Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Feathers & Focus

A few days ago, Zeke and Wren told me about a plan they had to find Keaton. Zeke said he wasn't sure whether it would work, but even if it didn't, then it couldn't hurt to generally look around. They left Friday, and haven't been back yet.

I'm worried about them. I know their plan, but I don't know all the details and...well, I'm afraid that they're going to run into him. As far as which "him" I'm referring to...well, take your pick. The answer is all of the above.

So to calm my nerves and have a bit of fun, Violet, Ava, Cathy and I sent Tony out to The Greene Turtle, the sports bar, and had a girls' night. It felt bizarre -- almost like PBT back in the old days, but now with two other women, who I never would have known without the events of the last ten months. But bizarre in a good way. In an almost normal way.

We all needed it, to bring us back down to a level we could comprehend. Ava just went through hell in the Magna, lost Reach. I'm still wearing a sling from my attack, although the wounds are healing up quickly. Cathy has been through things that a mother should never have to be put through.

And Vi. She still won't tell me any details of exactly what she did, or what happened to her while she was away. But she's so different from the girl I'd laughed with over sushi last September. She was shy then, timid, even, more content to spend time with her paints than with people if only for the fear that they wouldn't understand her. Now, that sense is still there, but with an edge. A conscious detachment. Riley has been preparing to come down with us, although it would require some shuffling around; once he gets here, we'll be at maximum capacity.

If I'm only just starting to get  to the soldier's mentality, then I can tell that Violet is already there. I see it every day. I just wish I knew what has pushed her there.

During our girls' night, we talked about trivial things. Movies we liked, music we didn't. We gossiped and chirped like old hens and painted our nails like training-bra preteens. We watched The Young Victoria and gushed over the beautiful dresses (and Prince Albert) together.

About halfway through the evening, Ava produced something she'd found in a shop on the Boardwalk: a full hair feather kit. It's become a trend nowadays for girls to put these thin, colorful feathers into their hair, the classier, earthier alternative to gaudy tinsel.

We took turns choosing our colors and clamping them to a tiny strand on each of our respective heads. I got three; Violet, ever the daredevil, got four. Ava stuck with three as well, and Cathy chose two. I chose a green-and-black stripe, a yellow-and-black, and a solid white. The green is much longer than the other two, but I think it gives it a nice layered look.

Cathy went before me; as I got ready and made the final choice on my colors, Ava glanced over and said, "So what will these mean, Celie?"

"What?" I said with a laugh.

"You're building a right meaningful wardrobe. What do these mean?"

"She's right," Vi said with a wicked grin. "It'd be anticlimactic if these just meant, 'look, we think feathers are pretty.'"

"Ah, well," I joked. "Gotta stay dramatic and all that."

We laughed. I bit my lip and picked up the green feather. "This one is for family. It's green because I'm full-blooded Irish, and it's long..." I glanced at the girls. "...because I keep adding to my family."

Ava smiled; Cathy gave a small "aw!"

I picked up the yellow and black and stared at it for a good few minutes. "Emily Dickinson said that Hope is the little yellow bird that perches in the soul. So this one is hope."

The white one was last. I was still thinking and looking at it when Cathy got up, her feathers all put in. The girls looked at me. "Meaning or no, we've gotta put them in," Cathy said with a laugh.

I sat down and let her start, choosing a place to put them quite close and up front, so that they hang down next to my face. The whole process doesn't take more than ten minutes; the feathers are attached to a small strand of hair by a bead that sits flat against the head.

As it fell at last, complete, and Cathy beamed at her good work, I said, "Me."

"What?" Vi said.

"The white one stands for Self. The last time I forgot who I was..." I couldn't find the words; I didn't feel myself reaching up absently to touch the back of my neck until Cathy interrupted its path and took my hand, holding it tight.

I had been the last to get mine put in. We spent the rest of the night determining the meaning of each of our feathers, specific to each woman, qualities and virtues that we admired or wanted to keep close to ourselves. Violet's meant tranquility (blue and black), strength (solid yellow), creativity (solid purple), and resistance (red and black).

I know what Cathy's and Ava's mean, but I'm not sure whether they want me broadcasting it.

