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This is part five in the By the Fire’s Light series.
Mira Grolinsky sat at her desk in the hotel room sorting through stacks of paper. A biographer by trade, she was used to gathering large amounts of information and then synthesizing it into one coherent package. What she was not used to was not needing to source check. Of course, when you were researching a creature that literally ran on belief, that meant any and all sources on it were valid, in their ways.
Mira bit the pen in her hand as she sorted the large stack of paper in her lap into smaller stacks. That didn’t mean that all the information was equally important, though. The most important pieces were the ones that the most people had seen. That meant things like Marble Hornets and Connor Russell’s hit book By the Fire’s Light held a little more stock than the latest Slender Man story posted on fanfiction.net.
“Worth pursuing,” Mira muttered, passing a piece of paper to a very small pile. “Garbage,” she muttered passing one to a much larger pile. She sighed. This was the easy part. When she was done, she planned to write her own story. This creature thrived on belief and Mira planned to turn that to her advantage. Mira had already talked to her agent, and she had convinced Maureen what a good idea it was to jump in on this Slender Man thing. After all, Connor Russell was dead and his book was popular. People would want more. Maureen had eventually caved in and was already in talks with several publishers. Mira was hoping she could get her usual publisher to pick it up for their fiction division.
She finished with the pile of papers in her lap. Unceremoniously, she swept the garbage pile into the trash bin next to the desk. “We’ll start by establishing water as a weakness, get it to the major population,” she muttered, pulling a notepad to herself. “Then I’ll figure out some way to bind you or something.” She had learned the hard way that just writing this thing out of existence was not an option, at least not right now. She began to scribble notes to herself as she worked through the small pile of things she was keeping.
Her phone began to trill. Still scribbling notes, she picked it up and put it to her ear. “Yeah, Mira here.”
“Mira, you need to get out now.”
Mira stopped writing. “Rourke? What happened?” She put her pen and notepad down and grabbed a duffle bag on the floor by the desk. She began to scoop everything on the desk inside it.
“Later,” he said, sounding out of breath. “It showed up, I don’t know if you’re safe. Grab our stuff and go. Don’t pick the next hotel on the list, go to a random one. I’ll call you later.” The phone cut off.
As she hung up, Mira grabbed the laptop on the bed behind her and stuffed it in the bag. Luckily this was the last day Rourke and she had planned on staying in this hotel so most of their things were already in her car or his car. She grabbed Rourke’s duffle bag by his bed, and with hers balanced in her other hand, she was out the door.
Five minutes later found her driving down the highway. She checked her rear view mirror, but she had seen no signs of the thing, which was good she supposed. Ever since her and Rourke’s close-up encounter with the Slender Man at her house, they had both been on the move. She had pointed out to Rourke that the protagonist’s that lasted the longest against Slender Man in the stories she had seen tended to A) move around a lot and B) have partners. So, that was exactly what they had decided to do.
Of course, they had only been at it for a few days, and Rourke had already had another encounter which did not bode well. Still, she didn’t know the circumstances. In fact it might be fruitful. It might be something she could put in the story she was going to write.
After fifteen minutes, she pulled off at an exit with a coffee shop with free wi-fi. One latte later, she sat down with her laptop and pulled up her list of hotels and then a random number generator. She plugged in her range of numbers to the generator and it spit one out at her. She groaned looking at it. It was a hotel fifty miles away. Shaking her head, she made a quick online reservation. Closing her laptop, she picked it up and stopped to grab a to-go sleeve for her coffee at the counter. She texted Rourke the location of the hotel and then headed out.
It was two in the morning when Rourke finally entered their motel room. “Great place,” he said, looking around at the water-stained paper and carpet spotted with blotches of all colors.
“Well,” Mira said, yawning and typing away on her laptop, “it wouldn’t be truly random if all I had on the list was five star hotels.” She saved and, with a flourish of her hand, shut down her word processor. “So,” she said, closing the laptop and placing it next to her on the bed, “what happened?”
