This is not what happened:
There was a great battle, an epic fight between good and evil and good triumphed and the hero won and everyone cheered and the evil monster died and they all lived happily ever after.
This is not what happened:
We changed our minds, told dear old sis and the SMSC to go screw themselves, then ran away and lived on the lam, picking news names for each day of the week.
This is what happened:
He is not dead. He did not die. "Gone" is not a euphemism - he is literally gone. He was there one moment and then next he wasn't.
I am getting ahead of myself. Begin at the beginning, end at the end.
This is how it started:
Special Agent Aladdin Sane picked us up at six in the morning. It was raining and Tav carried a slightly worn blue umbrella over our heads. Sane drove his jeep in front of us and told us to get in.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"You'll see," Sane said. He didn't sound smug or mean. It wasn't a smirking "You'll see," it was a comment that said "This is what this is."
It took several hours to get to where we were going. Sane rarely talked. Instead, he played music - classic rock mainly. We sat in silence and let the sound of strumming guitars wash over us and let Opus stick his head out the window and get his fur wet.
Then we arrived at the labyrinth.
"It's not a labyrinth," Liza said. She was in front of the labyrinth in a black van, security equipment set up. Teams of men and women in body armor waited with automatic rifles and smoked cigarettes. "It's a corn maze. We were lucky to find one that hadn't been taken down yet."
"Yeah," I said. "Lucky." It looked like a labyrinth. The corn stalks were high and the corridor they created looked dark and cold.
"Reminds me of The Shining," Tav said. "Wish I hadn't said that." He smiled at me.
"We've set up cameras throughout the maze," my sister said. "We'll be able to watch your progress as each of you go through."
"Wait," I said. "Each of us? As in, separately?"
"Yes," Liza said. "That's the plan." She rubbed her knuckles together, a nervous tic I knew from years before. "From what we know about the Slender Man - and the Cold Boy, too - it most often shows up when its targets are alone. Isolated."
"Defenseless," I said.
"Yes," she said. Never let it be said that my sister sugarcoated anything. "You will each go a different way through the maze. Hopefully, when you are alone, the Slender Man and the Cold Boy will each show up for you. Then you will meet in the middle."
"And then what? They kill us?"
She looked at me and I suddenly remembered her face after mom died, that steely gaze that said "I am not fucking around anymore."
"Hopefully," she said, "they will kill each other."
"That's your plan?" I said. "Turn them against each other? That's idiotic. That's..."
"The only plan they've got," Tav said. "And it might work. You said the Cold Boy doesn't come near you when your around a receiver. Maybe...maybe that's because we're marked somehow. Marked by the Slender Man. And if the Cold Boy was to be near me when the Slender Man was there...maybe that'll spark a war. There's just one problem: you don't know that the Slender Man will appear. I've only seen him once and he hasn't exactly followed me around."
"There is something you had that he wants," Liza said. She went to the van and brought out a brown box taped up and with words written on it. "Remember this?"
Tav looked at it. "That's the box. The...the Return to Slender box. You said it was gone."
"I lied," she said. "If you take this box in the maze with you, will the Slender Man show up?"
"Maybe," he said. She handed him the box and he looked at it. "He follows the box, the Cold Boy follows Agnes. We all meet up in the middle and do-si-do."
"That's what we're hoping for," Liza said. "So far, there's been no weapons that work against the Slender Man. Maybe another creature similar to him can kill him."
"That's a big maybe," I said.
She looked up at the watery sky and said, "Yes it is. But that's the plan. Take it or leave it."
We took it.
"Operation: Asterion is a go," Liza said into her walkie-talkie and went into the van of security cameras.
Sane stood in front of us before the labyrinth. "If the plan doesn't work, we'll have a team go in and pick you up. And if it does work - well, they'll pick you up anyway, clap you on the back and buy you the first round."
I handed Opus's leash to Sane. "If we die, you take care of him," I said.
At the entrance to the labyrinth, we held hands and then let go, going each separate way. He let me hold onto the umbrella. He went the dextrous way (right) and I went the sinister way (left). He waved at me as he passed the first corner of corn and disappeared.
