I feel as though I've driven from one side of this country all the way across to the other... and didn't even get a chance to see the world's biggest ball of twine.
He's been appearing a lot more frequently lately. I haven't been actually seeing Him, but... I don't need to. For over a week now, we would be driving along, trying to get to Corey's... but I kept feeling the pressure - the warning - that He was nearing. That He was There. I'd focus for a few seconds to figure out which direction He was in... and so we'd split in the exact opposite direction. Just doing our best to avoid Him. I'm oddly grateful for this little... trick I have. It gives me a better chance to keep us one step ahead.
He also brought Proxies into the matter a few times. Letting me sense the connection there to get me to change direction instead of He interfering Himself. That feeling is... not like the one He has. At all. It's more just a Knowing in the back of your mind. Valerie explained it pretty decently out of the jumble of words I normally use... so I'll just leave it at that.
Even after we eventually got into town, I tried to stay as aware as I possibly could. I didn't want Him to see us with Corey, so I wanted to get out as quick as possible if I felt the change. I'll freely admit that I'm sort of... fooling myself into thinking that maybe He doesn't KNOW who Corey is yet... but even if He does know, I still don't have to take Him by the hand and bring Him to Corey's front door.
Unlike someone else who obviously has no problem doing just that.
To each their own, eh?
We've been exchanging emails for quite a while now. Organizing, cancelling, making up excuses, rescheduling... I thought for sure Corey was going to smack us both over our heads when he saw us for flip-flopping so much. But he didn't. He greeted us with more warmth than Val and I have for each other some days (we're together 24/7. It's not exactly rainbows and sunshine all the time). Invited us in. This time though he skipped right over offering food and drink, and just brought out what he had. Timbits. And coffee. From Tim Hortons. I swear, even reheated it's better than anything I've had this side of the border. No offense or anything, it just... even the STEAM says 'Home.' He said that he makes a run across the border from time to time. Since he knew we'd be EVENTUALLY showing up, he got extra.
Val seemed to like it. But I don't think QUITE as much as us "lost" Canadians. All we needed to do was start a conversation about the weather as someone in another room started yelling "shoot" and it would have felt like I was right back in Eastern Ontario. Normal.
Unfortunately, we were on something of a time limit since we weren't sure when He'd pass by. So we got talking. Catching up with details at first... then he called us liars for saying we were okay. Asking if the girl he had over the night prior had wrote 'Stupid' on his forehead while he was sleeping before she'd left with the $200 she'd stolen from his wallet. He said that we sure as Hell didn't look or sound anywhere near 'okay' and that he'd heard from his mum about the mess I'd gotten myself into back in Canada. Getting arrested and all that. He said that if we didn't want to tell him what was going on, then that was fine, but not to insult his intelligence by saying everything was "a-okay." He did ask me if I was guilty of what they said I was though. I looked him in the eye and said no. He said "fair enough" and we carried on from there. Started talking about the journal. Val mentioned a bit about it here. We showed it to him... with a few pages removed.
Especially page one.
It was the first hint that Steven had started it AFTER he had starting getting stalked:
Call it weird but... it's kinda nice to know that Steven and I both had a thing for art.
Anyway, for obvious reasons, Corey didn't need to see it. So we ripped it out before we got there. There are other little doodles throughout the book... but this one was the most... attention-catching.
Corey told us a few stories of what he and Steven used to do together. Apparently my brother was the one that got Corey into adventuring. Showed the "nerd" the satisfaction of "conquering the world one tree at a time." The guy never stopped smiling as he spoke of their shenanigans. Of all the trouble they caused together that drove both our parents and his up the wall... but, apparently, his were already up the wall to begin with. Rough home. Being able to get out and go wherever he wanted became his sanctuary. He didn't have to listen to the yelling anymore. He could just leave... even if it was out a window. Steven gave him the confidence to do that.
It wasn't until Steven was thirteen that things started changing. He started getting extremely anti-social. Making excuses to stay alone. Steven started having erratic mood swings, constant paranoia, insomnia... just your average reaction to being under His gaze, really. He started bringing the journal with him everywhere and would "pitch a fit if anyone touched it." Obviously, Corey was worried, and although Steven went to him for support, Corey said my brother never spoke a word about what was going on that was bothering him so much.
Sitting in front of him as he spoke about it, it was easy to see how much Corey regretted never pushing the issue.
And then, about a year after Steven started changing, suddenly this guy named Robert fell (or placed himself?) into the situation.
Transcript from recording:
"Like I told you the first time you were here, I met the guy a few times. He was just one of those people that... gave you an eerie feeling right from the first glance. I don't know what the Hell that guy told Steven to get him to trust him so damn blindly, but it was like... Steven had found a rope. And he wasn't about to let go. Even if the other end was held by a fucking snake in the grass. When I told that to Steven though... he'd get mad. Close the issue. Said it had nothing to do with me and so I should back the fuck off. One time, Robert walked in on Steven and I arguing. The guy calmly accused me of being part of the problem. He said that part of why Steven was having it so hard was because of me and that I should show more compassion to my friend. Smug prick. Steven stopped talking to me completely after that. Just said he didn't want me involved anymore...
"I tried to keep in contact for a while, but... eventually I gave up. With that, plus home shit... I landed up dropping out of school, and just spent my time... moving around. I didn't even go home anymore. I just went anywhere and everywhere with my backpack. Learned how to make cash on the side. Steven would somehow get a hold of me every once in a while though. Asking about where I'd been. Where there was a lot of trees. Any abandoned buildings. I always told him what he wanted to know, then I wouldn't hear from him again for ages (We're assuming this is when Steven and Robert were compiling pictures of Him to use as evidence to expose Him to the public). That went on for... about a year and a half, I guess. Maybe a bit less? Then I didn't hear from him at all for several months and I couldn't shake this feeling I had... so I went home. Steven was still there, but he was acting and looking a hell of a lot worse than before... and Robert was gone. Steven only told me they had a falling-out. Wouldn't say over what. Actually, he wouldn't say much at that point... but he was absolutely terrified about you, Michelle."
