A Penny Dreadful Entertainment as related to his scrivener, Sean Hoade.
SLEEP IS DEPRIVED.
The crux of my insight had relied on the memory of that morning in 1887 when I encountered the spindly shade on my walk to Edison’s laboratory and saw its entirety through that mirror held in the palm of my hand. The Slender Man appeared to me in toto after I spied the dark disturbance in the corners of my eyes as I had since my youth in times of particularly concentrated work and mental fatigue caused by a lack of slumber. During such times of uninterrupted cognition and work, I truly sleep, as mentioned above, three to four hours per diurnal cycle,and the period of my invention of alternating current certainly qualified as such a time.
I had come to the now-obvious realization that tiredness of the mind and body necessarily would include tiredness in the eyes. The saccades were necessary to see the Slender Man at the boundaries of vision, and it was necessary to detect his evil presence there before employing optic trickery to see in full his wavering, terrifying, faceless form. Neither I nor Thomerson—nor any adult, it seemed—could sense him any other way. Children, being of a brain and mind still forming, could see the villain regardless; but that also could have been due to the kidnapper needing to appear in full form before his victim, and he stole only children.
After the girl went to fetch the refreshment of our beverages, Thomerson shifted in his seat at the table. “Coffee, Mister Tesla? Shouldn’t we, y’know, go out and execute your plan? Whatever it is, I mean?”
I sipped my brew, which was vile but had to be braved for the good of Tippy and all children in danger from the enemy. I very much wished I could get a drop or two of Dewar’s in my flagon, but that would produce entirely the opposite effect from that which I was seeking from the bitter elixir in the first place. “Sip your coffee, Thomerson. We shall finish off more than one pot of it before the dawn.”
“The dawn? Respectfully, sir, it’s three in the afternoon! We’re gonna sit here and drink coffee ’til sunrise?”
“Indeed not, my man. I imagine that, by evening and on and off again throughout the long night, we shall rise regularly to ‘stretch our legs,’ as your folk might say. I believe that the brisk night-time air will help keep us awake and fill us with a bit of vigor so that we may be rejuvenated upon re-entering this establishment to commence the draining of another pot of Javanese.”
“But—sir—are you saying we need to stay up all night? All night? Without a drop of anything real to drink? I would never question your decisions, but could you possibly tell me what this has got to do with the Slender Man?”
I could feel my slick moustaches rise at one end as I smiled. I sipped again and said, “That’s quite all right, Thomerson. Such an idea as mine may seem to a working-class fellow such as yourself to be pointless, or even strange. But remember, if you will, the predicate upon which I spotted the form of the Slender Man: I had dedicated even less time to restorative sleep than usual, not even allowing myself my usual periodic thirty-second dips into unconsciousness. No, it was only when my body was utterly denied of rest that my eyes could detect the shadow to one or the other side of my visual field. I propose that you and I do the same to our unfortunate bodies tonight, staying awake without even the enjoyable cushion of alcoholic libation to ease our minds until morning.”
“Wait,” Thomerson said (and I did not blame him for forgetting the ‘sir’ in this instance; this was an odd idea, indeed). “I’ve missed entire nights of sleep—heck, two in a row sometimes—but I never ‘detected’ the Slender Man, or anything else unusual, come to think of it. I mean, there was one late night on a riverboat where I thought one girl in the bed was the other for a minute—”
“Yes! Well! That is certainly a very interesting story for another time,” I said quickly and gulped down the rest of my coffee while indicating that Thomerson do the same. I filled our cups again and gestured to the dining hall’s young lady to bring us another carafe, and quickly. “I believe the reason that you did not see the Slender Man during your own long periods of … let us say, wakefulness … is that the Slender Man was not there. Were you near a wood at the time of your asomnia? Was it a place that children, perhaps, were likely to be nearby? I would think that your sleepless nights were spent on the ships of the Merchant Marine, or, apparently, riverboats—places where nearby copses of trees were unlikely to exist.”
“I see what you mean, sir. Yeah, it was on ships and also in factories away from where the children mostly worked. All right, it sounds like a winner, Mister Tesla.” He raised his cup. “I do believe we’ll be spending a lot of the night leaning against the wall out back drinking all this stuff, but when morning comes, our eyes should be plenty ready to see that son of a … gun. But after that, how are we supposed to defeat the Slender Man?”
“Never you worry, my good man. We shall engage in shop-talk and perhaps you may share some of your no doubt diverting ‘sea shanties’ over the next dozen hours. When this place closes, we shall hasten to my residence and I can then keep us amused by using my electric coils to make the hair on our heads rise and other such novelties. When the rosy fingers of dawn arrive, we will head to the Machine Works on the way and enlist a squad of the night shift’s strongest workmen to carry three of my dressing mirrors to the scene of Tippy’s kidnapping.”
Thomerson nodded, no doubt seeing that the large mirrors would be somehow employed as the single small mirror had been seventeen years earlier to dispel the dark presence. Then he smirked as I had earlier and said, “Sir, you have three dressing mirrors?”
“No,” I replied, not understanding the source of his amusement. “But we need only three. I have one in every room of the house, of course.”
He hid his growing smile behind the coffee cup. “Of course.”
THE PHANTOM MENACE RUNS AFOUL OF ITS AUDIENCE.
It has long been my experience that one does not simply throw up his hands at his first utter destruction by a mysterious metaphysical enemy. No, rather than give in to despair and simply find another workshop errand boy, one should move ahead full-bore—if I may use a machine-shop metaphor—to erase the phantom menace from existence. (If this proves impossible, then and only then may we block the abomination from our minds and even act as if it never existed.) This seems to have been the approach to each appearance of the Slender Man throughout centuries of folktales and legends. I believed I had now a strategy to defeat him, but whether that would be temporary or if he would appear in the first decade of the Twenty-First Century to haunt the world’s youth once again, I could not say.
