The February Editor's Pick Writer is Konstantine Paradias
Please feel free to email Konstantine at firstname.lastname@example.org
STAIRCASE TO NOWHERE
On the second floor of my house, there is a staircase that leads to nowhere.
It is set at the end of the corridor as part of the master bedroom, where in any other home you might find a large window with a scenic view to the park or a collapsible ladder that leads to the attic. There is nothing remarkable about it at first glance, besides its apparent uselessness. To a casual observer, it is nothing more than a plain wooden staircase with rosewood railings; simple, unadorned and barely used.
The staircase is exactly eleven steps high, just wide enough to accommodate one adult. The topmost part of its railings are embedded in the ceiling. There is no hidden trapdoor beneath the plaster or some window, obscured by bricks and roofing. The staircase is a slanting upward cul-de-sac, and that is all there is to it.
When I asked Dad what it was for (back in the day when still considered him omnipotent and omniscient), he didn’t know. When I asked my grandfather (who had the staircase built in the first place), he only shrugged and changed the subject.
By the time I had grown, the staircase had transmuted. From a secret, impossible thing laden with mystery, it had become a blind spot in my own house; a feature no more worthy of consideration than the walls themselves.
Then my father died. His death was sudden and it gave my grandfather a stroke. For three years, my grandfather hung in there, moving through the house with a cane and a bad leg, the sounds following him: Thump. Ffssss. Thump. Ffffsss.
Eventually I left for college.
I was away when my mother died. I returned to the house for her wake.
Moonlight crept through the windows and made the shape of its shadow long and gaunt, stretched taut across the floorboards. I lingered around the edges for a while, tested the shadow-stuff and then finally—cautiously—crossed it.
I revisited the long, dark hallway that seemed to go on forever. It was silent; it seemed odd not to hear the familiar sound of a sturdy oak cane, tapping down on the floorboards, followed by the gentle drag of a leg rendered useless by stroke.
Thump. Ffssss. Thump. Ffffsss.
In the bathroom, one of the corners seemed all wrong. It appeared wider, skewed but not in a way that I could describe or understand. On the mirror on the opposite wall, I saw my face, twisted like the imprint in a funhouse mirror.
Something moved at the edge of my vision. Something slithered-crawled out of the skewed angle, but I couldn’t turn and look at it, my gaze transfixed to my own reflection.
Nothing was there.
I stumbled in the darkness of my bedroom, searching for the light switch, tiptoeing in the pitch-black night. My sleep-addled mind was trying to make sense of its surroundings even as I kept making up possible scenarios: I listened for footsteps on the creaking floorboards. What had woken me? Intruders in the house?
Behind me, there was a whistling that made me freeze into place, made me turn and look back at the pitch black, looking for something sneaking in the shadows out of the en-suite bathroom towards me.
After a long, panicked moment I realized that it had been no more than the sounds of the house settling in. The whistling had been the rustle of wind in the treetops. The bathroom’s door was still shut.
I moved with greater certainty, holding myself up against the wall, feeling for the light switch. By my reckoning, I had reached halfway to the staircase when I felt my foot kick at something hard, padded a yielding exterior. I heard it bump around on the boards before finally coming to a stop.
Finally finding the light switch, I flicked it on.
As I looked at the thing that was resting at the base of the stairs, I bit my lip to keep from screaming.
By the time the police came, the thing from the staircase had soaked through the blanket I’d wrapped it in. Since the moment I had found it, the thing hadn’t stopped bleeding. It seemed impossible to me that this battered thing could even actually exist.
I had looked at it only once, when the lights flicked on. It was an oblong thing, so much like a dog’s head; except that it could not be a dog’s head, not really.
Too many eyes. Teeth all wrong. A forked tongue, hanging limply out of its mouth. No ears.
I hadn’t mopped the puddle it had left on the second floor corridor, either. The only time I saw it, it looked like a life-sized Rorschach blot, malevolent and shifting. It made me sick to my stomach.
