Chapter 3: Bound
Hoodie took his time getting back to the cabin. The proxy’s chest felt tight. He used to think saying goodbye to Masky would get easier with time. It didn’t. That beautiful proxy was all he had to give his life a bit of normality. When Slenderman realized how close they had become and how well they worked together, he used his power over their minds to bond them, making them stronger and perfectly tuned to one another. It made them an almost unstoppable force when they took assignments together, but there were drawbacks. Separation took its toll on both of them, but since Masky was the one who went dormant more often, Hoodie suffered the most from it. Anxiety attacks were common and could leave him incapacitated for hours. With Masky tucked away in some inactive corner of Tim’s brain, leaving his partner unable to sense his being, Hoodie’s sanity slowly began to slip away.
“How long?” Hoodie wondered. “How long before he comes back? How long before my sanity finally breaks?”
It hurt him more than anyone could ever know. Being a proxy is hard on one’s mental health enough as it is without all the extra weight Masky and Hoodie carried. Their relationship had developed partly out of a need to feel normal; to have another to rely on, carry on a conversation with, laugh, watch movies – things they would do in everyday life. It was supposed to lighten their burden. Instead it made things worse for both them and their “real world” counterparts. Neither of their other personalities were aware that they were proxies; in fact they knew very little about what happened during the pieces of time that they lost every now and then. It drove them nearly crazy trying to figure things out.
As much as they tried to make the most of the situation, there was just no denying the truth. Slenderman had ruined their lives. There was always a little voice in the back of Hoodie’s head telling him it was so. That voice was subdued by the Operator’s power, for the most part. Occasionally, when Hoodie fell into the deepest part of the shadow that consumed his mind, the voice would become stronger, willing the proxy to end the madness. But he could do nothing. Slenderman’s hold on him was too strong. He could never directly oppose his master.
When the cabin came into view through the trees, Hoodie tried to put those thoughts out of his mind. The sun was at its apex, and those blissful moments of the early morning far behind him. Despite the clear sky, Hoodie walked in perpetual gloom. He couldn’t let it get to him though; he had a job to do now. With Masky gone, it was the perfect time to whip Alex into shape. He’d be on his best behavior when Masky returned; Hoodie didn’t care what he had to do to make it so.
The proxy marched up to the house and threw open the door. Alex looked up from his spot on the couch where he had been sitting watching television. The left side of his face had just begun to get a tinge of purple where Hoodie had struck him earlier.
“Get up,” Hoodie said dryly. “We have work to do.”
Alex said nothing and followed Hoodie outside. They walked a few yards from the house before Hoodie stopped and gestured for Alex to do the same. He turned around to face the initiate.
“Can I… say something?” Alex asked tentatively.
“Make it quick,” said Hoodie.
“I just wanted to apologize for earlier…”
Hoodie studied his face. He seemed sincere enough, and possibly a bit embarrassed about the ordeal. Still, it didn’t make up for everything.
“Well, that’s very kind of you,” said Hoodie. “Very unlike you. Now shut up and listen.”
Alex was a bit surprised by his barking tone. Though, he knew he shouldn’t be after all that had happened. He hadn’t exactly done his best to be friendly to Hoodie… or Masky. Truly he couldn’t help it, though; he wasn’t a full-fledged proxy yet, and the part of his brain that hated Slenderman and resented the proxies wasn’t fully suppressed. Still, he’d already been on the receiving end of Hoodie’s anger twice, and figured he’d better play nice for his own sake.
“You aren’t a proxy,” Hoodie continued. “Not yet. Right now you’re just an initiate, and Slenderman says it’s my job to make you just as skilled as the rest of us. What that means is that you’ll be following my every word. You will not eat, sleep, or scratch you nether-regions without my say-so; and by the end of it you’ll be a bloodthirsty mercenary ready to carry out orders from the head honcho himself. Are we understood?” By now Hoodie was pacing back and forth, barking his introduction like a drill sergeant. Alex was having a hard time keeping from cracking up.
“Uh… yes?” he answered, unsure.
Hoodie stopped in his tracks and stared Alex down. He was getting a bit too into the role, having fun being able to boss Alex around. “What was that, soldier?!” he shouted. “Speak up before I give you something to mumble about!”
“I really don’t know what that’s supposed to mean,” Alex chuckled.
Hoodie sighed. He was terrible at this. It had been a long time since he’d trained a proxy, and before he’d always had Masky to help him, who was much more experienced.
“Just… don’t do anything stupid,” Hoodie summarized.
Alex nodded. “I can do that.”
“Right,” said Hoodie. “Before we get started, do you have any general questions you’d like to ask?”
