Full Circle

July 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM

This is the sixth and final part of the By the Fire’s Light series.

Names we give have power
As we discovered too late
For we have named the nameless one
And thus have sealed our fate.

Our time has come full circle,
And now we have the end
Of lives or story who can say
As we turn the final bend.

Oh Wanderer of Blazes,
Will you please pass me by?
I am not worth your interest
So leave me here to die.

As the flames close in and curl
Around this frigid winter night,
I pray I will not see you coming
By the fire’s light.

Rourke lay in the early morning twilight, unable to sleep, staring at the green canvas above him and listening to the twittering of birds. He heard Mira typing quietly on her laptop on the other side of the tent. They had bought an external battery that held a decent amount of charge to keep it and their phones running out in the wilderness. The battery was running low though. They’d have to go to a town somewhere to charge it up.

Mira stopped typing and Rourke heard her close the laptop. “It’s finished,” she said to herself.

Rourke pushed himself up on his elbow. “You’re done?’

Mira looked over to him, eyes red from lack of sleep and nodded. “It’s done. I’ll still have to look over the proofs when they send them to me. But the story is finished. I am ready to send it in.”

Rourke scooted out of his sleeping bag. He zipped it up and began to roll it tight. “Well, good timing. We needed to go into civilization to charge the battery anyway.”

“We’ll need to hit a place with free wi-fi,” Mira said. She was sliding her laptop in her duffle bag and packing in other small items, like her notepad. “And coffee. Good coffee.”

Rourke laughed. “What, you don’t like percolated coffee?”

“Not when you make it weaker then water,” she said, unzipping the flap at the front of the tent. Sunlight streamed in and Mira blinked against the sudden onslaught. She poked her head outside slowly, looking left and right. “No signs of tall people in business suits,” she said pulling back into the tent.

“That’s good,” Rourke said, hefting his duffle bag up. “You have everything?”

“Yeah,” Mira said, hefting her own duffle bag. “Let’s pull the tent down and get out of here.”

Mira and Rourke ducked down and walked out of the tent. It was a decent sized tent, meant to house a family. It was camouflage colored and blended in with the foliage around it. For the past two months, Rourke and Mira had moved from campsite to campsite and state park to state park, and, occasionally, private property (which was when the camouflage came in extra handy). It was somewhat ironic, hiding from the Slender Man in the woods, but as long as they stayed near a water source like a lake or river or even a stream, they didn’t seem to have too much trouble.

As long as they didn’t stay anywhere too long that is. As they walked, Mira remembered back to the end of their first week of camping. They were at a state park site, camped near a decent sized lake. It had been three in the morning and Rourke had been sound asleep. Mira, however, had had trouble sleeping ever since her encounter with the Slender Man at the hotel that ended with the entire hotel in flames. She was determined to finish her story and bring it to publication, to try and put some dent in the path of destruction this thing was weaving.

As she had been typing, Mira had noticed a long thin creeping shadow in the pool of light made by her screen. With a gasp she had turned around to find a tall slender shadow just outside the tent. She had leapt forward on Rourke, shaking him awake. Which turned out to be a good thing when a tendril ripped through the tent fabric and struck where she had been sitting, splitting her laptop in two.

Rourke had grabbed a knife he used for paring down sticks for the fires he made sometimes and used it to slash a hole in the other side of the tent. Pushing out, they had run through the woods to the lake, crashing into the frigid water. The thing had stood on the shore watching them until the sun came up.

They had both staggered to shore, shivering, with blue lips and numb fingers and toes. Luckily, they had been able to get back to their camp and gather their things, only pausing to change into dry clothes. Even though it was the middle of summer they had cranked up the heat in Rourke’s car as they drove away from the state park. They had had to buy a new laptop for Mira and another tent. Since then they hadn’t stayed at a single site for more than three days.

Mira snapped back to the present as they came up to Rourke’s cars. As they loaded their things in the back, she frowned and turned to Rourke. “Hey, Rourke,” she said.

“What’s up?”he said as he shifted their duffle bags to the floor so he could squeeze the rolled up tent in.

“You remember our first collective encounter with the Slender Man? When we dove in the lake behind my house?”

“Yeah, it’s when I told you about how we needed to modify its story instead of negating,” Rourke said, shutting the door. “Because it’s easier.”

“Well, yeah,” Mira said, opening the passenger door. She climbed in and belted herself in and waited for Rourke to do the same on the passenger side. She turned towards Rourke as he started the car. “But there was something else you said. About us not being enough.”

Rourke revved the car and then let it idle as he sat back. He closed his eyes, thinking. “Yeah,” he said. “It was something Connor told me in the dream that prompted me to come check you. He said that one would not be enough. Or two.”

Mira’s eyebrows knit. “I don’t understand then.”

Rourke cocked his head. “Don’t understand what?”

“Why water has been so affective against it,” Mira said. “I mean there is some speculation in the Slender Man mythos that it is weak to water, especially in the Marble Hornets series, but nothing definite. Nothing concrete. So how can just the two of us believing it be enough to keep it at bay?”

Rourke stared ahead out the windshield for a few moments, watching the trees wave in the wind. He shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe Connor was wrong? Or maybe that speculation combined with our belief is strong enough?”

“Maybe,” Mira said, sounding unconvinced. She shook her head. “I can’t think without coffee. Let’s make our brief trip into civilization before we rough it again.”

“Sounds good to me,” Rourke said. He reached forward to turn on the radio.

–tenth disappearance in the area.– the disembodied voice said. –When questioned, authorities would only say they were investigating all possible leads. When questioned as to whether the disappearance of the children in the area was connected to the sudden spike in child abductions nationwide, authorities had no comment.

Mira and Rourke stared at the radio and Rourke shook his head. “You can’t get that story in soon enough,” he said to Mira, shifting the car into gear.

Twenty miles down the road they found a small town with a coffee shop that advertised free wi-fi in the windows. Mira had ordered the largest black coffee should could and a bagel. Taking her laptop, she settled in a corner by an electrical outlet and plugged her laptop in, letting it charge. Rourke sat down across from her and surreptitiously plugged in the battery they were using to charge their equipment.

“So,” Rourke said, settling down with his own coffee. “What’s your story called anyway? Did you finally decide on a name?”

Mira took a long swallow of coffee, appreciating its nearly scalding heat as it slid down her throat. “Oh, so good,” she said, putting the coffee down. She was definitely going back for a refill.

Rourke eyed her with amusement. “I take it that’s not the title.”

Mira rolled her eyes. “No,” she said, attaching her story to an e-mail she was sending to her agent Maureen. “I called it ,The Wanderer of Blazes.

“Catchy,” Rourke said. He swirled his coffee around. “So, how will this stop that thing?”

“Well, first we have to hope we can reach a fairly wide audience. If it bombs we’re back at square one,” Mira said. She lifted her cup for another gulp and drained it.

“It won’t,” Rourke said, trying to sound encouraging.

Mira stood up to get a refill. She patted Rourke on the shoulder as she passed. “That’s nice of you, but even great stories have bombed in their time. And I don’t think I’ve written a great story. Maybe a good one though.”

Rourke settled back in his chair as Mira went for her refill. The past couple months had been harder on him they he cared to admit. He had resigned from the force when he had gone underground with Mira. He really didn’t have any other options if he wanted to disappear without a thousand following hounds. Not that his employers weren’t curious to his reasons or wouldn’t investigate. But, there had been nothing to tie him to the hotel that had gone up in flames (more like exploded really…) since Mira had made all the reservations. Aside from being available for questioning in the disappearance of Jared Holloway from his prison (and he remembered his gun in Jared’s hand as Jared turned it on himself…) he had nothing to tie him down.

Mira sat back down with a new cup of coffee and checked her screen. “Good, it sent,” she said, taking a sip. “We should probably check in to civilization every couple days so I can get the proofs.”

“You still haven’t told me how this story is going to help us,” Rourke said, leaning forward.

Mira shut her laptop lid and set her elbows lightly on top of the shiny dark blue surface. “A few things,” she said. “One,” said, ticking the point off on her fingers, “we really establish water as a weakness in this story. Make it something that can seep into the mythos. Two, I wrote about a way in the story to pull people from whatever horrid place that thing takes them to.” She took a breath. “And three is tied to two. When we pull the people out, we force a large de-power in the thing. Since it runs on belief, once we steal the belief batteries its been running on we cut its power down to manageable levels.”

“Huh,” Rourke said. He finally took a drink of his coffee as he
contemplated this. “But doesn’t it run on the belief of people who aren’t
currently spending eternity with it?”

“Well, since I’m guessing that’s how it first came to exists, yes,” Mira
said. She shrugged. “We’re not going to destroy it in one sitting though.
If the book sells well, I can write another hey, maybe even get in a trilogy
that ends with this thing’s permanent defeat!”

“That’d be nice,” Rourke said, leaning back in his seat. “It’d be nice to
get back to life again.”

Mira reached across the table and grabbed his hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“You’ve had to give up a little more than me. I can still do my work while
we’re running.”

“Yeah, well, just do a good job so I can go back to mine,” Rourke said
gruffly, looking away from her, a thin shiny film on his eyes.

Mira opened her laptop again and became engrossed in it until Rourke turned
back towards her. He glanced down at the battery. “Battery’s charged,” he
said, reaching down to unplug it. “We should hit a grocery store before we
pick our next campsite.”

The rest of the day passed quietly after he and Mira had set up camp again.
A strong stream wound by the tent, rushing on its way to who knew where.
Mira sat with a book in the grass by the stream, head bent over the pages.
She looked up as Rourke walked restlessly out of the tent.

“Would you like to read it?” she asked.

“Read what?” Rourke asked, walking over to her. “That?” he said, pointing
at the book in her hands.

“No, my book,” Mira said, closing the one she was reading. “You’ve read
bits and piece, but never the whole thing.”

“I–” Rourke said. He stared at the stream for a moment and then shook his
head. “No. I don’t want to know more about this thing than I have to.”

Mira shrugged. “Fair enough.”

“Do you have anything else?”

Mira reached next to her and held up a small paperback. A dark haired
mysterious man had one hand waving a gun and his arm around a blond woman
with breasts so large Rourke wondered how they stayed in her half buttoned
shirt. “Cheap thriller I picked up at the grocery store,” Mira said.

Rourke laughed. “I’ll take it.”

The proofs had finally showed up in Mira’s inbox a week and a half later.
Mira spent the next couple of days glued to her laptop as she poured over
her pages, looking at the marks the editors had made. “And done,” she
finally announced at the end of the second day. She glanced towards the
setting sun. “You wanna go in now or wait until tomorrow?”

Rourke looked from the sun to Mira. He wanted this story off as quickly as
possible. But he didn’t like being out at night. It wasn’t that this thing
could only attack during the night, but it seemed to prefer to. And he
would rather not be around other people if it decided to make an appearance.
The burnt down hotel with dozens and dozens dead had taught him that lesson.
“Let’s wait until tomorrow,” Rourke said.

That night Mira slept well, with an actual smile on her lips. Rourke
guessed it was because she had finally finished her story. She had been
stressed out over it, working almost non-stop, typing, revising, and then
typing again. At times he had wondered if he was going to have to start
making her take tranquilizers to get at least some sleep.

Rourke, however, did not sleep. A slow creeping sensation of doom had been
building in him ever since Mira had finished her story. He didn’t
understand it and he couldn’t shake it. All he could do was lie awake and
watch and listen for anything unusual. The night crawled by slowly, each
cicada buzz, each small gust of wind, setting his already frayed nerves on
edge. It was with relief he saw the light of the sun start to creep into
the tent. It was only then he allowed his eyes to close and he dozed for a
couple hours.

They had managed to creep their way across the state over the past couple
weeks with their constant changing of campsites. They were in the southern
tip of it now and they ended up in a small town that sat right on the
border. They walked into a McDonald’s to take advantage of the free wi-fi
and to get some breakfast. Rourke felt unfriendly eyes on his and Mira’s
back as they walked in. He looked around curiously as they got in line
behind a woman and her small boy. The woman glanced over her shoulder and
almost casually reached over and pulled her boy closer.

“What is everyone’s problem?” Rourke muttered as he and Mira stepped forward
to order.

“Oh, don’t mind them,” the young girl manning the register said, brown curls
bouncing as she shook her head. “It’s just, five kids have gone missing in
the past couple weeks. It’s a small town, the kind where everyone knows one
another, so they’ve been eyeing daggers at any strangers passing through.”

“Here too,” Mira said softly.

“Well, the cops said it’s not related to the national spike, but,” the girl
leaned in conspiratorially, ” I think they’re lying. I saw some guys in
suits in government type cars at the station earlier. Looked like the FBI.”

“Wow,” Mira breathed. Rourke and she took their order to go and set up at
one of the table on the patio outside.

“Glad the wi-fi reaches,” Mira said, opening her internet browser on her
laptop. She looked to Rourke. “Should we try to tell someone?” she asked.

Rourke looked up from his biscuit. “Tell them what?”

“About all this,” Mira said waving her hands in vague circles.

Rourke raised an eyebrow. “Tell them a faceless tentacled abomination is stealing these children and setting fires? With no proof, no evidence, and photos?” He shook his head. “Only if you want to spend the next couple years in jail or a psychiatric hospital.”

“I just,” Mira said, typing as she spoke, “I want to protect these kids somehow.”

“That’s what you’re doing by sending in that story,” Rourke said, pointing at the laptop. But even as he said it, he felt a feeling of doom rise in his chest.

“Am I?” Mira asked, as if she could feel it too. She sighed. “You’re right there. Who would believe us?” She shook her head. “Nobody else has. Even people who saw it, who you tried to warn.”

“Yeah,” Rourke said, folding up the rest of his sandwich and putting it back in the bag. He wasn’t feeling very hungry anymore.

“Let’s start making our way to the coast,” Mira said suddenly.

“Um, okay. But why?” Rourke asked, getting up. He tossed his bag into a nearby trash can.

“If the story does well, we’re going to need to be near a lot of water,” Mira said. “And if it doesn’t,” she looked around her, “I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Well, east, west, or south?” Rourke asked. “Unless you felt like heading to Canada?”

Mira smiled. “No. Let’s go south. But let’s take our time. It’s going to be a couple months before the book is published.”

The next two months were almost pleasant for Mira and Rourke. With the story out and awaiting publication, there was nothing to do but wait. Well, that, and keep moving so that the thing didn’t catch up with them.