Rourke stretched and then put a hand to his head. “I screwed up. Big time.” He sat down on the second single bed in the room. He whipped his arms out for balance when the mattress nearly sank to the floor. “Your bed doesn’t do that,” he said, frowning, momentarily side-tracked.
“No, it doesn’t,” Mira said, cheerfully. She grew serious. “What do you mean you screwed up?”
Rourke shook his head. “I pulled some strings. Got them to give Jared and me complete privacy. I thought it might help convince him to talk.”
Mira raised an eyebrow. “And?”
He looked over to her. “Don’t you see? It was just me and one of the only other people that have seen this thing in action alone in a room with no one readily available to help us.”
Mira processed this for a second and then a hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God. Is he dead?”
Rourke’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know. I was sort of able to distract it. Made it make enough noise that the guards opened the door. But it pulled Jared back into the room with it.” He made an unhappy noise. “Actually, I think Jared might have saved me. He let it pull him back so I could get away.”
“What happened to him?” Mira asked, sitting up and leaning forward.
“I don’t know,” Rourke said. “He was just gone. I’ve just now finished talking with everyone at the scene. They’re tearing apart the interview room now, looking for trapdoors or hidden passages.” He laughed. “It’s the only way they can explain what happened that doesn’t involve monsters.”
“What about the guards?” Mira was sitting all the way up now and pushed her legs over the side of the bed.
Rourke shrugged. “I tried to warn them. Told them they needed to run. At the very least not go back to whatever home they lived in. That the thing would follow and kill them, sooner rather than later. I don’t think they’re going to listen.” He shook his head. “Like I said, screwed up, big time.”
Mira reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Hindsight’s twenty twenty,” she said. “We can’t undo it, all we can do is try to stay one step ahead of it long enough to beat it.”
Rourke sighed. “I guess.”
Mira squeezed his shoulder. “We should both probably get some rest. I finished the outline for the novel just as you were coming in. I’ll get started on the rough draft tomorrow.”
“Great,” Rourke said, trying to sound enthused. He took his coat off and tossed it in a corner of the room. Kicking off his shoes, he pulled the covers back, eyeing the bed dubiously. “How long do you think it will take to write?”
“Well, once I have my information, I can crank out a rough draft for a biography in a couple weeks. I’m hoping this will actually go faster since I don’t have to cross-reference as much information as normal.” She too pulled back her covers and got under them. She reached towards the lamp on the stand between the beds. Her hand froze by the fixture. “Wait, you said you distracted the thing.”
Rourke’s eyes popped open. “Um, yeah,” he said, sounding embarrassed.
“Well, how did you do it?” Mira pressed. “Anything helps at this point.”
“I,uh, well, I remembered about the water thing and how well it worked last time…” Rourke said.
Rourke closed his eyes and grimaced. “I– I shot it with a water gun.”
The edges of Mira’s mouth twitched. “You did what?”
Rourke rolled over. “Yeah, ha, ha, it’s funny. I’m still alive aren’t I?”
Mira chuckled. “Where’s the gun?”
“It crushed it,” Rourke said flatly. “Crushed it when I was trying to use it to save Jared.”
Mira grew quiet. “I see,” she said. She turned off the light. “Good-night, Rourke.”
The next morning Mira woke up to the quiet snip of the bathroom door closing. She lay still in the darkness for a moment before turning over to look at the alarm clock. 7 am. “Wow five whole hours of sleep if that,” she grumbled turning back on her side. She considered throwing the blankets back over her head and going back to sleep, but given that Rourke was up and about already, she might as well get up and try to be useful.
By the time Rourke was out of the shower, Mira was setting two cups of coffee down and a couple of bagels down on the stand between the beds. “Despite the questionable decor,” Mira said, nodding at the blotched carpet “the coffee smelled okay and the bagels look passable.” She dumped a few creams and sugar down that she had hauled with her.
“Thanks,” Rourke said, sitting down on his creaking bed.
