Copyright 2016 Jerry Rock
Published by Jerry Rock at Shakespir
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“I swear I would have seen that.” said Taz, as we walked back to his house that evening.
Actually, his name isn’t really ‘Taz’ but that’s what he likes to hear. And he would be bummed if I mention his true name, so let’s stick with what we are allowed.
As for me, you can call me Nick. I’m thirteen and have just started high school. Yes, I know I’m younger than an average high school sophomore but you can blame my father for that. He was eager to see me in a school uniform.
Thanks to him, I have gone from being the tallest in middle school to one of the shortest in my class. Even Taz is a couple of inches taller than me and he measures at just165cm.
Another thing that you’ll notice about me is my blond hair. That, and my haircut, has contributed to my head being compared to a light bulb.
But I should get back to more important matters at hand. Since last week, when I started high school, I have noticed this girl ahead of me. She is always exactly two flight of stairs ahead of me. Surprisingly, as soon as the stairwell ends, she would vanish in thin air.
It is not that I’m interested in her, I am just curious.
But I didn’t tell Taz about her. And I have very genuine reasons for that. One, there are hardly any families with girls in our apartment complex (yes, I live in an apartment complex. That’s where the stairwell comes in.) and he wouldn’t want to believe my story. And two, he would make fun of me. You see, he is one of those guys who expects a lot of attention from the female crowd (and he gets it as well) so chasing after a mysterious girl isn’t really his thing.
But In the end, I had to tell someone. And he was the obvious choice, as we both use the same stairs each day, together.
His response, however, has created more confusion for me. I mean yes, it might be difficult to catch sight of someone almost below you but at least he would have heard something. It is not the primary stairwell that we use, so there are hardly any sounds, especially at the time we leave for school.
As I kept thinking about it that night, I finally reached a conclusion: she’s a ghost.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” This was his reaction when I shared my new theory with him. Of course, this was after he mocked me for my question from the previous day.
“Perhaps it was a poor attempt to frighten you.” I quickly replied. I didn’t want the reputation of being ‘weird’ or something like that. High school is a very cruel place for anyone who’s different.
Thankfully, he bought it.
Come to think about it, he might be right. The girl may have ‘vanished’ because she reached her floor (and turned in to the hallway). And like I said earlier, it is very difficult to see someone (almost) directly below you. As for the sounds, they are probably not noticeable to someone as ignorant as Taz.
I think I should first explain the architecture of our apartment complex. It’s four floors with four rooms and a common hallway on each floor. On one end of the hallway are the primary stairs. On the other end, there used to be the old school elevator, which were removed due to some malfunctioning. They were supposed to be replaced by a new one but we got a new stairwell. At least, that’s what the owner told us.
Honestly, those stairs look like they are as old as the building itself. The railings are old and rusty and the stairs aren’t exactly well built.
The only advantage of old, unused stairs is that you can make them your own. Hiding stuff, ditching school, making out are some of the many advantages. Plus, the small lights and the windows make up for a really cool, and uncanny, light show in the morning. I have to accept that I am a nature person and have an attraction towards simple yet hard to explain things.
Any way, that’s been our routine ever since we first explored that alternate stairwell. Go down those stairs, enjoy the light show, check our gum supplies, decide whether to go to school or not and if yes, leave for school.
Despite all of his rough, arrogant, dude-like nature, he has always behaved like an elder brother to me. He is, two years older and has been, unofficially, in-charge of me since elementary school.
In fact, if either of our parents could, they would adopt the other one. We are the perfect example of ‘brothers from different mothers.’
And if he would have managed to notice that ‘mysterious’ girl, he could have helped me out in interacting with her.
Okay, I may be a bit interested in her. And, as it turns out, this will be the first time I will talk to a girl all by myself.
Two weeks in, and I am still where I started. Just a glimpse of her on the floor below and the sound of her footsteps. And surprisingly, Taz’s senses are still incapable of noticing her.
I think, Taz has been detrimental to my (zero) progress. If it were not for him, I would have at least caught up with her. Especially now when I get an extra opportunity each day.
You see, apart from the chase (if you can call that one) I’ve started noticing her whenever I come back home. Again, on the stairs, a floor above me. And again, I’m not able to run to her, because I’m with Taz.