Alex thought for a moment. “Yeah…” he said. “Why didn’t Tim come back with you?”
Hoodie sighed again. “He’s not Tim; not while he’s here. The sooner you get that through your head, the better. And you’re not Alex; at least not the same Alex you were before Slenderman found you. Alex and Tim are ordinary citizens with jobs, and families, and friends. You and Masky are ruthless killing machines with only yourself and whatever proxies decide to befriend you to depend on. Learn to accept that and things will be a lot easier for you.”
“So,” said Alex. “Do I just go around murdering people as I am, or do I get some sort of disguise to wear like you?”
“That will come later,” Hoodie answered. “You won’t know when or where it will happen. One day you’ll be out as your ‘normal’ self, all of your memories of being a proxy tucked away in your mind where you can’t access them. You’ll stop at a store; buy some clothes, something that can cover your face. You won’t know why you bought it; it was just an impulse really, and you won’t give it much thought. Then the next time Slenderman activates you, you’ll put it on and it will forever become a part of your proxy identity.”
Alex nodded. “Okay. What about my name? If I’m not ‘Alex’, then what the hell are you supposed to call me? Or does that come after I get the costume?” He paused and began to snicker, looking at Hoodie amusedly.
“What’s so funny?” Hoodie asked.
“Well, it’s just… ‘Masky’ and ‘Hoodie’… not very creative, are we? I mean if my disguise includes a scarf, will you call me ‘Scarfy’?”
Hoodie bit back his anger, drawing a tiny bit of blood inside his cheek. He saw Alex’s point, but he still didn’t like having his name insulted; it was one of the few things he could truly call his own.
“Your name will be pretty much whatever sticks with you,” Hoodie answered. “So don’t give me a reason to start calling you ‘asshole’; it’s not exactly any more menacing than my name.”
Alex laughed a little. “Well, you’re right about that.”
“Any more questions?” Hoodie asked.
“Just one,” said Alex. “Why do you do this… play servant for Slenderman? You don’t exactly seem to be ‘under his control’ or anything, and I know I’ve been making decisions on my own since I arrived. Couldn’t we both just walk away right now and never look back?”
Hoodie looked down at his shoes. How many times had he wished that was true? Just explaining it wouldn’t do. Alex was going to have to see it for himself. The proxy looked back up at him.
“Do it,” Hoodie said softly. “Try to leave. Tell yourself this is pointless and start walking home with every intention of never coming back here.”
Alex hesitated. He looked at Hoodie questioningly. Part of him had guessed what would happen before he even started walking. He headed off away from the house, but he barely made it among the surrounding trees before he was overcome by an intense fear. It wasn’t a fear of anything specific; he didn’t even know where it could be coming from, but it gripped his heart like the icy hand of death and made the world around him seem to go black. The nameless shadow crept over him, turning his legs to stone. He trembled as a deep, hollow voice carried by the wind whispered his name.
Panic set in. Pure, unspoiled terror clutched at him, and he bolted back, falling to the ground at Hoodie’s feet. The proxy looked down at Alex as the shadow receded and he began to calm himself. Then Hoodie reached out a hand to help him up.
“Now you can understand,” said Hoodie. “You still have your own thoughts and feelings. Your actions are your own. You make your own decisions. But you can never go against the will of Slenderman. Open disobedience is impossible. This is how he controls you. He doesn’t make you a mindless zombie, incapable of thinking for yourself, just and extension of him. Instead you are his dog, and he holds the remote of your very effective shock collar.”
Alex was still breathing heavily. His eyes were wide, truly scared. For the first time, Hoodie actually felt sorry for him. He didn’t know why. The bastard deserved that and more for what he did to Masky.
“Besides,” he added. “Even if you could disobey him, Slendy would just kill you if you did. Consider this your first lesson.”
“Does that mean I can go now?” Alex asked, some anger in his voice. He began to turn around and walk back towards the house, but Hoodie stopped him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“We’re just getting started.” He spun Alex back around to face him, and then took a step back. “Lesson Number Two: Agility Training. Being a proxy means getting a job done and doing it right. You fuck something up and your ass belongs to Slenderman, and that motherfucker can do things with his tentacles too horrific to even wrap your mind around. Now, so you don’t fuck up, you need to be quick, you need to be quiet, and you need to be able to react to any situation at a moment’s notice. The best way to learn how to do this is with something Masky and I like to call ‘proxy-tag’.”
Hoodie paused and pulled out his knife. He pointed the blade at the initiate and began walking toward him slowly.
Alex took a step back. “H-Hoodie? … What’re you doing?”