“What’s the plan for today?” Mira asked.
“I have to go back to the prison site. Answer some more questions,” Rourke said, in between swigs of coffee.
Mira nearly dropped her bagel. “You’re not going back there are you? That thing nearly killed you there!”
Rourke shrugged. “I can’t afford to quit the force. We’ve got too many of our leads that we can’t follow if I quit my job.”
Mira stared at him. “Well,” she said, putting her bagel down, “let me come too. So I can watch your back.”
Rourke shook his head as he chewed his bagel. “And what? Get killed too if the thing shows up again?” He leaned back. “In fact, I think we should change hotels again tonight.”
“But I booked this place for three nights!” Mira said, playfully. “Don’t you want to stay here?” Rourke glared at her and she waved a hand. “Whatever you say,” Mira said, sliding her laptop out from under the bed. She booted it up, threw her hotels through the random number generator and found a new one. “Well, this one’s closer to home at least, only fifteen miles out,” Mira said, showing it to Rourke. “I’ll book the room and head down there later.”
“Sounds good,” Rourke said. He grabbed his coffee cup and got up. “Everything I need is in my car, you should only have to pack your stuff.”
“Righto, chief,” Mira said with a salute. “I’ll start cranking out the words today.”
“Good,” Rourke said, eyeing his bed. “I really want to sleep in my own bed again.”
Mira packed everything in her car soon after Rourke left and headed out for the next hotel. A couple hours later found her comfortably situated in her (much nicer) room sitting at a small desk next to a window. The sun streamed in through the glass warming her hands as they hovered over the laptop. Mira took a breath. She had written many books before but none as important as this one. True, she hadn’t written any fictional books before, but how difficult could it be?
Two more hours later found Mira staring at her still blank first page on the word processor after a dozen attempts. She ran a hand through her hair and looked at the clock. Noon. It was noon and she hadn’t written anything. “Errragh!” she exclaimed pushing her chair back from her desk. She grabbed her outline off the desk and began to go over it as she paced the room.
“I don’t get it,” she said as she circled the trash can by the far wall. She walked back towards the window and the desk. “It’s all right here! Just like always! I have a plan, I know what I want to do! So why doesn’t anything sound right?” She flopped down on the bed and closed her eyes and let her outline drop on her face. She let out a large breath and the pages fluttered up and back down. “I can’t have Rourke come back and find me with nothing but a blank page to show for my day,” she muttered to herself.
She lay still for a couple more minutes. Then, groaning, she sat back up and made her way back to her laptop. She typed in the URL of a writer’s board that she frequented. She didn’t write fiction, but several of the other regulars did.
Hey, need some help, she typed. I’m writing a fictional novel for the first time. I did my research, I have my outline, but every time I write, it just comes out sounding all wrong. What should I do?
Mira pushed her chair back from her desk and got up. She’d take a quick stroll across the road and pick up some lunch. Hopefully by then someone would have answered her.
About an hour later, Mira settled back in front of the computer. She refreshed the page and found someone had replied to her thread. It was one the regulars who went by the handle “Unfettered”.
Hey, glad to see you moving out of your comfort zone! it read. I’ve seen some of your work before, and you write great biographies. You really make people come alive. You’re very detail oriented, you know all your facts, and you know just how to make all the puzzle pieces fall into place. I think that might be your problem here. You’re treating your characters like puzzle pieces instead of like people. Treat your characters like you would one of the people you research. Get to know them inside and out. And, don’t be afraid to ditch the outline if the story moves in an unexpected direction. You should never be afraid of where a story takes you.
Mira read the response and repeated the last line to herself. She gave a small laugh. “I think I should be afraid of where this one take me,” she said. She stared at the screen. It made sense though. To her, the characters had just been props to move the story along. It might make for a publishable book but not a memorable one, and she needed this book to be memorable.
She reached into her duffle bag by her bed and pulled out a pen and notepad. “Marlin Forest,” she said, writing down her main character’s name. “Let’s get to know you.”
