Each issue, we choose a winning entry from all the submissions sent to us. This time, our winning entry is spooky short story ‘Up the Stairs’ by Meg Small. Keep reading below to find out more.
Up the Stairs
By Meg Small
Alice couldn’t sleep. How could she, with that thing her dad had bought downstairs?
It was, her dad insisted, a suit of armour. A piece of history, like all the other antiques he’d collected. But it wasn’t like any suit of armour Alice had ever seen.
The lumpy body. The rusty, tarnished metal. The musty, dusty smell of it and how it slumped where it sat at the foot of the stairs. When she shut her eyes, she could picture it perfectly. Sitting there, in the dark, with its misshaped limbs and its odd crooked helmet with the empty, staring eye sockets.
She imagined it crumpling forward, collapsing off the chair and onto the floor, and starting the long, painful climb up the stairs. Its armour would squeak, its fabric arms would rasp against the carpet. Its hands would thump, thump against each stair, and it would drag itself up. And up. And up. Until it was outside her door.
Alice opened her eyes. She stared at her dark ceiling and gripped her duvet tightly.
She wasn’t sure if she could handle another monster. The Thing at the Foot of the Bed was bad enough. If she shut her eyes almost all the way, and peeked through her eyelashes, she could see it. A silhouette almost shaped like a person. But it was too tall and too thin, its neck and arms and fingers too long to be human. Its face was blank, a shadow, but Alice knew it was watching her. It was always watching her.
Last week, she had caught it reaching one long, long hand toward her. She had almost screamed the house down, and her dad insisted it was a nightmare.
But Alice knew better.
She knew, in her bones, that the suit of armour wasn’t just a suit of armour, either.
The Thing at the Foot of the Bed shifted. It wobbled its empty face slightly to the left, like it was stretching its neck, then returned to its usual position. Alice watched it through her mostly closed eyes and felt her heart slowly crawling into her throat.
Since all the screaming, it hadn’t tried anything. But if it was moving now…
Alice’s insides swooped like she’d tripped. She held very still and listened.
Water gurgled in the pipes. Rain pitter-pattered against her window. A breeze rustled through the trees outside.
It had been the pipes. The floorboards settling. Someone closing a car door down the street.
It hadn’t been something reaching for the bottom stair.
Alice yanked the duvet over her head. It was dangerous, with the Thing standing there, but she couldn’t help it. She needed to hide.
In the soft, stuffy darkness, her heartbeat felt very loud and very close. It raced as hard and fast as a thundering horse.
That hadn’t been the wind. Not the rain or the plumbing, either.
It had been the grating squeal of rusted metal against rusted metal.
There it was again.
It was coming closer. It was heaving its rusted, battered body up the stairs. Alice wanted to scream, but her thundering heart had lodged in her throat and no sound would come out.
Why had her dad brought it home? Why had he looked at that horrible thing and thought, yes, that’ll look good in the living room?
Now it was coming.
It was coming for her.
Closer and closer and closer.
Alice held her breath. She held it until her head felt like it would burst. And when she couldn’t hold it anymore, and it whooshed out of her, a new sound made her choke on a startled gasp.
Click. Click. Click.
The sound of a doorknob rattling. Twisting one way then the other.
The sound of the latch opening. The sound of the door scraping softly over carpet.
Alice scrunched her eyes shut and clamped her hands over her ears. But with only her hectic heartbeat for company, it was even worse. She couldn’t hear it. She couldn’t see it. She had no idea if it was crossing the carpet. Crawling toward her bed. Reaching for her with its musty, lumpy hands—
Alice took a trembling breath. Peeling the duvet away from her eyes, she peeked over it. She got a mouthful of flowery-tasting fabric as she gasped again.
It was there. It was in her doorway. The suit of armour. It was standing, not crawling, lopsided like it couldn’t support its own weight.
Alice’s brain swirled. She didn’t breathe. She felt like a hedgehog in the middle of a road. Nowhere to run, and too frozen with fear to try.
In the corner of her eye, she saw the Thing at the Foot of the Bed shift. It twisted its long body to look at the armour as well. In the light spilling in from the landing, Alice thought she saw a flash of teeth as it smiled a horrendous smile.
Metal shifted. With a staggering, lumbering lurch, the suit of armour stepped forward. Alice could only stare, cold spreading through her veins as she watched it approach. It wobbled, then righted itself, then lurched forward another step.
And that’s when Alice realised it wasn’t heading for her. It was heading for the foot of her bed. Its wonky hands surged forward and grabbed the Thing.
The Thing hissed. Then it shrieked, a high sharp sound like a kettle boiling. It rang in Alice’s ears as the Thing swelled. It squirmed and spat, but it couldn’t escape. The suit of armour squeezed and squeezed and squeezed, until, without a sound, the Thing at the Foot of the Bed popped. Like a water balloon bursting, shadows scattered in every direction, and a cold, stale wind whipped through Alice’s bedroom, stinging her eyes and tangling her hair.
When she winced and blinked and looked again, the Thing at the Foot of the Bed was gone and…
The suit of armour was looking right at her. The shadows made its wonky helmet even wonkier, and Alice shivered when she met its empty eye sockets.
Only, they weren’t so empty anymore. There was something there, something bright and soft, something that made Alice think of hot chocolate and holding hands and her dad’s soft voice telling her stories.
The suit of armour turned toward the door. It stumbled back the way it had come. Pausing in the doorway, it looked back at her and gave her a slow, rusty nod. Then it stepped out into the landing, closed the door with a gentle click, and was gone.
That night, there were no nightmares. There was no tossing and turning, no constant panicked glances at the end of her bed. There was just soft, still darkness. The feeling of being safe and protected. And Alice slept the best she had in weeks.
Meg’s head has always been full of stories. Since finishing an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, she spends her time daydreaming about spooky stories and fantasy adventures – and sometimes writing them, too! When she’s not writing, she can be found tending to her ever-growing army of succulents and spending far too much time playing videogames. You can follow her on Twitter here: @liminalace
You can read even more spooky stories, author interviews and more in our latest issue by clicking here. All our issues are completely free and run by volunteers, however if you would like to support PaperBound and the work we do, you can help us out by buying us a virtual book.
Here at PaperBound, we love stories. Want to be a part of ours? Find out more.