It was late at night that Glory finally had a moment to herself. She sat in her room with the still wrapped books in her lap but made no move to open them. She had a lot on her mind. Phoenix had been completely silent since she’d condemned him for his murky thoughts about her grandmother, and she was still angry with him. Of course, he knew this and was laying low. It wouldn’t save him an earful or a mindful or whatever a mental diatribe was called once she’d set her thoughts in order.
Once they had given Pop his ATV back and left the forested highways of Pennsylvania, Robert relaxed a little bit. He stopped touching the amulet Nana Meredith had given him every time they passed a shadowy bit of woodlands. He didn’t take it off though. For all that it was made of twigs and twine, it was surprisingly sturdy.
Even when they got home, he was reluctant to sleep. Edgar was tuckered out from the trip, and Ann put him in bed before nine, a new record for him. He was usually up past midnight. Glory had hope that he was finally being acclimated to their daytime schedule.
Robert seemed unable to keep his mind on any task, too restless even to play his video games. Whenever it seemed he might nod off, he got up to wander the house. He made a pretense of going to the bathroom or to the kitchen several times, but in reality he was stealing a glance out every window as he passed.
It was getting close to eleven when Glory finally decided he wasn’t going to go to bed unless she made him. “Robert,” she said, catching him by the shoulders. “It’s alright. You’re safe. Even if that thing can come out to the city, nothing is getting in here unless invited. Go to bed.”
He smiled half-heartedly. “You didn’t see it,” he said quietly. “It just… wasn’t normal. It didn’t belong there. It was like being awake but having your dreams come out to get you.”
“Well, hang this up at the window closest to your bed.” She tapped the amulet around his neck with a finger. “And by tomorrow I’ll have more protections for your room and for you to carry. Nothing is going to get in to hurt you. I promise.” He didn’t look entirely convinced as he stared up the dark stairs. “You want me to walk you up?”
“No,” he replied huffily, but he still hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. He looked around with relief when he finally reached the top and flicked on the light switch that lit up the landing.
Ann was in the living room making a pretense of straightening up Edgar’s toys and looked up curiously. “I’ll be right back,” Glory said. From the glances Ann had been stealing at Robert for the past hour, she’d already figured something was wrong, but she wasn‘t going to bring it up while he was in the room.
Glory snatched the salve from her backpack and made her way upstairs. The little jar was nearly empty, but she could always make more. Glory stopped in Edgar’s room. He was curled up in a little ball with his blanket tangled around his feet and his pillows on the floor. After setting his bedding right, she dabbed her finger into the little jar and drew variations of the elder sign on each of his windows and the lintel of his door. She hadn’t seen the thing in the woods, but that didn’t mean she didn’t take it seriously. It was enough that her grandmother had confirmed Robert’s sighting.
Robert was pale when he answered her knock, and the amulet Nana Meredith had given him was still around his neck though he’d changed into his PJs. “I have a little salve left. I’ll put some wards up tonight, and have something better for you by tomorrow,” she said, holding the little jar up.
“OK.” He went over and sat quietly as she smeared the sign of the branch on one window and the star sign on another. “Those are the elder signs your granma was talking about, huh?” he asked in a tiny voice.
“Yes,” she said, adding signs to the lintel of his bedroom door and the bathroom and screwing the cap back on the jar. She walked over to his bed and set it down on his nightstand. “There’s a little bit of salve left. If you feel threatened at all, use the salve and draw the branch sign right on your skin.”
“OK,” he said, picking the jar up and holding it in his lap.
“Try to get some sleep, Robert. I promise nothing can get in here.”
“Uh huh,” he said, still sitting on the edge of his bed. He yawned and there were dark circles under his eyes, but he didn’t look as though he was going to lay down any time soon.
“Alright, come on.” Glory tugged the blankets out from under him and pushed his legs until he pulled them up and lay back on the bed. She pulled the blankets up over him, though he still held onto the jar. “Everything will be better in the morning.” She walked to the door.
“Leave the light on!” he yelped as she reached for the switch. “I can sleep with it on.”
She frowned, but said, “Alright, but tomorrow, when you wake up and see nothing happened, you’ll turn it off to sleep. Fearing something gives it power. You have to let this fear go, or it controls you.” He nodded in agreement, but didn’t look convinced. She shut the door behind her and went back to the living room.
“So what’s going on?” Ann asked. “I’m sorry if my story about the soldiers upset Robert.”
“No, it’s more what he saw in the woods, and since I didn’t see it, I can’t even tell you what it is… But my grandmother’s been out there for years, warding it off, so I believe Robert saw something.” She briefly described their visit and the thing in the woods.
“Do you think those soldiers were hunting this… thing that your father summoned?” Ann asked quietly.
“I really don’t have any idea. Did you ever hear anything about this ‘Slender Man’ when you were with Scott’s Antiquarian Society?”
“If he ever heard of it, he never said anything around me, but I wasn’t exactly his favorite person,” Ann replied.
“Well, I have the camera. I don’t know if any of the film can be salvaged after the bashing my Nana gave it, but you’ll forgive me if I only let you see the pictures of Centralia and none of the woods. From what my grandmother said, this thing can find you if you see it or are reminded of it in pictures.”
“Aren’t you worried it might come after you, and Robert?” Ann asked.
“Nah. I‘m not to worried about me. I have built in protections.” She ran her hand over one of her tattooed hands. “And I put extra protections on his room and Edgar‘s since she said this things goes for kids, but they’re more for Robert’s peace of mind than out of need. So long as he believes they’re effective, he gives them extra power. There’s already protections all over the house, but Nana Meredith was very specific about what would keep this thing away. I personally can’t imagine it would come all the way from the woods to the city to get him, but the longer he feels safe, the longer he has to forget about it and become safe.”
“I don’t really understand magic, but if you say that’s how it works, I’ll take your word for it.”
to Book 6, part 2, page 13