I've never been the paranoid type. In fact, I actively despise conspiracy theorists. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to talk logic to someone who's constructed their own reality based on the assumption that they're so important that the most powerful institutions on the planet are spending a sizable chunk of their resources trying to shut them up. People like my dad, for instance, who spent a good chunk of his life convinced that the CIA was chasing him. How's that for a Freudian excuse!
Around the time I turned 14, my dad became convinced that he was being followed. It also coincided with the time he stopped taking care of his Diabetes. I'm not sure if that could cause the kind of delusions he was suffering, but my mom and older sister, who are both nurses, seemed to think so. Sometimes he would drive deliberately down the wrong side of the road just to shake the imaginary MIBs chasing him. When we tried to have an intervention, he accused us of working for "them," packed up his belongings, and stormed out of the house. We heard nothing from for a few days, until the police called to say that they found him, half-dead from dehydration in the back of his van in the middle of the Mojave desert. He returned to normal after that, and traded in his Governmentopobia for the typical White Male Suburban paranoias of people of color committing crimes and stealing jobs. Of course, he never did sell his electronic bug detecting kits...
I have always been a believer in the infallibility of logical reasoning, scientific thinking, and objective investigation. My dad's hardly sane behavior only cemented those beliefs, and I kind of made it my mission in life to find out about conspiracies or claims of the supernatural and debunk them and discredit the frauds who perpetuate these sort of things. Possibly because I feel like I'm getting justice for my stolen adolescence, and partly because some part of me suspects that what happened to my dad may be in some way genetic and I don't want to be spending all my time checking the kitchen cupboards to see if some government agent had planted a listening device in my Cheerios.
As a result, I've gained a fairly comprehensive understanding of conspiracies and claims of the supernatural. The latter supplied by my friend AJ, who's actually a pretty firm believer in the supernatural. I don't hold it against her, people are entitled to believe what they want, so long as it doesn't result in you abandoning your family to die in a van in the middle of the desert. Besides we had much more in common that we bonded over. She quickly became my best friend, and even started dating a guy who I consider to be the brother I never had. And she helped me realize that there's actually a lot of fun in much of the mythology and study of the paranormal. So much fun, that she decided to make a show about it.
We spent a good chunk of a year swapping ideas for episodes and developing the characters (the show itself was kind of X-files meets Buffy, meets Scooby Doo, meets a Noir pastiche) and even after she moved to Utah, then later to DC, we were still serious about getting it made. Then one day, while she was still living in Utah, I had to open my big trap about an urban legend I had heard about on 4chan's /x/ board. The Slender Man. I should have realized from her reaction that it was a bad idea, but somehow, she got sucked into this world of bloggers and roleplayers to the point where she soon knew much more about the history and lore of this creature than I did.
I don't need to say what happened next. You can read about that for yourself. All I can say is that it took a while for things to really sink in. Heck, at first I didn't believe it. AJ's a pretty great story teller, and I just thought that she was getting so into one of her stories that she was forgetting to leave character. I mean, I was on the other side of the country, for all I knew, she was just getting really involved in an elaborate role play. Except, she wasn't playing a character, and the more I talked to her, the more I began to see that she and her little friend were really in danger. And I tried to find out anything I could about Noctis, to see if I could help. I came up with nothing, and after things seemed to resolve themselves, I figured it was for the best.
Since then, I've been trying to re-examine the sort of person I am. Was my dad right? How much of what we causally dismiss as superstition or urban legend is actually a dire warning from those who know better? If Slender Man, then what? Reptilians in charge of the government? 9/11 as an inside job? JFK, Roswell, Time cube?! Where do the lies end and where, if there is any, does the truth begin? I'd rather like to think that my friend was just unlucky and these sort of occurrences only happen to every trillionth person. The strange has come and gone, and won't bother us again. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, recycle bin to recycle bin.
For the previous weeks before the final incident, I'd been threatening AJ with the prospect of me flying out there so that I could help her. When it seems things had really come to a head and I heard that she was in the hospital, I reluctantly begged my parents for the money for a plane ticket and immediately high-tailed it to DC. Luckily, she was in as high spirits as anyone about to enter chemo could be. Anya was there too, but I don't think she seemed too thrilled to talk to me.
Two days later, I was back in California. I got my luggage, and schlepped to where I left my car what seemed like a lifetime ago. It was covered with a fine layer of soot, but other than that it looked just the way I left it, until I noticed a scrap of paper wedged under the driver's side windshield wiper.
"The compass rose points the way in the park where the story begins. VII/VII/MMXI
'And it's whispered that soon, if we all call a tune, then THE PIPER will lead us to reason.'
On the other side flier was the picture you see to your right, I recognized it from the album cover for Led Zeppelin IV. The Stairway to Heaven lyric was a nice touch too.
Well, like any sane person who almost lost a friend to this sort of cryptic bullshit, I crumpled it up and threw it in my back seat. Nothing odd happened, no family members were involved in major accidents, and I concluded that it was left by one of the many Hare Krishna cults you see hanging around airports handing out fliers. At home, I looked up Charles Manson's "Helter Skelter" theory, about how the The White Album was a secret code for the Manson Family to incite a war between the Races. I spent the next couple of weeks sleeping with a baseball bat half convinced that I was going to be murdered in my sleep by people who thought The Battle of Evermore was more than just a love letter to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Like I said, i just don't go for this sort of conspiracy bullshit. I am sane, I am rational, and I just have very unlucky friends, and as for AJ's encounter with you know what, I really didn't it was a good idea to prod the subject further.
Until "VII/VII" came about...