The Staircase

In the fall of 2009, I got a Temp job working for a company called PrintComm. I’m not entirely sure of what it did officially, but my job was to make sure the giant industrial printers were running properly. Load ‘em up, press print, stack ‘em and pass ‘em off to the next room. Boring, minimum wage stuff. Anyway, there was a guy, for the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Andrew, who had the same job as me; we worked right next to each other. We didn’t talk much, since we didn’t have the same interests or anything. Occasionally, we’d rag on our boss, or discuss plans for the weekend.

About 2 weeks ago, he texted me out of nowhere. “Are you busy tonight? I need a place to crash.”

I didn’t know what to say at first. We weren’t that close and I was sure he had someone else to leech of off. But, we were, in a sense, comrades in arms, so I figured, why not?

“Sure,” I sent back. “But not on my bed. You stay on the couch.” He was here not 20 minutes later. He told me he appreciated my help, that he couldn’t go home tonight. I asked him why.

“It’s hard to explain, really. Just some stuff that’s been going on. It should be sorted out tomorrow.” He refused to talk more about it the entire night.

He went to bed early. I tried to get him to watch a movie, but he told me he was staying away from the television lately. I stayed up for an hour reading. I can usually hit the three hour mark when I settle in with a good book, but tonight was different. I couldn’t explain why, but I was feeling a little uneasy and couldn’t concentrate. I wrote it off as Andrew being there and the weirdness of his visit.

It’s hard to say, but that night may have been the first night of the horror that was to come.

I live alone. I have a dog, Mike, but he usually stays outside, by choice. I’d love it if he came in more, but alas, it is not to be. I sleep in the only bedroom at the top of the stairs, and I’ll usually watch some TV before nodding off. I can’t sleep with the TV on, though, so I’ve gotten pretty good at turning it off before I fall asleep. Which is what made the dream I had that night so weird.

It began with me standing on the staircase, with all the lights off. For some reason, I was scared, more scared than I had ever been in my life. There was something chasing me, I knew it. As dreams are wont to do, it began fading and morphing into the most abstract ideas. I remember the staircase, and then I remember it not being a staircase anymore, but a TV with the image of a staircase on it. And when I woke up in the middle of night, the TV still had that image on it. I couldn’t tell if I was still dreaming or not, so I picked up the remote and flipped off the TV for the second time that night.

I woke up late. Super late, in fact. I was late for work. I found a note from Andrew saying he had left to go to work, and that I’d see him there. Only problem was, I didn’t go into work that day. I was feeling violently ill. Every time I sat up from bed, I got super dizzy and almost fell back into bed. I had to call in, and that took a lot out of me. The only thing that I got out of bed to do was close the door. For some reason, looking out at the staircase creeped me out. I assumed it was that dream I had last night, where I was standing on the stairs. I tried to watch TV, but again, all I could think of was my staircase. Why was it creeping me out so much? I couldn’t explain it, but when I felt well enough to move, going up and down those stairs gave me an intense feeling of uneasiness, like I was being watched. Needless to say, I walked them as little as I could.

The next day, I felt fine, so I went to work, although begrudgingly. Andrew was there, which for some reason surprised me. I don’t know why, but I expected him to be gone. He questioned me about me whereabouts the previous day, and I explained to him what happened. When I told him about the dream, he mumbled something and ran off. He literally picked up his stuff and walked out of the building without clocking out or anything. He wouldn’t answer his phone or anything, either, which worried me a little.

There was a party that night, with some other friends I had met in college a few years ago. There was quite a lot of drinking going on that night, and I woke up the next morning feeling sick, but this time, I knew why. My phone kept going off, which really annoyed me, in my hung-over state. It was a reminder of a notification. More specifically, an E-mail.

I drove home at 25 miles per hour, thanking the sweet and holy lord that it was Saturday. I fell back to sleep until about 3 in the afternoon. Having no plans, I checked the E-mail I got. It was from Andrew, and it was long as hell. I struggled for a minute, then scrolled to the bottom to see if there was a “TL;DR.” There was not. What I found instead, one of the last lines of the E-mail, shook me to my core:

“Which is why I’ve taken my own life. It’s the only way out. I strongly recommend you do the same, as I fear it’s passed on to you.”

I slammed my laptop shut and leapt up. What the fuck did I just read? This had to be the world’s sickest joke. Calling him again yielded an answering machine, and I had no idea where he lived. The police didn’t seem like an option yet, so I decided to read the E-mail. It was really my only choice. The more I read, the colder my blood would get, and I kept wishing that I was right with my sick joke theory.