The Slender Man showed neither tendril nor tie the entire two months, and it bothered Rourke horribly. It made him feel worse than if it had shown up everyday. His feeling of doom grew worse as each day passed and slipped through his hands like so much sand.

After two months of meandering travel, Rourke and Mira had finally ended up in Florida. Mira had taken to wandering back into civilization daily once her book hit publication.

“It might not do as well as it could,” Mira said to Rourke as she sat in a donut shop with him. “Since we’ve been on the move, I wasn’t able to help promote it.” She bit her nails.

“Well, it certainly would have made an impression if the Slender Man had showed up during an interview,” Rourke joked.

Mira looked up from her screen with something close to relief on her face. “Well, early review are mostly positive. Good but not great. A good way to while away an afternoon. Stuff like that.” She clicked some more. “And it’s starting to show up on a lot of blogs dedicated to Slender Man stuff.” She held her hands together. “This just might work,” she squeaked excitedly.

“So,” Rourke asked, “does this mean we need to be near a lot of water?”

Mira closed her laptop. She took a breath. “Maybe. Ask me again in a week. And let’s keep going south, all the way down to the tip.”

They rolled south, stopping at beach campgrounds as they went. It was getting to be the tail end of summer. Rourke would have thought that the campgrounds would be full, but they weren’t. He learned from a local at one of the shops they stopped at for Mira’s daily book check that the campgrounds were scarcely inhabited in the hotter months. “Just as well,” Rourke had said to himself.

At the end of the week Mira had looked up from her laptop in the coffee shop they were in with a mix of determination and pride. “Look,” she said, turning the laptop to face Rourke. It was the New York Times bestsellers list. And there was The Wanderer of Blazes at number 11.

Rourke felt himself smile. “That’s great, Mira!” he said and he meant it.

“I think it’s time I told you how to pull the people out,” Mira said, slowly closing the laptop. She looked around the shop full of laughing teens and college aged peoples, with beads of all colors hanging in strings from the ceiling. “But not here.”

“We should go set up camp anyway,” Rourke said, getting up to join her.

They drove to the beach campground located the furthest south and found an isolated spot to pitch their tent. It was heading towards noon when they were finished, so they had both crawled inside with bottled water and a small fan to escape the heat.

“Well,” Rourke said, fanning himself with the copy of the cheap thriller Mira had picked up a couple months ago, “what’s the plan.”

Mira took in a deep slow breath and then let it out. “You aren’t going to like it.”

Rourke sighed and leaned forward, still fanning himself. “Please don’t dance around the issue. How can it be any worse than what we’ve already been through.”

“Well, you see,” Mira said tentatively, “you know how it was sort of able to weaken the barriers between our reality and its that time at the hotel?”

“When it set everything on fire? Yeah, I remember,” Rourke said. He frowned. “I’m really not going to like this, am I?”

Mira shook her head. “Well, I sort of made it that if it decided to try and pull that trick when near water, that the weakening would twofold. It could pull things in, but the those trapped with it could push back and out. Wake up out of whatever state it has them in.”

Rourke stared at her. “Are you saying that to save these people, we have to purposely call the Slender Man to us and purposely piss it off enough to try and breach worlds again?”

“Yeah, basically!” Mira said, cheerfully smiling wide. Her smiled faded quickly.

“Oy,” Rourke said, putting his book down and rubbing his eyes. “The more water the better I take it?”

“Yep,” Mira said. “That’s why we’re here. I think I can handle calling it to us and pissing it off pretty easily, though.”

“Do tell,” Rourke said, looking back up even though he still felt a dull throbbing behind his eyes.

“I will start writing my second story. And I will plain old try to write it out of existence. It’s why it came after me the first time. It’s has to be the main reason it’s afraid of people who know it’s ‘really real’ as Jared told you. When it comes, we’ll go in the ocean where it can’t reach us.”

“And if it decides to just stand on shore and watch us like it has before?” Rourke asked, picking his book back up to fan himself.

“I thought I’d, y’know, taunt it and stuff,” Mira said.

Rourke laughed. “You’re going to taunt the eldritch abomination. That’s great.” He laughed again. “But I don’t have a better plan. When did you want to try?”

Mira folded her hands. “I wanted to wait here a couple nights. Give it some time to catch up with us.”

Rourke nodded slowly. “Okay, Mira. I trust you. I’ll do this with you.”

Mira looked away. “Don’t say that. Don’t say you trust me.”

“Why?” Rourke asked, genuinely surprised.

Mira looked back and there were tears in her eyes. “If– if you get hurt, if it hurts you, I don’t want to think it was because you trusted me.”

Rourke smiled softly. “Mira, I think it’s out to hurt me whether I trust you or not. And you for that matter.” He became serious. “Be careful. I feel like we’re reaching the end somehow.”

Two nights later, Mira and Rourke sat on the most deserted beach they could find. It was rocky and the waves were choppy and was entirely unpopular, which was perfect for their purpose.

“Here goes,” Mira said, beginning to scribble on her notepad. A portable lamp sat next to her giving her enough light to write by. She had opted to not use her laptop so the saltwater wouldn’t ruin it. “Keep an eye out.”

Rourke merely nodded and stood up and walked a slow perimeter around where Mira sat. Ten minutes passed. Half an hour. Two hours.

Mira’s lamp started to dim and she looked up from her notepad to Rourke. “Anything?” she asked.

Rourke shook his head. The feeling of doom and dread were larger in him than they had ever been but there had been nothing. Not even a stray shadow.

Mira sighed, looking disappointed. “I had hoped… well I didn’t relish it coming but–”

“I know,” Rourke said walking back to her. He picked up the lamp as Mira stood up. “What now?”

Mira looked around her. “We could just wait until it shows up. It always has eventually.”

“We could,” Rourke said. “We can decide in the morning.” The only sounds their feet crunching in the sand and stones, they headed back to their camp.

Rourke lay quietly in the tent listening to Mira’s slow rhythmic breathing. Everything was off. They hadn’t seen the thing in over two months. Mira had purposely invoked its personal berserk button and nothing had happened. Only, something was happening, Rourke could feel it hanging over him. He just didn’t know what. He turned restlessly over and saw the sun’s light beginning to peak through the tent.

He abruptly sat up. That light was too orange and wavery to be the light of the sun. In the space of a couple of seconds he was out of the tent and looking towards the horizon inland. He stood stock still even as he heard Mira calling him and crawling out after him.

She stood next to him as still as he. “What on God’s green earth?” she asked.

Flames reaching so high they looked like they licked the sky were before them. Not near them. Not in their campsite. No, the flames were coming from what Rourke knew was the nearest town. The whole sky was orange with their light, like an aurora borealis of one color. They were moving steadily south, towards them.

Rourke staggered over to his car and Mira followed. He turned it on and fired up the radio. Maybe a local news station could tell him what was going on. A loud screeching met his ears and he jumped back it was so loud. “Ah!” he said as he hit his head on the door. “What is it?”

Mira had her hands over her ears, eyes wide. “I think it’s the emergency broadcast system!” she said. Her gaze kept flicking back to the flames that were marching ever closer.

This is not a test — the voice said — this is not a test. This is the National Emergency Broadcast System. A large scale terrorist attack has set massive fires in the major metropolitan cities of the continental United States. All people living in or near such areas need to evacuate immediately. Further instructions will follow later. This is not a test– the voice began again.

Mira backed away from the car, eyes wide. “No, no, no,” she was saying over and over again. “You don’t think, oh, God, Rourke, you don’t think?”

It was then Rourke noticed the air around them was starting to shimmer. Just like it had at the hotel. “Later!” Rourke said, grabbing Mira’s arm and dragging her after him towards the ocean. She found her footing quickly and he let her go as they kicked off their shoes and waded in.

“Out further,” he urged. “Beyond the pull.”

Mira coughed out a mouthful of seawater, but kept swimming.

About thirty feet from shore, Rourke felt they were far enough from the shimmer to be safe. He turned with Mira, expecting to see the whole shoreline in flames with the Slender Man dead center.

He blinked. While the Slender Man was indeed standing on the shore, tendril floating above it and waving in the breeze, there were no flames. Rourke squinted. There weren’t flames, but there were impressions in air, indents, almost as if the air had become a liquid curtain that people were pushing against.

Rourke and Mira gasped as people began to spill out of nowhere onto the beach. Hundreds of people, most of them children, now filled the deserted beach. But the Slender Man did not move, merely stood unmoving and turned towards Mira and Rourke.

For a moment those who had appeared from nowhere were still and silent on the beach. Then, they began to stir, almost as one, and moved for the water. The adults were urging the kids into the water, helping carry the ones too small to understand what was going on.

“Yes!” Mira shouted, waving towards them, bobbing in the water. “We got them out! We can stop it!”

Rourke was looking at the thing though, standing on the beach, a backdrop of flames that were steadily moving forward behind it. It didn’t look very defeated. “Mira,” he began. Mira grabbed his arm and nearly dragged him under, though, as he spoke.

“Rourke!” she screeched. “Look!” She pointed away from her with a trembling hand.

Rourke followed where her hand was pointing. He watched, dumbfounded, as the people, the adults and children, on the beach began to deliberately walked into water over their heads. They were not resurfacing.

“No, stop!” Mira cried, striking out towards them. “You’re out! We can stop it!” A wave pushed her under and she came up again sputtering.

Rourke swam after, always with an eye on the thing on the beach. He saw a young man detach himself from a young woman and a few children and swim towards him and Mira. Rourke squinted. “God in heaven,” he said, as the man came abreast them. “Kurt Kent.”

Mira looked at the young man. “Kurt Kent? Connor’s friend?”

Kurt nodded looking from Mira to Rourke solemnly. “I just wanted to thank you for letting us get out and giving us a chance to get away before the end.”

Mira stared at him open-mouthed. “The end? What do you mean?”

“The end,” he said again, simply. He pointed to the sky above him. Mira and Rourke looked up. Rourke sucked in his breath. The sky looked like it was literally pulling apart at the seams. There was a gigantic rip in the dark blue above them and behind it was a deep burgundy red. What looked liked slime was dripping from it and then a thousand mouths full of sharp teeth opened and roared. Long black tendrils slipped in from the rip and began to dangle down.

“How,” Mira said helplessly, only paddling enough to keep afloat.

“I’m afraid it’s your fault a little bit,” Kurt said, apologetically. Mira stared at him. “Oh, this would have happened eventually I think. You just gave it a little boost.”

“How did I give it a boost?” Mira screamed. She looked towards the thing on shore. Standing. Unmoving. Waiting.

“You made us more important,” Kurt said, eyes boring into Mira’s. “You called us its belief batteries. Before we just gave it the belief of a regular person, albeit boosted a little because we though of nothing but it. You must important, though. Special. You amped up its power through us. And well–” He shrugged. “It doesn’t need us anymore.”

“Kurt!” the young woman he had left behind called to him urgently.

“Coming, Ellen!” he called backed. He turned to Rourke and Mira. “You should go too. You don’t want to be here when its done.” He swam away without looking back.

Rourke put an arm around Mira and looked up at the sky. The rip was widening and quickly. The water pulled him backwards oddly and he looked behind him. The water was angling up and back into a looming darkness that was blacker than black, a black so deep his eyes could not process it. A black that hurt to look at. And the blackness was moving forward, sweeping towards them. He looked forward again. Flames and the thing waiting on the beach.

“Mira,” he said, quietly. “There’s only one way out. Really out. And we need to take it quickly if you want.” He squeezed his arm around her. “I said I was with you until the end though, and I meant it.”

Mira stared steadily at the Slender Man on the beach. Her eyes narrowed. “You’d like that wouldn’t you,” she hissed at it. “Well I’m not afraid of this story and where it’s taking me!” she screamed at it. It cocked its head but made no move. Mira looked up to Rourke. “This is our world,” she said. “And I will not surrender it to that thing.”

“Okay,” Rourke said, holding her close, bobbing in the water.

Mira wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. “It was a corner of darkness in our reality. Maybe we can be a corner of light in its.”

They held each other fast as the blackness approached and the sky spilled open above them. The held each other not like lovers, or even like friends, but as a child holds its bear, a last shield against the darkness.

“To the end,” Rourke breathed.

“To the end,” Mira echoed back.

Then the blackness engulfed them. The world around them fell away and they said no more.

Credit To – Star Kindler

Fighting Fate

July 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM

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.

“And?”

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

The Curling Flames

July 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM

This is the fourth entry in the By the Fire’s Light series.

“So,” Jared said, a sneer on his face. “I suppose you’ve come to find out why I did it.”

Connor looked into Jared’s face, at the sneer, the hate. He looked into Jared’s eyes, and saw, just for a moment, a flame flicker in them. “No,” Connor said, surprising himself and Jared. “No,” he said again, wonderingly. He put the phone down for a moment and looked around them. The guards were alert for any wrong-doing but they weren’t really paying attention to what he was saying. He picked the phone up again and turned to Jared. “I want to know why you took the blame.” — By the Fire’s Light

Jared Holloway was a solitary man. He was not anti-social by any means. But he did not feel the need to constantly be in the presence of his fellow man. The equivalent of a night on the town for Jared was a hike in the nearby state park. As he would tromp through the woods, listening to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, the scampering of small creatures in the undergrowth, and the occasional crashing of much bigger things, a tiny spring of tension in him would release. There was no one to judge him out here. There was no one to demand he produce four thousand new lines of code in a single day after some idiot deleted the BIOS systems at work.

Which was exactly what had happened three days prior before Jared’s latest trip into the woods. Some moron in tech support had walked away from his work station without logging out. He was a high level tech with high level access. Well, had been anyway. Some other moron had messed around on the computer in his office. Jared wasn’t sure how he had done it, but he had managed to delete the BIOS of every computer on the network. It was either a work of great genius or astounding stupidity, and Jared was leaning towards the latter.

Some of Jared’s bosses outside ITS were under the impression he would need to write new code for the entire network, hence the demand. Fortunately, Jared had been prepared for just such a situation (perhaps not as dire as losing the BIOS directory on every computer at once, but still) and had a backup copy of the BIOS directory burned to a CD. One CD. That needed to hit hundreds of computers. After a few days of burning more copies and visiting many computers in tandem with the rest of his co-workers, they had restored relative order to the company. So, perhaps today he was feeling just a tad anti-social on top of his usual solitariness.

