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Stairways to Nowhere
Less Than Pulp 54
Have you ever seen a set of concrete stairs in the woods? These are stairs that lead to nothing but empty air, that appear as though they will discard you on the forest floor once you step over the edge of the top stair.
There are tons of those around where I used to live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, scattered throughout the woods like pieces of a puzzle only the gods can solve. Sometimes, you can imagine the house they once led to, a structure from a bygone era.
I used to think about these architectural oddities a lot. I’d walk through the woods, my imagination running wild because I just read another Stephen King book I’d gotten from the library. To my young mind, these stairways obviously led to another world. Or maybe if you climbed them, you’d step into the house as it once was, before it went away.
It also sometimes occurred to me that only the stairs had been built. Any house that would’ve gone up was never completed, leaving only this strange reminder of someone’s abandoned dreams. What a strange thought. I’m no builder, but I can’t imagine a front stoop gets built before the rest of the house.
In the woods by my stepfather’s place, there was one such set of stairs. There were also huge chunks of jackhammered concrete piled among the undergrowth and trees. It was like another neighborhood, perhaps a whole town or entire city, had existed there before. Or maybe only foundations were laid before plans were abandoned and the would-be homeowners demolished them in a fit of frustration.
The coolest thing I found in those woods, separated from that set of stairs by a spread of pavement cracked and overgrown with weeds, was the shell of a house that had long ago burned down. Only the basement remained. It had a staircase leading out of it, through a doorframe with no door. Garbage and weeds and stagnant water lay within this open concrete and cinderblock grave. I loved walking through it, looking at old TVs, empty beer bottles, and broken furniture. The place conjured so many imaginary possibilities.
This young Stephen King fan fantasized about a haunted place, burned down to cleanse the house of evil spirits. Reclaimed by nature, but not entirely devoid of ghosts. Perhaps populated with new ghosts, but more likely containing something older, something arcane that existed there before any house was built on its grounds.
One day, I met a woman who was with her kids beside the creek that ran along those woods. She said the house was burned down by its owner for insurance money. A lot less interesting, but probably closer to the truth. It was a low-income area. Most houses were in disrepair. Once, I found a firebombed car beside a set of railroad tracks, most likely another attempt to swindle the swindlers.
Around the time I decided to get serious about writing, some dude in my group told me about an idea he had using those concrete stairs to nowhere in a story about fairies. He meant actual fairies from folklore, not the whimsical Disney characters who came along to solve the problems of ill-fated princesses or a downtrodden Cinderella. These beings would possess a much darker magic.
I hope he wound up writing that story.
Bucks County is considered one of America’s most haunted places, and you can count me as a believer. Paranormal literature doesn’t quite get ghosts right. I no longer believe they are restless spirits with fully formed personalities from before they passed or imbued with outright malevolence for dying an unjust death. They are something more ethereal than that, a sea of echoes from not just lives but individual moments as well. Like, have you ever gone somewhere you’ve been before and encountered pieces of your old self? Or stood somewhere and the history of the place feels almost overwhelmingly oppressive?
I bet you have.
We’ll be visiting Bucks County again this summer—in less than a month, in fact. I can hardly wait to tell you about it. Maybe this year, I’ll finally forget about my fear of snakes and spiders long enough to walk through some undeveloped woods to climb one of those stairways to nowhere.
If I do, I’ll let you know where I end up and who I meet.
Bladejob is almost here, and it’s already generating some nice buzz. You can (and should) preorder it directly from Madness Heart Press. Unless something unexpected arises, this will be the last book I release this year.
If you’re itching for more of my stuff, remember Snow Angels dropped back in February and could definitely use some more love. You can grab that right here. If you’re in the South, it may be just what you need to keep cool in this insane heat.
Chapter 2 of Barn Door to Hell is also live as of last Friday and available to Premium Subscribers. You can check out a free sample here. $5 unlocks the rest of the post, plus other chapters, the entire newsletter archive, and any behind-the-scenes content.
Lastly, we’ve got a new bonus episode of Make Your Own Damn Podcast up. We discuss 1883, Jeff’s rewatch of the Evil Dead franchise, Child’s Play and the staying power of its antagonist Chucky, and a whole lot more. You can listen for $1 right here.