I’m back. For real. I remember now.
It was at dinner with Raychel. The meal had gone normally enough. Jack and I had worked hard putting it together, and most of the conversation with Raychel and her husband went without any problems. I’m not sure what it was that triggered it. We’d been talking about something trivial. Probably some television show. Raychel made a joke about it, and when I looked at her, I suddenly remembered her death. That day I found her in my room, not breathing. She’d been one of the first people I’d gone to seeing Slender Man.
The memory shot through my head like a bullet. I looked away to try and forget the image, but that made my eyes land on Jack. And that made more memories come back. I’d never married Jack. He’d been torn to pieces and left on a tree after coming to visit me. He’d been worried about how much I’d been avoiding him. I’d never even gotten to say goodbye. I’d just shouted at him to leave because it was too dangerous.
More memories came back to me, clashing with what I was seeing. The colors started to drain away from my house, leaving it all black and white. But it wasn’t my house. I’ve never owned a house. It was my parent’s old home. Why had I thought it was mine?
Without a word to anyone, I got up from the table and ran outside. Arkady was standing on the sidewalk, fiddling with some bottles and a lighter. Since my recorder didn’t pick up anything out there, I’m having to rely on Arkady’s self-proclaimed “astoundingly perfect memory” for all the dialogue in this post. Hopefully he doesn’t change too much.
D: “What the hell is going on?”
A: “Aw, don’t tell me you remembered on your own! I was just about to start killing people!”
D: “No, no jokes right now, seriously what is going on?”
A: “It looks like a labyrinth. Or whatever it is they call it these days. Really weird dimension stuff meant to screw with our heads. Poor Slendy’s gotta be getting deserpate if he’s dropping this on us.”
D: “How do we escape?”
A: “In my experience? Break the rules. Do the opposite of what he expects you to do. Mental stuff like this only gets to you if you play along. Which is why I’m about to toss a Molotov into that house there.”
And he proceeded to do exactly that. After throwing the bottle through the window, the fire spread unnaturally fast. The red flames consumed the whole building, and I heard screams coming from inside. When I heard that, I started to run back, but Arkady grabbed my arm.
A: “It’s not real. There aren’t any real people in there. Don’t let it get to you.”
I tried to calm myself down, telling myself that Arkady was right, it was all an illusion. As I kept repeating that to myself, the screams died away, and the color left the fire, leaving it monochrome as well. Then it grew blurry, like a scene fading away, until the mass of gray colors refocused into a different image. Trees appeared around us, living trees, not the twisted ones from the swamp. There was a small creek nearby, and I could hear birds singing around us. The whole setting was beautiful, and I paused to just appreciate the seeming peace around us. Until I felt Arkady’s hand squeezing my arm.
A: “It’s not real. Just keep reminding yourself of that.”
The colors faded away from this forest as well, and the sounds became dimmer, leaving it all dull and lifeless.
A: “It probably shouldn’t be impossible for you to get out now that you’re figuring this place out. I’m going to stay here for a while and try to find the girl, though.”
D: “I’m not leaving until I’ve gotten Sky either.”
A: “Excellent. We just need to keep moving then. This place is one of my memories, so it shouldn’t be too hard to break out of….”
I don’t know how long we traveled through the labyrinth. I saw a lot of different things in there. Old memories mixed with new ones, reflections of what had been my daily life, dreams and nightmares brought to life. As much as I hate to say it, I’m glad that Arkady was with me. There were several times I would have been lost in the illusions without his presence acting as a reminder of where I was.
Some of the things I saw seemed based off Arkady’s experiences as well. The cities of Phoenix and Austin blended together at times, and I found myself watching firsthand the events that I’d read about in Smiting the Gods. I must grudgingly admit that the blog’s description of events is not as exaggerated as I had expected, at least compared to how Arkady remembers. Although I noticed he left out how much pain medication he was taking when he wrote things down.
Eventually, things that neither of us remembered started to bleed into the environments. Places we’d never been to, people we’d never met. I didn’t understand it at first, and our progress slowed considerably, since Arkady had a much harder time figuring out the key to breaking the scene when the labyrinth no longer seemed to be focusing on us. When we came across a memory with a much younger Sky in it, everything became clear. It was in a forest again, but very different from the rocky, shrub filled forests of Arkady’s memories. The trees were a lot taller and more lush, more like something you would find up north. I realized where we were when I saw a small girl running by us. She looked exactly like how I would have imagined a younger Sky. She was laughing, and occasionally looking over her shoulder. Behind her was the Slender Man.
A jolt of fear went through me, but it passed when I realized that he was just part of the memory. He was watching Sky as she ran around him and talked about playing games. He didn’t react to her, just watched.