He stopped on the trail he was on and sat down on a large rock on the side of the path. He allowed his pack to drop next to the rock. Leaning back, he let the sun’s rays that filtered down through the leaves wash over him. He breathed in and out, shifting his shoulders as he did, trying to ease the tension out. As he did, the sound of laughter came to him from farther down the trail. He opened an eye and looked down the green path before him. It was the middle of June, so most of the schools were out. It sounded like a couple of younger men horsing around. Jared grunted to himself. He really did not feel like meeting anyone else out here.

Scooting down off the rock, he leaned over to pick up his pack. As he did, a scream rent the air. He dropped his pack and looked up. Another scream quickly followed it, this one shriller and more panicked. It was coming from the same direction as the laughter. Letting go of his pack, Jared took off down the trail. This wouldn’t be the first time inexperienced hikers hurt themselves while tromping around back here. The screaming, while growing fainter even as he ran forward, had a more terrified edge to it now. Commingled in with the screams were the yells of someone else.

Then, suddenly, it just stopped. Jared paused, leaning on a tree, his hand resting on a knothole in the rough bark, and caught his breath. He listened carefully. He heard what sounded like someone crashing through the forest. Jared knew he wouldn’t be able to follow them on sound alone though. He’d need to find where they had left the path.

Walking forward quickly but with an eye for breaks in the foliage, Jared continued on. It wasn’t long before Jared came to another abandoned pack on the path. Looking to his right, he could tell by the way the branches were bent which way the user of the pack had gone. “Hello?” Jared called as he stepped off the path. “Can you hear me? Are you injured?” He put a hand up to his forehead, trying to shade his eyes and get a better look ahead of him. The greenery was dense here and he picked his way slowly, following the trail of bent branches as best he could. A hint of red on the grass below him caught his eye and Jared stopped again. The red was shiny.

Jared bent down and lightly touched the red stain. “Blood,” he said to himself. He scanned the ground and saw a small trail of it leading forward. Holding his breath, Jared pushed his way further into the forest. “Oh my God.” Lying on the ground not ten feet from Jared was a young man. He was covered in cuts, dozens upon dozens of them, all of them a bright red. Jared quickly walked forward and bent down next to the body. Gently, he put a couple fingers on the neck of the young man where his jugular artery should be. As he did, he also watched the young man’s chest, hoping against hope to see it rise and fall even slightly. But both chest and artery were still. This young man, this boy, was dead.

As Jared stood, he remembered the laughter from earlier. There had been more than one person out here. He could tell that someone else had run away from here, and in a hurry. They had either killed this person, or were running from whoever had. Jared hesitated. Either way, there was likely a murderer at the end of this trail if he continued to follow it. He pulled out his cell phone, but he knew even before he checked it that there wouldn’t be a signal. It was part of the reason he came out here, so he couldn’t be called in. He’d have to track all the way back to the beginning of the park to get a decent signal, and that would take close to an hour.

He looked down at the young boy and noticed he had a pack on his shoulders. So, that meant the pack on the path belonged to someone else. And if someone had crashed off into the woods without their pack, it was probably because they were in mortal terror of something. With that, Jared made up his mind. He would not leave this person to their fate alone. He quickly sprinted back to his pack and unclipped his Gerber military style knife off the pack and then re-clipped it on his belt. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Then, not quite running, but moving as quickly as he could without losing the trail, Jared ventured into the forest. He made sure to mark his progress as he did so he could find his way back when he was done.

Jared spotted a piece of cloth in a briar patch up ahead. Jogging up to it, he bent down to observe it. There was some blood on the cloth, and it looked like it was still wet. His head snapped up and he looked around himself warily. That meant he was probably close to whoever had fallen in here. He stood up slowly. As far as he could tell, the trail continued up a tall hill ahead of him.

Looking for debris and branches on the ground as he walked, Jared made his way up the hill. He drew his knife out and held it in his right hand. He stayed crouched as he walked so that when he crested the hill he wouldn’t be a noticeable target. The sun beat down on him uncomfortably, and he rolled his shoulders again trying to release the tension in them.

Coming to the top of the hill, Jared went down on his stomach and looked over the edge. What he saw made his heart stop. There was another young man with black hair at the bottom of the hill, lying unconscious (or so Jared hoped) in the middle of a patch of mushrooms. Standing over the injured man was a tall, skinny, bald man in what looked like a business suit.

Jared quickly debated with himself whether to yell down at Mr. Business Suit or not. Opting to move in as quietly as he could, Jared started to make his way down the hill. As he did, the injured young man started to scream, just like the screams Jared had heard earlier.

Jared sprung to his feet, adrenaline coursing through his body. He had to act now. “Whatever you’re doing, just stop right there!” he shouted, bounding down the hill. As he came to the bottom of the hill, he prepared to plunge his knife into Mr. Business Suit to make him stop doing whatever he was doing to the injured party.

Then, with his knife raised, Jared realized something. Mr. Business Suit wasn’t just sorta tall. He stood a good eight feet high, at least. And he had long slender black growths waving from his back. The knife shook in Jared’s hand as the man began to turn. Two seconds later the knife fell from Jared’s hand and hit the forest floor with a small plop. “Your face, where’s your face?!” Jared screeched backing away, hands outstretched. Then one of the black things on its back whipped forward and slashed towards Jared. Jared held up his arms and felt a stinging cut and he stumbled backwards. Red blood poured from his right arm, but the physical wound barely phased him. As the thing had made contact, Jared had a brief vision of fire and screams. Small children’s screams.

The thing towered over him and slashed at him again and again, each blow that landed giving Jared a clearer picture. Fire and death that wasn’t death and so many children. Fear was replaced with anger. This thing picked on children? Not if Jared had anything to say about it.

With a mighty roar, Jared sprang forward. The thing, surprised at this outburst, took a momentary step back. Swiping his knife off the ground, Jared rushed this monster, swinging for its chest. Jared had to stretch his arm up and above his head the thing was so tall. The knife sunk in to the hilt but no blood came. As it did, Jared felt like he had been hit by an electric shock. He saw and he understood. Oh, God, he understood what this thing wanted. It was like a demented Pinocchio and this boy this this–images and sounds flashed, fire and children and screams– Connor was his chosen vessel to help it be a real boy. He looked up into its non-face and realized this meant his death, or rather fiery non-death if he let this thing take him.

“Wait!” he screamed, springing away again. A tendril struck his face and he fell to the forest floor. A panicked sob escaped him. “Wait, I can be of use!” he screamed backing away. “You killed his friend! The cops won’t believe him if he says a faceless monster killed him.” He cowered, waiting for the next blow. When it didn’t come, he looked up into its eyeless gaze. It stood tense, its tendrils whipping, but it made no move at him yet.

“Y-you need someone to take the blame,” Jared said, arms held up over his head. Blood dripped from his right arm and spattered on the the grass in front of him. His whole body shook. “I can do that.”

Then the tendrils, looking for all the world like streamers in the wind, were plunging towards him. Jared screamed and covered his head. But, the tendrils did not slice into him this time. Instead, they wound around him, holding him tight. He let out a gasp as they squeezed harder and harder. Then they stopped. Jared raised his head and found the faceless thing leaning over him. Jared was completely in its shadow, the blackness blocking off all light. One final tendril raised in the air. It quivered and shifted back and forth slightly, as if unsure of its destination. It plunged with sudden decisiveness and buried itself in Jared’s left shoulder.

Jared tried to scream, but the pain was so great it was all he could do to unlock his throat enough to breathe. He felt the tendril burrow deep within his shoulder. As it went, he could see blood dripping from where the tendril had plunged in and surrounding the blood was livid, red, inflamed flesh.

He felt the tendril wrap around the very bones in his shoulder. He shuddered, trying to pull away, but was held fast. Visions began to pour into his mind again. Only this time it was different. He wasn’t just looking into the thing’s mind this time. This time he could feel it tearing into his own thoughts, ripping through his emotions and innermost psyche, laying his most precious memories bare. It was as if it was weighing them in its tendrils. Tears rolled down Jared’s eyes and he managed to stammer a whispered, “St-stop.”

After what felt like centuries, but could only have been a few moments, the thing released him. Jared fell to the forest floor, grabbing at his left shoulder and panting. He managed to raise himself up to his knees, still clinging to his wound. The faceless thing watched impassively and under its steady gaze Jared felt a burst of adrenaline. Without knowing what he was doing, Jared was off and stumbling up the hill. He scrambled along the ground, gripping branches and slender tree trunks to help himself up.

His shoulder burned as he ran, but he ignored it. He ran as if death itself was at his heels, and for all Jared knew, it really was. He smashed into the briar patch he had found the blood-stained cloth in, falling down not far from it. With a small whimper, he ripped himself up, covered in a dozen new scratches.

Breathless, tired, and frightened, Jared finally allowed himself to collapse by the body of the first young boy he had found. Crying quietly to himself, Jared curled into a small ball. “What am I going to do?” he whispered over and over again.

After a few minutes, Jared calmed down enough to uncurl and sit up. He knew he couldn’t stay here. Promise or no promise, he wasn’t going to wait around in a forest with that thing in it. He had to get help.

As he stood, a black shadow passed over Jared. Looking up, he found himself confronted by the faceless thing again. Freezing, Jared stared up at it. It was waving something in one of its tendrils. Eyes focusing on it, Jared realized it was his knife. Jared looked at it confused. Why did it have his knife? Surely it didn’t need any other weapons. With a small toss, the thing dropped the knife by the boy’s body.

“Oh,” Jared said, quietly. He looked up at the towering thing and wondered if he ran fast enough, if he could make it to the path.

As if sensing his thought, the thing turned towards him. As it did, Jared’s shoulder lit up in a fire of agony. With a scream, he dropped to his knees. White hot pain radiated from his shoulder through the rest of his body and he felt as if he had been plunged into flames. “Okay,” he managed to scream, “I’ll do it!”

The pain stopped as quickly as it had started. Trembling, Jared crawled over to the knife. He hesitated for just a moment, and then brought his knife down into the already dead body. He traced several of the cuts with his knife and made a couple of his own. He made sure to get the boy’s blood on his hands, and for good measure, he nicked himself with the knife and allowed some of his own blood to land on the boy. “There,” he said, voice cracking, “I’ll wait nearby and when they come looking for the boy I’ll confess.” He laughed, sounding slightly unhinged. “I’ll just pretend to be mad. Okay?” He turned, wincing as he did. The thing was gone though.

Jared stood up. A slight buzz in his shoulder warned him that though he could not see the thing, it most certainly could see him. Feeling as if he was in a dream, Jared forged an obvious trail away from the body. After about half a mile he stopped and waited. He sat on the ground with his knife and rocked on his heels, back and forth. The pulsing, droning buzz of cicadas in the afternoon sun was the only sound that came to him. No searchers. Not yet. Jared’s rocking slowed as he became more and more light-headed. His gaze turned to his still bleeding arm. He was covered in cuts but that first one on his arm was the deepest. He supposed he should cover it with something.

As he watched the red blood drip away the world began to blur and swirl around him. Heat engulfed him as he lost his balance and toppled over. Not the tearing searing heat from earlier, but a fuzzy warmth that shrouded him and dulled his thoughts. And then nothing.

After an interminable time, Jared opened his eyes and froze. The landscape had changed. He was no longer in a forest. At least, not the same forest he had started in. There were a few stray trees. But they were blackened and brittle. They looked as if a strong breeze would topple them and turn them into ash. The very ground on which Jared lay was black and coarse. As he shifted up, Jared looked at his arms and realized the cuts were gone. There was still, however, the livid, red spot on his left shoulder. He probed it and winced as pain radiated from it.

Placing his hand on the ground to help himself up, Jared paused. There was a reason the ground was black and coarse. It wasn’t ground, it was ash. Eyes widening, Jared dug his hands into the ashes. Deeper and deeper he reached down, trying to touch ground and failing.

Breathing heavily, Jared stood and swayed from foot to foot. “This isn’t real, it’s a dream,” he muttered, turning in place. An urge to run surged through him. But where would he run to? Raising his eyes to the horizon, he saw an orange glow. Every instinct in his being told him he did not want to see what was there. Deliberately turning his back on it, Jared ran in the opposite direction.

He slapped himself as he ran, hoping the pain would jolt him awake. He scratched at his face, pinched his arms, threw himself at the ground and twisted his ankle. Nothing worked, though, and he continued to stumble through the nightmarish landscape.

Then, suddenly, despite turning his back on it, he found himself on top of the orange glow. It wavered before him, and he heard crackling. Shaking, Jared stepped forward. The orange flickered and split around him, and he found himself in a sea of flames that oddly did not burn him. He could not say the same for the children surrounding him on every side. There were a few adults and older teenagers too, but for the most moaning and thrashing and screaming children twisted on the ground around him.

Jared put his hands to his head and fell to his knees. “Why are you doing this you sick fuck?!” he yelled. A small hand hit his leg and Jared turned to look at who had hit him. It was a young boy, no older than four with blond almost white hair. Jared reached a hand towards him and watched the flames part before his hand. He took in a small breath. Could he stop the boy from burning if he were to hold him close?

Without hesitation Jared picked up the small boy and held him close, protectively. The boy thrashed in his grip. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Jared choked. He began to run through the flames, trying to find an exit.

The boy screamed. “No, no, no!” he said. “It hurts more!”

Jared stopped. He gazed slack-jawed at the boy. The boy thrashed harder and screamed, a long drawn-out wail. Gently, Jared put him back down. Flames covered him again, burning but never claiming the boy. And though he moaned and thrashed, he calmed, as if the flames were better than Jared’s touch had been.

Small black tendrils surrounded Jared and he looked up into a pale featureless face.

A burst of white light, and Jared jolted up on the forest floor. His arm throbbed, but someone had wrapped it in a now blood-stained cloth. The white light proved to be a flashlight pointed at Jared. Shading his eyes, Jared saw two uniformed police officers. One of them was holding a plastic bag. And in the plastic bag was Jared’s knife. He giggled. “Did you see my work?” he asked.

The officer’s stiffened, and he saw one’s hand stray to his holster. Jared tried to stand, but the officers barked at him to sit down. Jared ignored them. Maybe he could get them to shoot him. Then he could get away. Away beyond its reach. He took a step forward, his whole body loose and flowing, as if his joints no longer had any interest in properly working.

