Sûrah LXX
THE ASCENDING STAIRWAYS
"A questioner questioned concerning the doom about to fall."

70
EXIT UP

Repeated punches to ones solar plexus rob a person's strength, hence Zahra struggles to regain hers. She is walking.

1. This is good.

2. If I can walk, then I can think.

3. If I can think, I might prevail.

4. His grip is tight around my arm, but made of flesh-and-bone not iron. He has taken off the shackle. Why?

5. No matter; it is done.

6. I must pretend to be compliant or his fist again will hurt me. I am bruised, but feel no breakage.

7. Short of breath, my chest feels pain. As does my neck, my spine. But functional.

8. Whereas he has one good eye; and I have one free hand with which to blind its partner.

Footsteps echo in the vaulted lobby—vacant, desk clerk absent; which is odd and yet fortuitous; guests in rooms are not allowed; the bribe that Ahmed was prepared to offer need not now be paid, nor will his wound arouse suspicion. They cross quickly to the elevator, press 'up', listen; groans descend, the creaking progress like a nail on slate to Zahra's cringing nerve ends / Ahmed's, throbbing on the threshold of revenge, are more serene ... except the lift has stopped; the arrow overhead is aimed at 3. To take on passengers?

Ahmed glowers like a Cyclops with his one undamaged eye. He forces Zahra into the stairwell, where she strikes.

Flexed fingers, wrenched, cannot restrain the fleeing prisoner as she scales a flight of steps, perceiving up as her salvation—though it no doubt spells her doom, for Ahmed's sight remains intact, despite another gory gouging. His pursuit is hot and fleet and lunging, seizing Zahra's foot, his body prone, hers twisting sideways, knee cocked, driving home her heel, the blow a shock to Ahmed's forehead, to his spinal column; twitching, he releases her to rally senses scattered, dizzy, stunned, as Zahra presses her advantage, lands a second, telling kick; his chin snapped back, one iris rolling to expose its bloodshot white, his tongue protruding in a slack-jawed loll of semi-consciousness.

WILLIE

Nice work, lady.

Willie stands above the couple, arms akimbo, switchblade drawn, prepared to 'finish off the A-rab, good and proper.'

WILLIE

Friend o' yours?

She looks from one threat to the other, at a momentary loss.

WILLIE

Don' fret. This scum is dog meat. You run along now.

Willie helps her to her feet.

WILLIE

Got me some bros upstairs that'll guarantee he's history.

Ahmed sputters. Willie sidesteps down and stabs him. Zahra, stunned by the action, gapes; the off-hand ease with which the knife slips in and out of Ahmed's ribcage seems a shock to her who believed him indestructible.

WILLIE

That's for starters.

Backing up, away, ascending—wrong direction; Zahra halts. With sounds of footfall from above, the hemorrhaging Ahmed just beneath, she quits the stairwell, enters a corridor, staggers like a drunkard—bobbing, weaving—finds the elevator empty, doors propped open with a mangy mop, which she extracts, slams closed the grate, depresses '1'—impatience peaked—and, as the vintage pulleys screech, is lowered out of danger.