Abang Aku – A Bao A Qu

Steps 1-6

The sunlight shimmered off the brightly colored flowers, causing the gardens to blind anyone who looked directly at the blooms. Butterflies moved from blossom to blossom as birds twittered high above the surrounding trees. The sun, high in the sky, caused sweat to trickle down the neck. It was a tranquil setting that was perfect for the tourism department.

The Victory Tower appeared peaceful as it rose up from the kaleidoscope of color surrounding it. The birds that called out moved from ledge to ledge and found roosts in the various figures that adorned the ancient tower. Standing for almost a thousand years, the structure was still impressive as it dominated the surrounding landscape.

Throughout the tranquil gardens, tourists moved about taking pictures and whispering as though afraid to wake the dead that had built the large structure. The man leaning against a sprawling tree snorted. He had traveled far to investigate the legend of the A Bao A Qu. Ancients had called it the Abang Aku and claimed it was an alien cut off from its homeland. In order to return home, the Abang Aku would wait at the bottom of the winding stairs that climbed the inside of the Victory Tower for those who sought to climb them. To reach the top, nirvana had to be reached, perfection. As the human would stand on each stair, they had to cleanse their souls with the goal of attaining nirvana at the top of step number one hundred and fifty-seven. The Abang Aku would pull from the soul as he or she climbed and change from a translucent to a vivid creature that would shoot to the stars and return with the soul of the perfect person.

He knew it was all stories passed down through the years to teach lessons and scare the masses into being good Buddhists. That was what brought him halfway around the world. He wrote for a world-wide newspaper debunking religious myths. The month before he had been told his column would become a regular piece after gaining fame globally for exposing the fake Shroud of Turin. He wasn’t surprised that he had been excommunicated, but it was worth it to show those religious fanatics how much they had been brainwashed.

Today, he was going to climb the steps of the Tower of Victory. He had researched the many reports of those that had faced the Abang Aku and lived. They had a variety of reactions including a complete change of lifestyle to one that was purer and more religious. Or they had been admitted into asylums where they spent their days drugged up to protect themselves and those around them. Many had died in the Tower of Victory. Their official cause of death had been a fall down the hard stone stairs, but those that stood at the bottom waiting for their friends and loved ones swore that a creature had sucked the life out of them. Those myths would end today.

The day was warming up. He didn’t want to wait too long because the heat would soon be too much for the climb. A hundred and fifty-seven steps was nothing to laugh about. That was probably what did everyone in as they attempted the major feat.

Pausing inside the arched doorway, he looked around and breathed in the air. He loved the smell of old buildings, and this one did not disappoint. There were no lights as it was deemed an insult to the gods to place any kind of light in the religious building. The sunlight reached in and revealed the bottom steps. His eyes moved up to the tenth step that barely could be seen as it rounded the wall of the tower and disappeared from sight.

The darkness wouldn’t be a problem for him. Reaching behind him, he unhooked the industrial flashlight from his belt. All along his belt were items he thought he might need. He had a camera, a knife, a first aid kit as well as a bottle of water, and a pouch with some dried fruit in it. He had been on enough adventures such as this to not expect everything to go smoothly. His cell phone was even on him though the reception was spotty at best.

The light, when flicked on, moved around the base of the stairs. He focused it on the wall where he noticed markings. Moving forward, he squinted trying to make out the numerous markings. For many years, He had been studying the language of the ancient lands, including India, as well as the religions. He didn’t like depending on ‘experts’ to tell him lies. Truth was what he wanted, and he wanted to discover the real truth on his own.

He reached out and touched the first set of markings that lined up with the step. They were unclear. He looked around the base of the stairs. Nothing could be seen. There were just shimmers of dust floating in the sunlight. A smile tugged at his lips as he moved forward and put his right leg on the first step. A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. His head whipped around as he shined the light into the shadowed corners. Nothing was there. He was being a fool letting his imagination get away with him. His mind had to be clear.

Without wasting another moment, he brought his other foot up to stand on the step. His head whipped around again. Something had moved. Still on the step, he pivoted around shining his light but only seeing stone. No one had followed him.

He shook his head and turned back to the markings that first got his attention. They were legible where he stood on the first step, but strange. He could make out something about suffering. The next two markings were undecipherable, but the ones after that said something about not getting what one desired. According to the stories, he was to think on what he had desired and not received in order to relieve his suffering.

Originally, he was just going to walk up the stairs and back down in triumph. If he did that, he would not have repeated the exact steps the deceived others had. He had to do what they did and that included making his trek to nirvana.

Unknown to him, as he gazed on the words, something moved behind him. It was located on the ground right below the first step. It was there it had lain against the cold stone, dormant until the man had taken the first step with both feet.

Nothing could be seen as it moved. Nothing could be heard, but it did move. It stirred as it felt the soul open up to the journey. It had found life.

The man scratched his chin not realizing what was stirring to life behind him. His thoughts were on what he had wanted and never obtained. He first thought was of his job, but he had what he wanted and more was coming. He thought of his home and could think of nothing. He then thought of family, and his body stiffened.

He had desired something there. He had wanted her. The day his father had brought his new step-mother and step-sister home, he had wanted her. She was so young and innocent. He was  twenty-two years old, fresh out of college and looking for a job. She had been his biggest fan and was always following him around. At sixteen, she was just becoming a woman. He wanted to help her get there. His desire was almost obtained, but then she screamed and his father came in. His own father had pulled a gun on him and ordered him out of the house he had grown up in.

Anger rose up within. As it did, the figure moved a little more. It had reached the corner of the step and was only a few inches from the man’s feet.

Grunting, the man moved to the next step. There were no markings on this one that he could see. He shined the light on the other side of the stairs where the wall moved beside the steps. The only mark he saw resembled that of an arrow pointing up. He assumed there was no soul searching action required for that spot. He moved to the third step.

As he contemplated the next set of markings, the translucent thing moved over the ledge of the first step. A shimmer shot through it as it moved to the second step and reached up to the edge where the heel of the man’s shoes were located.

“Meditate on what I have desired and had to give up. Well, that is easy. I never give up anything I want.”

The shimmer moved through the thing again as it reached out and touched the leather sole of one of the shoes. If anyone had seen it from the bottom of the door, they would have seen something slightly visible that was about a foot long.

Anger began to rise in the man at what he considered foolish religious mumbo-jumbo. The light shimmer moved higher up the leather heel, to the edge where his sock left his shoe and traveled up his leg. It paused as the anger moved through the man’s body and beckoned to the figure.

Mumbling, the man moved to the next step. The figure clung to the shoe and moved over the stone. It pulled itself up over the lip of his shoe as the man moved to the next step following another arrow. He began to decipher the writing.

He began to mumble again about the desire for wealth. That was something he desired mostly, but he was not about to follow the dictates of the stairs and let the desire go. Suddenly, he felt himself unsteady on his feet. His body began to fall backwards. He bent forward, but his body was still moving backwards.

With a shouted curse, he fell. His head hit the first step and split it wide open. He continued rolling along the floor until his body lay at an odd angle in the sunlight that came through the door.

The shimmer on the fourth step began to flicker as it moved like gelatin over the steps. It rolled over the blood that smeared the lower steps and nestled itself against the stone waiting on someone new to attempt the impossible.

Steps 7-20

He had been around the world exploring ancient sites. The Tower of Victory had been on his bucket list. With retirement pending and the chances of using it as a business expense getting smaller, he decided to move this one up the list. His excuse to the university was that he wanted to write a book on the different steps. Since no one had fully completed the journey and the markings in the tower were undocumented, they quickly agreed. If he was willing to go into the unknown, who were they to stop him?

The first couple of steps were easy. Since he had been seeing a therapist for many years, those issues had been addressed. He reviewed them as he made notes with the notepad and pens he had come prepared with. Because he had on a construction worker’s helmet with a light attached, he had no trouble seeing in the dark of the tower. He had been to enough sites over the years not to have it with him, especially since he knew that no one had ever explored the upper sections of the tower. What waited for him in the upper levels was still unknown.

Having so much unknown was hard for him to believe. With today’s technology, he had assumed someone had taken notes of the markings. Most reports said those that pushed up the stairs were found dead. He could still see evidence of the reporter that had died the month before. Blood stained the floor.  He wondered how many others had really tried and how many were just fabrications to build up the legend.

As he moved to the seventh step, his leg  felt heavy. Looking down, he saw a shimmer of dust from the little bit of sunlight that made it that far. He could have sworn that his leg was caught on something, but nothing was seen. He turned his attention to the markings. The subject was power.

He smiled. Power was something that he never craved. He didn’t even care when things around him got out of control. This was one step in purifying his soul that he felt good about.

The shimmering figure stretched up to his exposed leg. His socks were short in his tennis shoes. The thing touched the skin. A soft light shot through it again. The form was barely visible.

The man knelt down with his eyes still on the markings and swatted at his leg. He moved onto the next step with the shimmer attached.

The next one was void of markings. He moved on again, swatting at his leg as something tickled his skin. In old buildings, he expected all sorts of creatures to crawl on him. His entire focus stayed on the markings that he wrote down in a notebook.

“Purge the anger from suffering,” he mumbled. He thought back on the pain he had suffered losing his wife. There had been anger, but most of it was gone. For several moments he thought on how he felt now.