And speaking of broadcasts...a project was recently begun involving Maduin, better known as the Jester. After some correspondence, we came to the conclusion that it would be good for there to be a central source where Runners could get information on their friends and loved ones in a quick, easy way, safe from proxies. The result is called The Show, and I'll say no more about it here.

Now that I've wasted at least a page detailing the stylistic choices of the hunted, I should probably go into what this post is really meant to be about.

If we are to have any sort of organization -- and I do believe that organization may be the key here -- we're going to need to shift our target.

Trying to defeat the Slender Man directly has simply not worked. It's been detrimental for most, and suicidal for many more. We need to switch our attention if we want to get anywhere; we need to start defending from proxies first, then him.

Wars are not won by going straight for the general; first, ground must be gained and kept. So far, all I've seen are people losing ground, mostly not to him but to his soldiers. From what I've researched, I've theorized that while he is dangerous -- you don't need to tell me twice for me to know that he is dangerous -- there are certain things he can't do. Whether this is by choice, or coincidence, or just his pure alien nature, I don't know. He needs servants to do the things that may be a bit too nuanced to our world for him to do himself.

That is where Redlight and the proxies come in. Redlight, as far as I can tell, doesn't have a higher authority than the tall bastard himself. Under him is an unknown number of proxies. For some reason, most of them latch onto one Runner or another; maybe the reason is personal, but due to the fact that it happens so often, I'm more inclined to think it's a requirement, or some sort of rite-of-passage. Give someone to the Slender Man, move up in rank? Maybe.

In the end, what we need to focus on is defense. As far as a good holdout, the Gray Haven is physically very well-fortified. We're not going to hunt proxies; as I just said, it seems more like they'll come to us if we need to fight them. All we need to do is keep them from getting in, which I think we can do. I think we can.

At the same time, most of my observations are just theories. It's impossible to know for sure whether or not they hold true.

But it's a start.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Ava arrived a bit sooner than I'd planned, but I certainly didn't mind when she sent me a text message saying that she and the Delmonts were on their way. I helped them bring their things up the elevator and into the apartment. Now there's a grand total of seven people and a dog staying here. Sometimes things get rather crowded, but mostly it's quite pleasant.

When I lived with my father, I always had to watch what I said. I don't know what I'd do if one of my family found out about what we're going through -- if some theories are right, exposing them would be disastrous. One slip, and I could be endangering their lives.

Here, there's nothing holding us back. It's not like any of us don't know what it is we're fighting. We can dig in, keep each other safe, and most importantly, be open. When one of us says, "It's a bad day," everyone else knows that they're not talking about minor trifles or a headache.

When people know what's wrong, and know how to handle it, it's easier to heal.

Ava and Violet have gotten on famously since they've met. Vi has never been the loud type, unless she's angry, but her dry, quiet remarks mirror Ava's wit beautifully. Zeke and Wren don't make many appearances; they mostly keep to their rooms or the balcony, and I think they may be plotting something. Tony and Cathy share their habits.

We could be a sitcom, I swear. Seven misfits, and a dog. We could fight crime.

Last night, I left the Gray Haven at midnight. Ocean City is far south enough in Maryland that it escapes most of the harsh, unpredictable weather of up north in the woods; the sky was clear, the wind just strong enough to ripple my sundress. We're very close to the Boardwalk, so I wandered down along the battered wooden planks, crowds of new high school graduates passing me, paying me no mind except for one or two boys with their friends who shot me half-drunken lascivious looks. I didn't really mind.

I took my iPod from my purse and put the headphones on as I wandered away and onto the cool sand of the beach. Taking my sandals off and stowing them in my purse, I walked along the threshold where the tide was slowly creeping up. Every now and again a big wave would come and soak my feet to the ankle.

Eventually, it got to the point where there weren't any other people out on the beach. Maybe that was unsafe, going out alone. But did anything compare to looking out at the ocean, gaze steady, feet sure, while the sand slowly melted with the waves around me?

My iPod was on shuffle. Over the headphones came the small, warm sound of a ukelele.

"I got troubles, oh, but not today,
They're gonna wash away, they're gonna wash away.
And I have sins, lord, but not today,
They're gonna wash away, they're gonna wash away --"

I felt someone step up beside me, too close to be a stranger. I looked over only to confirm it, but I already knew it was just him; sometimes being followed is as much a protective measure as a predatory one. I unplugged my iPod and hit play again, so that the music came out over the little speaker inside. I looked up at him; he was shaking his head, with a smile that said, You goof. You complete goof.

