Slender was an ancient being. He had seen the sun shine on the pyramids while they were being built. He had watched the stars on the night that Judas had marked Jesus with a kiss.
He had hidden in the woods for years when it seemed the whole world was at war.
The woods were where he liked it best. He liked the darkness of it, the coolness. There was something calm about the forest. He could lay on the ground, burrowed in the dirt for hours.
He stayed completely motionless as bugs crawled over him, their tiny feet a mere sensory whisper that he relished.
Lately, Slender had been remembering. As a creature who experienced emotions only in a very muted sense, memories were an unusual occurrence.
Slender could function for months without having a truly cognizant thought. His design was arguably superior to a human’s in the sense that he had far fewer biological needs.
Slender ate nothing. He had no need to expel waste. He did sleep, but could manage without rest for far longer than any person could.
He was strong and built study enough to outlast the apocalypse.
Where the humans had really surpassed him was on an emotional level. Slender was very intelligent, no doubt, he could observe his surroundings and learn quickly to adapt to them.
But as far as feeling anything like sadness or joy, he tended to experience these feelings as an afterthought.
Whereas people could be overtaken with their emotions, to the point where they doubled over in laughter or smiled from ear to ear or cried heaving sobs, Slender felt emotions
the way a human might experience a song being stuck in their head. He was aware of a feeling, sensed it, but it was always on the horizon, removed from him.
He would recognize it without fully experiencing it.
So when the memories came, he was poorly equipped to deal with them. Mostly, they left him confused.
But because this same memory had been plaguing him for so long, he was starting to make sense of it. He knew it was important.
So focused on this memory was he, that it was minutes before he noticed the crying.
He looked down blankly at his right hand. There was a child in it. His long bony fingers were wrapped firmly around the midsection of a soft pink fleshed child. And it was screaming in his hand.
As the current moment came more into focus, Slender tightened his grip and observed. The skin on his long hand was white and wet looking, like a fish belly.
It contrasted interestingly against the child’s flushed skin. As it continued to cry and thrash and scream, the child’s color was deepening.
It was now red everywhere except its face, which had turned purple. Clearly, it was fatiguing from its efforts. Now the cries were interrupted as it began to choke.
The sobs were so heavy that every time it inhaled, its breath was getting caught in its throat, resulting in the intermittent choking. First it would choke, then it would cough.
Slender lifted his arm so he could inspect the child more closely. Its whole body was heaving now. Shrieking and choking, alternately, its face was sticky with tears and mucus.
Slender had had enough.
He raised a tentacle, those extra appendages that were clearly tied to his thought process, as they only emerged from his body when he needed them,
and very carefully the tentacle began to wrap itself around the child’s head.
The wet ink colored flesh of this octopus-like appendage caressed the toddler’s head, covering first its eyes and then forcing itself over the little mouth, parting the lips as it did so.
The cries became much quieter, though they did not stop. Slender watched himself squeeze tighter and tighter until the cries stopped. The little human skull gave easily as he tightened his grip.
At first, there was a pressure as the bone fought to protect the brain, but in a moment, there was a pop and then the pressure was no more.
Blood and other slick fluids were running down Slender’s tentacle.
His chilly detachment was apparent despite his featureless face, which was watching the death closely. Slender had no eyes but he could see.
And he had seen this more times than he could count, the end of a human child’s life. It left him empty but the crying had stopped and that was satisfying.
He laid back in the dirt and felt the coolness of the ground enveloping him, welcoming him. Soon the stars would be out and he would study them all night. And maybe the memory would return.
There was water. It was inky black, cold water and the sound of splashing was deafening. Slender felt drops of water hitting him, but he was far.
He saw the water and heard the splashing and his body responded with panic. But he didn’t know why. Something was wrong. Very very wrong. He didn’t know what to do.
Every inch of his body went tense and he stayed, rooted to the spot where he stood, unsure what action to take. It became hard to breathe. His mind spun.
Then he woke up. The moon was out. He was still in the dirt, still laying in the woods. It was the memory. It had come to him while he slept, but it was a memory and not a dream.
Slender did not dream. He stared up at the moon and focused all his power on the scene in his head. The water.
Why did it keep returning to him? And what about it was so very wrong? He glanced across the dark woods and saw the body of the boy he had killed earlier.
The child’s gray clay looking flesh was even more pale in the silver light of the moon. He was grateful that now the boy was silent. But the memory had left him restless. It was time to move.
Slender knew few natural predators. But he could be killed. It was not an easy job, he was not nearly as fragile as a human. Human beings were most fragile, indeed, he thought.
The wrong temperature, lack of food or water, a swift blow to the right spot on their body. Humans were easy to exterminate and Slender had killed many in his time. Children.
He always killed children. Adults rarely saw him and, when they did, did not believe what they were seeing. Over the centuries, a handful had fainted dead away.
Slender left them to believe that the sight of him had been a dream. But children were different. They believed. And because they believed, they were more dangerous.
More likely to search for him, simply to confirm he was real. More likely to tell others. And so they must die. Killing them was easy and he didn’t really take pleasure in it.
It did not upset him either, though. He gave it no more thought than most humans give to squashing a cockroach. Sometimes he studied them first, because their behavior could be interesting.
But, in the end, they all died. It had not always been this way.
After walking all night, free of thoughts or emotions, he arrived at a clearing in the woods.
There was a barn that appeared to be in great disrepair but Slender saw it as an opportunity to sit up high and be closer to the stars. He loved watching them.
They were quiet, white and cold, just like him. He felt a connection to them. He stared up at those illuminated guardians of the night sky and became entranced.
An hour later, his focus had not moved. And the memory came flitting back to his head. The water. The splashing. The panic.
Again, he felt the cold drops hitting him and felt the powerlessness, the suffocation. But he focused with all his might, he told himself not to give in to the panic.
If he could not breathe, so be it, but he must see.
And, though it took all his energy to see it with his mind’s eye, indeed he was trembling with the effort as he sat atop the barn, Slender saw at last what he wanted to see.
The source of the splashing. The figure in the water was bound up. It thrashed and fought with its entire body. It showed impressive strength but its muscle was no match for the water.
It was drowning. And fighting the whole time. And it looked just like him.
With a start, Slender gasped. He threw his head back doing this, fighting to breathe, and he did so with such force that he slid right off the barn roof to the ground.
The jolt of his body slamming into the earth brought all his attention back to the moment. He was not hurt, it would take more than a fall from a rooftop to damage him, but he was startled.
It’s hard to say if the memory or the fall had shaken him more. He sat up and brought his long deadly hands up to hold his head.
As cold a killer as he was, in that moment he appeared fragile, so thin and clearly confused. His mind was reeling. He had seen it. The memory had revealed a forgotten truth.
Something he had lost track of for so many years. It was the creature in the water, the one thrashing and fighting. He had not always been alone. There had been another Slender.
He remembered now. This particular scene, the panic by the water, had been haunting him for nearly a year’s time.
It had revealed itself to him slowly but now that it was clear, it brought a whole flood of information with it. Information from a very long time ago...