Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Stairwell

08:01:00 Posted by Shaun , 5 comments
by Jen Marks

Albert stared at the button at the side of the lift door. Instead of a green light shining from the up and down arrow there was just a dull grey. He pressed it hopefully and waited for the welcome whirring which would indicate movement in the lift shaft. Silence.

“Not again!” He looked down at his four bags of shopping. He bent over to pick them up again and felt the handles strain under the weight of his weekly supplies. A frozen leg of lamb spilled out of the Tesco “Bag for Life”. As he balanced it between the handles, on top of the boxes of ‘Value’ Cornflakes and washing powder Albert pondered the name; Bag for Life. Whose life? Was the plastic carrier going to outlive him? He reckoned he probably had about seventy odd year’s head start on it.

He had long since lost count of the times he had been forced, courtesy of the broken lift, to climb the stairs to his flat on the fourteenth floor in the fifty two years he had lived there. He bent his arthritic knees, hooked his twisted fingers around the handles and straightened with a small groan.

At the foot of the stairs Albert paused briefly, looking up at the ceiling where the fluorescent bulb flickered, its plastic shade full of dead flies. He rested his left elbow on the handrail in order to balance himself as he endeavoured to make sure that the bag did not crack him on the knee as he climbed the steps. As he neared the top of the first flight of stairs to the first floor, the familiar stench of urine hit him. He tried to close his nose off to it but even when he breathed through his mouth he could still taste it. He knew it was no good trying to hurry. If he was lucky he would make it up the 166 steps in less than ten minutes.

Albert continued his climb, pausing briefly on level seven. He looked through the cracked window and thought that he probably needed new spectacles as he could barely see the block of flats opposite. Albert tutted at his own stupidity as he realised that the window was filthy and that was the reason he could not see properly. He sighed and set off again, this time resting his right elbow on the rail and winced as the sharp edge of a box prodded him in the leg, just to the right of the shin bone. That would be another bruise to add to his ever growing collection.

He heard a door slam on the floor above and heard footsteps running along the landing. The stairwell door burst open just ahead of him. Albert flattened himself against the handrail as a young man, dressed in black, loomed towards him. His face was hardly visible beneath his hat, which was pulled down below his ears and over his eyebrows. He did not even appear to notice the terrified old man as he raced down the stairs two steps at a time.

Albert looked at the stairwell door. ‘Floor 8’. He took a deep breath and tried to shut out memories that were flooding back to him. He continued. ‘Floor 9.’ He looked up at the small landing between floors nine and ten. That was where it happened the first time. He remembered the flash of the blade. He remembered the blood trickling down the stairs. He remembered the shouts of “Help me! Please, help me!” His memory was dimming, but that night he could remember as if it was only last week. Help hadn’t come for several hours. By then, Albert’s first victim had bled to death.



Lindsay said...

I love this story, and it's a perfect example of how one tiny line can change everything. Brilliant.

Lara Clayton said...

I love that you last line completely alters the direction of the story, and also changes our perceptions of the protagonist. It's brilliant because I couldn't predict it: it hit me and I wasn't at all prepared for it.
Thank you for allowing us to share this.

vicky ellis said...

Yup, it's still a great story :)

Your short stories are up there with Roald Dahl's short stories for adults. Always surprising with characters that are sweetly sinister.

Fab post and spot on for the theme!

Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks for joining us, Jen.

A wonderful way to end the week - with a last line turning the whole context of a full story.

This is not the first time I've enjoyed reading this one. And, like Vicky says, it's still a great story.


Jen said...

Thanks for the comments and special thanks to Lara for the confidence boost.