What if there was a staircase that seemed to descend forever? It would become a tourist destination, and a place to commit suicide. But it would also be a place to lose yourself, as Peter M. Ball's new story proves.
The story, "L'esprit de L'escalier," appears in the latest issue of Apex Magazine, which just went up online. A man known only as Rat makes the trip to the endless staircase while he struggles with grief over the death of his lover Marlo. Here's how it begins:
Rat opens the double doors and the stairwell smells of baking, the air thick with dull warmth and the smell of yeasty dough. He wrinkles his long nose and wonders if it will be like this for the entire way down, or if the doughy stink will gradually transform itself into the aroma of fresh-baked. He hopes not. Rat worked in a bakery one summer, and he hasn't enjoyed the smell of bread since. It reminds him of the finger burns and the thick coats of lard painted into hot bread trays to keep the dough from sticking as it cooked.
He flexes his fingers. The big backpack is so heavy it's cutting off the circulation to his arms, so he has to remember to keep his fingers moving.
Someone has bolted a sign to the mahogany balustrade, warning people not to throw coins or pebbles down the centre of the stairwell. The guidebook says this is for the safety of fellow climbers. Every year someone is struck on the head when they're 130 flights below, and there's no chance of getting help in time when you're that far down.
The whole thing is well worth checking out.
Top image by Oliver Fluck.