A Penny Dreadful Entertainment as related to his scrivener, Sean Hoade.
A HYPOTHESIS IS RUSHED.
It is not in my nature to work quickly. Unlike Mister Edison and his brute-force approach to invention—he will order his staff to build model after model to correct problems that could have been anticipated with a pencil and a length of butcher’s block paper—I conceive of a machine or, in the present case, an experiment and run it over and over in my mind until the concept has been thoroughly proven, adjusted if necessary, and proven again until it is ready to be created as a model. (This last is necessary to ensure that no disappointing “real world” complications defeat the elegance of the concept during the rudeness of action.)
However, the Slender Man, whatever he or it was, needed to be brought into the light. It would not do to allow some evil entity to attack passing children from copses of trees near public parks, summoning them for spiriting away with some irresistible siren call. Thomerson took me to the telegraphy room at the Wardenclyffe Post Office, where I was able to speak to the now-grown versions of the types of boys who had shared the legend—I here refer to it as a “legend,” even though it arose in urban environments rather than from the dark forests of medieval Germany or the sylvan glades of Greece—and learn the following before going off half-cocked in desperation with the first idea that entered my mind:
α. The Slender Man is said to reappear roughly every hundred years, but his removal of children from this earthly plane may go on for years before he is identified as the cause. Thus, while it was 1904 when the events of this narrative unfolded, it could have been 1801 when he was noticed last time, or 1804, or, indeed, 1887. There is no way to know for certain, especially considering the unreliability of public reports prior to the modern age. Also, it is in the nature of children to go missing. They are untidy and careless, and a dozen children vanishing over several years may have gone without the incidents being connected in the public eye. (Indeed, in later repose at the New York City Public Library, I was to find that the apparition’s present appearance was predated by at least ten children lost under circumstances remarkably similar to our suspect’s modus operandus.)
β. Only those same untidy, careless children may actually perceive the Slender Man, at least initially. In the right circumstances, according to Thomerson and his fellow mythos-promulgators, certain adults may be able to detect his presence well enough and for long enough to banish himuntil his next centennial appearance, or at least from that place for another one hundred years.
γ. No version of the legend that my informants were aware of specified how, exactly, the Slender Man was previously, even if only temporarily, defeated.
I admit that I entered into this experiment without a full understanding of what we were facing—a rushed action unique in my experience—but an alacritous response was vital lest this bogey-man grow stronger, and hence bolder, in our waking world. To that end, I instructed Tippy to procure a length of stout rope. I would have preferred metal cord that would carry an electric current aimed at disrupting the ectoplasmic form of this supernatural monster (if supernatural it was), but since the tether would be firmly tied around Tippy’s small frame, such an approach would have the unfortunate effect of frying the boy to a crisp in the process, thus spectacularly defeating the purpose of the whole enterprise.
“You were in the Merchant Marine once, were you not?” I asked my assistant, who nodded. “Then you shall be able to fit Tippy with a harness knot, from which this kopile will be unable to remove him?”
It took me a moment to realize that he was not, in fact, calling me a bastard, but only repeating a word I had just spoken. “Please excuse me, Thomerson. A Croatian epithet beneath a person of my station.”
“Mister Tesla,” he said with care, “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you pop a native word into conversation before. Are you okay? Begging your pardon, but why are you so passionate to give the business to the Slender Man? If I may, sir, you have no children and ain’t never cared for them, to my knowledge. No offense, Tippy.”
“None taken, thank you, sir. Can’t say as I blame him. Can’t stand ’em my own self.”
We both smiled at our young friend, but soon silence filled the volume of my workshop office, silence that could be dispersed only by my answer to Thomerson’s question: Was I all right? I sent the errand boy on his way and collected myself.
“Your concerns are valid,” I said with solemnity. “You are no doubt discomfited by my charging forth against an enemy I do not fully understand with methods that have barely been turned over in my mind once, let alone with my usual redundant precision.”
“It did strike me, sir.”
I nodded. “Mister Thomerson, you have been in my employ long enough to know that I do nothing without sufficient reason, and this Slender Man business is no exception. The full truth is that, when I was working for Mister Edison in New York City, I encountered, fought, and—I have always believed—defeated for good a dark being that had, since my youth, presented itself to me in periods of great mental exertion or stress. I now believe that this evil being has returned and its identity to be the very same Slender Man who is now likely responsible for stealing these unfortunate children.”
