The Phantom Step

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This dark short story follows Alecia, who is a young woman feeling out of place in this world. She is about to make a serious yet grueling decision before 2 unexpected visitors delay her descent. Who are they and will they be able to help Alecia in any way? Take your first step to finding out the truth by reading The Phantom Step.

Joshua Goldberg
Age Rating:

The Phantom Step

By: Joshua Goldberg

Alecia stumbled into the abandoned piano factory she used to play in as a kid. Back then, the building was still in good condition, but the smell of mold and dust had since then colonized the entire wasteland. Even if she were still a kid, she wouldn’t want to play here now. Even a dumb kid could see that this place was way too dangerous to be running around in. She kicked a couple of empty beer bottles aside as she made her way up the stairs. Nowadays, teens use this factory as a place to drink, smoke, and god knows what else. “It’s too bad” she thought, “This place was most of my childhood.”

The stairs woke up with a loud “creek” as she made her way up them. One slow, pointless step at a time, she made her way to the roof. Alecia paused but a moment to make way for the phantom step. You see, nobody knows what happened exactly, but there is one single step missing from the stairway. It must have gotten destroyed when they were moving things out after the factory was shut down, but they never bothered to fix it. Hell, the city never bothered to do anything with this old dump. She made sure not to fall for the phantom step’s evil tricks. You felt like it was there, but you couldn’t see it, and you couldn’t feel it.

“A misstep of your footstep, and you’ll fall to the phantom step” Alecia whispered the ditty out loud. That old thing had become a joke amongst everyone that hung out here as kids. If you tripped on your way up or down, it was said that ‘The Phantom Step claimed another victim.’ Kids are goofy, aren’t they?

Alecia tried to look out one of the windows as she climbed, but couldn’t see anything through the foliage. Plants and vines had covered most of the perimeter of the building, and the windows gave a view of nothing but green vegetation. I guess plants could survive here, but nothing else could, that’s for sure. Coming here had depressed Alecia even more, and it was obvious what must be done. She came here for one reason only, and she planned to see it through. She opened the door that gave way to the roof. Despite the building being so forgotten, the roof seemed almost peaceful. A nice place to end. She slowly made her way to the edge of the roof and peered down. A good 60… no, 70-foot drop. Yeah, this will work. This will work just fine.

Alecia took one last long look at the city before her. She had once loved the little quirks of city life, but now it all seems so pointless. Everything seemed pointless now. That is why she came here. You see, this building used to be a play area for kids all around the city, despite their parents’ warnings. But now, it has a different name; a different motive. This was once a piano factory, but many people today refer to it as the suicide factory. Yeah, humans can be disgusting creatures, can’t they? Suicide factory? The name just seems so direct. Nevertheless, Alecia came here to give this factory a little more business, but not in the production of pianos. She closed her eyes, let the wind embrace her one last time, and she…

“Why do you always insist on coming up to the roof man?” Someone else was here!? But who!? Alecia’s heart raced for a moment. It was the middle of the night. Surely, nobody else should be up here during this time. Nobody should be up here in the daytime either, for that matter. Alecia peered behind her, and saw two young men. One man was fairly tall, wore tattered clothing, and whose dark skin almost made him look invisible in the black night. The other man was shorter, wore equally tattered clothes, and whose lighter skin made them much easier to see. The lighter skinned man was the one who seemed to be in protest of coming up here. The other guy responded.

“Because it’s way more liberating up here.” He answered. “You know…” The guy began to go on, but his friend cut him off.

“Kyle.” He motioned to Alecia, who stood on the edge of the building in confusion. Not only was she confused as to WHY people were up here, but also HOW they got up here. Did they climb the stairs as she did? Did they scale the side of the building, using the vines as a ladder of sorts? Alecia was baffled. In her mind, they just kind of appeared.

Kyle just stared at his friend. He hadn’t seen Alecia yet, so his friend cutting him off appeared to upset him. Kyle waited a couple of seconds for his friend to say something more, but he didn’t.

“Alex…” Kyle responded in a sort of mocking tone. “Don’t shout my name out if you don’t have something important to say.” Alex made some over exaggerated motions towards Alecia until Kyle finally got the idea. He turned around to find Alecia standing on the ledge with her arms out, staring back at them.

“Oh…” Kyle said. “I see.” Alecia was unsure of what to do. She wasn’t expecting an audience. She didn’t WANT an audience. She could have just jumped, she could have stepped down, she could have done many things, but she didn’t take a single step. Instead, she said the first thing that was on her mind.

