For the third time in my life I find myself emerging from the rabbit's hole, only this time I have absolutely no idea how I made it out.
I suppose that's a spoiler for how this story ends, but hold on a minute, it gets better than just that.
I drove to the park where Rick O'Connor said that the red building was. I got out with my gun, a lockpick, a flashlight and some extra batteries. My ID stayed in my back pocket in case I needed it, just because you never know when you might run into someone who wants to see some. At this point, I feel like being without an ID of some kind, real or fake, feels like being bare-ass naked in the middle of a four-way intersection.
Traveling through the park, I caught last-minute glimpses of people out and about. It was around eleven in the morning (I know, I'm not stupid. Who knew?), and mothers were taking their children on a stroll in their carriages. Nice little gathering of people. I always enjoyed those feelings of normal. Even if they were random and short.
Before long, I was deep in there, out of sight from everyone else, back in my own little messed up world. The warm feeling I had been feeling was gone. Now it just felt like every other time I was near forests these days. On the one hand, it meant I was close to where I was heading. On the other hand, I liked the feeling of being safe.
Trying not to panic, I just started repeating one of the old kid's stories in my head. Today's winner decided to be the Three Little Pigs. In my mind's eye, I could just keep picturing that damn wolf pounding on the door: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in. Or I'll huff, and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!”
Probably not the best mental image to go in with, but it worked.
When I saw the red begin to appear through the trees, suddenly I remembered my dream. The surroundings were exactly as they were then; to the detail. This was it. This was definitely the place. And sure enough, through the clearing there was the red building, in the park, exactly where Rick said it was.
He was right about that part.
Time to see if he was right about the other bit.
I went to the door and began to work on the lock, and as I was working, I felt a paranoid feeling, like something was off, like I was being watched. I looked around at the surrounding area but there was nothing there, not even a bird. This must have been what Damien had felt when he came, that feeling he felt when he had gone in. I don't think I would have felt it if it really was nothing in there.
The lock wasn't hard to pick and before I knew it I was inside this dusty, empty room with a draft from a broken window that I recognized instantly as the one he had broken to get inside; looking at it then, I was glad I went through the door. I was in the right place, I had to be. I started looking around for that trapdoor that he had gone down.
I found it, closed, towards the back of the building. I flipped the lock keeping the door to the floor and opened it, and before long I was staring down at the stairway from Damien's story.
Only...it was longer than he had said it was. Even from the top I could see that it went down pretty deep. That confused me for a moment, but I brushed it aside. Maybe the way down would seem shorter than it appeared.
Well, it did, but even now that it's all over I still feel like it was more of its own doing than mine. And it wouldn't be the only time I would feel that down there. There is something wrong with that place, the architecture is all screwy, and I realized that the moment I got off the stairs and stepped into that corridor.
Dark. That's the best word to describe it, pitch black dark. And cold. Really cold, colder than a basement belonging to a building like this should have been. All I had was a light jacket, and that was not enough. So I started moving to keep warm, flashlight on and gun out, ignoring the very obvious blood splatters against the wall, an omen that I should probably get out while I still could.
And again, this corridor was different. Damien had said that there was just the corridor leading to the one room, nothing else, but as I walked I could distinctly see doors along the walls, leading into what appeared to be cells. All of them were locked, and quite frankly the thought of exploring them made me feel faint. Peering through the bars, I had a feeling that they were cells, possibly to hold their sacrifices. Only if I had no other place to look would I think about poking through them.
Eventually I ended up in the chamber from the tape, the orgy tape. I looked around, careful where I touched; God only knew how many STDs this place carried. I finally found the other door, the one that lead to the sacrificial chamber. My walk there was considerably shorter than his, and I was inside before long, looking at a table that had sacrificed...how many children?
I looked up, and I was surprised that you really could see the sky from here...but how did that work, this far underground? And...wait, how the fuck was it night? I had gone in in the early afternoon, but sure enough it was night time, moon, stars and all. I could see Orion's belt from where I was. It did not make any sense.
And then I understood that that was exactly the point. This place did not make sense. Maybe it was always like this or maybe it was after the cult stopped using it, but this building was supposed to be confusing, was supposed to be a maze, just like the warehouse. In order to tear you down from the inside, make you vulnerable
Little pigs, little pigs
and then he comes and rips you apart.
Let me come in
It was time to move fast. I started looking around the room for whatever was down here that could help me. I started looking under the altar, around the room, for any items left behind, and then I started searching the walls. Along the sides of the altar I found a set of pictures...hieroglyphics, I think they were. As I remember now, the images fly through my head:
Three long, wavy lines...almost life lines of fire...or water?
A face down semicircle.
A...I think it was a branch. Or a flower. Or a cane, I don't fucking know.
Circle with an X running through it. Big surprise.
Finally, a man...I think. Naked, faceless, looking as though he were pondering something.
