I spent two weeks searching for the Smiling Man's hangout. I stopped going to school. I didn't even come home very often.
My parents thought it was just because Tara was a target but, to tell the truth, that wasn't it. Not all of it, anyway. The way I saw it, I'd had so many chances, so many opportunities to kill the bastard, to stop it somehow, that all of this was my fault.
They didn't do much to stop me, though. They weren't happy, but they understood what I was going through. Or they thought they did, anyway. I miss them. I hope they're alright. I can't really go back.
I still didn't understand just what I was in. I didn't believe in the Slender Man, or "Fears", or anything like that, not really. The Smiling Man was here. I'd seen it. I'd looked into its impossible eyes. And even if I had believed, it wouldn't have done me any good. No two monsters are the same, after all.
Two weeks passed and I just kept getting more and more desperate. Oh, and yeah, it turns out my Dad really did notice his revolver was missing. What a shock. He grounded me but it didn't really do much to stop me. Especially when I learned that Tara had disappeared.
No one told me--of course no one told me, because they knew I would do exactly what I did. But I heard Mrs. Tilllinghast talk to Mom. After my Mom hung up the phone, I overpowered her and tied her up. I bet she's regretting paying for those Karate lessons now.
I loaded myself for bear. Shotgun, rifle, and Dad's revolver went into a duffel bag. Yeah, unfortunately Dad's extra security options for the Colt Anaconda were a padlock on metal lockbox. The latch was not hammer-proof.
You know how I said I'd never been able to find Smiley? That its hideout eluded me for two weeks?
On the day Tara went missing, I walked right to it. An old, abandoned warehouse from the 1800s. One I'd checked at least twice.
The front doors were open. None of this caused any warning bells to ring. Have I mentioned how fucking stupid I used to be?
I'll paint the scene as best I can.
I walk through the doors and there it is, its back to me. Long, unkempt red hair. Torn, bloodstained shirt, sleeves covering what probably weren't hands. Mostly featureless black 'pants' that covered what probably weren't feet. A Smile I could see from here.
In front of it was Tara, battered and covered in cuts, tears running down her horrified face.
I pulled the rifle from my bag and started to line up a shot. The Smiling Man turned slightly to me, and I caught sight of one of its eyes.
Imagine the Sun. Something so bright it's almost impossible to look at, even if you physically try to force yourself to. Reflex keeps you from directly looking at it for your own good.
Now, imagine that instead of being too bright, that the eyes are too wrong.
It saw me.
And then I was bleeding.
It happened so fast. I don't know what happened. I don't know how Smiley did it.
My rifle's pieces fell to the floor, and then a whole lot of my blood, scraps of my clothing, and several pieces of my right eye.
He can cut, you see. I don't know how to explain it better.
Things just get cut. And so, I was cut. My face was sliced almost every which way and my arms were covered in gashes.
I should have died. The eye loss should have killed me from shock all its own. I should have bled out on the floor of that old warehouse. I didn't, though, and I didn't think another thing about it at the time.
Again, I was really dumb back then.
Though, to be fair, at the time I was powered by pain, shock, and determination. I pulled the shotgun from my bag and staggered towards the Smiling Man.
It wasn't looking at me anymore. It was looking down at Tara. She was looking at me, though. Pleading. Shocked. She wanted me to leave.
I put the shotgun to Smiley's head.
I pulled the trigger.
And here's the most important part. The reason I am what I am today.
It worked. Oh God it actually worked.
The Smiling Man's head exploded, as did the rest of its body, into a flash of wrong.
I smiled at Tara, Tara who was fine. Tara who I had saved. And then I passed out from blood loss.
I woke up in a hospital three days later.
The doctors told me that I had just barely survived. They couldn't save my eye. I could tell from their tone that they didn't really understand how I had lived after losing so much blood.
One of the local police came in next. I'm not really sure how much time passed, though. I was still on pretty heavy medication. They told me they didn't really know what had been going on, but they knew I'd helped Tara, somehow. I'd saved her. I'd put an end to all of it. It was over.
Yeah, spoiler alert, it wasn't.
My parents came in and I honestly wasn't sure if I was being praised or punished. Well, except for punching my mom. I was definitely getting punished for that.
And then they left and Tara came in. I'll be honest here. There was a lot of crying. From both of us. Also a lot of squeaky saying "you're my best friend". It..it was kind of embarrassing. But it's also what I look back on and smile at. It was so simple when I thought everything was fine.
I'm going to say this now. Because I know you're reading this, Tara. I love you. I'm not exaggerating when I say I think of you as my sister. I wish we could go to college together. I wish we could just chill like we used to. But it can't happen. It won't ever happen.
Because when I got home at the end of the week, adjusting to my Significant Peripheral Vision Downgrade, smiling at the near hero's welcome I received, resting on my bed was a bouquet.
Agrimony. Ambrosia. Angrec. Arborvitae. Bellflower. Primrose. Thistle. Viscaria.
It was tacky and busy. And it filled my heart with cold dread.
The Smiling Man was in my room then. It smiled at me and then disappeared.
The bouquet had a card. It said one word.
And now here comes the horrible truth.
I was lying to myself when I said it was over. It will never be over.
The Smiling Man has never stopped screwing with me. I am alive because it did not want me dead. Why would it? After all, I am its mother.
It didn't have red hair when it showed up, did it? And that straitjacket? Changed into that long sleeved bloodsplattered thing.
What did it do when I threatened it? Basically nothing except knock me out. You read what happened. It could have cut me literally in half.
But it didn't. Instead, it grew from me. It took a part of me, I think. Or used it to make its camouflage better.
Tara and her internet friends may be its father, but I am its mother. They delivered the concept and, through me, it came to term.
And this is my shame. This is what I feared saying. I am as responsible for this as Tara was.
What does this have to do with anything?
The Smiling Man is playing with me. It's a game, you see.
It starts its little game somewhere. I go find it. I stop it. Smiley starts somewhere else. I go stop it. It starts somewhere else.
If I stop, then Smiley will keep murdering and murdering and torturing and torturing. No breaks. Person after person will die in pain.
At first I thought I was making a difference. That I had the whole Smiley situation under control. That I could worry about other monsters. That maybe, maybe I could be normal again.
But now I see the truth.
I am going to keep going after this monster over and over and over again.
As long as I am alive.