’m Halloween.
Life used to be just better. Regrets? I have a few.
Know that when you’re tested, be careful what you do.

I used to be a fighter, but now am less a lover.
I used to be overt, but now I’m undercover.
I used to be a man of mystery, now my life’s an open book.
I used to be a president, but now I’m not a crook.

I used to wear sharp suits: now I’m dressing down.
I used to be lost: but still I don’t feel found.
I used to be a big cheese. I’m now a Babybel.
I wonder about the choices that led to my own hell.

I used to be cutting edge, but now my wits are dulled.
I used to be a writer, but all my tales are told.
I used to be hot stuff: now I’m yesterday’s stuffing.
I used to be a million: now I’m more like nothing.

I used to be the many, but now I’m in the few.
I used to have the answers: now I wonder what to do.
I used to be. Now, not to be. A life unmade;
A belt unbuckled; a song unsung; a piano unplayed.

I used to be in the circle, now I’m outside looking in.
I used to be hot-headed, now I take it on the chin.
I used to be a dreamer; now it’s a bloody nightmare.
I used to be spontaneous, but now it’s only childcare.

I used to play the king, but now I wear no crown.
I used to be an adverb; now I’m just a noun.
I used to have it all; then we had to part.
Everything changed in the blinking of a heart.

I used to tell tall tales, but time has changed a lot.
Should you believe a word of this?

You should not.

nostalgia

D is for… (poem)

D is for the danger we dare to dream
Dry-dirty regrets
As we swing from the beam

D is for disease, dysentery and death
The slow dance with demons
Who suck our last breath

D is for drugs, delicious and dark
Doled out in doorways
Dimming our spark

D is for depression, densest of clouds
Our disguise pulled down
As we play to the crowds

D is for digging, deep down in the dirt
Desire-dropped denizens
Trading in hurt

D is for dying, in dusty despair
Destroying our legacy
On what we don’t dare

Disaster-dipped, doom-driven doctors and deans
Delegate prescriptions on what it all means

Despicable deeds of the damned and the dead
Never deigning to dwell on what lies ahead

… D is for defeat

d