The stairs are crooked and broken, and they wind up into nothingness in a haphazard manner; sharp turns and incongruent steps and intruding vines make it look as though the journey up them would be a difficult one. You are drawn to the stairs, although you do not know what lies at the top of them. You feel, however, as though a magnetic force is pushing you forward, and a voice in your subconscious tells you that there is something amazing at the top of the stairs; you would give anything to discover it…

Leaning against the back of a headstone of an old, decrepit cemetery was a girl by the name of Jody Roland. Her knees were bent, and propped against them was a notebook. Next to her, on the grass, lay an assortment of pens and pencils, one of which was held poised in her hand, suspended over the paper as she stared past the boundaries of the world, her mind stolen in thought. She was mentally weaving tales of worlds distant and unknown, spider webs crisscrossing and intertwining through her head – a mysterious staircase, from which she returned upon awakening every morning.

Finally, she drew her mind back into her being, pulling it reluctantly away from imaginary universes yet to be recorded. She placed her pen to the paper, beginning to record these previously unheard of realms, forgetting the stairs as her pen leaked out the beginning of a story.

Her thoughts were virtually absent and if they were present at all, they were unconnected to her writing. The pen raced across the page as if it was independent from her hand, inky black letters staining the once pure white and untouched sheet. The pictures that had only been seen in her head became tangible by way of words, laid down across the page, their only earthly bounds the lines of the paper that kept them organized.

The scene was broken, her reverie shattered by an all too familiar voice calling her name. "Jody!" rang out once, and she sighed in frustration, leaning her head back against the headstone.

"Jody!"

Jody had lost it. The inspiration that she'd searched so painstakingly for, delving into the deepest and farthest corners of her brain, had disappeared, leaving less of a trace than a spring's blossom in the deadest of winters. Hopelessly, she tore the page from her notebook and crumbling it into a ball, she cast it aside. She would never continue that story, not now that she'd lost the initial drive. Once more, Jody was left with an empty notebook.

She stood up, gathering her pens, and stepped around the headstone that had previously concealed her.

Not too far away, she could see her mother standing, a displeased look contorting all of her features, her fingernails drumming on the gate that separated the cemetery from their backyard—the cemetery that Jody had grown to adore, though her mom loathed it being so near the house.

"What are you doing here?" her mom asked angrily. Jody's response was nonchalant and careless:

"I was writing."

"It's 9:45! You're supposed to be in school!"

Jody shrugged. "It's a waste of time."

"It's required."

"I'll go tomorrow."

Her mom sighed. "What am I going to do with you?" she asked, but she was smiling. "Can I at least see what you've written?"

"There isn't anything."

Her smile faded, and she extracted the notebook from Jody's hands. "What do you mean there isn't –" She flipped open the book, staring at the remains of perforated edges and at blank pages. Disappointed, and looking for the traces of a writer's work, she looked past Jody toward the headstone, where the wind had picked up the crumpled paper and was now lightly and gently lifting it, hardly an inch above the ground. She blinked and when her eyes reopened, there was a little boy standing by the gravestone with the paper in his hands; he had flattened it out and was intently reading it. She felt suddenly chilled and nervous but when she blinked again, after barely a second, he was gone; he had been like an illusion.

As soon as she returned from school the next day, Jody went back to the graveyard. She situated herself against the headstone, prepared to lose all consciousness of time and space, to immerse herself in fiction and fantasy, when a voice next to her said, "I found this here yesterday. Is it yours?"

Jody jumped, surprised at the intruder, her heart pounding against her chest from the initial shock. Looking up, she saw that he was a boy, a child still. Even so, he was tiny for his age, and extremely pale, almost to the point of sickly looking. In a small outstretched hand, he held the paper she'd been writing on yesterday.

"Oh," she said, staring at it critically. "You can have that. I don't want it."

"It's very good. You should write more."

"Thanks. But… that's not going to happen."

The boy did not respond; he walked around the headstone, and for a moment, Jody thought he had left. However, he reappeared at the other side. She found herself startled yet again – despite the fact that he was a child, no more than eight years old, she didn't like the feeling of his presence. He hovered over her in an unsettling manner and his voice was light and airy, yet he spoke with a weight that suggested he was much more knowledgeable than his years.

"You come here everyday," he observed. "Why?"

For once, Jody didn't answer, "To write." It seemed as though he wasn't asking such a simple question – it was almost like he asked why she wrote, instead of what she was doing.

She thought for a moment. "Escapism, I guess. Not that you would know what that is."

He smiled, his lips thin and pale and his demeanor insightful. "I know what it is."

"You do?" Jody stared at him calculatingly; she certainly hadn't known what escapism was when she was that young. "How old are you?"

He smiled elusively again and walked around the headstone once more, but this time he did not appear on the other side.

The boy had not left Jody's thoughts for a moment. All day, she'd agonized over what had happened to him—did he simply disappear or did he quietly walk away? And… who was he? He was intriguing, yet almost frightening in his mystery; she honestly was not sure if he was a mere apparition or a real person. And so she returned to her normal spot, still determined to write, yet on the alert for the boy.

