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On the 14th of September 1997, Keith Bradshaw, a twenty year old student originally from Denver, Colorado, had moved to the town of Golden. Located in the same state, this town would serve as his home for the next few years following his own and his girlfriend’s graduations. They checked into their new home upon arrival, the Fox Hills Apartments, in the center of town. His girlfriend, Nicole Dawn, told him it was worth heading down to the bustling town market to check out what was in stock there. Keith suggested to her it seemed a little early to buy souvenirs already, but still went along with it as he knew Nicole always won arguments like these. While there, Nicole was dragged into the girly fashion segment of the stalls. She looked like she would be spending a hell of a long time browsing through the exotic silky dresses for sale, and Keith wouldn’t stand by her all that time. So he wandered off just to see what he could see, as nothing in markets really caught his eyes.
That was until he came to one particular stall with a bearded man running it. He looked like he was in his forties and was smoking a pipe. He leaned back in his chair, and watched Keith take a look at what was on his table. Keith was drawn to this vendor because he was selling works of art. One of them he recognized as being made by MC Escher. MC Escher (1898-1972) was a famous Dutch graphic artist who was known for making illusionary images of structures that were physically impossible to make in real life. Structures that defied the laws of geometry, such as cubes and triangles. This image was of a lithograph he made in 1960 called “Ascending and Descending.” The black and white image depicted a fairly-ordinary looking building that had a stairway on its roof.
The stairway had about twenty-six little hooded men, some walking up it and some down. The steps were the reason this building was not completely ordinary, in fact they were impossible to create in real life: the men could climb or go down the stairs forever and never reach the top or bottom; they were walking in an endless loop. Keith had read about this lithograph before in a book, and heard that the hooded men are supposed to be monks in a monastery that Escher called an “unknown” sect. They were performing some kind of ritual, simply walking up or down the steps. Keith thought the image was really eerie as you couldn’t see the faces of the figures, only blackness with their noses briefly sticking out. He also tried to imagine what it was like living in a world or universe where such a geometrically challenging construction was possible. It was still amazing, though, so he purchased it for ten bucks.
Returning to his partner, he found she was thrilled, as she finally had found a dress she adored. A ruby one imported from Japan. She looked at his newly bought possession, and seemed annoyed by it.
“Why’d you buy that? It looks so lame!” she commented.
“It isn’t, babe! It’s cool! It's art by Escher! It has a staircase that cannot be built in real life with monks doing a ritual where they walk up or down it forever!”
“Yeah, it’s lame!” she rudely replied.
“A stairway that goes on forever?! That’s just weird and creepy.”
She shrugged it off, ready to go home, turning back to excited as she was looking forward to trying on her dress.
“Fine!” snapped Keith as he followed.
He knew his girlfriend disliked his interest in surreal art.
"I’ll just… hang it up and you can pretend it's not there…”
Keith was proud of buying the art, and after putting it on the right wall of his room, he admired it further, looking closely at the details of the monks and how one could barely see their faces. As he let his imagination loose about whom these men were and why they did this ritual, Nicole came out with her dress on. She unleashed a wide smile at how proud she was of it, but abruptly frowned in annoyance to see him staring at the art instead of her.
“Oh, uh, babe I’m just gonna head down to that Roosterfields Tavern down the street, I’ll be back in an hour,” she told him.
“Okay…” Keith said.
He still glued his eyes to the picture. Nicole looked at the image from a distance in the doorway, rolling her eyes before shutting the door.
Keith then watched some TV, and it wasn’t until three hours had passed that he realized Nicole was supposed to have returned in one hour.
“Oh God! I hope that babe ain’t drunk as hell!”
Jumping off the couch he rushed to find his phone, but received no answer after dialling her. His heart thrashed harder and harder as he decided to dial the cops. She would either be with them right now or somewhere else, as Nicole had had a problem with drinking in the past. Keith cursed himself for not remembering his partner’s drinking problem before she had left and getting carried away with the TV. The police told him they did not have her, and the tavern said they hadn’t seen her either.