Light shot through the shimmering thing once again. It pulled itself up and grasped the skin.

The man stopped. Something didn’t feel right. He brushed at his legs again, but felt nothing. Shaking his head, he moved on to the next step that was void of markings. He moved on again. The eleventh step asked for him to look within for anger he had toward those who brought on suffering. Again, he felt nothing he needed to deal with. All of that had been purged years before. He moved on to the next step.

The creature attached to him shimmered with a pulsating light. It could feel, with each step, life coming back into its unformed body. It grasped on with more of itself as it pulled at the soul that moved further up the steps.

As the man moved up the steps, he felt himself struggling. His breath became labored. His ability to raise his legs diminished. He couldn’t understand it. Compared to other men his age, he was in great shape. He was taking the steps slowly as he read the inscriptions and pondered on them. There should have been nothing that would be considered a struggle for anyone of any age and condition. Yet here he was finding himself unable to move without difficulty.

The figure attached to him was stretched from the back of his knee all the way to the heel of his shoe. It was more defined now with a bulb at the top that appeared to be the formation of a head. The translucency of the creature was gone and replaced with an iridescent sheen that covered it completely. As the man passed each step, a shimmer of bright light  passed through the creature causing it to shine a little bit brighter and grow a little bit more.

The twentieth step loomed before him. He moved onto it realizing that it was another one without any markings. Frustration surged through him. With a soft voice, he began to curse and blame everyone for the struggle he found himself facing. His face twisted as he spat on the stone steps. He wouldn’t be here if his wife hadn’t died. He wouldn’t be here if they weren’t gently pressuring him to retire. He would rather have been sitting on his porch instead of struggling up the stairs. Anger filled him. Resentment shot through his body. As it rose up to consume him, he felt himself teeter backwards. He reached out to the stone wall but could find nothing to grab hold of. With a curse shouted to the heavens, he fell down the stairs, landing at an awkward angle.

The iridescent shimmer pooled on the nineteenth step. It stayed there for a few seconds before flowing back down the stairs one step at a time; it’s coloration faded as it descended to translucent once again. It was again the size of a small ball as it nestled its way against the bottom step and waited.

Steps 21-50

She paused at the bottom of the steps and looked up into the darkness. It didn’t look that hard. She couldn’t understand why people found it so difficult to climb it. Superstition aside, it really didn’t seem too much of a challenge. The superstition was just one’s mind playing tricks. She knew that was all it was. She had anticipated that she would be facing a much more physical task. With a laugh, she took the first step.

At the crease where the lower step met the floor, a slight movement occurred as she began contemplating the inscriptions. The Tower of Victory was her choice for her dissertation. It would be published everywhere and give her name credibility if she could interpret and record all the markings that had never been seen by anyone who lived. Nothing was going to prevent her from doing it.

Step by step she moved along the ancient tower’s stone steps. At the fourth step, she felt a tickle on her bare leg. She paused to look past her shorts and saw nothing. With a shrug, she turned back to the wall only to find it blank. She moved on to the next step. The pattern was becoming obvious to her with only writing on every other step. Confidence shot through her at knowing she was figuring out the ancient secrets.

What she didn’t know was that she was not alone.

As she moved up the steps, the creature grew brighter in appearance. As it had with the man that had made the journey before, the creature had grown and had a shine to it that was perceptible if anyone had been able to look upon it. She was unaware of what was attached to her. The light she had with her blinded her from the unnatural glow, and her focus was on the wall before her.

The first nineteen steps were easy. Thanks to a colleague who owed her, she had obtained the notes of the man who had died just a few months before. His notes were useful. She found a few mistakes, but the overall message of every two steps was right. She had to give the man credit. He had known what he was doing. Too bad he had tripped and fallen down the stairs. He had made it further than anyone else had as far as the world knew. She was determined to make it even farther.

Feeling tired, she stopped at the twenty-first step. Now, her education would be challenged. She had to interpret the inscriptions instead of verifying their meanings. Thanks to the notes she had obtained, she had a basis. That would speed up the process, but it wouldn’t be fast. She would make her mark with these new inscriptions. Anytime history was made, the academic world took notice. She’d have the attention of historians, linguists, and many more. Even the religious nuts would want what she was revealing.

The minutes ticked by with the light from her flashlight focused on the markings and her pencil scribbling on the notebook. She was surprised at how easy the first half was. The second half was all new. She might not be able to interpret those until she got back to her hotel room, but she was determined to walk out of that tower knowing it all. She sat on the steps and concentrated. It wasn’t long before she figured it out. Her knowledge of the local language helped immensely.

Looking at her watch, she noticed that over an hour had gone by as she worked on one set of markings. She was satisfied with what she had deciphered. From her notes, the inscription asked the reader to think upon any feelings of revenge they harbored. For a few more minutes, she did just that. After all, she was tired from staring at the pad with her light. She needed a break and decided to follow the instructions.

Before starting her journey to fame, she had never considered actually following the commands of the religious inscriptions. That was foolishness. Her experience had taught her that she had to rely on herself and not the teachings of a lunatic, but she had thought of her grandmother at the first step when she read the ancient words.

Growing up, she had lived with her aging grandparents. Every time she pushed aside a silly tradition, her grandmother would warn her that even what one sees as foolish can bring benefit to one’s life. She typically appeared to accept the words to pacify her grandparents, but now she thought they might actually be useful… at least for her dissertation. That would help expound on the writings and give personal insight into them. She could really bring new life to the topic.

Surprisingly, she found herself doing more than just contemplating the words for her degree. She found herself truly looking deep inside herself and facing many issues. She had some, but many had been overcome throughout the years. They had to be in order to succeed. Her lack of self-confidence had been defeated. Her fear of failure was fought daily. She wasn’t perfect, but she strove to be. All the steps she had moved over were topics she felt confident about.

But step twenty-one asked her to face her desire for revenge. That might be more than she could handle.

Revenge was something she had not really focused on much in her character development but didn’t avoid either. She had gotten revenge on the professor who dared to give her a B in her anthropology class. The accusations she made against him ruined his career and had him fired within a month. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to handle it, but he had been grossly unfair and treated the pretty girls in the class differently. He only got what he had been asking for though she did stretch the facts. Guilt hit her. It was wrong; she knew that. But it was in the past. She’d just have to learn from it and not repeat the same mistake.

She shrugged as she stood up and moved to the next step.

Her left leg stretched out as the right foot moved up. The iridescent blob on her leg moved with her. What appeared to be an appendage pulled from the main body and reached up. As it hovered above her thigh below the line of her shorts, the appendage separated into five more tiny appendages. Then all of the appendages lowered to her skin. Goosebumps formed on her dark skin and scattered over her leg and beyond.

She absently swatted at her leg.

Passing the step with no markings, she made it to the next one where she sat down with her legs stretched out on the step below. Her entire focus was on the lit wall and her notebook. Minutes ticked by. Another hour faded as she deciphered the writing. It was another one on revenge. The concept was the same, but it asked the reader to focus on unfulfilled revenge. Again, she followed the instructions and found herself back in the States fighting for the chance to come to the Tower.

There had been one person on her team who had been her rival for years. When it came out that her destination was the Tower of Victory, her rival began spreading rumors about her to discredit her at the university. Tales of unethical behavior and outright illegal activities found their way into everyone’s ears, including the dean of the department. Thankfully, it all came to naught, but revenge was something she had planned on getting when she got back victorious.

As she sat there on the steps, her eyes moved to the first set of markings she had deciphered on her own. Guilt found its way in. Hadn’t she learned her lesson? Past revenge had been faced and cleansed, but she had not even considered the revenge she had yet to implement.  

Her mouth set in a tight line. She didn’t want to toss it aside. She wanted that revenge. The person deserved it. So did her teacher. In the end, she had won when her trip had been approved. The lies had been exposed. She shrugged. Revenge had in a sense occurred but not how she had wanted it to.

She looked around with wide eyes. She could have sworn she smelled her grandmother’s scent. Along with it, she felt guilt hit her again, this time harder. Her grandmother would not have been proud of the actions she had planned when she returned home. She would have pointed out how her granddaughter was a better person than that.

Maybe she was right.

Tossing the desire for revenge away, she stood up and brushed off the bottom of her shorts. That part was done; it was time to move on. She moved up the steps again ready to tackle the next set of markings.

From the other side of the shimmering glob, another appendage pulled out and stretched up. As with the first one, it separated into little fingers and lay down on her skin causing even more goosebumps to appear. The light shot through it again much brighter than before. The bottom of it stayed with her shoe, and the top pulled forward with each step. While she deciphered markings, the glob rested. When she moved another step, it moved along with her.

Once both appendages were attached to her leg, the next level of steps pulled the creature up to the level of its fingerlike appendages. The shimmering light grew slightly brighter with each movement upwards.

Hours passed. She was exhausted but finding the ancient script easier to decipher. Elation coursed through her veins as she went where no other human had been since the tower had been built.

On step forty-nine, she stopped again. Sweat poured into her eyes. The journey up was getting more laborious. She struggled to move at all. With a sigh, she sat down on the fiftieth step. Her breathing was shallow. Her heart was pounding. Every limb felt heavy.

