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Here then at long last is my darkness.

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Unexplained explosion in Shenandoah National Park
By LAURA NAYAR
Published December 15, 2010

SHENANDOAH – Those traveling on Skyline Drive today will be surprised to find a few low-flying helicopters marring the view.

Officials at Shenandoah National Park are saying that the police presence is due to a minor explosion in the Dark Hollow Falls area of the park. The explosion was reported early this Wednesday morning. The affected area has been blocked off, and all nearby traffic is being directed away.

A spokesperson for the police has stated that the explosion occurred at a time when no one was in the area. There have been no reports of injuries, and there appears to have been no further incidents. No explanation has been suggested for the cause of the blast, but police are investigating the matter. The cause is not thought to be terrorism at this time.

All trails to and from Dark Hollow Falls and the surrounding tourist sites in Shenandoah National Park have been closed until further notice. If your plans today involved a nice hike in the snow, it might be a good day for a movie, instead.

 

Sender: ========
To: ========
Subject: Shenandoah – TIMELINE

05:15: Park ranger ======== ======== leaves vehicle at Amphitheater parking area, enters forest at Dark Hollow trailhead.

05:30: ======== ======== checks in via radio to superior, reports fog, unsettled feeling.

05:53: ======== ======== contacts base via radio, hysterical. [Audio distortion reported by receivers.] Reports sighting of mutilated corpses. Report cut off.

06:15: Without further contact from ======== ========, park ranger ======== dispatched to Dark Hollow trail to locate him. Confirms reports of fog.

06:40: ======== reports sighting of bodies lining river on either side, impaled through chests by tree branches. Count of 8 bodies in total. ======== starts back to trailhead.

07:00: Contact with ======== lost. Police notified.

07:15: Area shut down. False report fed to media. DELPHI Unit dispatched.

 

TRANSCRIPT – DELPHI Communications System
UNIT BASE to AGENT RACHEL BECK

BASE: Agent Beck, check in.
BECK: Beck here. Made it to the trailhead. [Rustling.] Snowing. Thanks for that.
BASE: Not my fault. Do I sound like God?
BECK: Well, you certainly look like him. And you have the disembodied thing going for you.
BASE: Equipment check. With less sass. How’s your gear?
BECK: All present and accounted for. Cold-weather wear, radio, flare gun, GPS locator, flashlight.
BASE: Arms?
BECK: Still attached to my shoulders.
BASE: Your weapons, Beck. What did I say about the sass?
BECK: You love my sass. Weapons and ammo all set. Can I go into the woods now, mom?
BASE: Let me check your GPS. Give me a minute.
BECK: I’m waving. Does that help?
BASE: GPS operational. Are you nervous?
BECK: We’re being recorded, so no. I’m a brave, seasoned soldier with military training and a fearless heart and a love for my country that surpasses that of any man.
BASE: So ‘yes,’ is what you’re saying.
BECK: Base, you’re always trying to pluck out the heart of my mystery.
BASE: Look who read Hamlet in high school. [pause.] I guess you’ve heard the stories.
BECK: Do you really know of anyone out here today who hasn’t?
BASE: Keep to your path. If you see any other soldier, abort. You shouldn’t, but it’s a possibility.
BECK: I’ve got it.
BASE: You’re go, Beck. Good luck.
BECK: See you later, Base. Agent Beck out.


Rachel Beck halted at the very top of the trail for just a moment. The cold nipped at her face, beneath the cap, beneath the hood, everything snow-camouflaged and dingy-bright. She was looking at the tracks, still there in the inches of new snow on the ground. Slowly filling in. Two sets of footprints, both of them heading into the woods, and none heading back.

The trees at either side of the path were snow-burdened and leaning down towards her, as if in greeting. Creepy greeting. Like a crooked manservant beckoning her into a haunted castle. ’Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the Spider to the Fly.

That’s right. Make everything seem ridiculous.

The woods were quiet. So quiet. Standing at the edge, she could hear nothing from within. Just the snow falling gently against her coat, the tiny, bellish sound made loud in comparison. The natural, muffled qualities of snow weren’t explanation enough; there was truly nothing. It was as though the woods were empty of life. As if the silence was a physical thing, and when she took a step forward, she would break through the membrane of it, like osmosis, and there would be no sound for the rest of her life. No sound louder than the snow against her hood. She took a shaking, frigid breath in.