The scene changed again, and we were inside a kitchen. Slender Man had a man and a women in his tentacles, and was slowly disemboweling them. I saw Sky trying to hide under the kitchen table, with her eyes closed and her hands covering her ears. The scene changed again, and we were inside another room. The place looked almost abandoned, with the paint peeling from the walls and the wooden floor falling apart. Sky was lying in an old bed in the corner, her head barely peeking out from the sheets. Slender Man stepped out from the room’s shadows, and a familiar scene played out. He held her down with his tentacles, and stared at her with his blank face. And for a moment, I felt what Sky had felt then. It was like having the top of your skull torn off, and then having every thought, memory, and emotion ripped out of your brain to be carefully examined before being haphazardly jammed back in. It was like being made completely vulnerable, and having every bit of that vulnerability put underneath a microscope for him to examine. But the connection was two ways. And for a horrible second, I could feel the Slender Man.
I don’t know if I have the vocabulary to describe it. There was nothing in there that resembled any human thought or experience. Every sensation was completely alien, all completely beyond my understanding. There were a few feelings that were like faint reflections of the human world, but even they couldn’t be understood amongst the chaos of incomprehensibility.
My brain simply couldn’t take it. I blacked out. When I woke up, I was lying on a cold floor, with vomit covering part of my face. Arkady wasn’t far away, leaning against a wall for support. His face was completely white, and he was violently shaking. I’ve never seen him so affected by something before. It took both of us a while to collect ourselves and look around the room. The floor was hard concrete, with raggedy old dolls strewn across it. The walls had several crayon drawings on them, most depicting Slender Man in some way. Sky was sitting on a wooden chair in the very center of the room, staring at nothing. She was the only thing in there with any color; everything else was the same monochrome I’d gotten used to. This time, she was real.
I ran to her and grabbed her hand. Her face turned toward me, but her eyes didn’t seem to focus on anything.
D: “Sky! Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?”
S: “… He’ll always come for me. I can’t get away. He always comes back.”
D: “It’s okay. We’re here. We’re going to get you out.”
S: “No!” *She pushed me away, almost hard enough to knock me over.* “I can’t leave. He’ll just take me back. I can’t get away.”
A: “Just leave her.” *Arkady was picking up the dolls off the ground and examining them.* “If she’s not willing to get out, then there’s no point in us carrying her.”
*Sky started shaking her head, as if the thought of staying scared her as much as leaving. I glared at Arkady, but he ignored me.*
D: “Don’t worry. We won’t leave without you. But you need to get up and come with us if you want to escape.”
*Sky grabbed my hand with both of hers, and looked like she wanted to say something, but remained quiet. That quiet was disrupted by a sudden bang; apparently Arkady had decided to thrown down one of the dolls and stomp on its face.*
A: “Slendy will come after you if you run? So what? If he chases you, then you fight him. Fight him in any way you can. You stay out of his reach. You thwart his plans. You destroy his goals. What’s the worst that could happen? If he catches you, you just end up back here where you started. If he kills you, you’re probably better off than this torture. No matter what happens, you’re better off than staying here. The only reason you’d want to stick around is because of fear, and that’s a dumb reason to not try anything.” *He bent down so his face was level with Sky’s.* “If you’re not even capable of trying, then you will never achieve victory. You’d be better off just letting yourself die.” *He started walking away.* “Well, whatever you pick, I’m leaving.”
D: *I chose to ignore Arkady’s attempts at motivation.* “Sky, I’m going to stay with you. I’ll do everything I can to keep you safe. So please, get up. We’ll get out of here together.”
She let go of my hand, and for a moment, seemed like she wasn’t going to leave that chair. Then, she slowly started to stand up. As she did, the room the room we were in began to fade away. When she was standing fully upright, the illusion vanished entirely, and we were back inside the swamp filled tower. We’d made it out.
Sky immediately hugged me as hard as her small arms could. When she let go, she walked up to Arkady, who was still standing several feet back. She stared him down, and then spoke with a conviction that almost managed to hide the shaking in her voice.
S: “I’m not going to lose. I-I’m going to get out. And I won’t stop running. He won’t catch me. He’ll chase me forever, but he’ll never get me back.”
*A manic smile grew across Sky’s face as she spoke, which was matched by the one that appeared on Arkady.*
A: “Now there’s some spirit! And now we go onwards to the battlefields!”
He put his hand on her shoulder, and at the moment they touched, the entire building screamed. For a moment I was blinded by lightning flashing just inches from the windows, and the room began to shake. Arkady grabbed my arm before I could fall, and then threw me forward, shouting at us to run. I did, following Sky’s lead as we went for the door, back onto the stairs.