The Shadow on the Stairs

You don’t know true horror until you’ve seen your child almost die in front of you.

It happened so fast. He was just toddling around the house, his hand locked into mine. But when we got to the base of stairs, he suddenly slipped away, and fell.

Hard.

He let out a piercing shriek. But then he was silent. For what seemed like minutes, hours, days – he just sat there in my arms, his mouth opened in a silent scream. His face began to turn blue – little patches of gray blossoming near his eyes, on his cheeks.

And that’s when I thought – no, knew – that his life was almost gone.

But according to the doctor, he had never been close to death at all. “Children hold their breath all the time,” he said. “A lot of them even keel over and faint, right on the spot!” He patted Matty on the back and gave him a big smile. “You’re just fine, aren’t you, little guy?”

He gave the doctor a big, toothy grin.

And for a few days, everything was fine. But then, as he was walking towards the stairs, he fell again. And it was the silent scream, the lack of breath all over again. “Danny! Help!” I was screaming, even though the doctor told me everything was fine.

“Relax. Just wait it out,” Danny said.

And soon enough, he did take a breath. A deep, shuddering, wheezing breath.

And I cried my eyes out.

Over the coming weeks, I noticed a pattern, though. He would only hold his breath when he tripped and fell on the stairs. It would never happen, for example, when he fell in the living room.

“Have you noticed he only holds his breath after falling at the foot of the stairs?” I asked Danny, bouncing Matty on my lap.

“No, not really,” he replied, not looking up from his computer.

“Da-da-da-da,” Matty said, staring at us.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Images ran through my mind – the bluish pallor… his mouth hanging open… always by the stairs.

So at 4 am, I heaved myself out of bed. Moonlight shone in through the window, filtering into the upstairs hallway. I made it to the stairs and grabbed the banister, my hand slipping over the wood.

Thump, thump, thump.

My feet slapped against the wood. My heart started to pound. For some reason, I felt suddenly nervous. Terrified. Cold. I made it to the landing, and my eyes fell on the foot of the stairs, several feet below me.

I stopped.

There it was – a dark shadow, at the base of the stairs.

Tall, with long, spindly fingers.

In my surprise, I leapt back.

And then I slipped.

Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

I fell down the stairs, my head clunking against each step as I fell. And as I got to the bottom, I opened my mouth to scream –

But I couldn’t.

Because I couldn’t breathe.

Long, cold fingers were wrapped tight around my neck.

In seconds, they released, and I began shrieking with all my might. Not in pain, but in fear.

Because now I knew.

Matty wasn’t holding his breath –

Something was holding it for him.

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