And a helicopter broke over the trees to her right with its huge, close noise, making her jump half a foot in the air.

“You okay, Beck?” said a voice in her ear. Unit Base, radioing in. “GPS says you haven’t moved in a minute.”

She tapped the device in her ear. “Just standing here scaring the hell out of myself, Base.”

“Wouldn’t recommend that. Bust a move there, Beckers, you have a rendezvous in 2 hours.”

She adjusted the camera attached to her shoulder, then took a step forward. It didn’t feel like slipping through a membrane. It just felt like walking in the snow. “Will you have cocoa ready for me when I get back, Base?”

“With marshmallows and whipped cream. Only I might drink it before you get here. Keep going, Beck, you’re doing mighty fine. Base out.”

Rachel tapped the device off and kept moving forward, her boots making soft, powdery noises with every step. She looked around herself, vigilant, frowning slightly and distantly. It was dark. No – not dark, the way night was dark, but – dull. It was dull. Like the color was drained away. The trees were patterned with old snow, beaten by the wind to collect against the bark, dark against light against dark against light. There was no green, just the blacks and greys and whites of bark and snow.

When she looked over her shoulder, she could see the mouth of the path. It felt much more distant than she remembered walking.

She kept going, leaving her own footprints with the ones left before her. The pale effort of the sun at the top of the trail got worse the further she went. It slid darker and darker by gradients, almost unnoticeable, but that she was hyper vigilant, eyes wide and tracking, hands ready to reach without hesitation for her weapon.

When the fog started to roll past, she stopped. She swallowed past the knot of fear in her throat. She took steadying breaths, thinking about training, thinking about the fact that she was armed and alone and there was very little chance that anything would happen if she was alone.

Then she heard the crying.

She whipped her head around, trying to find the source; direction was totally shot in the strange air quality created by the snow, but she tried, peering through the fog, eyes narrowed, hand on her gun, heart thudding in her chest. And she saw it. Something further up the path. A lump in the snow. Crying out.

She dropped the careful vigilance and ran flat-out, vaulting a downed tree trunk and sliding to a stop in the snow beside – oh, god.

It wasn’t human. It was a deer. A medium-sized doe, lying on her side in the snow, straining her neck and mewling wildly into the air, lips pulled back grimace-tight and eyes huge. There was a perfect incision from the white tuft on her chest to the base of her tail, deep and wide and spilling red, steaming entrails into the snow. Rachel stumbled away from it, gagging, one gloved hand covering her mouth.

She saw something slip off of the path and into the woods.

She froze. It had been human-shaped.

Tall and human-shaped.

She fumbled for the radio in her ear. “Beck to Base. Agent Beck to Unit Base.” Nothing. Static. “Come back, Unit Base.” More static. “Base, is there a soldier in my proximity? Do you have a GPS blip west of me?”She was scanning the trees, eyes wide, breath coming sharp and fast. This was ridiculously high-tech equipment, and yet it wasn’t working. It was supposed to work, no matter what. She could be at the bottom of the Mariana Trench and Base should still be able to tease her about her hair. “Base, please.”

Nothing.

She took a deep breath, and another one. The cold air hit her chest painfully, but it brought her back a little, down from the high, whining panic. She was a soldier, for fuck’s sake, or something like it, and this was nothing yet, so she had to pull herself together. She didn’t close her eyes to ground herself, but she shuffled her feet in the snow, little no-place-like-home taps of her heels, flexing her fingers in her gloves. Still here, still safe, still alive.

She turned, finally, to look at the deer. It was still staring at her with its big black-irised eyes. Rachel had tuned out the scream, internalized it, but it came back into her awareness once again, and it was horrible. It made every hair on her body stand up. She couldn’t let it keep going that way. Fingers shaking slightly, she unfastened the loop over the butt of her gun in its holster, and pulled it out, slowly.

She pointed it at the animal’s head. “I’m really sorry,” she murmured. “Really.”

The report left a dull echo spinning off into the woods. The screaming stopped. She reholstered her weapon and kept moving, further down the path.

