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744 Stairs

 Chen Ge's words hit the softest part of Qu Changlin's heart, and a seed started to germinate there. The encouragement from this stranger formed a stark contrast to the messages from his boss, and the bitterness that had been hidden inside his heart for years finally exploded.

It's about time for a change.

This thought expanded in his mind at an uncontrollable speed. He clenched his fists tightly, but after a while, he slowly calmed down. Life was not a fairy tale; the premise of living one's dream was to first stay alive.

Qu Changlin was isolated by the workers at Nightmare Academy, which was why he had been arranged to monitor the toilet with its repulsive stench. He was bad at interpersonal relationships and lacked confidence in himself.

Being reminded of those facts, he sighed softly. "I wish to change, but change needs courage and ability, and I have neither of those..."

"You underestimate yourself too much. Even though we don't know each other, I can already see several positive points about you. Perhaps you simply haven't met someone who knows how to appreciate your talent. The scenario you're responsible for is so scary, and the mannequin inside it is horrifying, but you can stand the horrible stench and monitor everything in the dark. From how I see it, you have the talent to become one of the best Haunted House workers." Chen Ge slowed down his steps. "I hear there is a Haunted House in Western Jiujiang that is currently thriving, and it has a very good review online. If you really want to initiate a change, you can try your luck over there. After all, if you want to change, might as well start at the best location. Regardless of the result, at least you've given it your all."

Qu Changlin remembered Chen Ge's words and slowly nodded. Actually, his suspicion had not been vanquished, but he tried to ignore it. After all, this was his first time running into such a helpful visitor inside a Haunted House, and it was natural for him to be weirded out.

With the guidance from Qu Changlin, Chen Ge carried him to the headmaster's office. "We've arrived. Now what?"

"Just put me here." Qu Changlin shielded his phone with his hand. Reading the messages sent by his boss, he felt rather guilty toward Chen Ge. The man had lent him an ear and even helped to organize his life, but he was supposed to scare him with malicious intent. That did sound rather immoral.

"You need to be careful on your own. Right, how about you give me your phone number? If you run into any trouble, feel free to call me." Chen Ge was being very friendly, and that only made Qu Changlin feel much worse.

"Okay." Just outside the headmaster's office, while the camera was watching, the two exchanged numbers.

"I've explored the toilet, so I think I shall move onto another scenario, see you later." Chen Ge smiled and took out the diary from his backpack to see where he should head next.

Seeing Chen Ge walk away, Qu Changlin did not know what to say. He sensed a unique power from the man, one that could give people around him hope and warmth.

The phone in his palm kept vibrating. Qu Changlin lowered his head to look-it was his boss calling him. The latter probably saw Chen Ge leave on the surveillance footage, and he quickly called to demand an explanation. After he accepted the call, before Qu Changlin could say anything, he heard the yelling from his boss.

"What the hell are you doing? How many times did I stress for you to scare him and not show weakness? What have you done? Look at yourself!" Qu Changlin held the phone, leaned against the door, and did not say anything.

"Why aren't you speaking? Remember the promise you gave me? Didn't you swear that you would let him walk in but crawl out? What happened in the end?" The boss was angry. After all, his best employees went to visit another Haunted House, and all three of them came back unconscious. Now, the competition had come to visit his own haunted house, and four of his employees had already been scared! No one would be able to suffer something like that quietly.

"I said that I would let him walk in, but I didn't promise that it would be him who crawled out. Now, he walked in, but I crawled out; I didn't go back on my promise, did I?" Qu Changlin put his phone to the side. He was in no mood to listen to his boss' scolding, but he thought that hanging up would be too rude.

"Say that again‽ Qu Changlin! If you dare, say that again!" On the other end, the boss was so angry that his voice was shaking. Hearing no answer from Qu Changlin, he did not even end the call but took out the walkie-talkie to give orders to the remaining actors at his Haunted House. "I don't care what kind of method you use, I need you to scare that visitor by the name of Chen Ge! I will not allow him to ruin the name of Nightmare Academy!"

"Boss, he has cleared all the previous scenarios already. I think it will be very difficult to scare him."

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After the call ended, Qu Changlin could not hear his boss' voice anymore. He leaned against the door, and it was hard to tell what he was thinking.

...

The classroom, storeroom, toilet... Let's see, where should I go next?

Chen Ge flipped through the diary and started to read the fourth entry.

This entry was related to the stairs, and it recorded a classic ghost story known as the thirteenth step.

Every stairs at Nightmare Academy had twelve steps, but at certain moment, a thirteenth step would appear, and those who stepped on it would see some strange things.

When I first entered the Haunted House, the worker reminded the visitors to pay attention to the stairs. This can only mean that some of them have been trapped. This is perfect. I should go take a look. Perhaps I can run into another valuable employee like Qu Changlin.

The toilet was adjacent to the stairs. Chen Ge walked back the corridor and reached the mouth of the stairs.

There was no light inside the staircase. The weak light filtered in from the corridor, and the deeper one went, the darker it was. The corner landing between the two floors was particularly dark.

The stairs are made from cement, how are they going to make an extra step appear out of thin air?

With the desire to master this 'technique', Chen Ge placed the diary inside his backpack and walked into the staircase without turning back. The background music changed, and cold air came from all corners. As Chen Ge headed up, he counted the steps in his mind.

One, two... eleven, twelve. Everything's normal, there's no problem.

Chen Ge was quite disappointed. He walked up two floors at one go, but he could not find anything wrong with the steps.

Perhaps I've done something wrong.

He ignored the other 'people' and took out the diary and started to read while standing on the stairs.

Without any hints, how am I supposed to trigger this scenario?

When Chen Ge was figuring out that answer, footsteps suddenly came from downstairs. He looked through the gap in the middle but saw no one coming up.

Is it the background music?

Chen Ge could not see any visible speakers. Suddenly, he heard a child's voice. It was very soft, and it repeated the same word again and again. "Daddy."

Where is this voice coming from?

Chen Ge had more sensitive hearing than normal people, but even he could not tell where the voice came from. The person seemed to be broadcasting the audio from different speakers in unison.

"Stop pretending and hiding. I've already seen you!"

Chen Ge placed a ballpoint pen in his shirt pocket, carried his backpack with one hand, and headed downstairs.