Never, never, never go up the stairs without Momma or Daddy. Going up the stairs in dangerous by yourself. You could fall down BOOM and hurt your bottom. Do you understand? You need Momma or Daddy to hold your hand until you’re a big girl and can hold the railing by yourself, okay? Okay? Never go up the stairs. It’s dangerous.
Once, Becca had picked up a piece of glass that was lying on the kitchen floor. Momma had dropped a jar and it had broken into two big pieces which Momma had swooped in and picked up. But, there was one little piece left and Becca had wanted to help Momma, so she’d picked it up and thrown it in the garbage. When she went to show Momma what she’d done, Momma had cried out, “Becca! Sweetie, your fingers!” and Becca had looked at her little fingers and seen that they were red, red, red. She hadn’t even felt the glass cut her, but she saw the red, red, red. Four hours later, she had two stitches, two Disney Princess bandages and a “you were a such a brave girl” Tootsie-pop. Not a terrible night for a toddler, all in all. But, the red had been bad. Red, red, red was bad, bad, bad.
And, now, there was a lot of red. Red all over the floor. Red on the walls. Red on Momma and Daddy. Red, red, red. And, even her little mind knew that this was worse than cuts on your fingers. This was bad, bad, bad.
Two nights ago, Momma and Daddy had told Becca that they weren’t going out that night with Mark and Jennie and their daughter Caitlyn. They had told her that Mark and Jennie and Caitlyn were all sick and that everyone had to stay inside so they wouldn’t get sick, too. It was a bad, bad, bad sickness; worse than the flu! And, the only way to keep from getting it was to stay inside. And, to stay quiet. So, they’d had to keep their lights off and their voices down. They couldn’t watch tv, but they let Becca watch shows on their travel tablet, which had a lot of old “Dora the Explorer”s on it, as long as she used the headphones. They never let Becca just sit and watch shows. But, Momma and Daddy seemed sad about something. And, Daddy kept checking his phone a lot. And, Momma kept trying to call Aunt Sheryl in New York. And, Becca was happy to watch so much “Dora” even though she’d seen them all before. She usually wanted to hang onto Momma, but something kept her back. Momma didn’t seem as cuddly as usual. And – and, Becca would never say this because is was rude, but – Momma smelled funny.
So, they’d passed the evening and the next morning. But, yesterday afternoon, Daddy had been crying and Momma hadn’t come out of the downstairs guest room, where they’d been sleeping. “Momma is sick,” Daddy had said. Becca had wanted to go see Momma and give her a hug but Daddy had told her no. He had said that Momma was so sick, that Becca could get it just by going in there and that the doctor was very busy and couldn’t help people right now. So, Becca just had to wait. And, stay calm. And, stay quiet. Whatever you do, sweetie, just stay quiet.
Morning came and went.
Lunch came and went.
Dinner came and Momma started making noises in the next room.
“I think it’s time for you to go to bed,” Daddy had told her. He made her a little pallet on the living room floor and said, “I love you, little girl. Have good dreams.” Then he’d gone into the kitchen while Momma made noises in the next room.
That night, Becca had dreamed she was a princess in a tower. The door was locked and she couldn’t get out. She cried out, “Help! I’m in here! Let me out!” And, finally, someone had come to let her out. They pounded on the door. But, Becca had grown afraid. She did not like the way they pounded on the door. A voice on the other side of the door had yelled, “No!” and there was a fight with yelling and grunting and scary wet sounds. And, then a crash of glass and
Becca woke up. It was early morning. The house was quiet. She slid off the couch and saw glass on the floor. And red on the glass. Carefully, Becca walked around the glass and put on her house slippers. She was cold and scared.
“Daddy?” she called out, but not too loudly because Daddy had told her to stay quiet so she wouldn’t get sick.
She padded past the broken glass and the red, red, red and saw the door of the guest room standing open. Daddy was on the floor. He looked funny. His face and neck were very red and all messed up. His eye – the one she could see – was open, but it didn’t look like it was seeing anything. And, he wasn’t moving. And, that made Becca feel strange and almost sad. Mostly, she felt worried and afraid.
Momma was lying in the floor as well, but she looked worse and Becca only knew it was her because of her nightgown. Nothing else looked like Momma. Her arms and legs, which were usually white and soft and perfect for climbing up on or cuddling into, looked twisted and torn. Her face was covered in Momma’s hair which was wet and sticky looking. When Becca could see of Momma’s face through the hair, looked wrong. Red was all over. Something had happened, but it didn’t make sense.
Becca heard a noise. Daddy was moving! For a second, Becca’s little heart filled with joy. Daddy was safe so Becca was safe! Daddy would be in charge and Becca could have breakfast and watch “Dora” and everything would be okay!
But, no. Daddy was wrong. He pulled himself up and made bad noises. His head didn’t sit up right on his neck. His arms were held at a strange angle. And, his eye . . . still didn’t see her.
Little Becca, all of two years old, backed away from Daddy. Daddy, whom she had loved without question, wasn’t Daddy anymore. His eye was wrong. His legs were wrong.
