The Thing in the Stairwell

The thing in the stairwell


By Steve Sinclair

I saw something as a child that I will never forget. It came to look down at me one night from the fourth floor landing in the stairwell of the tenement building on Ushers Island where we lived. The only source of light was a solitary faint un-shaded bulb suspended from a dusty cord high up in the ceiling of the topmost floor. I had stepped out of the buildings communal toilet, located on the landing between the third and fourth floor when I heard a repetitive clicking to my left. My eyes were drawn toward the source of the sound and without moving any further toward the descending stairs I turned and raised my head to look up the buildings final flight of steps to the source of the sound.

The first thing I noticed were the claws, hooked over the front edge of the last tread, they were large and powerful looking as they rhythmically released and then gripped the underside of the old wood of the stair, like a cross between someone slowly drumming their fingernails on a table-top and a bird of prey adjusting it’s grip on a branch. Time slowed as my eyes were inevitably drawn upward, along pale and scaled reptilian legs…. at the top of which, the real nightmare began.

Just looking at it turned my young mind to screaming brittle ice and made my skin want to melt and pour off in slippery gobbets, to lie around my feet like discarded clothes. My little heart stopped dead in my chest and the world fell silent as a tomb. The “thing” that had waited for and now stared at me from the top step looked for all the world like an enormous bat. The flattened snout on that leathery black skinned face was pig-like in size and it spastically twitched from side to side tasting the air, it’s nostrils flaring wide as it slowly breathed in my scent. Large black pointed ears framed the face of this monstrosity, the tips of which were half a head higher than the black fur on the crown of it’s enormous head. The body from knees to neck was roiling blackness that stretched back and blended into the deep gloom of the landing behind it. I could discern no upper limbs or even edges to it’s torso. It looked hunched, as if holding itself contained as it stood shifting it’s weight ever so slowly from side to side, like sentient smoke or the living darkness at the bottom of unlit cellar stairs…. There were so many, many teeth…. too many for the maw they filled. Hooked and pointed, with no room between. I saw those long needle teeth when it’s shiny wet lips rolled back to the gums and it slowly, deliberately grinned at me, and silently bade me come closer. I knew, that it knew, I wouldn’t, that the bone-chilling fear it induced was absolute. In mind-numbing terror I was frozen to the spot, immobile as a statue.Then it chuckled darkly inside my head and I thought I would die there and then in that cold, gloomy stairwell….

That’s when I bolted. The fear of death or worse in the clutches of this thing gave power to my four year old legs and I leaped more than ran down through the deepening gloom of the stairwell, into the engulfing darkness of the lower floors. I remember a thought that flashed through my mind each time I launched myself from landings and steps in my headlong panicked flight. “Don’t break a leg, it’ll catch you if you do”. The impact of my little feet on the old wooden floors and steps at the end of each leap downward was the only sound to be heard, I’d stopped breathing at the same moment my heart had ceased to beat when first I’d seen the Thing. From above and behind I could feel the creatures hysterical, insane and evil amusement and although I rushed downward into darkness there was a deeper darkness rushing down behind me. Still there was no beat in my chest and the lower I went through the building the weaker I became, until finally I reached the ground floor where my family had a room. My legs turned to jelly as I hit that floor and I collapsed in a tiny shaking heap outside our door.

I lay there on my side, my right eye seeing under the doors edge to the normality and light that lay just on the other side. I was too weak to even whimper much less cry out for help. I still wasn’t breathing and the silence of my heart brought the fear that I wouldn’t survive long enough for anyone to notice. I was going to die here and the thing in the stairwell would take what was left of me. It was then that the door flew suddenly open and my mother looked down at me, her eyes widening in shock at the sight of her little boy upon the floor, where I’d unknowingly been scratching feebly at the wood of the door with my outstretched hand using up the last of my rapidly fading strength. She snatched my limp form from the floor and clutched my cold shuddering body tight to her chest, all the while with widened eyes fixed upon the growing darkness in the stairwell from which she knew I had just come. Something was there, a thing eons old and immeasurably evil. She backed into our room and kicked the door hard to close it as fast as she could. It was at that instant that I felt a massive thump in my little chest. My heart had begun to beat again, a welcome rapid booming compared to the horrible empty dead silence that had been there from the moment I’d turned my little head upward and saw the Thing in the stairwell. To this day, fifty four years later, I can’t step onto the bottom step of a flight of stairs without briefly worrying that it’ll be at the top waiting for me.