From there a hefty search was born. Firstly, the cops checked all the other bars around town where she may have wished to go instead, but they denied her ever showing up. Next, the police arrived at Keith’s apartment. They found him shivering, gripping his hair and pulling it painfully. Cursing under his breath like a deranged criminal convict.
“Why did I not come with her?! Where did she fucking go?! Was that damn art the reason for this?!”
He turned at his formerly adored picture and cursed at it. The officers were able to calm him, and told him she would be found. First, they decided to check the CCTV footage of the building from earlier that day, and that’s what proved this could not be a regular missing person case.
All the cameras had a generally poor quality with lots of interrupting static and blurs smudging random packs of pixels, not to mention lack of audio. When reviewing the footage of camera #6 on the corridor of floor #4, the door of Keith’s apartment opened and out walked his beloved girlfriend. Her face was difficult to see on the monitor as of the bad quality. They assumed she was still bearing the sour expression she put on when she left, but with all the static and blurs that kept buzzing up the screen, her face was being constantly obscured. However when she walked to the top of the stairway, her face became visible again. It was not what they assumed; she was pulling a grin this time. Initially, Keith suggested over wiping his misty eyes that her mood had swung to excited again because she was going out with that fancy new dress, but then the cops moved back in surprise.
The next few frames showed Nicole staring directly into the camera, out of the screen and into their own eyes. This was odd, as the camera was supposed to be hidden. Her eyes were also meant to be blue and sparkling, but in the dull colored camera they appeared gray, emotionless and blind. And before anybody could properly observe her chilling stare, there was a flash of static, and when it went back to normal, her eyes were no longer visible. Her hair was now scruffy and loose, covering the top of her head and most of her face like a hood, so her face became almost invisible now. The camera made her dress look different as well, it was supposed to be ruby red, but now it looked horrible, like dark blood red.
“What happened to her hair…?” asked one of the cops.
Before anyone else tried to answer him, Nicole put her right hand on her heart and kneeled down for about fifteen seconds.
“What is she doing…?” another baffled cop said.
“Looks like she’s… praying to or worshipping someone… or something…” answered his fellow officer.
Then she stood upright and gripped her left hand onto the banister and walked down. The footage got grainier as she vanished from sight on this camera, but she reappeared again on the camera on the next floor. She was still walking down the stairs with her hand on the banister, but she walked perfectly, always on the same side of the steps and not going any faster or slower, as if there were invisible people behind and in front of her doing the same walk.
“Why isn’t she taking the elevator…?” one of the cops wondered more.
“You should know why!” Keith complained.
“Well we don’t at the moment,” replied the officers.
Nicole kept on trekking down the stairs until she reached the bottom floor. No other person had appeared in the footage yet. At this point the quality got so messy that the corridor, stairway and Nicole looked like they were melting.
“Come on!” Keith said, frustrated. He tapped the monitor and it became more stabilized.
“Whoa, what the hell…?” he gasped.
“Cameras don’t work like that, do they?” he turned to the police.
“No… as far as we are aware.”
“Why was she acting like that?” Keith demanded.
“We do not know yet why she is behaving weird, do you suppose she may be under any influences?” the lead officer asked.
“Well she used to have a drinking issue but she wasn’t drinking today and there’s no way she’s under drug influences, if she was I would know.”
“Hey look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing back to the video.
This time, the near-pathetic footage showed Nicole looking like she was ascending an invisible staircase next to the real one.
“My God, what the fuck…?!” gasped Keith.
“No, no, I think the video must be really corrupt now…” the lead officer tapped the screen, although this did nothing but make some buzzes. He wasn’t entirely sure if the video was really glitching or genuine at this moment. He tried thinking it was just severe glitching, but the fact the video could be genuine just wouldn’t go away. Then Nicole reappeared on Camera #6 on floor #4 where she started. She just spontaneously appeared at the top of the stairs as if she teleported. The dying quality emitted some ear-splitting buzzing sounds and turned black and white.
“How the fuck did she get there?!” Keith shuddered.
Nicole then walked down the stairs again and that’s when the static and blurs reclaimed the screen. The video ended for about twenty minutes before returning to normal, where it looked almost crystal clear.
“That was the creepiest damn tape ever,” shivered one of the cops.