“But—sir—how could you detect the monster? Pardon the familiarity, but you’re no ‘spring chicken.’ And he appears only once every hundred years, or real irregular, anyway.”
I forgave his insults to the language and responded, “It is because I have a childlike mind—in the admirable sense, of course. That is to say, I am able to see problems and phenomena with the fresh eyes of a child instead of the jaundiced view of … an old and vastly overpraised inventor, say.” I swept a mote of dust from my coat sleeve. “We must keep in mind that, while he may materialize and remove offspring according to some unknown schedule, we cannot assume that his vile presence is absent entirely from this physical world when he isn’t noticed plying his dark trade.”
Thomerson took in this latest information and nodded somberly. “Then you know what the Slender Man is? You got an idea how to defeat him?”
“Indeed not,” I said. “But no one can tell you the exact nature of light or of the luminiferous æther in which it travels, but, as you well know, I have entirely tamed both of these and put them to use for the betterment of mankind.”
With misplaced confidence, my shop assistantblurted to the greatest mind of the Twentieth Century: “But … isn’t light just electromagnetic radiation falling inside the visible spectrum? And didn’t those English guys disprove the existence of the æther?”
I fixed the misguided servant with an expression I hoped would cow him into abandonment of such anti-scientific notions (spouted in my very presence!) and said with intimidating finality, “I think it would be best if you hailed a carriage. Leave word for Tippy to meet us at the wooded area where we resurrected that beagle last year. We must offer the agreeable boy as bait so I may grasp the nature of this ‘Slender Man.’”
“Gotcha,” Thomerson said, then caught my expression. “I mean—understood. Sir.”
THE EXPERIMENT GOES BADLY.
The idea, if I may refer to the abomination upon which I too hastily acted with that noble word, was that the Slender Man had to assume a physical form in order to seize a physical target such as a sooty child looped within a coil of rope. If he were physical—and, of course, if the child had been well instructed not to go to him despite any compelling call—then he would have to approach very near Tippy, which meant he would also have to place his newly corporeal form very near to myself and Thomerson, both of whom were obscured from view by a large bush and holding onto the other end of the rope. My aim was that the Slender Man would attempt to grab and drag off the errand boy but be stopped from doing so by we adults resisting via the rope; in so doing, I planned to examine the monster as thoroughly as possible before he ran away without his prize.
That is not, exactly, how it went.
Tippy arrived and we tied the rope around him, Thomerson employing an impressive knot he had learned during his maritime career. Then Thomerson and I took our positions behind the foliage and each looped the tether around one hand. And then we waited. My scientist’s eye reminded me that there was little chance the Slender Man would pick this boy at this time just because he was near a wooded area. Even if the chances were good a random child would be his target, perhaps the shade could detect that there were two adults very nearby. It might also be able to sense that there was a rope tied around the bait, or be forewarned of imminent danger by any other tell-tale conditions that I would certainly have avoided in any less-urgent circumstances. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and there we were.
It did not take long for an odd howl, like that of some ethereal wolf, to sound over the glen. Tippy—a boy whom I had personally seen snatch a brass button from an old uniform after it had been shoved inside a roaring furnace—eked out in a terrified whisper, “S-Sir! He’s here. He’s here.”
I could not resist a peek over the bush at the thing from my nightmares.
“What?” I muttered stupidly, fumbling for my gentleman’s mirror to engage in the optical trickery I had used to glimpse the villain years before. I held it and swept every angle of my peripheral vision, keeping my loosely focused gaze squarely on the center of the glass. But some element was missing. The Slender Man was definitely present—I could feel the temperature of our immediate vicinity drop—but the mirror remained empty of ghouls. “Tippy, I see nothing. Thomerson?”
My assistant joined me in looking over the top of the bush, then shook his head.
The boy’s words were almost incomprehensible through his fear. “He’s—he—Mister Tesla! He’s right there! No! NO! Mister Tesla! Mister Thomerson! Help! Help m—”
Both of us rushed from our hiding space to block the horror or grab Tippy or do anything except stand open-mouthed at the sight of the lasso of rope lying on the grass just where Tippy had been sitting and finding our young friend completely vanished … along with the thing that took him. But that, of course, was exactly what we ended up doing.
