The ladder – a free short story

I wrote this free short story, among many others, for a course in creative writing I took years ago. This isn’t a horror story, unless we want to call horror also the challenges we all have to face while growing up. However, I really enjoyed writing it. And now I hope you can find it just as enjoyable. Let me know.


The Ladder

barn - free short story

The wooden ladder stretches above the first floor of the barn.

From where he is, Mikey can make out the piles of hay. Beyond these, hung up to the farther wall, a scythe rests in the shadows – its curved blade glimmering like a demented smirk.

The pungent smell of manure coming from the fields saturates the air. By comparison, the fragrance of the hay is nothing more than a subliminal hint. But it keeps tickling at his nose in a most intolerable way.

Fucking hay fever. Mikey needs to blow his nose, but dares not to. He doesn’t want to fall off the ladder and end up his days on a wheelchair, as grandpa Jeremy continuously repeats to keep them all away from that damned ladder.

From the dark wood emanates a vague smell of mold. Slowly climbing up, Mikey clasps the side rails with fingers paler by the minute. Gnarled and wet is the wood. At each step Mikey is acutely aware of the rubber soles of his sneakers continuously drifting on the rungs.

“Come on you, sissy… Ya?”
“Oh my God, it’s so high up there!”

Watchful, Mikey turns and sit on a rung. He can see his friends at the foot of the ladder: Ben, Larry and Carl –all watching up at him and waiting for him to take the plunge.

Ben and Larry are teasing each other. Their eyes full of hilarious scorn while their feet shuffle about with impatience. Carl, instead, looks silently up at him – his hands on his hips and a face as impassible as that of an experienced poker player. If he wasn’t wearing his red shorts, it would be possible to mistake him for a much older guy.

Don’t worry. I’ll be back in a minute, thinks Mikey.
Flying.

His heart is galloping in his chest. Hooves thump in his ears, faster and faster. His friends appear so damned small and distant from up there; his books, laid carefully down on the grass, no bigger than stamps… But he knows he has to go ahead if he wants to be considered one of them. If he is to get respected.

“Wanna move, eh?”
“Honey, it took you an hour to get up there. MOVE ON!”

Fuck you. Fuck you all. Mikey stands up. Turn once more toward the ladder and, moving with unexpected agility, climbs up to the thirteenth rung of the ladder.

He is halfway when his right foot slips on the worn smooth humid wood. But so fast he moves that he manages to shift his weight on the left one and keep on climbing.

His nose is flowing now. Within minutes, the hay fever will get at his throat. Then his breathing will turn into a laborious and painful process. His eyes will start bulging out of their sockets…

Stop it!, mutely snarls Mikey at himself.
Stop it now!

Without thinking – forcing himself to not to – he takes a deep breath, then jumps forward into the bracing mid-spring air.

For an instant, Mikey has the impression of floating about, suspended between lazuline sky and green, tumescent earth. Then plunges down, diving fast like a stone into a pit. The ground runs toward him. Air rushes in his ears. He catches a glimpse of open mouthed faces, incredulous eyes, blinking.

Then his feet hit the ground. A red and scorching pang runs up his bones, his back and neck. Tendons twang in pain. Like the ropes of a bell-tower, frenzied by a mad-man. Gritting his teeth, Mikey stretches his hands before him, landing them heavily into the earth. Then he rolls over, to alleviate the seize of gravity.

Finally the world comes to a rest. Mikey can see his friends. They are speechlessly looking at him. Disbelief has turned them into statues of salt.

Slowly, Mikey stands up. So doing, he realizes that he has to have strained his right ankle. It hurts like hell, and it’s rapidly worsening. But he doesn’t want the others to know. So, moving stiffly and yet smiling, Mikey forces himself to keep on walking. The ankle pulses like a shaft of light coming from a lighthouse, sweeping the night rhythmically and obsessively.

I can’t spoil it all now. Mikey forces himself to put a foot in front of the other. Slowly, but trying hard not to hobble about.
I can’t.

“See ya” Carl says after a while, a flash of understanding flashing in his eyes.

Mikey nods back to him solemnly. Then, forgetful of his books, he keeps walking steady under the morning sun, toward home.


Picture by tpsdave

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