The Summer went on without incident after my encounter with the Willow Men. I was on edge for a while. Every shadow out of the corner of my eye was a monster. Each breeze rolling along was a sinister whisper of some unholy beast. But there was nothing really there. And once the paranoia went away, I felt normal for once. Well, as normal as one with a broken leg can feel. I didn't even see Slenderman for the entire summer. It was like everything was going my way for once.
I wish I hadn't been so caught up in the excitement of not having excitement to notice something that was wrong. It was right in front of me, staring me in the face. See, about a month after my late-night abduction, Jess started acting differently. She was tired and jumpy. Heavy bags sat under her eyes the few times I saw her, and when we talked over the phone she sighed almost as much as she spoke and her teeth chattered. I had just assumed all the summer work for her AP classes were getting to her and she'd been pulling all-nighters. I should have paid more attention. When she kept asking me to face-time with her or call her on Skype at 3, sometimes 4, in the morning I should have known something was up. It's not like I could have really done anything anyway; my computer, a new Macintosh, was acting up just like my last computer.
So summer ended, school started, and Jess wasn't herself still. She'd fall asleep during lunch, and if she wasn't asleep she might as well have been. The way she'd sit there and stare blankly down was...ghostly. She also started to routinely miss school. At least once a week she'd be home with a sudden fever. By the start of October I noticed something was up. I should have known sooner she wasn't okay.
After school on a Friday, the Friday before Columbus Day to be exact, I went over to her house after school. She had stayed home, again, and when I tried calling it kept going straight to voice mail. When I knocked on her door no one answered. I saw her mother's car in the driveway and I could see lights on in the house. This is the point where I'd normally walk home, but I was worried. Not to mention my leg still hurt even if it was out of the cast. I started knocking harder, shaking the entire door frame with my heavy strikes. Once that was proved completely futile, I stepped back a bit and threw a rock up at Jess's window.
In the movies, the rock always bounces off and the girl sticks her head out and the two are able to hold a lovely conversation. Instead the sound of broken glass was followed by Jess appearing at the window. I was expecting her to yell at me, for her "feminine rage" as she called it, to come out. But instead she stared down blankly at me.
"Hey, Jess. Umm, sorry about your window."
"It doesn't matter," she responded in a monotone voice, unsympathetic to my obvious discomfort.
"Since you are up, can I come in?"
She stared at me for a minute or so before disappearing into her room. Another minute or so later the front door opened and she stepped out. She was wearing only a bra and sweat pants, standing out on her lawn in front of me. She was really out of it considering she doesn't even like wearing reveling shirts. I pulled her into her house, and sat her down on the couch.
"Jess, is everything alright?"
"Why do you ask, Jonah?"
"Well, you're a bit...under dressed. Among other things."
She looked down at herself and shrugged. The look in her eyes was really starting to creep me out. She looked like someone had taken all her energy and empathy.
"Look," I said, more assertive than she had known me to be, "you didn't answer me. Are you okay?"
She was a bit startled by my voice carrying such force, "N-no."
"I don't want you involved here, Jonah. I'm...trying to keep you from freaking out."
I laughed softly, shaking my head, "protecting me, huh? From what? I've stared down death so many times. What could be happening to you that you want to stop me from freaking out?"
She looked at her lap, shifting away from me. "I should have told you," she said, "I should have let you know when it started. God, it's been so horrible, Jonah. I've barely slept, I can't think straight. I've tried nailing down my windows and putting stuff in front of my door. When I heard you knocking I though... I thought..."
She collapsed into me, sobbing loudly. Her arms wrapped around my chest, her hands gripping the back of my shirt. I put my hand on her head, shuddering at the realization. Sure, I was used to things attacking me. I had come to terms with dying in my short life more than anyone in any other place ever had. But seeing someone else, someone I care for, in the sights of something? I had found the one thing that I would need to be protected from; the realization that monsters can attack more than just me.
It took a few hours to calm Jess down. We had gone up to her room and by now the sun was starting to sit low in the sky. It was almost nine when I realized I hadn't seen either of her parents. I asked her where they were and she fell silent again. It looked like she was going to cry again.
"My mom is... in the hospital." Jess explained, "she's in critical condition. She might not make it. Daddy is right there by her side all day and all night. That... thing that is after me already got to her. I woke up near the middle of summer to my mom had been... she was in the ambulance by the time I got out of bed. Daddy, he was crying and covered in blood. At first the police thought it was him, but they couldn't find a knife in the...the whole house that matched to cuts. Yet, the doors and windows...they were locked. They hadn't been damaged or even opened. And now that thing, the horrible thing that hurt my mom is trying to get me. I'll wake up at night and it is just standing over me STARING AT ME!"
