I jammed my hands into the pockets of my pullover sweater, and hunched my shoulders slightly against the morning chill. The spongy forest floor cushioned and muffled each footfall into near perfect silence. That explains why I didn’t know I was being watched. Followed. Never alone. Unsafe. The towering redwoods used to bring me comfort, sheltering me with their spiny branches. Then there was that day. Just that one day. Changing everything. It was morning, a bit early. Just after dawn.
The ocean fog had rolled in, shrouding everything in a thick mist. Even though I was young, just a teen, I knew my mom would be okay with me walking around this early. I had grown up in these woods after all. I should have noticed that new tree. A tree that hadn’t been there yesterday. A tree that shouldn’t have been there at all. It wasn’t even a tree. But I didn’t take notice because an odd rustling, swishing sound approached me from behind. A light chill ran across my shoulders as I spun frantically to look at the source of the noise.
My cat, Anna, trotted up to me happily through the fog and rubbed her head on my leg. I ran my hands through her long, silvery fur. How could I have been so paranoid? She almost always followed me on my walks. I strolled a bit longer, Anna following me unusually closely. Suddenly, she darted off into the forest, leaving me alone. I didn’t know that was the last time I would have see her alive. How could I have?
“Hm. Must have been a squirrel,” I said slowly. I kept walking. Then I heard it. An unearthly yowl. An animal in pain. A cat. My cat. “Anna!” I shout into the grayness, crashing through the undergrowth towards the sound of my beloved pet. A small clearing opened in front of me. Empty. Lifeless. An old redwood sat at the other side of the clearing. I stepped toward it. Closer, until it was six feet from my face. Bile rose in my throat as I saw a symbol scrawled on the bark. An ‘X’ superimposed on a circle. Written in blood. Fresh blood.
A buzzing sound filled my ears, like that of an insect. I stared at the symbol, not knowing what to think. The buzz increased in frequency until it was a high-pitched ring. It hurt my ears. They felt like they were on the verge of bleeding. Yet, somehow, I still managed to hear a soft laugh behind me; an evil snicker. I turned slowly, and saw him. It. Whatever the Hell it is or was. It was So. Tall. 10 feet maybe. At first I thought it was a logger. I had seen some pretty big loggers in my life. But what logger wears a goddamn business suit in the forest? And I have never seen, or will see, a human that tall.
And what human has that many limbs? Along with two abnormally long, spindly arms, it had…others. Tentacles. Four. Six. Eight. Maybe ten. It was skinny, too. Unnaturally slender. I saw something in its hands. In it’s white hands, something silver and gray…and scarlet. In each hand. Dripping scarlet off of soft fur. The ringing in my ears gave way to his laughter. Filling my ears. Filling my mind. Cramming itself into my soul. Eating away the good. The happy. Leaving darkness, blood, pain.
Several emotions flood through me at once. Rage. Sadness. Pain. Above all, fear. Undiluted fear courses through my veins along with frantic adrenaline, making me feel as though I am freezing and boiling at the same time. An awful cough rattled my bones, forcing me to my hands and knees. My back arched slightly as I inhaled, sounding like death. But that was impossible. How could I be Death? How could I be when he was standing before me?
I glanced up briefly, hoping he would be gone. Hope was crushed. Crushed in the face of fear. He was still there, closer. About 5 feet away from me. I was still on the ground. Then he moved. He leaned towards me. I didn’t look up. He bent down and grabbed me with one of his long, bony tentacles, binding my arms to my sides. He lifted me off of the ground as if I weighed nothing. My eyes fluttered closed. I felt him grab my chin with his hand. Even with his palm on my chin, his long fingers reached into my hairline. His hands were surprisingly warm.
I opened my eyes slowly. I opened my eyes to look upon his face. Our heads were about 3 feet apart. At first everything was fuzzy. I could see shapes. I saw the outline of his head, tilted slightly as if in curiosity. He angled my head another way, and my vision came into focus. I opened my mouth to scream. He had no face. Smooth, white, bald blankness. No eyes to examine me with, though that was what he seemed to be doing. No mouth to laugh with, but I knew he had. I will never forget that laugh.
My scream never made it. Impossibly fast, his hand slid up to my mouth, clamping my jaw shut, displacing some of my hair, which had been tucked behind my ear. He shook his head slowly. I flailed, kicking my legs wildly. In the same unnatural quickness, another sharp, angular tentacle wrapped itself around my ankles, immobilizing me completely. He shook his head more emphatically, squeezing my jaw until it felt like my bones would snap.
Even though I willed myself against the impulse to cry, a tear rolled down my cheek. With unexpected tenderness that contradicted the extreme pressure on my jaw, he reached up with his other hand to brush away the tear and tuck my hair out of my face.
He tilted my head this way and that, and when he seemed satisfied, he shrugged a little and carelessly dropped me on the ground. I landed on my back, the air pushed out of my lungs. I managed to breathe after several seconds. He stood over me, watching, staring down at me. He waited for me to catch my breath. When I did, he kicked me viciously in the ribs, flipping me over onto my stomach. I felt a rib crack, sending searing pain through my chest. That, coupled with the pain in my jaw, forced a small whimper out of me.
He chuckled at my pain. Then I watched him walk away. Every breath hurt. I watched until the fog had almost completely hidden him from view. Then he stopped suddenly, and turned back to look at me again. In an instant, he was right behind me, he grabbed the hood of my sweater and lifted me off of the ground again, the hood practically choking me.
“What do you want from me?” I managed to say. More cold laughter. With abrupt cruelty, all pairs of thin tentacles pierced my back. What did I know of pain? Who was I to say I that I had known agony? He did nothing to mute my screams, which echoed through the forest in a haunting song of misery. The pain was nothing I had experienced, or will experience ever again. I heard someone shout my name, far in the distance. He raised my body over his head, and gave my body a little jolt, driving the knives of agony deeper into my chest. My screams doubled in intensity.
He finally flung me to the ground, and more bones broke. Blood trickled out of my mouth. My sobs rolled through the clearing, and then the darkness closed in.
I remember waking up in the hospital, hearing voices on the other side of the curtain. Voices talking about how I was lucky that the eight stab wounds missed any vital organs, any organs at all really. He just nicked a lung. A few broken ribs, a cracked ulna. I heard them say that the body of a convicted felon was found hanging from a tree they day after I was attacked. Convenient. Convenient for him and clever of him. Everyone would think that the criminal had killed himself in an act of remorse for what he had done to me.
When my parents asked me what happened, ‘What did I remember?’, I lied. I told them I remembered walking through the forest, and the man had run up behind me, and stabbed me. I told them I blacked out almost instantly. The police questioned me a little, but since the case was pretty much closed, they didn’t really bother me after that.
He didn’t kill me. He didn’t kill me on purpose. He didn’t because he’s not done with me. I still see that symbol now and then. Here, there. Everywhere. I still have scars. Nobody knows the truth. Nobody but you now. Now that you know him, he knows you. He will find you. You might not see him right away. But he sees you. You might get lucky. He might kill you from the beginning. Or you might be like me. You might be haunted by that slender man. Then he takes you away. He takes you away eventually. He makes your life a living Hell until you welcome death. Ah-I see he has finally come for me. He stands behind me now. He is behind you, too, somewhere. Waiting. Watching.
Credit To: Shannon