“It was like… she was trying to go up and down the stairs forever…” said another, “And acting like she was serving some… body or thing, I dunno!”
Keith leapt off his chair and snatched the art from his wall.
“Hey I’ve seen that pic before, it has a never ending staircase."
"I know! I know! I shouldn’t have bought it!”
“Do you believe it’s cursed?” the officer said as he hurried after him.
“I dunno, there’s something shit with it!”
“Well if it’s responsible for the disappearance of your girlfriend, I can agree it’s bad, but I’m a policeman, I don’t believe in things like this, let me check if drugs aren’t hidden in it that could've done this to her.”
He found no drugs or traces of any suspicious substances. His jaw dropped following his search. Keith immediately told him the drug theory was ridiculous, she never went near the picture, only Keith did. And what kind of drugs could do that anyway? This was something else.
“C’mon men, let's go!” Keith went down to the markets to find the vendor who he purchased the image from.
They found him still there.
“YOU! You freak! Where did you get this picture from? My girlfriend has vanished and she acted weird for no reason on the CCTV like how the guys in the picture are acting! You know what’s wrong here!” he snapped.
The pipe smoking salesman seemed startled. Dropping his pipe, he put his hands in front of him as defence and pleaded.
“Okay! Okay! Don’t hurt me! I’ll tell you, I know nothing about the image, I only found it in an abandoned building in the nearby mountain forests, I’m a bit of an, uh, urban or rural, um, explorer so… yeah I found it there and decided to sell it! I’ll take you there if you want!”
Keith and the cops agreed; they suspected Nicole could have gone there, and it was probably worth returning the art to where it was found. After phoning up about a dozen more detectives and officers they were guided to where the vendor got the artwork. These forests were coated with decaying trees that blocked out the sunlight with their thick branches. The sounds of squawking birds of prey were heard overhead, while the officers held their guns tight in case of a sudden bear or cougar attack. After half an hour of trekking and yelling Nicole’s name, they came to a portion of the woods isolated by jagged boulders. There was an abandoned building standing there awaiting someone to find it.
“I found this place a couple weeks ago while exploring these woods,” the vendor told them. The building looked fairly ordinary, brick built with three floors and a flat roof. It was covered in rotten leaves and vines, with a few parts not covered in vegetation that were brown and crumbly with white paint almost completely stripped off. A large branch from above had landed on its flat roof that was strong enough to break through it. The windows were all smashed with deadly shards lying below them, and one window frame and the bricks around it appeared to be out of place as if something strong tried to rip it out.
“What the hell is this place?” one officer remarked.
Entering through the door that broke in half when they touched it, they found the interior room was inky black. The floors were littered with ashes of burnt papers and soot. The walls had some paintings of faintly visible portraits that had been overtaken by spider webs. The search party huddled together as they shone their flashlights around, seeing some large spiders dash across the floor ahead of them, and possibly a small snake.
“I found it over there,” the vendor pointed to the bottom of a stairway unveiled in the light.
“It was in surprisingly good condition as you saw it,” he added.
All the people sounded like they were cursing the artwork, even the vendor as they all were outraged over this disappearance. Keith held it up as if about to throw it away.
“Look!” one of the detectives pointed with his light.
A female figure was sitting down by the stairs with her back to them. Keith instantly recognized her as Nicole, as she looked like she did in the video. She was weeping to herself with her hands over her eyes.
“NICOLE!” Keith yelled.
Keith threw the art aside and rushed up to her, but a cop grabbed and pulled him back.
“Stop!” he hissed.
They listened to her weep.
“I’m sorry… I’M SORRY! I repent… please… I repent… NO! PLEASE! NOO!” she cried.
“NICOLE! IT’S ME, KEITH!” he shrieked.
She still did not turn around.
“PLEASE I REPENT! PLEASE I SERVED YOU! DON’T DO IT PLEASE!”
She screamed like she was being physically tortured. At that point, Keith kicked the cop holding him and raced to rescue his hysterical partner.
“WHOEVER THE FUCK YOU ARE, LEAVE MY GIRLFRIEND ALONE!” he bellowed to the unknown entity she was speaking to.
