I awoke still in the forest, the night engulfing my surroundings so that I wasn't sure what exactly was going on. All I knew was that I was still alive, and at length, that I was being carried. I pulled my face out of my bearer's chest and realized that it was Slender Man.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were really unconscious, or if you were just faking so you could curl up in my arms."
I scoffed. "You're really pushing for a relationship, aren't you?"
He grimaced. "I'm not that lonely. Besides, you know as well as I that our kinds cannot be friends."
"Just one-night-stands, right?"
He growled at me. Good. He needed to know I didn't appreciate his snide comments. "Maybe I should knock you out again."
"What happened after I blacked out? Did you kill your friends, or tell them you wanted me for yourself?"
"They're not my friends."
I believed him. "Okay, they aren't. So how'd you convince them to leave me alone?"
"They didn't need convincing. It was much easier to kill them."
I wasn't too surprised. It made sense that they had to die for me to live. "I suppose it doesn't bother you to slay your own kind."
He snorted in disdain. "I am Slender Man, after all. I'll have to get used to watching people die eventually. Why not start now?"
"Because you'll have to kill so many people?"
"You really don't know anything about me, do you? Slender Man is born with the singular purpose of leading his people, including into battle. When I say 'watching people die,' I mean my comrades."
His tone, morbid as it may have been, comforted me, because I recognized the underlying resentment for his lot in life that my tone conveyed so often when I spoke of my own fate. "Maybe I was wrong about you," I muttered to myself.
Then he did something that genuinely surprised me. He laughed. "Do tell me what those bigots in your city tell their children to keep them out of the woods. What do you 'know' of my kind?"
"That you're all rapists and murderers, of course, because you don't have any women of your own to keep you under control." I was afraid for a moment that he wouldn't pick up on my sarcasm, but he must have because he smiled.
"Just like all Mary Sues are self-righteous she-demons who care more about looks and breeding than grammar and spelling."
"Well, you've got us spot-on. I hope we're more wrong about you than you are about us."
He chuckled again, more quietly, and the vibration in his chest soothed me, trying to lull me back to sleep. "We do have women, but they tend to stay in their homes in the city. And we're not all sex-crazed monsters – just around Mary Sues. We learned in school that the pheromones particular to Mary Sues make our males' sex-drives go into overdrive, that they lose touch with reality until the source of the hormones is eliminated. It's like a shark when it smells blood – it can't help itself; it has to feed."
"So that's why you stay in the forests far away from us."
"Not me specifically. None of us want to hurt your kind, but the others can't help themselves."
"But you're different?"
He nodded. "Slender Men are not as susceptible because we are born with one purpose: to rule the country."
"But there's only one of you," I replied, remembering Eevee's brief lesson, "I mean, there can only be one Slender Man at a time."
He nodded, though my insertion raised an eyebrow. "How did you know that?"
I started to tell him, then rethought it and decided to keep the death of my mother to myself. Instead I shrugged. "My… friend, Eevee, told me. He knows a lot of things. He's pretty old."
Slender Man smirked. "Hm. Bet he didn't know that Slender Men tend to die virgins."
Both of my eyebrows shot up. "No. He seemed to think you were rapists as well as child-eaters."
"Oh," he said in a voice so high-pitched that I nearly fell out of his arms in recoil. "So it's that Slender Man he's basing his knowledge off of."
"Elaboration would be nice."
"Years ago, far before either of my parents were born, there was a Slender Man who wasn't quite right in the head. He found the edge of the forest and decided to spark a bit of chaos in the Mary Sues' village. So he started stalking children, hiding among the trees or wearing black suits to blend into a crowd. That's how we first realized that our powers extended beyond simply changing form in the real world. Technology reacts strangely to our presence. In photos and film, our faces disappear, and the closer we get to certain machines, the weirder they act."
I remembered the photographs in the library, and added my own info. "If a Mary Sue doesn't recognize the existence of a Slender Man, she can't see him in photos. But once she learns of him, she can see him in the same photos she couldn't before."
Now it was his turn to be surprised. "I did not know that."
I nodded. We continued on in silence for a moment until I realized I didn't know where we were headed. "Where are you taking me?"
