I wrote this story for The Iron Writer Challenge #190 (Spring Equinox Challenge #11) using the elements below. I didn’t really know what to do with them at first, then it came to me all at once. This is a very personally intense story for me.
Antigonish Restricted to the first verse only
Another person’s dream that you are envious of.
A hangman’s noose
Will you never leave me?
The Man at the Top of the Stair
By E. Chris Garrison
There he stands, at the top of the stair, his angry face mimicking, mocking, a parody of my own. His face full of shadow, his sharp features, his hairy body, they fill me with darkness and loathing. He matches my every move, always waiting for me as I go to bed.
During the day, I had moved through the world with beauty and grace, the man at the top of the stair invisible to anyone who should meet me. My new floral dress, my carefully coiffed hair, the click of my pumps, these all brought a smile to my face. At my office, everyone greeted me, and said my name in a way that made me preen. The unintentional slights rolled off my plumage like water off a duck. The simplest things, away from the man at the top of the stair, were bright and wonderful; even signing correspondence warmed me inside.
The friendly grocer had bagged my things, but I’d refused when he offered to help me to my car. The women at the department store beauty parlor exclaimed in envy over the clarity of my skin, little knowing the long road I’d taken to achieve it.
Each pill, each treatment, all had been one more bit of poison to the man at the top of the stair. I’d worked for a year, and then two, to make him go away, to die at long last. If only to never see his face scowling back at me ever again.
I made my dinner, I took care of my cats, I relaxed with some chamomile tea in my long, soft nightgown, and read my book until it fell from my hand, its text intermingled with wisps of a dream.
Time for bed.
My chest tightened, as I could avoid the stair no more.
Not long ago, Mom confided in me that when I’d been a child, she’d dreamed of me as I am now, like a prophecy. She said I seemed so much happier. I wish she’d told me that then. Where could I have been by now? Would there never have been the hated man waiting for me at the top of my stair?
At the top of the stair he stood, like he did every night before bed. This time, I could take it no more, and I screamed, “I’ve done everything I can! Will you never leave me?”
My fist shattered the mirror, and a dozen or a hundred images of the man leered back at me, somehow making a laugh out of my screaming face. I crumpled to the floor, picking glass out of my fingers, wrapping my bloody hand in the skirts of my nightgown. The sharp edges of long shards of glass, more tempting and easier than any hangman’s noose, called to me, the eyes of the man beckoned to me from all over the rug.
He won’t win today, not this way.
I dialed 9-1-1.
I will survive. And I will win.