Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Stairways

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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18 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Stairways”

  1. “History is Written By the Winners”

    I walked around the overgrown circle. Trees now stood where men’s blood ran red. Scrabbly brush where lions used to roar. The grand arena was no more. It was destroyed after the war. Each brick taken and smashed. Our roadways were pulled up, stone by stone, and carted off to faraway lands. Our aqueducts gone, our houses demolished. We, as a people, rounded up and either executed or enslaved. All we have done. All we have accomplished. Nullified by the calamitous concoction of evil intent that was the enemy.

    To make it worse, they have stolen every idea. Used our stone to make themselves roads. Built an arena themselves, watered their cities with our aqueducts. This will not be forgiven, nor forgotten. I shall have vengeance. I shall take what is mine by birthright. I swear by the Gods of my people, I shall not rest until the scourge of Rome is wiped clean from men’s minds, never to be heard from or thought about again.

    I am Spartacus.

  2. Such a refreshing sight. I hovered there, transfixed, staring at the indelible blood stains on the steps leading down from what was once the semi-circled stage.

    What a night that was! The air was clean and crisp. Hundreds of stars smiled down on our escapade. We did the updated play in our everyday clothes instead of those flouncing costumes of yore. Juliette in shorts and sneakers, while I, Romeo, cavorted in my brief briefs and flapping flip flops. When we made our entrance, the eager audience gasped and rose in appreciation of our audacity.

    As we neared the end of the last act, Juliette whispered in my ear,
    “Let’s switch to the ending we made up last night,” and nibbled on my lobe. “That’ll get their attention.”

    She giggled when I reached down and slid the pearl-handled pistol into the pocket of her shorts. My gun bulged invitingly under my briefs. We began our rehearsed quarrel on the steps. It grew from poking and muttering to punching and screaming Shakespearean obscenities. The audience loved it.

    As we calmed down and entwined into our play-ending embrace, her husband, waving a gun, slithered out from behind the backdrop of painted oak trees. He learned of our love affair and was going to end it. Before we could get to our guns, he shot and killed Juliette and then, me.

    Now, my spirit occasionally returns to this magical spot to inhale the joys of youth. Oh, to be alive and young again.

  3. Before

    “Let’s go home,” Flicker says. “It’s just a dumb old thing.”

    I expect more from him. He’s older. Almost three months…it means something, him being just a little longer here. He should know more, be more curious about how things are, how they happened, how things have changed.

    Me, I’m usually the one to pack it in, get back indoors.

    The wireless says the air’s fine. Breathable, now. Still, there’s a …a yellowness, you know, like in the Spring when the pollen can choke your breath away, used to choke you.

    “It musta been something neat,” I say. “The steps…on either side. Whadda you think it was?”

    “Who knows,” he says, tired-like, like an old man who’s lost all interest, like Grand-Pere, before he gasped his last. I couldn’t go to him. Mama cried, told me, “he’s got the virus. I know he has.”

    There was nowhere to take him. The hospitals had closed, the doctors and nurses had died. The virus had won, everyone said that.

    Stay in your home. Don’t. Nothing matters. There’s nothing to be done.

    Flicker and I have snuck out tons of times. We’ve had crazy adventures: Looking in other peoples houses. Watching people die. Watching them already dead.

    This time, we’ve gone deep into the woods.

    Further than ever.

    We are both super tired.

    As we head home, Flicker mutters, “Maybe it was for looking at Martians. Before the virus, that’s what people feared.”

    I nod my head, smile.

    He does know stuff.

  4. Time to Negotiate?

    “I’m getting tired of this probing; can’t you tell me what we are looking for?”

    “Maybe if I tell you, you might actually help.” Cliff sat on one of the staircases and Don joined him.

    He pulled the now crumpled note out of his pocket. “In my grandfather’s papers was this note addressed to me. ‘Cliff, I hope you find this note. If you ever get to the Hawaiian Islands, do yourself a big favor and look up ‘Radar Dome W13.’

    “Is this it?”

    “Based on his crude map of the different radar installations, I think this is the right one. Here, you look at it and see what you think.”

    Don looked at the note. “You have to be kidding, you didn’t tell me we were looking for buried Japanese gold.”

    “My grandfather always had a smile like he had a secret. He never mentioned anything. As you see, his note says he and his three-unit buddies found it, but realized there was no way the military would let them keep it. They buried a bar here and added a map to the main stash.”

    “Cliff, if we found that one bar it would be worth millions.”

