By Brandon Everett
Sid walked out of the Meijers grocery store in a hurry. In his cart were twelve frozen Hungry Man dinners (chicken fried steak of course), and four pint bottles of Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, his beverage of choice. The setting sun glistened through one already opened bottle as he took a swig, while trying to maneuver the cart around the oncoming patrons walking by. He screwed the top back on and placed the bottle in the bag with the others. The cool autumn breeze began to toss the fallen leaves around, like a colorful snow globe.
When he reached his old '99 Mercury Sable, he quickly placed his items inside the trunk and slammed the door down.
"Whoa there, Sid! Don't break the darn thing!" chuckled a low, nasally voice. Sid closed his eyes, inhaled slowly, and opened his car door. He could picture the smug grin and equally self-righteous stance of Richard Peelings, the town's used cars salesman, looming behind him. Just the sound alone of Richard's voice made Sid cringe.
"Not now, Dick," Sid said, getting into his car, "gotta go."
"Well, it's Richard, actually and-"
"Don't care, Dick," Sid closed the door.
"Ok, then," Richard said unenthusiastically.
Sid turned the key in the ignition bringing the car to life. He shifted into reverse, hoping for a split second that Richard was still standing there, and then peeled out of his stall as he made his way towards the parking lot exit. Reaching the exit, he looked both ways, checking to see if he was clear, then stopped. Across the street was the city council building, an old brick building with a lime green roof. In front of the building on the curb near the street was an old wooden bench. Its only visitor currently was Sid's gaze. As he looked on to it, still tense from rushing out of the store and avoiding Richard, his body began to loosen and slump in his seat. It was an ordinary bench, brown with a black metal frame. At some point in the last 20 years or so it had been painted various different colors, but now it stood stripped, completely naked and alone. A lump began to form in Sid's throat as the bench across the street continued to stare back.
Sid jolted as the cars behind him notified him of their intentions of wanting to leave. Shaking off the trance he was in, he slammed on the accelerator and sped down the street.
It was dusk when Sid pulled into his driveway. Mr. Calloway, his widowed neighbor living to the right of him, was out trimming his shrubbery. He and Sid had had an argument earlier in the week about the upkeep of front yards and how they affected the look of the neighborhood as a whole. Actually, Mr. Calloway did most of the talking. Sid's contribution to the conversation was "Go to hell," before getting into his car and driving to the liquor store. Mr. Calloway still to this day would greet Sid with a surly frown, as he did this day.
After parking the car and shutting off the ignition, Sid sat for a moment, staring at his garage door. The eggshell-white paint was peeling off in chunks and the hinges were all rusted over. I hate you, Sid thought. I hate everything about you. He didn't know why, but just looking at it made him angry. Everything seemed to make him angry nowadays. He didn't care though, as long as he had a bottle of booze to wash away the world around him.
Upon exiting his vehicle, Sid walked around to the back of his car and popped the trunk door open. He grabbed the brown paper bags with his week's worth of groceries and shut the trunk door. As he began to make his way up the weed-infested walkway, he glanced over to his neighbor's house on the left. He paused. Someone was looking through the curtain. Squinting, Sid could see a pair of eyes staring back at him. Knowing full well that this particular neighbor of his was deranged and completely psycho, he could have just let it be and walked inside. Not today. He placed the bags down on the ground and took a step towards the house.
"What the hell are you looking at?" he yelled.
The window with the peeper was only about ten feet away from where he was standing, but Sid spoke as if he wanted the whole neighborhood to hear.
"I said," he continued to bellow, "what the hell are you looking at?!"
Damn it feels good to yell, he thought to himself. Sid had wanted to yell all day at work; yell at the lady with the bad brake job who blamed him for it, at his boss who threatened to fire him because of the bad brake job he didn't actually do, at the deli worker who got his order wrong at lunch. Finally he was able to let it boil over.
The neighbor's curtains closed as the peeper retreated back into the dark of his house.
"That's what I thought, you damn alien-UFO spoutin' bastard!" Sid cried out and, feeling fairly satisfied, he picked up his bags and ventured on into his empty house.
The next few hours played out like they did every night for the last twenty years. After kicking off his shoes, he microwaved a delectably bland frozen dinner. Venison steaks would be nicer, he often thought. However, Sid hadn't hunted, or gone fishing for that matter, in the last twenty years, and he spent as little time at the grocery store as possible. Other than the popping sounds of the radioactive meal in the microwave, Sid was wrapped in the empty silence of his home.