Hoodie grinned behind his mask. “Don’t let me catch you.”
Hoodie leapt at him. Alex shouted and ran for the trees, just barely getting out of the way before Hoodie could tackle him. The proxy ran after him. Finally, he’d wiped that smug grin off of Alex’s face. It was going to be so satisfying to have him pinned to the ground.
Alex crashed noisily through the undergrowth. He was too scared to form any sort of escape plan; he only hoped that he could outrun the proxy. It was useless, though. From what he could tell, Hoodie seemed determined to end him. His legs carried him fast, propelled forward by fear and adrenaline, his heart pounding hard, his lungs struggling for air. This wasn’t just a game in his mind.
The hooded proxy was used to the rough path. He glided along almost silently with no more effort than a fish glides through water. His face was twisted into a ferocious smile behind his mask. It wasn’t just a training exercise for him either. The sounds of Alex’s panicked breathing and grunts as he struggled with the obstacles the forest threw in his path made Hoodie laugh. He wanted Alex to fear for his life, to feel helpless and weak.
It was hard for him to control these feelings. His desire to avenge Masky’s injury turned into full-on bloodlust. He had been holding back, letting Alex stay ahead of him, but now he picked up his pace and was on the boy’s heels in an instant. The proxy slammed into him hard, knocking him to the ground, his knife raised, ready to open him up.
“Do it!” a voice screamed in his head. “Make him bleed! Make him suffer, like he made Masky suffer!”
Alex had turned over onto his back and was looking up at Hoodie, wide-eyed. He struggled under the proxy’s weight, but couldn’t break free; Hoodie had him pinned tight. The glint of cold steel caught his eye as the proxy’s arm began to lower toward him.
Hoodie’s arm stopped halfway to Alex’s throat. He couldn’t seem to bring it down any closer.
“I can’t move my arm,” Hoodie argued with himself. “It’s stuck.”
“Make it move, then! He deserves to die. He would have killed Masky if Jay hadn’t stopped him. Don’t pity him!”
“I’m trying. It’s not me. Slenderman must be stopping me. I can’t kill Alex if he wants him alive.”
Hoodie put his knife back in his pocket. The fire in his eyes died and tears welled up in its place. He was glad he had his mask on so Alex couldn’t see that. His stomach roiled, twisting in anger and despair. The proxy began to feel sick.
Quickly, he crawled away from Alex. Nausea drowned all his other senses. The world started to spin as he pulled up his face cloth and began heaving. It took a few seconds before his stomach finally clenched and emptied its contents onto the ground.
Hoodie retched repeatedly, the gritty texture of half-digested pancakes inducing more vomiting as it came back up his throat. Soon there was nothing left to throw up, but the muscles of his stomach and esophagus continued to contract, making him dry-heave. The pain in his throat was like he’d swallowed sandpaper. He started choking up bile mixed with blood.
When his stomach had finally settled, Hoodie tried to crawl away from his tossed breakfast. The smell was horrible and likely to make him be sick again. The proxy managed to make it a few feet before he collapsed, a coughing fit racking his body. He spit up more blood. The taste in his mouth was unbearably sour. Hoodie lay there sobbing, clutching his knees to his chest. He didn’t bother to pull his mask back down.
“I can’t do it. I can’t live with Alex. I can’t train that son of a bitch to be one of us. Not after what he did to Masky.”
“Masky,” he muttered pitifully. “Masky, please come back… come back… I need you…” Hoodie’s eyes began to close, heavy with exhaustion and sorrow. Under the great branches, his sobs died away as he drifted into restless slumber. Even in his dream he could not escape the gloom that had fallen on his heart. Masky lay dormant, their spiritual connection severed until Slenderman would take control of him again. Hoodie was cold… and alone.
“Wake up.” Slenderman’s voice was cold and unfeeling.
To Hoodie it sounded as though he were miles away. His eyes fluttered open for only a moment before falling closed again. The proxy figured the voice was only an echo, a remnant of his fevered dream.
“I said ‘wake up’, Hoodie.” The voice was closer and touched with a hint of anger.
This time Hoodie opened his eyes all the way. The first thing he noticed was how dark it was. The sun was very low in the sky, casting red and orange light of dusk on the world around the exhausted proxy. As his gaze wandered upward it met with the blank stare of his master. He did not look pleased.
Hoodie’s throat was still sore, the inside of his mouth coated in a sticky, acrid film, but he managed to choke out a few words. “Master… What happened?”
Slenderman’s brow furrowed angrily. “I should ask you the same question.”