The police pestered me with a string of unanswerable questions: did I consider this to be a prank? No, of course not. Who would do such a thing? Perhaps it could have been neighbors’ children, tossing a movie prop through my window. That theory didn’t hold up, of course. The thing in the blanket didn’t look anything like a prop. Props don’t bleed. They don’t smell of expired oranges. Their latex skin doesn’t yield like that in the hands of a shocked coroner.
The police officer did his best to make up questions and I did my best to answer them but we were both baffled. They promised me to show the evidence to one of the county veterinarians, see what they could make of it. Fat lot of good that would do.
The police finally left and I returned to bed. I slept fitfully despite my exhaustion. In my mind, the sound of the sturdy oaken cane on the floorboards returned and clicked into place in the halls of my memory: it was the sound of my grandfather, prowling around the house at night. I remembered his voice, low and rumbling, seeping in through the ceiling of my room downstairs: “All wrong. The angle’s all wrong.”
According to my grandfather’s will, his entire library was to be removed from his study and its contents destroyed. However, my mother asked me to compromise: I took the entire library to the wine cellar, took down a part of the wall and bricked them in there.
“Out of sight,”Mom had reassured me as she circumvented my grandfather’s final wishes, “out of mind.”
The day after I found the thing at the staircase, I headed down to the basement and took down that very same brick wall that I had set up, looking for those very books, foolishly hoping that perhaps I would find some answers.
As I shone the flashlight down on the carefully stacked blighted books, their covers glued together by thousands of generations of fungal cultures, there was an odor like an overflowing ashtray, with a hint of tanned leather. It was a smell that reminded me of beehives, long since abandoned and rotted.
The books fell apart in my hands as soon as I tried to open them. Their pages had long since bloated the bellies of silverfish. The hardbacks had been colonized by bookworms. The ink had run in places, smudging the lettering.
After hours of searching, I began to compile those pages that were still salvageable. Out of those pages, I kept the ones whose contents I could read. There were texts in all sorts of languages: German (written in an austere, calligraphic typeset), French (long and flowing), something that looked a lot like Hebrew (carefully inked and placed, as if set in stone) and in some cases, even Latin (great big words that seemed to bark out orders).
I kept the pages in English (written in the mad, scrawling manner of my grandfather) and a few schematics of the house, apparently hand-drawn. The rest I stored inside a ziplock bag to be sent to a translator.
I got to work.
From the few discussions I’d had with Dad about my grandfather, I realized he was a man of many talents but master of none. Passionate for knowledge, but not the kind of knowledge that could put food on the table.
Dad always remembered my grandfather as this grizzled old academic, his face transfixed into a permanent frown with eyes like tarnished silver, a voice like the moaning of rusty hinges, eternally disapproving.
When Dad had this house built, he told me, my grandfather had refused to set foot in it at first. When grandmother died, he was dragged kicking and screaming inside, shouting incoherently about the angles, the angles being all wrong.
It took him six months for my grandfather to regain his authority to the point where he could begin antagonizing Dad about the house; calling it unsafe, and unfit for habitation. The house that Dad had built with his two hands was a deathtrap and would remain a deathtrap unless certain precautions were taken.
In the end, my grandfather insisted that he build the staircase to nowhere.
“You ask what’s it for?”I remember my grandfather telling me in between pauses of shouting abuse at the workmen. “It’s for plugging up leaks. No, not water leaks. The other kind.”
It was sometime around evening, as I was lying in bed and tracing the faded outline of one of my grandfather’s old schematics, that I heard the sound.
It was almost unintelligible at first, barely echoing inside the en-suite bathroom. It was the kind of sound dead seashells make, as they are dragged across a sandy beach.
The second time, it was like the hissing of a boa constrictor, peeking its head up from a mountain of dead leaves. My pencil stopped dead in its tracks.
The sound from the bathroom grew louder, the thumping increased in frequency.
Ffffssss. Fffssss. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Something crawled in the bathroom, heavy and rattling. Something clickety-clacked on the marble tiling and whipped its tail at the empty air. I couldn’t see it, but somehow I knew there were yellow eyes peering at me though the wall. The tiles rattled like toy teeth, perpetually wound by some spectral hand.