Then the big picture on the wall, the one that put the rest of them to shame, for it was the most gruesome. Bodies. Just endless piles of bodies, some thrown on top of each other, some thrown into a river of probable blood, but all of them dead. Except two. One, a pharaoh sitting in his chair, and the other the many-armed man standing before him.
I remember just being transfixed by these images for a moment, then moving on. I had to move fast; I could feel something coming, even though nothing had actually happened...and then I heard the noise. This large growling noise, almost a dull roar, that rang out from somewhere deep within the building. I turned and just as I looked towards the door, the batteries in my flashlight died.
My throat started burning as I reached into my pocket for the extra batteries. I unscrewed the lid
Or I'll huff
and tipped the dead batteries out and
And I'll puff
screwed the lid back on
And I'll blow your house in
and turned the flashlight on to find Eric standing right before me. Blood was caked all over his face.
“He's here,” he said. “Time's up.”
The flashlight flicked off and on for a brief moment but when it went back on he was gone. And before I could question it, candles on the wall flicked on and the door opened and he slowly stepped through, his pale surface looking right at me.
I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I could only stare at the enemy that's haunted me for the last year. His hands were at his sides, his head tilted, and...the tentacles weren't out yet, so that was a good sign. But there he was, in all his slim seven-foot-tall glory, looking right at me.
And then, in my head, something snapped. I grinned. The fear that had gripped me just a moment before was gone, and I was right back in the warehouse like I was all those months ago.
“Welcome back,” I croaked through the now blazing pain that had overtaken my throat. “You finally got the courage to find me, did you?”
I took a step forward, daring myself further. He did nothing.
“Yeah, that's right, you remember me, don't you?” I giggled, which given the circumstances was probably not the thing to do. “I'm the one that got away. I'm the one you didn't get. Were you embarrassed by that? Were you embarrassed that I've escaped you more times than anyone else?”
Still nothing. He just kept watching me with that stupid head tilt he did. That just made me laugh more, that this fucker that everyone feared so much was not doing a thing to me.
“I'm starting to think everyone's fear in you is misplaced,” I croaked, close now that we were face to face. “What do you do, anyway? You stand there and you look at us and you drive this fear into our heads, but get past the paranoia and you're just a stick with arms in a cheap suit. Nothing scary about you at all, you cowardly piece of-”
There was a swish and a whip and a loud CRASH and before I knew it I had been grabbed by my shirt by a tentacle and slammed against the altar so hard that I had caused its legs to smash and the surface to collapse. I stifled a cry as he stood over me, two other tentacles drawing from his back. Despite the back pain and the blood trickling from my mouth, I managed a bloody sneer.
“Yeah, that's right. That's the Slender Man I want to see,” I growled, or I tried to growl; my throat was practically useless by now. “I wonder what you really look like under that pathetic costume of yours-”
He raised me back up for us to be face to face. Even without a face, I could feel just how angry he was, how angry I was making him. And this made me laugh harder, knowing that little old me was getting him angry. So for good measure- and just because I seemingly had a death wish- I mustered up some blood and spit it right into his face.
And that, fortunately enough, is the last thing I remember, other than being flung towards the stone wall. All I know is that next thing I remember was waking up on a couch with a dark-haired girl seven or eight years younger than me staring at me. Once my vision cleared, I recognized her as the girl I had seen leaving Damien's workplace.
“You okay?” she asked.
I slowly sat up, looking around the room. It was just a small little pad, the only lights coming from lit candles, but it was warm enough. It was safe enough. I looked at the table and saw that all my equipment was still there, gun, flashlight, and all.
“Yeah, I'm alright,” I whispered, still feeling the burning in my throat.
“Good.” And without warning, she slapped me right in the face. “That was the stupidest move you could have ever made. What were you thinking, idiot?”
She shook her head and started moving around the apartment, grabbing my items and stuffing them in a bag. I studied her for a moment, her hair, her eyes, the way she acted, how she had been watching me the other day, and a random thought occurred to me.
“You're Kiera, aren't you?” I asked. “Damien's ex.”
She neither confirmed nor denied my statement. She threw some food into the bag and threw it at me.
“You made a big mistake,” she told me. “Coming here when you've got the entire FBI looking for you, into a town that's much worse than that, do you have a death wish? Huh? Did you really think you could just walk into Damien's workplace asking about him and not send up red flags? Do you not realize how close you came to disappearing yourself in there?”
“The hell are you-?”
“Did you really think this cult was just a group of old timers at the church? It's the whole fucking town, Strahm, why do you think everybody's looking at you funny?”
“Wait...the whole town?” I jumped to my feet. “Bullshit, no way they could get away with that-”
“Couldn't they? The government already turns a blind eye to Slender Man, why not turn a blind eye to a town full of people who follow him?”
The people in the shop...But how can a cult just stay in full light in town and not have any passerby’s notice? It's easier to hide a cult within a town, but if the cult IS the town...and no one was ackowledging it...
