Part One: http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/steps-short-story-pt-1-of-5/
This is part two.
He woke in dusky half-light, groggy and disoriented. Massaging his scalp, he could see light gray clouds high in the sky, a world away. Could be any time. His thirst was savage, and it took all his discipline not to finish the remaining water from the bottle.
Better save some water. Might take a while to get to the bottom.
Rustling in his pocket to find the mints, he edged one from the packet into his mouth. He pulled out the lighter at the same time, and lit it. The flash of the flame momentarily blinded him, but after a few moments he explored his surroundings further. He used the lighter as a torch, cupping his hand between his eyes and the flame. Smooth gray rock. Stairs leading down to his left, and back up to his right. That was it.
Should I go back up?
He stared back up and sighed. Somehow he knew that would be futile. The only way was down.
There’s no going back.
He put the lighter back in his shorts, blinked away the blind spot it had left, and stretched his legs. Gingerly, he tested his weight on his ankle, and winced. The weight of those worn, trusty garden boots was not helping, but he’d endured worse.
Setting off at a leisurely pace, he tried to think of songs matching the clack-clack rhythm of crutch on stone. Under pressure, his memory failed him, or the rhythm was just all wrong. Random snatches of nursery rhymes that he hadn’t heard since his own childhood came to mind. Rather a lot of men, and a single dog, went to mow a meadow. A million green bottles were sitting on the wall. He sang three blind mice repeatedly, just couldn’t shake it from his head.
He paused to rest. Calm, gray skies above, darkness below. Onwards and downwards, hour after hour, snatches of song the only breach in the oppressive silence. As he descended, the air became warmer, staler.
Wonder how long these steps have been here?
There was no sign of weathering or wear on any of them. Each step was identical to the previous, same height, same width, same depth, same shape. Utterly uniform. Despite this, he had the sensation of the steps beginning to close in on him.
There’s no way these can run much deeper, he reassured himself. They have to lead somewhere, soon.
This has to be an escape tunnel for some Cold War bunker. Too deep to be anything else.
That would mean food, and drink, a telephone, maybe even running water. His mind wandered…
Where had that one come from? A mystery….
Edward Nigma, from the Batman films. Was that the one with nipples on the batsuit?
There were few meals he wasn’t ready to eat by this time, freeze dried or not. His stomach growled and knotted in agreement.
He walked and thought, and thought and walked, circling down, step by step by step.
Peering up through his shrinking aperture to the world, the sky grew heavy with slate-gray clouds. Down, still, patient darkness awaited. He had walked the whole day, and seemed no closer to his goal.
Sipping the last of the water, he removed his boots, and sat on the stair, clenching and unclenching his toes on the cool stone. He took out the polished-steel lighter, flicking it open and lighting it in one smooth movement. Utterly uniform. He tore off the paper wrapper from the mints, lit it, and dropped it down the center of the stairwell. The flame quickly burnt through its fuel, revealing another level of steps, but nothing more.
He lay the boots down as a pillow, forcing himself to rest and save energy. He curled up on the step, nestling his head on the tops of the boots on the step above. Before the doubts could take hold, exhaustion won out.
He slept, fitfully and without dreams.
… to be continued