A DESPERATE MOVE IS PROPOSED.
It was well into the afternoon before Thomerson and I abandoned the search for Tippy. The open area was not large, and the cluster of trees was inaccessible after a few yards, but we spent several hours calling for the boy, beating the brush with sticks—to what end, I still do not know—and circumnavigating what felt like every plant in the forest to see whether Tippy was somehow stored behind one. In the end, we failed to find a single sign of him or the Slender Man, and we called off our efforts due to exhaustion, frustration, and hunger. We hiked back to Wardenclyffe, washed up, and took our dinner together at a chophouse near the Machine Works. As we solemnly fortified ourselves, my able assistant and I used our sadness to focus on finding a solution to this intolerable, now undeniably supernatural, situation.
“Sir, do you think Tippy is lost? Dead, I mean?”
I considered this and said, “If the Slender Man can become corporeal at will and exist for centuries, perhaps there is hope that our young friend yet lives. For all I am aware, there could be some timeless supernal dimension to which the spectre flees with his quarries, and perhaps all the children he has taken still exist there. The unfortunate fact is that, however much we may wish this to be so, there is no evidence supporting such a place.”
“But there’s no evidence against it, right?”
“True, but I find the conjunction of those two properties to almost always be the case when something simply doesn’t exist.” It was a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. That said, it wasn’t a logical necessity; Tippy and the others could still have been alive and returnable to our realm. But the only way we would ever find them would be to find the Slender Man first. Fortunately—and hardly surprisingly—I thought of something that could allow us to see the demon, which was the necessary first step in catching him. “Thomerson, pardon my impertinence, but how long do you sleep each night? A rough estimate, if you please.”
He looked surprised and a bit amused at the question. “Well, sir, I never really sat down and counted it, but I guess I’d say your usual seven to nine.”
“Very good. This is important,” I said with a bit of amusement, as my usual “seven to nine” was more like “three to four,” the very point I now sought to make. “You may recall that I related to you the story of how I had felt the spectre nearby when I had been working especially hard on some problem. However, I failed to realize that an important element was missing from my narrative, this element being what prevented me from seeing the thing as it attacked young Tippy just now; something different in the circumstances from when I was able to visually apprehend the thing entire.”
“But, sir, what could it be? We were outside, near trees—I mean, the Slender Man was there, right? I’m no scientist, Mister Tesla, but I can’t think of what could’ve been missing. Maybe the sun was too high in the sky or something?”
I finished a bite of salmon and said, “You may not be a scientist, my friend, but you still approach problems like a man of science. It’s one of the reasons I sometimes endure—excuse me, enjoy—your presence even outside of the Works,” I said, and Thomerson seemed as chuffed as possible considering the experience we had just suffered at the hands of our enemy. “Now, I shall presently reveal the last piece of the puzzle, but, to your point, I don’t believe that the angle of sunlight would come to bear on whether the spirit could be viewed, but that is an element we can at least minimize by taking our next step during the transitional period between full day and full night, or, more to our purposes, between full night and full day.”
“You mean at twilight? In that sorta zone?”
“Precisely,” I said. “Perhaps there is a fifth dimension beyond those known to man. I conjecture that this could be beyond the vastness of the three dimensions of space as well as beyond the infinity of the fourth dimension, that of time.”
“Wow … I … wow. Can we get there, or at least, you know, pull Tippy out?”
“I propose this ‘twilight zone’ may be a middle ground between light and shadow, between the worlds of science and superstition. A place that represents the lowest pit of our fears, but also one which I can conquer by rising to the summit of my knowledge.” I stopped for a moment to admire my own spontaneous poesy. “And it is that very knowledge, combined with my vigorous and flexible imagination, which I shall now share with you to tell how we may summon the Slender Man—and defeat him.”
“Terrific, sir!” Thomerson placed the last bite of chop into his mouth and chewed with an expectant smile on his face.
I slid my plate to the side, as I wanted no more of the fleshy sustenance, and summoned the serving girl for two strong coffees. “I can envision a signpost up ahead—our next stop shall be some sort of ‘twilight zone’!”
 Although it has fallen from fashion in the years since the events recounted in this volume, the meaning of “twilight” as sunrise, or “dawn,” is as correct as that of sunset.