“What exactly do you mean, ‘kill the Slender Man?’” I asked.
“Exactly what I said,” Last replied. “We’re going to kill the Slender Man.”
“I was under the impression that he couldn’t be killed.” He just grinned at me. “What?”
“It can, and it has.” He stared at me and watched as what he said sunk in.
“Wait…has? Like…he’s been killed before? You’re going to have to explain this a bit more.”
“Of course, of course. This is probably going to be pretty confusing and might go over your head, but I’ll try to explain the best I can. Um…okay, you’ve noticed a few…strange things going on, right? Like when Canis couldn’t see Raggedyman’s blog? Or why the Fears aren’t public knowledge even though there are so many blogs about them? Why Shadow says there are about twenty people at his estate—I mean, do you even know of twenty runners? Or, hey, even better. You know how you saw the Slender Man change? From the arm things to the tentacles?”
“Yeah. And after I said something about that, I started noticing that there were suddenly people talking about him having tentacles. You know why that is?”
He nodded. “That would be because…well, Raggedy? Those proxies from Picking at Ruins and…you know, the kids they were after? They…don’t exist. Not in this dimension. But they exist in other dimensions.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Have you ever heard of dimensional bleeding?”
“Okay, I’ll explain, then. Imagine that there are an infinite amount of universes, right? You’ve heard of the Many Worlds theory, right? You can at least imagine that?” I nodded. “Okay. The Slender Man will kind of…cause these rifts between these universes to blend. Distorts space and time. Allows interaction. Now, imagine that every universe consists of a cup filled with a different type of liquid. When these dimensions interact, it’s like pouring one cup into another and mixing it together. These universes start to blend. Not perfectly. They’ll eventually start to separate again because they’re different densities. But you’ve…still been impacted by it…?” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s not a great metaphor and parts of it kind of fall apart. But that’s…sort of it. People only see what they want to see. Some things might not make much sense to them, but they’ll still accept it. Some things might be irreconcilable with what they know, and they won’t be able to perceive them. There are tons of different dimensions with different incarnations of the Slender Man. Is it really that big of a surprise that someone has managed to find a way kill him before?”
“How do you know about this?”
“Well…because I was involved. You’ve heard of Core Theory, right? With the assigning of the archetypal roles to people? Well, there are a lot of different incarnations of it. I was seriously really stunned when I saw just how many different dimensions, or…clusters of dimensions, I guess, there’s a lot of overlap, had some sort of it. I think there were about ten. Well, I was part of one of those. I wasn’t the hero or anything. I think I was closest to what you’d know as the ‘hermit.’ So I was there when we killed him. And things were good. For a bit. Then someone came up with the Fears. And once we had created them…they had suddenly always been there. Without the Slender Man, things were out of balance. We couldn’t do anything to keep them in check. Things went wrong, and long story short, they…kind of ended up destroying the universe.”
“The universe.” I was at a loss for words.
“Yeah. Maybe even more than one. I’m really not sure; like I said, there’s a lot of that dimensional bleeding stuff going on and it’s still difficult even for me to understand. I think that dimensional bleeding ended up dooming a lot of people, but…I think it also saved me. I saw that things were going to hell, and I ran. I got as far away from it as I could. Blocked out any thoughts of it. Eventually ended up in this dimension.” He gave me a sort of wry smile. “If there was only one thing I was good at, it was running away. Ditching all my friends like a coward to save my own skin. I barely remember their names anymore. I tried blocking them out just so I wouldn’t somehow end up back in my own dimension. And now…well, I’m all there is left of them. I’m the last of the last.”
“I’m sorry.” We were quiet for a while as he reminisced and I tried to process what he had told me. “So I see these arm branch things, and a lot of other people see tentacles. What was he like for you?”
“Spider,” he said. “Grew a bunch of arms out of his back, really long arms, liked to go…I’m not sure what the term would be, but not bipedal. He’d sometimes go down on four or more arms or legs when coming after us.”
“And you have a plan for this? I mean, besides just trying to turn me into some sort of pretend hero, throwing me up against the Slender Man, and hoping I come out alive.”
“Of course I have a plan. I’m no mastermind by any stretch, but I’ve got ideas, the time to refine those ideas, and the resources and contacts to pull it off. The whole thing’s already been in motion for quite some time now.”
“So what is the plan, then?”
“We’ll get to that when we get to that. First we have to execute the first step…which is killing off all the other Fears. That’s what the Masks are helping me do.”
“See, that’s one thing I don’t get, yet. You guys are working to kill the Slender Man, right? Then why are you working for him? Is that a front?”