After tossing the remnants of his lukewarm chicken fried steak in the trash, he let out a belch, grabbed the opened bottle of Wild Turkey and sat down in his dark green arm chair. Swig after swig, the events of the day and his built up frustration began to fog up in his mind. Before he knew it, the bottle was empty.
"Oh, this won't do," he said as he got up from his perch and tossed the empty bottle aside. Moments later he returned to his musty chair with a six pack of beer in hand. He cracked one open, setting the rest beside him on the floor, and took a huge swig. He sighed in satisfaction as the cool beverage trickled down to his gut. Putting a fist to his chest, he let out the raunchiest belch he had ever heard. Damn, that felt good. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, placing his beer in between his legs. The old wooden bench outside of the city council building, the one he saw earlier, reentered his mind. Like a splinter under a fingernail, it lay wedged in his psyche. There was a time when Sid used to spend his evenings sitting on it, contemplating the world around him. That was years ago though. He'd since exchanged the bench for a comfy recliner, and dismissed profound contemplation with alcohol. In due course, his mind began to fog as the alcohol streamed through his system.
Eventually, around 11:00pm, he stumbled to his untidy room and collapsed on the bed, pushing the dirty clothes and trash out of his way. His mind now was numb, just the way he liked it as he began to fall asleep.
Some say that the last thing you think of before falling asleep is typically what you dream about. That's why Sid preferred falling asleep drunk, because you usually don't remember anything before you fall asleep, giving your mind the freedom of going wherever it wants to. It sure beats the always unreliable "sober dreaming". It had been a while since Sid had one of those. The problem was, sober dreams tended to be more vivid and memorable than "drunk dreams", at least in Sid's perspective. This night, however, was dreamless. Vast darkness, void of all sound and light, surrounded Sleeping Sid. His mind was as outer space is: empty, dark, and lonesome.
* * *
The incessant knocking continued for about a half an hour. Lying in bed, Sid tried all he could to drown out the noise drumming him awake. Plugging his ears and smothering his head with his pillow just wasn't cutting it. The bottle of Wild Turkey he started a week previous stood warm and half empty on his cluttered night stand. Crumpled receipts, loose change, random pieces of unfinished food items, wadded up tissues and empty beer cans were also strewn across the small table, and on the floor, and his bed. The knocking continued. Sid ran his hand through his disheveled auburn hair, and then realized he was still wearing his watch.
"1:27 am. Who the hell is knocking on my door at 1:27am?" he asked as if expecting an answer from someone else in the room.
Sid decided that if he was going to be able to get any more sleep he'd have to face the knocking monster from hell that was currently having its way with his front door. He sat up and swung his feet off the bed, his right foot landing on his wallet.
"How the hell did you get there?" he said groggily, staring down at his feet. "Where the hell are my pants?" He couldn't remember taking them off.
Straining his head left to right for a split second, he decided that was a sufficient search party for his pants. He grabbed the bottle of whiskey, took a swig and placed it back down with a grimace. Standing up, he took a moment to gain some sort of bearing, and stumbled out of his room in his underwear, grabbing his Al's Auto Repair shirt on the way.
Again the knocking continued and Sid growled in contempt. He continued his way to the door as he struggled to put his shirt on. The room around him spun like a merry-go-round. Bumping into walls and other pieces of furniture didn't help his dressing attempt, and eventually he gave up. He successfully buttoned the bottom button, and that was it. Finally, after what felt like ages, Sid reached his front door and placed his hand against it in order to regain some sense of balance.
"Damn it, slow down" he said to the spinning room.
He shook his head and peered into the peep hole. All he saw was a blurry blob pacing back and forth. He pulled his head back, which now felt like it weighed a ton and pounded as though it was an inflatable bouncy house at a birthday party. After rubbing his eyes, he peered into the peep hole once more.
"Shit," he exclaimed.
He unlocked the door and opened it. A tall, praying mantis of a man stopped pacing and walked up to the doorway. His blonde hair was slicked down with a part on the left. His pencil line mustache accented his thin lips and his rubber ducky robe flowed behind him softly in the cool morning breeze. A look of desperation illuminated his face in the dark of the porch.
"What the hell are you doing Todd?" Sid asked exasperated. "You have any idea what time it is?"
"Oh don't give me that Sid, you smell like a highway underpass. I'm sure you weren't even asleep," Todd's high toned voice replied. "I need you to do something for me."