I know that if I go by myself, I’ll foster enough courage to talk to her. I wish that, for once, I could go alone.
Amazingly, I had my wish granted on Monday, the next week. Taz had fallen sick (some infection, I guess) and the doctor has requested him to stay at home for at least two days.
Of course, I wasn’t happy about him being sick but I was glad that I will finally get my chance.
While getting ready for school, I spent a lot of time preparing myself for the meeting. I can talk about her school, her house and other things on those lines. I also thought over what I’ll do if she doesn’t respond in the first attempt.
As I closed the door behind me, a lot of things were going through my mind. What if I had missed her? I was already five minutes later than normal. Will I catch up with her?
As I tried to picture that ‘first meeting’, I took my first step down the stairs.
I was almost down the first flight when I finally heard footsteps. And, once again, she was there on the steps exactly below me. This was my chance.
I upped my pace to catch up with her but, to my surprise, the distance between us was a constant.
“Hello down there”, I called out. Honestly, I’d stunned myself. I hadn’t planned to speak a word until I was a lot closer but the chance was taken. And she must have heard it as I saw her standing still down below.
A few seconds and some steps later, she had started walking again. It was odd but the weird part came later when she again vanished into nothingness as soon as the stairs ended.
I, probably, spent a lot of hours during school thinking about everything that panned out. She had stopped when I called out to her and resumed walking out of the blue. And then she was gone as soon as I reached the end, as if she became invisible. There’s no way she could have gone anywhere, unless she was running. And I’m sure that she wasn’t.
Despite my efforts that evening (I was earlier than usual and waited for quite a while) I couldn’t find her anywhere.
‘She’s a nuisance’, I thought. I avoided the idea of giving up and planned my conversation for the next day, since I’ll again be alone and will, hopefully, catch up with her. I worked on my words and movements before succumbing to sleep.
These efforts took a toll on me as I had a delayed start the next morning. As I rushed through my morning routine, I went over my plan once again before, finally, getting out of my house.
Back at the ‘forbidden’ stairwell, I quickly peeked down to find her walking at her usual pace. The atmosphere was super-quiet, I could hear myself sigh. I’ll finally be getting my first meeting with her.
But life had other plans, for, despite my efforts, I just couldn’t seem to catch up. And, this time, she went missing a floor earlier. It was, as if, the entire universe was strategising against me.
Seriously, I must find a way to reach up to and talk with this girl. She’s already started to drive me insane.
Her ‘sightings’ have dwindled to just the mornings, which was worrying, even if it has been just two days. It was as if she has been noticing me all this while, and since my ‘call-out’, she has planned to have a look out for me.
And now, obviously, the plans have to be put on hold. Taz is back and he will be joining me from the next day onward. I have had my chances and have been quite wasteful. Perhaps, this was not meant to be.
Come to think of it, the girl is weird after all. I mean, I haven’t seen her anywhere other than that stairwell. And I don’t think anyone other than Taz, I and her use those stairs. We, certainly, have our reasons but what are hers. It’s not like she’s hiding something there. She gives the impression of a complete book-lover, with her textbooks clutched tightly to her chest. Her head is always down and she doesn’t seem to have much confidence. Clearly, she is not the right kind of girl for me.
But I’m curious. Why is she like that? And definitely what is her reason to be there, and not anywhere else in our building. I know, curiosity kills the cat, but I’m neither a cat and there is nothing to be scared of an, obviously, harmless girl.
And, maybe, I don’t have to give up so soon. There is no compulsion that I have to go with Taz. Plus, despite his recovery, he will be a lot slower (and lazy) than usual and I can use that point to my advantage. I will leave home and he, most certainly, will be late and I’ll go on my own. She’ll be there and I ‘will’ catch-up this time and finally have my conversation.
With this plan in mind, I dozed off.
The next morning, I was earlier than usual, and despite the girl and my plan being the focal point, I got through my morning rituals with the efficiency that could keep my parents happy for a month.
Once out in the hallway, I totally skipped wasting anytime going to Taz’s home. Honestly, I was worried that he might be ready to leave or that he may ask me to wait. I quickly reached the stairwell and started my descent.
Just as I turned for the stairs to the next floor, I saw her. She was moving at almost snail-pace, perhaps, waiting for me. Okay, I shouldn’t get my hopes too high.