Before he could do anything more, one of the officers and tackled Jared to the ground. He struggled underneath his grip. This wouldn’t do. He needed to be at threat, a clear and present danger if he wanted to be shot. He snarled and twisted, trying to bite the officer’s hand. But the events of the day had caught up with Jared and then some. It was all he could do not to pass out as he felt his arms twisted and a pair of cuffs slipped on his wrists.

Jared heard the other officer speaking into his radio as the one who had cuffed him hauled him to his feet. “–possibly caught Kurt Kent’s killer,” Jared heard him say. Jared laughed again. Was that the boy’s name, Kurt? These fools should be grateful they had not crossed Kurt’s real killer. Even as madness threatened to engulf him, Jared retained enough of himself to realize that he had no wish for these officer’s to make contact with that thing. Not even just because of what the thing would do to him if they did. No one deserved to fall into that thing’s clutches. And the only way to protect them was to be convincing.

Jared pulled against the officer holding him. “Possibly nothing,” he said. He licked his lips and and gave a short breathless laugh. “That is, if Kurt Kent was killed by several dozen slashes from which he bled so scarlet red,” he said, his voice a sing-song. Jared felt the other officer’s grip tighten on him reflexively.

“Todd,” the other officer said, glancing sharply at the one who held Jared. “Don’t.”

“Yes, Todd, don’t,” Jared agreed, looking back at him. “Police brutality will just cloud your case.”

“You shut your mouth,” Todd said through clenched teeth. Todd jerked his head back towards the path. “Let’s get him out of here.”

“Agreed,” the other officer said, following Todd as he dragged Jared back through the forest. As they walked, just for a moment, Jared though he saw one of the slender younger trees bend over. Ignoring it, he turned his eyes forward and allowed himself to be dragged along.

***

Jared sat in the interview room, hands cuffed in front of him. He stared at the mirrored window on the other side of the room. A sullen and slightly demented looking man stared back at him. He was covered in scratches and abrasions, some with stitches showing. Bandages swathed the large cut on his right arm. His eyes were narrow and they never stopped moving, as if always looking for something.

Jared rotated his left shoulder, which throbbed very slightly. It would know. It would know if he told the truth. It had been three days since Jared’s run through the woods and he had slept little since then. Every time he closed his eyes it was waiting. Always he found himself in the land of fire and ash. He did not move anymore. He laid curled on the ground, waiting for wakefulness to claim him. He was beginning to wonder, though, which part of his life was the dream, and which part was the nightmare. Or perhaps it was all nightmare. He didn’t know anymore.

The door clicked open. A man who looked to be in his early thirties walked in. He wore a dull dark blue suit with a dull dark blue tie. He seated himself at the table across from Jared. He said nothing at first, merely setting a manilla envelope on the table followed by a digital recorder. He glanced up at Jared, pulling a card from his suit jacket pocket as he did. With a flick of a finger he turned the recorder on. “This conversation will be recorded,” he said, in an official-sounding voice.

“Of course,” Jared said, head nodding, voice full of false amiability.

The man did not react. He merely maintained a steady gaze with Jared. “I am Detective Carl Rourke,” he said. “And before we begin,” he said, looking back down at the card, ” You have the right to remain silent,”

“Oh, really, Detective, really?” Jared said settling back in his chair. “Must you?”

Rourke ignored him. “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while being questioned.”

Jared gave a long drawn out sigh. “No, no lawyers. They just draaag things out,” he said, gesturing with his hands as best he could. And Jared had no intention of dragging this out. None.

Rourke continued unperturbed. “If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning if you wish. You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions or make any statements.” Rourke locked eyes with Jared now. “Do you understand each of these rights I have explained to you?”

Jared nodded slowly and exaggeratedly.

Rourke pointed at the recorder. “Out loud please.”

“Yes,” Jared said, slowly and distinctly.

“Having these rights in mind, do you wish to talk to us now?” Rourke asked, never letting his gaze waver from Jared’s.

“Yes, very much so,” Jared said.

Rourke put the card back in his pocket. “Very well,” he said. He folded his hands and placed them on the table. “For the record, where were you at 2:30 in the afternoon on June the sixth 20–?”

Jared leaned back in his chair. “I was at Constitutional State Park,” he said. “I believe at 2:30 I was driving a knife into Kurt Kent’s body.”

Rourke raised an eyebrow. “Believe?”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” Jared said. A slight twinge in his should nearly made him gasp. He resisted the urge to try and rub it. He was overplaying it. He leaned forward. “Let me be clear. On June the sixth, at 2:30 in the afternoon, I took my knife and I killed Kurt Kent. I stabbed and slashed him and watched as he bled out. I also tried to kill Connor Russell but he was able to run from me like the pansy he was. I did this. With full knowledge and consent,” he said, glancing at the recorder.

“Hm,” Rourke said, opening his folder. “It is true, Kurt was found covered in slashes with your blood on him and his blood on you. There’s just a few discrepancies I’d like cleared up.”

“Like what?” Jared said, sweat forming on his brow. His shoulder twinged more painfully. He needed to pull this off. God help him, he needed to be found guilty of this murder.

Rourke pulled out what looked like a report from his folder. “Kurt did not die from bleeding out. He died from a singular puncture to his heart. One that was not made by the knife found on your person.”

“Is that right?” Jared said, trying to sound nonchalant. Panic was rising in him as the pain started to radiate down from his shoulder again.

“And while several slashes on the body do appear to have been made with the knife, most of them appear to be post-mortem,” Rourke continued. He looked up at Jared again. “Can you explain this?”

Jared rolled his eyes. “Easily. What makes you think there was only one weapon?”

Rourke cocked his head. “Where is the other weapon? And what was it?”

Jared thought back to the thin hole in Kurt’s chest and of the black flowing tendrils. “Oh, just a little steel affair I had specially made. Very sharp, but it came to a very thin point. ” He shrugged. “I lost it while running after the other kid. Connor. I backtracked and tried to find it, but…” he shrugged again. “It’s a dense forest.”

“It is,” Rourke conceded, still neutral. He slid the report back into the folder. “And for what reason did you attack and kill Kurt Kent and attempt to kill Connor Russell?”

Jared rotated his head on his neck, trying and trying to ease the terrible burning in his left shoulder. “Because they were there.”

Rourke regarded him evenly. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jared said with a nod.

Rourke looked down to the folder and back up again. “Mr. Holloway, you do realize you are being charged with first degree murder?”

Jared nodded and then remembered the recorder. “Yes.”

“And you realize you are pleading guilty?”

“Yes,” Jared said, sounding annoyed.

Rourke fixed him with a fierce stare. “Mr. Holloway I do not believe you are being frank with me. I believe there is more going on than you are letting on.”

Jared’s shoulder flinched involuntarily as it flared in agony. Jared saw the detective’s eyes briefly rotate to it. In his panic, Jared tried to cover. “I’m done,” he said.

Rourke looked back to his eyes. “I beg your pardon?”

“My rights, or whatever. I’m done talking.”

Rourke nodded. “Very well, this interrogation is over.” He turned off the recorder. He gazed at Jared again. “This is off the record. Nothing you say now may be used against you.”

“Okaaay?” Jared said, trying not to shift his shoulder.

“Mr. Holloway, why are you determined to be found guilty of first degree murder?” Rourke asked, putting his hands on the table and leaning forward.

“Because I am, dammit!” Jared exclaimed standing up.

Jared saw Rourke briefly wave a dismissive hand at the mirrored window. “Are you?” he asked, fiercely.

“Yes!” Jared shouted. “Why do you keep asking? What more do you want?”

“The truth,” Rourke said simply.

Jared stared at him for a moment. And then he laughed. He collapsed back into his chair. “No, no you don’t,” Jared said. He shook his head. “Take me back to my cell.”

Rourke stared at him for one more moment, and then he gestured again to the mirrored window. Two uniformed officers came in and took him to his cell.

****

The rest had been fairly straight-forward after that. If there were any niggling doubts about Jared’s “guilt” Detective Rourke had been the only one to notice. Or care. There was more than enough evidence to convict Jared and with his own confession to the murder it was something of a slam dunk.

Jared had waived both the right to counsel and the right to a jury trial. He had gone before a judge to plead guilty. There had been a lengthy question and answer session with the judge to make sure Jared wasn’t being coerced. Which of course he was, just not by the people the judge thought might be doing it.

What happened next surprised Jared. Even though he had waived the right to a jury trial, a jury was still called for the penalty phase of his sentencing. Jared had made no plea bargains with the prosecution, so the death penalty was still on the table. Which was exactly what the jury gave him after Jared made sure to act like an egomaniacal bastard in front of them.

Though his shoulder twitched now and again, Jared never properly saw the thing after the first couple of dreams. Oh, he still went to the land of fire and ash every time he slept (which was as little as possible), but he would just sit in place and wait to wake up. It was amazing what one could get used to.

Jared had worried about the the prisoners in the jail at first. These were real murderers and rapists and Jared was just… Jared. His fears turned out to be unfounded. As a murderer sentence to death, Jared found himself in a maximum security facility in a cell by himself. There was no recreation outside of occasionally getting to visit a larger cell with a television. There was no group recreation. It was just Jared, the guards, and a small but never unending burning in his shoulder. He worked hard every day, manual labor, that gnarled his hands and gave him a wiry strength that he had never had before.

Days blurred into month blurred into years. Even though he offered no appeals to his sentence, it took a very long time for Jared to make his way up death row, so to speak. His state was very paranoid about accidentally executing innocent men and it took the better part of a decade, at the fastest, for most men to see execution.

As they day of his execution drew nearer, Jared grew more frightened. Not of death, he welcomed it. He was afraid the thing would not let him have it, though. Honestly, there were nights he sat up wondering why the thing had never come for him. He had surely served his purpose.

Then, one day, the guards came to his cell. Said he had a visitor. Jared was confused. There was no one on the outside to visit him. His family had disowned him and he had had no friends close enough to want to be friends with a murderer.

The guards took him to an empty room with one chair, a large thick plastic window, and a little beige phone to talk with the person on the other side. As Jared walked with the guards, he had learned whoever wanted to see him had had to pull some strings to do so. As he walked into the room, Jared understood. Sitting on the other side of the barrier was the boy Jared had found at the bottom of the hill. Connor Russell.

As he sat, his shoulder flared as it had not in ten years. Ten years of learned suppression kept Jared from crying out. The thing did not want him to talk to Connor. That was easy enough, Jared just had to refuse to pick up the phone. But as Jared stared at Connor, he thought he saw something. It was indistinct, but if he looked close enough into Connor’s eyes he could swear he could see a flame flickering in them. The thing was very close to Connor, Jared could feel it. In a moment of rebellion against the thing that had haunted him unseen for ten years, Jared reached over and picked up the phone.

“So,” he said, composing a sneer on his face, “I suppose you’ve come to find out why I did it.” His shoulder felt like it had burst into flames, but he held the phone and himself steady. Something was wrong here. It was like that day in the forest. The thing couldn’t just see into him, he could see into it. Sort of. And it was desperate that he not talk to Connor.

“No,” Connor said. Jared raised his eyebrows in surprise. “No,” Connor repeated wonderingly to himself. Connor put the phone down for a moment and stared around himself. Jared used the moment to recompose himself. Though his shoulder still hurt the pain did not increase. Instead, visions were slowly sliding into his head again, visions from the land of ash and fire he visited every night. But he had been going there for ten years now, he could hold them off. For now.

Connor picked up the phone again. “I want to know why you took the blame.”

Jared felt panic rise in his chest, and he realized in awe the panic was not entirely his. In the space of a split second, in his mind’s eyes, he saw a puppet free of all its strings save one. His eyes widened briefly and then narrowed. “What are you still crazy? Crazy as when they found you after I lost you?” He leaned forward. “It’s simple. I took a knife and sliced your friend up. His blood still dripping from my hands, I turned on you and you ran like a little pansy. You got lucky and I lost you. End of story.” The panic and the pain mingled together, but Jared knew it was not going to be enough. The facade was crashing. The thing would be coming, for him and the boy. Not right this second but…

Connor leaned forward, intense, and as he did, it was like he pushed the stink of the thing before him. “Yes, that’s what you told the cops, the court, everyone. But it’s not true, is it?” he whispered.

The pain had stopped radiating and instead was now a single sharp point in his shoulder, that ached down to his very bone. The visions increased, breaking past his barrier, flooding his mind with flames, and the screams of the forsaken, and unending agony. And, somehow, through it all, his mind pushed for one final moment of clarity. He had to warn Connor somehow. “Look,” he rasped, a drowning man’s last breath, “If I say that’s what happened, it’s what happened.” He was shaking his head, trying to shake the images out. “I may be on death row, but there are things worse than death.” And then he slammed the phone down. He turned, signalling for the guard to take him back to his cell, trembling all the while.

Once back in his cell, he sat on his cot with his head in his hands. The pain had abated and the visions had stop, but he felt a ferocious anger and hatred at the back of his mind. He briefly considered ripping his sheets apart. He could try to hang himself from the cell bars. But even as he had the thought he dismissed it. Their cells were closely monitored for suicide attempts, and the sheets were purposely flimsy because of this. It would not support his weight, and even if it did, the guards would cut him down long before he had a chance to die.

He waited. Long into the night, long after the moon had risen and then set, he sat unmoving on his cot. But nothing came. As the sun began to rise, Jared finally lay down and gave in to sleep. He fell as he always did into the land of fire and ash. He expected to find it there, waiting for him. But it was not. There was only the brittle black trees, the coarse ash of the ground, and flames in the distance. All was still. It was a watchful stillness though.

The stillness followed Jared into the waking world and clung to him over the next week. He took to checking over his shoulder every few seconds. There was never anything there. Not even a shadow that retreated as he looked.

The guards came to his cell again and took him out. They did not respond to Jared’s questions of where they were going. They stopped before what Jared recognized as a private interview room. They pushed him inside and told him to sit. They cuffed his arms and ankles to the chair. The door opened again and Jared looked up. Standing there in a dull dark blue suit, with a dull dark blue tie and holding a manilla folder was Detective Carl Rourke. Save for a few gray hairs, it could have been a replay of that interview from a over a decade ago. “It’s alright, you can go outside now,” he said, nodding at the guards.

With a final long look at Jared, the guards nodded and walked outside, closing the door behind them. Rourke took a seat next to Jared, his back to the door. “We aren’t being recorded,” he said. “And I convinced them to turn off the cameras as long as we kept guards posted at the door. We have total privacy.” Rourke took a breath. “Connor Russell is dead,” he said flatly.