"I'm not taking you anywhere. If you would turn your attention downward, you would notice you are carrying me."
That didn't make sense, so I looked down toward his feet and suddenly realized we were floating more than 10 feet off the ground. I scrambled in his grasp, and we began to dip drastically, but he wrapped his arms more securely around me, and we steadied out at about 3 feet from the forest floor. "Spock! Why didn't you say something before?"
He chuckled. "And spoil the adventure?"
I stared at the ground with eyes so wide, I feared they'd pop out and roll in the dirt. "What do I do?"
"Try to set us down gently."
"How?" But we began to slowly descend until his feet were firmly on the ground. I expected him to put me down then, but he didn't. He stood still and held me as he had while in the air.
"Now I can explain what happened when you blacked out. I was at the edge of the clearing about to rescue you from those fiends when you suddenly went into a trance. Your hair turned blazing white and your eyes turned bright green, and you floated into the air with this cyclone of silver wind swirling around you. The others were enraptured by you, frozen until you released that silver fury on them. Luckily, I was just out of the blast radius, or I would have been splattered across the trees as they were."
"If you were gonna rescue me, why did you leave in the first place?"
"Because of that." He pointed to my ocarina.
I pulled it the rest of the way out of my pocket. "This? It's just an ocarina."
He shook his head. "It's more than that. It's a weapon, one that specifically targets tentacle monsters. I thought you knew that, which was why I ran. I figured you could handle yourself. When you didn't use it, I realized that you didn't know its power, and I came back for you. But apparently you have other tricks up your sleeve."
"So how did we start flying?"
He smirked. "After you'd killed them all, you dropped to the ground. Being the sensitive man I am, I rushed to your aid, picked you up, and then we floated away."
"Spock, I wasn't even doing it on purposed. How did I do that?"
"Why do you keep calling me Spock?"
"Huh? Oh, no, I'm not calling you that. It's an expression – an interjection we use when something shocks us or amazes us."
But his comment got me to thinking. "What is your name? Surely they don't call you all Slender Man."
"Actually, most people do. It's our title, like commander or lieutenant. But before my parents knew I was going to be a Slender Man, they picked out the name Sylvester for me."
"Sylvester," I repeated, and the name felt nice on my tongue.
"Sly for short. Mother feels that Sly can apply to both my legal name and my given name."
I considered it. "Sly fits you. I like it."
"Oh good. Now that I have your seal of approval, I can return to my duties in the capital."
"How do you plan on escaping your fate? I mean, your people are depending on you to lead them. You were born for the job."
"I'm a firm believer in Create Your Own Adventure."
I crossed my arms. "I'm not. I've known my fate since I was two-years old. I've hated my role since I learned to form my own opinions. But at the end of the day, I know I'll have to fulfill my prophesy or die trying."
"And what's your prophesy, oh Chosen Mary Sue?"
"Mylk," I corrected him, "My name is Mylk."
"Mylk?" He nearly dropped me for all his laughter. "That is without a doubt the strangest name I have ever heard."
I huffed in indignation. "Where I come from, that's pretty normal compared to most of my peers."
"Suddenly, Slender Man doesn't sound so strange. Maybe I would fit into your society after all."
I paled at the thought of Slender Man making small talk with Carpe Diem. "You aren't honestly considering that, are you? You wouldn't know what to say or how to act. You'd draw too much attention to yourself. The girls in town would eat you alive."
"Ah, so Mary Sues are cannibals, too," he replied, his ebony eyes twinkling in the starlight.
"I meant metaphorically."
"No, you meant figuratively. But I'll excuse your confusion since you're a Mary Sue, and thus are taught incorrectly by your elders."
"That's it." I hopped down out of his arms and marched away.
"No, wait," he protested, slipping his arm into mine and matching my pace. I was impressed – most of my peers were shorter than me, slower, and yet this younger boy was exactly my height. I should have shaken him off, but this piqued my curiosity. "Are all tentacle monsters so tall?"
He shrugged. "Size is measured differently in that form than this. Since I'm the only one I've ever met that can look human, I just assumed this was normal human size. Why, are you unnaturally tall for your species?"
