During a morning jog, two friends take a detour to explore a mysterious spiral staircase that leads to a trap.
Sydney had long since accepted Chloe’s need to pause, change course, and explore during their weekly jog together. In the beginning, Sydney was annoyed by her friend’s curiosity as she preferred to keep a steady pace. After several exciting detours, she grew to love the deviations as they added a sense of adventure. Sydney often found herself jogging alone for brief periods before realizing Chloe wasn’t by her side, but this time, Chloe put her arm in front of Sydney to stop themselves.
“Look at that,” Chloe said, pointing out toward the woods.
Sydney scanned the scene. Behind a battered and boarded manufactured house stood a spiral metal staircase that reached up into the treetops.
“That’s weird,” Sydney commented. “It reminds me of that suspended staircase public art piece in Automobile Alley.”
Chole raised both arms into the air. “We should climb it!”
“I don’t know if that’s safe…”
“I bet it was put there on purpose so you can see the birds. Don’t you want to see the birds, Syd?”
Sydney sighed. “I’ll do it for the birds.”
“Yay!” Chloe cheered as she jogged to the staircase.
Sydney followed. Without a second thought, Chloe ran up several steps while Sydney stopped to inspect the staircase for safety. The staircase didn’t fall with Chloe going full force, but Sydney wasn’t sure how exactly the steps were standing as she couldn’t see any wires or beams holding the structure in place.
Chloe ran up several more stairs. “Come on. It’s safe.”
Sydney chased after her friend, who ran up higher, giggling. They reached the top, which led to a metal-enclosed balcony capable of holding a small group of visitors. The sun started to rise off in the distance as Sydney stood next to Chloe.
They soaked in the warmth of the sunrise as the sun painted the sky a vibrant orange. Neither of them said anything to each other. Sydney glanced over at Chloe, watching the sunlight glide over her freckled face. She turned back to the sky, searching for any birds.
After a moment, Sydney could sense Chloe’s restlessness. “Ready to head down?”
Chloe bolted. “Last one down has to buy brunch!”
“Cheater!” Sydney shouted as she after her friend.
Chloe only managed to stay a few steps ahead. Sydney knew she could beat her, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t seem to get past her. She kept running and running and running, never gaining on her.
Sydney stopped to catch her breath, and so did Chloe. “Shouldn’t we be down by now?”
“Yeah, going downstairs is always easier and faster.”
“I see the bottom,” Sydney said, trying to rationalize their predicament.
“Me too,” Chole said as she started to walk down. “Come on, let’s keep going.”
The two walked down the stairs, keeping an eye on the grassy floor. Neither could explain the phenomenon, but the more they went down, the more they did not get any closer to the bottom.
“I’m starting to freak out a bit now,” Chloe confessed.
Sydney looked over the rail. We’re too far to jump safely, she thought. Out of a sense of placement, she looked up. There were two people on the balcony.
“There are people up there.”
Chloe looked up. “How did they get there?”
“Let’s go find out.”
In the balcony viewing area stood a tall, slender man in a white and pink suit with a woman of a similar build, but a little shorter and in a red dress holding a tablet device. Their similar hair and face structure made Sydney assume the two were siblings. Behind them was a white metal door with a golden accent strip.
“Looks like they found us, Raven,” the man said as Sydney and Chloe reached the top.
“Indeed they have, Loki,” the woman said.
“Do you think they know what’s wrong, Raven?”
“I think they suspect something, Loki.”
“I think you are correct, Raven.”
“Okay, what’s going on?” Sydney demanded.
“Shall we tell her, Raven?” Loki asked.
“I think you should tell her, Loki,” Raven responded.
“But you have a way with the words, Raven.”
“As do you, Loki.”
“Would one of you explain what’s going on?” Sydney interrupted. “I don’t care who. Take turns if you must.”
“This staircase is a construct of your fears, Sydney,” Loki explained.
Raven tapped on her tablet. “Like any fear, the only way to break free is to confess your truth.”
Loki opened the door. On the other side was an impossible night scene of a series of office cubicles. Raven stepped inside, followed by Loki. “Good luck.”
Loki closed the door behind him. The door disappeared in a blink the moment the door shut.
“What truth do you need to confess?” Chloe asked, visibly freaked out.
Sydney looked into Chloe’s eyes. Actions are more powerful than words, she thought to herself right before she kissed Chloe. Chloe returned the embrace. When they parted, they discovered they were on the ground where the staircase once stood.
“Been waiting for that,” Chloe admitted.
Sydney smiled. “So, who has to buy brunch?”
“I think we’ll count that one as a tie.”
Out of sight in the abandoned home, Loki and Raven watched as Chloe and Sydney jogged off together. Loki tossed Raven a golden coin, which she caught and put in her dress pocket.
“You won that one,” Loki admitted. “I thought it would’ve taken them much longer to escape.”
“Don’t worry. You got more opportunities.”
This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You’re walking home and you see a solitary staircase in the woods behind an abandoned house. They go up into the treeline. Out of curiosity, you start walking up them. After walking up for a while you decide to go back but never reach the bottom. When you look back up again you see the top.”
Thank you to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing the platform scene to life. If you want to read another story with Chole and Sydney, check out The Oak Tree Box.