Jared bowed his head and sighed. Of course he was. So why wasn’t Jared? Rourke continued. “As is the only witness to his death, his psychiatrist, and the only witness to the psychiatrist’s death.” Silence.

Jared looked up. Rourke was staring at him, sizing him up. “I know you didn’t kill Kurt Kent,” he said, steadily. “I know what did.” Silence again.

Finally, Jared cleared his throat. “You stink of it too.” He shuddered. “You’ve seen it.”

Rourke nodded. “I have.” He flipped open the manilla folder. “I need your help.”

Jared laughed. He pulled at his cuffed arms. “I don’t think there’s much I can do for you, Detective.”

Rourke was moving photographs onto the table. “You can tell me what you know about it so we can stop it.”

Staring at him, Jared didn’t know whether to laugh again or not. “Do you think I would be here if I could stop it?”

Rourke held up a hand as he finished with the photos. Then he turned to Jared again. “It was just a monster to you. I actually know a little bit about it. Anything you can tell me, well us really, we could use against it.”

Jared’s shoulder burned now, burned as it did ten years ago. He swore he could feel the tendril wrapping inside him again. He gave a small cry and leaned forward. He couldn’t go far because of the cuffs. He felt Rourke’s hand on his shoulder, shaking him, calling to him. “It’s afraid of people that know it’s real, really real,” Jared whispered. “Except me, I don’t know why.” He shuddered. “I think that’s why it takes people that aren’t children.”

Jared heard Rourke sliding the photos across the table. “Jared,” Rourke said addressing him by name and still holding his shoulder, “It is taking children. Look. These are photos of twenty children who have gone missing recently, either in wooded areas or during fires. Their bodies have not been found. There have been no ransom notes. Look!”

Jared opened his eyes and stared down at the table. He saw smiles and bright eyes and laughter before him. He could hear the laughter twisting to screams in his head. “This is just in this direct area,” Rourke was saying. “I have a friend who cast the net wider, and, Jared, it scares me a little.” He paused. “This thing is growing and fast. We have to stop it. Do you have any idea why it takes these children?”

Jared was shaking his head. “No, no,” he said, and he was crying. He could see them now before him and every word he said made their pain worse. “I can’t. It won’t even let them die.”

“Jared, I don’t care what you’ve done or what you’ve seen. No one will know what you say but me, that’s why I had them give us privacy,” Rourke was saying kneeling next to him.

Jared felt his heart stop. Rourke was right. No one could see or hear them in this room. It was just them. “Oh, God,” Jared said, a horrible realization creeping onto his face. “We’re alone.”

Rourke knitted his brows and then the same understanding dawned on him and he was whipping around towards the door.

The thing was there, so tall it should have had to bend over. Somehow it stood straight and tall. A tendril sprang forward and wrapped itself around Rourke’s throat. It picked up him and pushed him onto the table, choking him. Rourke pulled at the tendril with his hands, but it did not even flex.

Jared opened his mouth, trying to shout for the guards, to summon help. As he did, a tendril wrapped around his throat as well. He closed his eyes and waited for it to crush the breath out of him. While it wrapped tight enough so he could barely breathe, it did not crush him. Jared felt the shackles breaking on his legs and wrists, and he opened his eyes, confused. What was going on?

The thing held him in place and he saw Rourke fumbling with something in his coat pocket as his face started to take on a blue tint. Jared suddenly understood. If he was free of his shackles, he could take the blame for killing Rourke. No else needed to know the thing was here. It could fade back into the shadows, and then, then it would come for Jared and all would be well.

Rourke was pulling out his gun and the thing tilted its head. He pulled the trigger, but instead of a bang and a bullet, a spray of water emerged from the end of the gun and hit it square where its face should have been.

The thing bucked violently and Jared felt its grip loosen. He ripped himself free and fell towards the floor. Rourke was beside him and pulling him up, yelling at him to hurry.

“Did that work?” Jared asked incredulously as Rourke pulled him up. A tendril blindly struck the wall above him.

“No, I think I just pissed it off,” Rourke muttered. The door was opening and the guards were coming in. They stopped on seeing the thing.

“Go, just run!” Rourke was shouting, waving for them to move it. They did not need telling a second time and fled the room. Rourke and Jared were doing the same. As Jared passed through the door, he felt something wrap around his leg and pull him back. With a gasp he grabbed the doorpost.

Rourke stopped and turned around. He brought out his pistol again, and aimed it at the tendril holding Jared fast. Faster than he could blink a tendril whipped past and crushed the pistol in Rourke’s hand. Rourke staggered back. Jared felt another tendril wrap around his waist, pulling him backwards. He locked eyes with Rourke. “Run,” Jared said.

“No, just hang on!” Rourke yelled, grabbing hold of Jared’s arm and pulling.

Jared felt, rather than saw, the tendril moving in for Rourke. Without thinking, he leaned forward and bit Rourke’s hand as hard as he could.

With a a yelp of pain, Rourke leapt back and the tendril impacted the floor where he had been a second ago. “Run!” Jared said again. Then, taking in a breath, Jared let go of the doorpost and allowed himself to be pulled backwards.

***
Jared fell into the flames and this time they did not part before him. He had thought he had known pain before, thought he had known what the fire felt like when his shoulder had burned. He had been wrong. The flames burned him in body, soul, and mind. They flashed across him, across all he was, and they took everything except this one eternal now of pain, and the flames, and the thing. He screamed.

And then, seconds or years later, Jared felt himself deposited onto cool, damp grass. Gasping he lay still. He was back in the forest where he had first met the thing. He didn’t know how he knew this, but he knew it was true. The memory of the flames licked at him and now he understood the blonde little’s boy’s words from so long ago. It hurt worse, now, because he remembered what life was like outside the flames and he knew he would have to go back.

Jared felt the thing loom over him and press a tendril into his shoulder. Images of Rourke and another woman he did not recognize flashed through his mind. He understood this thing wanted Jared to find these two for it. That if Jared did not it would drag him back to the flames right now. Jared cried, flailing wildly. He would do anything, anything, to stay out of the flames. “Yes, yes,” he said incoherently. The thing’s tendril withdrew and Jared looked up. It was gone. But it could still see, so Jared stumbled up and walked into the night, ready to begin his quest.

Credit To – Star Kindler

The Nameless One

May 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Author’s Note: This story is a part of the By the Fire’s Light series.
Part One: By The Fire’s Light
Part Two: The Wanderer of Blazes

Detective Carl Rourke pushed his chair back from his desk and rubbed his eyes.  The book he had been reading fell on the desk with a small plop.  He stood up and moved to his window and was surprised to find the sun had gone down.  Turning to the clock on his desk, the little red digital numbers told him it was nine o’clock.  He laughed.  “Shame your dead, Connor,” he said, picking up the book again.  “You’ve got a great writing style.”  He tapped the book against his hand.  “And I think I understand what’s going on now.”

For the past couple of weeks, Rourke had been looking for leads in the case of the death of Connor Russell.  A young woman, Cassandra Brighton, had seen a “faceless man” look out the window after Connor pushed himself out of his burning building.  She had subsequently died in a fire as well.  Connor’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ellen Kennedy, had just died in a bizarre car accident that had ruptured her gas tank and caused it to go up in flames.  And this book of Connor’s “By the Fire’s Light” held the key.  In it Connor described a tall faceless man with tentacles that went around and stalked people and killed them.  Usually in relation to fire in some way.

It seemed simple enough to Rourke.  Some psycho fan of Connor’s,  or of this Slender Man, was acting out on one very bizarre fantasy.  And just like the “real” Slender Man he was branching off onto anyone who had seen him, stalking and eventually killing them.  With this in mind, Rourke had had a special watch set up on Meredith Grolinsky, the woman who had witnessed what she called a tall, slender and tentacled man walking away from Dr. Ellen Kennedy’s burning car. If this psycho stayed true to form, he would go after her next.  When he did, Rourke would be ready and waiting.

Rourke rubbed the back of his neck and flipped the lights off on the way out of his office.  He paused and considered taking Connor’s book with him.  Shaking his head, he kept going.  He actually wanted to sleep tonight, and a faceless monster would not aid him in that quest.  “Call me if anything happens with Grolinsky,” he called to Deloran, the desk sergeant, as he headed out.

“Will do,” Deloran said, with a small wave.

As Rourke slept that night, his sleep was undisturbed by dreams, good or bad.  A shrill screeching from his smartphone at 3 am, however, pulled him from his dreamless slumber.  “Rourke,” he said groggily, brushing sleep crust out of his right eye.

“Detective Rourke, this is Sergeant Deloran.”

Rourke shot straight up, his sleep falling from him like his blanket.  “Someone made a move against Grolinsky?’

A pause.  “We’re not sure.”

Rourke growled in frustration.  “What do you mean you’re not sure?  Either someone made a move or they did not.”

“Her furnace exploded.”

Rourke nearly dropped his phone.  “I beg your pardon?”

“Fire department isn’t sure how yet.  Could have been a defect in the furnace.  Could have been foul play.”

Rourke put a hand to his temple.  “Fire again.”  He slowly shook his head.  “Connor’s stove has a gasoline leak and explosion.  Cassandra Brighton dies in a fire caused by faulty wiring.  Ellen Kennedy’s car is wrecked and the gasoline tank ruptured resulting in a fire.  And now Meredith Grolinsky dies in a furnace blast. There is no way this was an accident.”

“She’s not dead.”

“She’s alive,” Rourke said, incredulous.  He was already up and searching for the pants he had tossed on the floor on his way to bed.  “Where is she?  Where was she taken?”

“She was taken to Mercy.  She’s in critical condition, with burns over 90% of her body.  But she’s alive.”

Rourke was jumping into his pants, hopping up and down on one foot with the phone still held to his ear with his shoulder.  “Alright, Deloran, call the hospital and get them to keep the ambulance drivers there if you  can.  Or call the drivers back or whatever. They probably won’t let me see Grolinsky, but she might have said something they overheard.”

“Will do,” Deloran said on the other end.

Twenty-five minutes later found Rourke pulling into the emergency room parking lot at Mercy.  Deloran had texted him on the way over and directed him to speak with the nurse at the desk.  She would be able to tell him where the drivers were.

Rourke took a quick look around the emergency room waiting area as he walked inside.  Chairs that looked comfortable but might as well have been padded with granite formed a square that was broken up every ten chairs or so by a small wooden stand.  On the stands were stacks of magazines from three months ago, with the very exciting topics of bass fishing and home living.  The walls were painted a neutral beige, probably an attempt to try and calm any panicked people who were unlucky enough to be sitting here. A mother with a hyper-active little boy with a gauze bandage around his wrist sat at one end of the room. On the opposite end, nearer Rourke, a young woman with long black hair sat bent over, face in her hands.

Turning from the waiting room, Rourke made his way over to the desk.  A nurse in blue scrubs sat behind the counter.  Her name badge told him her name was Amber, and the little smiling sun on it told Rourke she would be happy to help him. She looked up as he walked up.  “Detective Rourke, here about Meredith Grolinsky,” he said, flipping out his badge.

Amber nodded and stood up.  “We stopped the drivers before they left.  There in the break room down the hall there, third door on the right.” She pointed down the hallway Rourke should take.

“How is Ms. Grolinsky?” he asked, whipping out a small notebook.

“She’s in critical condition.  We have a couple doctors trying to stabilize her now.”

“I heard she had burns over 90% of her body.”

Amber nodded.  “That is correct.  It’s really going to be touch and go for the next couple hours. If she pulls through she’s got a good shot at recovery.  If not…”

Rourke nodded.  “Any family come with her?”

Amber nodded to the young woman bent over with her face in her hands.  “Her daughter came in about ten minutes ago.”

Rourke made a mental note to try and talk with her on the way out.  Then, giving his thanks to Amber, he walked down the hallway to the breakroom.

The door creaked as he pushed it open.  A young woman and man looked up as he walked in.  “You the detective?” the young woman asked, leaning back in her chair.

“Yes,” Rourke said, flipping out his badge again.  “Detective Carl Rourke.  I wanted to ask you a few questions about the woman you transported here.”  He whipped out his notebook again, pen in hand.  “Can I get your names?”

“I’m Robert Fitzgerald, she’s Peggy Yorick,” the young man said, leaning forward.  “What’s the
deal, you think someone tried to murder this chick?”

“The deal is, I am just trying to gather the facts about what happened,” Rourke said.  He hooked a chair with his leg and pulled it out.  Sitting down, he looked up at the twosome.  “Was there anyone you saw at the house when you arrived that looked out of place?”

“Crowd of gawkers,” Peggy said, reaching into her coat.  She pulled out a cigarette and tapped it against her hand.  “That’s nothing unusual though.  Especially when a house goes kaboom in the middle of the night and there’s half a dozen fire trucks and police cars outside.”  She shook her head.  “Can we hurry this up?  We have to go back on shift in thirty minutes and I want to get a smoke in.”

“Of course,” Rourke said.  He turned to Robert. “You didn’t see anything unusual?”

“Crater where a house used to be.  Otherwise no,” he said, yawning slightly.

“Hm,” Rourke said, making a note.  He looked up again.  “Was Ms. Grolinsky conscious at all when you brought her in?”

“Very briefly,” Robert said.  “Screaming her head off.  Considering how we found her, I’d say that’s reasonable.”

“Kept going on about the fire until she blacked out after we had in her the back of the van,” Peggy said, the tapping of her cigarette becoming more insistent.

“Anything specific?” Rourke said, his voice becoming slightly more tense.

“She said something about seeing something by the light of the fire,” Robert said, running a hand through his hair.   “I think.”

“I saw it coming by the fire’s light,” Peggy said, almost without thinking.  Robert and Rourke glanced at her.  She shrugged.  “That’s what she said.  ‘I saw it coming by the fire’s light.'”

Rourke wrote down the phrase in his notebook.  “It?  Not him or her?  You’re sure?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure,” Peggy said with a wave of her hand.  “Is that it?”

“Yes, that’s all for now,” Rourke said.

“Good,” Peggy muttered getting up.  She exited without a backward glance.

Rourke raised an eyebrow as he stuffed his notebook back in his jacket pocket.  “She’s all choked up,” he said getting up.

Robert gave him a bemused look.  “It’s the nature of the job.  You don’t last long if you don’t build up a few walls.  I’m sure you’ve learned that too.”