“Not at all. I am truly, one hundred percent supporting the Slender Man.”
“So you’re a bad guy, then?”
He shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Kenny. It is really not that simple. You can’t divide the world into good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, black and white. You know that already. Everyone knows that. There are a lot of shades of grey in between. Probably about fifty. And everyone keeps trying to look at the world in this monochrome spectrum. ‘He’s a bad person but he’s bad for good reasons. He’s got a noble goal but his methods are extreme. He only cares about himself and falls squarely in the middle.’ It’s all about fitting people into that axis somewhere between good and evil, between black and white. Me? I see the world in color.”
“So what’s your game, then?”
“Okay. I serve the Slender Man, yes. I have to admit, I’ve had to order a few runners killed, though I managed to work my way into a position where I’m pretty much solely targeting the people who serve other Fears. You see, you need the power of a god to kill a god. And these Fears? They’ve got the power of gods. I honestly have no clue how kill most of them, but the beauty of this is that we don’t have to. The Fears aren’t some big happy family. They hate each other. All we have to do is get them to kill each other. And because I think we can beat the Slender Man, we actually want him to win. It’s an interesting dichotomy where our greatest enemy is actually our strongest ally.”
“So you’ve been planning this for a while.”
“Then where do I fit in in all this? I’m just some pawn you need?”
He grew incredibly serious. “Kenny, the point of pawns is that they’re expendable. Nobody truly cares about them. If you were a pawn, Edwin Canis wouldn’t be stalking you across the states. If you were a pawn, Fracture wouldn’t have had his men kidnap you. If you were a pawn, the Cold Boy and Wooden Girl wouldn’t be teaming up in an attempt to kill or control you. Everyone wants you, Kenny. Everyone sees your potential. Maybe it inspires them. Maybe it confuses them. Maybe it scares them. But for whatever reason, you’re a wild card that everyone wants. Never refer to yourself as a pawn.”
I shook my head. “I think you’re probably exaggerating to flatter me. I think you’re crazy.”
“I know. Wonderful, isn’t it?” He grinned.
“No, I mean legitimately insane. Psychotic. Delusional. I’m not sure I want to go along with this.”
His demeanor changed immediately, his grin instantly turning into a scowl as he brought a hand across my face in a slap. “Of course I’m insane,” he snapped. “I’m a guy from a dimension that doesn’t exist anymore. Everyone I knew and loved is dead, and I didn’t even try to save them because I was too much of a coward. I’m working for a boogeyman that I’m trying to kill and trying to manipulate said boogeyman into a battle royale with a bunch of other Lovecraft rejects. So yeah, big surprise. I’m probably fucking insane. I’m sorry. I thought I was offering you a chance to take control of your destiny instead of darting off from place to place like a scared bunny. I’m not asking you if you think I’m sane or even if you think my crazy shot-in-the-dark plan is going to work. I’m asking you whether you’re going to try to take control of your destiny instead of trying to prolong the miserable remnants of a life we both know isn’t going to be long anyway. How long are you planning on doing this, Kenny? How long are you aimlessly going to keep wandering from death like this? I’m giving you the chance to make a stand and to do something with your life. So are you in or out?”
I thought. In a lot of ways—he was right. I’ve been running for over two years now, and I’m not any closer to the end than I was when I started. I’m sick of it. After Lily died, I went on the run. Not just from the Slender Man, but from my life in general. I didn’t want to face the mistakes I had made. I was in denial, as if I could keep Lily alive by trying to ignore the life back in my hometown that we had shared. That it was just that life that was dead and Lily and I had somehow managed to escape it. When Jenny, Ryan, and Dumas died, I went through a really dark time for about a week. I realized that running wouldn’t help. It didn’t help them. It won’t help me. It was going to catch up to me eventually. I really, truly wanted to die at that point, not because of some sort of self-loathing, but because of apathy. Dying was easier than living at that point.
Canis talked me through that. Kept me locked up in the hotel room away from any sharp objects or pills or the like, just to make suicide too much effort to actually go through with. Your comments encouraged me to keep going. Eventually, I forced myself out of it. Decided I wanted to live. To pick myself up off of the ground, pretend to be strong even when I wasn’t, and keep doing what I had been doing.
I see now that my decisions were contradictions. I couldn’t say that I wanted to live and then go right back to what I had been doing. What I was doing wasn’t living.
“Do I have to become a proxy or join the Ten Masks?” I asked.
“Not if you don’t want to. You’ll just be a runner whose goals happen to coincide with our own.”
I held my hand out, and he shook it. “In that case,” I told him, “I’m in.”