S.C. Rumble

The October Featured Writer is S.C. Rumble

Feel free to email S.C. at:



by S.C. Rumble

Scott spent fifteen minutes in the car trying to muster the strength to walk. The pain in his stomach was intense, a serrated knife shearing off abdominal muscle one piece at a time. Slicing at his hope. He had tried resting his head against the steering wheel of his ’77 Toyota Celica, breathing through the pain. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. This time it took a while: five, ten, fifteen minutes. The pain overwhelmed his sense of time. Eventually it passed. He decided he was unwilling to keep enduring it.

He opened the car door and staggered into the rain, barely capable of walking. He couldn’t distinguish the raindrops from the tears on his cheeks. No need to lock the car. He wasn’t leaving. The ground was muddy and slightly slippery. Patches of uncut grass granted stability. He made his way past the old wooden sign: Maltby Cemetery.

The cemetery had been around since 1908. It wasn’t the oldest cemetery in the area, but it was the one with the most unique history. It housed a crypt known via urban legend as the Thirteen Steps to Hell, situated on a three-terraced hillside. Thirteen stone steps had been placed into the side of the lowest terrace, leading to an old family crypt. The name of the family who was buried there had long been forgotten. A plaque bearing their name had long since been stolen.

There were many rumors about the Steps. One said it was a gateway to Hell. If you walked down the steps at midnight and laid down on the ground, you couldn’t get up. Some variations said you’d hear the screams of the damned. Other rumors said you’d be driven insane just by being there. He didn’t believe any of them. Scott believed one thing: no one would find him here until they read his note.

Scott once came out to the area on a dare with friends. When he had friends. His illness drove them away. One by one they stopped calling, stopped visiting. Their absence left him cut off and hopeless, like the cemetery. The perfect spot.

As Scott walked to the site the stomach pain got the better of him. He took a knee in the mud to catch his breath. As he exhaled he saw his breath leave his body.

He didn’t think it would be that cold. He winced as another round of stomach pain took his full attention. Breathing through it he got up.

The walk to the Steps had taken longer than he expected. The sky darkened. Ss he approached, Scott saw the stone steps set into the hillside. They were level despite being set in mud. He put his foot on the first step, slipped and fell backward onto the stone path. Despite the clouds he saw stars. Rain soaked on his face. He rolled over to get up, right into a mud puddle.

“Fuck!” he shouted, slamming his fists into the mud. This wasn’t going to be easy. Another wave of stomach pain crushed him. He rolled into the fetal position in the mud breathing and waited for the pain to subside. When it passed he slowly got back up.

The rain was intense. He cautiously started down the steps again. He almost slipped on the first step again but was ready for it this time. Stopping on the third step, the rain stopped.

“Finally,” Scott thought.

He continued. As he walked down steps three, four, and five it felt like he was in a dark tunnel. At the sixth step the rain clouds parted. A sliver of moon revealed his path. At the bottom of the steps, he saw a simple, stone bench. The crypt was built into the hillside. The only unnatural part; the door. It appeared to be made of iron and extremely heavy, something you’d see in a medieval castle or monastery.

Scott stopped on the thirteenth step. Unlike the rest of the cemetery, the common area was pristine. He hastily stepped onto the ground. It was then he noticed something odd.

He couldn’t smell the grass or trees. No taste or sound in the air, not even raindrops falling onto the ground or into puddles. He could barely see what was in the immediate area, but not back up the steps. He couldn’t tell where the moonlight was coming from.

A stone bench sat in front of the door. As he walked to sit down on the bench, the ground didn’t feel right. Or—was it more like his pace was different? He couldn’t tell. He put his hand on the bench to sit down and noticed it didn’t feel like stone. It felt unnaturally smooth, like skin.

He sat facing the iron door and thought, “This will be the last thing I see.” He took a kitchen knife out of his pocket. The small kind used to cut steak at dinner. He had taken it from the butcher block at home. He thought his mom would probably replace the whole set after reading his note. Maybe she wouldn’t even notice it missing. He had tried to tell his parents the pain of his illness was too much for him. They didn’t understand how overwhelming it was for him.