Rourke nodded his assent. Then, he left the room as well, making his way back to the emergency waiting room.

The black haired woman that was Meredith Grolinsky’s daughter was standing at the nurse’s desk.  “They’re taking her back to a room now,” Amber was saying.  “You’ll be able to see her for a few minutes, but only for a few.”

Rourke walked up to the desk.  “Is she going to pull through then?”

Amber turned towards him and gave a half-hearted smile.  “They’ve stabilized her as best they can.  It’s going to be something of a waiting game for the next twenty-four hours.”

“Who are you?” the black-haired woman asked.

“Detective Carl Rourke,” he said.

“Detective?” she said, her eyes going wide.  “Did someone do this to my mother?”  She took a step forward.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out, Ms.?”

“Mira.  Mira Gorlinsky.”

“Mira, could you answer a few quick questions?”

“Sure,” she said, swaying slightly as she stood.

Amber caught her hand.  “Sit down!” she said, pointing to a chair by the desk.  There was a note of confidence and command in her voice that pierced whatever fog Mira was in and she sat down.  She shuddered.  Amber was already in motion, filling a small cup with water and giving it to the young woman.  “Slow sips,” she said, as she took her place back behind the desk again.  She flicked her gaze to Rourke.  “Keep it short,” she said.

Rourke nodded.  “Was there anyone you know of that would have a grudge against your mother?”

Mira shook her head slightly, not looking up from her glass.  “My father, her husband, is dead,” she said abruptly.  She looked up at Rourke’s raised eyebrow.  “I just thought it would be your next question.  You know, like on the crime shows.”

Rourke allowed himself a small smile.  “It’s good to know.”  The phone on Amber’s desk rang and she picked it up. After a brief conversation she spoke to Mira.  “If you feel steady enough, you can go back now,” she said, one hand over the receiver.

Mira stood up putting the water glass on Amber’s desk.  “Yes, I’ll be okay now,” she said, her voice firm.

Amber nodded and hung up the phone.  “This way, then,” she said, leading Mira to a set of closed doors a few feet behind her desk.  “Don’t even think about it,” she said, giving Rourke a good-natured glare.

“Wasn’t going too,” Rourke said, holding up his hands.   He fished a business card out of his pocket and leaned forward, handing it to Mira.  “If you think of anything, you can call me at the number on there day or night.”

Mira took the car and shoved it in her jean’s pocket without looking.  She gave a bob of her head, and then followed Amber into the back.

***

Rourke sat in his car for a good half an hour before he actually started it up. His fingers rapped the dash again and again as he tried to make sense of what he had learned.  It was possible this psycho had rigged Grolinsky’s furnace to explode.  But Grolinsky’s words bothered him.  She claimed to have seen something by the light of fire she had been caught in.  But if this psycho had actually stayed around for the explosion, he would be no better off than Grolinsky.  “Delirium, I guess,” Rourke said, finally starting his car.

As he did, his smartphone began to ring.  Slipping his car back into park, he pulled it out of his pocket.  An unknown number was calling him.  Frowning, he answered the phone.  “This is Detective Carl Rourke.”

“Oh God, Detective, please come back!” a panicked voice on the other end gasped.

“Who is this?” Rourke asked undoing his seat belt.

“It’s Mira, Mira Grolinsky.  I saw him.  God, I saw him, the man that tried to hurt my mother.”

Rourke’s car was off, keys in hand, and he was already running full tilt to the hospital.  One hand automatically went to his side, where a gun hung in its holster under his coat.  “Mira, where are you?” he asked as he approached the hospital.

“I’m in the waiting room,” she said, her voice taking on a hysterical edge.  “They won’t let me back in.”

Rourke bounded into the hospital.  Mira was standing near the doors and she jumped as he entered.  Tears streamed down her face and she was shaking.  Amber was already in motion from around her desk and over to where they stood.

“What happened?” Rourke asked, putting his phone back away.

“She thought she saw someone back there,” Amber said, trying to put an arm around Mira.  Mira shoved her away.

“I didn’t think I saw someone, I did see someone!” she nearly screeched.  “A tall man in a business suit!”

Rourke’s eyes widened.  “I need you to let me back there right now,” he said to Amber.  “That matches the description of a man leaving the scene of a crime Ms. Grolinsky witnessed.

Amber wavered and gave him an uncertain look.  She sighed and beckoned for him to follow her.  “We have the entire area back here on camera.  We called security when Mira raised the alarm, but they didn’t see anyone on the monitors.”

Rourke strode quickly behind Amber.  He heard Mira fall into step behind him. A strong smell of antiseptic assaulted him as the doors opened before them.  He passed a large cart full of linens, several  curtained off areas, and a few criss-crossing hallways.  They came to a stop by a bay of six separate alcoves.  Amber pointed to the third one from the left.  “Ms. Grolinsky is in there.”

Rourke cautiously walked over and pushed the curtain softly aside.  Grolinsky was swathed in bandages and hooked up to several IVs.  The machines monitoring her vitals beeped softly.  She did not appear to respond to his appearance.  He let the curtain fall back.  “Where did you see him?” he asked Mira.

Mira pointed to the opposite end of the room. “I saw him peek around the wall there,” she said.

“How do you know he meant your mother harm?” he asked, walking over.  It was a small bay where some extra medical equipment and IV bags were kept.  The wall jutted out slightly, forming a corner someone skinny could fit behind without being seen.

“I– I don’t know,” Mira said, sounding suddenly uncertain.  “I just knew.” She blushed as she
said it.

Rourke looked around the room, taking in the cameras in the ceiling.  “Can the cameras see this corner?” he asked.

“Actually, no,” Amber admitted.  “But if someone was there, they would have had to step out onto camera to leave. Or to get in to begin with.”

“Hunh,” Rourke grunted.  He walked back over to Mira.  “Did you get a look at this guy’s face?” he asked.

For a moment, panic crossed Mira’s face.  Then she shook her head wildly. “No, I didn’t get a good look.”  She looked away from him then, back to her mother’s room.

Mira was hiding something and Rourke could tell it.  But he felt it best not to push it for now.  “False alarm I guess,” he said, smiling at Amber.  “Sorry to trouble you.”

“No trouble at all,” Amber said, leading the both of them back out.  “But I think it’s for the best if we leave your mom to rest now,” she said glancing back at Mira.

Mira didn’t look up but she nodded.  Rourke took one last appraising glance of her and then followed Amber back to the waiting room.

***

Rourke stretched as he walked into his office the next morning.  “Okay, first things first,” he muttered putting down his briefcase.  “I’ll get a list of Meredith’s neighbors and make some phone calls.”  He opened the laptop on his desk and tapped the power button.  It began to hum to life. As it did, Rourke slithered out from behind his desk and grabbed his coffee mug from the corner.  He looked inside it and made a little face.  Brown residue from the previous day’s coffee clung to the sides and bottom of the cup.  “Eh, I’ll just rinse it out,” he said as he walked to the break room.

As he ran some water into his cup his phone began to ring.  Sighing, he put the mug down and pulled out his phone.  A number he now recognized as Mira’s was on the screen.  “Hello, Detective Rourke,” he said answering the phone.  He reached over for the coffee pot as he talked.

“Detective Rourke, it’s Mira Grolinsky,” Mira said.  Her voice was tired.  But it wasn’t the tired of no sleep.  It was the tired of one who was too emotionally stunned to entirely accept what was going on around them.  It was something, unfortunately, Rourke had heard a lot of in his line of work.

“Your mother died last night?” he said, gently.  He placed the coffee pot down next to his mug.

“Yes,” Mira said a quaver in her voice.  A pause.  “No, she didn’t die, she was killed.  He did it, I know he did.”

“The man from last night?” Rourke asked.  He leaned against the counter top, careful not to jostle the coffee pot.

“Yes.  No. I mean–” She stopped.  “I need to talk to you in person.”

“That’s fine, Mira, that’s fine. Do you want to come to the precinct?  Or do you want me to come to you?”

“Let me come down there.  I have to get out of here,” she said.

“Alright, let me give you directions.”  He gave her quick directions to precinct and then after re-assuring her again, he hung up the phone.

“Great, another dead witness,” he said, pouring the coffee into his cup.  “This has career ending case written all over it.”

Thirty minutes later, Mira was sitting down in front of his desk.  There were no traces of tears on her face, but it looked like it had been freshly scrubbed with soap and water.  Her cheeks were still a little red because of the violence of the washing, as were her eyes, likely from the violence of her tears.  Rourke steepled his hands.  “What did you want to tell me, Mira?”

She looked down into her hands.  “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”  She shook her head slightly.  “I think I’m crazy.”

Rourke glanced over at Connor’s book, “By the Fire’s Light” still sitting on his desk.  His eyes widened slightly as he remembered the words Meredith had screamed as the ambulance attendants loaded her up.  “Why don’t I try to guess,” he said slowly, still looking at the book.  “The man you saw, you don’t think he had a face.”

Mira’s head snapped up, brown eyes meeting Rourke’s hazel ones.  “Yes,” she said.  She stared at him for a moment longer.  “How did you know?”

“Well,” Rourke said, sliding the book over to Mira, “that’s going to take some explaining.”  Briefly he narrated the events of the past few weeks to her.  First the death of Connor, followed by Cassandra Brighton, then Ellen Kennedy, and now her mother Meredith Grolinsky.

Mira turned the book over in her hands.  “And so, this ‘Slender Man’ has been spotted in some way, shape or form at all the deaths?”

Rourke nodded, then paused. “Well, most of them.  I haven’t interviewed anyone who saw him around Cassandra’s death yet.  But she did die in a fire, like the victims in Connor’s books.  Cassandra thought she saw a faceless man look out Connor’s window.  Your mother saw what she thought was a tentacled man leaving Dr. Kennedy’s car.  And now, you, you think you saw a faceless man shortly before your mother’s death.”  He put a hand to his forehead.  “I don’t know how he got in or out without anyone seeing him, but I think you really did see your mother’s killer.  I think we have a Slender fan on the loose, and we need to catch him before he gets anyone else.”  He stood up and Mira looked up at him as he did so.

“You think I’m next,” she said simply.  “He goes after those who witness him and his crimes.”

“I think it’s possible,” Rourke said.  “I want to assign police protection to you for the time being.”

Mira looked down at the book again.  Her hands wandered over the title.  “Hm,” she said.  “Do as you please.”  She stood up and handed him the book again.  “I have to go arrange for my mother’s funeral.”  Without another word she left the office.

Rourke took the book and put it back in a drawer.  Turning to his laptop, he accessed the police network and found an address for Mira Grolinsky.  He made a quick call and had a patrol car assigned outside of her house.  Then he began to methodically call Meredith Grolinsky’s neighbors, hoping to find clues.

The sun had set once again before Carl Rourke got up from his desk and looked out his window.  “Another day another dead end,” he said as he shut down his laptop.  He hated this.  This killer had been two steps ahead of him from the beginning.  Killers usually messed up eventually, but he didn’t want to have a double digit body count before he caught this guy.  His smartphone trilled in his pocket.  Taking it out he saw, again, Mira’s number.  “Well, third’s times the charm,” he said answering the phone.  “Yes, Mira, how can I help you?” he asked.

“I bought that book today, “By the Fire’s Light”,” she said, sounding oddly calm.  “And I’ve been doing some research and some thinking.  And I think you’re half right.  I think I did see my mother’s killer.”

“Okay?” Rourke said, confused.  “Did you have something new to tell me?”

“I think,” Mira said, slowly, “that you have one thing wrong.  I don’t think you’re looking for a man.”

“Well, it could be a woman I guess,”Rourke said with a shrug.

Mira sighed.  “No, Detective.”

Rourke’s eyebrows knit. And then he realized what she was talking about.  “Mira,” Rourke said, as if he was talking to a small child.  “The Slender Man is not real.  He is a fictional entity.”

“Was,” Mira said, still calm.  “We have summoned him and he has come.”  He heard the scratching of something on the other end of the line, possibly a pen on paper.  “And what can be summoned can be dismissed.”

“Mira,” Rourke said, still slightly patronizing, “it’s been a long and hard day for you.  Get some rest.”

“I will when I am done.  You take care of yourself, Detective.  Who knows, he might move after you next if this doesn’t work.”  She hung up.

Rourke quickly called the officers in the patrol car currently in front of Mira’s house.  After verifying she was at home, he left instructions for them to watch for any comings and goings to her house carefully.  Then, finally, he left the office for his home, this time with his copy of “By the Fire’s Light” in his briefcase.

Rourke turned on his bedside light as he slipped into bed that night.  He tried to focus on the book in his hands.  He just felt like there was something he was missing.  And it wasn’t that this Slender Man was real.  Unable to concentrate on the book and his tiredness finally catching up with him, Rourke let the story fall from his hands as he closed his eyes, not even bothering to turn off the light.

***

Rourke dreamed.  He was in a closely overgrown forest.  Every which way he turned, he brushed up against tree branches and overly tall ferns.  Something tall moved at the very edge of his sight sometimes, but he couldn’t tell what it was.  He caught a good glance of it to his north (or at least he guessed north from the moss on the trees) and he began to move towards it.

Something touched his shoulder.  Rourke turned around and found himself looking at young man with black hair.  “Detective Rourke,” he said, quietly.  “Do not follow it. It will come after you soon enough without you encouraging it.”

Rourke raised an eyebrow.  “Who are you?”

“Connor,” the young man said.

Rourke cocked his head.  For some reason the name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place why.

Connor shook his head.  “Don’t question, just listen,” he said, looking over his shoulder.  “I don’t have much time and this is important.  Dr. Kennedy had the right idea.  It runs on belief.  But there is too much now for one person to deny it existence.”  He shook Rourke slightly.  “Do you understand?”

Rourke shook his head.  “I don’t,” he said.  He felt as if his mind had been wrapped in a blanket, warm and stifled.  “But I should.”

“Just remember then,” Connor said.  “One person is not enough. Nor two.”  He sighed.  “We gave the nameless one a name,” he muttered.  “And he will not give it back.”  He looked into Rourke’s eyes.  “It is easier to modify a story than to negate it,” he said.  “Tell Mira that.  It’s too close to her now, I can’t reach her.  I won’t be able to reach you after this.”

Rourke felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise.  There was something behind him.  He could feel it.  He could see it in Connor’s terrified gaze.  Connor’s hands tightened painfully around Rourke’s arms.  Rourke tried to turn and see, but Connor held him fast.

