I'm so tired, but I can't fall asleep. The lamp beside my bed is on and it's casting shadows across the wall. I want to turn it off and take away the shadows, but I can't. The light has to stay on. I can't go to sleep. If I sleep, I'll dream. I'll dream about yesterday.
Yes, I know: what happened yesterday? I'm trying to write it down, but it's difficult. The words won't form properly. I keep deleting things and retyping them. What should I put in, what should I leave out. What needs to be written, what doesn't.
The first thing that hit me yesterday was the cold. It was freezing. And there was construction on the block where I live, so I had to take a roundabout way to get to work. Those combined made my morning less than ideal, but it was nothing compared to what happened after work.
Have you ever walked ahead of somebody and thought they might be following you? Had that strange "something is watching me" feeling? I had that in spades. There was a man in a hoodie behind me when I was walking home and I stopped at the supermarket just so I knew he wasn't following me. He kept walking while I paced restlessly through the pasta aisle (whenever I'm in a supermarket, I'm always drawn to the pasta - the only thing I know how to cook well). After twenty minutes, I left, content that my paranoia was misplaced.
At my apartment building, the hooded man was sitting on the steps leading up to the front door. His hands were in his pocket and he looked at me as I approached. No need to panic, I thought, he might live here as well. I've never met all my neighbors.
These rationalizations quickly vanished when the man took out a handgun from his pocket. I stopped moving and my stomach flipped. The gun wasn't even pointed at me, it was just pointed downward, as if the man knew even the presence of a gun was enough to make me scared. When he spoke, his words were cracked and gruff. "You know who I am?"
I tried to talk, but it came out as a whisper. "You- you broke into my apartment."
"Yes." The hood kept his face in shadow, but I could make out the gray of a beard. "You know what I'm looking for." It wasn't a question. "Take me to the box." There was no question that I was going to do what he said. No 'Or else' needed. His body language was relaxed. He didn't care if anyone on the street saw his gun. I remember what Special Agent Jane had told me about this man - that he had killed many people.
He stood up and said, "Turn around and start walking." I did as he told me and then felt the gun pushed in my back. "No tricks, no running. Got it? Nod." I nodded.
We walked like that for what seemed like hours, though I knew it was only twemnty minutes. The sky was the color of a bruise as we finally got to the Post Office. It wasn't far from my apartment - part of why I had chosen it. The front door was open, though one side of the Post Office was shut with the metal cage. I walked towards the PO Boxes and felt the hooded man follow. I stopped in front of box 444. The hooded man grunted and said, "That mean something? A code?"
"In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the words 'four' and 'death' are pronounced the same." Was I really talking about minutiae like this? "So, four is considered unlucky. Nobody around wanted this PO Box, so the price was less."
"Heh." The hooded man stepped forward, the barrel of the gun poking into my back again. "Perhaps they're right. Open it."
I took out my keys from my pocket, found the right one, and fitted it into the lock. The PO Box opened. Inside was another key, this one on a chain. "It opens the back door. The box is inside, on a shelf, next to some other boxes." We walked outside, me holding onto the key, him with the gun in my back. My mouth decided now was the right time to explain why I had hidden it here. "The Purloined Letter, you see." When he didn't say anything, I kept going. "It's an Edgar Allen Poe story about a stolen letter. The reason nobody had found it was because it was in with a bunch of other letters." We were next to the back door of the Post Office when I heard the click and then the voice.
"Phillip Jeffries." It was the voice of Special Agent Liza Jane. "You are under arrest." The hooded man, who I could now assume was Phillip Jeffries, raised up his gun and pointed it at my temple as he turned around. I saw her and her partner five feet away from us, both of them holding up guns. Her half-smile was gone and he was no longer thrumming. He still had sunglasses on for some reason, though.
"You don't get it," Phillip Jeffries said. "I'm so close. It's in the box, what we need. What we all need."
"Let him go," Jane said. "We'll see what's in the box without hurting anyone."
"Everyone gets hurt," Jeffries said. "It's only a matter of time. He's a receiver, you know. Maybe, maybe I can cause the big guy some pain if I kill him." My mouth was suddenly dry and it felt like my heart was beating a million times a second.
"Don't," she said and suddenly there were words in my mouth and I was speaking and I didn't know why.
"His eyes are closed!" I yelled and Jane and her partner stepped back and I felt Jeffries pull away. "His eyes are closed! And his mouth is open!"
"Stop it," Jeffries said and the hand that held the gun was trembling now. "We're nowhere near any trees. He can't come."
"His eyes are closed!" I shouted. "His mouth is open! And his arms are oustretched!" The world flickered for an instance and suddenly there were trees all around us.
Jeffries pulled back the hammer of the gun and said, "Stop" but I couldn't.
I shouted as loud as I could. "His! Arms! Out! Stretched!" The world flickered again and not only were there trees all around us, but there was an entire forest. I could see it and smell it and if I reached out, I knew I could touch it.
Jeffries was still pointing his gun at me, but then there was a noise and he pointed it somewhere else.
There was a man walking through the forest towards us. He was tall and thin and wore a suit (or an approximation of a suit - the lines seemed off somehow) and his arms hung down past his knees. I didn't even try looking at his face.
Jeffries said "No" once and then pulled the trigger. The Slender Man didn't even flinch. Jeffries fired again and then turned to ran. I watched him, as if hypnotized, as he tried to run, but the Slender Man seemed to walk faster. Jeffries turned to shoot at him again and the Slender Man reached out with his hand and I saw that each finger was long and sharp. Four thin red lines appeared on Jeffries' face. He coughed once and then collapsed, gun still clutched uselessly in his hand.
The Slender Man then turned to look at me and I closed my eyes tightly. When I opened them, I was outside the Post Office. Special Agents Liza Jane and Aladdin Sane were looking at me. Then I realize they were looking behind me and I turned around and saw Jeffries' body.
I threw up.
There were questions, but I told them the truth mostly. I fibbed a bit about what I saw in the woods - they hadn't seen it apparently. They saw Jeffries firing in the air wildly and then get cut and collapse, but no forest. No Slender Man. I didn't tell them.
When they asked why I had shouted those words, I answered them honestly: "I don't know." I didn't know a lot - I didn't know why Jeffries had called me a "receiver" or what was in the box. They also insisted that I give them the box, but when I opened the backdoor of the Post Office, it wasn't there. Perhaps he took it. Maybe I delivered it after all.
They finally let me back into my apartment at about two am. I watched late night TV and infomercials until I fell asleep and dreamed of Jeffries, sprouting thing red lines of blood like flowers, trees sprouting up in city streets, their branches stretching over buildings and cars, and a man walking quickly and quietly with long, thin arms and fingers like knives.
It was the first time I've seen him. I don't think it'll be the last.