It was then she noticed something shining out of the corner of her eye. Glancing down, she gasped. Something was attached to her leg. She reached down to knock it away, but her hand appeared to shoot right through it. She struggled to get up, knocking the flashlight over. It crashed against the hard stone and flickered. She tried to shuffle away from the light attached to her. In the process, she bumped the flashlight. It rolled over the edge of the step and began bouncing downward. The light jerked up and down as it moved further away from her. The darkness closed in and succeeded in enveloping her when the flashlight hit the bottom step and flickered out.

Her heart began to beat in her chest as panic rose up. She began to slap at her leg, but the thing clung to her. She rubbed the back of her leg on the stone over and over until the blood ran. A screamed erupted from her. She pushed herself up and began to move down the stairs, stumbling in her haste. The thing slid off of her leg and slowly flowed down the steps. By the time it hit the bottom step, it had disappeared entirely. The woman ran screaming out of the tower and into the arms of a tour guide.

Her incessant babbling frightened those around her. She was rushed quickly to a hospital where she talked about the glowing thing that had attacked her.

Steps 51-75

He stared down at a small area of the floor coated with dark bloodstains. More reports had been coming in over the last few weeks of the strange creature that lived in the Tower of Victory. He knew it to be just superstition, but two deaths and a woman admitted into a psych ward in the last year was not something to be ignored. Something weird was going on and needed to be investigated. His many years of experience in the force made him the man for the job.

He pulled his lips up in disgust. Creatures! He suspected something a bit more sinister was afoot. Someone was having a bit of deathly fun at the expense of innocent people. A voice interrupted his contemplation.

“Are you going up?”

He looked around at his assistant and nodded. “Yes.”

“Aren’t you scared of what you’ll find?”

“I expect to find that someone has been playing a horrible trick on those that have tried to climb these ancient steps. They are playing on the superstitions of people.”

“What’s your plan?”

“I’m going to take one step at a time and carefully investigate each area. I want to see everything. Who knows what the culprit is using to scare them. There is so much technology that could be used. Then again it could be old school.”

“Who do you want to go with you?”

“The steps are not big enough for many. I’ll go first and investigate. You and … and…,” he pointed at a young man fumbling outside with equipment, “him…whatever his name is…can follow behind me. I want you taking pictures and recording everything.”

They waited until the young man entered, dropping bags and blankets. He apologized over and over as he tried to organize it all. The main man shook his head and looked back at the steps, his face dark.

An hour later, lights that chased the shadows away had been set up. Each one was strategically placed to send as much light as possible up the twisting staircase. It could only reach so far. The one in charge did not want anyone moving up the stairs to carry the light until he had begun investigating. He didn’t want another casualty before he even got started.

He pulled a flashlight out of his bag along with the copies of pages from the notebook that had been retrieved from the archeologist who had died nine months before. He had studied it over the last week starting the day he received it. Nothing out of the ordinary was even hinted at in what he had read. The man had noted the translations of each inscription that were found on every other step. As he did, he jotted down how he had stopped and actually followed the instructions given to him. He was on a spiritual archeological journey that ended with him meeting the spirits.

The man inspecting the steps now couldn’t find anything in the journal that alluded to any suspicious activities or things that the man had seen or heard that would help him locate the source of the terror. He would have to go up himself and see what he found.

With flashlight and notebook in hand, he walked to the steps. His hand with the flashlight moved to his side. He felt the cold steel of the gun attached to this waist. Knowing it was there gave him confidence. He never went into a strange situation without it.

He swaggered up to the steps and turned to the men behind him. “Stay about six steps behind. I want you checking out everything behind me including the steps, the walls, and the ceiling. Whatever it was could be triggered into action after I pass it.”

They nodded.

The man watching them only hoped they understood the seriousness of it all. He turned and examined the first step. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. Not trusting appearances, he held the flashlight in front of him, moving it along the stone wall and all the way up as high as he could reach. Nothing happened. He raised his foot up and hovered it over the step before resting it on the stone. He didn’t dare breathe as he waited expectantly for something to happen. Seconds ticked by. Nothing moved. Only the anxious breathing of the two men behind him could be heard.

He kept his other foot on the ground and repeated the same actions he did on the second step. When nothing happened, he pulled his other foot up and repeated the actions in case it was weight censored.  He continued on in this manner until he reached the seventh step.

The hair on the back of his neck rose up. He trusted his instincts as they were never wrong. His body froze as he looked around. The noise coming from behind him alerted him to the movements of his companions. He raised a hand to stop them. An eerie silence descended on them with only their breathing being heard. The seconds ticked by. With a nod, he proceeded to the next step following the same precautionary methods. This time the men followed.

He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. His skin began to crawl. Several times he swiped at his pants leg thinking a spider had gotten on him. He felt nothing and continued on.

The men behind him shone their lights and took pictures at every step. Nothing showed up in the lens though. When their boss stopped on the eleventh step, the younger one saw a flicker of something around the feet of the man ahead of him. He lowered the camera and narrowed his eyes at where he had seen it. Nothing was there. He shook his head and told himself that it was only his imagination playing tricks on him.

They moved up the stairs. Each step became increasingly difficult for the lead one. He began to struggle lifting his legs. This concerned him as he paused at each one reading the notes from the dead archeologist. At the seventeenth step, he heard the gasp of his assistant behind him. He turned to see the man staring at his legs with his eyes wide and his arms in a wide circle.

“What is it? What is wrong?” He moved down a step to get more level with the man’s gaze that stayed locked downward.

“Yes, what’s up?” the younger man echoed.

“I swear there is something attached to your leg.” He pointed down at the left leg of the man before him.

The boss looked down and then at the back of his leg. He bent down and brushed his hand around his shoes and leg. “There’s nothing there.”

“I saw something. It shimmered for a minute.”

“Like fairy dust?”

“Very funny. I’m serious.”

“Keep an eye on it. There could be something to it. I don’t want to assume anything.”

They nodded in response. The man turned around and moved back up the steps. He went only a few steps when he turned again.

“This is as far as the archeologist got. His notes stop here.”

“You mean he fell from here?” The younger man turned to look down the steps which had a limited view as the staircase curved preventing a full view to the bottom of the stairs.

“It appears to be that way or he didn’t have a chance to write anymore when whatever happened and he fell to his death.”

“Do you see anything that caused it?”

He shook his head. “No, everything appears like the other steps.” He turned and shone his light all around. He moved in closer to the wall and the inscriptions. With his fingers, he probed the indentions in the stone in an attempt to find a trigger or some other indication as to why the man had died.

“Could he just have fallen?”

“Maybe. That’s always a possibility, but when you add it to the other deaths recently and even those over the years, you come to the conclusion that there is something more here.” He looked up into the dark where the stairs continued on and disappeared from sight. “From here, the woman continued on.”

“How far did she get?”

“Not sure. She hasn’t spoken a coherent word since, and she didn’t bring any notebook back down with her.” He repeated his actions at the next step as he had on the previous ones, waiting on something to swing down or shoot out from the wall. Nothing did. This made him even more anxious.

They moved slowly up the stairs. The men behind him kept their lights shining and continued taking pictures. They saw nothing in the bright lights.

He froze at the seventy-second step. In front of him a few steps above him was a notebook that was lying sideways with pages scattered about as though it had been dropped and fell a few feet. He moved the light around but didn’t see anything abnormal. He had to remind himself to go through the safety actions again with each step. The urge to reach for the notebook was strong, but experience outweighed it.

“I found where she stopped,” he whispered.

“How do you know?”

“There is a notebook here and…a pencil is lying on a step above it. I think that a few steps up is where she encountered whatever it was that send her into crazy land.”

The next three steps seemed to take hours to move over. When he deemed it safe, he moved closer to the notebook. He reached out to it and then remembered that he should not touch it without gloves. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a latex glove that he snapped into place. Then he picked up the notebook. Realizing that he couldn’t see what he was looking at, he laid it back on the steps and aimed his light on it.

The first page was blank. He turned the previous page back. There were the last notes. She had made it to step seventy-five. Just like the archeologist, she had only made comments about the inscriptions, copied the old writing, and put a few thoughts down on what she made of it. There was not one word about anything unusual.

A scan of the book did not reveal anything useful. He moved his light around, but all he saw was stone.

“What happened?”

“Have no idea. She doesn’t note anything unusual. Check the areas around you.”

The men moved their lights around, checking out the walls, ceiling and even the stairs. They saw nothing out of the ordinary. The younger one turned around to give his report. His eyes landed on the leg of his boss who was standing up to move on to the next step. A scream erupted from his throat.

The other men turned ready to attack whatever it was. They only saw the man screaming and pointing at their boss. Their boss turned around looking behind him but saw nothing. He scanned the area around him.

“What is wrong?”

The young man began stammering with nothing but a squeak coming out. He took a step back, his eyes still glued to the other man’s legs. He continued moving back, terror on his face. Within seconds, he was running down the stairs.

The men watched him disappear before turning to stare at each other in astonishment. They looked around again trying to find the source of the man’s terror but found nothing.

“Should we see if he is okay?”

“No. Let’s go on. We have to find the source of this. Something around here got his attention.”

They turned back to the stairs with the detective leading the way. His assistant followed with the light trained on the steps before him as he snapped pictures.

Nothing happened out of the ordinary. The only thing the detective picked up on was the fact that he was struggling to move. His whole body felt like a lead weight. With each step he took, his eyes became more unfocused.