“You can’t stop me.” She said it without even thinking. She looked at both of them, expecting one of them to say something gushy. Alex opened his mouth to respond, but Kyle cut him off.

“We don’t plan to. You’re here on a mission, yeah? Go for it.” Needless to say, this was NOT what Alecia was expecting to hear. She had gotten so used to fake concern. ‘Don’t do it.’, ‘You’re loved’, ‘You have so much to live for.’ So many people tell her that, but when it comes to her mental condition, most people just assume. They assume they know why she feels the way she feels. They assume that she needs to hear positivity. They assume so much, but know nothing. All of that positivity; it meant nothing to her. It’s just the same bullshit that everyone says, but most people don’t mean it. If anything, it feels like more of a social thing. ‘If someone is depressed, tell them that you love them.’ Sorry to say it, but that doesn’t always help.

“Well…” Kyle continued, “Are you gonna do it, or just stand there with a dumb look on your face?” This astounded Alecia. Astounded her enough to cause her to take a step back, away from the ledge.

“What the hell is your deal?” She asked him. She didn’t know anyone else that would act this way towards a possible suicide victim.

“Nothing.” He answered her. “Carry on.” He turned to Alex. “Come on. We can come back up when she’s gone.” Kyle headed towards the door that Alecia came through to reach the roof.

“Kyle, really?” Alex said to him, looking for an answer from his friend, but he didn’t get any. Kyle opened the door, glared directly at Alex as if to tell him to come with, and then went downstairs. Alecia didn’t notice him making very much sound as he went down. He went with quiet and ease. Alex didn’t go with him though. Instead, he just stood there, unsure of what to do. Alecia looked back to the city, staring at the cars below.

“Hey!” Alex called to her. “What’s your name?”

“Alecia.” She answered, but regretted doing so. ‘Why are you talking to him?’ she wondered to herself.

“Why?” He asked her.

“Why what?” She asked in response.

“You were going to jump. I want to hear your story. I want to know why.” Alecia wasn’t one to talk to strangers like this, but she was planning on ending her life tonight. Why not live a little beforehand?

“Because… I feel like it’s my only option.” Alecia has never told anyone how she felt. At least, not how she truly felt. She always felt that even IF she told somebody the truth, they wouldn’t understand. She was afraid they’d begin to assume things about her. Things that aren’t true. Yet, here she was, telling some random stranger she just met her reasoning behind suicide right before she planned to commit suicide. Ironic, isn’t it?

“I grew up thinking I had all the possibilities in the world. Like anything was possible. But that’s not true! Not for someone like me! I can’t make a difference in this world! Nobody will let me.” Alecia sat down while she admitted her feelings. She was having a hard time getting this out without crying. Actually, scratch that, she was bawling her eyes out. She sobbed out a few last words before standing back up.

“I’m nothing. At least in this world. Everyone will be fine without me, so why bother living a life full of stress, hate, and sin? I’m not needed.” After she finished her short speech, Alex just looked at her with sad eyes, but he dared not move a muscle. Alecia turned back to the city, crying uncontrollably. She hated this city, and she hated everyone in it. She felt pointless, and they were the ones to make her feel that way. She turned back to Alex one last time.

“I’m sorry you had to be here, but I can’t keep this charade up.” However, before Alecia could spin around and make her final jump, a heavy gust of wind pushed her onto the roof of the factory. She stared at the floor for a few seconds before lifting herself up towards where she was standing. Kyle stood tall with a very angry look about him. He stepped down from the ledge he was standing on, took a few strides toward Alecia, and stopped right before her.

“Is that what you think?” Alecia was incredibly taken aback. Where did Kyle come from? Where did the gust of wind come from? What the hell did Alecia think that upset Kyle so much!?

“I…” She began, but couldn’t find the words she wanted.

“You what!?” Kyle shouted. “You feel sad? You think I’m being rude? You what!?” Alecia couldn’t answer him, simply for the fact that she didn’t know what he was talking about. And yeah, he was being pretty rude, wasn’t he?

“I think you’re being selfish.” Kyle continued. “I heard you go off about how nothing you do seems to matter. How everyone would be just fine without you. Nothing you do seems to make a difference, yeah? Yeah!?”

“Y…Yeah” Alecia managed to mutter out. She was still in disbelief. Where was he going with this?

