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, but she grew to love the detours as they added a sense of adventure. It wasn’t uncommon for Sydney to jog a bit before she realized 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 that suspended staircase public art piece in Automobile Alley.”
“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 on it, but Sydney wasn’t sure how exactly it was standing as she couldn’t see any wires or beams holding it 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 it 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!”
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.”
“Me too. Let’s keep going.”
The two walked down the stairs, keeping an eye on the grassy floor. Neither of them could explain the phenomenon, but the more they went down, the more they didn’t get any closer to the bottom.
“I’m starting to freak out a bit now,” Chloe confessed.
Sydney looked over the rail. It was too far to jump safely. 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 pink suit with a woman of a similar build, but a little shorter and in a red dress holding a tablet device. Behind them was a door the same color as the man’s suit.
“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. It 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 awhile you decide to go back but never reach the bottom. When you look back up again you see the top.”