This post is being typed up on a computer in my local public library, simply because I've been too scared to go home for almost half a week. The story I gave to my parents is that I felt like visiting a friend up north for the weekend. The actual reason why I've spent the last four days sleeping with my car with all the lights on is a bit longer and… well, here goes nothing.
November 2nd was a hot day, and in Southern California, hot days often mean foggy nights, and that night was no exception. 7:00 came, I grabbed a Japanese style fox mask that my friend had given me in high school (the one I’m wearing in my Avatar), and I set out for the meeting place: where the 5 freeway meets the 91. It’s a very surreal place, like a giant forest of thick concrete pillars supporting a complex tangle of cement and asphalt veins. So complex, so organic, and yet inorganic all at once. At night, of course, there are hundreds of floodlights illuminating traffic signs and killing all shadows and hiding spots for vagrants and criminals alike. In the fog, however, the light just reflects off itself, and everything becomes a blur of yellow, as if the world is being projected through an amber lens.
I found a parking lot near a Circle K, and waited. 8:00, nobody. I wondered if I had done what I was supposed to. Part of me wanted to go home; part of me was mad about wasted gas and wanted me to at least wait until I got some sort of answer. At this point, the fog was just beginning to thin out, and I was near enough to Disneyland to possibly at least catch the firework show. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that was my main motivation for staying, but hey, I really like fireworks!
Sadly, the fog was still thick enough so that all I could see were the occasional glimpses of a bright flash of red, green, or purple. I could hear the Bang-Bang of the grand finale; see the silhouette of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle illuminated by white hot sparks, when I realized that I was no longer alone in the parking lot. Needless to say, there were strange things afoot at this Circle K.
A figure in the mist, and no, it wasn’t tall and lanky. Well, at least not exceptionally so. I could only see a shape and a bit of color, but it certainly looked like a person, one wearing a baggy, grey sweatshirt. It stared at me, I stared at it, and I don’t know how long this lasted until my Chariot finally arrived.
It was a white panel van, the kind you expect to contain men with comb-overs and mustaches who have a perchance for promising “free candy” to unsuspecting tykes. One of the headlights was smashed and the bumper bent out of place and the whole front end looked kind of like a winking smiley face. IX was in the passenger’s seat, and behind the wheel was the dude in the Plague Doctor mask that I saw on Halloween. The doctor rolled down his window and said in a very calm voice, “It’s not safe here anymore, follow us.”
I got in my car, and I followed. I kept an eye out for the dude in grey, but he seemed more interested in the complex knot that the freeway formed.
We went up the 5 a ways, then exited, got back on, exited again, left turn, right turn, back to left, etc. etc. I had no idea where the hell I was, and I had no idea what the hell Mr. Plague Doctor was doing until I remembered that my dad used to do this same sort of thing when he still was suffering from his paranoid delusions. We were trying to shake off a tail.
When we did stop, I was too afraid to get out of my car. We had pulled into a parking garage, but something about this place didn’t sit right with me. For miles around was construction yard after construction yard. Half built structures and equipment cast odd shadows. The parking garage itself wasn’t even illuminated; I don’t even think it was finished. From the outside it looked like half a building, it’s slopping, disorienting floors more H.P. Lovecraft than Frank Lloyd Wright. IX jumped out of the van and busied himself with swapping out the license plates. The driver introduced himself.
VII: I’m VII (VIE-ee). So you’re David.”
Me: Yeah, so…
VII: So, glad you could make it.
Me: Is it just you two?
VII: II, VI (Vie), and VIII are in the back. We’re going to get going as soon as IX finishes changing the plates.
Me: Where we going?
IX: Walls have ears.
What walls? I thought to myself. Well, if I knew everything about what was going on it wouldn’t be an adventure. I opened the door, and jumped on in the back. I recognized II, but not the dude she was cuddling with. He wore camo print clothing and a fox mask. VIII was lying down on the metal floor of the van nestled between two five gallon buckets of white paint.
Me: Hey, long time no see.
Me: (to VI) so, you’re VI?
VI, instead of responding whispered into II’s ear.
II: That’s right.
Me: VIII’s looking tired.
II: He had a long day.
VII and IX jump back in the cab.