“You can push through it,” they’d say. “We’re here for you. Just have hope.”

They didn’t know what they were talking about. The doctor could manage the disease with drugs but not the pain. The pain ate at Scott’s hope like the disease ate at his body. It gnawed ever so slowly, gently. Then it ate voraciously, attacking organs in a feeding frenzy. It left him hollow, but there was always room for the pain. He wanted to end his suffering.

He took off his rain-soaked jacket and laid it on the ground. He extended his arm so it rested on his leg. With his right hand he took the knife and moved it toward his wrist. He felt the knife against his wrist, saw his vein pulse with each heartbeat. He was so cold and numb he doubted he’d feel the cut. He started to cut into his skin as a loud pounding came from the door.

He jumped, “What the hell?”

He stood up and thought he heard something. Raindrops? It was like drops of water on a metal sink from a leaky faucet. He couldn’t tell from what direction.

Along the edges of the door it seemed like there was a slight glow. He walked toward it, and as he moved closer it sounded like he could hear buzzing behind it.

He searched his memories trying to recognize the sound. After what seemed like a few minutes he came to a conclusion. “Bees,” he thought. “It sounds like bees in a hive.” He could feel the slightest bit of heat coming from the door. It combated the chill of his wet clothes. He put his right hand on the door. It felt warm to the touch, pleasant, considering how cold and wet he felt.

“Excuse me,” a voice said from behind him.

“Shit!” Scott exclaimed as he spun around.

“Sorry,” the voice said. He turned around and saw a woman dressed in grey coveralls. “Sorry, I did not mean to startle you” she said as she put a hand on his shoulder to help calm him down.

“Christ! Where did you come from?” Scott asked.

“I work here. Why do not we sit down on the bench? Calm you down a bit. You had a jolt.”
They walked over to the bench and sat down.

“Take a couple of breaths,” the groundskeeper said. Scott took the advice. As he calmed down he got a better look at her. She appeared to be in her forties. She had an athletic build, probably from taking care of the cemetery. Scott thought if he saw her in street clothes, he’d probably think she was attractive; for an older woman. Even seated, Scott could tell she was tall. She was at least six and a half feet tall. Her hair was unusual: red with streaks of white. Her eyes were ice blue, almost white they were so light. Her voice was the most unique thing about her. She had an accent that was hard to place; maybe Middle Eastern, and it had a cadence and tone that put you at ease. It wasn’t hypnotic but more musical or rhythmic.

“How are you? I did not mean to shock you,” she said. “It is unusual for me to receive visitors on nights like this.”

“I’m okay. You just scared me. Didn’t think anyone would be here this late.”

“I come around when the need arises,” the groundskeeper said. “I have not been needed here for a while.”

“So, you just take care of the cemetery?” Scott asked.

“I tend to the needs of those who come here. My primary focus is visitors to this particular part of the cemetery.”

“Ahhhh,” Scott responded. “You aren’t from here are you?”

“Why do you ask?”

“You have an accent and you don’t speak normal.”

“Yes. I am not from around here. I learned English a long time ago,” she replied.

“Do you work for the family that owns the crypt?” Scott asked.

“In a way. We have an arrangement that was made a long time ago,” she answered. “May I ask you a question?”

Scott nodded.

“Why are you here?”

“I’m here to kill myself,” He blurted out. Scott’s face drained. He couldn’t believe he’d just admitted that. There was something about the groundskeeper’s voice. It wasn’t like she had asked a question, more like she commanded an answer. The groundskeeper smiled and put her hand on his shoulder.

“You are not the first. You will not be the last,” she answered like she had already known what he was going to say. “Why did you decide to murder yourself?”

Scott thought about the question for a moment, not so much the question but how the groundskeeper asked it. He thought it was odd to say murder yourself instead of kill yourself.