Like hell you do, Sid thought. He began to close the door when Todd reached a bony arm out in protest.
"Wait!" Todd pleaded, his blood-shot eyes twitching in the pale light. "Be a good neighbor! Follow me over to my place."
A good neighbor? He's out of his damn mind! Sid looked out towards the insect standing on his porch and thought to himself how easy it would be to launch his fist into the depths of Todd's face, exiting out of the back of his head; like running a pencil through a piece of paper. He could imagine the cool breeze hitting his blood soaked fist, like how you feel when you step out of the shower and the air hits your wet body. He shuddered.
"Sid, let's go! We don't have all night!"
What the hell is his problem? He's always pullin' this shit! Why hasn't he been committed? Sid's voice screamed in his head. Why am I still standing here?! As his senses began to slowly come back, he yawned as Todd let out a grunt in disgust.
"What is so important that it has to be done now, at this ungodly hour?"
Todd leaned in towards Sid as if to tell him a secret. The moonlight bounced off Todd's trembling cheekbones causing an eerie glow to cover his face. For a split second Sid thought he was talking to a skeleton. Todd looked around, paranoid to see if anyone was listening in on their conversation.
"I need you to fix…my stairs," Todd said, with a shudder in his voice.
"What do you mean?" Sid asked; his patience running thin. Where the hell's that whiskey?
"My stairs, Sid…the stairs that lead to the, you know…the-"
All of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning striking the one area of his brain not dulled by liquor, Sid realized what was going on. Oh, hell no! Not this alien shit again! Sid grabbed Todd's robe at the collar and pulled him up till they were nose to nose.
"Don't you even say it Todd!" he yelled.
Todd gasped for air as if he were drowning.
"If this is about your damn 'space stairs' or whatever it is you're always rambling about, I swear I'm going to kill you! Is this why you woke me up you lunatic?!" Sid threw his startled neighbor to the ground.
"Damn it, Todd!"
Todd looked helplessly towards his drunken neighbor. His eyes glistened in the moonlight from the layer of water forming at the edges. He began to mutter insistently. Sid started to close his door when, with a burst of energy, Todd stood straight up and glared mightily at his neighbor. Desperation no longer accompanied his voice, but was rather swallowed up in what now seemed to be a sense of urgency.
"It's real Sid. What the stairs can do. You can fix them. You are after all what they call a 'mechanic' aren't you? You fix things."
Sid, for whatever reason unknown to him was compelled to listen on. Maybe it was the booze or that fact that he was still somewhat sleepy, he didn't know. His fists were clenched and sweaty, ready to joust with Todd's face if needed. His heart raced as though it were to burst from his chest and pump its way down the street. Beads of sweat began to sting his already blood-shot eyes. He focused his gaze on the now statue of a man on his porch.
"What, because I'm a mechanic I'm qualified to fix your alien stairs?" Sid exclaimed with a chuckle. Todd was not amused.
"The men at the top of the stairs told me you can fix them, the stairs that is," Todd said frantically.
Todd's eyes continued to twitch, causing the bags under them to bounce up and down. I can't believe I'm still standing here, Sid thought to himself. Go inside! Go inside!
"The men at the top of the stairs, they told you that, huh?" Sid replied. No, you idiot! Shut up and go inside!
Todd slowly raised his hand and placed it hesitantly on Sid's shoulder. His countenance shifted. His eyes, no longer twitching, were now focused on Sid's. Todd's grip tightened on his neighbor's shoulder and his voice dropped a couple of octaves and became raspy and demanding.
"I know you don't believe me. They said this would happen. Let me put this in a way that you can understand. You will come with me to my home. You will fix the stairs. You will then go home and speak nothing of this to anyone; for should you do so, I will make it my entire life's goal and purpose to cause you immense pain and suffering all the days of your life. Do we understand each other?"
Sid closed his eyes and lowered his head. It's alright, he though, I'm not really standing here. This is a nightmare. I clearly drank way too much. Todd isn't really here. I'm still in bed asleep, alone. All alone. Alone, the only way he knew how to live, unfortunately. He looked up at the dark sky. The stars dotted the black canvas and the moon glowed eerily as it labored on to illuminate the night. The cool breeze was comforting. The sooner I play this thing out, the sooner it ends. Sid turned his gaze back towards Todd, who had returned to his fidgeting state.