A noise from the living room made Becca turn her head. Glass. Someone broke glass. A hand was coming through the window. Becca looked at Daddy. He was moving towards her with strange unsteady steps. Steps like the little baby she had seen at the mall just last week.
Another noise came from the kitchen. Someone was pounding on the back door. Then more glass breaking. Then more. The back door broke open and a person walked in. He was red like Daddy and walking like Daddy and then more people came in – men, women, little kids. They looked confused and lost at first, but when they saw Becca, their bodies changed and they straightened up and moved toward her.
These people were not good. These people were wrong. They had too much red. Too much red on them.
Becca didn’t know where to go. There were people at the front door and anyway she wasn’t allowed to go outside by herself that was a Rule.
She couldn’t hide in the cupboard because she wasn’t allowed to open the cupboard unless Momma said it was okay that was a Rule.
The people were slow but getting closer. Becca turned around and saw the stairs.
You need Momma or Daddy to hold your hand until you’re a big girl and can hold the railing by yourself, okay? Okay? Never go up the stairs. It’s dangerous.
The stairs were a bigger no-no than the cupboard. She could walk up them if Momma held her hand, but they were so high. So high for such little legs. She could slip and fall and land BOOM on her bottom.
Behind her, the sound of shuffling increased. Becca was only two, but she knew that the sound was no good. No good at all.
She climbed the first step.
A mounting sense of panic filled her head. Every part of her was yelling at her to stop, stop, stop! She heard me Momma’s voice warning her, “Becca Lynn! You get off those stairs right now! They’re dangerous for little girls!”
Becca almost climbed back down. But, Daddy’s eye. Daddy’s leg. Daddy’s walk.
She reached out and touched the wall, lifted her knee alllllll the way up, as high as it would go and swung her leg onto the next step. Then she threw her tiny body onto the step and pullllled herself up.
The people in the house were coming around the bannister. If they were bad people, then they would try to grab her. If they got to close, they could grab her! She threw her leg up onto the next step and pulllllled herself up.
By this point, Daddy had reached the bottom step. Becca was climbing up the fourth step when Daddy suddenly pitched forward with a loud, “Rrrrraw!” Only, Daddy couldn’t hold himself up like he used to and he hit the stairs with his face. Something rattled down the steps and Becca didn’t realize it was a tooth; she only knew that a fall like that would probably make a big owie and that if Daddy had done that before today, he’d have said a bad bad word.
But, Daddy didn’t say anything. He was so close to Becca – only a foot away – but he seemed to not understand what had happened. His hands pawed uselessly at the stairs, trying to gain purchase but not quite sure how to use their fingers. they grabbed, but he didn’t know enough to push himself up, so he kept slipping and falling. Other people were arriving at the stairs by this point, but Daddy was blocking the way with his long legs and big feet kicking and scrambling.
Becca started to climb again. Her legs were fat and roly but full of toddler muscle. She didn’t tire easily and she never gave up. Momma had a word for it. “Per-sis-tint.” She was per-sis-tint and would not stop climbing these stairs.
Suddenly, Becca felt a tug at her little slipper. Daddy had shot out his left hand and grabbed Becca’s foot. He was trying to pull her down to his face! But, each time he tugged, he lost what little purchase he had on the stairs. Daddy tugged and tugged and Becca was scared that she would fall because Daddy was so strong even if he didn’t really know how to work his arms that well. She gave a couple of frightened kicks, and her slipper came off in Daddy’s hand. Daddy quickly shoved the slipper into his mouth, which Becca would have found funny a day or two ago. Now, it scared her more than anything. For, even though she was a little girl, she knew what that meant. It meant hungry. It was like when that old mangy dog had come in their backyard and grabbed a squirrel and shook it and shook it. That’s what Daddy did. Only he wanted that slipper to be Becca. He wanted to bite and shake Becca. His little girl! His sweetie!
In a rage, Daddy spit out the slipper, but doing so caused him to slide down the stairs the rest of the way. Becca scrambled up the next step and the next as the people from outside shuffled forward to fill the space that Daddy had left. They made such sad noises and sad movements. One by one, they hit the edge of the stairs and toppled forward, reaching for the little girl. they didn’t seems to notice Daddy on the floor at all and stepped all over him in their scramble to grab Becca and shake her with their mouths.
The stairwell turned at a big landing – what Becca always called “the square.” And now, she sat on the square watching the chaos happening a few feet below her. One by one, the people fell forward and found themselves unable to pull their bodies up the stairs. Soon, they started piling on top of each other, but that proved to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Becca, sat halfway up the stairs and watched her neighbors pile up. She looked up the stairway and saw the door of her bedroom, the hall leading to her Momma and Daddy’s room and the attic hatch.
There was nothing for her upstairs but her bed.
There was nothing for her downstairs but the people.
Little Becca, all of two-years-old, found herself with the hungry below and loneliness above.
As the light faded and the people surged, she fell asleep and dreamed of home and hugs and love.