I tried to scream, but I felt choked, paralyzed by terror. There was a crash that rocked the entire house and made the windows rattle in their frames. There was a terrible cacophony, dins and crashes and the sound of something heavy smashing on the floorboards. I barely had time to utter a prayer when it stopped, just as suddenly as it had begun.
I sat upright in the bed, hearing pounding in my ears as my blood pressure skyrocketed. I hadn’t realized that I dropped the pencil because my hands were shaking so badly. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry with fright. I felt frozen in place, too scared to move.
What seemed like an hour later, I got myself on my feet and looked out into the corridor. The framed paintings had been skewed and the old family photo had fallen to the floor, its glass shattered. There was a trail of jagged wood on the hardwood floor, as if made by claws.
I came back into the bedroom and saw that at the foot of the staircase to nowhere, something tiny lingered. It was barely bigger than my fist. Its zig-zag silk thread smile was frayed in places. One glass eye was hanging, uselessly, by a sting of hardy nylon thread. I hadn’t seen it in ages, but I recognized it immediately:
Its name was Mister Patches. It was my very first stuffed toy, given to me by my grandfather when I was about two. Now its fur was all bloody and torn in places.
I was afraid, but what could I do? I couldn’t report an assault on a toy to the police.
The answer had to lie with my grandfather. There must be a reason why he wanted his books removed.
I returned to the unfinished diagram and my grandfather’s notes. I left Mister Patches at the base of the staircase, reassuring myself that it would protect me the next time like the last. For somehow I knew there’d be a next time.
I wouldn’t let myself think of old horror stories I had read as teenager, where the loving pet is horribly wounded as it protects its owner from some unspeakable thing that seeks to hurt him. I tried not to think one of them might be lurking in my bathroom, either.
The diagram seemed like a floor plan to the house, but not quite. As I traced the smudged, faded lines, the shape that was coming into view was growing into something so complex that it made my head hurt. There were rooms on the first floor that were set in such an angle and so small in size that they would barely qualify as cupboards. Corridors that led to doors that opened to a two storey plunge. An entire section of the house, scheduled to be built under the basement.
I pressed on to the second floor diagrams. Carefully filling in the blanks and penciling over the old lines, my fears were validated: There was an extra floor to the house, between the roofing and the second floor ceiling.
At first glance, it looked like an attic. Its dimensions were, however, nonsensical; somehow claiming it to be narrower than a jacket pocket, but wider than the house itself. An annotation in capital letters beside it, half chewed by bookworms, read: PLUG IT UP. Beneath it was the staircase.
“You need to leave this house. It’s no good.” I once overheard my grandfather say through my bedroom window, grumbling in between sips of his tea that mid-summer morning in the backyard. Dad leaned over his newspaper, pretending not to listen. “It’s leaking all over.”
“I thought you’d fixed it,” Dad managed through clenched teeth. “With that crazy staircase of yours, remember?”
“I just plugged a leak. It was a shoddy job too. But it’s not that simple. The other side is pushing back, looking for another way in. Like water, pushing against a dike,” my grandfather said cryptically.
“Really? And we can’t just build another staircase in the basement? Plug that up too?” Dad said, flipping the pages of his newspaper. “We could try one up the chimney, just in case.”
“You’d better take this seriously. The other side is pushing back. Soon, it’s going to find another way in and I might not be here to protect you or your son. You need to listen to me now, while there’s still time.”
Dad slammed his hand on the garden table. “No! I’ve had it with you and your madcap ideas! I’m sick and tired of your ‘other sides,’ your dimensions, your leaks, your plugs, your angles! If my house isn’t good enough for you, you can just leave anytime!”
That same day, my grandfather had his library moved from his old home to the room that became his study. It was probably around the time when he began drawing the house’s schematics.
Whatever it is that is causing all this, I thought as I was looking over the few notes of my grandfather, it seems as though the house is in the way. The exact science of the matter eluded me, but I figured out the gist of it
Something invisible and perhaps—until recently—intangible existed in the same space as the house. Perhaps it had been there beforehand, or it had been somehow trapped in here when the house was built. This part had been irrelevant. What was important, was that now, the thing that coexisted within and along with my house was trying to escape, to make its way back in (or perhaps, out).
