J. W. Judge
Sometimes you have weird interactions with your kids. Their brains are working overtime all the time, it seems like. Not infrequently, those conversations lead to story ideas. Sometimes they turn into something, like this one about a magical animal that appears on his bed. So when it happens, I just try to run with it. An exchange my son and I had a couple of days ago inspired this story, Something Black in the Stairwell.
[Note: I have adapted a version of this story to be incorporated into my debut novel, Vulcan Rising. Read more about the novel at jwjudge.com.]
Something Black in the Stairwell
The boy called through the monitor, “Can I get up?”
I looked at the clock. 5:57am. It was still a little earlier than he was supposed to get up, but I knew telling him to go back to sleep at this point would just create a fuss and yield the same end result. “Yeah, buddy, come one down.”
I returned my attention to my work and waited for the boy to join me on the couch in the living room. I heard the thud of feet above me as he slid off the bed to the floor. Then plodding to the stairs. At this point his foot sounds crescendoed. Every time. It was as if he were wearing too-big work boots while trying to navigate the stairs. It was incomprehensible to me how such a small person could make such racket.
There was a pause before his steps descent resumed at a more rapid pace.
I was entering data into my spreadsheet when he came into the room, not saying anything, and sat right up against me. The sectional can comfortably seat five. But he glued himself to my ribs and burrowed in, snuggling so that I had to put my arm around him. Unusual, but okay.
“Did you sleep okay?” I asked.
“Not me,” I told him. “I had a hard time getting to sleep. Was thinking about this presentation for work.”
“Did you stay awake all night long?” he asked.
“Nah. Just woke up off and on.”
Several minutes passed with the only sound being that of me depressing the keys on my laptop. The boy broke the rhythm without looking up at me.
“Something black tried to get me on the stairs.”
“What?” Not sure I’d heard correctly, or if I had, what it meant.
“When I was coming down the stairs, something black tried to reach out and get me,” he repeated.
“You mean you saw a shadow on the wall?” I prodded.
“Buddy, we’ve talked about this. The streetlamp shines through the trees and makes shadows.”
“No,” he said again.
“What do you mean no?”
He finally looked up at me. “That’s not what it was. It reached out to get me.”
“Why did you wait so long to tell me?”
“Alright, I’ll go check it out,” I told him.
He clung to my shirt as I shifted my weight to get up. “Please don’t leave me in here by myself.”
“Well, bud, I’ve got to go check it out. You can either stay in here or go with me.”
The decision weighed on him. Where did the greater fear lie? Then I watched him summon his courage and resolve to go with me. “Okay, let’s go,” he said. He was like his mother in that way. Once the decision was made, he was committed to it, come hell or high water. I admired it.
We walked from the living room through the kitchen and into the entryway. We turned to look up the stairwell. Best I could tell, everything was as it should have been. “Buddy, I don’t see anything here. You sure it wasn’t just the shadows of the trees moving?”
“Yes.” Just a stoic yes.
We stood there a minute longer, looking at nothing. “Well, I don’t know what to say. There’s nothing here. Let’s head back to the living room.”
I had started to take a step when he said, “It’s not here any more.”
“How do you know?” Doubting that it had ever been there to begin with.
He shrugged his little shoulders again. “I can feel it.” He was looking at the place in the wall where it must been as he’d come down the stairs. A cold shiver crawled up my spine. He turned his face to me. “But it’ll be back. I can feel that too.”