Sta(i)r Stutter

 

I’m the oddest thing
holding myself up
naked in the woods.

Cast from an
arterial hollow
that’s never beaten.

The leaves dead
deaden
dead
at my bottom step
crunch to squeak
eek.

No echo,
a deafening  and shallow creak
if you should step
you should step.

Empty levels
a rhythmic climb
to grayscale stillness.

Board out of wonderment,
step to your horror
like a catamaran bound for Styx.

I wriggle my splinters deep
beneath your skin
I peel your shadow from your soles
with a thick and sinewy rip.

You feel a lightness as you fall,
fading as you climb, mewling on
each stair – a layer sloughed.

A skinless, nude
suitcase of bones
fingernails peeling for the top step.

Pausing at my top,
your body flattens
and fills the world.

Your dusty exhale.
Three days later, I close your eyes.
But I smile.

Shut as they may be,
grains of starlight have been sewn
to your lids.

An afterlife
eyes closed and yet so
open.

A huge shout to my friend John Beach for bringing this wonderful strangeness into my life by sharing the Reddit user searchandrescuewoods‘ posts, copied and pasted below, with me, inspiring this poem:

This is the last one I’ll tell, and it’s probably the weirdest story I have. Now, I don’t know if this is true in every SAR unit, but in mine, it’s sort of an unspoken, regular thing we run into. You can try asking about it with other SAR officers, but even if they know what you’re talking about, they probably won’t say anything about it. We’ve been told not to talk about it by our superiors, and at this point we’ve all gotten so used to it that it doesn’t even seem weird anymore. On just about every case where we’re really far into the wilderness, I’m talking 30 or 40 miles, at some point we’ll find a staircase in the middle of the woods. It’s almost like if you took the stairs in your house, cut them out, and put them in the forest. I asked about it the first time I saw some, and the other officer just told me not to worry about it, that it was normal. Everyone I asked said the same thing. I wanted to go check them out, but I was told, very emphatically, that I should never go near any of them. I just sort of ignore them now when I run into them because it happens so frequently.

He said they were about ten miles from the path where a teenage girl had vanished, and the dogs were following a scent. He was on his own, lagging behind the main group, when he saw a set of stairs off to his left. They looked like they were from a new house, because the carpeting was pristine and white. He said that as he got closer, he didn’t feel any different, or hear any weird noises. He was expecting something to happen, like bleeding from his ears or collapsing, but he got right up next to them and didn’t feel anything. The only thing, he said, that was odd was that there was absolutely no debris on the steps. No dirt, leaves, dust, anything. And there didn’t appear to be any signs of animal or insect activity in the immediate area, which he found strange. It was less like things were avoiding them, and more like they just happened to be in a relatively barren part of the forest. He touched the stairs, and didn’t feel anything except that sort of sticky feeling you get from new carpet. Making sure his radio was on, he slowly climbed the stairs; he said it was terrifying, because the way they’d been stigmatized, he wasn’t really sure what was going to happen to him. He joked that half of him expected to be teleported to some other dimension and the other half was watching for a UFO to come swooping down. But he got to the top with little event, and he stood there looking around. But, he said, the longer he stood on the top step, the more he felt like he was doing something very, very wrong. He described it as the feeling you’d get if you were in a part of a government building you have no business being in. As if someone was going to come and arrest you, or shoot you in the back of the head, at any second. He tried to brush it off, but the feeling got stronger and stronger, and that’s when he realized that he couldn’t hear anything anymore. The sounds of the forest were gone, and he couldn’t hear his own breathing. It was like some kind of weird, awful tinnitus, but more oppressive. He climbed back down and rejoined the search, and didn’t mention what he’d done.
But, he said, the weirdest part came after. His trainer was waiting back at the welcome center after the search ended for the day, and he cornered my buddy before he could leave. He said his trainer had this look of intense anger, and he asked what was wrong.
‘You went up them, didn’t you.’ My buddy said it wasn’t phrased as a question. He asked how his trainer knew. The trainer just shook his head.
‘Because we didn’t find her. The dogs lost her scent.’
My buddy asked what that had to do with anything. The trainer asked how long he’d been on the stairs, and my buddy said no more than a minute. The trainer gave him this really awful, almost dead-eyed look, and told him that if he ever went up another set of stairs again, he’d be fired. Immediately.

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