They propped the heavy board as high as they could against the corner stud that held up the second-floor landing. Inch by inch, they worked the board higher, first shoving the board as they worked it against the stud, and then carefully wobbling the board to walk it upward. Finally satisfied with the angle, Stephen nodded. “Okay!” he said, and they flopped the board over so that it rested on the edge of the second-floor landing. He started his ascent.
He tested the board, bending his knees and giving a tentative bounce to be sure it wouldn’t snap. He glanced at Jimmy with a nervous smile. “You coming?” His smile twitched as he started up the steep slope. He remembered how Mowgli in The Jungle Book nimbly walked up the trunk of a tree when he was little. “Come on!” he said. He grasped the thick board with both hands and moved forward, his face close enough to the rough wood to see the grooves in the grain. With a steady stare and a silent, “Here goes,” he watched the wavy lines change colors as he moved. The board flexed with every step. What the heck? He stopped to look back and knelt to steady his balance as he turned.
It felt as though he had moved upward at least ten feet. His heart pounded, and his hands were getting wet from the stress.
“Go!” Jimmy taunted. He flapped his hands as though shooing a dog.
Stephen realized he was only just over Jimmy’s head and frowned. “I’m going.” He managed to squeeze the words out, using the same tone he would when his mom shooed him toward the shower. With a puff of air through pursed lips, he turned back. Keep moving! he told himself, shaking his head as though his body was arguing against any further movement. Jimmy’s watching, his mind screamed.
He couldn’t control his muscles. His hands refused to listen when he demanded, Let go! His knees were rooted in place against the plank. Stephen stared down into the concrete pit that was to be the basement.
“Go!” He heard Jimmy’s encouragement when suddenly the board lurched beneath his knees, causing him to hiss, “Shit!” Everything seemed so much wobblier and way narrower as his arms began to tremble under his weight. With his arms growing weak and his legs beginning to stiffen, he forced one hand to release its grip. His eyes locked on the dark drop into the concrete hole, and he felt the board shift and shake. Stephen’s heart stopped, feeling as though it stuck to his ribs, and his free hand flailed desperately for a steadying handhold. His palm slapped a stud rising at his side, and he grabbed it.
“Come on!” Jimmy’s voice rose in exasperation. “Move!”
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