The Seeing Staircase
by Joshua Blanc
forum: The Seeing Staircase
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..



The Seeing Staircase


          It had started with a dream. The kind of dream Lillian thought she'd long left behind her. It spoke of hidden things, of a grand staircase with polished maple banisters, of sharp blue eyes, and screams that pierced a long-forgotten night.

          "You all right, Lillian?"

          Her heart still racing, she opened her eyes and saw her schoolmate Felicity at her bedside. The girl was half asleep, and night still huddled around them.

          "You were tossing in the covers like it was nobody's business. Here, you're not going barmy again, are you?" said Felicity.

          Lillian took a deep breath and rubbed her temple.

          "Just... a nightmare. Go back to sleep."

          Felicity slid back into her bunk and was comatose in no time. But Lillian wasn't afforded the luxury. She couldn't stop thinking of the dream and its portent. She knew it was linked some way to Time Peeler, but try as she might she couldn't get in touch with her mysterious ethereal friend. Her only consolation was the unfamiliarity of what she'd seen. Tomorrow she would return home for the summer break. Her house didn't even have a staircase, for a start.

          By morning, she'd convinced herself there was nothing to worry about. She said goodbye to the friends she'd made since Time Peeler's last visit, and took one last look at the emptying school. She remembered the despair she felt upon arrival, now a distant memory.

          It wasn't until she was riding home on the train that her thoughts returned to the dream. House after house flew past the window of the carriage. How many harboured secrets? More to the point, how many had two storeys? She turned away and tried to read a book.

* * *

          "We're going where?" she said, not five minutes after she got home.

          "Colchester Inn," said her father.

          "I thought you'd be pleased, Lillian," said her mother. "Since your remarkable improvement, your father and I decided you deserved to get out of the house."

          "But I've only just got in the house. I've been away for six months!"

          "It's by the seaside; you always liked the seaside, didn't you, Lil?"

          Lillian sighed, and stared at the well-meaning looks on her parents' faces. It was useless arguing, and even less use refusing to go. It was Time Peeler's work again. A subtle prod from the aether had set things in motion, and now she was bound to her fate like oxen to a grindstone.

          Carrying her rucksack and suitcase, she trudged wordlessly to her room, which was untouched since she'd left it. Seeing it again made her realise just how different she'd been six months ago. It was like walking into a the den of a juvenile delinquent, except the delinquent was her.

          She stood on the threshold and surveyed the mess her life had been, then picked a path through junk and discarded clothing to the bed.

          Clown duvet. Well that can go for a start.

          She tossed all the clothes onto the bed, then wrapped them up in the duvet and dropped it in a corner. The junk she kicked into a pile beside it. Satisfied, she flopped down on the bed and remembered how nice it was.

          At length her gaze through the fog of memory settled on her dresser. She went to it and opened the bottom drawer. There, hidden beneath her socks and jumpers, was her scrapbook. She brought it to the bed and flipped through it. Inside were drawings she'd made when she was seven, based on things Time Peeler had shown her. One of the more striking images was her best friend's kitchen strung with sides of beef.

          She skipped ahead to drawings made after her mental evaluation. She'd tried to record as accurately as possible the things she'd seen in the hospital cellar and coal-scuttle. The eerie cells of former patients, the imposing door, the bones...

          A great number of pages were still blank, but on the last one used was a newspaper clipping. The headline read: 'Young Girl Discovers Remains In Asylum Coal-Cellar.' Her parents hadn't allowed her name or picture to be used, but she'd stuck a photo of herself next to the clipping. A seven-year-old Lillian smiled proudly out at her from the page. She smiled back.

          She went to her rucksack and took out another clipping. This one was six months old, and detailed her 'discovery' of the bones of a missing boy murdered at her school many years ago. This time the papers had used her picture. She stood in her uniform, gravely holding the bugle that had led her to the grave. In truth it hadn't solely been the bugle, but it was only prudent not to speak of voices in her head.

          She taped the clipping into the book next to the other and admired her work. It was then she heard footsteps, so returned the book to its place and resumed tidying.

          "Knock-knock," said her mother.

          "Yes, Mum?"

          "Oh. Your room looks much better already, dear. I've made some lunch; are you hungry?"

          Lillian smiled and nodded.

          "Come on, then. And bring that laundry and I'll wash it for you."

          Lillian went to grab the duvet.

          "It's... it's good to have you back, Lillian. Really back, I mean."

          "It's good to be back, Mum."

* * *

          Despite the comforting surroundings, her night was again uneasy. The dream returned; a melange of brief impressions, centering around the old and stately staircase. It was no less intense, yet she soon found peaceful sleep again and woke to a bright clear morning.