I didn't think it would work at first. It felt stupid, walking in the rain, holding that blue umbrella over my head, hoping the Cold Boy would appear. I thought we would both meet in the middle, alone, and have a good laugh. I would tell my sister it didn't work and she'd laugh too and we'd all go have that drink anyway. And as the minutes passed and nothing happened, I grew convinced that nothing would.
Then I heard the singing.
"Come to the window,
My baby, with me,
And look at the stars
That shine on the sea!"
There he was, waiting for me. A little boy, eight years old, wearing yellow galoshes and a blue rain slicker. He was jumping in puddles.
"There are two little stars
That play bo-peep
With two little fish
Far down in the deep."
He laughed and I felt colder than I had felt in years. I ran, the umbrella discarded in the rain.
"And two little frogs
Cry 'Neep, neep, neep,'
I see a dear baby
That should be asleep."
As I ran, I heard him. He was repeating the "neep, neep, neep" sound and it made me shudder. Twisting, turning, I navigated the labyrinth on random chance alone and luckily (far luckier than I should have been), I made it to the very middle.
Tav was waiting for me. He was cross-legged on the ground, looking at the box. "I don't understand," he said. "This was for him. He wanted this. Why didn't he come?"
I called his name and he looked up at me. He could probably see the Cold Boy behind me, because his eyes grew wide and he drew a sudden breath. He got to his feet. "Come on, you bastard!" he yelled at the rain. "Why aren't you here?!"
"It doesn't matter," I said. "Let's just run." I held his arm.
But he just looked at the box. "Screw it," he said and started opening it, ripping off the tape. I looked behind me and saw the Cold Boy standing there, jumping to an invisible rope, counting off numbers. It looked at me with ice-blue eyes.
"Agnes," Tav said. "Look at this." He had the box open and inside there was only one small photograph, yellowed with age and slightly burnt on one side. It was of the Slender Man, his face a blur.
"So, it's a family photo, so what," I said, "let's just go."
"Look what's behind him," he said and I looked at the photo again. Behind the Slender Man there was corn. A row of corn. I looked at it and then I looked up. It was the same row of corn right in front of us, the same broken and bent stalks, the same rain coming down. Tav held up the photograph so it covered the spot where it was taken.
Then he took the photograph away and it had become real. The exact instant, that snapshot of time was now. And the Slender Man was here.
We stood in between seconds, in between moments, in between rain drops. The Slender Man was here. He could kill us all. He could kill the Cold Boy. He could do a funny walk, for all I knew.
He didn't. He stood there. That was all.
And yet...that was the worst he could have done. I could have handled if he attacked us. My mind would have flipped the "flight" option and I would have grabbed Tav and run. But he didn't.
He stood there waiting.
"Hello, Mister Slender," the Cold Boy said. His voice was like the wind cutting my skin, setting my teeth on edge. "She left the window open. She's a cold one. We're going to play hopscotch and jacks and we're going to be cold together."
The Slender Man stood there and I thought for a moment he was going to talk, but he didn't. Instead, I heard Tav say, "There are rules. There are rules even for us."
"She is cold, you know this," the Cold Boy said. "She is all frozen and stuff."
"Not anymore," Tav said. I looked at him. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open.
"Tav," I said. "Tav, wake up."
"He is my mouth," Tav said. "There are rules that even we cannot break. She is not cold anymore. She did not run."
The Cold Boy hissed. The air grew colder and I could see frost growing on the corn stalks. "Not fair, not fair," the Cold Boy said. "I wanna toy."
"Find another," Tav said.
"Hmph," the Cold Boy said. "Fine." He walked back through the corn stalks and suddenly, the rain started again and time was flowing again and Tav's eyes were open.
"Agnes," he said. I thought he was going to ask what happened and I was about to tell him, but then he said, "His face. So bright. Can you see his face? I think. I think I have to touch it."
I tried to grab him, but there was a bright flash of blinding light and I let go. I let go and when the light was gone, so was he. Both him and the Slender Man were gone.
Just me in the rain, in the labyrinth.