CR-ASSHH!!! The party screamed in shock as the floor abruptly crumbled and broke apart. They fell down, completely caught off-guard and hardly being able to react, until they all landed on a flat cold surface. The impact had left them bruised and made it difficult for them to get up, half of the group with others lying on top of them.
“Uhh… what the fuck happened?!” groaned one of the officers in pain.
Keith, fuelled with fear, was first to regain his footing. He looked around for Nicole before observing their new surroundings. The others who were able to get up saw they were in some kind of circular room. It only seemed big enough to accommodate them all, but some had to be lying on top of each other.
“UH! GET OFF ME!” screeched one officer as she tried to climb out from the several others crushing her.
“AH, MY HAND! YOU’RE ON M’HAND!” screeched another.
Keith, who was the only person who could properly stand up, saw Nicole lying down on the other end of the room.
“NICOLE!” he yelled.
The few people observing the room saw it had no roof, but rather they could see a night sky above with a moon just about visible through the foggy clouds. Briefly visible for a moment were some orange fiery embers as if there was a fire burning nearby. Everyone else struggled to move and escape this room as there were no visible doors. The walls were sloped upwards, like this room was some kind of giant bowl. Despite struggling, nobody could ascend the slopes; they were far too slippery, with every escape attempt resulting in a person landing on another.
“HELP US! WHERE ARE WE?!” screamed one detective.
Amongst the chaos Keith got over to Nicole and tried shaking her and talking, but received no reply.
“No… NO!” he cried.
He saw her fingernails had needles lodged under them and bleeding, he slowly tried to pull them out, but she still didn’t react.
Suddenly, everyone froze in silence. They heard several giant thumping steps approaching them, getting louder every time. Four giant figures were towering over the bowl room. They were human-like, wearing hoods and tunics with nearly invisible faces, identical in attire to the figures in the Escher lithograph. This time they were holding their right hands over their hearts and stared downwards at the smaller people. A deep voice in a Dutch accent emitted from below the hood of one of the figures.
“One does not simply blaspheme the sect of the stairs."
Everyone was still cemented in complete silence, their jaws wide open and their skin crawling to the point it would rip off.
One of the figures, who possibly was the one who spoke, raised its free pale hand above the bowl just as all the prisoners thrashed like wild animals trying to escape, but none with any avail. People were kicked in the face and had their teeth broken by others struggling to get out, others who were already exhausted just lay to await their fate. Nicole finally awoke; she turned to Keith and started weeping.
“I’m sorry… for blaspheming the sect of the stairs!”
She wept in his arms. Keith and some of the others looked up at the monk figure holding its hand above the prison. Its fingers were straight and pointed out, but then they turned downwards like claws. The nails grew longer, and the digits turned silver. One of the cops pulled out his gun and fired, but the bullets passed through the monk’s hand without any effect.
The fingers now looked like blades, and they spun around at speeds faster than anyone could see. The figure lowered its blender-like hand down into the bowl that screeched as it cut through the air. The prisoners tried to screech, but they were already devoid of energy from their relentless struggle to escape. The hand blades entered the bowl which was just wide enough for it to fit. The last thing Keith saw was a gargantuan explosion of blood, organs, tissues and bones before he felt the finger blades contact his own flesh.
“ARRGH!” Keith lunged upwards.
He was lying in his warm bed, then sunk back down and chuckled.
"It was all just a nightmare..." he breathed slowly.
The door of his room opened and a figure, hooded and wearing a tunic entered. The figure beckoned him to come outside. Without even letting himself move, Keith felt something pull him out of bed, where he saw he was wearing the same outfit the figure had.
“No…” he said to himself.
But no sounds came from his mouth, he couldn’t move it, he couldn’t move any part of him! He was only speaking in his mind.
Keith saw ahead of him a flight of steps atop a building with a dark void in the background. Just like the one in the Escher picture, only dimmer. They were impossible looking from where he was standing. There were more people already walking on the stairs, the same number in the search party including Nicole.
“NOOOOOO!” he screeched in his head.
There was nothing he could do at all, his right hand moved over his heart, he bowed and then started trudging upwards, forever and forever without end...
Written by Death4