    “About five million, if its twenty-five pounds.”

    “Holly sh*t!”

    “What are you doing over there?”

    “Look at the location of the ocean on his note, we were looking near the wrong stairs.”

    “You heard me, I have two guys jumping up and down, and hugging each other.”

  5. “Stairways”
    Standing in front of my newly purchased domus, I looked out over my new abode, standing proudly. Adorned in my red tunic, sent as a gift from Caesar upon my retirement from the legion. I sat upon these steps fashioned from the finest of stone, appreciative of the good fortune I had come to receive after thirty loyal years of service. Memories of the thirty years’ service visibly apparent to any observer. The missing finger of my left hand, the blade scar across my left cheek. The slight limp with which I walked. Scars of memories, some good, some bad. The missing finger, a result of my hand blocking the sword that was thrusted towards Caesar himself. The cheek scar from the largest barbarian I had ever fought in my life. The limp from the time my beloved horse was downed by the barbarians we charged during the Battle of Burdigala. Recalling such memories is just what I was doing when I saw them approaching, swords unsheathed. These steps upon which I sat, intended to welcome my lifelong friends to my domus, had instead become the place of my death.

  6. Down the Horizon
    Madhav was staring at the end of the road. Straight linear stretch cut along a straight line by a curved horizon.
    The merger of the lines was illusive. On a moment, it appeared en échelon descending towards the horizon. Another moment, it seemed like steps ascending towards heaven.
    Madhav has spent a whole day just by sitting on chair in his balcony. Watching people passing by. Asking if endeavors to restore normalcy has yet commenced.
    In trying time of half a day long power cut, stopped water supply, inundated streets and alleys, fallen trees, uprooted electric posts and horror of death by electrocution, he was asking a lot.
    Some frustrated soul even answered, “Come out and know what’s going on.”
    Madhav did not dare. For months misfortunes had been galore.
    For anyone, change happened to be a shock. For septuagenarian Madhav adjusting with changed shop schedules during lockdown was difficult. His cook and maid for dusting and washing were excused to enhance social distancing. His weak bone and frail muscles had taken up toils of all chores. Suffering from standing at long lines before grocery stores, lack of supply of necessities, hopping from store to store.
    He was exhausted. He was ill with herpes. Even then he himself cleaned foyer of his apartment from litters of flood water left by twelve hour long monstrous cyclone, Aamphan. It left Madhav dry in darkness.
    He has finally isolated himself meditating on what exactly is lying by the horizon.


    Stairway to Nowhere.

    “How about here?” Simon said. “Maybe if you crouch, so the sun creates a halo effect through my hair? I can gaze off toward those ruins over there and focus on my irritable bowel. The fans used to love it when I did that. I was voted ‘best bouffant and frown in a prearranged photo-shoot’, in 1974, I’ll have you know. That’s something you never lose; you ask Grant!”

    “I hardly think he’ll be in any position to corroborate that,” the photographer replied, rechecking his light. “He died three years ago; don’t you remember? You were one of the coffin-bearers, you and the other three from the band.”

    “Yes, that was a night. We must have drunk the home counties dry that weekend. He was a noxious shit at the best of times, but he sure knew how to party. Even though he never had any readies to hand when it was his turn to buy a round. But that’s agents for you; they’re never happier than when somebody else is paying.”

    “So, anyway…back to today. You needed some photos. Is there any particular theme you were hoping to capture? Any story you need me to tell? Or is there a coherent thread through your recent studio work I could incorporate?”

    Simon looked blank for a moment, then shrugged when his memory returned. “I was just sitting for most of that time. Dreaming, you know? Now, tell me, I’m not the one paying for this, am I?”

  8. The Stairs to Nowhere

    “Senor, please don’t ask me to take you to the Altar of Stairs.”

    “I need a dependable guide, Miquel,” Tye Witton replied. “I’ll pay good money.”

    Miquel scuffed at the dirt. “It’s not the money, senor. It’s the destination.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    Miquel gave Witton a steely look. “The Altar of Stairs is a very ancient site. You must not go there.”

    “Ancient? Even more reason to see it.”

    “You don’t understand. There’s a legend.”

    “Go on.”

    “The legend says the Altar of Stairs leads to Nowhere.”

    Witton scoffed. “I don’t understand. If the stairs don’t go anywhere, then what’s the point of them?”

    “The stairs do not end in nothing, senor. They end in a destination called Nowhere. It’s a place that exists in space and is framed by time. And if it’s framed by time, then—Nowhere—exists at the end of the stairs. That is why you should not go.”

