Part One: http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/steps-short-story-pt-1-of-5/
Part Two: http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/steps-short-story-pt-2-of-5/
Part Three: http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/steps-short-story-pt-3-of-5/
This is part four.
He slept badly. The darkness seeped into his dreams, like ink dropped into a bowl of water, while a single discordant note hummed in the distance. Faceless dream-slugs crawled over his body, covering his eyes, filling his mouth… He woke slapping the creatures from his face, choking.
His head throbbed, muscles ached. He rubbed at his feet and ankle, kneading them hard, grimacing at his own touch. The lighter clicked on, and he sat staring into the flame until he burnt his thumb. He looked up at the gray dot of sky, so far away.
Why, WHY? WHY?
In a rage, he screwed his hands into fists, beating them upon the walls. He grabbed the shoes from round his neck, lashing out ineffectually, swinging and slapping them against cold stone. Screaming like a cornered animal, he lashed out at his cage, flailing and wailing, burning bright with impotent anger, then slumping in the dark, sobbing, spent, alone.
He edged towards the central gap, looking once more into the darkness. He lay on his front and hung his head over the side, feet touching the wall behind him, wondering whether he could throw himself down.
Would I even land?
He stared and wondered, closed his eyes and wondered. He lay motionless for a long time, in silent prayer.
Something struck the back of his head. He instinctively swatted it away. Then something else struck, and again. Plip. Plip. He turned over. A raindrop fell directly onto his face. He experienced a moment of the purest joy, cackling and rolling and stamping his feet. He opened his mouth wide, holding his bottle open by the side of his head to catch every drop of moisture. A concentrated stream of rain, of life, fell straight down the center of the shaft, cleansing him of his sins, and he laughed manically.
The storm passed, the wind above changed, and the rain stopped falling.
He lay there on the step, head hanging over the central gap, for a long time, hoping for more. More. Eventually, he sat up to take stock. He had re-filled maybe a quarter of his bottle. He’d caught some in his mouth, and in that moment didn’t feel the aching pull of dehydration. That purifying, reviving water on his face had been the most refreshing feeling of his life.
I am reborn.
Sitting there in blackness, a thought went through his mind. He lay down on the step again, measuring its width. He couldn’t be sure as he hadn’t measured it at the top, but the steps felt narrower now than when he fell in. They were tapering. That means there must be a bottom.
They must taper to something, right?
He stood up, stretched as many muscles as he could, and resumed down the steps, limping with the effort of each step, but determined to go on. The rain had given him hope, and he walked for hours feeding on that hope, gorged and buoyed with belief.
On the morning of the fifth day, he ate the last of the mints, and drank the last of the water. Standing still, body slouched forward, he ran his fingers through his greasy hair, and massaged his neck. After the adrenaline rush of the previous day, his tank was empty.
Step, damn you.
Each step was slow, laboured; he grunted in pain. Each step required an effort of will to overcome the crushing weight of a mile of earth above him, the thinning of the air, the rising heat in the stairwell, the hopelessness of continuing…
He fumbled on, smoothed fingertips leading along the wall to guide his way through this dark, silent prison.
A noise stopped him.
What was that?
In the muffled shadows, he had grown used to the only sound being his own labored, wheezy breathing. Part of him enjoyed the silence, had always enjoyed it.
Somewhere above him, he heard a shuffle of feet and the sounds of something sniffing the air.
There is a reason that children fear the dark, the monster under the bed, the boogeyman, the enemy unseen…
What is that? It sounds… animal.
Another shuffle, somewhere far off, above.
His heart rate shot up, pounding half out of his chest. He felt sick to his stomach, and stumbled, bracing himself with both trembling hands against the wall.
There’s nowhere left to hide. Nowhere left to hide. Nowhere left to hide.
Chest tightening, gasping for breath, he saw spots in the dark before him, dancing and taunting. He picked up the pace to a hobbled stumble, down and down and down, no longer running towards salvation, but fleeing some-thing, chasing him through the black.
Hope will drag you so far. Fear drives you the rest of the way.
He smelled sulfur in the air. Hell itself was waiting for him, and he couldn’t get there fast enough.
… to be continued
The final part – http://www.alistairlanewrites.com/steps-short-story-pt-5-of-5/