“Okay, hold on,” I said, trying to slow her down. “I need to know the whole story. Can you take me to Rick, can he tell me about this? Because this doesn't make any sense-”
“Oh come ON!” She finally turned to me, her eyes full of fire. I can kinda see why Damien would go for her. “I knew you were here following that bullshit story, but I didn't think you believed it THAT much. And you're the one who's supposed to be the great detective?!”
“Will you slow down please? What the hell are you talking-?”
“Zeke, Rick disappeared on August 27th. A week before Damien did.”
She turned back to what she was doing, leaving me standing there with what I imagine was the stupidest look on my face that I had ever kept there. That wasn't...there was no way...how could...was I really supposed to believe that this was all a lie, that everything Rick
said was a lie?
“How can that be? How can no one know he's missing?”
“With everyone and their mother focusing on Damien's story, you really think anyone's gonna notice if his brother goes missing?” She finally threw me the bag. “Now go. You can't stay here, they know you're here, they're sending some agents over-”
“Wait a minute-”
“Listen to me,” she growled, grabbing my shirt; Christ, this girl was forceful. “You never should have come here. This was not your obligation to come here and fuck with things. You want a sense of purpose, you can do it somewhere else, but leave things here for someone else!”
“You need to get out of here.”
“Is it Damien?”
“Get out of here now-”
“Kiera!” I grabbed her arm just as she threw the door open. “Is Damien alive?”
She pulled out of my grasp and pushed me out, bag in my arms. “Get out of town. Don't come back.” And then she slammed the door in my face.
So there I stood for a minute staring at a brown-colored metal door and wondering how many shrooms I had been fed during my black out. This didn't make sense. Well, in a way it made sense but it still didn't really make sense. The town being the cult...that was a stretch. Rick not being...well, that could be true, I suppose, but...if he wasn't Rick, then who the fuck was he?
Who was he...and that was when I started getting angry. If he lied about who he was, that made his entire story questionable. Meaning he wasn't working with the cops. Meaning Damien didn't kill himself...but that they killed him instead. That had to be it, right? That's why Kiera didn't tell me, isn't it? And we all just accepted the story and let those fuckers kill off another one of us...
I kicked the wall furiously as the reality of this sunk in. Slender Man's influence was everywhere. Even before the servants started their tirade, they were picking us off. Damien died right under our noses, and they covered it up. We're all expendable. God damn it, God DAMMIT...
I wasn't in my right head space when I left, which was why I didn't really see the two agents following me until I finally turned the corner and out of the corner of my eye saw them. Not even trying, they had the suits on and everything. This wasn't scouting, they were going in for the arrest. Problem was, I was tired, I was confused, my head hurt, my back ached, and I was just not in the mood to deal with their shit this night.
So I went down the alleyway, making sure that they followed me, and waited until I was halfway before I turned around and shot one of them three times in the chest. The way the bullets impacted his chest it was apparent that he was wearing the Kevlar vest, but three bullets to the chest is going to fuck you up no matter what you're wearing. He went down like a sack of bricks, and the other one fell backwards on his ass in shock. He raised his gun, but I was just a tad bit quicker and before he knew it he was clutching his badly bleeding arm, his gun clattering a few feet away.
He tried to crawl, but I slammed my foot onto his chest, grabbed his collar, and pulled him up towards me. His teeth were gritted in pain.
“Go on,” he growled. “Kill me.”
“No, you don't get off that easy,” I said, looking him straight in the eye. “You're going to go back to base and give your boss a little message for me. Tell Fisk I'm on to him. Tell him to stop following me, stop following Celeste, stop following Kiera, stop following everyone. Tell him to pull back every single agent he has working in the field right now, and when he's done with that, ask him why he's busy defending the wrong people and letting the right people die-”
“You're never going to get him to stop, he's always going to come after you-”
“I'm not done!” My voice was all but gone at this point, so I squeaked a little towards the end of that, but I didn't care. I was beyond caring at this point. All I had was rage. “Also I want you to tell him that I'm done playing nice. Now, I gave that agent in Ohio a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card, and unfortunately you're about to use up my last one. I've had fun playing games with you and your little friends, but now I am no longer in the fucking mood. No more freebies. The next agent he sends my way, I'm sending his head back in a box. Got it?”
He just stared at me as if he had never seen anything quite like me before, but he got the message. I threw him back down on the ground, grabbed my bag, and took off, taking care to hock a big wad of spit onto his partner as I left that alleyway and the long hike back to my car. He groaned as I spit on him, and from that I gathered that he was alive, and probably would survive my little surprise. Just as well. As angry as I was, I wasn't ready to go on a mass murder spree quite yet.
I'm now a few miles out of town, laying low, re-gaining my bearings. I'm making the trip back home tomorrow. Whether or not this trip actually did me any good, I can't say for certain. Still too many questions. And now a whole different threat as well.
I need sleep...fuck.