    “That’s preposterous. Take me to it.”

    After more prodding, Miquel finally relented, and led Witton to the Altar. After several hours of trudging through dense, humid jungle, they emerged in a clearing, containing the ancient site.

    “There it is, senor.”

    Witton looked at the Altar. Without saying a word, he stepped forward, and walked up the Stairs to Nowhere.

    In an instant he was gone.

    Miquel had neglected to mention that anyone who climbed the Stairs to Nowhere never came back.

  9. “Jackie, what the hell? You dragged me up this mountain to see damn steps?”
    “Billy, it’s a hill. Know what happened here?”
    “There was a building here.” answered Jackie.
    “Bucky Longstreet built it! Google him.” Billy checked his phone … no service. Jackie knew that would happen.
    “Bucky was a Green Beret. Went to Vietnam. Did horrific things there to survive. He came back and became a hippie. He formed a commune with a bunch of rich kids … draft dodgers. They built a geodesic dome, a huge sphere.”
    “What’s a commune?”
    “It’s a hippie thing. They share everything and take baths together.”
    Billy’s eyes widened.
    “So Bucky convinced them to pool all their money, which was a lot. They buried it in a secret place. It was for stuff they couldn’t grow or make. But Bucky had other plans. He built a bomb and blew the dome to kingdom come while they slept. Unfortunately, Bucky wore sandals. He tripped running away and got blown up too. They say the money’s still buried by one of those trees out there, marked with a Viet Cong symbol!”
    “Nobody found it?”
    “Nope, no one knows VC symbols and the rich parents buried the story.”
    “I’m gonna find it! I’ll research the Viet Cong” proclaimed Billy, “You wanna help?”
    “Can’t, I got my summer job.”
    Mission accomplished. Jackie would have more opportunities this summer to hang out with Evelyn, without Billy tagging along. Tall tales are a wonderful thing.

  10. The stairs go on forever, up a never-ending mountain, stretching high into the heavens. He’s been walking up these ancient steps for what seems like forever, but the passage of time doesn’t bother him. He thinks of his friends, his family, his life.

    He remembers getting married. An amazing day. How beautiful she looked. How happy they were.

    He continues climbing. The only thing in sight are clouds all around, except for the twenty or so steps before him.

    He thought of his children. How quickly they grew up, and how little time he spent with them. He was always too busy with his job, his house, personal projects, and so on.

    He thought of his wife’s funeral. Life seemed to end that day. His children were there, along with family and friends. They tried to comfort him but life was like a dream now, nothing seemed real.

    After her passing life became routine: working, maintaining the house, keeping busy. He saw little of his children, not for lack of love, but because when he looked at them he saw her.

    The stairs kept going, and he kept walking, never getting tired or weak, only ever feeling regret.

    He remembers lying in a hospital bed surrounded by his children and grandchildren. It was at that moment he breathed his last.

    He continues climbing the stairs, pondering where he’s going, wondering if he’ll get there . . . wondering if he deserves to get there.

  11. Cavanaugh drove to the grand chateau near Mont Fleury on the Normandy coastline. He rapped the door-knocker solicitously. Bridget, the housekeeper answered and recognized the uninvited guest.

    “Madame! Le agent immobilier est a la porte.”

    From a distant corner of the rambling mansion came the reply,
    “Demandez-Lui de venir, Bridget. Come in Mister Cavanaugh.” The old lady was familiar with this persistent American.

    Bridget let the man stand alone in the foyer and he listened for the tapping of Madame’s cane down the cavernous hallway from her chambers.

    “So good to see you again Madame Rosencrantz.”

    With her advancing years and sclerotic back, this survivor of the Nazi occupation was always direct,

    “What of your American friend. My neighbor? Has he quite given up?”

    “No, Madame. He wishes to double his offer for the point behind your chateau for its view of Normandy Beach.

    “And what of the German bunker on the bluff?”

    “Ah! He will demolish the rest and build his guest house. After all, there are just concrete stairs and a slab left.”

    “Indeed, he will not. That structure was built with the hands of Jews from this community. ‘Collaboration’ they called it. More like slavery. Ordinary folk, all local Jews, forced to haul concrete and steel for the Fuhrer’s Atlantik Wall. No sale, Mister Cavanaugh.”

    “Madame, I. . . ”
    “My father was a physician, Mister Cavanaugh. I watched him mix concrete from our back porch until the Nazis took this house away. Au revoir, Monsieur.”

