I glanced down at my friend Danny, passed out in a weird chalk outline sort of pose on the floor beside me. Should I wake him? We’d been cramming for college finals all night until we’d both collapsed sometime in the early morning hours. Was I dreaming? Stone towers don’t just grow . . .
I was, trying to gauge the distance between it and me when Danny stirred, sat up, and rubbed his eyes. “Wow, Man, what a night. Those Energy Shots worked great, but they wiped me out.”
“Danny you’ve lived here all your life, haven’t you?” I asked.
“Sure, sure, what’s up?”
“I’m seeing a stone tower out there in the woods towards Guilford. I don’t remember a tower anywhere in Guilford, do you?
“Shit, no . . .” Danny said hoisting himself up to look out the picture window.
Danny stared, swiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands, and stared again.
“Oh, Man,” Danny breathed, his breath sour and acrid, bounced at me from the window glass and I winced. He slowly turned his eyes to meet mine. I couldn’t tell if I saw fear, or humor in his gaze – maybe both.
“Have you ever seen it before?”
“Shit, no! That’s the Stairway to Heaven,” Danny said, his voice wavered, but once again I sensed more humor than fear.
“My grandfather called it The Stairway to Heaven,” Danny said. “He swore he could see it out there in the woods the day before his heart attacked.”
“I’m telling, you Man. I didn’t see it then, but this is exactly the way he described it! A tall stone tower teetering up over the trees like that. He begged me to drive out there with him, but I couldn’t see anything. We all thought he was daffy in the head. The next morning he was dead.”
I looked carefully at Danny . . . was he putting me on? With Danny it was hard to tell.
“Let’s drive out there toward Guilford and see if we can find it,” I said.
“You crazy?” Danny almost whimpered. “We find it and we’re dead. Don’t you understand? The tower . . . it takes you to heaven. It means we’re going to die, Man.”
“Gimme a break,” I jeered. “You’re putting me on.”
Danny’s face cracked into a grin and he brayed laughter. “Had you going there, didn’t I?”
I scooped the keys to Danny’s green Saturn off the coffee table. “Come on, let’s go find it.”
Danny grabbed a couple of tiny red bottles of Energy Shot from the kitchen table and followed me out the side door guzzling another wake-up blast as he walked. He tossed the other to me and I drank it down without thought.
As Danny steered us out toward Guilford, I twisted and turned in my seat keeping the stone tower in site at all times.
We drove for almost thirty minutes through the gray pre-dawn mist. The tower hovered closer and closer. It didn’t grow as we approached, but rather the opposite. It shrank into the surrounding countryside, blending into the tree line like a stone chameleon. I didn’t take my eyes off it. Not even when Danny crested the edge of the quarry -- at the base of tower -- doing fifty and slammed into the sandy bottomed pit with enough force to stall the car and knock the wind out of me.
Fog swirled around the tower as Danny and I approached it. The old gray stones gleamed wetly . . .
Greasy looking stone steps wound up and around the tower in a narrow spiral passageway. As we attempted to climb, the steps crumbled like chalk sliding us back to the bottom of the tower.
Again we struggled to pull and push each other up the uneven steps, but once again lost footing and tumbled back to the bottom. This time I whacked my side good on something cold and hard. I found a rusty metal ring at the foot of the steps. Danny and I looked at it, looked at each other, grinned, and grasped the ring. It pulled open a heavy stone square showing more granite steps spiraling down into the dark.
Danny had a small penlight on his key ring; shrouded in its feeble yellow glow we started down the slick stone steps into the dark.
The stonewalls around us trickled water as we descended, still hyped up on energy drinks. The dank air rose up to greet us as muffled skittering sounds echoed from below. I once thought I heard the stone trap door above us grate back into place. It was as though I could see it in the whiter part of my mind, softly rasping closed. But the white, wide-awake part of me slowly receded, blackening into the cold stone abyss below.
Was that Danny screaming? Or was it me?
A State Policeman wound yellow crime tape around the trees at the opening of the old Guilford Quarry. The rear half of a bottle green Saturn jutted from the sandy bottom. Most of the front of the car was buried under a pile of gravel and dirt.
“Car had to of been doing eighty,” one policeman said to the other. “Damn kids’ll never learn.”
The policeman by the car scratched his head. He could see parts of both bloody bodies inside the car where they appeared to have died on impact, but could not explain the two sets of weaving tracks leading from the car and disappearing into the base of the quarry.