"Alright Todd, why the hell not?"
Closing the door behind him, Sid followed his crazy neighbor to his house. Upon arriving, Sid couldn't make out much of the inside since Todd didn't want to turn any lights on. There was no furniture, save a single chair in the middle of the living room. They walked over to the old, wooden stairway that lead up to the second floor. In the ambient moonlight shining in from a skylight, Sid could see that at the top was an open door to a bathroom. Todd handed him a hammer and showed him the loose board on the second step from the bottom. Sid grabbed the hammer and stared at it for a moment as if it were a foreign object.
"You're kidding," Sid said with contempt. "You couldn't do this yourself?"
"Fix it," Todd replied.
Fix it?! I'm fixin' to smash you in the face with this! Sid's mind and body unfortunately were not on the same page. He took a deep breath, and then looked at the wooden step. Just fix the damn stairs so you can leave. Man I need a drink. He squared up the loose board and pounded down the nails.
"Thank you," a strange voice said in the distance.
Sid looked up the stairs and stumbled back. A figure in a dark hooded robe stood at the top of the staircase. The bathroom door was gone, in its place stood a dark purple wall, rippling like water. Sid's jaw dropped.
"What the hell?!" he exclaimed, tightening his grip on the hammer.
The strange visitor slowly raised his hand in a welcoming gesture. The hand was white as snow, but broad and muscular.
"Come," its odd voice beckoned.
Sid looked over at Todd, who while smiling, nodded as if to say, "Go ahead. I told you so!" The possibility that he was dreaming seemed more plausible to Sid now than ever before.
"What the hell is going on here Todd? Is this some kind of sick joke?"
Todd raised his right arm, directing Sid to walk up the stairs. Todd's eyes were no longer twitching. Instead, they looked upon Sid with both pity and, strangely enough, gratitude.
"I'm not going up there, if that's what you're implying," Sid said, tossing down the hammer.
"Sid," said the hooded figure; its voice warm and calm. Sid glanced back up at the figure; his eyes wide and his body trembling.
"Please," the figure beckoned.
"Screw you, you crazy bastard! There's no way in hell that I'm-"
Todd stepped forward and placed his hand on Sid's head. Immediately, Sid dropped to his knees. Like an overexcited slide show, images of his life began to fly through his brain. Moments in his life, moments he had forgotten long ago, now seemed so visceral and so fresh. They were happy moments; the feel of the freshly cut grass on his high school baseball field passing through his fingers, the warmth of the sun cradling his face as he received his first fishing pole, the heavenly aroma of his mother's oatmeal chocolate chip cookies welcoming him home from whatever venture took him away. So many lost memories flew through his mind that he immediately became overwhelmed with fear and sadness.
"What the hell did you do to me?" cried Sid, suddenly having trouble breathing as he spoke.
"Sid," the hooded figure beckoned once again.
"What!" Sid yelled. His head began to ache with every image that passed through.
"Why?" His mind throbbed vigorously from the complete overload his brain was experiencing.
The hooded figure continued to stand there, its hand still outstretched.
"Stop!" cried Sid, his hands cradling his face. "I can't-my head! Make it stop!"
Todd placed his hand on the crown of Sid's head. Immediately, Sid fell forward, panting and moaning. The images disappeared, but the pain remained.
"Go, Sid," Todd pleaded. As he rolled onto his back, Sid stared up at the ceiling. His legs were still bent behind him. He held his head in his hands and then closed his eyes, trying all he could to push out the pain.
"This is a dream. This isn't real," he kept muttering to himself. His head still throbbed as though his brain would explode. Todd bent down and took Sid's arm gently to help him up. Sid quickly yanked his arm away.
"Don't touch me!" he exclaimed.
"Let him be," said the hooded personage. Todd looked up at the figure, nodded and stepped away
"Sid," the figure's voice whispered.
Craning his head back to look up at the robed stranger, Sid suddenly could not shake the uneasy feeling urging him to walk up the stairs. It was as if all of a sudden he knew that that was what he had to do, like it was common knowledge. No, this is crazy! He thought as he shook his head back and forth, as if doing so would toss the idea out completely. Yet, no matter how hard he tried to fight it, he just knew that walking up those stairs was what he had to do. Why, he didn't know. Fine, I'll go, he thought. It's just a damn dream after all, right? Sid rolled over and slowly got up on his knees. And when I get up there, I'm gonna knock that bastard's lights out. Puttin' me through this shit- Todd's gonna get it, too. Living next door to a complete psycho is one thing. Dealing with two in the middle of the damn night, on the tail end of a bender is another.