Mira spent the next hour doing a biographical sketch of Marlin. The hour after that she made smaller ones for her other characters (Except one. She already knew plenty about it.). When she was done she looked up at the computer screen again, feeling oddly energized. “Yes, I think I know what you were doing in that woods now,” she said sitting at the computer again. “And maybe your friend doesn’t have to die. At least not in chapter one.” She began to type and this time she did not delete the words after she finished the first paragraph.
When Rourke came in around midnight, Mira didn’t even look up. The tippity tappity of her typing filled the room. Rourke circled around behind her to read over her shoulder. He glanced down at her page count and whistled. “How long have you been at this?” he asked.
Mira glanced down at the time in the bottom corner of her screen. She blinked. She hadn’t realized how late it was. “Uh, around eight hours I guess.” She smiled. “I’ve never gotten lost in a story like that. Writing one anyway.”
“Hmm,” Rourke said, scanning the page. “That seems like a rather cruel and unusual death,” he said, pointing at the screen. “That’s a lot of stabbing.”
“I mirrored it after Kurt Kent’s death,” Mira said quietly. “At least what I imagined his death at that thing’s tendrils was.”
Rourke walked over to his bed and sat on it. When it didn’t sink to the floor he grinned appreciatively. “I’m going to follow up on some of these missing kids cases tomorrow, see if I can get any details on how they disappeared. Maybe get an idea if it’s really that thing or not.”
Mira nodded. She saved her work and closed her laptop. Her rhythm had been broken. She’d pick up where she left off tomorrow. “By the way, before he was taken, did Jared have any idea why the Slender Man fixates on children so much?”
Rourke shook his head. “No. He said he thinks it’s afraid of people who know it’s really real.” He pointed at Mira and then himself.
Mira nodded. “Makes sense. We can shapes its story.”
Rourke scratched his head. “And he said something about not letting them die. The children and the others it takes I think.”
Mira stared at him. “You mean all those people this thing has ‘killed’ might not be truly dead?”
Rourke froze in place. “Y’know,” he said slowly. “You remember the night I helped save you from that thing?”
“How could I forget?”
“I had a dream that night. I saw Connor. He said… He said ‘I am free but others are not.’ And I think he said he couldn’t help them but we could.”
Mira reached for her notepad that was still sitting on the desk and began to scribble furiously on it. “That needs to go in the story then. We can’t leave those people to suffer if it really does have them.” She shuddered. “I would not want to be stuck with that thing for eternity.”
Rourke nodded slowly. “That is true.” He stretched and yawned. “I think we need to get some rest. We both put in some long hours today.”
“Dibs on the shower,” Mira said, darting off the bed, before Rourke could object. The doors shut with a small snikt behind her and she thought she heard a sigh but nothing more.
Mira woke with a start. Rourke was shaking her, looking at the television against the other wall as he did.
“I’m up!” Mira said, bouncing against the pillow.
Rourke let her go but did not turn to her. “Grab your things. We need to leave.”
Mira glanced over the clock. Five in the morning. “Now?!” she said. “What, is the Slender Man in the bathroom or something?”
Rourke just pointed at the television. Mira crawled across the bed and squinted at it. There was a small “live” caption in the corner of the screen and a reporter standing in front of a burning building. Another caption at the bottom of the screen said “Hotel fire”. Mira felt her heart stop. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “Is it?”
“Where we were staying last night,” Rourke confirmed, hurriedly stuffing his things into his bag. “I don’t know, maybe that thing was able to track me from the prison to the hotel. And since I went back to the prison yesterday and came here…”
“It could be here next,” Mira said, jumping off the bed. She began to shove her things into her duffle bag as well with wild abandon. “Where do we go, though?”
“Let’s go to the precinct. You can write in my office. I’d feel more comfortable if you were in a place with a lot of people and a lot of cameras, which the precinct has. You can figure out what hotel to go to while you’re there and let me know later.” Rourke hefted his bag over his shoulder. “Come on, I’ll walk you to check out and then we’re leaving.”