"I guess I am. I never thought about it before – I just assumed I had hit my growth spurt before everyone else."
"Us freaks gotta stick together," he smiled, and the flawlessness of his pearly whites struck me. "No offense, I mean," he recanted.
"No, no, it's fine. Spock, you really were starved for attention, weren't you? How long have you been on the run?"
"A few days, now. Maybe a week. What I'm really starved for is food – I haven't eaten for an eternity."
"What do you eat?"
"Flesh of pig. Unborn fetus of water fowl. Conglomerated bone meal of grain. Just the normal stuff."
"Don't troll me. If you want bacon, eggs and toast, you can just say so. I've got bread in the library, which I think is where we're headed." I led him a few paces North, and sure enough we were at the Raven Poe Library.
His stomach rumbled, and his cheeks flushed that not-quite maroon shade again.
I laughed at him. "Don't be so embarrassed. I fainted earlier; if anyone's gonna be embarrassed, it's me. Now, let's get you fed. Oh, crap."
"What is it?" He ducked behind me as if hiding.
"No, not you. I forgot I told my aunt I'd be home for dinner. She's going to flip out. I don't even know what time it is."
"Dinner," he mumbled, and his stomach growled again.
"Just go inside," I said, shoving him in through the door boards and following. I showed him into the main room.
"Ooh, books!" he exclaimed, picking up the copy of Frankenstein I'd left lying on the table so long ago.
"Here you go." I dropped the loaf of bread onto the table before him. "There's a lantern on the counter if you'd like some light."
"Yes, please," he said, crossing over to it and bringing it back to his table.
A sudden squawking frightened us, but then I remembered that I had stashed Pollock here earlier. "Calm down, Pollock. It's just me."
He hopped up on the table and perched on the top of the lantern we had just lit. "Brother," he said.
I furrowed my brow. "No. Friend. This is Sly. Sly, this is Pollock."
"A hyacinth macaw," he beamed. "I thought they were just a myth. How extraordinary." He reached out a hand to pet Pollock. I opened my mouth to caution him, but then Pollock allowed it, so I shut my mouth.
"I'll leave you two alone, then." I started to back out of the entrance, but Sly stopped me.
"Will you be back tomorrow?"
With one leg outside, I locked eyes with this strange boy and nodded. "I'll see you after school."
"Bring food," he called after me, and I was gone.
Tuesday morning was hectic. I took my car to school and was nearly late because I wasn't used to the traffic. When I sat down in my seat next to Maisey, Dr. Halsey began her lesson without a word to me. Maybe Dad's death was a good enough excuse for being late. Yesterday, both of us had been given the day off for the funeral. Today, however, I planned on getting back to normal life.
"Today, class, we will be studying the Punnett square and how it relates to creating hybrids…"
After school, I picked up some food from the grocery store, along with a mini fridge and a generator from the hardware store so that Sly's food wouldn't go bad in the library. Arriving there, I parked my car behind a wall of bushes that would protect it from the eyes of the road. Sly was waiting for me inside, Pollock perched on one hand, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the other.
I plopped the groceries onto the counter, which must've activated Sly's nose, because he dropped the book and practically ran to greet me. Pollock flapped over to join us as Slender Man made himself a sandwich in the kitchen of my abandoned library.
Through a mouthful of food, he asked me, "Do you have any water? I'm parched."
"It's in the car. Could you help me bring in the rest?"
Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Sly followed me out to the car and picked up the mini fridge as if it were a loaf of bread.
"Spock, you're strong," I exclaimed, struggling with the 10 gallon barrel of water I'd bought for him. "We'll have to make two trips," I said, glancing sideways at the generator.
"I don't believe in multiple trips," he said. Without warning – or maybe he had warned me – a pair of black tentacles shot out of his back. They were much longer than I remembered, and I cringed at them.
"Don't do that," I scolded him in a harsh whisper, "What if someone saw you?"
"No one's even passed by all day."
"But they could."