All the events leading up to Hoodie passing out came flooding to the front of his mind. He looked miserably up at Slenderman, expecting some severe punishment. “I am sorry, Master,” he breathed out shakily. “… I cannot do it.”
The tall man’s blank features angled irately. “Get up,” he said, his voice sounding of utter contempt for the proxy.
Hoodie slowly pushed himself to his feet. He stood swaying, hardly able to keep his balance. The proxy’s stomach felt unnaturally light in his body and threatened to empty itself again. Despite his disheveled state, Hoodie tried to maintain as much composure as possible. Not an easy task; he felt absolutely wretched.
Slenderman folded his long arms in front of his chest and gave Hoodie a single order. “Train Alex.”
“But I cannot, Master…” Hoodie was still breathing slowly and with great effort. “… There are other proxies who could do it.”
“You are the only one who can handle him,” Slenderman insisted. He was getting fed up with Hoodie’s unwillingness to work with Alex. It truly surprised him. Hoodie was always such an agreeable proxy, ready to follow any command given to him.
“Physically,” Hoodie agreed. “But he’s infuriating… always so smug. I cannot look at him. When I do, I see Masky’s face twisted in pain; hear his screams of agony and the sickening crunch of his bones under concrete… I want him dead.”
“I will not allow you to kill Alex.”
“Why not?” Hoodie asked, his voice gaining strength. “He’s no more important than any other proxy. He deserves to die.”
Slenderman was becoming impatient. “A life for a leg is hardly just, Hoodie. Listen to yourself!”
Hoodie gave a half-hearted laugh, smiling gravely. “Since when do we play by human rules? You know this is your fault, right? I wouldn’t be physically sick right now if you hadn’t bound me to Masky.”
Writhing black tentacles shot out, wrapping around Hoodie’s shaking form. They grasped him tightly. Hoodie felt the ground fall abruptly away beneath him as they lifted him into the air. He hung limply, staring into Slenderman’s face where his eyes should have been.
“You will not speak to me in that tone,” the tall man growled threateningly. He tightened his tendrils’ grip on Hoodie’s waist. The proxy gasped at the sudden pressure. His lungs struggled to expand, but he could still take in just enough air to keep from passing out.
Hoodie was suddenly jerked backwards. The back of his head exploded in pain as he was slammed against a tree. A bright flash burst in front of his eyes. His vision swam with a random mix of colors before instantly fading to black. He retched again, gagging on the taste of his own stomach acid. It burned like fire in his throat, making him cough uncontrollably. A small spatter of blood shot out of his mouth and onto Slenderman’s suit.
When the proxy’s vision returned he looked past Slenderman over his shoulder. His eyes opened a bit wider. There was a figure standing beside a tree about ten feet away. His uncovered mouth hung open in disbelief.
“Masky?” He whispered.
Hoodie blinked, and when his eyes opened again the figure was gone. “No, no, he was there.” A hallucination, nothing more. The proxy felt his heart drop suddenly. He began to sob.
“Bring him back,” Hoodie shouted, his voice cracked and hoarse. “Please, Master, bring him back! I can’t function like this. I need him with me. I need him!”
Slenderman shook him just hard enough to snap him out of his panic. “Get a hold of yourself,” he ordered. “Now look at me.”
Hoodie shuddered and brought his eyes up to meet Slenderman’s face.
“You’re going to function,” he said firmly. “You’re going to do your job and not let your feelings for Masky get in the way anymore.”
Hoodie scowled at him, actual anger towards the entity rising in his voice. “You think it’s so goddamn easy? You have no idea how hard it is. Masky and I go through Hell because of you! You don’t know what it’s like to have another’s consciousness be part of your own and then have it suddenly ripped away. The loneliness that sinks in until it’s all you feel. The silence is maddening! You did that to us! I watch Masky suffer every day because of Alex, and I feel his pain in the deepest part of my soul. Now you expect me to train the bastard who did that; to make him part of our lives? Fuck you!”
Suddenly, Slenderman released his grip on Hoodie, letting the proxy fall to the ground like a heap of rags. The impact jarred his body and he gagged, but kept himself from throwing up this time. His body shook uncontrollably, muscles twitching in shock as he tried to pick himself up. He collapsed and looked up at the tall man, who uttered only two words, repeating his command from earlier. “Train Alex.”
He said nothing more. Hoodie watched as he dissolved into the blackness around him. Night lay heavily on the forest, the moon above shattered into little shards of light by the branches of great oaks. Hoodie lay there, his spirit broken. It was hopeless. He could argue all he wanted, but in the end he knew he could not disobey. Defeated, he pulled his mask back over his face and let his quiet sobs rock him back to sleep.