"Alright," Sid said as he struggled to his feet. "I'm coming."
He started up the stairs, taking each step one at a time, trying not to lose his balance. He began to picture how his altercation with the figure would go once he got to the top. A small grin spread across his face as he pictured the hooded person sprawled out on the floor unconscious.
He paused as he reached the second to last step from the top. The glow from the purple, liquid door behind the hooded figure made it difficult to see. After a moment of straining his blood-shot eyes, Sid could see the figure's face. It was strong yet somewhat familiar, which took Sid by surprise.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked, his brow furled with confusion and his fist clenched.
The figure, his hand still outstretched, smiled affectionately. Sid's eyes began to tear as the anger he was feeling began to melt away. His face felt warm as if he were standing by a fire. He unclenched his fist. Slowly, he raised his now trembling hand and clasped the broad hand of the figure in his own. Heat rushed through his body; his mind became clear of everything. He noticed the throbbing in his head was gone. This-, he thought, I don't think this is a dream.
The figure took his hood off, exposing his bald white head. Sid's eyes widened with shock, for it was as though he was looking into a mirror. The figure had the same brown eyes, the same large nose, and charming smile. If it weren't for the powdery, snow white complexion and lack of hair, Sid swore he was looking at a younger version of himself.
"Wh-who are you?" Sid asked again as his lips quivered. And why the hell do you look like me? Subtle tears began to stream down his cheeks. The figure continued to smile. Sid recognized the smile, because it was identical to his own.
"I-I don't understand," he mumbled. "What is this?"
"Come with me," the figure said.
The figure turned away from Sid, their hands still clasped as the figure directed the two of them towards the purple watery wall.
"Wait, where are we-?"
Before he could finish, they walked through the passageway. Passing through was like walking into a curtain of silk. On the other side of this door, or opening, or whatever it was, Sid wasn't sure- vast darkness surrounded him. The figure was gone. Sid turned his head frantically from side to side. Though it was completely void of all light around him, he could still see his body. The ground beneath him no longer felt solid but was fluid-like. He stumbled a bit once he realized his balance was off. The waterbed his parents had as a child immediately came to mind.
"Hello?" he called out.
His voice echoed as though he were standing in a canyon. However, this was like no canyon he had ever been to. For his voice trailed on for what seemed like minutes, constantly repeating his cry. Instead of hearing his voice trail away, it would alternate from a faint "Hello" to a loud "Hello", so loud at times that Sid had to put his hands to his ears to keep his eardrums from exploding.
The faint light from the doorway shimmered in the distance, which startled Sid since he couldn't remember moving after stepping through the door. The bald man was no where to be found, and frustration began bubbling inside his strained body. Screw this, he thought. I'm going back. He turned to head back towards the way he came, but stopped himself. He looked on towards the purple door, which was now just a purple speck in the distance.
"There must be a current," he said, looking down at his feet. As soon as he heard himself say that, he broke out in hard laughter.
"A current! Right! I mean why the hell wouldn't it have a current? It is after all space or something right?" he bellowed. After a moment, his laughter subsided. He covered his ears as the echoing continued. After the echoing finally faded, he paused, staring at the purple speck in the distance.
"This isn't space," he said with a heavy voice. "This is Hell. Dammit, that's it! Of course! I mean, I thought living next to Todd was hell but no. This is much worse."
He plopped himself down on his back with his arms stretched out. His body wobbled up and down with the moving floor.
"And much more fitting. Alone for eternity on the devil's waterbed. That's my hell."
He closed his eyes and allowed himself to let go. He fully embraced the idea that he had reached his end, and it was in that moment that he was immersed in what his life had become. Immediately he felt even more alone and depressed. The feelings of warmth and peace he felt moments earlier upon taking the hand of the figure had vanished and he wanted so desperately to have them back. Then, cocooned in despair and loneliness, like a ghost, she appeared in his mind.
The temperature around Sid began to plummet. He could see his breath in the vastness. Still lying down, he curled up in a ball.
"This is it!" he screamed. Hell's freezing over!"
He pictured the ghostly woman in his mind again. A subtle longing pinged in his heart as he remembered who she was.
Then, he was sitting on a bench.
(The story continues, see "The Stairs - Part II")