“Seventy-five,” he said out loud. They had gone further than anyone that they knew of.

His own assistant breathed a sigh of relief. “Does that mean we can take a rest?”

Normally he would have reprimanded his assistant for expressing such a thought, but he needed the rest himself. He still couldn’t understand why. They moved along each stop at an extremely slow place. It had to be the anxiety and tension from looking for what caused such death and mental torture.

He nodded. “Sure.” He moved the beam of light in his hand around not seeing anything that was different than the seventy-five steps they had travelled up.

Behind him, the man took off his helmet with the light to wipe the sweat from his forehead and sat the camera on the steps. The beam of light moved from the man in front of him to the wall, bouncing down into the dark. He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief he kept in his back pocket. He sighed and opened his eyes. Every limb of his body froze when he saw what was before him.

The boss was still facing forward to the ascending stairs. It was what was behind him that was so horrifying. Attached to his body was a shimmering creature that stretched from his feet all the way up to his waist. The body was jelly like and sparkled with all the colors of the rainbow. What was most horrifying were the human attributes the man could see. Arms stretched out with hand-link appendages on the end grasping his boss’s waist.  Between the arms jutting out was a bulb shaped head.

The man began to shake. A small scream erupted from his throat. His boss turned; the creature still clung to his back.

“What is wrong? What do you see?”

He couldn’t respond. He pointed at his boss who looked around not seeing anything.

“Get a grip, man. What is it?”  He began to move forward, but his assistant screamed louder and pulled his gun out of its holster with a shaking hand. He pointed the barrel directly at his boss.

“Whoa!” His hands shot up. “Hold on. What’s wrong? It’s just me.”

“N…n…no, it’s not.” The terrified man’s eyes grew wide as what he had assumed was a head peeked around the body. A dark line spread across it as though it was grinning.

With eyes widening, he pulled the trigger. A grunt came from his boss who was staring down at the widening spot of blood on his shirt with astonishment. He looked back up at the one holding the gun.

“Why?”

The creature looked around the body again and reached out toward the man who had pulled the trigger. With a scream, the man tossed the gun and began running down the stairs.

Seconds later, his boss succumbed to the wound. His lifeless body fell down several steps before sprawling out over six steps.

The colorful blob detached itself and allowed gravity to pull it down. Each step lessened the bright colors until it could be seen no more at the first step, leaving only silence in the tower once again.

Steps 76 – 100

Only twenty-four hours had passed since the last person had attempted walked up those steps. His body was still there, lifeless. Another man at the bottom of the long staircase gazed up, mentally preparing himself for what might lie ahead. He had been trained to track the enemy in dense jungles or barren deserts. He had been taught how to kill a man fifty different ways with just his thumb. He had been trained how to use every weapon known to man and to use every sense he had. To many, he was the most trained killer in the world.

Today, his job was to retrieve a body. It wasn’t his most exciting assignment. He had retrieved many, both dead and alive, over his years as a professional soldier/hit-man. The only exciting part of this was that he did not know what he was up against.

As he did with every assignment, he had researched everything. Though he had been given only fifteen hours to prepare, he had read everything that was available regarding the tower and the events that had occurred in the last six months. Too many had died with unexplainable causes. Just as many had left the ancient building without their mind fully intact.

The last two were the strangest. They had left the body of their boss as they ran screaming for their lives. The first man had regressed to his childhood. Not even the best of therapists could break through the barriers his mind had erected. The second, after telling police he had killed his boss, hanged himself in the waiting cell. They could not decide if he had planned on killing the man or if it was an accident. There were too many unanswered questions.

Now, it was up to him. He had been in the base of the tower for two hours assessing everything. He had used lights and high infrared cameras to look for man-made weapons or materials used to kill those who had climbed the stairs. He found nothing, but most of the events had occurred beyond what the eye could see. He had even pushed up a mini camera that moved over the steps and around the corner. It picked up nothing either. From what he could see there was nothing there but old stones. He also knew that couldn’t be true.

Something was beyond his sight. Something was up there killing people and driving those whom it didn’t insane. His job was to find out who and what it was.

He looked around the empty room. He had asked the officials to wait outside. He preferred to work alone.

Over the next two hours, he moved up the staircase. He had a light strapped around his head that rested on his forehead. In one hand was a knife, in the other was nothing.  He was ready for attack. Nothing came at him. Nothing moved. No unusual sounds reached his sensitive ears. On and on, he moved up the stairs. The darkness in front of him parted as the beam of light attached to his head penetrated the thickness.

His body froze as his eyes zeroed in on the gun that lay on the steps where it had been dropped. His eyes darted around the area, revealing nothing. He left the gun alone as he did not have enough hands to pick it up and still be able to defend himself.

He moved on but froze again when a finger came into view. Caution was employed as he moved toward the corpse that looked up at him. The eyes were wide open. The mouth gaped where blood had leaked out and dried. The body was spread out with arms and legs in all directions. The soldier looked over the body and saw nothing but the gunshot wound. There were no marks to suggest strangling. There were no injuries to suggest he was hit over the head. Nothing else was notable on the body. A notebook which proved to be full of notes on the markings of the wall along with a flashlight was near the body.

Further investigation revealed nothing. He took a deep breath as he began to notice he was getting lightheaded. He was in tip-top shape and couldn’t understand why a slow ascent of seventy-five steps would affect him so. He took a few minutes to rest, taking a drink of water from the canteen hanging around his neck. Fifteen minutes was all he allowed himself before pushing on. He felt more alert now and ready to encounter whatever had killed the man. It could be just beyond the next step.

Step after step he moved up the staircase not seeing anything that would cause a man’s death aside from a fall. The only thing out of the ordinary was the weakening feeling he had as he moved up the stairs. Thoughts of his past deeds crossed his mind. After each assignment, he had gone to his priest to confess his actions. Not, a killer for hire, he only killed when it would save innocent lives. That was the only reason he could sleep at night without nightmares.

Now, he was to take out whatever it was lurking in the stone structure. So far, he had seen nothing. That fact alone made him even more anxious and alert. Something had been there and could still be.

He took a deep breath when he mentally calculated he had climbed a hundred steps. A glance at his watch revealed he had been moving for over four hours. He felt his eyes close. He had never felt so bad even when he had been sick with the flu. He lifted a foot as he moved toward the next step. Slowly, he slipped to the stone steps.

Reaching out, he put his hand on the cold stone wall. He reached up and pulled the light off his head as sweat rolled down his face. As the light moved away and shot up toward the dark above him, his eyes opened wide. Attached to his leg was a glowing creature.

It stretched up his back leg and was wrapping around his waist. Arm-like appendages gripped his chest as a head protruded from the space between them. Tilted back, it appeared to be looking at him. A mouth-like black line moved as though trying to say something. Or maybe it was getting ready to eat him. For the first time in his life, he screamed as he pushed with his hands and feet up the steps in an attempt to dislodge the creature. It only moved up his body. He still had the knife in one hand which he swung toward the thing, but the knife and the hand went through it was like nothing at all was there. With the other hand he pushed at it and nothing happened.

A part of his brain took control telling him to not go up the stairs but go down them. His training kicked in enough to use his strength to push up and run down the stairs. Halfway down he chanced a glance at the thing to only see it detach from him and slide down the stairs.

With heart pounding, he continued racing down the stairs and then out the building past the group of officials congregated nearby. They had heard the screams and had begun to move in. All they saw was the brave soldier running out of the tower without the body he was sent to retrieve.

At the bottom of the stairs, the translucent creature disappeared from sight again.

Steps 101-110

The priest tightened the cords around his body. There were two thick ones left for him to wrap around the body that was still lying on the stairs. It had been there two days under intense heat. A scarf around his neck was filled with essence of lemon to stave off the decaying smell and hopefully prevent him from throwing up.

He had jumped at the chance to prove the superstitious people wrong. He had been fighting local traditions for over a decade. It was hard to fight something so ingrained in people.

Those from his order were still were not happy with it. His own priest was helping him get ready while he argued against what he was preparing to do.

“This is foolish. You are walking into some trap set by someone who wants to propagate the legend.” He hung the canteen around the other man’s neck.

“Then I’ll prove them wrong. This is our chance to show how this is all without merit.” He hooked a knife on his belt. Though a priest, he was one to shun the traditional garb. Walking down the street, he blended in with most of the crowd, especially since he was of Asian descent. His grandparents had come from a nearby country. When he had joined the priesthood, he had asked to be sent back to his native land where he could convert the populace. So far, it had not been too successful. Traditions and superstitions were too strong. The people lived with them and refused to change.

This was the opportunity he had been looking for. If he could prove that everything happening in the Tower of Victory was based on the actions of man, he would be able to break down many of the barriers he had encountered. He had to succeed. At the same time, he could bring back the body of one of the most well respected law enforcement officers in the region. The people would be thankful for that as well.

“I think you have everything.” His comrade stood back surveying his work. The rope was tied around his waist with the rest of it pooled up at his feet for the men at the base of the stairs to pull the corpse down with. The priest’s plan was to then keep moving up the stairs and reach the top. He had a camera with him to document the victory when he arrived without incident.