Just under an hour later, Mira stood in Rourke’s office and yawned. Rourke looked up from his desk. “There’s some coffee in the break room down the hall and to your right. Cups should be in the cabinet. Steal one of the chairs while you’re in there so we can share my desk.”
“An officer of the law telling me to steal,” Mira scoffed as she turned to leave.
“Yeah, yeah, funny,” Rourke said, waving a hand at her.
“You want some?” Mira asked, pausing at the door.
Rourke shook his head. “No thanks. I don’t think it would be good to mix caffeine with adrenaline rush I took this morning.”
Mira shrugged and headed down to the break room. She found the cups and some powdered creamer in the cabinets. She threw some in her coffee, hitched her arm around a chair, and went back to Rourke’s office. When she pushed open the door she found Rourke sitting abnormally still and rigid, staring at his laptop. “What is it?” she asked, closing the door behind her.
“They’re dead,” Rourke said, quietly, eyes never moving from the screen.
Mira set the chair in front of his desk and sat down, balancing her cup carefully as she did. “Who?” she asked.
“The guards. The guards who saw that thing when it took Jared.” He put his head in his hands. “God, have we become a walking blight? I feel like everywhere we go, we’re dragging that thing behind us.”
Mira sat quietly and stared into her coffee. She had thought much the same thing that morning as she had stared in horror at the television screen. But what else were they supposed to do?
“Maybe it would be better if–” Rourke began and then stopped suddenly.
“Better if what?” Mira pushed.
“Connor said he was free. The only difference between his death and the others is that Connor died by his own hand.” Rourke tapped a few fingers nervously on his desk.
Mira reached over and grabbed his hand. “No,” she said firmly. “That is not the answer. If we die, so does all knowledge of how to fight this thing and then it can do whatever the hell it wants. How is that better than what’s happening now?”
“It’s not,” Rourke admitted. He sighed. “I just wish it wasn’t like this.”
There was a rap at Rourke’s door and Mira and Rourke turned to look at it. “Come in,” Rourke said. A young man with blond hair poked his head in. “What is it, Deloran?” Rourke asked.
“Landers down in Robbery wants to talk with you,” Deloran said. “Someone apparently broke into your house sometime in the past few days. One of your neighbors behind you noticed the back door broken open when he was taking his dog for a walk. Cops on the scene say the rain water on the inside makes it look like it’s been at least two days.”
Rourke cursed quietly. “That’s just lovely,” he said, getting up.
“Not been home much lately, eh?” Deloran asked. His gaze turned to Mira. “Who’s this?”
“Mira Grolinsky. She has some information for me on the Connor Russell and related cases.” Rourke said.
“Grolinsky,” Deloran said, slowly. “That is odd.”
“What?” Mira asked, half getting up.
“Do you live at 444 Sweetspring Avenue?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mira said, now standing.
Deloran whistled. “Well, Landers was just getting ready to call you actually. Your house has had a break in too.”
Mira and Rourke looked at each other. “Do you think its related?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” Rourke said, moving for the door.
“To the Russell case?” Deloran asked as he stepped back to allow Rourke out. Mira followed him.
“Something like that,” Rourke said. “Come on, we can both go talk to Landers.”
Mira walked out of her house just after noon with Rourke in tow. There were some books and clothes tossed around and it looked like someone had searched the desk with her computer on it, but the only thing that appeared to be stolen was a tablet e-reader.
“I don’t like this,” Rourke said, looking around to make sure none of his fellow officers were in ear shot. “This doesn’t feel like the Slender Man’s style, but I can’t believe it’s not related.”
“Well, I’ve arranged for a new hotel, anyway,” Mira said. “I’ll text you the location after I leave here.” She pushed her bangs out of her eyes as the wind whipped her hair around. “I guess you’re headed to your house next?”
“Yeah. I’m willing to bet its a lot like this one, though,” he said, turning back to look at it. “I’ll probably be late again. You don’t have to wait up.”
