“What?” he said.
“What do you mean, are you not at all bothered by this? This is fucking weird,” she said.
It was dark but he could see her eyes. By the faint glow of the sky, he knew she was serious. Her hands were folded into herself as if to keep her discontent at bay. They stood staring at each other for a moment.
“It’s just a fucking staircase, Fiona. No big deal,” he said.
He knelt down; careful to unpack his tent without losing any important pieces and ignoring the worried look on his girlfriends’ face. He heard a low huff and knew she was continuing her worried stare as it turned to frustration. He ignored this. He kept his eyes on the task at hand and began to set up their home for the next two nights.
“John, this is not okay. I can’t sleep with that thing around. We have to go somewhere else. I’m serious. I have a bad feeling about this. Would you just listen to me?” she said. At this point, her voice grew louder accompanied by her suggestive hand jerks and pointing. Her discontent was free.
“Fiona. It’s just a fucking staircase.” He said.
“Yeah, in the middle of the god damn forest! What is it doing here? Who the frick just puts a staircase in the woods? This isn’t right. Look at it! It’s brand new!” she said.
“Well maybe someone is building a house? Besides, this is the only clearing I’ve seen all night. It’s the perfect campsite,” he said.
“That makes sense. Hey, let’s build a fancy house out in the middle of the fucking forest. Oh, and let’s start with the staircases.” She said.
Their argument had progressed throughout the campsite, marking it with footprints as proof. Silence fell upon the duo as it struck her that she could not leave without him. It was an hour hike back to their car. She didn’t want to do that alone but a tiny part of her liked the mystery. A part of her enjoyed being afraid. It was dark, almost pitch black but the moon was almost full. She was grateful for the illumination. They separated themselves without speaking despite being near, each with their own chosen task. He set up the tent and she built the fire.
“I don’t like this.” She said.
“It’s fine. Are you just going to be pissy the entire trip or do I need to prove to you that it’s just a fucking staircase, Fiona?” he said.
She knew what he was suggesting. He was suggesting that he would go to the staircase; maybe even climb to the top. He would do this just to prove that it was just a staircase. Nothing more.
“John, please. Don’t.”
“Come on. Come with me. It’ll make you feel better. Seriously, let’s just walk over there and climb to the top. Me and you, babe.”
She stared at him unwavering. They had finished their tasks and sat across from each other, illuminated by the fire she built between them. It lasted a few moments before they broke into a smile. Their smiles grew into laughter.
“Come on babe, for real. Let’s just have a good time. I’ll climb those fucking stairs if it makes you feel safer,” he said.
“No, just come snuggle me.”
He rose to his feet and headed her way, grabbing a blanket on the way. They lay together, spooning. As the smaller spoon, she wrapped herself in his arms and before long they forgot about the nearby mystery. They stayed up discussing various topics. Dreams of the mouth turned to silence. They fell asleep below the stars as the fire began to simmer low and only woke up once to relocate to the tent he built for her to make love.
It was the silence that initially woke her. She hadn’t realized the song that played throughout the forest until it had dissipated. The owls hooted and took flight, ready to hunt for small prey that squeaked and scattered. The trees swayed while their branches collided. It was melodic until the silence took over. There was nothing, just a stoic empty forest. She lay for a moment as her brain rebooted, something that happened to her often when waking up in a new place.
She sat straight up and reached to the empty spot where John promised to remain. It was one fluid movement as if someone had shot her with a small voltage of electricity. She was shocked into movement. She held her breath to listen for him. Nothing. She exited the open tent flap and stood bewildered.
She wanted to search around and pretend the staircase never existed, but she knew better. For a moment, she became angry and thought he must have woken in the night and decided to climb it. She considered sitting down next to the fire to wait for his return but was too concerned. She gathered what heroism she could muster before putting one foot in front of the other.
Sooner than she wished, she reached the outline of the stairs and found a new fixture at the very top step. It was John. She said his name again with no reply. The stairs were new, probably built a few years ago. They were covered in a neutral beige carpet with painted white rails. It seemed untouched by the forest. Reaching the bottom step, she noticed that John was as naked as the day he was born. She suddenly noticed her own lack of clothing. It was cold and she wore John’s t-shirt and her undergarments.
“John, babe? What are you doing?” she said. She spoke her words with a delicate tongue as if they could push him over the edge.
“I’m eating spaghetti on the Devil’s dick,” he said. He started to walk backwardsdown the steps.