“No,” Connor whispered.  “Don’t look, not yet.”  He leaned in close and whispered in his ear.  “I am free, but others are not.  I can’t help them, but you and Mira can.  Please remember.”

Rourke nodded.  “I will.”

“Good,” Connor said.  “Now,” and his face suddenly twisted, “wake up!” he screamed, still leaned in close to Rourke’s ear.

***

Rourke jumped up in bed.  “Holy Mother of God,” he said, head in his hands.  “What was that?”  Without thinking he was already reaching for the notebook he took with him on investigations.  Quickly, he began to jot down the dream.  A sense of urgency permeated him, a feeling that he could not let this dream slip from him.

Rourke shook his head as he transcribed.  “Lord, Rourke, you are losing it.  Have a dream about Connor Russell, and don’t even realize its him in the dream.  Some detective.”  He glanced over at his clock.  Two in the morning.  Even though he thought he was a fool, the feeling of urgency did not leave Rourke.  In fact, if anything, it was growing stronger.  “It’s too close to her now,” Connor had said.  Slender Man was obviously what his dream Connor was referring to.

Rourke considered going back to bed, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.  Not unless he was sure Mira was okay.  He pulled his smartphone off his nightstand and dialed Mira’s number.  It rang five times and then went to voice mail.  He hung up and stared at the floor for a moment.  If it was only two in the morning the same patrol car would probably be in front of her house.  He dialed through to the officers inside again.  They quickly assured him no one had gone into or left the house.

Hanging up the phone and putting it back on the stand, Rourke grunted.  “That’s that.”  He moved to turn of the bedside light he had left on when he went to sleep. His hand hung there as he stared at the light. The dream may have been just a dream, but Rourke had learned to trust his gut over the years.  And his gut was telling him he had to get over to Mira Grolinsky’s house right now.  He took in a deep breath, held it, and let it out.  “Fine,” he growled, getting up.

Mira lived in a small community about thirty minutes from his house.  There were about fifteen house arranged around a good sized lake in the middle.  A light breeze brought the smell of the water to Rourke as he climbed out of his car.  He nodded to the officers in the patrol car as he walked over to it.

“Something wrong, Detective?” the young woman said inside. Rourke recognized her as Samantha Layton, a five year vet of the force.

“No, I don’t think so,” Rourke said.  “Ms. Grolinsky just called, said she had something she wanted to show me,” he said, lying through his teeth.  He’d be damned if he told these officers that a bad dream had prompted him to come here.  “Keep an eye out, though, okay?”

“Will do,” Samantha said with a nod.  She prodded the young man next to her.  “Hear that, Craig?” she said, as he started slightly.

Rourke turned from the car and walked up to the house.  A motion sensor light on the garage went off as he walked up the driveway.  His long black shadow stretched away behind him as he rang the bell on the house.  He followed this up with several solid knocks.  Silence met his ears as he waited.  He put his head down and listened.  No, it wasn’t quite silence.   Just there on the edge of his hearing he thought he heard… crackling.
Whipping away from the door, he moved to the living room window.  He peered through the partially open blinds and saw a soft orange glow inside.  He drew in his breath.

Rourke turned back to the patrol car that Samantha was already climbing out of.  “Call the fire department!” he yelled.  “And stay back!”  Rourke pulled a Maglite flashlight out of his coat pocket.  With a straight focused blow, he hit the corner of the living room window with the butt of the light.  It fragmented and fell into little pebbles, designed to break in a way that wouldn’t leave shards that could cut people.  He smashed the window again, leaving a hole big enough for him to climb through.

“Mira!” Rourke shouted, flipping on the light as he dragged himself through the window.  A small trail of smoke was filtering into the large living room, past the two black leather couches and easy chair.  He ran, following the trail and the orange glow towards the back of the house.

Rounding a corner, he spotted a glass sliding door that was now reflecting a wall of flames that danced in an almost impossible straight line in front of it.   A table with a golden tablecloth shined brilliantly in the light.  And there, in a corner behind the table, flames surrounding him, stood a tall man in a business suit, towering over the cowering Mira in a corner.

“Halt or I will shoot!” Rourke said, pulling out his gun and dropping the flashlight.

Mira looked out around the man, eyes wide and unbelieving.  “Detective?” she said, fear and hope mingling in her voice.

The man turned to face Rourke, which was a funny choice of words since he had no face Rourke could see.  Rourke leveled his gun on his extremely skinny center mass.  “Do not move!” he roared.

The man cocked his head and took a gliding step forward.  And as he did, to Rourke’s astonishment, the flames danced and followed him, gliding perfectly. Training overcoming amazement, Rourke made sure Mira was not standing behind the man and then opened fire. He fired three shot point blank into the man’s chest.

He didn’t even stagger.  He glided closer to Rourke.  Rourke’s eyes widened.  “Bullet proof vest,” he gasped stepping back.  “But even with a bullet proof vest, he’d still feel the impact,” a small corner of his mind whispered back.  Ignoring that part of his mind for now, Rourke leveled his gun at the man’s head.  He fired. He watched as the bullet hit dead center where its face should be.  It, because even Rourke had to admit, when a man was hit in the face with a bullet, the bullet didn’t stop and then slowly sink into the face without leaving a trace.  A black tendril whipped from behind the thing’s back and Rourke realized he was about to die.

“No!” Mira screamed, dragging herself from the corner.  She coughed as she ran past the thing, and grabbed Rourke’s arm.  “Don’t believe in him!”

The thing’s tendrils began to whip angrily as she spoke and it moved forward aggressively.  Rourke looked around him.  The flames had circled them, blocking the entrance back to the front door and to the sliding door that led down to the lake below.  “The lake,” Rourke said, an idea forming in his head.  He grabbed Mira.  “Come on!” he said, whipping the table cloth off the table.  He wrapped it around them and ran as the thing struck forward, its tendrils landing where he and Mira had been standing a mere second ago.

Rourke propelled himself and Mira through the flame wall in front of the sliding door.  He felt the flames biting into the tablecloth, felt the heat searing into him.  With a bounce he hit the glass door.  In desperation, he ripped off the tablecloth, Mira helping him, as he grabbed the door.  With a shove, it fell open, and he and Mira were running breakneck down the hill leading to the lake.

“It’s easier to modify a story than to negate it!” he said breathlessly to Mira, as they ran.  “What is the natural enemy of fire?”

Mira’s eyes widened in recognition.  “Water!” she said, as they closed in on the lake.  She started to turn to look back.

“No!” Rourke said, waving an arm to keep her attention.  “Don’t look back!”  And then they were plunging into the water.  It seeped into Rourke’s shoes and socks, making his feet feel like someone had placed weights in them.  Rourke and Mira struggled forward, each helping the other, until they could  no longer feel the lake bed beneath them and they were dog paddling in the water.

“We have to believe,” Mira said through chattering teeth looking back at the house.

“We won’t be enough,” Rourke said, looking back with her.  The thing, the Slender Man, stood at the edge of the shore, the flames following him in a dancing swirling line down from the house.  It stood, black suit melding into and out of the smoke.  But it did not come forward.  Sirens filled the air as a fire truck approached the house.  The Slender Man tilted its head as if listening.  And then, slowly, it seemed to melt into the very shadows made by the flame’s light.

Rourke felt Mira grasp his hand.  “Well, it was enough for now,” she gasped, trying to stay afloat with one hand.

“For now,” Rourke agreed, beginning to swim for shore.

Credit To – Star Kindler

The Wanderer of Blazes

April 15, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Dr. Ellen Kennedy was just locking up her office for the evening when her phone began to ring. She paused at the door. It had been a long and grueling day and a ringing phone this late did not bode well. She sighed. While it didn’t bode well, it meant that it was probably important. Swinging her door back open, she walked over to the still ringing phone.

“You’ve reached the office of Dr. Ellen Kennedy. This is she speaking,” she said, holding the phone in one hand and her briefcase in the other.

“Hello, Dr. Kennedy, glad I’ve caught you,” a male voice on the other end. “My name is Detective Carl Rourke.”

Ellen put her briefcase down on the floor and circled back around to her chair. She had better make herself comfortable. If there was a detective on the phone she was probably going to be here for a while. “Yes, Detective, how can I help you?” She had been through this a few times before. Officers wanting her to disclose patient information followed by her refusing to give it. She had even been summoned to court once over it. Already she was preparing her speech mentally in her head as the Detective continued.

“I am calling in regards to one Connor Russell. He was found dead outside his apartment building tonight.”

And just like that Ellen’s speech scattered to the wind. Connor was one of her patients. He had gone through a long and harrowing ten years of therapy after the horrific murder of his best friend and had finally pulled himself back together. Just this afternoon he had been in her office, signing his newly published book for her. “Dead?” she said as she tried to re-marshal her thoughts. “What happened?”

“From what we can tell so far, a fire broke out on his floor. He was trapped in his apartment and could not make it to the fire escape. Witnesses say he jumped from his window.”

Ellen put a hand on her desk. Something moved under it. Looking down she saw it was a book, “By the Fire’s Light”. Connor’s book. She put her hand on her head and took a slow and steadying breath. “You want my opinion on the state of his mental health.” It wasn’t a question.

She could almost see the Detective nodding as he answered. “Yes.”

Ellen sat up straight in her chair, pulling on her mask of professionalism. Her emotions could wait. “I would say in no way shape or form was Connor Russell suicidal. He had just had a book published and it was selling well. He was getting ready to pursue a PhD in English Literature with an emphasis in folklore. He showed no signs of mental instability that would lead me to conclude that he would wish to take his own life.”

“I see,” the Detective said. He sighed. “In that case, is there anyone who might bear a grudge against Connor?”

Ellen stared in front of her, dumbfounded. “Are you suggesting that the fire was arson? Or that Connor did not jump of his free will?”

“I am not suggesting anything,” the Detective said, no emotion in his voice. “Just trying to gather all the facts.”

“There is Jared Holloway. He murdered Connor’s best friend, Kurt, ten years ago. However, Jared is still in jail to my knowledge and plead guilty to the crime before the trial. Didn’t even try for a plea bargain.” Ellen paused thinking back to this afternoon. “I do know that Connor went to visit Jared today to talk with him and try to figure out why he killed his friend.”

“Interesting,” the Detective said on the other end of the line and she could hear scribbling.

“Detective, did Connor truly jump? Or why would you even want to know about possible enemies?”

The Detective sighed again. “Okay, this is entirely off the record. Connor pushed himself backwards out the window. Witnesses say it looked like he was yelling at someone before he fell.” He paused. “One witness says they thought they saw someone look out the window after Connor pushed himself out.”

Ellen felt her mouth drop. “Then why would you think it’s a plain suicide at all?”

The Detective gave a small laugh. “Because I’m not sure how much I can trust the witness’s testimony. She said the person who looked out the window had no face.”

***
Ellen sat at her desk long after she had hung up the phone. She had dutifully taken down the Detective’s number and had promised to call back if she thought of anything useful. She stared down at Connor’s book, fingers drumming on top of it. It was absurd. When Connor had first been brought to her office ten years ago he had ranted and raved about how a faceless man had killed his friend. Called him the Slender Man.

Ellen picked up the book and thumbed through it. It wasn’t true of course. Jared Holloway had murdered Connor’s friend, Kent. Quite violently too. The nature of the crime still gave her the shudders a decade later. Lacerations up and down Kurt’s body with a final deep blow in his chest. From the pictures she had seen he had been drenched in his own blood, making it unlikely he would have survived even without the final blow in his chest cavity. The nature of the crime had caused Connor’s mind to try and protect itself. Unwilling to believe a fellow man could be so callous he had invented this Slender Man to take the blame instead.

Well, invented wasn’t quite the right word. More like appropriated. From what Connor had told her over the years, especially when he had begun writing his book, she knew Slender Man had originated on the Something Awful forums originally created by one Victor Surge. Not much was know about Mr. Surge as he was reticent with personal information. Regardless, others had gotten their hands on him and he had grown into a full blown internet urban legend. With Connor’s books hitting the stands, it looked like he’d be just a plain old urban legend soon. If anything, Connor’s death would spur sales.

So it was truly absurd to think a fictional monster had come to life and killed Connor. She could not, would not, and did not believe it. She put the book down. Well, she had to admit, the book was selling well. Perhaps the witness owned a copy of the book and with the fire, and the fact that it was Connor, the writer of the story, plunging from the window, had convinced him or herself that they had seen this Slender Man. That had to be it.

She sighed, getting up again. She really needed to be getting home. She picked up the book and stuffed it in her briefcase. If she could talk to this witness herself it would help put her mind at ease. But she knew there was no way Detective Rourke would tell her what the witness’s name was, on or off the record.

As she drove down the road to her house she turned on the radio to her car. “Radio on,” she said as she drove. It turned itself to the preset satellite classical station that she had never bothered to change from the default. “Tune to Local Channel 3” she said, eyes on the road. This was the local news radio station. The announcers droned on for a few minutes about sports, the weather, traffic, and a new tax increase to help the schools. Finally, one of them turned to the subject she had been waiting for.

“And in tragic news tonight,” the female announcer said, “up and coming local novelist Connor Russell died in a fire at his apartment complex. He apparently fell from his window trying to escape the blaze. Channel 3’s Angelica Logano is now reporting from the scene.”

There was silence for a few moments as the signal flipped to Angelica. While Ellen waited patiently for Angelica to begin, a loud blast of static burst from the speakers. “Ah, what the hell!” Ellen said. “Mute volume!” she shouted over the blare. The radio quieted obediently. What on earth had caused that? She looked up to see she was driving under a canopy of trees that lined the street leading into her neighborhood. She shook her head. She knew tall buildings and trees could mess with the line of sight that satellite radio needed, but she had always just lost the signal before. She sighed. It probably meant her radio was dying. When she turned the volume back up, the report was over and the announcers were back to talking about the local sports teams.

After pulling into her driveway, Ellen sighed and turned off the car. Well, it wasn’t a problem missing the report really. She was sure she’d be able to find something about Connor in a simple Google News search.

Twenty minutes and several articles later brought her no more information than she already knew though. She sighed setting aside her tablet on her bedside table. Even though she was off tomorrow, she still needed to get some sleep. But as she lay tossing and turning in the darkness, she knew sleep would not be coming anytime soon. Leaning over, she turned on the small lamp on her bedside table. She reached into the briefcase she had set next to her bed and pulled out “By the Fire’s Light”. Rummaging in the bag one more time for a pen and notepaper in case she needed to jot anything down, she settled back into her bed. Making herself comfortable, she began to read Connor’s book.