I laughed -- really laughed, out loud, the way people are supposed to laugh, giddy from the ocean and the beauty. A big wave came and water brushed the bottom hem of my dress; I yelped, stumbling backward, then spun and turned it into something almost like a dance.

Zeke laughed. I furrowed my eyebrows in a playful pout, dropped my purse in the sand, I ran back over to him, grabbing his hand and dragging him into my idiotic dance. With a smile, he corrected my hands, tried to guide my feet, spun me around.

Freedom, I realized. Aunt Michelle has given me so many things, but her greatest gift was freedom.

"Oh, I been cryin', oh, I been cryin'.
No, no more cryin',
No, no more cryin' here.

I got troubles, oh, but not today,
'Cause they're gonna wash away,
This old world is gonna take them away."

Saturday, June 11, 2011


My sentences were punctuated by loud sniffles and coughs as I picked up the phone.

"Hey, bitchface."

"Hey, pukey," Vi's voice came from the other end of the phone loud and clear. "What's up?"

"Still pukey." Sniffle. "What about you?"

"About halfway back from Salisbury. Traffic's a nightmare."

"You shouldn't talk while driving." Cough.

"You sound like you shouldn't be talking, period."

"Fuck off." The glasses clattered against the blender as I poured in the ice and bananas.

"What are you doing?"

Having poured those in, I then reached for the Nyquil. "Making a smoothie."

"You're sick as a dog. Make Zeke make you a smoothie."

"Like Zeke knows what to do with a blender." Sniffle. "Besides, it's my special smoothie."

"Oooh. What flavor?"

I glanced at the label on the Nyquil bottle. "Looks like...strawberry. And banana."

In went the Nyquil.

The moving process was slow and tedious -- a three-hour drive each way makes moving something of a hassle when the ever-so-smart-and-manly males in your life don't want to rent a U-haul. And so, I was probably the only one uncovered in all our collective junk as I sat in the driver's seat with Violet, Zeke, Wren, and either Nikki or Milo, depending on who was willing to help that day, all piled into the car and we talked, bickered, ranted and joked our way back and forth, two trips a day, both of the two days.

On our first trip down, Violet drove. As we approached the city coming down through Delaware, my scent glands suddenly felt a familiar twang.

"Do you smell that?" I said, suddenly, jerking Wren out of a nap against the window in the backseat. I bit my lip. I moved some stuff off of my lap and sat up straighter. "That's not salt -- it's rotting seaweed and other decaying organic matter -- I don't care -- that's the best thing in the world -- that's the ocean!"

I may have gotten a little excited. I looked back at Zeke; he looked caught between confusion and a smile.

Ocean City traffic is always a beast in the summer -- but at least we caught it a week before Senior Week began and the graduating high schoolers flocked down from the entire Mid-Atlantic Region.

Before our last trip down -- the one we wouldn't be coming back from -- I walked through my father's house and reflected one last time. He walked out from the hall and said he would miss me when I was gone. We sat at the kitchen table and had a good long talk. It was obvious that he didn't want me to leave, but I knew I couldn't stay there any longer.

That was Sunday. It was right around morning Saturday when I first started sneezing and coughing, and then about noon last Thursday when my stomach decided that food was way too mainstream for it and that it had to stick it to the one keeping it down (which would be me, naturally).

Violet and Zeke, ever the loving nurses that they are, have kept me either in bed or on the couch and forbade me from touching my computer until today, which is the first day that my symptoms have actually subsided noticeably. Wren, on the other hand, has continued to insist that excessive projectile vomit builds character. I do not like that man.

Fortunately, now we can actually get some work and unpacking done. Eventually, we'll have this place up and running, get a few of the glitches off of the security system, and explore what Aunt Michelle was so adamant about leaving to me.

And I have plans -- oh, do I have plans. Soon, everything will be clear for our first Runner to come and stay here: Ava Conquest. And I've had a bit of correspondence with Maduin the Jester involving plans for a method of communication that's safe from the prying eyes of proxies.

A few more Nyquil smoothies and I'll be right as rain.

Now let's get to it.