It was a nice house: everyone was agreed on that. Despite the flaking paintwork and crumbling windowsills, the overgrown lawn and the potholes in the driveway, remnants of its former cloak of Victorian elegance still hung around its three floors. It reminded one rather in appearance of an old village police station, and Gary rather liked the place in itself.

No, the problem was that it was not *his* house. Lack of money had forced him to share with three others, all students in Wolverhampton. It wasn't that they were actively unpleasant to him: far from it. But they simply failed to understand why he did not *want* to party until four a.m. five nights a week, or why he would pass up the chance of an evening at the bar in favour of reading. There was simply no peace to be had. Although he could pass the time of day well enough with the others, the only subject all four could converse about in detail was football, and even here Gary was an outsider. The other three were all Wolves fans, yet Gary - for reasons even he himself could not fathom - had gravitated to supporting the Italian giants Juventus, for which he was derided in a largely good-natured fashion as a "glory-shopper".

Gary took off his shoes and socks, and hung up his coat and bag. Even from the far end of the hallway (bulb had gone again, he noted) the noise of the stereo blasting out from the kitchen was unbearable. He yelled a hello at the top of his voice, yet no answer came to his greeting. Not surprising, he thought: he couldn't even hear it himself, and his own hearing was very good indeed, which made the racket of the "music" (he managed to think the quotes) even worse. He thought briefly about joining the others, but quickly rejected the idea. Why bother going through such an ordeal for no gain? Still, at least with no-one to see, there would be no-one to ridicule him for taking a tiny morsel of enjoyment for himself.

He stood around six feet back from the bottom of the stairs. There were twenty of them, a straight flight of ten leading up to a small landing, then five more going right, and then another right-angled turn leading to the final five. As was usually the case, he lowered himself into a crouch, feeling his muscles tensing as he eyed the course warily, checking as best he could for signs of shoes, drawing pins, half-eaten pizzas and the other detritus of everyday life in a student household. Then, he was off, the dinge of the hall fading to a blur as he gathered pace. The first section was easy, the steps taken two at a time, and he compensated easily for the slip of the stair-carpet under his bare feet. Leaning into the corner at the first landing, he allowed his foot to slide slightly to one side, the better to gain a footing for the second part of the course.

The landing light was off, and so, beyond the cold moon's glow that filtered in through the skylight, there were almost no visual clues to guide Gary as he raced up the steps. But he had done this so many times before that it hardly mattered; he was running on a heady mixture of adrenalin and instinct, and conscious thought played little part in the process. The second turn, being after an odd number of steps, necessitated a different approach to the first: either a sudden change of stride pattern to short, almost pattering steps, or - for those who would risk everything - a leap of almost gazelle-like proportions, with the added complication of a ninety-degree turn in mid-air.

Gary was not about to take the easy way out here - though he knew in his heart of hearts that it was a mere childish conceit, he secretly enjoyed his ability to take the stairs in such a manner; it was his own private Olympic sport. And so he launched himself into the air at the corner, relishing the freedom of flight, imagining himself some mighty animal leaping at its prey as he contorted himself into the necessary shape to make the bend. Just in time he realised that he had in fact overdone it slightly, and let out in his arms to balance himself as his foot scrabbled for grip on the edge of the stair.

For a moment it seemed that all might be lost, but no: the extra momentum that had led him close to disaster instead propelled him on to triumph. He took the four remaining stairs in one prodigious bound, and intuitively thrust out his left arm, allowing his hand to smack onto the frame of an open door and wheel him around until he was facing into the room. Without breaking stride, he knocked the wedge from under the door with the outside of his foot, and leapt over the piles of books and magazines that littered the carpet onto his bed, landing at the very moment the door snicked shut.

Gary lay there unmoving, yet somehow exhilarated at his private feat. Then, he stood up, drew open the curtains, regarded the few stars that were visible through the sickly orange smog of humanity, and tried once again to unbolt the unyielding oaken door that had for so long divided his heart from his mind.