“Water, knife, rope, and walkie-talkie. That should do it.” He patted the equipment as he mentioned it. He looked up at the dark stairwell and then at the men around him. There was his fellow priest, five policemen, and three medical professionals ready to take possession of the body.

“One last thing.” His companion handed him a hat with a light attached. “There is no light as you move up. You’ll need this.”

He nodded and smiled his thanks. Settling the hat on his head, he moved toward the stairs. Before taking the first step, he looked over at the infamous markings. He knew what they generally were about from what he had read from the archaeologist’s notes. Over all, the instructions were excellent advice that even the best church counselors employed. The problem was that it taught perfection was attainable. He believed that wasn’t possible on earth. After accepting the truth, one had to die before entering heaven.

His journey up the stairs was to be his own spiritual journey. Each step would be his prayer time. He would gather strength from his prayer. He took a deep breath and put his foot on the next step. The men behind him grew silent as they waited on something to happen.  He paused with both feet on the step and closed his eyes in prayer. Minutes ticked by as he lost himself in meditation. When he was done, he opened his eyes and moved to the next step without hesitation.

He was not afraid of what he might face. He was a religious man who prayed all the time. He knew where his strength lay though he was also smart enough to know that something was terrorizing people. It could have been their own minds controlled by the superstitions that they heard so much about. The mind was a powerful thing. It could change reality in a heartbeat. Even the strongest could not fight against it. The man that had run out of the tower the day before was a prime example of it. He had been trained to survive the greatest of pressures and yet something in the tower had sent him into a mental hospital. He would probably spend the rest of his life there.

He was now out of sight of the men that waited on his return. Per their agreement, he pulled out the walkie-talkie and spoke into it. “I’m on the tenth step. I can see about a dozen steps in front of me. There is nothing there.”

“Contact us again at step twenty,” came the reply.

He agreed and moved on to the next step and prayed. It continued in that fashion past step twenty, past step thirty, and past step forty. It was then he noticed the fatigue that was coming over him.

Breathing became difficult. He worked out on a regular basis, so he wasn’t out of shape. The steps should not be difficult for him especially as he prayed with each step. He glanced at his watch. He had been climbing over three hours. The sun outside was just getting to the apex of its movements. Nothing was evident yet.

Forty more steps were climbed. By the eighth step he was winded and his eyes were blurred. His legs felt heavy. He was surprised at how the steps were taking their toll on him. He spoke to his companions.

“I’m…uh…I’m on step eighty. I think someone might need to check the air up here. I’m having trouble breathing. This might be the source of everything.” He took the hat off and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“Come back down. It’s too dangerous then.”

“No. I’m already up here. I’ll keep going. I shouldn’t be too far from the body.”

“Can you smell anything?”

“Something but I don’t know if it is him or not.”

“Be careful. Put your scarf on. It might protect you.”

“Will do.” He put the communication device back on his belt and pulled the scarf up. The lemon smell filled his nostrils. He had an extra bottle of the essence in his pocket in case he needed it.

He took in a breath of the essence and felt a little better, but his body still felt heavy. He moved up the next step and stopped to pray. Moving to the next step, his legs felt like lead weights.

He steadily moved up as he continued his prayer moments. He didn’t go far before he gasped. There was a hand pointing toward him. He had found the corpse.

He pulled out the radio again after he made the sign of the cross. “I found him.” He moved up, forgetting to pray as he shined his light onto the body that was showing signs of being in the heat for two days. He was thankful for the lemon essence. Throwing up was not something he longed to do.

He blinked trying to get his bearings. For the first time in his life, he was looking on a dead body that had not been prepped by a mortician nor could be helped by one. The priest’s stomach began to roll at the grotesque sight before him.

Spots along the exposed body had already begun to rot in the tropical heat. Maggots congregated on these openings getting their fill. The priest pulled back as the skin of the man’s cheek seemed to move. From one of the holes, a beetle sprung up and began feasting on the maggots. He turned away and gagged into his scarf.

“What’s going on?” The voice from the radio startled him.

He shook his head before realizing they could not see him. More extract was placed on his cloth before he spoke into the radio.

“Do you have the rope around him yet?”

“I don’t think we can do it.”

“Why not?”

He looked over at the decomposing body. With a nudge of his foot, a piece of skin pulled away as though it was congealed. Another wave of nausea hit him.

“The body won’t make it down in one piece.”

“What?”

He cleared his throat. “It’s already rotting. Bugs are on it. The skin is peeling away from it. You are going to need to get an expert up here.”

Silence lengthened from the radio. Finally, a voice came on. “Okay. We had hoped it hadn’t progressed that far. Come on down. We’ll have to get someone quickly.”

“I’m not coming down just yet.”

“What?” the voice crackled.

“I told you that I was going to continue up. And that’s what I’m going to do. Plus, I might be able to find out more for you.”

“Listen, you can’t….”

He shut the radio off to silence the protests. He needed to focus on the job at hand while ignoring a decomposing body just a few feet away. His eyes grew wide as he realized he had lost count of how many steps. He had even missed several prayer moments once he had found the body. With a groan, he sat on the step and began a long prayer to compose himself. He felt so tired.

Minutes ticked by. Opening his eyes, he took in a deep breath and pushed himself up. He couldn’t sit there any longer. There were more steps to climb. He assumed he was now past where the deceased had made it. He paused to pray. Peace settled down on him, but there was something pulling at him trying to destroy that peace. He couldn’t but his finger on it, but something was there.

As he prayed, he felt the struggle inside him. Confusion set in as he tried to figure out what was wrong. It had to be the air getting through the scarf and past the lemon. He had to get to the top and then out of the staircase. As he had lost total count, he counted from where he started from the body. He had counted ten steps when he stumbled onto the next step.

He took a deep breath, realizing the lemony scent was fading. He’d have to add more soon. He prayed. Again, the struggle could be felt, this time stronger. It was pulling hard at him as though some force was reaching in and pulling everything out of him.

He took his hat off to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. He might as well add more essence now. Sitting the hat on the steps in front of him, he reached down into his pocket. His eyes followed and widened at the horrific sight in front of him.

Clinging to him, twisting around from his back, and reaching up to his chest was a shimmering being. It appeared human in shape but was shiny with bright colors shooting through it. What was the most horrifying was the face. It was the size of a bowling ball with much the same colors radiating through it, but here there was more life. Within the shimmering colors was a white impression of a skull. The eye sockets were black holes. The section for the mouth yawned black as it reached toward him.

A scream ripped through him. Scrambling up the steps, he pushed at the creature. His hand went through it as though it was only air. All peace left him as he moved up hoping to dislodge it. It seemed to grow as it reached up toward his shoulders. The mouth widened and moved toward him as though to engulf him.

The scream that came then was unearthly. It sounded hideous as he began running down the stairs, arms flailing. His journey down was stopped as he tripped over the notebook left by the dead man. His head banged against the wall. Stars exploded across his vision. He groped for the wall to pull himself up. Instead, he felt something cold and hard. Blinking, he became aware of the steel beneath his hands. The light from the creature still attached to him revealed the gun left by the corpse.

In panic, he took the gun in his hand and aimed it at the creature. Another scream ripped through him as the bullet passed through the creature and into his knee. He pulled the trigger again and felt the bullet rip into his thigh. His screams echoed throughout the tower.

The men below scrambled to the base of the stairs as they heard the screams and the shots. One of them realized that there was still a rope tied to the priest. They grabbed the slack rope and began to pull. When the tension increased, they tugged.

The priest felt the pull and assumed it was the monster. He screamed as he took another shot. This time it hit his foot. The pain was so terrible that he threw his arms up in the air, sending the gun flying back up the stairs. The monster appeared smaller, but it kept reaching up trying to pull him down into its yawning mouth.

The rope pulled harder. He could not stop the pull as he moved down the steps. Scream after scream erupted from him. At the bottom of the steps, the men rushed forward and lifted the bleeding body. The priest pointed at his lower body. They assumed it was the blood, but in his mind he only saw the monster that was no longer there. Gibberish was all he spoke as they rushed him out of the tower for medical attention. No one noticed the creature as it dissolved into the lower step.

Steps 111-120

Within hours of the priest leaving the tower accompanied by several medical personnel, special forensic crews were brought in to remove the body of the detective. From the description they had received through the priest, they needed someone who could handle such a scene and have the right equipment as it was obvious that a mere rope was not going to work.

Two men were called in who traveled the area gathering remains for officials in a manner that kept evidence intact. They were known for their quick and efficient work. Both were suited up in plastic pants and shirts. They put on masks connected to oxygen tanks. After being informed of the priest complaining about the air, they were not going to risk taking in any poisons. Plus there was the smell of the rotting corpse. It helped that the masks had a light mounted to the top to aid them in getting up the dark passage.

Each of them had years of experience under their belts. They gathered all of the tools they’d need which included a plastic bag and tweezers. Plastic gloves were snapped on before their arms were held up so the others on their team could tie ropes around them. An extra rope with metal clamps was attached to the large sheet of plastic that would be used to pull the body down with.

With the plastic strapped to the back of one of them, they began to make their way up. A built in microphone was installed in their masks so they could talk to each other and with the crew at the base of the stairs.

Sweat began pooling on their skin. Even the fresh oxygen pumped in was not enough to cool them down in the excessive Thailand heat. They were used to this, but would be glad to get out of the suits and be able to breathe freely again.

