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No stairway to hell – A very short story

short storyThis is a very short story I wrote for a contest in the Writer’s Digest magazine. We had to write a piece of 750 words or less based on the following prompt: “Love gets him into more trouble than hate ever could.”

This is what I came up with.


No stairway to hell
By Ada Ireland


“There’s a reason no one talks about a stairway to hell, Jake,” Laura said. “There isn’t one. Once in there, you can’t just step back up. It takes a miracle to get you out.”

He would have walked away right then if he could. The look he saw on her face angered him enough to want to smash something. Or worse, someone. Her compassion? Her hope? He loathed them.  If looks could really kill, she would have already been dead. He had enough sense left to be thankful they couldn’t. He thanked the devil for that because, as far as he was concerned, there was no God. Not anymore.

God died five weeks ago in that bus crash that killed twelve of his teammates, both his legs from the knees down, and all his hopes and dreams. All media outlets covered the story: “College football team loses twelve players in horrific traffic accident. Jake Wilson, the team’s captain, suffers career ending injury.” They called it a national tragedy. They were wrong. It was worse than that. The world ended that day for some of his closest friends. And he? He had been sent to hell.

Yes, he would have gotten up, slammed the door, and dumped behind all memories of her. But he couldn’t. They amputated his legs right after the accident. He couldn’t go anywhere anymore. He was stuck in a hospital bed, in a body he hated, and in a life he didn’t want to live.

“What … do you know … about hell?” he asked through gritted teeth. “When you lose what I lost, when you are faced with what I see, then you can talk to me about hell. Until then, leave. Get. Out!”

She saw in his eyes the dangerous pain and fear of a trapped animal. Past the danger, she saw the heartbreak too. She had no idea how to reach him through all that. “I don’t know what you’re feeling,” she said. “I can’t carry any of that for you. But I know I love you. You don’t have to go through this all alone. You can lean on me.”

“Just leave,” he said. There was so much hatred in his voice, she shuddered.

She got up. At the door, she looked back over her shoulder. “Love doesn’t stop, Jake. It doesn’t give up … It doesn’t work that way.” Then she was gone.

He didn’t see her again. Whatever hell he had been in got worse. Just like she had said, he sank deeper into the darkness and couldn’t see any steps to get out. He made life miserable for everyone around too. The doctors and nurses went from feeling sorry for him, to losing their patience, then their respect, and even fearing him.

The day Dr. Matthews and a nurse brought him a model of the prosthetic legs he’d have to try soon, he cursed them and threw one of the legs out the window, shattering the glass and sending the doctor out the room with the words “fed up” muttered under his breath.

The nurse stayed. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said. “You think you’ve got it bad? You couldn’t walk one single step in your wife’s shoes even if you had your old legs back.” She looked out the window. “She’s been waiting out there for you, rain or shine, every day. I reckon she’s been praying for your healing. I’m just praying that what she sees in you is real…”

She came to his bed and, without any help but no resistance from him either, she managed to move him into his wheelchair and push him slowly towards the window. “To hate is easy,” she started. “You hurt everyone and let all the good inside you die. You don’t feel much anymore.

But to love? That takes real courage ‘cause you know you’ll get hurt. Love gets you in more trouble than hate ever could. It gives you more pain, but it gives you joy too. You keep going anyway: for yourself and for those who love you.”

The nurse looked out the window again. Jake’s eyes followed her gaze. Outside, Laura was pushing an older looking amputee in his wheelchair and talking to him. He felt the air getting squeezed out his lungs.

“I’ll take you to her. She’s waiting. She needs you as much as you need her.”

He couldn’t say anything. He just nodded and prayed to God the nurse was right.

the end

P.S. I fell in love with Jake and Laura’s story as soon as it came to me. Yes, I fall in love with my own stories … They are that good! Ahem, back to Laura and Jake: the 750 word limit set for this contest was brutal. I can’t wait to write their whole story. In my mind, it’s beautiful. I hope I’ll find the right words to do it justice. I’ll need at least 10,000 words for that. Wish me luck!


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  1. Periodically Demented

    This is a really good, riveting story, and very well told. I really felt as if I was ‘in’ the story with them.

    1. Thank you! The first draft had about 1,000 words. It sounded better. :-)

      I’m glad you liked this version. This is the one going to the judges.

  2. Periodically Demented

    This story is technically and in voice far superior to ‘Over the Top’ (“of the toilet bowl”, he mutters). It’s as if two different people wrote them. Really well done.

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