“Wasn’t planning to,” Mira said, with a grin. She gave a small wave. “I’ll see you when I see you then.”
“Be careful,” Rourke said, turning to to re-join his comrades.
The new hotel Mira had found was located about halfway between the now burnt down one and the one she had stayed at last night. She sat in a lounge chair by the pool with her laptop and enjoyed the afternoon sun. She wasn’t typing with the same frenzy as the day before. That particular moment of inspiration had left. But Mira had been writing long enough to know inspiration only covered about five percent of your writing, if you were lucky. The rest was forcing yourself to keep typing even when it felt like you were pulling teeth just to put the next sentence on the page.
She had a local news reader widget on her desktop and she checked it regularly. She kept expecting to see that the hotel from the previous night had gone up in flames too, but nothing scrolled across the widget except a reminder that Proposition S was up for a vote next week.
As the sun began to set, Mira picked up her laptop and headed to her room. Once there, she turned on the TV and set it to a local station to serve as background white noise and then kept writing. The local news came on and she stopped momentarily to listen. No messy deaths. No recent child abductions. No fires. She breathed a small sigh of relief and then went back to typing.
As she typed, Mira would occasionally make notes on the notepad that sat next to her on the bed. Eventually, though, her pen ran out of ink and tore a hole in the page as she scribbled. “Oh, bother,” Mira said. She pulled open the drawer of the night stand, hoping to find another pen. Her hand closed on a small book. Curious, she pulled it out. “Oh,” she said, holding it in her hands and leafing through it. “Gideon Bible.” The page fell open to one in the Gospel of Matthew. Mira’s eyes were drawn to the red font that indicated the words Jesus had spoken. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it,” Mira read to herself. “Hmm, faith like a child and all that I guess,” she said, sticking the book back in the nightstand. Her hand closed around a pen and, pulling it out, she shut the drawer. Then she paused. “Faith of a child,” she breathed. “Oh my God, the faith of a child! That’s why it take children!” she said, excitedly, bouncing in the bed.
The door handle clicked and Mira checked the time on her laptop. Just after eleven. “Well, this is positively early for you,” Mira said looking up. “I think I figured out the children angle.” Then she froze. Rourke was not standing in her doorway. A man she didn’t recognize in a ripped orange prison jumpsuit stood in the doorway.
He closed the door behind him and then turned to Mira. “Stole a key from the desk when the attendant stepped out to give someone towels,” he said off-handedly as he leaned against the door. He rubbed his left shoulder. Through a tear in the jump-suit Mira could see livid, red, inflamed flesh.
Mira slowly got up off the bed, her laptop clutched in her hands. “Who are you?” she asked, standing up.
The man shrugged. “Jared Holloway. I take it you’re Mira,” he said. “Your passwords are crap. You should look into changing them. Or, well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” he said, still leaning against the door. In his left hand, Mira could see her stolen e-reader.
Mira felt the blood leaving her face. “You’re not dead. You got away from it.”
“Well, I’m not dead,” Jared said, rubbing his shoulder again. “I wouldn’t say I got away from that thing though,” he said, quietly.
“How, how?” Mira stuttered, trying not to shake.
“Did I find you?” Jared asked. “Well that thing indicated it wanted to find you and was having some trouble. I broke into Rourke’s house and your house. Your computer was most revealing. You’ve got all your accounts linked,” he said, pointing at her laptop and waving her e-reader. “It was just a matter of checking your search history.” He sighed. “Though you threw me at first by registering for three days and then leaving after one.”
“You burnt down the hotel!” Mira exclaimed.
“Oh, no,” Jared said quietly. “I didn’t. I just led it there.”
Mira sucked in a breath and took a step back. “You can’t!” she said. “We’re going to stop it! If you get us killed it will just do what it wants!”