"Calm down, calm down now Jess. Look, have you told the police about this?"
"Of course. But they just...they tell me it's all nightmares. That I'm imagining it all. They thing it's just trauma. They think...they think I'm crazy!"
It was silent for a long while after that. We just sat there, her head buried into my chest. Had the circumstances been different, had she not been holding me because she was too weak to let go, I would describe a moment like this as "nice". I sort of wished it just stayed quiet forever like that. But the moment was just that; a moment in time bound to end. She pulled herself away from me and whipped the tears from her cheek.
"You don't think I'm crazy, do you?" Jess asked me.
I couldn't help but laugh at such a question. "Jess, I have a 16-foot-tall guy in a suit without a face that follows me around. If you're crazy then I've been in the looney bin for a few years now."
She cracked a smile at my comment before leaning in and kissing my cheek. She whispered into my ear, her voice a mix of happy and crushing fear, "thanks, City Boy."
"Hey," I said as she was standing up, "You never told me what that thing looks like."
"Oh," she said, looking out her broken window at the now black sky, "It looks like a boy. About our age, maybe. Scrawny and tall and wearing a black hoodie. And he is like wearing a mask or something. I dunno, it might be his face, but he has no mouth or nose or ears."
"So, faceless like Slenderman?"
"Oh no. Oh god no, he has... eyes. Two big, black eyes and trails of blood dripping down them. They're so big that... that it looks more like sockets."
I immediately recognized the description. I jumped to my feet and grabbed Jess by the wrist. I didn't bother to say anything to her, I just started walking and pulling her with me. She had no protest. I assume she just trusted I knew what I was doing. To be honest I didn't. I had no idea what I was going to do. I just knew one thing: the name of the person who was after Jess, after a girl I cared for. Eyeless Jack.
I walked Jess all the way home, not saying a word. I just wanted to get her away from her house. While walking down the street to my house I was struck by a sudden feeling a deja vu. I let go of Jess's hand and took a few steps forward, standing under the illumination of the street lamp. I felt a burn in my chest, like my scars from the Rake were on fire. Jess stood back a few feet and we stood there both mesmerized by standing in these spots again.
Then, the sound of footsteps started. We both turned. I was kind of expecting to see the Rake standing there with his claws hanging down and his horrible blank eyes. But no. Instead it was a dark figure, slowly walking down the street. Jess screamed and started running full speed at me. She tripped on herself and I managed to grab her, putting her behind me as the entity walked closer. Once I was able to see his face, his pale face blank save for his black eyes, I was struck cold with fear. Usually I'd get the feeling like I wasn't alone by now. Like I had someone to protect me. Instead I was left feeling like I had to be strong and fight here.
A knife slipped out of his pocket as he continued his advances at a steady and even pace. I looked to the tree line looking for any sort of sign that Slenderman was watching and ready to come in at the most dramatic moment. I started to back up, keeping Jess behind me. Jack started to walk faster. I pushed Jess. The word "run" came from my lips without my knowledge. Jess started to sprint. I stood ready to fight. Jack was running now too. I threw a punch. Jack ducked under it. A hand wrapped around my arm. I was suddenly on my back, watching Jack chase after Jess. I stood and followed, running as fast as I could. My legs burned as I propelled my body forward, but the adrenaline rush kept me going.
Eyeless Jack was catching up to Jess. He soon grabbed her shoulder and pulled her to the ground. I saw him stand over her, his knife held up and ready to strike. I pushed myself to my limit then; I made myself go beyond what I knew was possible. I threw myself at Jack when I was about a foot away. My body slammed against his, sending us both to the ground. Jess stood back up and started running again, screaming as loud as she could. When Jack looked up to see her run I threw a sharp punch to his jaw and watched him fall onto his side with a loud groin.
I got up, soreness all over my body. Jess was no where in sight by now. I shook my head and looked down to see Jack gone. When I looked behind me I caught a glimpse of him running away. I would have given chase, but my body was in no shape for that. Instead, I walked inside my home. I climbed the stairs, fell into my bed, and stared out my window at the tree line.
"Where are you?" I whispered, "I needed you tonight. Where the fuck are you?"
In that moment, with me staring out my window, I saw everything that had ever scared me in the past year or so and how they had all been killed. Tree monsters crushed to twigs. A giant who imprisons people with its jaw stuck in it's head. A living statue that was crushed to dust and a white-eyed demon with large claws and a flattened skull. Slenderman had done all of that. The only thing I was able to do is kill a sleeping kid. I felt truly alone and powerless then. The bad guy was regrouping, the damsel was lost, and my guardian angel had abandoned me. I don't know when sleep took me, but when I woke up I heard my window creek open and a figure was outside of it.