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The International Writers Magazine
: A Bigger Splash: Dreamscapes Island Fiction

Nine Flights, Ninety Five Steps
A short story by Eric D. Knapp

'Though it took an effort to get there, we were suddenly in a cradle of paradise.'

Prior to our departure, in a fit of uncontrollable anxiety, I surfed the ‘net. It had been a long time since we had been able to take a vacation together. Sure, Miki spent enough time in fancy resorts, but she was always on her own. Even if I tagged along it was all about business. There was always a meeting, or a conference, or some urgent email that needed to be written or read. There was very little time or space left for romance.

The solution was easy enough: a vacation, but not to one of those fancy resorts where Miki would struggle against corporate habits and her shrewd business instincts. We’d go somewhere that didn’t have email, or even telephones. There had to be somewhere left that was still out of range of a cell tower or a WAP, and I was just the person to find it. And find it I did. We would go camping. Not camping in the mountains near home, though. No, that means sweaty hikes through buggy country, and stiff necks due to imposing rocks and roots, which insist on visiting the back of you head for nights on end despite your efforts to avoid them. Like an unwanted relative, the roots are never there when you need them during the day—to balance a cook-pot or provide a welcome perch for sitting tired bodies; they only come out at night when you are trying not to sleep on them. Oh no, camping locally was simply not an option. Camping around here means aches, itches and a quickly developing body odor, which manifests itself subtly during the first hike and then evolves over days of sleeping in dirt into a robust cologne of rank human. Not nice. Not relaxing. Definitely not sexy. Still… it was very escapist, and that is what I was aiming for. The thought inspired an idea—a brilliant idea.

The epiphany was this: if we were to sleep in a tent, the tent would be much better if it were positioned in southern latitudes. A volcanic island, maybe. In the Caribbean, perhaps. I looked there, and such a place did exist. I made the arrangements.

The web was full of advice, and warnings too. One of these came in the form of a bad review: "They neglected to tell us about all of the stairs." the critic complained, "You had to climb flights upon flights of stairs to reach anywhere… it was so much work that no enjoyment could be found at all. It ruined our vacation." I stared at those words, nervous, when Miki snuck up behind me to read the screen over my shoulder?
"Not a place for the elderly and the spoiled, I guess," she reassured me. "It looks like a great place. I can’t wait—and I don’t care if they don’t have fancy banquet halls and five-star restaurants."
"Heh… yeah," I agreed, still wondering in the back of my mind if I had made a mistake. "I mean, hiking up steps has to be easier than hiking up an un-groomed mountain, after all. This is camping… if people don’t want to move their bodies around a little they should stay at home and ride around Walmart in their little motorized shopping carts." But even with my outward display of confidence I was still unsure. "Right?" I added. I couldn’t help but notice that we were clinically researching such a spot from the comfort of our home, thousands of miles away, over a rather sophisticated home network. No, we weren’t spoiled. Not us. This would be perfect.

And four days later, we arrived. It took two connections and a lot of time in the air, plus two terrifying roller-coaster taxi rides, with a short trip on a ferry in between them. Normally, boats make me seasick, but after thirty minutes in that taxi there wasn’t an ocean swell large enough to discomfort me. All in all, we made it there alive and amazed. Though it took an effort to get there, we were suddenly in a cradle of paradise. We checked in and were given directions to our camp. It was down several flights of steps this way, and then down a boardwalk to some more stairs. A few more flights down, and a few more turns, and we were home. At least, we were where home would be for the next two weeks.
"The stairs aren’t bad at all," Miki assured me, sensing (correctly) that I had been counting each step with growing concern. And they weren’t bad. The sun was beautiful, the sound of the surf was beautiful, and most of all Miki was beautiful. A thousand steps wouldn’t be enough to ruin this.