***
Prologue
He hates all he sees. Truly he is not properly a he. He does not think of himself as such. He has no name. He needs no name. He knows what he is. The others have left or gone too sleep. He was not powerful enough to follow those who left and he refuses to give in to sleep. This was his world and he will not surrender it.

But he is not powerful enough to take a form like others who were left behind. He is merely a fog of hatred. Those who encounter him feel an uneasiness, as if they know they are in the presence of something that should not be there. But he can do nothing more.

He wandered aimlessly for aeons or minutes he could not say. Time did not exist when this world was his and he does not readily understand it. All he knows is that one night in a forest somewhere lightning strikes in front of him. It is the middle of a hot and radiant summer, and all the wood is dry, waiting for the right match to strike. The lightning sparks a small fire, which quickly catches and grows. He watches, amazed, as the fire consumes all in its path, leaving nothing but blackened ash in its wake. If he could feel love, he would love the flickering of the flames he is now following across the forest.

As they weave and dance through the night, the flames cross the path of a young boy. He has been separated from his family and he is frightened. Instead of following the flight of the animals, the young boy has run in a circle, and how finds himself trapped by the fire. The nameless one draws close, eager to see what the fire will do to this intruder who has taken his world. The young boy senses him, senses his hatred. He thinks the nameless one is the fire or a being who controls it. And as this fear grips and consumes the young boy, the nameless one feels himself grow solid. He wonders at this as he feels feet touch the ground. He feels arms as long and flickering as the flames growing from what is now a back. He stands tall and black, as shadowy as the flame’s flickering light. His head flows and melts in the heat and he sees himself through the young boy’s eyes and realizes that he has none of his own.

But it does not matter for this makes him fearful to the young boy. He strikes with one of his flowing arms, casting the young boy into the fire. The young boy screams and pleads. He begs for mercy. The nameless one has none. The flames crackle up and down the young boy, taking first his outer covering and then melting flesh from bone. The young boy has long since stopped struggling, but the nameless one watches until all that is left is white bone. He feels himself growing looser again then and losing form. It doesn’t matter though. He knows what he wants to do now. He turns following the fire’s light before him.

***
Ellen felt herself growing tired and she did not fight the sleep that now came over her. She felt the book fall from her hands and onto her chest as she surrendered herself to the darkness. Her reading material, perhaps, influenced her dreams. Every which way she turned, she found herself surrounded by hot and high flames. In between the flames something dark and lanky darted always just outside of her vision.

Finally, just as she caught sight of the thing moving in the flames, she woke up. She opened her eyes and stared at her white ceiling for a moment, re-orienting herself with her surroundings. “Strange dream,” she muttered stretching and opening her hands. From her right hand fell a pen. She frowned.

“Odd,” she said, leaning over to pick it up. “I don’t remember actually taking any notes last night.” Connor’s book slid off the bed and onto the floor next to the pen. As it fell open, a stray mark of blue ink on the pages caught Ellen’s eye. She sighed. Had she accidentally marked the book in her sleep? Picking the book up, she placed it in her lap and looked at the pages.

What she saw was odder than finding the pen in her hand had been. There was a mark on the page, but it wasn’t a random stray mark. One of the words on the page was circled. “What,” she breathed, reading the word. “Why would I circle the word what?” She flipped through the book. As she did, every once in a while she would catch another page with another word circled. She felt a chill go down her spine. She definitely did not remember doing this last night.

Grabbing her notepad from her bedside desk, she started to methodically go through the book from start to finish. Every time she came to a circled word she would jot it down on the notepad. When she was finished, she held the notepad in front of her and read what she had written. “I am what you have made me. I like what I am,” she said. The word “like” had been circled several times, unlike the other words, so heavily indented the ink had almost seeped through the page.

She stared at the notepad for a moment and then tossed it away from her. It hit the wall on the other side of the room, but before it had dropped to the floor, Ellen was already up and in motion. She dug Connor’s file out of her briefcase. Flipping through it, she found the address to his apartment. Grabbing her tablet off her bedside table, she input Connor’s address into Google Maps. As it downloaded directions to his apartment, she hurriedly threw off her nightgown and dressed herself. Five minutes later found her out the door and on the road.

As she drove she briefly considered stopping for at least coffee to give herself a chance to calm down. A prickling fear she couldn’t dispel stopped her though. She needed to see Connor’s apartment for herself. Beyond that she wasn’t sure what she was doing.

Pulling into Connor’s complex, Ellen found a parking space a couple lots away from Connor’s apartment building. She didn’t want it to be too obvious what she was doing. She didn’t need management shooing her off the premises. Getting out of the car, she walked as casually as she could toward Connor’s apartment building.

It was obvious, even without directions, which one was his. The black and charred remains sat in between two other untouched apartment buildings. It almost looked like the other two buildings had ganged up on this one and given it a sound beating, large gaping holes looking like a fist had punch through them. Ellen glanced up to the fourth floor. Connor’s apartment had been somewhere up there. As she drew closer she saw a young woman standing in front of the building also looking up at the fourth floor. She wore ripped blue jeans and a pull over sweater who’s sleeves were too large for her. She looked up as Ellen drew close. “Came to see the wreckage?” she asked, a twisted smile on her lips.

“Yeah,” Ellen said quietly, grass crunching under her feet as drew even with the young woman. “Someone I knew died in the fire.”

“That Connor guy,” the young woman said.

“Yes. How did you know?” Ellen asked turning to her.

“He’s the only one who died in the fire,” she said, looking down. She brushed a stray hair out of her eyes. “Saw it happen,” she said quietly. She looked up at Ellen and offered a hand. “Name’s Cassandra.”

“Ellen,” Ellen said, shaking her hand. Ellen glanced at Cassandra out of the corner of her eye. “It’s such a shame about his death. What with Connor’s book just being published.”

“He had a book?” Cassandra asked, surprised. “Didn’t know we had an author in our building.”

Ellen just stared at her for a moment. Cassandra was telling the truth she could tell. The prickling fear ran up and down her spine again. Ellen took a calm centering breath. She didn’t know Cassandra was necessarily the witness Detective Rourke had told her about. Still… “I heard,” Ellen said slowly, “I heard that Connor wasn’t alone in his room when he died.”

Cassandra looked straight at Ellen for a moment, an expression torn between panic and relief flitting across her face. It was disconcerting. “Well, you heard right,” Cassandra said at last. “I saw someone look out the window after Connor fell.” She turned away and looked up at the fourth floor again. “I saw it again last night too,” she said her voice growing soft. “I dreamed I was still trapped in the fire. And I saw the thing in the flames. I don’t know how, but I could tell it was happy I was there.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m kinda glad I’m staying with friends right now. Don’t wanna be by myself.”

“You called it a thing,” Ellen said, taking an involuntary step closer to Cassandra, trying to control her shaking hands.

Cassandra gave a short, almost hysterical laugh. “Yeah, well, I didn’t see a face on the thing when it popped its head out the window. Cops think I’m loony.” She shrugged her eyes now defiant, turning back to Ellen.

Ellen shook her head slowly. “I don’t think you’re crazy,” she said quietly.

Cassandra gazed at her for a moment and then turned back to the apartment building. “Yeah, well that makes one of us,” she muttered.

Ellen went home soon afterwards. She left the radio off on her drive home, her own buzzing thoughts providing her with plenty of entertainment. As she shut and locked the door behind her, she shook her head. She was taking all this far too seriously. She dreamt about this Slender Man after reading a story about him and thinking about him for a good few hours before going to bed. That was not unusual. As for Cassandra, well, it wasn’t like it was easy to see people surrounded by flames and smoke. She probably just saw a person or person shaped object and suggestion had done the rest. That she should have a nightmare about a traumatic experience was not surprising either.

She paced into the kitchen and grabbed a wine glass out of her cabinet. She poured herself a cup of red wine and sat down at her kitchen table. She watched her willow tree throw its branches in the wind in the backyard. As for the words circled in Connor’s book… She watched the branches dance and play for a few more moment before turning away with a shudder. She was sure there was an explanation for why she would circle those words, she was just too tired to think of it now. She finished her wine and decided she needed to treat herself to a nice long soak.

That night as she went to bed, Ellen briefly toyed with reading more of Connor’s book. She peeled off her tan pantyhose and lay them on the side of her bed. She shook her head. No, given the dream she had had last night, her imagination didn’t need anymore fuel for tonight. She turned out her lights and quickly fell into an uneasy sleep.

She dreamed of nothing for a while. Then, slowly, she found flames growing around her again. Something tall and slender weaved in and out amongst the flames. She backed away, trying to find a way out, but everywhere she turned, more fire met her gaze. Finally, the black thing emerged from the flames. She knew what it was. Just too tall to be a man, wearing a business suit with long trailing arms and a smooth blank space where its face should be. She began to shake. “You’re not real,” she whispered.

The thing merely moved towards her, slowly as if enjoying itself.

Ellen felt her back stiffen, even in her sleep. She was a psychiatrist for God’s sake. She knew how the mind could play tricks on you when you were stressed. And she knew what was real and what wasn’t. She faced the Slender Man squarely. He stopped “gazing” down at her and Ellen could almost swear his body language was hesitant. “You are not real,” she said fiercely. “This is just a dream. You are a figment of my overwrought and stressed imagination. And I will thank you very much to leave my dream!”

The Slender Man leapt towards her, tentacles bursting from its back and reaching for her. But even as it flung itself towards her, it seemed to lose cohesion. A puff of wind blew through Ellen and nothing more. The flames snuffed out under the wind’s influence and Ellen found herself surrounded by blackness.

Ellen woke with a start. Breathing heavily her hand reached for her bedside light. It flipped on and Ellen covered her eyes with one hand. Sitting up, she wiped sweat from her forehead. Her nightgown clung to her back and she shivered as her skin made contact with the night air. She put her hand down on the black pantyhose she had left on the side of her bed before going to sleep. Her body shuddered as she breathed in and out slowly. Well, it looked like she had figured out how to deal with her Slender problem. She laughed quietly to herself looking down at the black pantyhose in her left hand. The black… Her eyes widened as the black moved underneath her hand.

With a screech she jumped out of her bed. Looking into the corner of her room stood a man so tall his head brushed the ceiling. His “face” looked down at her smooth and blank. And the tendrils on his back began to whip around angrily, crashing into the walls next to him. He took a step forward.

Ellen felt her back stiffen again. “This may not be a dream,” she said, her voice shaking slightly, but steel underneath it. “But I still know you are not real. I do not give you my belief. And I will thank you kindly to leave my house!”

He hesitated for one moment and then lunged at her. Ellen realized with horror that he seemed to be solid enough this time though. With a strangled scream she leapt out of the way. Wrenching her bedroom door open she darted out of the room, running through her dark house. She heard him crashing behind her, but she wasn’t foolish enough to look back. Grabbing her car keys off the counter, she dashed out the front door, not bothering to close.

She hit the unlock button on the keys and the car chirped. Wrenching the passenger seat open, she threw herself inside, shutting and locking the doors behind her. Panting and struggling she crawled into the driver’s seat, jamming the key into the ignition. She turned and heard her car roar to life, headlight’s automatically coming on and illuminating her house. As she tried to throw it in reverse, something and black plunged straight down in front of her into the hood of the car. With a horrible metallic ripping sound, it passed through the hood making the whole car shake. Several other tendrils followed, straight into the engine. The car shuddered and died.

Ellen pressed herself back in her seat as the tendrils withdrew from the car. She reached for her the driver’s door. She had to run. But even as she did, she felt something hard impact the passenger’s side of the car. The whole car rocked and she lost her balance. Her head banged against the window and she cried out in pain. The car shuddered again and this time turned over, first onto its side and then onto the roof.

Ellen fell against the roof of her car in the darkness, disoriented and frightened. She tried to move for a door, any door, as she felt something pierce her car again. The sound of liquid running down the side of her car and the smell of gasoline caught her attention. She froze and looked out the passenger side of the car. She could see a trailed of gasoline running down the back window. And in the small amount of light given from the street lamp by her house, she saw a long black tendril flick on the ground by the liquid. It grew suddenly stiff and striked the ground. “Tinder and flint,” she whispered as a small flame erupted from its tip. The fire began to grow eagerly and she watched it trail up her car. She curled into a ball and cried to herself as the flames circled her car, cutting off all her exits.

***

Detective Carl Rourke was not having a good night. First he finds out his witness in the Connor Russell case, Cassandra Brighton, has died in a freak fire caused by faulty wiring at her friend’s house. And now here is, standing outside the house Dr. Ellen Kennedy, her car flipped and smoldering, her body, or what was left of it, just now being removed from the wreck.

“And nobody saw any other cars?” he asked the two beat cops who had arrived on the scene first.

They both shook their heads. One of them, Patrick he thinks, flips open his small notebook. “One of the neighbors thinks she saw a tall slender man walking away from the car as it burned. She looked outside after she heard what sounded like a car crash.”

Rourke grunted. “But nobody saw the actual crash,” he muttered. He shook his head. “Two people related to the Connor Russell case both perishing in fires on the same night? Don’t buy it.” He sighed. “At least the witness didn’t claim the guy has no face.”

Patrick coughed politely and Rourke turned to stare at him. “She didn’t did she?”

“Ah, no,” Patrick said trying to hide his amusement. “She did mention something about tentacles though.”

Rourke cursed under his breath and made his way to Ellen’s house. Maybe he could find some real tangible clues inside so he could find the real tangible man behind these killings. Slowly he walked through the house, careful not to touch or move anything. CSI would kill him. And those bozos would be able to clean up the evidence afterwards.

Eventually he found himself in Ellen’s bedroom. He raised his eyebrows. Slash marks on the walls, strewn books and papers. It looked like there had been a struggle. He crouched down to look at one of the books on the floor. “By the Fire’s Light,” he read. As he did, something black on the wall next to him caught his eye. He stood up abruptly, but there was nothing there but his own shadow. Grunting, he pulled out his smartphone. He quickly made note of the titles of the books on the floor so he could look them up later. And then, with a final sweep around the bedroom, he left to check the rest of the house.

Author’s Note: This is a sequel to “By the Fire’s Light” which may also be found on Creepypasta!

Credit To – Star Kindler

Creepypasta

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