  12. I flipped through my sketchbook again to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Every page held different pencil strokes, but the same image: stone steps leading nowhere, chipped and mired in underbrush. The oldest sketches were blurred with the scuffing of years, but it was undeniable. Every pebble, every weed was the same.
    For ten years.
    I snapped the sketchbook shut.
    There are two kinds of ruins– those that succumb to nature, and those that lead to the lands of the Fae.
    Tucking the sketchbook away, I went down my mental checklist. Iron knife, salt cellar, check. Water bottle, stash of power bars, yep. Remember to be polite, don’t incur obligations.
    I slung my pack over my shoulder, took a deep breath, and climbed the steps.
    One. Grit crunched under my boot.
    Two. Dust and anticipation hung in the air.
    Three. A bird erupted from the brush behind me, and my heart stuttered.
    I blinked and the world was dark. Flashlight– that’s what I forgot.
    I raised my voice. “Greetings, fair ones. I present myself to you, seeking only the pleasure of your company.”
    A bass rumble shook the void, and a presence arrived.
    “Hello? What manner of Fae do I have the pleasure of greeting?”
    The void shifted, another tremor rising. I stopped breathing.
    Not a tremor. A laugh.
    I swallowed.
    “The Fae,” it purred, “are merely the glittering barb at the end of my fishing line.”
    I stepped back into the dark, praying for weeds and grit.


    “Yes, we climb up, and we imagine we are ascending; even though every step is just 12 inches high, still it is terribly tiring and where does it all get us? Nowhere!” I muttered in trepidation.

    Masons came with another load of marble tiles to lay down on our home stairways.

    “Every time I see these stairs, all I think is: slips, trips and falls. Mom! marbled stairs are very slippery, and just think of your age!”, I protested apprehensively.

    “Stairs should be rough to avoid slipping and falling”. I said thinking acutely, but with no avail.

    Beautiful green-white shaded marble tiles were laid on top of the stairs; polished so resplendently that I could see my face when gazed over at the lustrous; glassy surface.

    “The harmful effect may be muted because of the beauty but we will repent one day.” I thought pensively.

    “It’s raining; everything will get wet!!!” Mom screamed asking us to scurry pointing towards the rooftop.

    We ran upstairs with multiple hands. Mom leaped like a cheetah skipping 2 treads on the stairways.We grabbed as many things as we could, getting down quickly to make another trip back.

    My wet feet slipped, falling from an erect position, traveling a short distance through the air, and landed with my head, neck, and shoulders striking the steps and unconscious; resulting in multiple injuries.

    Now I sit in the wheelchair, staring at the U-shaped staircase thinking- what inspired us humans to build stairways?

  14. At the tender age of six I discovered Peter Pan. Captivated by the concept of a magical world one could reach from this one, I sought out more books like it: Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia and many others, some so obscure only specialists recall them. Every time we’d move, I’d scour the library for one I hadn’t read.

    And I sought a way there. Every closet and cupboard got checked for a hidden door. I’d stare into mirrors for hours, hoping they’d turn misty enough to pass through. When I talked about tornadoes, my teachers became concerned.

    They didn’t understand my longing for a world where magic was real, where people could have adventures, where I could be someone significant instead of just another nobody. But they were in charge, so I learned to keep my head down and hide that longing.

    And then I discovered this place, perhaps the ruins of a gazebo. A circle of concrete with stairways leading to a long-demolished floor, it looked like a teleporter from a science fiction movie.

    Behind me the bar’s stereo was blaring Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” On impulse I climbed the nearest stairway and stared up at the sky until I felt silly.

    As I stepped down, the air shimmered. For one glorious moment I saw a castle in the distance, a dragon flying above it. I ran back up, but already it was too late. The moment was gone, and would not return.

  15. The sergeant had a feeling of foreboding as he studied the structure before him, once a simple yet heart-felt memorial reduced almost completely to rubble. He had seen much like this in the blasted lands of the war… once proud homes now merely wreckage, but none held the dire portent as this one. He looked over at his squad and his fears were justified. They had become so faint that he could see through them as if the were mere wisps of vapor.

    They had been huddled together during a bombardment when an artillery shell had scored a direct hit on their foxhole and somehow thrust them all into… into where exactly? It was some sort of dimension or realm, they weren’t really sure. They didn’t know where they were or even exactly what they were, but what they did know was that they existed. Equally as important, their existence would continue as long as they were remembered by the living.

