Stairway to Heaven
By James Hold
[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
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STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
“So here we are,” Becky bewailed bitterly, “four cute college cheerleaders caught in a thunderstorm after our bus swerved to avoid a cat and got stuck in the mud.”
“Forced to take refuge in an abandoned house deep in the woods,” Ahn added.
“Not to mention,” Melody mentioned, “that our driver went to seek help, leaving us with only our professor chaperone for company.”
“Yes,” vouchsafed Valerie. “That about sums it up. So, what do we do next?”
The fetching foursome pondered the question as they wrung rainwater from their uniforms. It was Melody, the perky blonde, who offered a suggestion.
“I think one of us should take a shower. Scary movies require shower scenes, right?”
“I don’t know,” Ahn demurred. “Maybe we should ask the professor what he thinks.”
“Good idea,” Becky approved. “What do you say, professor? Professor? Professor, why don’t you answer?”
“Quiet,” Val shushed her. “Can’t you see he’s thinking? Perhaps he’s figured a way out of our predicament.”
“Actually,” the professor broke his silence, “I’m trying to decide who has the best rack for doing a shower scene.”
With the professor otherwise occupied, the girls took matters into their own hands.
“Let’s go exploring and see what we can find,” Melody suggested.
“Good idea,” the others unisoned. “We’ll meet back here in ten minutes.”
Ten minutes later they regrouped.
“I found some candles,” Becky beamed. “Now we can have some light.”
“And I found a bag of cat litter,” Ahn chipped in. “We can use it to get the bus wheels unstuck.”
“Great!” Becky complimented her friend. “I never would have thought of that.”
“That’s why I’m the brainy Asian. What about you, Melody? Did you come up with anything?”
“I found some clothes pins,” Melody remarked woodenly.
“Clothes pins?” Becky repeated. “What good is that?”
“I figured we could remove our wet clothes and hang them up to dry.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Ahn cast her eyes in the professor’s direction. She had a valid point as they’d seen the way he leered at them during the bus ride.
“But we have to do something,” insisted Melody. “We’ll get sick if we keep them on. Besides, it’s too dark for him to see us from across the room.”
Nature chose that moment to invalidate her point as a burst of lightening illuminated the room, bathing everything in a grayish glow. The professor saw the girls in their skivvies and said, “Of course there’s no reason why you all couldn’t take a shower.”
“By the way,” asked Ahn, “where’s Val? She’s been gone a long time.”
“You’re right,” Melody observed. “It wouldn’t be fair for us to shower without her.”
Becky counted to ten, then gave her friend a pat on the head.
“It’s all right, Mel. You stay and watch the professor while Ahn and I look for her.”
Having searched three sides of the house, the only place left was the hallway which the missing girl had taken. Holding their flickering candles arms length, they reached the end of the corridor. There on an otherwise blank wall hung an enormous painting.
“What is that?” the little Asian gasped in disgust. The picture was too large and the candlelight too inadequate to see the entire thing. But what they could take in was quite disturbing.
It showed a weird landscape with a house in the distance. The house looked much like the one they were in and from a window three tiny dots stared out on the scene below. The foreground depicted a group of near-naked nymphs dancing in a circle while a grinning satyr looked on.
“It’s hideous,” opined Becky as she repositioned her candle to take in more of the picture. In the far corner of the frame the artist had left his signature: Oktid. Her first though was “Who on Earth is Oktid?” Then, considering what she was seeing, she wondered if he was even of this Earth.
Holding the flame closer to the canvas, she once more studied the three figures in the window. “Omigod! It’s us!” She grasped her friend’s arm. “Ahn! Those dots are us!”