“Your parents? What are they like? Do you have any siblings? Any friends?” Oh, he was going down this road, just like everyone else does. ‘They love you’, ‘They care for you.’ What a bunch of bullshit.

Alecia finally found some strength to stand up. “My dad left when I was just a little kid.” She began. “My mom is an alcoholic that barely remembers I exist!” She was getting fired up now. This was only pissing her off more.

“And siblings?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, I have one. A younger brother. But he doesn’t need me, if that’s what you’re wondering. He’s too smart for his own good. He’ll be better off without me.” Alecia was letting her feelings slip out. She didn’t care anymore.

“A little brother that’ll be better off with his older sister dead!? Isn’t that the fucking lie of the century! He’s better off with you ALIVE and you fucking know it! So fuck off with that petty bullshit! Wipe those tears out of your eyes and learn something today, sweetheart!” Kyle was getting awfully riled up. Why should he care so much?

Alecia looked at Kyle with hatred. What he was doing was uncalled for. Kyle must have noticed her angry eyes because of what he said next.

“You think I’m overreacting, huh? You came up here to jump off the roof and kill yourself because you feel like you don’t belong, and you think I’M the one overreacting? Your brother...” Kyle paused for but a moment, “what’s his name?”

“A… Andrew.” Alecia spat out without a second thought. It wasn’t even her brother’s real name. It was always her first instinct to lie about her family. Not out of hatred though…. Out of love. She didn’t want strangers to know her brother’s name. That could put him in harm.

“Andrew,” Kyle went off again, “would most definitely suffer if his older sister fucking killed herself. It’s not just a matter of him knowing you took your own life, it’s a matter of you never being there for him ever again. Even If you two don’t speak very often, just fucking being there in case he does want to speak is infinitely more important than you could ever fucking imagine! You’re a damn idiot for not realizing this simple truth.” Alecia noticed a hint of regret underneath all of his rage. He was angry, yes, but it seemed to her that he was also a little sad.

“Making a difference doesn’t mean finding the cure for cancer! Making a difference doesn’t mean negotiating world peace! That extra dollar you give for a homeless man, that’s making a difference. The cashier you smile at while shopping, making their day a little less dreary; The elderly woman you wave to on your way to work every day; The kid whose drawing you complement, the man whose hat you commend, the lady whose dress you applaud. Those are what making a fucking difference looks like!!!” Kyle was breathing heavily by this point. He had no doubt been yelling at the top of his lungs. It’s a wonder nobody has heard us.

“So go ahead, jump. But your brother won’t have a sister. Your mother won’t have a daughter. That cashier won’t get their smile; that elderly woman won’t get her wave; those people won’t get that extra little encouragement to help them get through the day. But if you truly don’t give a SHIT about any of them, then fine. Jump. Just be sure to smile on the way down knowing you’re making the right decision, because too often people realize halfway down that they made a mistake, but it’s too late at that point. They’re already dead.”

Alecia was trembling at this point. What if he was right? What if they relied on her? She couldn’t just let all of them down. And, what if she changes her mind on the way down? She won’t have a choice at that point. She wouldn’t want regret to be the last thing that passes through her mind before her mind ceases to exist. Alecia chose not to speak to Kyle at that moment. What was there to say? ‘Thank you?’, ‘I feel differently?’ None of that felt right to say. Alecia was so caught up in her emotions, in fact, that when she came to, Kyle was gone. Where did he go? He couldn’t have just disappeared, could he?

“Alecia.” Alex waltzed over to her. “Walk with me for a few moments, okay.” Alecia wasn’t really in the mood to protest, so she reluctantly followed Alex through the door and down the stairs she took up to the roof. As they walked, Alecia made a huge leap in faith. She asked Alex a question she has only ever asked her closest friends.

Alex… Do you feel comfortable in your own body?” It just kind of slipped out. Why would she ask him that? She winced after the words came out, too, as if they left a terrible burn in her mouth. She was silently hoping he wouldn’t answer, but he did.

“I guess so, why?”

“Because I don’t.” Alecia answered him honestly. Alecia, again? You don’t talk to strangers. Then again, she came here to end her life, and now here she was walking down a flight of stairs confessing her secrets to a stranger she only met 10 minutes ago. Nothing really made sense anymore.