    After the war, when the memorial had been dedicated, immense crowds had attended the somber ceremony. The sarge and his squad had been almost fully alive… almost solid. Now there was but a single person, alone in his wheelchair, lost in reverent thought.

    As the soldier phantoms watched, the figure bowed his head and then slipped quietly to the ground. The squad looked fearfully at the sergeant and then they, and the sergeant, slowly drifted away like mists on the wind.

  16. A hundred winters had gnawed with icy teeth at the great concrete ring atop the remote mountain’s broad summit and the crumbling flights of stairs on its north and south rims. No clue remained as to why it was there or what it had once supported. Grasses and shrubs now filled the circle’s interior, while the forest crept up the slopes, encroaching upon the ruin.

    Ted Collins happened upon it hiking cross-country with his girlfriend Mandy Phelps. Temptation caught them, and he rushed the north steps while she bounded up the south, then they shouted, “Hello!” and, “Echo, echo, echo!” at each other before springing into the circle and charging each other, arms outstretched. They collided in a giddy embrace. He swung her about until, dizzy with spin and love, they toppled and rolled through the swaying grasses, laughing.

    “Let’s stay here forever!” Mandy suggested. Mark scrambled to his feet, pulled her up, and kissed her in agreement.

    The wind stirred, brushing their hair, warm, then frigid, then warm again. The sun flickered.

    Mark looked to the sky. “Did the world just blink?”

    Mandy looked, too. The sky shimmered orange. The leaves on the trees had become like feathers. A sheen like glass now arched over the circle, and beyond it gangling creatures with saucer eyes stared in. One bent down to read a sign fixed to the glass.

    “Homo sapiens!” it cried. “A breeding pair!”

    Ted and Mandy clung to each other and gaped back.

  17. “It all started with these stairways or overpasses for the animals crossing the freeway. They could climb over the highway and avoid getting hit by cars racing on the interstate. Some of our rural friends didn’t appreciate this as it reduced roadkill, a gourmet menu item in the region.”

    The professor of anthropological ecology switched slides to one showing two damaged concrete staircases passing over a forest trail.

    “These human stairways pictured here were built in response to the success of the animal overpasses. So many animals were saved from getting killed on the interstate that their populations jumped to unmanageable levels. Rural game trails then became so crowded that nature lovers were getting run over by racing animals, providing human trailkill for wolves, bears, and other carnivores before the human overpasses went up.”

    The professor smiled at the students sitting in the gloom of the darkened lecture hall.

    “We had a problem. Two unnatural man-made overpasses interfered with natural selection. Animal rights activists applauded the increased population of wildlife. Human rights activists, however, condemned the decrease in human population due to the increased human trailkill. Local cooks were upset because reduced animal roadkill affected the home-cooking and rural food service industries. (The animals feasting on human trailkill refused to comment.) All sides butted heads until bombs were thrown, rifles were fired, and both stairways were destroyed. Shortly, animal roadkill returned to rural kitchens and humans could hike safely on forest trails. Balance restored.”


    Teresa whispered a fairytale to them. They couldn’t risk being heard.

    She furnished the unreadable French stories from vague memories and the illustrations. Magic beasts, mythical landscapes, sagas of escape. Sometimes, the miserable dog tied to the upper landing cloaked a whole full-voiced telling with its barks.

    Tonight’s was a favourite; about a princess’s moonlit liberation from her bleak tower, down a spiral staircase, past a sleeping giant.

    Teresa was describing the princess’s steps, fingers descending mid-air, when she froze. Steps – real steps – on the stairwell. Her ears were sensitive to this building. They were outsiders’ – heavy, rhythmic. Trained. The dog erupted.

    Teresa placed the storybook down softly. She crept, peering through a door-crack.

    Two broad, tunic-clad backs covered the doorway of their elderly neighbour. The receding boulders of green rolled into his home. The door stayed open.

    Teresa eyed her room. Paper, utensils, the book. The dog whined upstairs.

    She went to the door and pulled it open, terrorised with fear she’d be heard. She motioned the kids to the door. Wait here.

    On tiptoe up the stairs. The dog approached, confused and agitated. After untying his rope, she carried it to her door.

    She took both children’s hands and yanked the dog’s rope. First he resisted, then bounded down. When he passed their door, she went out after him, pulling the children along.

    Hidden within his barks, their footsteps carried them down the steps, into the street. Under hazy moonlight he ran his way, and they went theirs.

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