VII: Meds, everyone
II pulls out a small, Ziploc bag filled with small marzipan skulls. IX hands her a small, Swiss army knife. She gives everyone, me included, a skull.
VII: Carve your name on it, then eat it.
II: Don’t let anyone see your face.
Me: So, what would I be called, “EX” or just “Ten”
IX: You are “Oh,” as in Zero, because that’s what you are.
I stay silent. I carve a as big a 0 into my marzipan skull as I can, then slip it under my mask. Even VIII gets up long enough to ingest his. Then the van starts to lurch its way out of the garage and onto the street.
Me: How far?
VII: two hours, maybe three, depending on the traffic.
Me: That’s a long drive. So, what’s on the agenda tonight?
VII: Standard Ritual, IX wanted to bring you along.
Me: Awww, that’s so sweet of you.
IX: We needed a virgin sacrifice.
I’d probably laugh, but I’m not exactly sure if he’s joking.
VII: Actually, it’s nothing too crazy, but we do need an extra set of hands. I(bunny) and IV can’t take traveling too well, III has a job, and V’s doing some stupid protest thing.
Me: So, what’s up with Bunny and IV, they sound like they’ve got emphysema or something?
VII: Something like that. IV was a fireman like forty years ago or something.
Me: And Bunny?
VII: IV rescued him out of a fire.
Me: How many guesses do I get as to what caused that fire?
VII: Just one. Yeah, He was there. It was at a mental hospital. [Bunny] was there because he kept telling people that a tall man in black was following him. They did all sorts of things to him, electroshock, medicines, stuff like that. And he was rescued by The Piper.
Me: He burned the whole thing down?
VII: just the barn. There was a dairy farm on the property that the inmates were allowed to work at. [Bunny] was in the barn when it caught fire. IV responded to the call, and they both got trapped in there.
Me: But they made it out.
IX: Noctis pulled them out. They were unconscious and had inhaled a lot of smoke.
VII: [Bunny] went on to become a teacher, one of his students, that would be II, told him about Black Sun.
Me: Really, what’s your story?
II: not now.
VII: Anyways IV was homeless for a while, but whenever he was near a computer, he’d post about The Piper. IX found those posts and tracked him down.
Me: And what are your stories?
VII: Broken home, called by the piper, and had my chance stolen by the Noctis.
Me: So you actually believe that he’s some sort of pied piper?
VII: not always, when I first found out about Noctis, I actually joined them.
Me: You were part of Noctis?
VII: Yeah, me and IX-
IX: Shut the fuck up!
Awkward silence ensues.
Me: Who are Noctis?
VII: What do you know already?
Me: They like coats, they have code names, and they’re in cahoots with the government.
VII: Custodes Noctis is an old group. Really old. Like probably had a hand in most major historical events old.
Me: So Slenderman’s old too.
VII: Kind of. The Piper, we think, has always existed in some form or another.
Me: But now, he’s a skinny dude in a suit.
Me: So, what came first, Victor Surge’s post, or the Slenderman we all know today?
VII: We don’t actually know. The older members, III, I, and IV all say that when they were kids he looked different, but when they try to draw it or describe it, it just comes out looking like a faceless dude in a suit, like always.
Me: But he does have a face.
VII: yes he does, but it’s the same thing, I know he has a face, I can still remember what it was like to look into his eyes, but when I try to remember what it looks like, nothing!
Me: And that doesn’t strike you as the least bit unsettling?
VII: to be honest, no. Look, do you remember being born?
VII: of course not, or anything of early childhood. You know those memories are there, but you can’t just draw on them.
VII: so, what is it that The Piper promises? Eternal childhood of course.
Me: That doesn’t sound so great.
VII: Does it? I think it sounds wonderful.
Me: I didn’t exactly have the best childhood.
VII: Neither did I, or any of us for that matter. But think about how much worse adulthood is. Forgive me if I sound like V here, but when it all comes down to it, all you get for staying behind is the prospect that you get to work nine to five for the rest of your life for shit you can barely afford because someone says you want it bad enough.
When he put it like that, I couldn’t help but think that yeah, maybe he did have a point. Maybe sometimes the stranger with candy really just wants to give you a tootsie pop after all. We spend our lives being scared little animals that we don’t see that the lion chasing us just has a thorn in his paw.
I turned on my iPod, popped in my earphones and listened to some Pink Floyd…