© 2017 by Tom Sparough
Down the Stairs
Cool Concepts was an ad agency that had moved into its new office about a month ago. They had a six-month lease with an option to buy.
The place was great, except for the rats, or whatever they were.
On the first Friday of every month, the entire staff went out to lunch together.
This time, though, Melinda wasn’t feeling well, and so she stayed at the office as everyone else left. When the last person went through the front door, the place was suddenly silent, and she realized it was the first time she was alone in the building.
It was a 140-year-old storefront. None of the staff had actually seen a rat. But there were two vacant apartments above the storefront.
Two weeks ago a guy moved into one of them. He didn’t even make it through the whole night. Something had attacked him, and his face and arms had vicious cuts in them. Melinda had heard him say, “I swear it wasn’t a rat.”
She went into the kitchen area. It was February and dreary. She turned on the little space heater. She wished she had worn pants today. Her legs were cold.
As she turned on the electric kettle, the space heater and the lights all went dead. “Damn,” she thought, the circuit must be blown. She knew exactly where the circuit breaker was located. It was in the creepy basement.
The basement door was a trapdoor in the floor of the hallway. Melinda pulled the ancient metal handle and propped the door up next to the wall.
She peered into the darkness below. The light switch for the basement was located at the pillar at the bottom stair. She grabbed the flashlight that was attached to the bottom of the basement door. She turned it on. A strong beam emanated from its glass lens.
She stepped down onto the first step. She counted the steps…10, 11, 12, 13. She thought to herself, “who makes a staircase with 13 stairs?”
At the 6th step down a spider web caught her face. She hated that feeling. She wiped it off trying to free herself from the sticky threads. She continued down the basement steps.
She flicked the switch for the light. Nothing happened.
Melinda shined the flashlight around the basement. The walls were made of stacked limestone, filled with cracks that were perfect for spiders and anything that needed a nest in a dark room. The floor was made of stone, as well, but because of the flooding over the years, the sediment that lay on top of the stone made it a dirt floor. It was littered with nails, yellow newspapers, and a coil of wire.
She walked quickly across the basement to get to the door of the room with the electric panel.
As she put her hand on the moist doorknob, she was overcome by the smell of the basement. It brought her back to the woods at her parents’ home. There was a stump in those woods that had this smell. The smell was of things rotting underground.
She wondered what was rotting in this basement.
She opened the door. It was a stone room, a chamber really. Shining the light on the panel, she stepped towards it. With a slight creek the door behind her shut. She stepped back to it and pushed it open. Again the door creaked shut. Melinda went back to the panel.
The door of the circuit breaker was already open. With the beam of the flashlight she searched the little glass bubbles until she saw the one that had turned red. She placed her hand on the black lever and pulled it down and then up.
At just that instant her flashlight fell from her hands.
She was suddenly engulfed in blackness.
She bent down and put her hand on the slimy ground, hoping that she would touch the flashlight. The mush of the cold floor gave her a chill. She didn’t feel the flashlight and began to move her hand about the floor searching for it.
She felt something brush by her face. She screamed, which was tremendously loud in the small stone room, and that sound scared her, so she screamed again.
“Stay calm, stay calm. Find the flashlight.”
She felt something touching her legs. She screamed again and fell onto her backside.
A stinging pain on top of her hand, then another on her forearm, she was being attacked. She let out a series of sobs and backed herself across the floor into a corner. She felt spider webs. She put her hands over her face. The backs of her hands were being bitten. She shook them around her head, but felt nothing.
This was clearly not a rat.
Cowering in the corner, something flashed through her mind, a sign she had seen in Colorado, what to do if attacked by a wild animal—fight back.
Melinda, let out a scream, a mixture of fear and adrenaline. She began to punch and kick the air.
Then she thought, “I have nails, too.” She bared her nails and began to slice her fingers through the room.
A scene from The Wizard of OZ flashed through her mind. Water had killed the wicked witch. She began to spit into the air. She felt her stomach being scratched. She spit, slashed and screamed.
Guiding herself across the room, pressing up against the uneven stonewall, moving through the cobwebs, Melinda made it to the door. It swung open and she fell through.
She righted herself and ran towards the stairwell. She flipped the light switch on, and the basement was ablaze with florescent light. She saw nothing alive in the room.
She was bleeding on her arms and legs. She was covered in the slime of the floor and spider webs were in her hair and on her clothes.
Up the steps, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
On her ankle, a tug and a bite.
Eight, nine, ten.
It pulled her back. She fell onto her knees.
Nine, eight, seven.
She flipped over and sat on the step and screamed, “Let go!” She kicked, punched in the air, and started back up the steps.
Eight, nine, ten, eleven, Twelve.
One more slash at her foot.
She kicked like a mule and rose up out of the basement. She slammed the trap door shut.
She raced to the front door and went outside. She stood outside the building in the cold. She was bleeding, crying, but very much alive.
As she stood shivering in the cold, one thought kept going through her mind: “Don’t take the option to buy the building.”
Fight back. All of us are called at times to fight back. It may not be in a physical sense. It could be emotional, social, or intellectual fights that we need to engage in, but at times, we all need to defend ourselves.
When we think that we don’t have the strength to meet the challenge, the strength of grit comes into play. It is a survival instinct that rests in all of us.
When did Melinda begin to fight back?
When have I had to take up a fight? What ways have I exhibited the qualities of grit?