With a quick test of the microphones, they proceeded up the stairs, moving one step at a time. They paused at each one and counted verbally to five in case of any booby-traps. Rumors had reached their ears about the strange events. These weird occurrences weren’t anything new. For hundreds of years, stories had been told of the strange things that happened within the tower. For some reason, reports of incidents were getting more numerous, and word got out about the unexplored tower. People from all over the world wanted to be the first to climb the steps.

Neither one of these men were part of that crowd. They were focused on their jobs, gambling, and women – not necessarily in that order. Both were in their thirties and still in great shape. They believed in living their lives to the fullest. Facing another dead body was just another day on the job.

They had counted fifty steps when they both noticed that their bodies were getting winded and their legs felt heavy. For being in such good shape, that made no sense to them. They paused at the sixtieth step and pulled out small boxes.

Each box was wired into their outfits and their masks. Pushing the blue button, they watched normal numbers appear on the screen. Good readings also appeared when each pushed the yellow button. Each pushed the yellow button next getting good readings again.

“I don’t understand it,” one of the men commented.

“What?” came the voice from below through their speakers.

“We’re both struggling up these stairs as though we were out of shape.”

“Check the air.”

“Did. Everything is perfectly normal.”

“Want to come back down?”

The other man answered, “No. We shouldn’t be too far from the body.”

“Keep us updated.”

“Will do.”

They pressed on. Ten feet later they saw a hand stretched out toward them. They notified the men below.

“Found the body.”

“How bad is it?”

The men moved up the stairs and discovered the extent of the decomposition. They looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Won’t be easy. Flesh is half eaten away. All sorts of things have been feasting on it.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I see bugs, maggots, flies, and what appear to be indications of rats. I’m seeing lots of bone. This body is going to fall apart if we try to haul it out.”

“Good thing you have the plastic.”

“Yep. We’ll get started.”

“Is the air still funky?”

“Yep. Not sure what it is. All the meters read normal, yet we are both struggling to breathe. Limbs feel heavy.”

“Okay. Hurry up and get out of there. Supernatural or not, I don’t want to lose you.”

“You don’t believe all that do you?”

“You have a dead body in front of you. What more do you want me to say?”

“Good point.”

The men took out the plastic that was attached to one of them and rolled it out. Getting the remains into the plastic was going to be one difficult and dirty job. They spread it out with one man at the top of body and the other at the bottom. With ease and expertise, they began sliding the plastic under the remains.

As the plastic moved under the left shoulder or what was once the shoulder, the arm disengaged from the body and began sliding down the plastic toward the stairs. With a muttered curse, the man closest to the escaping appendage tilted the plastic up to stop the downward progression. Each man sighed when the arm hit the plastic wall and stopped, turning sideways with a sickening sucking sound. What was once skin was smeared over the plastic where the arm and traveled.

The sight didn’t bother them. They had seen much worse over the years. Now that they knew the degree of composition, they were prepared for the rogue head and the ribs that began to pull away. Maggots covered the body. All the soft tissue around the face was gone. The bugs had eaten it away until the skull was exposed on the front part of the head. As they moved the body, bugs began to scatter. The parts of the flesh that were still attached to the bone began to crawl from the movements of the insects.

Within five minutes, they were folding the plastic around the remains and securing it. One of the men pulled a rope from his waist that was still attached to the men below.

“Give me some slack. I’m ready to tie it around the remains.”

“Okay.”

He felt the slack in the rope and passed it to his partner. Between them, they managed to secure the rope through a metal loop at the bottom of the plastic, around the body three times and through another loop at the bottom where they tied a firm knot.

Both men stepped back. “Okay. Take her away.”

The rope was pulled until it grew taut. Then the men at the bottom of the stairs began to ease the plastic wrapped, decomposed detective down the steps. The sickening sound of plastic and body parts moving around could be heard as the package slid down. What was left behind would have made anyone else throw up.

Beetles and maggots crawled around the flesh that still clung to the stone steps. Several ran over the boots of the two men before finding holes they could squeeze into.

The men looked at each other and then up the stairs.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Might as well since we are up here. I don’t know what all the hubbub was about.”

They left the beetles to finish off their dinner and moved up the steps. Each step proved to be harder to climb. Their breathing became labored. Around the hundredth step, they paused and checked their instruments. Everything registered fine again.

Ten steps later, one of the men fell to his knees. He looked back to see what he tripped on, but the light from his helmet showed nothing but smooth stone steps. They continued on.

“I don’t know what is wrong. I can’t seem to move my legs,” the other man gasped after five more steps.

The other one checked his meter again. “The air quality is fine. Our tanks are fine. I don’t see what is wrong.”

“Doesn’t make sense.” They continued one for another five steps before collapsing. Each man gasped.

“What is happening?”

“I don’t know. I feel like I have a lead weight on my legs.”

The lights flickered out on his helmet just as his partner aimed his light up to see how much farther they had to go. In the darkness at chest level was a shimmering creature.

It was shaped like a glowing gelatin skeleton with arms holding onto both men high on their torsos. He stared at the shining domed head that sparkled with color, his eyes wide with fear and uncertainty. As he began to move his mouth to call for his partner, the head looked up.

The man saw an iridescent face with hollow eyes and a gaping hole where a mouth would be stretched up toward him. A scream erupted from the man’s throat and bounced off the hard plastic of the mask. In response, the gaping hole in the creature yawned wider as it moved forward.

At the sound of the scream, the man’s partner whipped around, his light brightening up the passageway and eliminating the monster. The scream died as the shimmering creature disappeared.

“What’s wrong, man?”

“There…there…” He swallowed and closed his eyes trying to get control of his mouth. “I thought I saw something. Must have been the air.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the air.”

“I saw something. Whether or not it was real or in my mind, I can’t tell you, but there was something attached to me and to you.”

“Maybe we ought to head back. We’re just being curious.”

“Yeah. You know what happened to the cat.”

A nervous chuckle was all he gave. “Okay. Let’s get out of here.”

Both men struggled to stand. As they got to their feet, the lights in their helmets flickered out. Gasps were heard from both men.

At the bottom of the steps, the microphones filled with the screams of the men who had switched them on as they began beating at the iridescent shape looming up at them. The yawning mouth was growing larger as it moved toward their heads. The men started moving further up the steps, but the creature only grew larger as it fed on their fear.

With an anguished scream, one of the men grabbed his partner and pulled him down the stone steps. Their retreat was hindered by the creature still clinging to them. They never realized that its size was diminishing as they proceeded down and that their movements were becoming freer until they collided with the group of men knotted up on the floor below.

Among the sprawled limbs, screams could still be heard through the masks. The ones that had fallen under the terrified men struggled to gain control of the men on top of them. Unseen by all was a fleeting light settling into the crack of the bottom step and disappearing from view.

Steps 121-130

The investigator looked up the dark steps and into the impenetrable gloom. He had been standing there for over twenty minutes just watching, listening, and feeling. It was his job to feel out the area.

Formally, his title was Special Regional Investigator. To those in official channels, he was the official joke – Special Paranormal Investigator. It was a title he wore with pride.

He had fought for the creation of the special section of the federal government. Despite all the evidence he had accumulated on the need for such a department, it took the haunting of the president’s mansion to give him his big break. Officially, the government didn’t believe in ghosts or poltergeists, but the official witnesses to the strange occurrences and the solution had to admit there was something odd going on that needed attention from specialists such as him.

It wasn’t a publicly announced office. The government wasn’t ready to go that far, but they were willing to admit to him they needed him. He had been on five assignments in six years dealing with the paranormal. Each time his pay increased much to his delight.

He heard the snickers behind him. Yes, they would made fun of him, but when they witnessed the events themselves, their tone quickly changed. Witnesses became his most ardent supporters and helped him keep path open in the governmental channels. The one condition was that he would not talk about his unique work publicly. It all had to be kept quiet so the government could save face.

He didn’t mind. He got to follow his dream. All those years of study and working out in the field drew ridicule, but now it was paying off. What he loved most was the fact that every assignment was different. Ghosts and others from the supernatural world never acted the same. Yes, there were some characteristics that followed, but even those could be tossed out the windows sometimes. He had discovered over the years that the experts only had general knowledge. They liked to promote the fact that there was a science to it. In a sense, they were right, but in the end, it was all back to square one with each encounter.

The stories he had accumulated from the Tower of Victory were mystifying. The dead bodies were rising in number, but none of them seemed to be caused by anything except accidents. Even the gunshot was an accident brought on by the other aspect of the encounters he had read from the reports.

The Tower of Victory was not new to him. He had heard the stories for years and had tried to visit it, but there was always something holding him backThe first time it was his mother who believed heavily in the superstitions surrounding the old tower. Though he believed in them too, she truly felt that he would die if he went. So out of honor, he had avoided the structure. Even when he made plans to go and not tell her, it was like she knew and would call for him to come by. Now she was gone. He did not feel that he had to hold to that promise anymore, plus it was part of his job now to visit the ancient site.

The area was cooler than the outside temperature, but it was still warm enough to bring a light sweat to the forehead of the man just standing at the base of the staircase. He had expected to feel a chill in the air as he had at many other haunted locations, but so far there was nothing like that here.