This is the E-mail, and for the sake of anonymity, I’ve replaced my name with, Josh:

“Dear Josh,

I first want to say I’m sorry. No level of apology can make what I did okay, but I feel terrible about it. I’m sorry, I should explain.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with what I can only call a demon. Not a metaphorical demon, but an actual, real-life hell-beast that wants nothing more than my personal destruction. And it’s got it. It’s hard to say when it started. It could have been with the dream I had. The one just like yours that started with the staircase, and the TV. Or it could have been a few days later, with my sister’s TV set.

You probably don’t know this, but I live with my younger sister, Jasmine. She’s about 8 years old, and sleeps in the room across the hall from me. Well, I say across the hall, but it’s more like, the door to her room is in the hall, and my bedroom door is at one end of the wall. Walking down it will take you straight into my room, while passing her room and the bathroom doors. At the opposite end of the hall is another bedroom that we use for storage since our parent’s died. Across the hall from my sister’s room is the staircase.

We have been living on our own for about 5 years, now. I’ve been raising Jasmine myself since our parent’s died in a plane crash. Jasmine has no memory of the event. I thank God for that. She sleeps with the TV on every single night, and has a nasty habit of leaving it paused when she walks away to go do something else. It’s a very big strain on our electrical bills. I can’t seem to get her to break the habit, though, and I figure that it isn’t doing that much harm, so I leave her be. I’ll often turn the TV off whenever I notice it’s on, though.

Anyway, I was doing the laundry a few days after I had that dream, and I passed by her bedroom doorway. The TV was on, again, even though Jasmine was playing with LEGOs downstairs. I set down the laundry basket and turned off the TV, as usual. I thought nothing of the image that was frozen on the screen until later, when I realized that it was a staircase. This wasn’t completely unusual, as plenty of movies and television shows feature staircases. I hadn’t even thought of the dream since I woke up, and even then, the memory was hazy. I continued to do the laundry.

Odd thing is, when I passed into her room again, with a folded bundle of laundry, her TV was on again. And it was the same image, a set of stairs. This is when I remembered the dream. I remembered the feeling of horror I experienced standing on those stairs. I remembered waking up in a cold sweat, wanting to run into my parents’ room and cover myself up under their blankets. And I remember the feeling I got when standing on those stairs in the dream. The feeling of something chasing me, of being hunted. I turned off the TV, again, unplugged it this time, and ran out of the room, slamming the door behind me.

Jasmine heard me. She… Well, I can only assume she walked up the stairs, but, here’s the thing: There didn’t seem to be enough time for her to be standing there. I mean, she was nowhere near the stairs when I went into her room, but when I came out, she was standing there near the top of the stairs. We have such a long staircase, that it seems almost impossible for her to have gotten here that fast. I wrote it off as nerves, at first, but that’s when things got weird. Well, weirder.

“What were you doing in my room? “ She asked me. She spoke very calmly, not angry or anything.

“Just doing some laundry,” I said. I couldn’t tell her about the TV, she was just a little girl. In any event, I was convinced my mind was playing tricks on me. I could almost swear I saw another little girl standing further down the stairs. Looking further past, I couldn’t seem to see the bottom of the stairs. From my point of view, and with the poor lighting, the staircase seemed to go on forever.

This was more than I could take. I had to be dreaming, or going crazy. Maybe both. I stepped past Jasmine and began running down the stairs. She turned after me, but didn’t say anything. I went past Jasmine and she turned after me, not saying anything. I thought was weird, but then I passed Jasmine again, not saying anything, just staring. I’m ashamed to say it took me so long to notice, or maybe I just didn’t want to. I wasn’t progressing down the staircase any further. It appeared to be an endless loop of Jasmines, spaced apart like telephone poles on a never-ending highway.

I stopped running. It was pointless anyway. I couldn’t see the ground level below me, or the hallway above the stairs. All I could feel was that awful sensation of being hunted. This became less and less abstract as the two nearest Jasmines took the first steps toward me.

Those steps. Josh, I can’t describe to you the events of those steps, as they were made of horrors even the most deranged sociopaths wouldn’t dare think. With each step, there followed the unmistakable sound of screaming. Horrible, inhuman screaming. Sounds that broke through my skin and deep into my heart. Any memory I had of my past life was instantly ripped from me, leaving behind the nightmares of the devil himself. I saw images of death, of pain, loss, pure and unadulterated horror. I’m convinced that I’ll never truly recover from these visions, and I refuse to even think about the worst of them, let alone relay them to you.

Among the haze of death, I could still barely make out the Jasmines, taking slow strides toward me, and the only thing I could think to do was run. This turned out to be a futile effort, as I immediately tripped and began falling down, into the darkness. Down into the depths of hell itself. Down the staircase…

I suppose I woke up. I don’t remember losing consciousness, but I didn’t mind that. The less remembered, the better. I was at the bottom of the stairs, thank God for that. I could also see the hallway at the top of the staircase. Jasmine, however, was nowhere to be found. I searched frantically for her, but it was fruitless. The police, as they were called later that night, were unable to turn up anything.