“It already does that,” Jared growled. He laughed at her. “You think you have a chance?” He shook his head, his hand digging harder and harder into his shoulder. “I’ve seen it and where it lives. You can’t stop it. No one can. Now just be a good girl and–”
Jared stopped as Mira dove forward and crashed her laptop into his head. He staggered back from the door and Mira yanked it open, dropping her laptop and running out the door.
As she ran towards the main office, the air in front of her started to shimmer. She pulled up short, staring at it. Mira glanced wildly over her shoulder, looking for Jared. He was just outside the door, panting and holding his shoulder, looking ready to pass out. “It comes,” he said, pointing back towards the shimmering air.
Mira turned back around. It almost looked like the very air itself was growing thin and stretching, as if something was trying to pull itself through from behind the curtain that was her reality. Several black tendrils reached into the air. Mira didn’t wait to see more. She turned around and fled the other way.
She heard Jared give a cry of pain behind her. Pounding feet told her he had finally gotten up and given chase. She looked down at her shadow that stretched in front of her. She could see Jared’s elongated one catching up, and, behind it, a dozen thin waving ones. Mira looked up and saw the pool in front of her. Without thinking, she jumped into it. It wouldn’t save her from Jared, but it might give the other thing pause.
Her clothes clung to her as she swum towards the middle of the pool. A splash behind her made her turn, and she saw Jared swimming towards her. And behind him, at the pools edge, was tall, dark, and slender itself. Tendrils waved and reached over the water but did not touch it. It’s tendrils seemed to grow and reach forward, and arched over the pool, touching down on all sides. Jumping in the pool was starting to look like a very bad idea.
“Come on, stop delaying this!” Jared said,lunging at her. Mira pushed back and he fell just short.
“Stop giving in to that thing!” Mira shouted back. Why wasn’t anyone coming outside? Didn’t they hear this?
“I won’t go back to the flames!” Jared roared, and he caught a handful of her hair. He pulled Mira’s head under the water.
Mira twisted and clawed at his grasp. She wondered for a second if he meant to drown her. But after that moment, Jared hauled her head back above water. He tried to hook an arm around her waist, moving back towards the edge of the pool and the thing as he did.
“No!” Mira said, twisting in Jared’s grasp. He didn’t have a huge muscle build, but there was a wiry strength in his arms belied by his slight size. Mira saw the tendrils retreating from around the pool and back towards the thing. By now they were in the shallow end of the pool and mere feet from it. Mira gritted her teeth and readied to fight the tendrils reaching for her.
Then, amazingly, something hurtled into the tall slender being above her. It appeared to be taken off guard and it fell towards the water, the person who had tackled it falling in with it. It splashed down next to Mira and Jared and instantly began to writhe, its tendrils flailing indiscriminately. Mira felt one strike her forehead and felt blood flow down it. It dropped in her eye.
The person who had tackled the thing pushed back off it, hissing in pain, his hands a burnt red. “Rourke!” Mira said. She turned and angled her elbow up into Jared’s nose. Surprised, he cursed and let her go as his nose started to bleed.
Rourke waded over and tackled Jared, and they fell in the water splashing. “Get out of here!” Rourke said, trying to drag Jared out of the pool.
Mira pulled herself out of the pool, but found herself unwilling to leave Rourke behind. The Slender Man was lodging tendrils into the ground around it and starting to pull itself out of the pool. “Rourke, let him go, we gotta run!” Mira said, standing up and backing away.
Rourke wrested Jared out of the pool and they hit the concrete together not far from Mira. “Come on, why would you want to help that thing?” Rourke asked as they struggled. “You should come with us, help us fight it!”
Jared savagely kicked Rourke in the stomach. As Rourke rolled away from the kick, Jared leaped on top of him and reached for something at Rourke’s waistline. He stood back up with a gun.
Mira and Rourke froze as Jared held the gun in his shaking hand. “I don’t want to help it,” he whimpered. “And I don’t want to hurt anyone else.” He shook his head. “But I won’t go back.” Then, suddenly, he pushed the gun into his mouth.