The mission was repeating itself in her mind, sort of a coping mechanism, knowing there was a reason she was out here with a thing that would do that to another creature, leave it screaming in the snow like that. Record. Capture. Shoot to kill only if absolutely necessary. Shoot to injure if provoked. Use the netguns, use the experimental weaponry, flash grenades, Electromagnetic Pulse (they thought the audio disruption might be from electromagnetic interference, and an EMP might disable it, or something – they had no proof, but there really was no way of getting proof until someone tried it.) Stay to your path, keep well, well away from other soldiers.

That was the one they had proof for. DELPHI operations had been team missions until it became obvious that this was not optimal for the intended target. It used them. It used people to hurt other people. Kill them, more often than not, their own team members. So team missions became solo missions. This being the first of those. And didn’t that make her feel special.

Soldiers refused to say its name. They called it “SM.” The higher-ups called it “the target,” but she hadn’t once caught someone using the actual name. It was a superstition, and a stupid one, but they all held on to it. She’d heard that there used to be derogatory nicknames cast around by the idiots who thought they were bigger than all of this and that there was nothing to be afraid of – but rumor was, those men died first if anyone was dying, and the names stopped.

She’d really thought it was ridiculous, but now she wished she hadn’t. She wished she’d never seen a photograph of it, snapped hastily back over a running shoulder, or found among the remains of a team, the camera bloodstained and the film grainy, distorted, with tearing and those strange little sounds. She wished she wasn’t an expert on this thing, more now than she ever had before, because it made her feel like there was a target on her back – like when she thought of it, it thought of her, and it knew exactly, exactly where she was.

And, at the bottom of everything, looking down, her weapons might as well have been hitting it with sticks and shouting at it.

She took one more shuddering breath in, exhaled, and kept going.

The woods were darker. Afternoon. The snow was getting heavier, making it harder to see into the gaps between the trees around her. Her gun was still in her hand, and her fingers wrapped around the butt of it squeezed and relaxed, squeezed and relaxed. Each footstep gave a muffled little sound as she went, leaving bootprints behind her to be filled faster and faster by the steadily falling snow. Her heavy winter gear felt like nothing, now; it felt like the cold was coming from inside of her, and her hands and arms and legs felt weak with it. Her breath frosted in front of her.

Her radio suddenly squealed in her ear, and she shouted, half-deafened by it, clawing at it through the fabric of her gloves and hat, trying to tear it out, staggering on the path. It was feedback squeal and static and almost like a baby screaming, and it made something primal and paranoid and terrified break out in her chest, and she was screaming and tearing her hood and hat off and trying to get it to stop with her clumsy, frozen fingers – and finally it came away from her ear. It flopped against her chest, still connected by a wire to the pack beneath her coat. It was silent, and swinging back and forth against the fabric. She was breathing hard, her pulse racing, embarrassment just started to creep red and unbidden onto her face when she looked up and saw a soldier on the path in front of her.

He looked just as petrified as she felt.

He was wax-pale and clutching his left shoulder with his right hand, blood blooming from the wound and staining his skin. His holster was empty. His eyes were huge, mouth opening and closing.

It was less than five seconds before Rachel was crashing off of the path and into the woods.

“Don’t shoot it, Beck!” the soldier screamed after her. He sounded hysterical. “For God’s sake, don’t shoot it!”

The trees were flashing past her at an insane speed, and she pushed off of them, boots sliding on the icy snow, needing to go faster, needing to move away, anywhere but the path where the man was bleeding into his hand. Braches caught and tugged at her coat and she broke away from them, too fast to control where she was going but not much caring at the moment. She smashed her hand against an unexpected trunk and her gun fell to the ground, but she left it behind.

Her compass was on her belt – still running, she dug for it, trying to pull it free amid everything else that was there, all of the useless bullshit they’d sent her out into the field with, all of the little sticks and stones and slingshots that wouldn’t do a goddamn thing if she actual saw him, if he was actually there, and when did he stop being it?

When she had the compass in her hand, she looked down to see what direction she was going in. The needle was going in circles, round and round and round and round so fast. And then she was tumbling over an edge.