He smirked at me, seeing through my lame excuse. Purely for my sake, he wiggled his tentacles lewdly in my face. "Are you nervous?" Laughing, he reached over my head and lifted the generator. Then, seeing a few more bags, he shot out another tentacle and snatched them up as though they were weightless. He gestured with his head to the library, and his long, fluffy bangs fell in his eyes. A smaller tentacle reached over his shoulder and rearranged them perfectly. "Alright, let's get these inside."
Not to be outdone, I transformed into a T-Rex and carried my bottle of water over to the library. However, I ultimately lost the battle when I couldn't fit into the tiny opening and had to return to human form. Sly, on the other hand, maneuvered flawlessly into the room, not even faltering so much as to lose his balance, with everything still secured in his appendages.
"You win this round," I told him as we arranged the new setup on the counter. "Just wait until I've completed my training. Then we'll see who's stronger."
"That reminds me: You never told me what you were training for."
I shrugged, hoping to play it off as nothing until I was sure I could trust him. "I just need an outlet for my pent-up energy. Both of my parents are dead. My aunt's a witch. I'm not exactly a happy child. Maybe it'll come in handy someday."
"Like when I need to get you out of trouble again," I replied, ruffling his black hair.
"Maybe I could help you; teach you some of the things I learned in training and school. If we face tentacle monsters again, you'll need to know how to defeat them. Your ocarina would be of great use."
I drew Dad's ocarina out of my pocket. What power did this simple instrument possess that my father had never shared with me? How could he have known what I was to become and yet felt no need to teach me to wield it. "Are you sure this is the same ocarina you're thinking about? I mean, it's not even that ornate. I've seen plastic copies with more features than this one."
That devilish grin I was quickly becoming familiar with lit up his face. "That's the beauty in this device. It looks like a harmless flute until you're ready to use it. All you need do to activate its power is say its name."
"And what is its name?"
At his words, the brown, rough clay exterior of the ocarina transformed into a smoothly glazed, scarlet surface. As I turned it over delicately in my hands, I noticed that something had been sketched into it. Where once there had been poorly-molded blankness, there now was a pattern spiraling around the sweet potato body. Squinting at it, I could make out tiny figures of humanoid creatures fighting. Their forms were traced with crimson dust, as though they'd been sweating blood when frozen in battle for eternity.
"Lonta' Puqbe'," he repeated, and suddenly it was the same old ocarina from my childhood.
"How do I use it?"
Sly snorted. "As if they would teach us that. It's a pretty well-kept secret, just in case a Mary Sue ever gets ahold of one of us and tortures the information out. You can't glean what isn't there."
"Do you know anything besides its name?"
He shrugged. "It was a long time ago. I used to know its origin, but then I took the test, and I forgot everything."
I rolled my eyes. "Typical teenage boy."
"Well, I'm 15. What do you expect?"
At that moment, Eevee popped his head in and meowed at me. I nodded, turned to Sly. "Time for training."
"Let me finish my sandwich first."
"Eat on the way. We need to get started as soon as possible."
He grabbed the sandwich without another word and followed me out of the building. "So, is the cat your trainer, or what?"
Eevee's tail flicked in irritation, and I knew I'd have to explain who this kid was and why he was training with me. I probed Sly's mind, but he had a brutally strong firewall, and I ended up getting a migraine. "Let me into your thoughts," I whispered to him.
Instead, he entered mine and replied, "No need. I won't tell your cat I'm Slender Man. We'll pretend I'm just a friend from your aunt's neighborhood."
I sighed. I guessed that would have to do.
"Eevee, this is my friend Sly. He'll be training with us from now on."
"So you've already started recruiting soldiers." His tone was judgmental, as though I had some twisted ulterior motive. But what could be more twisted than war? "He's a bit young for you, isn't he?"
"I'm taking him under my wing. He's had a rough life, and he needs support from someone older he can look up to."
Eevee dropped the subject and led us into the clearing where Umbra was waiting for us. He was still a little angry that I had ditched him to chase tentacle monsters. I was alarmed for a moment that he would recognize Sly's scent from that day, but he gave no indication that he did, so I dismissed my worry for the time being.
"Today we will learn to hunt. Since you have a partner, you will need to work together to find me. Also, you should warn your friend about my abilities."
I relayed the message to Sly. Rolling his shoulders, he smiled at me and said, "Let the games begin."