“Hel…”, my voice trailed off as I heard his footsteps.
“You should have waited for me.”, said Taz as I, unwillingly, walked back to him.
This was my chance. I was already angry at Taz for ruining the moment.
“And what are you fuming about?”, he questioned.
“Nothing, I thought you may get late.” My response was expressive enough and he got the point. I was in no mood to talk.
We didn’t talk much on the way to school and back home. That was up until I saw her walking up the stairs. I felt so happy, I had to get it out.
“You see her?”, I asked him.
“Oh, you found your voice”, he taunted me. Noticing my frown, he replied, “who?”
“Her”, I said, turning to her direction. And voila, she was gone.
“Who?”, he asked again.
I was beyond confused to give him an answer. He, probably, recalled our original conversation about a ‘her’ and said, “Wait! Is this about that vanishing girl?”
“What?”, I questioned.
“You know, the one you talked about, a few weeks ago.”, he answered.
And then, I narrated the entire experience about her from the last two days, though I left out the part about my ‘leave-Taz-behind’ plan.
“I guess it is safe to say that you have a crush on this mystery girl. I have to add, though, that if you haven’t managed to talk to her or find out anything else about her, you should let it go. And by the looks of it, she doesn’t seem interested.”, he said as he entered his apartment.
This was one of the things I don’t like about Taz. He’s too direct with his responses. ‘Too direct to hurt someone’, I mumbled to myself.
But I’m not giving up. No matter what, I will talk with her. And I’ll do it, tomorrow morning. And, after what Taz has said, I won’t feel too bad leaving him behind again, so I’ll get my time alone with her.
As I started down the stairs the next morning, I realised that my plan will fail miserably. She was nowhere to be seen. It was odd, since I was on time. Was she sick?, I thought. And if she was, I seriously have some issues with luck.
“Why don’t you wait for me?”, I heard Taz coming behind me.
But, to my surprise, it wasn’t him. Instead, it was the girl. Walking ever so slowly, it was a sight to behold. Her long hair had most of her face covered, which was unusually white. She was constantly looking down at the stairs. The focus she had on the stairs, one would wonder that she may miss her step if she’d look anywhere else. She had a few books, clutched to her chest. Her dress was modest but she had me charmed.
I was staring at her as she was about to go past me. I probably should have just let her go. I certainly should have thought about Taz’s voice that I heard a while ago. And I, most definitely shouldn’t have stopped her.
But I did.
Just as she stepped ahead of me, my hand, almost involuntarily, reached out to grab her arm. The books dropped out of her hand with a thud, but it sounded like a ‘boom’ in the stillness of the moment.
As she turned her head to me, I felt myself being pushed towards the hand-rail. My whole body numbed as I saw her eyes. Bloodshot and her pupils, dilated. One of her ears was missing and it looked like it had been ripped off of her head. I could see maggots dropping out from there. Six, finger-like, marks were present on her throat, as if someone had choked her.
Perhaps, I had already lost my sanity when I saw her ripped ear. Everything that followed was a blur. And yet, I remember it. She forced her hands on my throat, trying to choke me. But it was not before I noticed that she was missing the ring and little fingers of both her hands. They seemed like they were bitten off, and the next thing I felt was pain. Not on my throat, but the back of my head, as I felt my body collapse.
As I came back to my senses, I found myself lying in a room. I saw a light bulb hanging from the ceiling but it was so dim that I can hardly make anything out around the room. It felt like an old storage room as I made out some old, broken furniture on one side. On the other side, there was a door and I could see dim, blue light under the door. It was late in the evening and I saw shadows of somebody walking outside, accompanied by voices of people talking.
I attempted to stand up and walk to the door, but I was unable to put any weight on my left leg. It was definitely broken but I didn’t feel much pain.
I decided to crawl to the door to wait for anyone to come and help me. It was difficult but I managed to get to the door. The light was almost not there, but each time I heard a voice, I knocked on the door.
I tried to scream but no voice came out. It was as if all the energy has been drained out of me.
And then came the final nail in the coffin, when I heard someone say, “there’s nobody in there. The door has a padlock.”
Despite that, I had to keep trying. My knocks became more periodic and it wasn’t until I felt a bug crawling into my ear that I pushed myself to sit up.
