(If you read yesterday’s post by Kat Kimbriel, you can jump to the More section for today’s vignette!)
We’re approaching a shifting, liminal time of year; it’s halfway to winter in the northern hemisphere, and halfway to summer in the southern lands. Many cultures have celebrated at this point. For the ancient Celts, some believe it was the beginning of their year. For others, it was the gateway to Winter or to Summer. In modern western cultures, the time between the end of October through January 6th is woven of old myth, ghosts, and returning ancestors.
In the American Midwest, where I grew up, Beggars Night was the local name for the night before Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve). Older kids (mostly but not always boys) would try to wheedle candy out of homeowners. There was always the threat of a Trick in the background–lots of TPing trees that night! I’ve lived over half my life in Texas, which introduced me to the festival Día de Muertos. This usually, but not always, two-day ceremony has a long and interesting history that involves indigenous observances, an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, and the Roman Catholic observations for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
To honor the coming of the dark side of the northern year, I’ve written some vignettes. They will probably end up as writing snippets in my new book, because one of the characters is a writer who has a slightly skewed vision. I think of them as Tales of Unease.
Because I don’t care much for the gore of horror. But those teasing stories of suggestion?
Oh, yes. . . .
There’s this thing about stairs. They’re damn useful, a lot easier than a ladder heading into a hole—in either direction. But with a staircase, a builder has to make decisions.
Straight or curved? Wide or narrow? Shallow steps, or deeper ones? Railing? No railing? Solid sides? A row of balusters? Can you look out past that railing? Or does the wall rise to the ceiling? Can you look down—or up—behind each tread?
Because a carpenter has to keep in mind the three Ps of the person using the stairway.
Are the stairs physically safe?
Are they psychologically comfortable?
And are they psychically reassuring?
Everyone has climbed a staircase that left them uneasy. That tells you the carpenter failed in one of the three touchstones. At that point, there is only one thing a builder can do to fix the stairs.
Place a lamp on the landing.
Of course sometimes the lone light makes things worse.
Because the only thing worse than wondering what’s in the dark is wondering what’s just beyond the circle of firelight.
–Tales of Unease by Kat Kimbriel (2017)