Act II – Repetition and the stair

When he wakes the snow is gone, but the dogs, the house, and the strangers skin remain. He rubs his arms, watches his breath take shape before his eyes. It's still dark and he can hear the dogs crying at the door.

The cold doesn't alarm him, as his skin informs him that they are located much farther north than the he in his mind should be. There will be no warm, brief rain beneath endless blue skies here. Here, there is cold and there is snow, and there is isolation.

He's sought the latter, in his later years. When incidents ran closer and closer together and the dosages became higher.

He moves to roll onto his side, and as he does so his shoulder brushes something solid. Jordan moves his hand up, pressing his palm flat against the object.

But this is wrong. This has happened before. Not to him, but to this skin; it knows this event and it prickles and bristles because it is an event long behind it.

The memory avails itself to Jordan's mind and he begins to shake all over again as he pounds his palms against all too tangible darkness. It presses against him, he hears it grind against the wall as it pushes further down. He shimmies sideways, slides off the bed and onto the floor and stares, eyes wide. He can no longer see the ceiling. The blackness is absolute. It is absolute and it is solid and it is expanding vertically and laterally- he can see the walls cracking from the strain. Plaster chips and paint flakes; the dresser sags and creaks and its legs snap beneath the terrible weight of that horrific dark space.

Jordan's mind reels in response and his body shudders in an act of comradery- but it's calm. Its seen this before.

It knows what's going to happen, and that knowledge has seeped into Jordan's mind. This flesh serves as a Cliffs Notes to his life; his future. He knows the contents of each chapter without ever having read them.

He knows, for instance, that at 5:45 the clock radio in the kitchen will switch on, and it will play a song by Tom Petty that he hates.

His skin tells him that he will be calmly pressed between the floorboards and the tangible darkness by then, but his mind suggests otherwise.

The Jordan of this skin was too tired, by this point, to be frightened. It was simply no longer practical.

But he is not that Jordan, not yet, and tangible darkness descending upon him in the wee hours of morning is not something he can handle.

It all started with the stair, he realizes as he watches that ominous black block (his skin says he thought of Tetris when this happened properly) creep downward, as the walls crumble and reveal only more crushing blackness. It is moving in from the outside now too, and he wonders if it's beneath him as well. Creeping upward to flatten him, to splinter bone, bruise flesh and burst vital internal mechanics.

He doesn't remember how this ends, and that is where the true terror lies.

He doesn't know if he will be alright, and his skin isn't giving any clues.

When he was a child, the hall between his room and the stair terrified him even more than tangible darkness. He would stand quaking in his doorway, staring into a blackness that seemed maleficent and hungry. It gnashed invisible teeth and howled soundlessly as his knees knocked and his bladder threatened to burst or his throat threatened to catch flame from the sheer friction of dry air moving along it. It was inevitably these two things that drew him from his room; the need to drink and shortly afterward, the need to piss. Little else could compel him to face the abject terror that was the long hall.

He was certain that someday, somehow, something terrible would happen in that hallway. If not that day, then the next; and if not the day after that then someday after he rounded the bend and reached the stair.

The game was the only way he could traverse the hallway. He'd squeeze his eyes shut tight and he'd barrel blindly down the hall, fingers brushing the wall. Nothing could get him with his eyes closed, he reasoned, in the way children reason such things, and that logic dictated that were his eyes closed he could dodge the Terrible Thing awaiting beyond the bend.

Not long after he began to play the game, the game itself became a fear. If he didn't play by the things rules each and every time he walked the hall, that would lead to its own horrific punishment.

Now he realizes it was neither the hallway nor the game he should have feared; it was the stairs.

But time has a way of if not utterly erasing, than veiling the irrational rationalizations of childhood. At sixteen, he still played the game. He would close his eyes and speed down that narrow hall, long arms spread wide. It felt like flying. He would imagine his bones hallowed like a bird, his thin reedy frame supported by the cool drafts rushing beneath his outstretched limbs. He thought nothing of the fear that had inspired the game.

So it came to pass that one evening, he went streaking down the darkened (it was best played in the dark, so he left the light off) hall, fingers leaving trails of graphite along the wall as he went. His hands were perpetually dusted in pencil lead well into his teens- he had an obsession with rendering sketches in smoky graphite.

He isn't aware of the marks he leaves on the wall, it is a detail his skin recalls but his mind does not. His mind was absent for days following the incident with the stair (the first of all his incidents) as it had opened the gate to the Other place and his mind couldn't quite find the way back. But his skin remembers.

It remembers turning the corner, just as the mind does, but neither can recall what possessed Jordan to open his eyes and leap into the darkness above the stair. For a brief, blissful moment he soared. His hallow bird frame hung suspended in the air with the dark sighing down his neck.

When he fell, he fell into the stair. Not in a raucous splintering of wood; rather with the soft give of a mattress or pillow cushion. Then his feet simply continued to move downward, sinking into the shadows layered over the wood. His ankles disappeared, and then his knees, his hips, his shoulders- when his eyes went under, for a moment he saw stars. He saw whirling galaxies and glittering distant worlds and then there was nothing at all.

He woke four days later, eating breakfast with his family, with absolutely no recollection of what transpired in between those two points in time.

His skin remembers, but Jordan never will.

There have been other incidents, since the stair. Jordan has only experienced a handful. Crawling through the cracks in the sky, the strange transitory vacuous space in his bathroom, and the chilling run in with the gold bug.

But this skin- his skin, for now, has seen many other things.

Learning to Fly begins to play on the tinny clock radio, and Jordan cries as his face is pressed against the floorboards. The bed lays splintered and broken, as do his dresser and closet door. The bedroom and bathroom doors have vanished. The walls around him are gone too. There are no crying dogs, no lonely bird song. All that remains is Jordan and the wood chips, Jordan and the plaster chunks, Jordan and his pool of saline; Jordan and his skin whispering that this is nothing out of the ordinary, anymore.

As the pressure against his skull builds, his mind retreats to the Other place, leaving his skin to deal with the repetition of the tangible dark incident.