It did not take much pondering for her to know what she was going to write about. This afternoon, she did not particularly desire to write a tale about the stairs, for she had found an even more intriguing topic.

She was going to write about the boy.

She only got to write two paragraphs, before the voice that had been haunting her thoughts spoke.

"Why are you writing about me?"

She was shaken at his sudden appearance once again, although she had been half-expecting it. But she didn't expect that he would be clairvoyant enough to realize that she had been writing about him.

"I think you're interesting," she said.

"Oh. What happens in the story?"

"Well, you – wait. How did you know I was writing about you?"

"I read it over your shoulder," he said, with another one of his elusive smiles.

Jody breathed somewhat easier, though still disturbed by the interruption. "Yeah… makes sense… By the way, what's your name? I was thinking of calling you Andrew in the story, but you just don't look like an Andrew."

"I like to call myself Xavier sometimes."

"Xavier?"

"I like the way it sounds."

She did not know what to think of this boy – Xavier. If he was anything, he was intriguing, but she was… afraid of him. Jody did not understand him, he was almost supernatural… like a phantom of sorts.

"Have you ever written a story about yourself?"

"No," she replied slowly. "I know myself too well. I prefer writing about other people."

"I think you should write about yourself someday."

"Maybe."

He was silent for a while longer, taking a seat down beside her. After a few more moments, he asked, "Why do you want to escape?"

"I don't know," she said, placing the cap on her pen. "I'm just happier when I do…"

He stared at her knowingly for a bit, as if he was measuring her up, before jumping up and beginning to walk away. "Follow me!"

Skeptically, she stood, following the boy as he journeyed deeper into the graveyard. "Where are we going?" she asked him, but he did not answer. He was running, and despite the advantage of her longer legs, she had to run fast to keep up with his pace.

Finally, they reached the edge of the graveyard, and a small grove of bushes and trees stood before them. Jody stopped to catch her breath, facing the consequences of being out of shape, but when she got there he was already waiting for her. As soon as she reached him, he set off again, diving into the grove, recklessly running through. She still followed, struggling with the difficulty of the path.

Soon enough, they reached a clearing.

Jody looked around. The only thing there was an old, cracked staircase, derelict from its years of wear. She stared at it for a few moments; it was oddly familiar to her, and she realized with a mixture of terror and fascination that she had dreamt about these stairs. She revisited them, almost every night, but was never fortunate enough to ascend high enough to see what lay at the top.

"C'mon," he said, standing on the first step, looking almost ghostly. His skin was ashen and his eyes were wide and practically glowing, beams of eerie light illuminating the shadows. Jody felt as though she was experiencing her dream yet again, but she knew that this was too real for her to be sleeping: she felt the pressing lack of breath from running, she felt cool air stinging her eyes, and she felt the aching cut on her hand where a thorn had pricked it. And yet these were the stairs before her, as real as she was. It was ethereal.

"What do they lead to?" she asked, unable to tear her bewildered eyes from them.

Xavier grinned, his expression once again evasive, but he looked genuinely amused. "I can't tell you that. You have to follow me."

And he ran up the stairs.

Her hands shaking, Jody followed him.

She ran up the stairs with urgency, her footsteps almost echoing as they pounded up the stone. When she reached the top, she encountered almost complete darkness.

Jody was standing on what seemed to be like a stone platform – there was darkness all around her save for a tiny speck of light that seemed to originate from the center of the platform. Jody looked around for a few moments, confused, and trying to discover just what it was about this place that had caused her to dream of it so incessantly. There was an almost supernatural feel about the place, as if she had been lifted up to Mount Olympus. But there was no movement, Xavier seemed to have disappeared, and Jody, bracing herself, stepped forward into the patch of light.

The air seemed to be restless all of a sudden, and forming before her eyes was an apparition – a woman. She was translucent, but certainly not a ghost; it was almost like looking into a foggy mirror. Jody stared at the woman for a few more moments, before realizing with a sickening jolt that the woman was her. She looked to be about ten years older, dressed in a professional looking suit, and had the appearance of being very successful. But her face expressed sadness, not triumph at having a steady living. Her entire demeanor conveyed a lugubrious existence, and her posture was extremely forced – she looked tired. Jody's eyes landed on the apparition's hands, which she noticed, were completely clean. There were no ink stains on them, although present-time Jody couldn't wash her hands enough to get the ink off.

An uneasy feeling settled at the pit of Jody's stomach, and she became very aware of every single one of her movements. She felt with great gravity the entrance of air into her body as she breathed, she felt tiny strands of her hair fly before her face. Each thought, too, seemed to pause within her head, and she could grab each one and examine it as if she had a thousand years to do so. Time seemed to slow down incredibly. Yet, as much contemplation as she was allowed, she couldn't quite determine what this apparition was – if she was imagining it or if there really was some sort of vision before her – and moreover, she didn't know what it was supposed to mean.

Xavier emerged from the shadows, and Jody drew her eyes away from the image and to him. He held the paper he had found the first time he appeared, and without a word, he stepped forward and pressed it into Jody's hand.

And then he disappeared.