The Wanderer of Blazes :
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.
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.