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558 Staircase to Heaven

 The rusted door was tightly close. Chen Ge removed the sign that announced the park as closed and entered the abandoned children's theme park. The rainbow door that was peeling, the fountain with no water, and the merry-go-round that could not turn anymore... no one had stepped into this place for a long time already. Chen Ge moved around and finally stopped at the entrance to the warehouse. Inside the room that smelled of mold and mildew was a Doraemon costume that was old and deserted.

"Hello? Are you still there?" Chen Ge had not hung up yet, but there had been no reply from the other end of the line. He walked into the warehouse and picked up the character costume. He held the costume's head in one arm. "I'll look after the costume for you for now. Take a good rest-you deserve it. I will wake you up when the sun climbs over the horizon."

Chen Ge found a large bag in the warehouse and placed the costume inside it. When he was folding the costume, he discovered that there was a photograph placed inside the costume's pocket. It seemed to have been taken at the hospital. A very young father was captured talking with the doctor, and there was a young boy as thin as a stick hiding behind the young father.

After putting away the photograph, when Chen Ge turned back to check the phone, he realized that the call had already ended.

"Forgot to ask for his name." Chen Ge combed through his mind, and he realized that neither the article online nor the landlady had referred to the man by name. He appeared to exist only within the character costume. People only knew him as the Doraemon at the children's theme park who loved children a lot.

Holding the phone, Chen Ge looked at the phone number. He had called the number twice, and he had been told two different life stories from two different victims.

What is the meaning of this phone number? Why would the victims call this number before they died? How do I find this baleful Specter that I've won from the Wheel of Misfortune?

Chen Ge thought about it, but he found no answer. He decided to continue calling the number. He held the large bag with the character costume in one hand and used his other hand to call the mysterious number.

From the perspective of probability, the baleful Specter that I've won this time should be more powerful than Ol' Zhou and Uncle Yan.

The dial tone rang for several seconds before the call was answered. With his previous two experiences in mind, Chen Ge directly asked, "Hello, how can I help you?"

The other side of the phone was very busy, and Chen Ge could hear the sound of trains passing by the tracks. After the sound of the trains disappeared, the phone became quiet again, and in the background, it sounded like children were reciting something.

"Hello?" Chen Ge held the bag as he exited the children's theme park. He called a taxi and told the driver to just leave the park for now. He would give him the exact address later.

The sound of howling wind came through the phone. He did not urge the other person-he waited patiently. After who knew how long, there was suddenly the sound of serious coughing.

"Are... are you okay? Are you sick?" Chen Ge's voice was soft and gentle, giving the listener some support and strength. "Do you need any help from me?"

"Thank you, but I'm fine." The man's voice that replied sounded like he had a lump of coal in his throat. The voice was very harsh, and he would cough every time that he spoke.

"You don't sound so great. I advise you go back home and don't stay outside anymore, or you can tell me your current location and I'll bring you to the hospital."

For the previous two calls, Chen Ge had arrived at the scene after the phone call was ended. This time, he prepared to find the person on the other side of the line before the call ended.

"Thank you for your kindness, but there's no need for me to go to the hospital; there is no cure for my sickness." The man regained his breath after coughing for a long time. He moved slowly forward, and the wind picked up. "It's already too late."

"Incurable illness?"

"Yes, I've stayed at the hospital for a long time, but the illness is still the same. In fact, I feel like it's not a sickness but a part of my body."

Chen Ge was confused by the words that the man said. "Brother, do you mind telling me what kind of illness this is?"

"Late stage lung cancer."

The man sounded like he was saying something ordinary, but Chen Ge's heart fell once he heard that. "Then why are you outside alone? Where are your family members? I'll drive you home-it's very windy out there."

"It is indeed quite windy here." The man kept coughing. He sounded very weak and fragile like he could collapse at any moment. "I escaped without my family's knowledge."

A patient with late stage lung cancer running out without his family's knowledge, Chen Ge was reminded of the two characters from his previous phone calls, and a very bad feeling arose in his heart. "What you're doing is very dangerous. Can you please tell me where you are now? I will not interfere with whatever decision you might make-I just want to accompany you and go on a walk together. How does that sound?"

"It's alright, I can walk on my own. Actually, after I found out I have this lung cancer, I've been wanting to go to a certain location."

"What place is this?"

"The place is built on a very high location. To get there, one has to climb many steps."

"You want to go to Jiujiang World Trade Center? Why do you want to go there?" Chen Ge rarely visited the city, but even he knew that the World Trade Center was the tallest building in Jiujiang, and standing at the roof, one could look over the entire Jiujiang.

Realizing that, Chen Ge immediately gave the driver the signal to tell him to drive to Jiujiang World Trade Center.

The man did not answer Chen Ge's question. He just kept on coughing. Even through the phone, Chen Ge felt uncomfortable and pained for the man.

"Brother, why don't you just stay where you are? I will come help you."

