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19 May 2010

"Beneath the Stairs" Short Story


I’ve been here for weeks—waiting. My mother told me to wait beneath the stairs, so I did. I’m still here, huddled to myself and shivering. Though the cold air has long numbed my skin, my stupid body shivers and my bones rattle. I’m not even sure if it’s still cold or if it’s day or night. But I know that I’m terrified.

I’d gotten home from my date with Gregg past curfew, and I knew my step-father would have a real red face about it, so I snuck up the stairs carrying my sling backs in one hand and my pair of flowers in the other. My doorknob squeaked the way it always does, and the door jammed at the top. I skillfully lifted it and broke it free without any significant sound. I thought I’d just lay in my bed a while—above the covers, the way I lay with Gregg when we’re alone—then I’d spring for the kitchen to at least grab a snack bag of chips. For some reason, my stomach was really pinching, a kind of cramped ache.

My bedspread stuck to my back, static creating a bond between us. I hated the fabric, but the color had been gorgeous when I picked it out. My eyes closed, filled with thoughts of the vibrant blue bedspread, as my skin picked from the sticky silk. I was in the middle of cursing the god-forbidden shit when I heard the rattling downstairs.

Thinking my father had forgotten his way to the bathroom without the light again, I got to my feet and tossed my dress off as quickly as I could. I changed and smoothed down my hair until it was flat and believably slept on. I hoped in bed and covered to my neck—the sheet was much better than that picky thing—but the rattling didn’t stop. Holding my breath, my eyes searched across the pitch-black room, colors swirling across the walls as they darted every which way. A tiny sliver of light crept in beneath my bedroom door, and I saw the shadow of a pair of legs saunter past.

Dad tripped on living room furniture on his way back to his bedroom, I reasoned and breathed easy. He had always been a clumsy man, add darkness and it was often a formula for the emergency room.

I’d resolved to just forget about my racing heartbeat, pull the blankets to my chin, and close my eyes, but before my lids shut, another shadow flickered in the tiny patch of light, then another—two more pairs of legs. The knots in my stomach pulled themselves apart, ripping my insides in half. I felt searing vomit rise to the back of my throat. Had I forgotten to lock the front door?

I couldn’t stand the burning sensation beneath my skin as the guilt traveled around inside me—from my arms to my chest and down to my feet, only to sail back to the top of my head. Swallowing hard, I forced myself to think. What could I do? Hit the intruders with my sling backs? Attack them with my insane skills of cafeteria social etiquette? No. They’d kill me.

In the middle of my jumbled thought process, I felt my entire body grow cold and my head separate from the rest of it. The door had been opened, and one of the shadow men had his attention focused on me—he was going to kill me.

Pure instinct overtook me, and I pulled the string on my tiny bedside lamp. Through the loud buzzing in my ears, I heard my mother’s muffled struggle, and I watched in horror as one of the men tackled her in the hallway. Her hand reached for his naked face, scratching him and drawing bloody streaks down his stubbly cheek. The darkened stranger, still watching me, cocked his head to the side; I couldn’t make out his face through the bright light of the hallway behind him. He edged closer while I clutched the blanket draped over my bed, squirming to sit up, or put myself in a position to attack, or free my feet to run.

My stomach and lungs both collapsed as the air escaped my body. I couldn’t draw another breath, and I felt my throat tighten. My heart froze as he walked into the soft glow of my bedside lamp. His icy blue eyes were steady as he moved his face closer to mine. The black strands of his wild hair fell across them. Breathless, I realized my body was shutting down. Each of my hands had gone numb, and my stomach jumped violently, trying to force oxygen to my failing limbs.

His warm, calm fingertips cradled the bottom of my chin, knocking me from my trance. Run, I willed myself. With all my might, I pushed against him; my numb wrist and fingertips stung as they made contact, but he stumbled backward and tripped on my sling backs and rumpled dress on the floor. My feet hit the carpet, and I gasped for air. My ankles and toes gave way with a million tiny needle pricks—I hit the floor face first.

Without wasting time, I pulled myself to my knees, prickling and sleeping, and crawled as fast as I could to the door. Where could I go? One intruder in my bedroom and one intruder downstairs left no options. I thought of the things they could do to me, and my frozen heart began to burn. If I could get to the front door—if I could get down the street—I could find help. I would call for help.

I beat on my legs frantically, watching the blue-eyed intruder’s body loll as he tried to get back to his feet. Seizing every moment, I crawled into the hallway, feeling more and more of the carpet through my sleeping legs as I got closer to the stairs. Without looking back, I grabbed the banister and hoisted myself upward, struggling to take one step at a time. The front door was wide open, unguarded.

The sound of the intruder’s footsteps above me mixed with my mother’s cries, still muffled and far away. I barely made out the sound of my father’s voice trying to quiet her. Standing at the base of the stairs, thirty feet from the open front door, my brain overloaded.

My mother’s voice cleared, though she was in the kitchen, and I heard her say, as if talking to a child, “If anything happens, follow the plan. Don’t be scared. Wait for us in the room beneath the stairs.”

For the first time in my life, I truly panicked. I regret it now, but I panicked.

Every light throughout the house died, and the heater hummed to a stop. The voices of the people in the house carried easily through the darkness. By the faint light from a street lamp through the open front door, I saw the door to the room under the stairs. I ran. Like a coward, I ran and I hid.

With my head buried in my hands, I listened. I listened to the sound of the man’s footsteps pass right by the door. I listened to my father argue with one of them. I listened as three shots rang out.

One shot drew screams from my hysterical mother. I yanked at the hair between my shaking fingers.

The second shot silenced her scream. I felt my burning heart drop out of my chest.

The third shot silenced everything. I didn’t hear police sirens, even though I waited. I didn’t hear the men leave.

Weeks later, I’m still waiting for the sirens. I’m praying for the men to leave. I can’t move until I hear the sirens. The police will let me know that I’m okay. I’m still waiting for the police.

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