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News & Features » April 2020 » “A Steep Grade” by Reed Kuehn

“A Steep Grade” by Reed Kuehn

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, climbing an incline leads to a decline . . . 

A Steep Grade
by Reed Kuehn

The Incline, Manitou Springs, Colorado 

His legs ached as he cleared each oversized stair, the taste of acid burning the back of his throat.  Slowly he climbed the face of the foothill known locally as The Incline. A former cable car route to the higher slopes, it was now a repurposed hiking trail that attracted many outdoor enthusiasts to Manitou Springs, Colorado.  Using his hands to brace his knees, he crept up the trail.  While it appeared a snail’s pace, he was moving fairly quickly based on the grade and difficulty of the climb.  Each person he passed brought a smile of satisfaction and the slightest boost of energy to help finish the nearly two thousand foot climb over less than a mile of distance.

A noisy companion to his breath gradually grew from behind.  He gritted his teeth in determination and pushed harder, knowing what it meant, but the duet grew in volume until the man passed on his left.  The other climber issued a breathless apology as he brushed his shoulder.  Accepting the apology, he continued, irritation growing in his gut.  He pushed harder and harder, a few stars sparkling in his peripheral vision.  Gulping breaths of air, he wouldn’t accept any slowing of his pace or getting passed again.  He crested the final portion, his eyes burning and ears throbbing.  Hobbling to the edge of the trail, he vomited the scant bile left in his stomach.

The other climber, who was admiring the town spread out below him and Colorado Springs in the distance, approached to make sure he was okay.  Waving him off politely, he assured him he was.  He set off down the neighboring trail back to the base.  The other climber headed back down the incline.  He furrowed his brow when he noticed, as it was posted and common courtesy to not descend the incline.  He shouted at the other runner with no response.

The neighboring Barr Trail was a section of switchbacks that allowed for a longer but rapid descent.  He set off at a strong pace, determined to reach the base before the other runner.  He pushed his aching body with a steely resolve, a growing anger in his core.  He reached the base of the incline just in time to see the other runner turn to start another lap up the hill.  His rage would not release him from the trail and he started up the steep slope, trailing the other runner.

The second trip was pure agony, his depleted energy and burned out legs refusing to comply with his desire.  Tears welled at the corners of his eyes as the other runner increased the distance between the two of them.  Black began closing in from the sides of his vision as he pushed harder and harder.  Then suddenly, everything cleared and he gathered a second wind, his pace improving.  He noted the gap shortening between the other runner and himself.  Reaching the top, the other runner was there stretching and acknowledged him politely.  He waited a few moments to catch his breath before confronting the other runner.

He paused too long though, and the other runner began to descend again.  Swearing under his breath he chased after him calling to get his attention.  With his calls ignored, he descended at an increasingly dangerous pace, his footing becoming unsure as he approached the other runner from behind.  With wasted legs, he caught a toe on one of the railroad ties and lurched forward, his momentum carrying him crashing into the back of the other runner.  They tumbled together down the extreme grade of the trail, their bodies crashing over exposed ties and rocks, coming to rest in a battered and broken pile, neither moving as the world went black.

Voices slowly drew him out of the abyss and he opened his eyes.  He felt exhausted but nothing seemed broken, which was confusing based on the fall he took.  He slowly sat up and gathered his bearings.  A few people were gathered around him and explained that he had merely sat down and passed out during his ascent.  Then, he noted in his periphery the other runner approaching from above.  The other runner, noting the situation being handled, continued on down the trail.

Ignoring protests, he jumped up quickly and set off down the trail, rage fueling him, as he closed on the other runner.


REED KUEHN is a combat veteran and a traveler, having grown up in Wisconsin, followed by stints in Washington DC, North Carolina, Colorado, and now Providence, Rhode Island where he lives with his family.  Although writing and literature has been an important part of his life, he recently made a significant change, bringing it to the forefront.  He is an emerging writer of short stories and outdoor adventure.  His first work accepted for publication is A Steep Grade (Akashic).

Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Apr 6, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,