"There's no need." After another series of coughs, the man became silent. Then, he probably thought Chen Ge was a good person, so he added, "You're very similar to my former attending physician, be it the way you speak or the way you do things. Or are you actually my attending doctor?"

"Attending doctor?" Chen Ge was serious considering whether to pretend to be this character so that he could have an easier time to get information from the man. He was familiar with how problematic this number was because all the victims had called this number before they died. If Chen Ge gave it further thought, the last person that all the victims would interact with could be a doctor, so this number might belong to a doctor.

"I hope you won't get offended; I'm just making a casual guess." The man did not have much of a sense of humor. His laugh was awkward, but even so, Chen Ge could hear how much it pained him to even laugh.

"Brother, can you tell me your story? If you keep it to yourself for too long, it'll turn bad and fester within you. You'll feel better if you share it with someone." Southern Jiujiang was not that far from the World Trade Center, so Chen Ge had confidence that he would be able to make it this time.

"I don't have that much of a storied background. I was just a normal person, but probably due to my smoking habit, I found out that I had lung cancer last year." The man's voice was even. Other than the coughing, there was no change in his emotions.

"I went for three sessions at the cancer hospital and then went home to prepare to enjoy that period of time that I had happily. I wanted to enjoy it while it lasts. I'm not a coward, so I've tried my best to fight it, but it's a very hard battle. I gave it my all and used my happiest memories to try to defeat it, but it has been trying to use fear and pain to counter.

"This war that took place on my body was long and hard. I swore to never give up and never surrender, and it tried many different tactics to make me kneel before it. My breathing became difficult, and there was constant pain and aching all over my body. Other than that, there were also the fevers.

"My body weight kept dropping, and the ache eventually got so intense that I could barely move my limps. Every cough felt like my whole body was shaking, but I resisted the urge to take a painkiller.

"I'm really not a coward."

This was the second time the man had stressed that.

Chen Ge did not ask why. He merely nodded and replied, "I understand."

The man seemed to sigh in relief. "About one month later, there was a swelling around my neck. The lymph node was bulging. You could feel it with your fingers. At the time, I thought that I was unable to breathe; it was a labor just to drink water.

"After seeing the doctor, they said the constant bloody coughs caused the throat to expand, and that led to the swelling of lymph nodes. The consequence of that is that the intestine was affected.

"Before I could beat the previous enemy, a new adversary arrived. However, I still would not admit defeat."

The man was a stubborn man, just like how he kept insisting to Chen Ge, who was a stranger, that he was not a coward.

The wind grew to such a scale where the sound of children's recitation could not be heard anymore. The man was still moving.

"Brother, can you please tell me where you are now? How about I come get you?" Chen Ge was honestly quite worried about the man. He hoped that if he rushed over at that moment, he would be able to change something, as insignificant as that change might be.

"I'm climbing a long flight of stairs." The man wanted to say that with a laugh, but whenever he opened his lips, he could not stop the cough from happening.

"You're on the stairs?" Chen Ge heard the howling wind that was coming true, and he felt like something was wrong. Stairs that were on the outside of the building? Could he have gone up to the roof? Was he at the top of the World Trade Building?

Chen Ge had been to Jiujiang World Trade Building before; the place did not have an exterior staircase. It was then that he realized that he might not be heading to the right place.

"I'm stepping on the stairs, going toward my destination with one step after another. I should be able to reach the place soon."

When the man spoke, the sensation of pain was obvious, and every cough was a torment for the man.

Chen Ge told the rather impatient driver to stop and park the taxi by the sidewalk. He held his phone and started to study the man's words, start from the beginning.

Stairs, the destination is at somewhere high...

In the man's voice, Chen Ge could hear the pain, both conspicuous and inconspicuous. The man kept stressing that he was not a coward, and he did not avoid the horrendous fight with his illness. Why would someone like that escape from home without his family's knowledge?

He is already so physically weak, so why does he insist on going somewhere high?

Chen Ge listened closely. The man's body was failing him, but his steps were even and slow; it did not sound like he was climbing any steps.

A staircase that is built on the ground... is there a place like that?

When Chen Ge was thinking, something flashed across his mind. When the call was first connected, he had caught the sound of a train!

The train tracks!

There were wooden boards at constant intervals on the train tracks, and in a way, that could be described as a staircase that was laid flat on the ground. If seen from this perspective, the man was not really heading to the World Trade Center.

He was seeking death!

The end of this staircase was death, the place where all his pain and misery would end.

It was because he had given up that he kept insisting to Chen Ge, a veritable stranger, that he was not a coward. Realizing that, Chen Ge started to search online.

Earlier, he had also heard the sound of children reciting poetry. There were two traditional Chinese schools in Jiujiang, and one of them was situated right next to a train track.

Chen Ge told the driver to take him there. After doing all that, he tried his best to console the man, to try to buy as much time as he could.