“Uh, okay?” she said as she backed away without thinking.
“The unicorns are coming home.” He sped up, almost falling to her.
“John, what in the ever living fuck?”
“Nah, I’m just kidding.” He laughed uncontrollably and turned to face her. He ran after Fiona as she stormed off. Still naked, he stopped her. She tried to stay mad but joined his laughter despite her resistance. He held her as they kissed underneath the stars with the stairs as a witness.
“You scared the shit out of me. Literally, I shit my pants. What the hell were you doing up there and why is your dick out?” she said. Her arms folded back into their containing position. She held in a tiny smirk, struggling to look up and forward. They walked together with hands cupped and fingers interlaced like an intricate braid of bones.
“I heard a noise. Went to check. Couldn’t find pants. Going up the stairs was just an afterthought,” he said. They walked back to the campsite playing a game of who can hold hands tighter without pulling away. He won.
They snuggled together inside their tent. There was a mutual feeling between them that wasn’t verbalized, something along the lines of a childhood slumber party with your best friend, the kind where you stay up all night talking and giggling.
“Did anything happen on the stairs? Like aliens, leprechauns, or butt-fucking demons?” she said. She half expected something would happen like he would reach a room from a parallel universe, one with talking animals and enslaved humans, perhaps.
“Well, I guess that depends. Are butt-fucking demons still butt-fucking demons if you’re the one fucking their butt? No, but for real I’m actually glad we found the stairs. My dad warned me that we might. He camps and hikes a lot. He told me about them. He said he’s never seen two of the same one before and they’re always different,” he said.
“So, you knew about them? Is that why you wanted to camp so frickin’ close to it? What else did he tell you?” she said.
“He said weird shit happens in the woods. Things you can’t explain.”
“What an eerie dick. Did he explain?”
“Nom but once when I was a kid, we went camping out here and a buddy of mine went missing. He was just gone, no trace or anything. Everyone freaked. They had search parties and everything. For weeks, we couldn’t find this kid. Well, someone had the bright idea to start looking up into the trees, which in hindsight was probably super-dumb. These trees out here are huge. I couldn’t climb them. But I guess they went back to the campsite and looked up. I was with them. They said he was up there. Anyways, at the top of a tree, we saw something like a jacket or pants. They get someone to go up and look and fucking shit, babe. They found him. He was dead, obviously, but his legs were in the tree. It looked like the tree fucking ate him. They ended up cutting the section of the tree down and of course, they made me leave but I did some research. I saw the pictures.”
“That’s creepy,” she said. The sky was black and showed off its twinkling lights as she closed her eyes and fell back asleep snuggled in deep into the nook of her lover’s armpit. He said something quietly, but she didn’t hear it.
She was sat upright and looked at the open flap of the tent; she was soaking in a sticky sweat. Time had passed, but how much time she wasn’t sure. It was still dark. John was gone again. Something had come over her. She was suddenly full of fear. She could feel her heart beating like a wave of electricity starting in her toes and flowing throughout her body. Thumping through her body like an impending explosion. Without thinking, she opened the tent. Carefully, she stepped outside, tripping over something large but she didn’t stop to notice. She fixated on the soft glow of the remaining logs turned to bright red coals.
She was transfixed. She stood a foot from the pit like a statue and when she finally found the courage to look up she saw across from her a deer. It looked perfectly normal. She didn’t scream; she stared. Without warning, it stood on its hind legs. Its eyes were black like a deep pit fixated on its face. It began to move its mouth but only gibberish whispers came out. Confused, she felt like she was missing something it was trying to say. The whispers moved around her from different directions like the trees were conspiring as well. While continuing its incommunicative gibberish, it walked slowly over the coals until it stood within inches of her face. Silence took over as Fiona held her breath.
“What did you do?”
Its voice was light like a song. She said nothing in reply but stood in a puddle of her own urine. She looked down at it but was distracted by something in her hands. It was the hatchet she used to cut wood, but now it was covered in luminescing crimson molasses. Her body was painted in it, similar to that of Pollock’s drips and splatters. John was dead. She knew this. She felt his twisted bones and she tripped. She felt the thick molasses coating her feet collecting dirt. She looked up to find the deer inches from her nose as tears ran down her cheeks.
“Look what you did.”
There was a loud crack as her face twisted; she saw the stars one last time and noticed how they slowly started to go out like lights exploding until there was none left, only darkness.