We unpacked and then walked several more flights down to the beach. Where we come from, the ocean is grey; where Heaven joins the Earth it is a sizzling blue—like a flame that has been stretched out to the horizon. We sat, and relaxed, and had a drink. And then a few flights back to the camp. The "camp" had a bed and an electric window fan, and (as previously mentioned) was nestled in a tropical heaven, allowing us to feel rapture and relaxation at once. It may have only been screens and two-by-fours, but to me it was the most elegant structure in the world. It was nestled among the treetops, where it caught a steady ocean breeze. The steps were required to reach it because it was above the Earth, like Heaven itself, but connected to baths and beaches and bars. The paths consisted of sturdy suspended boardwalks, further blurring the boundary between man and nature. It was almost elvish. It was magnificent. Though humble in construction and meager in its luxury, this was my Xanadu.

We stepped up and down literally hundreds of stairs that day, and each day thereafter, and loved every one of them. The first night there we slept well; calm air, cool breeze and an active day easing us into a sound sleep. Tight muscles eased apart during sleep, having earned their rest from a hard day of climbing. Until 4am. Miki began to fidget. She nudged me awake.
"I have to pee," she whispered.
"Mmm. Me too. I’ll go with." And we grabbed a flashlight and went up—up—up—to the bath facilities, hand in hand. The quiet night kept us from conversation as we walked, so instead I counted steps. Upon our return, we climbed back into our bed and snuggled into the thin blankets. "Nine flights of stairs," I commented with a kiss to Miki’s forehead. "Ninety five steps."
"Cool…" and then we were both asleep again.

The following night was similar, with one exception. After climbing and walking so much the day before, we were beginning to really feel it in our legs. Pleasantly tight muscles were no longer enjoying a nights sleep so much as they were demanding one. Again, Miki began to grow restless, and again I followed. The restrooms, nine flights and ninety-five steps away, seemed unreachable. We waited until we could hardly hold it any longer.
"The restaurant is only a few flights higher up—we’ll just stop on the way to breakfast." Miki suggested. I wondered how early breakfast was served. Very early, I hoped. I thought about the online reviewer. I pictured the writer as an elderly lady, although there was no indication of that in the review. I began to underside her side of things, although I was by no means sorry for our decision. Xanadu had a lot of steps, but it was still Xanadu.

The following night, we again found ourselves drifting in and out of sleep. It’s a side effect of relaxing days, rum, and the whole experience of camping. I didn’t have my watch on, but I figured it to be around two or three in the morning.
"I’m just going to pee off of the deck," I announced.
"Don’t!" Miki exclaimed, waking a bit more and turning to face me. "The people here don’t want to go walking around finding people pissing off the decks," she added.
"Who the hell would be walking around at this hour to see me?"
She sighed, and with an incontrovertible logic she whispered, "Everyone needs to pee, stupid."
I settled back down, and tried not to move. I tried to hear the steady rhythm of the waves. I tried not to picture the water—not more than a hundred yards away—lapping up at the beach. After an eternity I got up, threw on an over-shirt, and padded half-naked up nine flights and ninety-five steps in the dark. I passed Miki on the way back, and couldn’t help but smile. We touched hands as we passed each other, like two strangers flirting in the early morning. This was great.

By the time we left, we’d climbed those nine flights—plus innumerable others—dozens upon dozens of times. We joked about it on the ferry ride back to the airport. If you figure that one thousand steps would have only been eleven trips to the bathroom plus a one-way walk to the beach, we figured that collectively we had placed foot onto stair no less then six thousand times.

Enough energy to illuminate a light bulb? Probably. Enough energy to start a car? Make it drive? If only there had been a mechanical engineer nearby to join us in our discussion, we may have learned the answers. What we were certain of is that nine flights and ninety-five steps is a great number of steps to exercise the mind, the body and the soul. Miki still runs up stairs to use the bathroom now. "It’s not the same thing without the climb," she insists. But more often than not, one of us will wake to nature’s mid-night call, and there will be a momentary thought that passes between us. A memory of walking hand-in-hand through the still night, up nine flights and ninety-five steps. But the moment always passes; there are no steps here.

© Eric d Knapp - March 2004

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