“I don’t feel like the body I have is mine.” Alecia continued. “I feel gross whenever I look in the mirror. I gag whenever I have to undress to shower. I just… Feel like a completely different person.” Alecia didn’t really expect him to understand. People didn’t. None of her friends understood, and now she’s an outcast amongst them. It’s hard enough being gay in this society, but feeling like you aren’t a woman when you’re clearly a woman… that confuses people even more.

“I can’t say I know how you feel, but I’m sure you aren’t alone. Have you tried talking to someone about it? Someone who would understand?”

“No, I haven’t.” It was the truth too. She had never really sought out help before. At least, not real help.

“And why not?” Alex asked. Alecia stopped walking down the stairs and just stood still for a few seconds.

“Because I’m afraid to.” Alex laughed at this, oddly enough.

“Scared? Girl, you just said it to ME, and I’m a shady white boy you just met a few minutes ago. Surely you can talk to someone qualified to listen.” And you know what? Alecia agreed. If she could confess to him, then why be scared? If she’s having trouble, just imagine them to be a shady white male in the middle of the night. Apparently, that’s what it takes for her to open up. They began to walk back down the stars again, step by meaningful step. They did this in silence until they reached that evil, deceitful, maniacal little ‘Phantom Step.’

“Woah there,” Alex warned, “Watch out for the Phantom Step. Wouldn’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.” Did he just…? No, he couldn’t have. That wasn’t on purpose, was it? Alecia was honestly unsure of whether to laugh or cry. Cry because she very nearly jumped off the suicide factory, joining the masses that had gone before her, or laugh because she now sees that she was wrong. Alecia stopped moving once again to talk to Alex a little more.

“Your friend…” Alecia began the conversation again.

“Yeah, Kyle can be a bit of an ass on occasion.” Alex was rubbing his neck in a bit of embarrassment.

“No, I don’t think he is. As angry and obnoxious as he was, he said what nobody else would. I think deep down, he cares.” Alex’s face slowly grew into a humble smile.

“Yeah… Yeah, I think so too,”

Alecia looked down at the missing piece of staircase once last time. What if she had tripped on it on the way up to the roof? Would she have missed Alex and Kyle? Or would she have just decided to not follow through with her plans?... I suppose we will never truly know.

It only took a few short moments of walking until they reached the entrance to the piano factory. Yeah, it’s just a piano factory tonight. The street lights flickered as Alecia left the building, as if to speak to her. ‘Glad you’re still with us.’ Aw, that was sweet of it to say, Alecia thought. She glanced back to see Alex staying in the building, not making that last step to freedom from the factory. He leaned against the doorway, though, and gave her one last look.

“Hey. Are you gonna be okay? Do we need to set a drone on you to make sure you get home safely?” Alex joked. Alecia gave a genuine smile. In fact, this is the first time she had smiled in a long time. Maybe, just maybe, she could be satisfied with her life.

“I’m good, thank you. I wanted to thank your friend, but I don’t know where he went.” Alecia glistened in the moonlight. She was… somewhat happy. Not perfect, but better than she ever thought she would ever feel again. A slow road to happiness, she supposed.

“Don’t worry about it. If you really want to thank him, just do it now. I’m sure he can hear you. Or, if you want to, come back next week. Same day, same time, and tell him to his face.” That was an odd thing to say. Next week? They must hang out here regularly, then. Alecia looked around, but saw no sign of Kyle, so she instead turned to the streetlamp that talked to her seconds ago.

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” Alecia waved to Alex, and he sent her off to go back home to her mom who may drink too much and her brother that never really spoke to her, but just might need to at some point. After she had gone, Kyle appeared behind Alex.

“I guess she decided not to jump.” Kyle noticed.

“Yep.” Alex said. “And because of you too. Why’d you do it?” Kyle could have most assuredly left her to jump, but he didn’t. He instead chose to intervene.

“To be frank with you, I couldn’t bear yet another soul haunting this god-forsaken place. There’s already way too many loudmouths, considering we’re two of them.” Was that the truth though? Alex wasn’t buying it.

“Sure, man. That why you did it; to keep from having to listen to another voice here, and NOT because you value human life.” Alex knew the truth. Kyle has always regret what he had done. In fact, Kyle regret jumping off the factory before he had even landed.

“Sure, let’s go with that.” Kyle said with a smile. They both looked at each other with sadness in their eyes as they vanished into the factory without a trace. One misstep of your footstep, and you’ll fall to the phantom step. It can be hard not to sometimes, but try to look where you’re going. We wouldn’t want the phantom step to claim yet another victim, now would we?

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