Forward. Left. Right. Left. Right. The crowd shuffles forward, an array of blank faces stretching from horizon to horizon. A giant red staircase climbs into the sky, disappearing behind the low hanging clouds. Sunlight glistens down upon the steps, making it the focus of every beholder.
I stare into the fuzz of brown hair on the head of the person in front of me. I don’t know how long it’s been, but suddenly I begin to hear chatter pop up around me, and notice the bottom of the staircase is only steps away.
I look over to see about twenty other people reach the stairs as I do. Simultaneously we lift our left feet and ascend onto the stairs. Left, right, left, right.
Gurgling and squeals explode around me. Oohs and aahs slip from my lips as I notice the white carpet fuzz squishing between my toes. The smoothness of the metal railing beneath my hand is a comfort. I look around to see the crowd adorned with smiles. Sunlight tickles the air with joy and I feel myself eagerly propelling forward. I break from my walk and into a jog.
Then suddenly before I know it, the carpet and the railing ends even though the stairs still stretch out miles ahead of us. Confusion flickers across my mind. The crowd slows to a cautious pace, though I know no one has any intention of stopping. The tingling of the sunlight I had felt earlier turns into a burning nip upon my shoulders. Perspiration begins to line up on my brow as I continue up the stairs.
I sneak a peek over the side of the edge, hoping to see the crowds below, but the surrounding clouds make it nearly impossible to glimpse. I turn my attention back to moving up the stairs, but I can’t help sneaking glances at my fellow climbers. Most everyone still holds a grin upon their lips, but some are beginning to look a little strained.
Everyone is so good about maintaining the same pace with the general crowd that I’m surprised when I have to step around a slow moving blonde. A hand digs into the flesh on my arm. I turn around to face the blonde. Pale, greasy strands of chin length hair frame her face and she looks at me with a mix of fear and hope. “Please, please help me. I don’t want to get left behind by the crowd.”
“Why not walk faster?” I respond.
“I don’t know. I’ve tried, but I just can’t.” Her eyes plead with me.
“Okay, here, wrap your arm around my shoulder.”
Eager, the girl does as I ordered her to do. I put my arm around her waist and begin pull her forward with me. I grunt at the extra weight hindering my pace.
After only a few steps I’m out of breath and the crowd seems have begun moving faster around us. I already know my efforts are futile. As I turn to face her, I can tell by her eyes that she’s already come to same conclusion.
“I’m sorry.” I release my hold on her.
I take a couple of steps forward. Then I twist around, regretful, thinking maybe I could say something to help her, but she’s already disappeared from my sights. The crowd swallowed her up. Not a blonde in sight, it’s as if she just vanished off the stairs.
I move on. This time, instead of focusing on the steps I’m taking, I listen to the people around me. Speaking has ceased. The only things to be heard are the slapping of feet against the stairs and the occasional labored breath.
A sigh breaks out from a man a few steps ahead of me. Instantaneously all heads turn to the man in surprise. Going up the stairs had been exhilarating, we had all felt it earlier. How could this man act otherwise?
Then I too realize that I no longer feel the stair’s charm. Tears slip from my squinting eyes and my feet ache from the never ending climb. I feel as if the sun is scratching me, digging its claws in my skin as if it will never let go. The repetition of step after step is now dulling. The idea of stopping quickly flashes before my eyes, but I disregard immediately after. Why stop when there’s still so far to go?
“What do you think is at the top?” A voice breaks through the humid atmosphere.
“All of your heart’s desires.”
The crowd buzzes with speculation. I twirl a strand of my shoulder length out in front of me. I had never really thought about the top. All I know is that I want to get there. My gut tells me it has to better than walking up these stairs.
I stare down at my red, aching feet. Left, right, left, right. The sweat drips from my face in beat with my steps. The stairs seem to pass by both quickly and slowly, but they never end. We’re deep into the clouds now. With every step the clouds seem to grow thicker. I can barely see where I’m going, but I know I have to keep moving.
I lift my head to survey the crowd, and it surprises me. What once was a packed crowd with little shoulder room now consists of only a few people per stair. I swivel my head around. Where did they go?
Something hits my feet and I stumble. I land on my side on the stairs, causing the sharp ridges to dig into my ribs and simultaneously knocking the wind out of me.
“I’m sorry. I thought you saw me.”
I look up to face a man with long graying black hair. He sits on the red steps, his legs leisurely stretched out in front of him, his head turned to gaze at the clouds around us.
“What are you doing?” I turn around so I’m sitting beside the man.
“I’m merely enjoying the view.” He says and smiles.
I look around at the surrounding sky. What does he find so interesting? We’re engulfed in an endless view of white clouds. Easily, I find myself distracted by the people that pass by us. They give us a wide berth, staring at us with confused faces. I even catch a few glares.
An internal itch hits me, creeping up through up body. I need to get to the top. I have to keep moving. How does this man handle it?
“What do you find so satisfying about sitting here?” I rise to my feet, “How does it not bug you that the top is nowhere in sight? I can’t sit here knowing I still have so many more steps ahead of me.”
The man finally turns towards me and meets my eyes. “That’s a shame.” he says and returns his attention to the clouds.
Unsettled, I continue my way up the stairs. Relief snakes its way through my veins, but it’s temporary. Almost instantly it’s replaced with a burning in my thighs and sharp shooting pain through the arches of my feet.
“It’ll all be over when you get to the top.” I whisper to myself.
I feel as if I’m plowing through a thunderstorm of heat and sun. I rain sweat. I’m constantly having to peel my long gray streaked hair out of my armpits.
I peer ahead of me, trying to spot the top of the stairs, and gasp. What must have once been thousands ahead of me are now only a handful of people. With every couple dozen stairs I see someone vanish into thin air.
Panicked, I break out into a run, even though my legs are on fire. Leftrightleftright. I dodge around the other climbers, trying to get faster and faster, even though I know it’s impossible. I hear the slapping of feet behind me, and I know the crowd has picked up their pace, frantic not to fall behind.
Suddenly, I’m in a race. The other climbers are not only catching up to me, but passing me also. Even though my mind is yards ahead, my legs are falling behind.
“I think I see the top!” A voice from the group gasps.
My desperation spikes. I lift my feet up faster but they only seem to come down slower. I glance down to see that my hands are now see through. I’m disappearing.
“But I still have so far to go!”
Left, right, le—