“I was diagnosed with an incurable disease. It won’t kill me but it keeps me in constant pain. I have good days and bad days but the bad days are getting more frequent. It wears me down. I am so tired I can’t even work anymore. I have to live with my parents. I don’t want to be a burden to them. I don’t want them to see me waste away.”

“You have chosen not to ask for help?”

“No,” Scott replied in frustration. “What good would it do? Keep me alive just to be in pain? That’s not a life I want. I want a life free of pain.”

“All life is full of pain. Some pain is minor and some seems unbearable. You have not considered the consequences of your actions.”

“Yes, I have!” Scott argued, “I’m tired of feeling like someone’s stabbing me with a hot knife in the gut.”

“That is an ironic statement,” the groundskeeper said.

“What do you mean?” Scott asked. This conversation was really draining him.

She ignored his question. “Why are you so certain it will not help? You have not even tried asking for help. You just gave up.”

“No I didn’t! I tried to fight this. You can’t fight something you can’t see.” Scott was really starting to get annoyed.           

“When you were in your car suffering from pain, what did you do?”

“You saw that?”

She grinned and asked, “What happened?”

“I was trying to breathe through the pain.”

“Why did you do that?”

He suddenly realized why he had been breathing. “I hoped the pain would go away.”

“You hoped the pain would go away. When you have hope you have the strength to live. You had more hope than you thought.”

“But I’m so tired of the pain,” he sobbed.

The groundskeeper replied, “You had loved ones to help you. You were a part of their life. They were there to help ease your burden. They loved you. You were the sum of their hopes but you gave up on them and yourself.” As she said this, Scott thought he saw a fire in her ice blue eyes. He felt ashamed.

Scott realized how much his parents and friends meant to him. He had allowed the disease to make him bitter. They hadn’t left him. He pushed everyone away. He knew he was loved and would be missed pursuing this path. He was dismayed how he could have lost so much hope. He had so much to live for.

He looked at the groundskeeper and said, “I need to get home.”

The groundskeeper grinned and said, “Do not forget your knife.”

Scott hadn’t realized he had dropped it. He got up and felt lightheaded. He tried to walk to the knife but lost his balance. The color drained from his vision and he fell to his knees, confused. Scott saw the knife and reached out to grab it. His hand passed through it.

He didn’t understand what was going on. He looked at his hand, amazed to see a dark liquid trickling off his arm into a puddle next to a body. His body.

“What’s happening?” Scott asked. He turned around on all fours with all of his strength, breathing through each movement to force himself into action.
“Help me,” he begged the groundskeeper.

He tried to look at the groundskeeper’s face but couldn’t lift his head. It was then he noticed the groundskeeper wasn’t wearing work boots or shoes of any kind. There were hooves where her feet should have been. A sliver of moonlight cast her shadow in front of him. She stood. In her silhouette Scott saw not horns but antlers proudly bulging from her head. Bat-like wings fanned him with hot air.

A strong hand rolled him onto his back, giving him a view of the iron door. Firelight emanated from the edges of the door frame. Scott was frozen. His senses, once dull, were now alive. He could hear screams radiating from the iron door as it opened.

Scott realized the stories about the Thirteen Steps to Hell were true.

“I had hoped you would realize how much you had to live for the moment you stepped out of your car. Each step you took buried your hopes,” the groundskeeper said. She grabbed him by the ankle, effortlessly dragging him toward the door.

“Just a little nudge, or shock, was all it took to tip you over the edge toward the abyss.”

“But I changed my mind! You helped me change my mind!”

“Too little, too late. I do enjoy playing with my guests,” she taunted. “What kind of Devil would I be if I did not torment the hopeless?”

Scott could feel the heat coming from the open iron door. The screamed of the damned filled his ears.

“Someone once said, ‘Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living” the Devil said as the door shut behind them.

S.C. Rumble is a husband, father, and former business analyst at a major health insurance carrier in Washington State. He earned a B.A. degree in Law and Justice from Central Washington University in 2002 and returned in 2017 to pursue a B.A. degree in English: Professional and Creative Writing.