I was looking for some way out of this mess, and I hoped a solution was included in those notes when the sound came, this time from the staircase.
Something bounced down from the stairs and landed on the floorboards with a thud. I ran over to check what other strange treasure the staircase had disgorged this time. It was an old wooden box that had spilled out its contents. I recognized it in a heartbeat: my mother’s old jewelry box, which she had lost a few months before my grandfather died.
I was scooping up one of my mother’s filigreed pendants when the sound came again.
I barely got out of the way of a child’s bike (my old bike, complete with its training wheels) that descended the stairs and landed on the floor. I had loved that bike, rode it until the chain had worn down. My grandfather had bought me a new one on my eighth birthday and I’d forgotten about this one after that. Apparently it had not forgotten me.
There was a crashing and rolling and this time, an old TV set smashed onto the floorboards, spilling out its circuitry and smashing the screen. Then an old gaming system. Then board games, the kind I’d worn ragged from too much playing.
Old, lost treasures kept tumbling down from the impossible place at the top of the staircase, one after another; toy swords (complete with shield and helmet play sets), my first computer (a monochromatic fossil, its plastic stained), Dad’s first typewriter (spewing keys as it went), Mom’s set of porcelain dolls (their delicate faces and tiny fingers smashing to pieces as they landed).
I stepped back and watched, speechless, as old things came tumbling down, piling up in front of the staircase, a mountain of loved thing, lost things, near-forgotten things. Glass marbles and pearl earrings and wrenches and hairpins, rumbling and clinking and crashing down as they were forcefully ejected from the nowhere place, bearing battle scars.
From the top of the stairs, its plastic limbs torn out, its chrome plating chewed and gilded, its amber-colored lenses cracked, my favorite robot toy landed on top of the heap, the last defender defeated.
And from the bathroom, there came the familiar noise, as piercing as claws dragged across a chalkboard. I heard the sound of a great body—like that of a walrus—serpentine and blubbery, slapping against the marble tiles. The whipping of a great tail. The sound of too many rows of teeth, hungrily snapping at empty air.
The house quaked. The floorboards groaned, pushed themselves outward. I thought of invisible rooms with improbable dimensions, expanding against the barrier that had kept them in place for so long. On the first floor, the hallway mirror burst outward, spraying glass all over the Persian rug.
From the basement, a multitude of tiny voices cackled maniacally. I imagined them spewing forth from the hole in the wall where grandfather’s books had been kept, pouring out into the world.
There was roaring and hissing and screaming and clawing and cackling and the sounds of some great battle coming from an indefinable direction, reaching a terrible crescendo until, suddenly, there was silence.
I ran as soon as I realized that the last defender had fallen to the invaders. No sound was made, but I knew that the terrible feeling that had forced me to flee was the certainty of the enemy forces marching closer.
I thought of the things from the staircase, fallen in some unknowable battle to defend this house, their war now ended. Something behind me creaked. A support beam bent and ripped. The foundations shuddered and leaped into place. By that time I was already in the car, backing out of the driveway.
I stopped in the street for a moment and watched the old house. Its sides caved in as if crushed by an invisible hand. The glass windows did not shatter. Instead, they folded in on themselves, as if the house swallowed them up. From below, the house contracted, compacted and finally collapsed, until it was a perfect cube, no larger than my fist. There was no sound but a barely audible pop, as the air rushed in to fill the vacuum where my parents’ house once stood.
I blinked slowly at the rectangular hole, its sides punctured by gutted electrical cables and sliced pipes. As the setting sun shone its rays over it, I thought I caught a glimpse of a room suspended in the air, its architecture a maddening, dizzying sight.
There was a shimmering curtain that seemed to bend the sun’s rays jut the wrong way, so I turned my car around and floored it all the way back to town.
Konstantine Paradias is a writer by choice. His short stories have been published in the AE Canadian Science Fiction Review, The Curious Gallery Magazine and the BATTLE ROYALE Slambook by Haikasoru. His short story, “How You Ruined Everything” has been included in Tangent Online’s 2013 recommended SF reading list and his short story “The Grim” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
He also offers an editing service at reasonable prices. You can see his website HERE