We stood on the dry ground, side by side. The sun beat down on our hooded heads. The wind stopped blowing. The breeze that had gently stirred the grass at my feet and the hair tumbling out of my hood lay still; dead; leaving us to suffer the unbearable heat without its cool relief. A murder of crows cawed sinisterly above our heads. Their foreboding call chilled me to the bone despite the burning sensation on my back.
Here they were, sitting on the ground in front of us. The grey stone was almost concealed by the congealed dirt at the toe of my boot.
We had heard the tales, the rumors, the secretive whispers. Neither of us had believed them; how could we? The idea had seemed to ridiculous, so…
And yet, here they are. The steps in the middle of Stull Cemetery… The infamous staircase…
The gateway to hell. We stood before it, paralyzed. We had joked about following it, seeing what was down there; but neither of us truly believed it existed.
We were wrong; dead wrong.
My entire body was screaming at me to move, to turn and run the hell away from this slab of stone. My legs itched and my fingers twitched in the large pocket at the front of my hoodie.
I was about to leave, to obey the shrieks that echoed in my head, but she laughed–more of a chuckle, actually. A nervous, strained chuckle.
“It really exists.” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. I instinctively leaned closer to listed. “The staircase to Hell…” she said. “We’ve found the staircase to Hell.” Her voice was strange. It was lower, shaky, and a little faster– like she was caught somewhere between excitement and fear. Her eyes were wide and focused on the ground in front of her feet. A small smirk played on her lips. I could instantly tell what she was thinking; and I didn’t like it. I willed my mouth to open, to protest her thoughts, but it wouldn’t.
“Let’s go!” she said, turning to me with twinkling eyes. Her hand gripped my arm, a tight grip that left no room for argumentation. Any signs of fear had disappeared from her glowing face. This is what she was known for: being adventurous; being fearless. I yearned to be cool like her…
“Okay!” I exclaimed, plastering a smile on my face. I needed to prove myself.
Despite the gnawing fear in the pit of my stomach, I took a step forward, placing my numb foot on the large gray slab so I could start digging out the other steps.
I didn’t have to.
The second I put my foot down, the step glowed. That’s right; GLOWED. The grass and dirt in front of it cleared, disappearing as if they had never existed in the first place. Their absence revealed more stone steps that glowed in the same eerie red. The ground shook slightly as we watched the steps disappear into the darkness over the underground.
I nearly lost my balance, taking a step back and clinging to Lori. It was all I could do to keep from falling on my ass and making a total fool of myself.
I glanced at her, fearing laughter, but she hadn’t noticed. Her eyes were transfixed on the staircase.
The earthquake died down until it was only feeble vibrations, then nothing more. The earth was still again.
I released her arm, suddenly embarrassed. I pulled my hood lower over my face, hoping to hide my blushing cheeks.
She didn’t seem to notice. “I guess our shovels are useless.” she said, dropping hers. It landed on the ground with a muffled thud. I copied her, resisting the urge to catch it as if fell. The second thud sent a chill down my spine; a chill that told me I had made a terrible mistake.
Her hand closed around my shaking arm, a little softer this time, and I noticed she was already down the first two steps and looking up at me with furrowed eyebrows.
“Everything alright, Kleo?” she asked, tugging lightly on my sleeve.
“Yeah, yeah; I’m fine.” I said, a little too quickly. I could tell from her still-furrowed brows that she didn’t believe me.
The truth is, I wasn’t fine. I don’t want to be standing in a creepy, abandoned cemetery. I didn’t want to go down stairs that supposedly lead to Hell. I didn’t want to see what Hell looks like.
I felt like there’s an invisible wall at the edge of the first step, one that was trying to keep me from making the biggest mistake of my life.
She broke that wall. Those calm, confused eyes pierced through the thick glass, sending invisible shards crashing to the ground.
My screaming, reluctant body hopped down those two steps and smiled, leaving logic beaten and dying beside my shovel. My trembling lips struggled to keep the smile, which I aimed at her as if trying to prove my lie.
She smiled back, her face instantly cleared of any suspicions, Her hand dropped to her side.
She faced forward again and took several steps downwards. I followed, carefully keeping pace with her steady footsteps.