“No!” Rourke shouted. Mira gave a small scream and turned away. There was a gunshot and then a meaty thump. When Mira looked back, a pool of crimson was already gathering around Jared Holloway’s head.
Rourke was grabbing Mira now and pulling her away. Mira looked up and saw the Slender Man, now out of the pool and using its tendrils to hold itself off the ground. Absentmindedly, Mira noted there were now plenty of people opening their hotel room doors, pointing, gasping, screaming, and generally acting as shocked as they should be. The thing turned its head, as if registering this fact. More tendrils grew from its back and hit the ground.
“It’s like its digging itself in for something,” Mira muttered as Rourke dragged her away. The air started to shimmer again. It wasn’t just a small patch now. It was all around them and back towards the hotel.
Rourke looked around him confused. “What is this?” he asked.
Mira looked at the air and felt a cold fear that belied the heat that was rapidly rising around them. “It’s how he got here. It was like he was pulling himself in from somewhere else. I think it’s–”
“Trying to do the opposite,” Rourke said. He cupped his hands over his hands. “All of you, run! Get out of here!” he shouted at the watching spectators. Then he turned and ran with Mira following.
“They won’t listen,” Mira said, feeling tears filling up her eyes.
“I know,” Rourke said quietly.
They were stumbling through the parking lot and Rourke was pointing to his car. Mira was feeling a strange backwards suction on her skin as she spilled into the passenger seat. Rourke threw the car in gear and pealed from the lot. The shimmering air line terminated several feet down the road from the hotel.
Mira twisted in her seat as Rourke drove away. For a few seconds more the night was still. With the suddenness of lightning, a giant singular flame erupted from the middle of the hotel compound. Mira shielded her eyes and turned away. When she looked back, the entire hotel and surrounding area was in flames.
Mira sat back properly in her seat. A small gasping sob escaped her, and she leaned forward, trying to pull air into her lungs. All those people. Jared. All gone.
“I don’t get it. It’s so powerful,” Rourke said, hitting the steering wheel with his hands. Rourke hissed in pain and the car veered too far to the right. Rourke yanked the wheel back to the left.
“It’s the children,” Mira said, leaning her head against the window, still able to see the orange flames reflected in the glass.
“What?” Rourke asked, briefly turning to look at her confused.
“Who has faith like a child?” Mira asked. “We believe things so hard when we’re kids. We believe in fairies, and promises, and pots of gold,” she rambled. “And it runs on belief. And it does not let them die.”
Rourke sucked in a breath. “So it preys on children because they make it stronger…” he said.
Mira nodded. “I think so. And it has taken so many children lately.”
Rourke gripped the steering wheel. “Did you lose your story in the fire?” he asked.
“No,” Mira said tonelessly. An enormous tide of emotion threatened to wash over her, but she kept it at bay. She needed to function for just a little longer. “I had it saved on cloud storage. I can access it from anything that can connect to the internet.”
“Good,” Rourke breathed. He pulled over to the side of the road. His hands were shaking as he did.
Mira noticed again how red his hands were. “Did it burn you?” she asked.
“Yes,” Rourke said shortly. He turned to her. “I think we need to go underground for now. No more hotels. No going home.”
“Where will we stay?” she asked.
“We’ll hit a Wal-Mart and buy a tent and supplies. We’ll set up somewhere by a river or a lake to help keep it at bay. Just–” and he had to compose himself. “Just somewhere where there’s no people around.”
“I agree,” Mira said, voice trembling thinking of the hotel they had just left. “What about tonight?”
“There’s a rest stop about fifteen miles down the road,” Rourke said. He signaled and drove his car back on the road. “We stay there tonight. Empty out our bank accounts tomorrow. Cash only so we can’t be tracked after the initial withdrawal.”
“Sounds, sounds good,” Mira said, settling back in her seat.
Rourke reached a hand out to her. Mira gently grabbed it, trying not to hurt his burn. “Whatever happens, we’re in this together, Mira.” Rourke said, firmly.
Credit To – Star Kindler