From all his experience, there was no paranormal activity in this place. None of the usual signs had appeared, not even when he looked through his special camera. As far as he could tell, this was just an old structure, but he knew better. There was paranormal activity everywhere, some were more active than others. From the police report, this place was very active with deaths and people going crazy. He could feel it.

Death had a different feel to it. It wasn’t cold. It was more damp and moldy with sadness running through it. There was a lot of that in this tower. The reports of death went back many years leading to the rumors of haunting and terror. He didn’t ignore those tales. They were probably all true to some degree. It was his job to believe them.

Now, looking up he frowned. It wasn’t just death he felt. There was something else. Ghost? It might be, but it didn’t feel like any ghost he had ever encountered. Poltergeist? Could be as they were tricky. They were harder to distinguish and deal with than a ghost. In fact, they were the deadly ones. He would have to approach this cautiously. He didn’t want to be another statistic at the hand of a paranormal creature.

“Here you go.”

He turned around to take the construction hat his assistant handed him. With a flick of his finger the light attached to the hat came on. He nodded in approval.

“Good.”

“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?”

“No. I have a cloth and essence in case I need it. With people dying up there, it might not smell very nice.” He gave his assistant a reassuring smile. The little man was always worrying. He had good cause as he had seen some nasty things the investigator had dealt with. Not being familiar with the paranormal, he was not prepared for the encounters. He was getting used to it but still had a long way to go.

“Don’t worry, young man. What could it possibly do to me?” He settled the hat on his head.

“Ah…kill you?”

The investigator chuckled. “Yes, it could do that but so could a bus. My time will come, and I will be unable to do anything to prevent it. If it is today, it will be doing what I enjoy. Then I’ll haunt the thing that killed me.”

The joke didn’t bring a smile, only a worried look up the stairs where his boss would venture.

“Okay. I’m ready.” He took the first step. Remaining on that step, he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. Every nerve under his skin was aware of his environment. He had spent years training. His senses were alive. The minutes ticked by with nothing drawing his attention.

Another step. Clearing his mind, he found nothing again. Ten steps up the feel of death became more apparent. It wasn’t strong. That matched the description from the police report. The body had been found further up but had been dragged down. The presence of death should have been felt.

Ten more steps. He froze. Something was different. His eyes scanned the area around him. The stairs had turned, blocking the light from the doorway of the tower. Only the light from his hat gave him what he needed, yet light might just be the thing he didn’t need. He turned the light off which plunged him into darkness. Nothing revealed itself. He turned around slowly. Grey light reached around the turn in the staircase to touch him but was too weak against the powerful darkness. He found nothing, yet something felt different.

He took ten more steps. The feeling intensified. He turned the light off again. Complete darkness encompassed him. His skin crawled with anticipation. Something was present and watching him. He could feel it.

Step by step he walked up the tower feeling tired and heavy. He had never felt so out of shape. Remembering the comments from the rescue team, he pulled the cloth out of his pocket along with the essence. Pouring a little on the cloth, he tied it around his face and covered his mouth and nose. The smell was strong, causing him to cough.

He had counted seventy-five steps when he had to sit down. The essence had done nothing more than mask the stench of death. Breathing became difficult. Moving his legs became a laborious task.

Sitting there, he closed his eyes and allowed his senses reach out to the paranormal activity. He felt it. It was there and growing stronger with every step. That had to be why moving and breathing was becoming so difficult. But where was it? What was it?

He had felt nothing like it. It was everywhere yet nowhere. He could feel it yet could not pinpoint its location. If it was growing stronger as he went up, then up he had to go.

Struggling to his feet, he moved up pausing periodically and feeling for the creature. He was right. More steps meant more of a presence. On he went feeling the unseen entity. When he came to step one hundred, he paused. The tightness in his chest was increasing with each breath. He had never  felt seen anything like this. It had to be a powerful being, yet it was doing nothing else but making his journey up the stairs difficult.

Most supernatural beings loved to make their presence known by catching the eye of the observer or causing them fear. This one was being elusive.

Determined to see what was causing him such confusion, he moved on. He wasn’t sure where the last people had left off on their journey, but he knew he had gone pretty far when he counted twenty more steps.

Letting his senses reach out for the being, he felt a moment of terror as it seemed the being was everywhere with a ferocity he had never seen in paranormal activity. His eyes shot open and scanned the passage. He could have sworn he felt the creature on his skin. Raising his arms, he looked at them but saw nothing. He then reached back to touch his neck, but again nothing was felt.

He began moving up the stairs even slower than he had before. At each one, he closed his eyes again, but this time he called out to the creature. He used his mind and his whole body to call for it. It answered as the presence became crushing. He had no idea how many steps he had gone when he felt his lungs unable to pull in another breath.

Opening his eyes, he saw nothing. It was the same scene he had seen over a hundred steps earlier. As he had done a few times up the passageway, he turned off the light on his hat. It was then he saw the terror he had called for lighting up the stairs.

Translucent with a rainbow of colors running over it like a river, the creature was attached to him. The head portion was reaching up past his chest with gaping holes where eyes and a mouth should have been. They grew bigger as they reached for him. In their dark cavities, he saw himself reflected, his eyes wide and shining from the light of the creature, his mouth open with the scream that could not pull air from the crushed lungs, sweat dripping down his face.

“Why?” his mind cried out.

The yawning abyss of a mouth pulled up at the corners.

The paranormal investigator took the steps two at a time as he ran down them past his assistant and out into the street. His assistant rushed after him only to see his body thrown up into the air by a tourist bus.

The stairway grew dark again.

Steps 131-150

They had heard the rumors, but that was what made it so enticing. After all, what college boy didn’t want to do the forbidden? And forbidden it was. The Tower of Victory had been closed off from tourists for a month. Arriving in Thailand, they had gobbled up the gossip about the strange tower where people were dying or going crazy. They had to see it despite being told it was off limits. When they had cased it out for a few days and night, they realized that the guard was lax after one in the morning. After buying a case of beer and a couple of flashlights, they made their way to the tower.

As he had every night, the guard moved away from the tower at one to a small hut set up at the front of the tourist area where they could obtain maps or report any problems. From what the boys could see, he was watching a show that came on at the same time every night. Once he was lost in his show, they crept toward the tower trying to stay within the heavy shadows.The moon lit up the park very well.

Stifling laughter, they slid into the cool tower and found themselves in complete darkness. Fumbling around, they pulled out their flashlights and turned them on. Each broke into laughter at what they were doing.

“Oh, man. I can’t believe we are doing this.”

“Shh. I know. We need to try to keep it down. Noises carry. Or that’s what I’ve heard.” He put the flashlight under his chin and began making ghost sounds. His buddy started laughing and bouncing on his feet.

“Cut it out. Come on. I’ll pee myself.”

“Then pee.”

Taking his friend’s suggestion, he snuck out and found a dark area to relieve himself. As he did so, the boy in the tower pointed the flashlight around getting a feel for the area. This was their last trip of the summer before heading back to school. Back home, it was already getting cooler as summer wound down. He laughed to himself at the tale he was going to be sharing about climbing the dreaded Tower of Victory. They’d leave out the beer, of course. It had to be a tale of bravery in order to get the girls swooning.

There was nothing to be seen in the light aside from the stairs leading up into darkness. The sight sobered him slightly until his friend came back in and pulled out a beer from the case.

“Let’s have a couple before we face the demonic horde.”

“Why’d you say that?” He took the beer offered to him.

“Say what?” The boy tipped his head back and guzzled the alcohol.

“Demonic horde.” The one questioning the choice of words looked down at the can in his hand. The thought that he might need it pulled at him as he popped it open and took a swig.

“Scared?”

“Nah. Just curious why you would use those words.”

“Demonic horde?” His friend laughed again, spewing alcohol across the stone floor. “You really think all this crap is true?”

“No,” the other shook his head. “I just don’t like the sound of it.” He looked around the dark chamber.

“We’re here to prove them all wrong.” He took another drink from the can. “Come on, scaredy-cat. Let’s go kick some ghost butt.”

Hauling the beer with him, he began the ascent up the stairs shining his flashlight. His friend hesitated behind him. Being in the chamber was rather sobering. He took another drink of beer hoping to draw some confidence from it. He shined his own flashlight at the stairs and began to follow his friend.

The darkness of the stairs became oppressive as they moved up. The lights from the flashlights showed them the way, but the light was weak even with two of them.

“Shouldn’t we be counting so we know where we are? I heard that each person made it a little further before they….” The boy in front turned and moved his finger across his throat as he made a gurgling sound.

His friend frowned. “Yes, I’ve been counting. I’m on step thirty.”

“We’ve only come that far? Wow! Seems we ought to be close to the top. How many steps are there?”

“Supposedly 175.”

“That’s nothing. We’re good ol’ American boys who can do this without losing breath.” The leader laughed as he paused to take another drink of his beer. Finishing it off, he tossed the empty can over his friend’s head.

“What are you doing?” The other boy’s head shot around, his light catching a glint of the aluminum can as it clattered down the stairs and disappeared out of sight. The sound of it bouncing against the stairs continued until it hit the bottom where it bounced a few more times and rolled to a stop. The staircase fell into an eerie silence.

“Getting rid of the can. Give me another one.”

“No. Let’s just get to the top and then we can drink them up.”

The boy laughed. “Are you still scared?”