I frowned. "What makes you say that?"
He shook his head. "Look, I know people change all the time. Kids change faster than anyone. I just... I don't know what happened while I was gone, but when I came back... it wasn't only Steven who had changed for the worst. It was you too. You couldn't have been... what? Ten at that time? And your moods were... nearly bipolar. You got nose bleeds that would take forever to stop. Night terrors. You were constantly cold even when everyone else was sweating. Had chronic migraines where all that helped was putting you in a dark room underneath a blanket to help muffle sound. Steven would stay with you every time it happened... and I can still remember him telling me how you always woke up crying about eyes watching you. Steven took it all hard. Like, REALLY hard.
"Your parents took you to the hospital more than once. You spent quite a few weeks there at one time... and it was during that time that the local Canoe Race was taking place. I actually managed to convince Steven to go in it with me for old time sake. Telling him that the doctors were taking care of you and that he didn't have to worry. I told him they would figure out what was wrong and you'd be okay... I said it would be good for him..." He sighed. "By the time the race finished, the hospital had called. You'd disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Valerie echoed. "How? What happened?"
Corey shrugged a bit helplessly before looking back to me. "You really don't remember any of this?"
I just shook my head. I really didn't trust myself to speak. I felt... like I'd been sucker-punched. To... have a chunk of your life explained to you is... beyond surreal... to be point of being frightening. I didn't remember any of this. I mean, I've always HATED hospitals and then I find out I disappeared while staying in one and then land up... fuck. I'm not getting into it right now. Later.
He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable. "...Michelle, sometimes the mind blocks things off for a reason. Maybe we shouldn't mess with it? I mean... ignorance is bliss, right? What happened fourteen years ago doesn't really matter today, right?"
I think Val was about to say something, but I guess I beat her to it. Though it was in practically a whisper. "I need to know."
He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "You went to where the treehouse is, right?"
"...I figured you knew. If I'd known you didn't... fuck. I'm sorry. I guess I should have made sure that--" He stopped himself. "That's where you were found, Michelle. Not far from where the treehouse is. Deep in the bush. You were still in your hospital clothes and you were... covered in blood. DNA matched it as your own, but... there literally wasn't a scratch on you. All around where you were found were all kinds of... gutted animals. No one could figure it out. Case was never solved. You were... beyond traumatized. You wouldn't talk to anyone or let anyone touch you, not even your parents... except Steven. Only him. He'd hold you for literally hours as you'd stare off in to space. He blamed himself. I could never understand why, but I could see it when I looked at him...
"Then, not even a week later... he was gone. Disappeared into thin air. Your entire family was just... in pieces." He frowned. "You took Steven's disappearance hard, but... I don't know. You'd started recovering, I guess. Talking again. Not the same as you were, of course, but--- Michelle, you're bleeding!"
It was just my arm. It had started bleeding. Probably from stress. Nerves. I excused myself to the bathroom to clean-up and, when I came back, I could only think of one more question I had for him.
"[Corey]... do you know anything about 'The Devil Book'?"
He gave me the weirdest look. I guess it was a harsh change of subject, but I honestly didn't want to dwell on the previous one. Still don't. I'm... still sorting it out, I guess. "'Devil Book'...? What the hell...? That spooks story your family used to tell everyone to freak them out? It was just some stupid devil worship book you found in the attic when you moved houses, wasn't it?"
"That's what I always knew it as. It was a stupid prank. I just remember using it to freak people out with all the shit that supposedly went on trying to get rid of the thing. A joke, right? That's what you remember?"
"Yeah, just a joke. Your brother used to get the biggest kick out of it, but even he told me it was just a dumb book. He actually caught your oldest brother moving it out of the attic and to another spot of the house just to freak your parents out. Once they learned about what had been going, well... it had become a good story. Why?"
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Good. It's nothing. I've been having a few freaks yelling at me about it being real and that they wanted it. I'm just glad I'm not the insane one for once..."
He actually laughed. "'Real'? That's nuts! What kinda wack-jobs are you hanging out wi--" His smile suddenly became a frown. And, staring at me, I knew I wasn't going to like what came out next. He suddenly looked to the journal and photos on the table of him and Steven. "...Fuck. I just remembered... that there was another kind of 'Devil Book' from back then." He glanced between the two of us. "Robert's journal. He had one, just like Steven did. One time, by pure luck, I got a chance to sort of... flip through it while Robert was in another room speaking to Steven." The look that crossed his face was one of disgust, anger... and fear. Even after all these years had passed, I could see FEAR in Corey's eyes. "If there is anything that deserves the name 'Devil Book', it was that fucking thing. It looked old. Like, leather-bound kinda old. The things that were written in there... fuck, he was sick. All kinds of twisted comments and notes and..." He looked directly at me. "Experiments... on people. He referred to them by numbers. Not even names.
"I did the dumb thing. I freaked out. Started yelling. Robert came back... and slammed me back against a wall. Choking me. The only thing that looked enraged was those eyes of his. Two pits of rage burning from the shadows of that fucking hood. Steven managed to break us up... and promptly yelled at me for snooping through Robert's journal. I screamed that it wasn't any fucking journal..." His eyes went back to Steven's journal. "I screamed that it was The Devil's Book."
We spoke for a little while longer, but I felt sick and wanted to go. So we did. Thanked Corey for everything and left. We've been driving since then. Just putting distance between us and him.
I wanted the truth.
And now I have some of it... I don't know what I'm supposed to do.
I don't fucking know.