By the time day broke and the sun had risen enough to clear the trees in our forest glen staging ground, Thomerson and I were exhibiting a marked tendency to stare at the ground and mumble incoherencies at each other. We were, as they say, gassed. But Thomerson remained wakeful enough to press five of his burliest metal-benders from the Machine Works to assist him in procuring and carrying the three heavy gentleman’s dressing mirrors from my home on the Wardenclyffe grounds. Once the men had positioned the mirrors into an equilateral triangle and angled them according to my specifications, they were dismissed and it was, once again, just loyal Thomerson and myself.
“I know I’m just the hired help here, sir, but I don’t understand how this is supposed to work.”
I fixed him with my bleary eyes, which were already saccading like those “jumping” seed pods from Mexico containing the heat-excited larva of Cydia deshaisiana. “I believe I have gone over this with you several times over the course of our extended evening. Nevertheless, we are tired perhaps beyond the easy formation of memory, so I shall explain again in temporal proximity to our campaign.”
Thomerson blinked his own red “peepers” several times in rapid succession. “What?”
His tone was disregarded due to our state. I smiled as best I could and said, “Please forgive my inability to adjust my speech to the audience, friend. I, too, am exhausted perhaps beyond even my high tolerance. What I meant is that you are probably too tired to remember my elucidation of our plan due to this purposeful fatigue, and so I will outline it to you again since we’re about to deploy it: in my former encounter with the Slender Man, he shrieked and vanished when I was able to use my hand-mirror to look him in the eye.”
“All right,” Thomerson said, clearly working hard to take this all in.
“My reasoning behind this array of larger mirrors is that you and I may each espy him in the crook of our peripheral vision in a different mirror as we stand askance from the plane of the glass. When he appears at the corner of our exhaustion-twitching eyes, we shall turn our heads quickly to plant him squarely in the center of our fields of view, which—should he behave according to my prior experience—will force him into vapor that shall not re-coalesce for at least a decade, if not longer. Perhaps forever, since he is now being dispelled by the amplified power of more than a single direct witness.”
Thomerson nodded in understanding.
“My hope is that this extended period of consciousness will aid your mind in mimicking that of a child, open and curious. It should be, through this insomniac abuse, malleable enough to embrace the virtual, where, I contend, the Slender Man normally exists, and is not yet resigned to the mundane world of bricks and mortar. My mind has become somewhat hardened in age itself, and I believe the same effect should have taken root here as well.”
Thomerson’s gray and weary face was no match for his exuberant words: “Brilliant, sir! I knew no evil … kopile … could defeat the mind of Nikola Tesla!”
I laughed heartily despite the gravity of our situation and the pull of Morpheus. “Excellent, Mister Thomerson—your long-term memory is almost as good as mine, I see!”
“But … why three mirrors for two people? And what about poor Tippy?”
“Dear fellow, the answer to those questions is one and the same. During our marathon of taking in coffee and passing out water last night, I formed the hypothesis that when the Slender Man is present in his quasi-physical form, all of his stolen children are present as well, if invisible. I sincerely wish that I could save them all, but among them only Tippy knows you and myself, and only he is clever enough to know how to participate in this triangulation … spell, if you will.” I added, with slightly increased volume, but in a manner that would appear to all watching that I was still speaking only to Thomerson, “Only Tippy would know to position himself regarding the third mirror in such a way that he could form the ultimate member of our exorcising triumvirate. Only he would understand that his incorporeal form, which cannot become “tired,” doesn’t need to do so in the first place since his mind is already, by definition, that of a child.”
Thomerson was pleased by this, indeed, but his smile loosened at some inner qualm. “That is aces, sir, it goes without saying. But how will we know when the Slender Man is gonna show up?”
“Attend to the twitching of your eyes, Thomerson,” I said, and motioned him into his position as I assumed my own. “He is already here.”
As my assistant realized what he could see in the corners of his vision, his eyes widened with fear. He whispered, “I can see him. A darkness flittering around, I mean.”
“As can I.”
“Holy sh—I mean, golly—but I think I can see Tippy, too.”
I could see a small shape as well, exactly in the position I had hoped he would understand he needed to take. “Good. Excellent, in fact, but pay no mind to him—keep the Slender Man in your attention.”
“Aye, sir,” Thomerson said, slipping unconsciously into nautical-speak.
“Now, on the count of three, swivel your head to peer perpendicularly into the center of the looking glass. Its angle should put your form to one side and the villain right in the middle. And Thomerson, keep your eyes unfocused. Spying the beast directly may draw you into his dimension despite your post-pubescent age, and I don’t know if I will have the wherewithal to extract you and Tippy.”
“I imagine Tippy understands both the count and the other instructions.” I steeled myself and counted, “One … two … three!”
I threw my head to the right and put my gaze—although not my focus—on the mirror as I had told Thomerson and Tippy to do—
—and there he—it—was.
Waving like a drowned woman’s hair, the dark apparition in black suit and black tie put two of its arms up, its smear-like hands pressing against the sides of its face like Munch’s screaming soul—it screeched like the wheels of a freight train braking at the hands of a panicked conductor—and a black stain opened like a mouth upon the oval head, which narrowed until it stretched into a slender line and disappeared. The scream echoed in my ears even after my weeping red eyes could no longer apprehend its form.
Finally, I was able to move my eyes to see my friend Tippy standing just where he was supposed to be, first smiling and then, seeing that Thomerson and I were truly there—that he himself was truly there—laughing almost to the point of losing consciousness, exactly as a young boy should.