Mittens waits behind the wall, swishing her tail. When the humans guarding the door leave to grab some drinks, she pads up to the door, leaps up onto the handle, and pulls it down. The door swings open, and she jumps down and slips inside. The lady Slender is lying on the metal table, strange objects on a moving tray next to it. She hops up and looks at the faceless face. Even though there are no definable features, Mittens can tell the lady is sad and exhausted. She walks up to her head and curls up in a ball, purring softly.
Her ears twitch when she hears a pulse. Her head lifts when she hears a small outtake of breath. Seeing nothing, she settles back down.
A hand reaches up and strokes her soft fur.
Ricky sighs, completely bored. He does not have any video games to play with, his brother is off with the Slender dudes, and his parents are busy talking to other grown-ups. He stares down at the grass, absentmindedly pulling out blade after blade.
He looks up, his eyes darting around. What was that?
Ricky looks behind him. Something is behind one of the trees surrounding the small, grassy park. "Hello?" he calls out.
The dark figure beckons him closer.
"Mom?" Ricky says, turning to the group of parents. "Dad?" They glance over at him. "Can I go over there?" He points to where the figure is.
All the parents look in that direction. "What's over there?" his dad asks.
"I dunno," he says.
"Not right now, honey," his mom says. They all go back to talking.
Ricky's head turns again to the figure. This time, it is holding something. It looks like a ball. I wanna play, he thinks. Dropping the blades of grass, he stands up and, peeking back at his parents to make sure they are not watching him, goes over to the figure. Who knows, maybe it is a Slender.
The figure sees the boy coming and retreats farther into the trees.
"Hey, wait!" Ricky calls out.
His parents look over at their son. "Ricky!" they shout.
Too late. The kid is already deeper into the trees. "Wait up!" he says to the figure. It picks up speed and disappears behind a tree. "Hey!" Ricky rounds the tree, but stops abruptly.
The figure has removed its mask to show a sneering face with blood-red eyes.
"Ricky!" the boy can hear his parents calling.
Before he can say anything, the figure snatches Ricky to it, covering his mouth with its huge hand. Ricky tries screaming and kicking and yanking the hand away from him, but it is all for nothing. With its other hand, the figure pulls out a gun from its coat pocket.
She coughs from the lingering smell of smoke and waves the air in front of her. Though the fire has been out for a couple days, the smoky odor still lingers. She growls and drags her hands down her face. This is getting ridiculous. Why is she even going along with this?
Oh, yeah. Her cousin's life is on the line.
But it is not just his life, though. Even though she was lucky enough to flee from the Black Circle before they could capture her, they had somehow tracked her to this forest. Fortunately, they have no idea where her specific hideout is. But that did not seem to stop them from trying to burn her out. She knows either way she and her cousin could be killed, but she keeps telling herself that this way, she will not feel so guilty about their deaths. She will have given them, especially him, a chance to live. But even she is not buying that story. Many more lives are at danger than just her, her cousin, and their families. She already lost Karie, who was her best friend ever, she cannot lose anyone else.
She opens her text and reads: "Getting ready to head to mine. where r u?"
A huge, slow breath in through her nose, out through her mouth. She perks her ears, making sure no one is near her secret hiding spot, before typing her answer: "I'm near radio tower. by a grave."
"Grave? u near a cemetery?"
"No its actually a trench with dead bodies." She shudders. When she first found the trench, all the bodies were mangled, some with their guts completely removed, others with limbs or appendages missing, more with charred or blistered skin. The rotten smell took some getting used to, but now she is used to it - if she was not, she would have had a hard time finding a safe place to hide.
"Ew sorry :/ can u meet us?"
"Sure oh g2g. someone's coming. cya later!"
After quickly sending her text off, she flattens herself to the ground. Though that is kind of hard to do when you are hiding in a bush. But she manages well. Footsteps are approaching. Something sounds like it is dragging along the ground. A couple voices talk, but she is so focused on keeping herself still and calm she does not register their words. Someone grunts, there is a heavy thud, and the voices and footsteps fade as they travel farther away.
She releases her breath, unaware she had been holding it in the first place. Slowly, she rises from the ground and steps out of the bush. Brushing the leaves, twigs, and cobwebs off her, she scans the area for anything that could have made that thud. Nothing wrong with the trees, no big, heavy rocks nearby, the tower is still fine. That just leaves...
Gulp. She shuffles forward and ever so carefully peeks inside the trench.
The sight of a new body makes her gag and recoil. She puts her hands on her knees and forces herself to take deep breaths. Even though the sight is ghastly, she feels tempted to look back and see if she recognizes the body or not. Don't look back, don't look back. Despite her hard efforts, she cannot resist looking back.
When she does, her stomach drops. The mouth is slashed, the stomach is torn open, but she still recognizes the body.
"What happened?" James asks Victor, who is recovering on the ground.
Victor huffs, "We were ambushed."
Another Slender from Victor's clan steps up to James and explains, "Someone must've known where we were. The Black Circle snuck up on us and attacked with these strange devices that sent currents through us."
"This is terrible," Kevin whispers to Trevor. Both boys are with the humans, far enough from the Slenders to safely send and receive texts but close enough to talk to the faceless beings.