It didn’t give up though and kept coming at me. So much so that I grabbed it and put it in my mouth. Yes, I ate it. I was hungry and annoyed. Why would anyone put me there? What wrong did I do?
I don’t know if it was my frustration with the situation, or the ‘crunch’ of the bug in my mouth, or maybe it was the ‘unhelpful’ but ‘persistent’ voices on the outside, but I covered my ears, before it got too much to handle. I grabbed my right ear with both my hands and pulled on it. In between my attempts to yank it off and to cut it with the door lock (and adrenaline), I managed to rip it off of my head. I felt pain, and relief. At least I could hear those ‘worthless’ voices a bit less. As for the pain, I slept it off.
After what seemed like an eternity, I woke up to my hunger. I was still alive. I could feel the ‘creepy-crawly’ bugs at the side of my head, maggots. But I didn’t care. I was too tired to move. I thought about eating them, but I couldn’t.
My stomach growled again, and the next thing I know, I was nibbling on my fingers. For some reason, my fingers felt delicious. They were covered with my blood and that of those bugs that I consumed. I was too tired to feel any pain but I could still savour that meal. After consuming two of the four fingers from both of my hands, came the realisation of pain.
I had to end this. But I could hardly move an inch. I tried to hold my breath but my lungs forced me to take the air in. And then, I forced whatever was left of my fingers on my throat. It pained me but I had to go on. This was a better option than this self-cannibalism.
Slowly, I could feel my senses fade and a few seconds later, I felt my body collapse.
And I woke up, again. This time I was on a bed and could hear ‘beeps’ consistently. I was in a hospital. I could feel my fingers and my ear. I could still feel pain in my head. Was it all a dream?
As I recalled my encounter with the girl, I realised that the ‘possible’ dream was what she had experienced. Everything adds up.
Before I could think it through, I could see my parents rush to me. I can see Taz and his parents there as well. And she was there too. I could see her eyes fixed on mine. She looked angry but, at the same time, her face showed no expressions. I can understand her rage, for I had shared her dream, discovered where she died and haven’t perished like her.
Later, my mother told me that Taz saw me slip and smash my head on the stairs. She questioned him about my desire to go alone but he gave her some excuse.
Taz told me his version of the story, about how I acted like I’ve seen a ghost (in my defense, I did) and asked me if I did manage to find the girl. I told him that I had taken his advice and given up on her.
I really wish that I would have taken his advice. And while I did give up on her, she has found some interest in me.
Thanks to me, she has managed to get out of the stairwell. I should have realised that when I saw her at the hospital. At least, I wouldn’t have made a fool of myself when I saw her in the hallway (that is one part of the story I’d like to avoid but if you must know then I almost jumped on Taz like a small kid).
She does keep me company though. Even more than Taz. Each day, when I go to Taz’s home she’ll be walking by my side. She would come home with me. She sits with my family during dinner. She shares her dreams when I sleep. And whenever I wake up in the middle of the night, she’d be there staring at me.
And even will all of that, she calls me every day to walk with her down those stairs. I guess, she’s harmless if she’s away from the stairwell. Or if I have some other company.
Despite everything that has happened, me and Taz still use that stairwell. And yes, I have to walk in the middle or otherwise I’ll touch her. And she hates that. I could see her frown each time I touch her (by mistake, obviously). And that’s because Taz pushes me to the hand-rail.
Will all this pushing, he was definitely asking for it. So she did. She pushed him down the stairs and he has fractured his arm. He will be at home for at least one week.
And that means, that I have to take the stairwell. And, I’ll be alone with her. You might argue that I can take the other stairs, but she won’t let me. Now that we’ve bonded well, she is strong enough to take me to those stairs.
I wanted to get to know her and I had my wish granted. And I know what she’s going to do to me. I just hope she kills me as soon as we reach her tomb on the stairwell.
Nick is your regular high school sophomore - curious, inquisitive and with a thing for the uncanny. And, like most teenagers do, he too has a crush on a girl that he never catches up with. While the girl appears to be quite normal, she has a hard time showing up anywhere but the stairwell. Oh and by the way, you know that there are things that you should not get into, especially when you can't explain it to others (or yourself).