“No, but I do think we need to be a little smarter about this.”

“Yep, you’re scared.” The mocking young man reached down and pulled his pants leg up.  With a click and a flick of his wrist, the metal from a switchblade shone in the light from their flashlights.

“Man! What is that?”

“Are you sure you aren’t already wasted? It’s a knife, moron.”

“I can see that.” His voice was tight. “Why did you bring it?”

“In case I needed it. I don’t believe in ghosts or goblins, but I do believe in effin killers. If there is one, I plan on taking him out.”

“I thought we came just to climb some stairs and get drunk.”

“That too.” He motioned with the hand holding the knife. “Come on. We have a tower to conquer and beer to drink.”

His friend sighed as he began following him and counting the steps. Counting fifty, he noticed how winded he was getting. A frown appeared on his face as he pushed on. He was the college quarterback bound for the NFL. He shouldn’t be getting winded from a few stairs. He could take all that and more. He glanced at the box of beer he was carrying. Maybe it was the alcohol mixing with the adrenaline of the experience. He kept quiet as he moved on not wanting to hear any more ridicule from his buddy.

Getting to seventy, he began to notice his lower body was hard to move as though he was fighting against the currents in the ocean. Concern flooded him. Could he be sick? Was this climb showing a weakness in him that needed medical attention? Sweat beaded on his forehead and began to drip from his eyebrows.

He opened his mouth to call to his friend when he noticed the slow movements of the young man. He blinked thinking it was his vision, but the movements were slow.

“Hey, something wrong?”

“Uh, no.” The one in front stopped and turned around as though struggling to make his muscles move. “I’m fine.” He looked anything but fine. His face had turned ashen, and sweat was beading up on his brow, also. It was obvious he was struggling, but if his friend knew anything, he knew he’d never admit it. “Let’s go.”

On they continued to move, fighting an invisible current that was becoming more and more relentless. They had made it to the one hundredth step. Barely glancing at the dark stain, they assumed it was that of the dead investigator. Normally, they would have had a morbid curiosity about the black spot, but the weird sensations going through them became their focus.

When they got to step one hundred and fifty, the boy carrying the beer gasped, “Let’s take a break.”

“What? We’re almost there.” The reply came with short gasps between each word.

‘I know. I need a break. These stairs are brutal.” He plopped down and leaned against the cool stone wall.

“You can’t handle this? They’re a piece of cake.” He leaned against the opposite wall. His labored breathing revealed the lie in his words. “Hand me another beer.”

This time there was no argument as the beer was passed to the boy. Each popped open the top and began taking in the cool liquid. The light from the flashlights was weak in the intense darkness. They picked up the lights from the steps where they laid them and shined them up the curving stairs.

“How much farther?”

“I think only twenty-five more steps to go.”

“We can do this.”

His friend’s eyebrow shot up. With a rueful smile and a shake of his head, he began to push himself up. He had not moved an inch when both of the flashlights clicked off. The surprise of the sudden disappearance of the light didn’t have time to register before terror consumed them.

Between them and level to their faces was a shining skull with an open mouth. It was attached to its iridescent body. The ‘head’ had a ‘face’ on each side of it to face the boys. The boy still holding the beer in a death grip now looked down where a coldness penetrated his body. The shiny being had a grasp on his shirt with claws digging into his skin.

He stood up stretching the being between them and tried to back away, but the hold on him grew stronger and pulled him closer to the thing. The other boy still sat on the steps staring at the being. No sound escaped him until the scream from his friend jerked him out of his trance.

. Jaws spread wide as though to pull him in. Seeing what was happening to his friend, the boy on the steps reached down and pulled out the switchblade. With a quick jab, he sliced at the creature. It went right through it as though there was nothing there at all. The face looking at him opened its mouth and moved closer as it was doing with his friend. The ‘head’ split in two creating two ‘heads’ with each cavern of a mouth moving toward the boys.

With a screamed curse, the boy with the beer jerked away from the icy grip. He reached out and grabbed his friend’s arm that held the knife and pulled him down the stairs with him. There was no fear of stumbling in the inky darkness as the creature was still between them lighting the way. Now screams erupted from the other boy as the creature began to grow smaller in size yet still held on.

As they neared the bottom of the stairs, the knife sliced out at the remaining light. A grunt echoed as the blade moved through the fading sparkle and into the kidney of his friend. The box of beer crashed to the floor.

“Oh, man. Oh, no. Oh. Oh.” The blade fell to the floor as the boy reached out to grab his friend and staunch the flow of blood. A light filled the chamber blinding them.

Emergency crews removed the bodies within minutes after getting the call from the guard who found them after hearing the screams. One was close to bleeding to death while the other one wavered between crying about killing his friend and the creature that had attacked him. No one noticed the flicker of light at the bottom of the stairs as it settled down to await another victim.

Steps 151-175

The first one hundred steps were easy. The old woman had defied the wishes of her granddaughter and charged up the ancient steps. She had heard of the superstitions but knew that only fear drove such things. The pleas of her granddaughter could still be heard from near the top of the staircase. For being ninety years old, she was in excellent shape. The one hundred steps did not even wind her. She stopped now just to ponder the writings around her.

It was no spur of the moment decision to climb the stairs. She had planned for this for a long time. That was why she had asked to visit this foreign country for her birthday. She wanted to climb the Tower of Victory. Why? Because she had faced challenges all through her life and always came out victorious.

She had survived the beatings of an abusive husband and found solace and peace in the arms of a second husband who adored her. She had survived the death of that same loving husband at the hands of thieves who broke into their house and killed him. She then survived the rape those same men had inflicted upon her. From there she survived giving birth to a child that came from rape and raised him to be a successful businessman. Then she had battled cancer for over ten years. That was twenty years ago. She had since battled life in general from bills to helping raise grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Tower of Victory was for her.

She had hidden a large candle in her purse with a box of matches. She had always preferred light given by a candle than that of a flashlight. She wanted to climb the tower with the purity of fire rather than the invention of man.

So far she had not seen anything out of the ordinary aside from a notebook which was full of scribbles and notes about the markings on the wall. She had also passed a gun. From the newspaper accounts, she had read about the tragedies that had occurred in the tower over the last year. It made her all the more determined to climb the stairs.

She wasn’t arrogant about making it to the top. She was just determined to celebrate the end of her life with one more victory and be an example to others. That is all she ever wanted. She wanted her life to be one others could use as hope. She had always needed hope throughout her life and knew the value of it.

Only seventy-five more steps to go if the legends were true. She moved up the steps letting the flickering light from the candle dance around the staircase. The beauty of the ancients took her breath away. She moved slower as she gazed upon the drawings and strange markings on the wall. She had never felt more alive than she did at that moment. She felt like she had entered a new world.

One hundred and seventy. One hundred and seventy-one. One hundred and seventy-two. One hundred and seventy-three. One hundred and seventy-four. One hundred and seventy-five. She had made it to the top.

She found herself in a small chamber. It was the full size of the tower and round with a stone ceiling. No windows were there to let light in. Only the light of her candle bounced off the stones. In the center of the chamber was a stone table a foot in diameter. She moved forward and set the candle on it. Everything looked just as it had in her dream from the night before.

She had dreamed of such a round chamber though she had no idea it would be found in the top of the Tower of victory. It was exactly as she had seen. All the markings that appeared to tell a story were there. She could not understand what they meant though.

In her dream, a voice had spoken. “You will face the evil that has followed you all your life. You will have to present to it a pure heart and be willing to give that purity up in order to survive. Only by conquering the evil will you find true victory.”

She had taken it as the challenge she needed to climb the stairs. She brushed her white hair out of her eyes where it had escaped her braid. Her hair fell to her mid-thighs. It was something she had taken pride in as she brushed it every day. Now, she felt the weight of it.

She moved about the room touching the wall markings. As she leaned in to look at one strange one, the light of the candle flickered leaving her in total darkness. Yet, it was not dark.

A luminescent sheen filled the room. She frowned wondering where the source was. Her eyes followed the light until she looked down at her own body. Attached to her and rising up to her full height was a glowing being.

It shone with the colors of the rainbow but in a sparkly way. It held the shape of a human. Within the shimmering body could be seen a skeleton giving it a more eerie appearance. Dark holes were where the eyes should have been. A large gaping hole filled in for a mouth.

She did not feel fear as the creature pulled back from her and morphed into a full-sized man-like being. Fingers were fully developed. A head was prominent. All the while, the body still shimmered with every color known to man.

It moved toward the woman staring at it. Hands reached out to grasp her. She did not resist. It moved closer pulling her toward it. Closer the bodies got until they were touching. The face of the being was touching hers. The mouth opened to consume her.

She smiled. “You are nothing compared to what I have faced. Do your best.”

The creature stopped and looked curiously at the woman in its arms. Seconds passed before it rushed in to make her one with it.

The shimmering light enveloped her. The creature raised its arms up to the ceiling calling forth the powers it could not obtain. Without warning, the light exploded. The tower shook. The people outside the building fell to their knees. The woman waiting at the bottom of the stairs screamed as she fell flat.

At the top of the tower stood the old woman. Light shimmered all around her. The candle flickered on again, it’s light reaching the woman as her own light melted within her. She smiled.

“One has to have faced themselves many times in order to conquer themselves.” Victory had once again claimed the tower.

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