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Echoing Steps

The following piece was my second entry to the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. The prompt for this piece was Ghost Story, a stairwell, and a burger. See this post for more!

A stark, lonely concrete stairwell leads down to darkness.

Friday night out with the girls, but Tasha decided to go home early. Normally she’d get a taxi, but the mild weather invited her to walk. She chose to take a shortcut through Templebar.

Dublin’s oldest quarter was originally the entire city, first settled by raiding Vikings. Today it was nothing more than a tourist trap. Now, in the height of summer, it would be packed. She rolled her eyes as she weaved in and out of the international crowd. There were English men and women over for stag and hen nights, elderly Asian couples with their phones on selfie sticks, and Americans popping in and out of bars. She intended to dodge them all.

One crowd, in particular, were blocking the entire road. There were bright lights all pointing in towards one central area, almost like a construction site. A van from RTÉ, the national news station, was parked beside it.

“Sorry!” she muttered, as she squeezed her way through the observing crowd.

“Christ lady no need to shove!” said one American, his mouth full of hamburger.

Tasha flicked a piece of his meal off her shirt and kept walking. As she moved she heard a few words from the reporter.

“… might be of a Viking woman, given the style of the necklace found near the body. There were a number of stab wounds to her…”

Tasha shuddered, thinking of how the poor woman died.

“Home at last,” she said, as she walked up to her apartment block. She whistled while fumbling for her keys. Just then the heavens opened and a heavy downpour began.

“Shite!” she declared, finally getting her keys. As she unlocked the door she noticed the reflection of a woman standing behind her.

“Jesus!” She turned around but there was no-one there.

“…Hello?” she asked the rain.

The rain didn’t reply.

Her pulse rising, Tasha turned the keys and entered the lobby. Being on the other side of the door didn’t help as much as Tasha had hoped. Her apartment would be better. She’d be safe there.

“Just my reflection doubled in the rainwater. That’s all.”

She began the hike to her floor. Although the view from the sixth floor was amazing, the climb was not. Tasha heard the doors click open and shut behind her. She turned to see who it was.

The lobby was empty. The rain was torrential and rivulets streamed along the glass door. There were some wet footprints leading from the door to the steps, but Tasha assumed they were hers. Maybe a gust of wind blew the door open?

“Jesus did I lock the door right?!” She hopped back down to check. Locked tight.

She continued to climb and after two flights sat down to remove her heels. Then she remembered something. The wet footprints.

They were the prints of someone’s bare feet.

She didn’t descend again but climbed with a little more urgency than before.

After another two flights, she stopped, getting slightly out of breath. She looked down the wide gap between the flights of stairs to see if anyone else was climbing them. She looked up as well for good measure. No sign. Her breath clouded up in front of her, and she shivered.

Tasha began to climb again, the sound of her bare feet on the cold steps echoed up and down the empty stairs. She was scaring herself. There was no reason to-

She froze. There was something off about the sound of her footsteps. They were slightly out of sync. She stood still and listened. Nothing. She took a few more steps, hearing the sound of feet on the tile a split second after her own.

Someone was following her.

“Whoever is trying to scare me stop, it’s not working!”

“It is.”

A woman’s voice. It was a rough voice and reverberated off the cold concrete walls, surrounding Tasha. She ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

“Leave me the fuck alone!” she called back.

The sound of feet slapping the tiled stairs trailed her.

Tasha broke into a full sprint, passing the fourth floor, with only two to go. What did this woman want? Who was she?

A horrible laugh came from above, or was it below? It was so hard to tell now. Cautiously Tasha turned the last corner to her floor, the top floor, and was relieved to see that the woman hadn’t somehow got ahead of her.

Tasha stopped and listened. The laughing, the shouts, the sounds of her pursuer were gone. Only her own breathing echoed down the stairwell. She took a chance to peek over the safety rail, looking down along the stairs to try and see the strange woman.

Just as she did, cold clammy arms wrapped around her from behind. Tasha struggled and called for help, but the woman was terrifyingly strong.

She breathed into Tasha’s ears. Her breath had the sickly sweet stench of decay.

“What are you doing?! No!” begged Tasha, as the woman lifted her, leaned over the safety rail, and plunged the two of them to the floor below. As they fell Tasha tried desperately to grab onto the rails of other floors, but the woman held on tighter and tighter.

Tasha’s final thought, just before her head split on the floor below, was of pure utter hopelessness. She screamed.

“Jesus are you okay?”

A man she recognised from her building was crouching over her, a concerned expression on his face. Tasha was sitting on the floor in the lobby, not far from the doors. Her shoes still on, tears streaming down her face.

“Sorry I… I thought-”

A tall, strong woman was standing outside the doors of the lobby. Her long, blonde, braided hair cascaded over her shoulders. The rain didn’t seem to soak into her dark blue woollen dress, nor did it bother her bare feet.  She looked at Tasha, the look of a warrior, and left.

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