Henry Louis Marshall

Found in the Safety Deposit Box of the late Henry Louis Marshall (ex. Lieutenant):

To the Executor of my Will,

First and foremost, this is a confession. If I thought it would do any good, I’d tell you to distribute this somehow; give it to the news agencies or a local TV station. That won’t do any good, however. Most likely it would only cause more deaths. So, for the sake of my soul, humor me by reading this account, and allowing a poor soul to unburden himself.

This whole story began in World War II. Most people who know me assume I never talk about that period of my life either because I’m ashamed of it, or because I don’t want to remember the experience. Neither of these assumptions is true. What we did over there was difficult, but I’m damn proud to have served my country. And as far as the latter charge is concerned, the most horrific thing that happened over there had nothing to do with combat.

This brings me to my confession.

It all started in April 1945. The war was close to over. I was leading a patrol with four other soldiers into Black Forest, Germany. I don’t remember the names of any of the rest of the patrol, and I can’t help but think that I’ve blocked this out. If I can make these people seem less real, then I can make their deaths hurt less.

Things with the patrol deteriorated pretty quickly when we got lost. It was a nasty day. I don’t remember seeing the sun the whole time I was in Germany. It was nothing but rain and fog, the smell of damp cloying in my nose. It was like Mother Earth knew we were at war and had gone into a depression. Or else she was just rebelling from us firebombing the ever-loving shit out of her.

Anyway, the patrol I was in ended up walking around looking at the same moss-covered trees over and over again, while trying to puzzle our way over a soaking wet map and figure out how to use a compass. We were all cold and hungry, and we started to get on each other’s nerves. Sometime near dusk, I got this strange feeling. I figured someone was tailing us, and indicated it as discretely as possible to the rest of my patrol.

I turned around suddenly, my rifle at the ready, and there was a man standing in a clearing off in the distance. He wasn’t in a true clearing, though. He was standing in the middle of a scorched patch of earth where a bomber had dropped its payload.

The first thing that struck me about the man was that he was wearing a suit, like he was getting ready to go out for a night on the town. It seemed like he hadn’t got the memo that we were in the middle of a fucking war.

The second thing that struck me was that he wasn’t right. He was impossibly tall. It was difficult to tell his exact height, but as near as I could discern he was right near 8 feet tall. His arms and legs, even his whole body, looked like it had been stretched. He looked like he had no bones in him, and there was a stillness about him that was even more unsettling. He was maybe 20 feet away, but he wasn’t moving at all. His muscles didn’t twitch and there was no discernible sign that he was inhaling or exhaling.

“Stop! Who are you? What are you doing here?” I shouted, and then when I didn’t get a response, I repeated these words, this time in broken German.

When he once again refused to reply, I motioned quickly, and the patrol and I advanced as one towards the figure, our rifles pointed at him.

“Who are you?” I shouted again, “Goddamnit, who are you?”

Something about him was really starting to upset me. By this time, we were close enough that I could see him in more detail. His skin didn’t fit on him properly. In fact, it looked like a second suit. Underneath his skin you could see movement. It looked like there were thousands of bugs crawling underneath the surface. I couldn’t see his face at first, but as we came closer he turned his head slowly towards us, revealing a gaping black mouth and flesh colored indentations where his eyes should have been.

“Holy shit!” one of my men shouted, and I could hear him scrambling away, his footsteps loudly echoing through the forest.

I started firing into the figure as I unconsciously backed away. This did nothing except leave burn marks on his clothing.

The slender man thing unfolded his arms, and I could see that they were many jointed. It reached an arm out to me, and I turned tail and ran, side-by-side with the rest of the men in my patrol. I could hear myself panting, the sounds of heavy army boots crushing leaves and other forest detritus, and this other sound; a howling.

In my periphery, I suddenly saw some movement. One of my soldiers was thrown by one of the things that this slender man thing had sprouted, the roots or tentacles that were growing out of him like weeds.

The soldier landed against a tree, and I heard his spine crack. He was dead before he even hit the ground.

I turned back around, and I almost vomited at the sight. That slender man was standing over another one of my men, drenched in blood. The organs of his victim lay scattered over the floor. The slender man was moving now, in fact he was nothing but movement. His many arms folded and unfolded, his body roiling, collapsing, and expanding, like waves on an ocean.

Someone let out a scream beside me; another one of my men. He mindlessly fired off the rest of his clip into the slender man. It did nothing.

One of the slender man’s appendages reached out, touching the last of my men, and then that man was no more. He became fog. I can’t help but wonder if all that fog around us once used to be alive.

I tried to back away from this creature, but I tripped over a tree root. He looked at me, sightlessly. I felt as though every hair in my body was being ripped out simultaneously. I could still hear the howling. It’s in my head.

And then it formed into speech.

“Not you. Never you.”

And then the slender man disappeared, sinking back into the grown, like a plant growing in reverse.

I ran after that. I ran mindlessly, for miles and miles, until I found a group of French soldiers. For weeks I felt that howling. For weeks whenever I close my eyes I see nothing but blood and fog. And then I did what people do best. I convinced myself I’d made it up. War is horrible, and some people just can’t cope with it. The slender man was in my mind.

Pretty soon afterwards the war ended, and I was heading home. We had a stop-over in Britain, spent the night there. A boardinghouse down the street from where me and my fellow soldiers were staying caught fire that night. 13 souls were lost. I didn’t think much about it at the time.

Then I went back home, back to Kansas. A group of boy scouts disappeared two weeks after I got home. A couple of cows got killed by some wild animal.

I went off to the University of Michigan on the GI Bill. Six co-eds on a camping trip disappeared.

I got a job in journalism in Missouri. 20 people ended up dead or missing in 5 years, mostly around wooded areas.

Deep in my heart, I knew what this was. I started digging around some more, using my job as a paper reporter to investigate. I found drawings of him, police reports, even government files. He comes from the Black Forest, yes, I know the history.

But I brought him here.

The slender man was in my mind.

He didn’t spare me. He used me. He used me to travel. He must’ve thought the world was ending back in Germany, but I gave him a whole new lease on life.

I got married, I had kids, and then they had kids, but I always knew what I had done. This is my last chance at salvation, my extreme unction, and I’m confessing all of this to you.

Hopefully, you’ll think I’m crazy. Hopefully you’ll let all of this go and fold this letter back up and put it back into this safety deposit box until the paper it’s written on rots away.

If you don’t, then I pity you.

The closer you get to him, the more real he becomes. The closer you get to him, the more people die.

If you’re reading this, then I got too close.


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