She sprawled through the air, then hit, shoulder first, snow against her face, and she was rolling down something steep, unable to stop herself or control the speed, reaching for anything that she could hold onto, but everything was sharp, frozen snow, cutting her cheek and breaking her nose and speeding her on until she crashed through more ice and felt freezing water pour over her up to her waist.

oh jesus christ it was the embankment i’m in the creek

The water was the coldest thing she had ever felt, and all she could do for a moment was try to breathe through her teeth rattling and her lungs shuddering in her chest. Actually seeing the things around her seemed like a ridiculous suggestion because the only thing she was aware of was the way her legs felt as though they weren’t actually part of her body anymore.

With a strangled shout she lashed out in any direction and her left hand struck something solid. She looked. A fallen branch, spread out over the creekbed and into the water. She reached out and gripped it with both hands, then began to half-crawl, half-pull herself out of the water and towards the shore, shuddering and trying not to think about what would happen if she didn’t get out of the woods very soon. But that didn’t really matter.

Because she looked up.

And she saw him.

He was standing at the top of the opposite embankment. He was looking down at her. So tall. All she could do was stare at him, frozen in place, halfway on the snow and halfway on the ice. He had no face. Just gaunt hollows, nothing but shadows where his features should have been, pale and smooth and malevolent. Violently calm.

It cocked its head at her.

She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs just stopped, paralyzed, like the rest of her body, like her mental processes, caught and snagged and held down by the image of the Slender Man standing high above her, and her legs weren’t going to work to let her run, and her weapons weren’t going to work to let her capture it, let her kill it, and there was a whispering at the edges of her mind, something gnawing there, something speaking as if in another room, telling her brutal things, terrible things, and a feeling that there was something off in the distance, miles away and approaching coming faster and she couldn’t outrun it no matter what she did, she couldn’t get away from that stampede and when there was nothing else she closed her eyes.

She opened them.

And he was there. Next to her. Above her. So high above her, reaching down, leaning down, long hand, long fingers splayed wide to take her.

Her flare gun was in her hand and firing up into the air.

When he touched her, she blacked out.

============


Shenandoah Memorial Hospital
800 South Main Street
Luray, VA 22664

Emergency Department

MEDICAL REPORT

Name: Rachel Elizabeth Beck

Visit Date: 12-12-2010

Age: 25
Address:
515 Old Mill Dr
Langhorne, PA 19047

DIAGNOSIS:
Hypothermia
Broken nose
Broken clavicle
Skin lacerations – face, hands (minor)

NOTES
Patient arrived in ED by ambulance from Shenandoah National Park; indicated fall into frozen creek, less than two hours between fall and hospitalization. Injuries verify report.

Patient being monitored for psychological stress. Concerns that shock is not entirely due to hypothermia or injuries. Patient has not yet fully regained consciousness, but speaks sometimes in sleep about a man in the woods. Possible hallucinations suspected. Patient will be fully evaluated before release. Full recovery expected.

EYES ONLY:
Beck on around-the-clock surveillance by armed guard. Possible one-on-one encounter with Target suspected. Taking no chances of Target finishing the job.

 

 

From: =============
To: Beck, Rachel
Subject: Shenandoah

That was good work with the flare gun, Agent Beck. We’ll see you back after the holidays. Prepare to go over your recorded material.

=================

 

Tragedy strikes quiet street in Langhorne, Pennsylvania
By Lacy Trapp
December 26, 2010

LANGHORNE – Christmas didn’t find much cheer on Old Mill Drive in Langhorne, PA while police removed the bodies of Lynn Fountain, 24, and Rachel Beck, 25, from their shared home in the early morning.

Neighbors looked on disbelief from behind the police barricade as Beck and Fountain were driven away. One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, commented that she had never heard the women fight once since they had moved to the neighborhood. “They were lovely girls,” she said. “They kept their house nice and they never bothered anyone.”

Despite that, police are giving a much different story of the relationship. In the very late hours of the night, neighbors reported hearing screams from the small ranch-style house. One neighbor called the police. When officers arrived at the home, they found a terrible scene: Beck had stabbed Fountain, her partner of three years, and then turned the knife on herself.

More information has not yet been released about the exact nature of the injuries. The coroner declined to comment on the case.

One thing is certain, though: this neighborhood will find it difficult to remember this terrible day for many Christmasses to come.