Genre: Psychological Horror
Type of Short Story: Collection of Short Stories
Summary: "Dark Steps" is a collection of eight short stories. In "Near-Death Experience", excerpted here, a man tries to get as close to death as he possibly can.
She must be about eight or nine, he thinks – any older and she would not be towing the helium balloon along behind her in quite such a carefree manner. She’s still at that age when she is not self-conscious about being a child, or the trappings of childhood. In a year or two she would cringe if her school friends saw her running around in the park with a party balloon, but for now she is still a child.
Her hair is a black scrawl that suggests she doesn’t like having it brushed – that would change in a couple of years too. Her coat is a candy-pink confection with a fur-trimmed hood that bobs lightly as she runs. Her leggings are a little on the short side – she has nearly outgrown them. There are red LEDs on her trainers that flash with each footfall.
It doesn’t take long for him to locate the girl’s mother. She is walking some way behind, talking animatedly into the mobile phone that is clamped to her ear. Her other hand is thrust deep into the pocket of her heavy wool overcoat. Her hair is the same colour as her daughter’s, he notes, but unlike the girl’s it is immaculately groomed. The mother is walking slowly – sauntering, even – and is falling further behind the girl with every pace. Some maternal instinct surfaces enough to recognise this, and he watches as she pulls the mobile’s mouthpiece away enough to call after her daughter. He can’t hear what she says, but can guess. “Don’t go too far, darling,” perhaps. Or, “Wait when you get to the gate.” He doubts that the girl can hear her either.