For about two weeks, I lived alone, sleeping downstairs in the living room. I couldn’t bring myself to walk that staircase again. Things seemed to return to a relative degree of normal, with the notable exception that every time I walked past that staircase, I felt like I was being watched. I went to work, hid my torment from you and the world, acted “normal.” And everything was fine. As fine as things can be. What constitutes “Fine?” Is it when nothing bad happens? Or is it the calm before the storm.

The night before I texted you to sleep at your place, I went to bed like normal. “Bed” in this case meant the mattress on the living room floor. There was no way in hell I was going up the staircase again. I fell asleep early with the TV on. Which was weird, because I hadn’t been watching the TV that much since the incident. I guess I kept thinking of the image of the staircase. I had that same dream, the one where I’m on the stairs, being chased. And when I woke up, the TV was still on. Only it wasn’t the staircase. There was a face staring at me from the TV set. The face of Jasmine.

I couldn’t scream “Fuck!” loud enough. Acting on my first instinct, I threw the nearest object, the remote, at the screen, at the face. It shattered, but there was something else in that shatter. That same, inhuman, horrible scream I heard on the staircase. Needless to say I ran out of that house as fast as I possibly could. I couldn’t think of anything else to do; so I drove to PrintComm. Slept in my car that night. Let me tell you, it was the best night of sleep I had in a long time. I called you the next day. It was hard to figure out my next move, but I couldn’t stay in that house anymore.

That night, at your place, I had the same dream again. The dream on the staircase. I was being hunted, but something was… different. I woke up feeling more scared than I had any other time. Scanning my brain that day at work, I thought I might have been on to something. There seemed to have been something else in that dream, a new element. I couldn’t exactly place it, yet, but it felt like, I could see something there. Something chasing me as I descended the staircase. But it was still too abstract to place my finger on.

And then you came in to work. And you told me you had the same dream. And in that instant I knew. I knew that I had somehow passed the nightmare on to you. I knew that there was no way to stop it. And I knew what it was that was chasing me in the dream. It was me.

I’m chasing myself down the staircase, and that’s how I know there is no escape. You can’t run from yourself. Which is why I’ve taken my own life. It’s the only way out. I strongly recommend you do the same, as I fear it’s passed on to you.

I went home after that. I sat on the stairs and I waited. Waited to take myself, waiting for Jasmine, waited for… anything. Sitting at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for my own insanity to engulf me. You can’t imagine the horror of that feeling. But I suspect you will soon know it.

After a few hours, I called you. No answer. Several times I call you, but you never answer. And you never will.

I understand it now. I understand everything. This isn’t something you can run from, Josh. This isn’t something you should run from. I tried to run, but now I ask myself why? Why was I running from what I don’t understand? Was it fear? Was it guilt? Or was it for another reason? Maybe I didn’t want to accept the truth, that the only way out is to embrace what I once repelled. I can hear them now, Josh. I can hear them calling me, and as I turn to face the staircase, writing this e-mail to you, I can see us. I can see Jasmine on the staircase, with me holding her little hand. You’re there too, Josh. Standing on the Staircase next to me. You’re happy, Josh.

One final thing makes sense to me. I now know what it means to ascend this staircase. I understand that this isn’t a journey to be taken lightly. To climb these stairs, it will take everything. Who you are, what you’ve done, the life you’ve lived. It doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters, except the staircase. I won’t survive its journey, and neither will you, Josh. But that’s okay, Josh. It’s nice here, Josh.

We’re calling for you now, Josh, can you hear us? We’re right up the staircase, Josh. All you have to do, Josh, is follow the sound of our voice, Josh.

We’re waiting for you, Josh.”

END E-MAIL.

I didn’t know what to think. What could I think? There were no words to describe what I was feeling. I closed my laptop and looked towards the stairs, not knowing what to expect. Nothing.

These next words, I said out loud to my empty room. “The man’s obviously crazy.” Somehow, the words seemed false, like someone delivering them in a movie. I tried to laugh it off, but the laugh became a cry, and then a sob. I fell to the floor, weeping like a child, the world was so wrong. Nothing made sense to me for a few seconds, and I wanted nothing more than to be among friends. I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone any longer. I knew what I had to do.

I turned on the television. I knew exactly what I would find when I did, and I was not wrong. It was my staircase, dark and beautiful as ever. And standing on that staircase, were Andrew and a young girl I knew to be Jasmine.

I walked back across the house, to the staircase. It was as it appeared on the television, dark and beautiful. Andrew stood there, arms reaching out and open to me, and Jasmine was smiling. They were calling me up, up the staircase, up to perfection.

I have to ascend the staircase.