The little girl would survive her night with the Other. She would never be the same and she would never move as well as she once did, but she would live.
And as she healed, that night would become clearer and clearer to her.
At first, it was a blur, but the more she mended, the more she remembered and she went about telling her story to anyone who would listen.
The adults indulged her patiently and gave sympathetic nods, but they did not believe her. The children, though, the others who had awoken with bruised necks…they believed.
This had been going on for so long now that some of those children weren’t so little anymore. Some of them were right on the cusp between childhood and adulthood.
And those, along with some of the sharper children, began to plan.
This thing, this white ghastly creature that had been invading their rooms at night, had been spotted twice now running toward the woods.
In both cases, it was after a child was left hurt or dead. Their mission was clear. They would go to the forest and find him. And he must pay.
It was the middle of the night and a little chilly in the deep blackness of the woods. Slender was asleep for the first time in three days. That was a normal schedule for him, though.
The Other was sleeping as well, curled up against Slender’s legs as Slender sat against a tree. Slender had noticed in the last few weeks that the Other stayed closer to him than usual.
He knew from what he had glimpsed in their shared consciousness that the Other had had another incident in town, like the time he broke the little boy’s back and killed him.
But he knew also that the Other was trying to hide those thoughts so he politely tried to ignore them. They were both staying in the woods these days, never going to town at all.
Slender had an instinct that they should move on, to some other part of the world. They never stayed in one place for too long.
They could go wherever they pleased, maybe find a new town with a whole new crop of humans for the Other to study. Or maybe the mountains.
The remoteness of such a location appealed greatly to Slender, whose sole goal sometimes seemed simply to be left alone. Alone but with the Other, of course. They really were one.
But Slender and the Other would never see the mountains.
The Other awoke lazily, slowly, looking about as it gained consciousness. There was fire in the woods. Not fire, just a flame.
It could hear Slender’s rhythmic breathing and knew that he still slept. The Other watched the dancing flame for a moment and then saw its bearer.
The flame was at the end of a small torch and that small torch was being held by a small child. It was a beautiful little boy with shiny black hair and pale blue eyes.
In the flickering light of his torch against the pitch black woods, the Other could see a smattering of freckles across the boy’s face.
The little human shook, obviously afraid, yet forced a friendly smile in the Other’s direction. The Other cocked its head to the side in contemplation.
The more the little boy stared at the Other, the more he seemed to be losing his nerve to stay there. The flame of his torch danced even more as he began to shiver.
The boy knew that the creature who was attacking the children was long and bony with wet white flesh. He had not anticipated its face. Or, its lack of a face.
The shape of its head resembled a human’s but there was nothing except that awful scaly white flesh stretched across its skull. No nose, no eyes or mouth.
It was at once so close to being human and yet so clearly not of this world. It was something out of a nightmare. Something about that lack of familiar features was terrifying.
With no readable expression, the face was empty and therefore detached. And on such a large and clearly strong creature, that detachment inspired fear.
It felt like he had stood there a long time though, in reality, it wasn’t more than seconds.
He studied the creature as it glowed white in the firelight, its limbs resembling spider legs even as it lay still. Then, the little boy turned and ran off into the woods.
He managed not to scream, he was a very brave soldier, but he ran as fast he could through the dark wood hearing the whoosh of his blood pumping in his ears loudly.
After a moment, there came heavy steps from behind. It was following him. Eventually, his torch went out and he no longer had a source of light. But that was alright, by then, he didn’t need it.
He was almost to the lake where the other children were waiting. He could see their torches now and he felt some relief wash over him as he ran to the safety of his brood.
The creature was right behind him. The moon reflected pale and bright on the water. But in the cold silvery light, everything looked colorless, just black and white.
The Other skidded to a stop when it saw the water. Slender and the Other didn’t spend much time at the lake, it didn’t hold much interest for them. The Other was puzzled.
Why would a child come to them in the woods? It had never happened this way, not in hundreds of years. The humans were too scared. But this one…he had smiled. He seemed friendly.
Maybe he was curious. He stared into the Other’s non-face and then he ran. Without a thought, the Other had followed. It wanted to know what the child wanted. It would soon find out.
Slender awakened with a start to the urgency of his thoughts. Not to his thoughts, to the thoughts in his mind. They did not belong to him, they belonged to the Other. Something was wrong.
Something was very very wrong. He tried to move and found himself strapped down. There were ropes around his body, attaching him to the tree he was sitting against. This annoyed Slender greatly.
Did some silly human really think they could hold him down with rope? Slender flung his arms out and arched his back with a power no human body could duplicate.
The ropes snapped and he quickly got to his feet. He could hear the Other’s thoughts louder now, frantic. They didn’t make much sense but Slender ran as fast as he could, toward the noise.
The sound of splashing rang through the trees. It was so loud. The woods seemed to amplify it. The closer he came to the lake, the more muddied the Other’s thoughts became.
They were slowing now and becoming an incoherent babble. Slender pushed his body to run as hard as it could. Soon, he was at the lake.
“RUN!!” The teenager yelled to his tribe.
Children and teens were scrambling away from the lake as quickly as their terrified feet could carry them. The group was in a frenzy, dispersing into the woods.
Slender ignored them as he arrived at the lake. He had no care for children, his only concern was the Other. And then he saw it.
The water of the lake looked black in the moonlight. The sand around the beach was covered in something thick and black and viscous. It was blood. But it was not human blood.
There were rocks everywhere covered in the dark sticky fluid. Slender got an image from the Other in his mind of being hit.
The image was blurry as the Other’s ability to see became blurry after it had been beat in the head by rocks a countless number of times.
Once the children and teens were satisfied that the creature was too wounded to fight back, they bound its arms and legs and dragged it into the lake.
The Other felt pain. It was not a familiar feeling but its head was at once hot and throbbing and numb all at the same time. It seemed like sharp objects were poking into its very mind.
The Other was almost completely consumed by the water when it gained consciousness. And, as much as it didn’t have a nose or mouth, the Other very much needed to breathe.
Every time the cruel black water passed over its head and trapped it, the Other choked and felt fire in its chest.
It tried to fight with arms and legs but in its weakened state, it was no match for the ropes. It thrashed as hard as it could feeling as if its whole body were tingling and prickling.
It was leaving. In its thoughts it saw Slender. It knew he was at the lake.
I’m sorry, thought the Other.
Don’t be, Slender told it.
I think I am leaving you, it said.
Why? Slender asked.
I don’t know, thought the Other. I think I’m dying. We’ve seen it happen to them…
We cannot die, thought Slender.
Maybe we can, the Other replied.
I’m coming to you!
Slender was not very useful in the water but the lake was washing the Other’s body toward him and he found his great height served him well as he waded into it.
He reached out with his strong thin hands and pulled the body out onto the shore. The Other did not look as normal. The shiny black blood covered its head.
The head was not even the same shape as before, parts of it had clearly been crushed. Its thoughts, the thoughts he had heard in his mind his entire life, were silent.
Slender ripped apart the ropes that bound the feet and hands of his companion, the one he had been with his entire existence, and gently lifted the body.
Pressing it tightly against his chest, he carried it back to the woods.