If I had not taken that step. I would not be here. Would be safe. Would be at home, shutters closed, blinds down, basking in the comforting glow of the television. Screenplay flickering their images across my face, flipped across my iris. Decompressing after a day’s worth of work. You know, just like normal. Just plodding along, doing mundane things, living my mundane life. Nothing special.
It was the seventeenth step, not the ill-omened thirteenth. 11 PM. Tuesday night.
The Devil’s Staircase, they call it. Not that there is anything particularly demonic about it. Other than it being frighteningly steep. Stone, gray and cold stacked like legos on one side, red oven brick of the buildings pressing on other. Each step half a foot high and half a foot long, so that each step is half on air and half not.
I’ve heard that they filmed the Exorcist here. With ivy creeping up one side and water stained from the years, it’s creepy enough. But take a shortcut up the stairs, three blocks to the north along the parallel to the Potomac, west for two, past a church with a brick-walled courtyard, is my apartment. Three floors up, a dinghy flat with ridges bordering the roof just outside my windows topped with turrets that have no discernible use in my book. But that’s hardly important.
The staircase, yes. Passed through the arch so far up above. Feet pumping to get this over, so I could go home and rest. I was counting the steps as I ran up. Even if I didn’t believe in no superstitions, I had no desire to spend any more time on those stairs than I had to. 11:11 PM, perhaps 11 second too? But who’s counting? My foot hit the seventeenth step and I had a sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach. My foot was stuck. As if melted into the stone. I looked up and at the top of these impossibly vertical stairs I saw a cat. One eye yellow, like most normal cats, and the other a frightening pale blue, electric-like. And then I wasn’t there.
The last thing I thought. Well the second to last, was, oh good, I’m not falling.
And the last.
The cat was not black.