          Approaching Colchester Inn was like wandering into history. It was a large stone building with leaden roofing, a well-kept garden, and a stark setting befitting an Agatha Christie novel. Yes, it was by the seaside, but the sea itself was thirty feet below the rounded rolling cliffs the Inn was perched upon. Only one detail mattered to Lillian as the car wound its way up the drive: Colchester Inn had two storeys.

          She closed her eyes and probed her subconscious for any stirrings. Nothing surfaced. Dappled sunlight fell across her face as the car pulled into the tree-shaded parking space. Two storeys of grey stone now seemed like four.

          "What a charming place, eh, Angela?" said her Dad.

          "What do you think, Lillian?"

          "Yeah, great," she managed.

          "You look a bit pale, dear... Are you sure you're all right?"

          "Just a bit car-sick, that's all."

          "Take your time then, love, and we'll check-in."

          Lillian's parents went inside, and she sat in the car for a moment with a heaviness pressing down on her. The click of the car door was like the pealing of a dull bell, the crunch of gravel like a cascade of boulders. She looked up at the Inn. Pieces of it had been made cheery and bright by modern workmanship, but nothing could hide old, weary, and above all menacing.

          She took another look at the shaded car-park. Some renovators were parked down the far end, and the only other cars were bright and shiny, the kind owned by well-to-do's and businessmen.

          "Now or never."

          The lobby was a little dingy, but cheerful enough. Her parents were still chatting with the Innkeeper, and somewhere a football match blared from a radio. Walls were white with black trim, and decked with mementos and framed photographs. High above the lobby desk was an elk's head that looked like it had been there since time immemorial—or since elks had existed, at any rate.

          Before going further she examined the bulletin-board to the left of the doorway. Held in place by myriad pins, shaped like peanuts, were flyers for local events and businesses. Dominating the board, however, was a poster proclaiming:

          "Historic Colchester Inn. Experience the centuries-old charm of this former manor, built in seventeen fifty-two for Lord Garret Oliver."

          There was a portrait of Lord Oliver, and he did not look a pleasant man. So much so that his scowling visage made her uneasy.

          Her eyes drifted over the subsequent text and were drawn inexorably to the word 'haunted.' Adrenaline shot into her system as she read of the various phenomena experienced by guests of the Inn. The usual fare: bumps in the night, strange noises and sensations. "Be one of the lucky few," it said, "to see the lady on the staircase."

          "Hello, love," came a voice which startled her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make you jump. I'm Mr. Pembrose, the Innkeeper here. Been reading about our ghosts, have you?"

          Mr. Pembrose was a grizzled man of about sixty. He had sharp blue eyes.

          "The lady on the staircase," said Lillian. "Do you know who she was?"

          "I can't say as I do. Nor have I seen her, and I run the place," he said with a grin. "But there are those say they have, and there's no arguing with that."

          The Innkeeper studied her face.

          "You'd look that ghost right in the eye without so much as a whimper, am I right?"

          Lillian frowned.

          "Lillian, come on up and see the room," called her father.

          The Innkeeper laughed. "I've waylaid you long enough, young lady. Best be following your father upstairs."

          The word 'upstairs' fell heavy in her ears. Mr. Pembrose disappeared behind the counter, leaving a cold void. Step by step she edged forward, until polished banisters were visible beyond the foyer wall. The sight conjured up flashes of her dream, or was this the dream? So vivid were both that it wasn't until the entire staircase was visible that reality
stabilized and she stood looking at something real and tangible. Her parents were halfway up, waving her to follow them up the faded carpet treads. She put her hand on the banister. It was a staircase, nothing more.

          By the time she reached the top, she wondered what all the fuss had been about. Time Peeler still hadn't made contact, and she hadn't seen any ladies—ghostly or otherwise. The view from her room became a welcome distraction. The sea was out there, beyond the green monster-like humps of the point, a slab of grey which undulated from an offshore breeze.

          "I don't think swimming will be much fun with that wind blowing," said her dad. "But who's for a picnic on the shore?"

* * *

          Lillian succeeded in forgetting her troubles until evening. She knew she wouldn't get any sleep, nor did she want to. There was a mystery to solve, and she was determined to do it with or without Time Peeler's help.

          She waited until well after midnight, when the sounds of the well-run Inn had taken their leave, and slipped out of bed. She armed herself with a flashlight, opened her door and made a quick sweep of the hall. She listened at the door to her parent's room; all was silent within.

          The silence comforted her, but made it hard to be stealthy on the old creaky floors. She wore socks on her feet, and did the best she could, but at every creak she expected to be discovered. She wasn't, however, and it made her wonder just how many of the ghostly noises here were simply the settling of wood and stone.

          Like that noise, just now.

          She stood stock still. The creak had been too far behind to be her doing. A minute passed, and there were no further sounds, nor could she see anything there in the light of her flashlight. She started off again, and could see the top of the staircase now in front of her.

          Where are you, Time Peeler?