"I know," the blind boy says back. "How could they've known about us?"
"Think it could be the serial killer guy?"
Shrug. "He kept saying he does his research well, but I don't think he could've known about the clans meeting together."
Charlie, overhearing their conversation, asks, "Did anybody let something slip? Something that the psycho could've found? A text, or somethin'?"
"I haven't been on my phone all day," Trevor replies.
"I haven't really texted anyone," Kevin says. "Except my parents, to tell them Jenna and I were okay."
"Hey, guys," Peter says to the group. Kevin helps his friend over as all the humans gather around Peter. The color has drained from his face. "You'll never guess what my cousin found." His voice is low.
"What?" Jenna asks.
"She and I have been texting," he says, stalling, "and we think we know how the whole Slender murder thing got started."
"How?" Charlie asks.
Peter swallows. "She found a trench with mangled and mutilated bodies. The same kinds of bodies that were supposed victims of the Slender Man. And she recognized one of them as the guy who started the Slender myth, Eric Knudsen."
All the humans pale. Trevor bites back a sarcastic remark, feeling now is not the right time.
A chill tune plays in the air. Peter taps a button on his phone and puts it to his ear. "Hello?"
"Ricky? Are you okay?"
An angry muffled voice hisses in the background before Ricky's tremulous voice speaks again. "Peter...I'm scared."
Peter's heart thumps. That does not sound good. "Ricky, listen to me: tell Mom and Dad-"
"Tell them what?" That voice does not belong to Ricky.
Peter pulls the phone away from his ear enough to give it a puzzled look before putting it back and saying, "Who is this?"
"You have something of mine."
The boy's eyes widen. "You're that serial killer dude!" The other humans shuffle nervously, exchange looks of fear.
"I'll make you a deal," the killer goes on, not missing a beat. "Bring me the Slender in black, and I'll give you your brother."
"And my parents, too?"
"Sure...if there's anything left of them to give back." The line goes dead, but not before Ricky could shout for his brother to "not listen to him."
Peter is frozen. He is too stunned to make a sound or to even flinch. His hand relaxes enough for the phone to fall out of his hand and onto the floor. As soon as the soft thud fills the air, Peter's knees buckle. Tommy and Lily, the two nearest to him, catch him before he can fall.
"Are you okay, Peter?" James asks, teleporting over now that the electromagnetic signal has stopped.
The boy does not respond as his friends seat him on the ground.
"Guys, what's going on?" James asks the rest of the group.
The humans all look at each other, none wanting to be the bearer of bad news. Charlie then clears his throat, takes a small step forward, and mumbles, "That was...the cult leader."
"...rents," Peter mutters.
"What is it with humans and speaking quietly?" one of the Slenders from Victor's clan comments.
"My parents," Peter repeats. "They...they could be dead. And he has my brother." He turns to the other members of the Slender Four. "Guys, we've got to do something! I can't let them die!"
"Did the killer offer a ransom?" Tommy asks.
"Yes, but..." He takes a deep breath before raising his gaze to meet James' blank face. "He wants you."
Victor curses, and everyone turns to him as he comes forward. "Enough of this bull! I'm not letting this monster attack any more of my friends. He already took Karie, he's not getting anybody else."
"But what are we gonna do?" Jenna pipes up. "If we want Peter's family back, and Margareta..."
Hearing her name sends a bubbly tingle and a chilling shudder through James. Margareta. He hopes she is alright. Still alive, at least. Sigh. "Maybe it's for the best if I turn myself in," he says, rubbing the back of his pale neck.
There is a great outburst from every human and Slender. Everyone talks at once about how he must not give into the serial killer. The strongest voice of them all, the one that ends up silencing the others, is from James' father. Pushing his way to the front, he cries, "Are you daft, son? After all this man has done, after all the lives he's ruined, you're going to help him?"
"But I have to do something," James counters. "And if this is the only way to save their lives-"
"Dude," Victor interrupts, "I thought that same exact thing about Karie, but they still killed her, even after I turned myself in."
"But..." James is at a loss for words.
His father grabs his shoulders. "James, I lost your mother to humans. I'm not going to lose you, too."
"But if it weren't for me, none of the Slenders would have to hide as much or fear for their lives."
"But," his father tells him, giving his shoulders a squeeze, "if you hadn't put yourself forward and met those kids-" he nods to the Slender Four, "-I never would've given them a second chance. I know now that judging all humans based on the ones that killed your mother was wrong. Your friends are willing to stand by you, even now."
Charlie says, "It's true."
James turns his head to see him. Seeing that reassuring smile on his face, the brave acceptance in his expression...James is reminded of the little boy with the innocent brown eyes.
His father continues, "Don't give up now, son. Not with everyone here willing to back you up." All the Slenders cheer.
James is filled with pride and hope. "Thanks, everyone-" he tilts his head down, "-but this still doesn't help us find a way to save everyone."
Trevor's eyes light up, despite the fact he has no control over his eyes. "Hey, Kevin?" he says to his friend next to him.
"Yeah?" Kevin leans in.
"Didn't you say once that Jenna works in the clothes department of JCPenny's?"
Trevor smirks. "Think she can get a couple mannequins for us?"