Stairs

1

‘Thank you son. Ah that’s better. Nothing better than a cup of tea is there? Warms my bones it does. So does this water bottle now I mention it. Sometimes everything is just right. You know what I mean don’t you son? There must be times when you feel just right? Not ecstatic, not even perfect, but just right, content. There is something though. Something that could make it… even more right I suppose. My book. Lying in bed I do like to read a good book. Brings me back to my years in academia. I’ve read more books than you’ve seen son… Saddens me a little in some ways. But I do like to read a book in bed. I do. But… I’ve left it, my book, in the tower. Across the lawn. At the top. I was watching the world a little before. The birds, the sun, the clouds. It was setting earlier and it was like I’m feeling now. Just right. Well I’ve left my book up there. Would you mind, I know it’s a little late, but would you mind fetching it for me? From the tower?’

2

Leaving the room the boy walked straight outside. The lawn stretched out as far as he could see. In the day it would be bright green, blue sky and burning sun. He headed across the grass and savoured the sense of freedom, of openness that he always felt out there. Everything there was… just right. No walls. No people. Not that there was anything wrong with people. But sometimes it was just too much, too much talking, too much chatter. Like a wall of noise closing in around you, getting louder and louder. Crowds coalesce and expand. They push, groan, and finally break out across shimmering fields in violent riots.  But there, outside on the lawn it was different. It was quiet and empty and beauty. Beauty? What an odd thing for him to think, but there it was. Green grass, nothing for miles. Nobody for miles. Beauty. He reached the tower too soon. Its door loomed tall and dark, its authority unmistakable. Pushing slowly, the hinges creaked as a warning.

3

The walls were tight against him. Against his very chest. He could barely move his arms. There was a dead weight, a chain. Slippery hands and a damp forehead. It was just so close. He breathed deeply and tried to calm himself. He pushed out on the walls and took a step. Slowly, slowly he made his way to the stairs. The walls seemed to follow him, to encroach on his body and his mind. Up. He needed to go up, but the first step was growing before him, doubled in height, then as tall as him. Breathe. Clambering up the first step he felt hot. Hotter and hotter, sweat and more sweat. Dripping from his face and drenching his clothes so they stuck to his skin. Finally pulling himself up onto the step (ledge) he sank to his knees. Looking up he felt nauseated, the tower twisted up and up, staircase after staircase, each step bigger than the last and at the top he could see it, the book, perched on a ledge. Miles separated them. He was trapped. In a cell, a prison. A crowd. It was so loud. How long had he been there? On that step. Frozen. Breathe. (MOVE). The next step was a mountain. Breathe. (MOVE). He looked up, he had to do it. To move. Climb. The walls scraped against his skin, weighed him down, tightened against his chest. He climbed. And he climbed. The second step, the third, and on. Icy cold now, he was a thousand miles high. He could see the earth, way below, spinning. As far from the top as he was from the bottom and everything was a blur, a blending of colour and hue. He held on for his life. The mountain pressed against him now, freezing his hands. Tears fell from his face and hit the ground as tiny icicles. Up and up. The mountain crumbled beneath his feet, avalanches cascaded below him. And still he climbed. The summit drew closer and the ice burned his fingers. A thin bridge of stone connected him to the peak, with the mountain still falling, breaking behind him. One last push, one last push. He threw himself up to the ledge, to the peak. Eyes closed and skin burning he jumped. Wall and mountain pushing him down he jumped. Wind and ice in his face, he jumped.

4

The top of the tower and everything seemed different. It was desolate, cool. But not cool like the lawn. This didn’t refresh, there was no beauty. This was a chill, it was icy dust. He was reaching for the book when he saw it. The window. There on the wall, so very innocently. It was anything but. Calling and whispering it drew him. He tried to ignore it, tried to leave it but its voice grew louder. It reached out a dark bony arm and grabbed him, dragged him. Pulled him to the wall. To the window. To the edge. Eyes tight shut he whimpered. Why was he here? What was he doing? And then the tower spoke. ‘OPEN’ it said with its cold voice. He kept his eyes closed and did not move. ‘OPEN’ it said again. Louder, harsher, cruelly mocking. With his eyes closed he could still feel the crowd behind him watching, murmuring, laughing. They were closing in on him. A wall of people surrounding, enclosing, encroaching. Louder and louder. One of them touched his shoulder. ‘OPEN’ it said again. It wasn’t just the falling. That he could manage. Gravity pulling you down was impossible to resist, the hard ground breaking your bones and crushing your skull was inevitable. It was something else. Something you could change. You could choose left or right, yes or no, life or death. To choose to jump, to choose to say you don’t care, to throw yourself off the top of the tower. That was the fear. The fear that you can choose.

‘OPEN’

And he did. The screaming crowd surrounded him. The wind spat into his face. And he looked. The lawn lay before him. He towered above it, his knees shook then bent. His face twitched. The fear overtook him. The fear of choice. He could. He could say it, say he didn’t care. He could fly or fall. See tomorrow or end everything now, end the world. It was almost godlike the power he had. It was… He blinked. A light shone through the window of the house down below and he could see a silhouette moving within it. Something drew his gaze downwards, a voice perhaps? He saw someone on the lawn below. Tears of joy were running down this figure’s face, and he was pointing up at the tower. Laughter. But this laughter was different, it wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t the crowd. It was almost kind. He was laughing at the foolishness. At the pointlessness of it all. Well not of it all, but of this fear. At the very least. And this man down below, giggling like a child. This man who hopped up and down with such  energy, such joy. This man who paused, raised a hand up towards him in some secret signal, before bursting through the door of the tower and running up the stairs and joining him at the window. He turned to look at this manic figure, and as he looked at the face, he too began to laugh. And as he laughed he felt the wind drop, the sharp bite of the cold lost its edge. The crowd was silenced and they faded away. He smiled. Turning away from the window he took the book.

5

‘Ah you’re back. Good good. Mmm. I went and finished my tea when you were gone. You make a good cup of tea. Just right. Ah. My book. Thank you, thank you son. It was in the tower wasn’t it? Good? I thought so. I can remember the view today. Earlier, the grass, it was sparkling I tell you. I’m telling you it was like emerald. I don’t know how, the sun, it was glistening off the lawns. A sea of green. Beautiful.’

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Stairs

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