          There was another creak, and as she stopped to listen this time another followed. Someone, or something, was moving down the hallway towards her. Her flashlight again revealed nothing, yet the footsteps kept coming.

          Lillian! it was Time Peeler's voice at last, but strained and distant.

          She saw a brief flash of golden light from the stairwell. The disembodied footsteps had almost reached her. She hurried down the stairs to the first landing, and almost tripped when a misty shape formed in her path.

          See us! said Time Peeler, loud and clear now.

          The walls and ceiling shimmered as lanterns flared from the distant past. The shape solidified into a woman: a servant in period clothes.

          "Girl!" came a terrible voice from the top of the stairs.

          Lillian whirled to see none other than Lord Oliver standing there.

          "I—" Lillian began.

          "Yes, Your Lordship?" said the servant, and Lillian realised it was she whom the Lord addressed.

          "Think you to run away? Where else will a wretch like you find work?"

          Lord Oliver hurried down the stairs, and Lillian shrank back against the wall.

          "I know not," said the servant. "But I shall not work another day in this household for such a cruel man as you!"

          The woman's voice, thought Lillian. Surely it's not...?

          There was a loud slap as Lord Oliver, in a rage, struck the girl across the face. Time slowed and the girl fell backwards. Her neck broke as she impacted with the stair. Time jumped forward until she lay lifeless at the bottom, His Lordship bending over her with not an ounce of pity on his rugged face. With extreme annoyance he picked up the corpse, and dragged it into the cupboard beneath the stairs.

          The light dimmed, and the woman's image reappeared beside Lillian, bathed in a golden glow.

          Yes, I was she, said Time Peeler. We are safe for now; he relives that moment.

          "You mean he's—?"

          I had thought him dead and gone, but his spirit is a stubborn one. It lay silent in the stone until a week ago, when workmen came at last to renovate his former rooms. The torment of his hateful spirit was too much for me to bear, or else I would not have brought you here.

          "What must I do?"

          The cupboard door opened and Lord Oliver reappeared. He wiped mortar from his face, and gazed upward with a sinful twinkle in his eye.

          There is a false wall. My... remnants lay behind it.

          She felt a slight warmth as Time Peeler caressed her face.

          It is time to say goodbye, Lillian. Thank you for all you have done.

          Lillian shed a tear as her spirit friend turned and flowed quickly downstairs. She followed, no longer afraid, and saw the two spirits collide. Their gossamer bodies twisted and distorted with increasing frenzy and Lord Oliver growled and snarled like a beast for his freedom.

          Hurry, Lillian! I will hold him as long as I can.

          Close by was a tool-chest left by one of the workmen. She flung it open and took up a hammer. There was a scream of protest from Lord Oliver as she entered the cupboard and swung at the wall within.

          With each blow the spectres' cries and wild struggle faded. Fragments of ancient brick, plaster, and mortar flew like sparks as the light dimmed to blackness. With one last blow, Lillian said her final goodbyes.

          "What in blazes is going on down here?" said a voice.

          Lillian, covered in dust, cheeks smeared, found herself looking up into two sharp blue eyes.

* * *

          Several days later, the excitement had died down and Colchester Inn had much more to boast about on its crowded message-board. Lillian looked forward to a proper rest at home before her return to school in a few weeks' time. She made sure she was first down the stairs with her suitcase. The Innkeeper met her by the door.

          "Ah, you're off, I see," he said cheerfully.

          "Thanks again, Mr. Pembrose, for keeping my secret."

          "Not at all, love. It's I that should be thanking you, for helping that poor woman find peace at last... not to mention a little fame besides. I saved this for you."

          Pembrose handed her a piece of newspaper. She unfolded it and beheld an article from the local paper. It spoke of the Innkeeper's grim discovery of a murdered servant-girl's remains bricked up beneath the staircase. It went on to mention that although this almost certainly meant an end to sightings of her apparition, the ghost of her murderer had also
been seen by at least one guest.

          "I had to give you some credit," he said with wink.

          Lillian smiled, and headed out to the car.

          "Come back sometime, won't you?"

          "I will," she said.

          She stood in the shade and looked up at the pallid stone walls. If she squinted just so, she could see the Inn as it once was: free from creeping ivy, lichen, and gaudy signs. But no less menacing, for a man like Lord Oliver seeped into all he surveyed. She saw him now, at the window of an upper room, and poked out her tongue to spite him. He seethed silently and tramped away.

          She smiled. Thanks for the gift, Time Peeler, wherever you are.


The End.




copyright 2006 Joshua Blanc.

Joshua Blanc, 26, has been writing earnestly since his teens. His work has been called `eccentric,' which may have everything to do with his Australian upbringing, his currently residing in Canada, and his love for British humour. He's also an avid photographer and synthesizer player (not at the same time, you understand).

His work can be seen on Alarmingly Strange,,, and his web-site: "The Manitou's Lair" (