The Top of the Stairs, by Joe DiCicco
Nathan shivered against the chill, turned to the door. As he did, his eyes passed the staircase across the patio. It ran up from the far corner, up to the next floor. From the darkness up there he could make out a solitary eye, glowing, taking on intensity, dying out. A cigar cherry. He could barely make out the shape of a person sitting up there, on the small landing just atop the stairs. The shape did not speak, and were it not for the glow of that burning cigar tip, he would not be sure he saw it at all.
He turned back to the parking lot, took a moment to gaze out at the rain, steady, cascading over the awning and crashing to the pavement below. That’s when he heard the voice, deep and rough.
“Hey you, young man. You thirsty?”
He turned back to the glowing cherry, gazed up the tall stairs.
“Come on, now, I ain’t gonna hurt ya. I see people come and go all night, and not a one of them ever says a damn thing to me. People are too good to give me a hello. Or even so much as a nod.”
Nathan took a step toward the stairs. “Hey, there. What’s your name, sir?”
“Folks call me Old Henry. Lived here for years and years. I’m in the apartment above you. Been alone since my wife passed. Wouldn’t mind having someone to talk to, but folks around here, they wouldn’t give their own mother the time of day. Eh, I’m sure you’re too damn busy, like the rest of ‘em. Go on, go on.” The single red eye brightened in intensity to an orange sun, then faded back to red. The landing above became silent once again.
Nathan took another step. “I suppose I have time for a drink.”
After a moment from the darkness: “Come on up. I was just sipping some of this Scotch and having me a cigar. Ten year bottle. I keep a spare glass here with me, just in case, but no one ever wants to stop and chat.”
Nathan made his way up the many steel-grate steps, finally reaching the landing above, barely large enough for a single chair. On it sat an older man, just a shadow, long cigar held underneath a wide-brimmed fedora. It was too dark to see much more.
A hand raised. In it was a lowball glass. “That should help warm you up.”
“Thanks.” Nathan accepted, took a sip. “It’s good. Nice oak flavor. Goes down smooth.”
“Hell yes, it does. You know, you’re the first person to stop and speak to me in quite a few years. I’m the last one left in any of these apartments up here. Used to be full of families. Not anymore.”
“You just sit up here, drinking alone in the dark?”
After a short pause, the shadow spoke. “Sure. Most folks are too good for an old fart like me.” He extended a hand. “Cigar?”
Nathan shook his head, though he doubted the man could see. “No. No, thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
A plume of apple-scented smoke wafted from the older man as he spoke. “Suit yourself. Damn these nights are getting cold. Come on inside, I’ll fill your glass.”
“No, thanks, I need to get inside. I’m dead tired. That’s for the drink, but it’s getting late…”
“Come on, just one whiskey. Don’t worry, I’m not going to keep you.”
He took a step back, off the narrow landing. “No, I can’t. I have to work early in the morning, and -”
“Sure, go ahead, then. I should have known better. You people are all the same. I’m just some creepy old fart, huh? Hell, go on, get out of here. I can be alone. I’ve been alone for the past eight years since my wife passed on. You ain’t gonna break my heart. Go on, get out of here.”
Nathan sighed. “Alright, just one. Then I’ll get going.”
“Now that’s a good man!”
This shadow, this Old Henry, turned, opened the door just to the right. Nathan followed him in.
“Now where is that light? All these years, and I still can’t find it.”
Immediately a putrid aroma overwhelmed him. This apartment stunk terribly. The old man likely hadn’t cleaned it in-
The ceiling lamp came on. Nathan could now see the room was full of mannequins, dummies, Halloween props-
These were not props. These were people. Dead people. Corpses. All hanging from ropes tied to the ceiling. They hung here in the kitchen, and he could see more in the living room beyond; ten, no, fifteen, no…twenty or more bodies, all grey and bloated and naked, eyes swollen shut, shut forever. The mouths were open, gaping dark holes, all twisted into silent screams.
The door slammed shut.
Behind me…How did he get behind me? He was just in front of me and now he’s…
Nathan swiveled around. There stood Old Henry, blocking the door, and now in the light Nathan could see him clearly. His eyes were wide and yellow, insane, the pupil’s no more than pin heads. His face was flushed an angry red, covered in a road map of blue spider-veins. He grinned under the wide fedora, teeth stained a nasty brown, retreating from the gums.
And then Nathan saw his hand. In one he held the still-smoking cigar, but in the other was something he believed was only used by long-ago farmers. It was a rusted sickle, the shape of a crescent moon. Old Henry’s aged, veiny hand clutched firmly the wooden handle.
“Welcome to my menagerie. You’ll make a fine addition.”
Joe DiCicco is a writer from New York who writes horror, thriller, dark fantasy, dark sci-fi and dystopian tales. He also writes non-fiction articles on issues if environmental and social importance.
The image used for The Top of the Stairs is a rendered photo originally taken by the editor (yours truly) of a dilapidated apartment building in the neighborhood. That building met its tragic (but necessary end) about a year ago. In real life, it was piss yellow and ugly and probably haunted. It was cool to fantasize about it being filled with evil spirits and I’m glad it was the very first image an author picked to write about.
Posted on September 3, 2017, in Issue 21: PhotoFlash 1--11 Visions and tagged e-zine, fiction, flash, flash fiction, photoflash, photoprompt, picprompt, The Were-Traveler. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.