“Don’t be silly.” Ahn rebuked her childish reaction. “You’re letting the atmosphere get to you. It’s just an ugly painting by an amateur hack. I mean, look at those dancing girls.” She rested her candle over that section of the work. “They’re little more than smudges. And this one doesn’t even match the others. The rest are naked while she’s wearing a red outfit…”
The words died in her throat as she took a closer look. The girl was indeed wearing a red outfit, one that matched the cheerleader uniform their missing friend Val had been wearing. They stared harder, feeling the painting draw them in, as the grinning satyr turned his head and beckoned them with one hand, inviting them to join the others in their endless frolic. Both felt themselves crossing a threshold as the room behind them swirled and the soft dry grasses and warm sunshine touched their bare skin. The satyr held out his hands to help them step inside…
Then came another flash of lightning and a boom of thunder which broke the spell. The girls dropped their candles and ran screaming back to the room where Melody and the professor met them with surprised looks. They explained best as they could the cause of their alarm. The professor listened with skepticism, not that he didn’t appreciate the sight of three hot chicks in their skivvies.
“Nonsense,” he exclaimed. “And even were it true, I would gladly change places with that satyr. Think of it; the freedom to look on without shame or facade, to drop these academic robes of respectability and indulge in true appreciation of beauty as nature intended.” Without another word he took up a candle and stormed down the hall. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” he called back. “Magnificent! Oktid was a genius! I can feel the attraction, the lure, the——”
That was the last the girls heard. The voice ended abruptly and all was silent.
A short time passed, then:
“We really should check on him,” Becky told the others. “He may have fainted.”
No one believed this, but they felt obligated to do something. Taking the last remaining candle, the three returned to where the painting hung. On the edge of the frame they found a drop of melted wax, while on the floor laid a discarded academic robe.
“So here we are,” Becky bemoaned balefully, “three cute college cheerleaders huddled beneath the boughs of a dripping sycamore tree, our uniforms, our sneakers, all burned to a crisp.”
“I told you not to hold the candle so close to the painting,” an angered Ahn admonished the blonde on her left.
“How was I to know it’d catch fire and the whole house would go up with it?” Melody moaned.
They gazed at the smoldering mound of ash in the distance. Occasional sizzle sounds sprang from the singed timbers as raindrops fell on them.
“But on the bright side,” Becky blushed, “we managed to snatch the professor’s gown from the floor on our way out; otherwise we’d be standing in our underwear.”
The moments passed, during which nothing happened. Then Ahn said, “I think it’d be best if we didn’t say anything about what happened; just pretend the house was struck by lightning and Valerie and the professor didn’t make it out.”
“Who didn’t make it out?” an offstage voice intruded.
“Val!” Ahn’s almond eyes became round saucers. “How did you get here?”
“Beats me. One minute I was in a dark hallway and the next I’m in a field outside the house.”
“But… your hair… your clothes.”
“What?” Val touched a hand to her head. “Is my Afro drooping?”
“No! You’re completely dry. Your sneakers aren’t even muddy.”
“Well,” Val responded with a shrug, “I always was neat. So what are you guys doing with the professor’s robe?”
“Omigod,” Melody murmured. “The professor! Do you think he’ll turn up as well?”
Becky and Ahn took a moment to contemplate the ashes.
“I doubt it,” Becky concluded. “Not after what he said in there. Besides, if he did we’d have to give back his robe; and then where would we be?”
“Speaking of returning,” Val grumbled impatiently, “when is our driver coming back?”
“You called?” A man stepped out from behind a bush. “I got here quick as I could when I heard there was going to be a shower scene.”
The shower scene took place eventually, but not until the girls returned to their dorm; after which they contemplated their experience.
“That was a strange painting,” Ahn reflected as she toweled her hair. “Somehow the artist, Oktid, managed to create something so appealing it served as a wish fulfillment mechanism that… well, had a way of drawing you in.”
“Yeah,” mused Melody, mending her nightie; “sort of a Stare Way to Heaven.”
Becky patted her friend on the head, then closed her eyes to sleep. But sleep was a long time coming. Her thoughts went back to a field where girls danced careless and free, and she wondered which of them had really made the right decision.
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