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Title: A Finely Dressed Gentleman
Characters: Ichabod Crane & Abbie Mills
Genre: Case fic
Rating: PG-13
Status: One-shot.
Contains: Mild foul language, canon-typical violence, canon-typical horror, canon-typical gore.  Canon compliant through S1 E10.  This is written as if it could be an episode of Sleepy Hollow, and contains levels of violence, gore, horror, and foul language that could be found in a normal episode of the show.

Summary: When a teenager goes missing, Abbie and Ichabod must investigate the Slender Man. Can they separate reality from myth before it's too late?

Notes: So this is a bit outside my usual wheelhouse, but I did this Sleepy Hollow story for Yuletide and then forgot to post it up anywhere else after reveals, since it was right around the holidays.  It was fun to play around in Sleepy Hollow, with the show's funhouse mirrors of myth and history, and fun to write something that was a stretch for me.



"Captain," Abbie called as she approached the cluster of police cars and cops outside the house.

Captain Irving turned to her, the lines around his mouth severe. "Finally, Mills. What took you so long? Where's Crane?"

"He's in the car. I know that a missing persons case calls for all hands on deck, but do you really want Crane here for this? He's not trained in search and rescue." Abbie glanced at the house, an ordinary white two-story with neat shutters and a well-tended garden.

"Get Crane and meet me inside. Once you see the kid's room, you'll understand why I wanted both of you here," Captain Irving said, shifting his attention to a map on a car hood that another cop was gridding into search areas.

Abbie started back to the car. Crane met her halfway. "What did the Captain say?" he asked. His eyes scanned the scene. Crane was highly intelligent and adjusted well to new circumstances, but too much had happened to him lately.  Waking up hundreds of years in the future was the least of it. He must be feeling the strain.

"There's something inside he wants us to take a look at. Crane—are you sure you feel up to this?" She watched his face, catching the slight wince before he met her eyes.

"If this young man's disappearance could be related to Moloch or the Horsemen, then we must do all that we can to thwart those dark forces." He lowered his voice further, until Abbie had to lean in to hear him. "I will not say that I am at peace with our recent discoveries about Katrina and—and my son, but there is nothing more that I can do for them at present. So I do wish to be here, Lieutenant, and I hope that I will be of some use."

Abbie nodded. "Work is a good distraction. But if it gets to be too much, let me know. We're in this together, Crane."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." He inclined his head to her.

The inside of the house was as ordinary as the outside had been; nothing pinged Abbie as supernatural. Irving finished a call on his cell phone before waving them over to the stairs. "This is the home of the Nelson family. Allison, Jason, and their seventeen-year-old son Cody. Allison and Jason are at a weekend getaway for couples in Colorado. We've been trying to get in touch with them, but they're on a hike out where there's no cell service. We did get through to the local police, and they'll notify the Nelsons that Cody is missing when they get back to the hotel."

"Who reported Cody missing if his parents are away?" Abbie asked, following Irving up the stairs.

"His friend from next door, Lisa. They go to high school together, and she came to see him this morning when he didn't show up on Friday. He wasn't here, but she found a note from Cody addressed to her, and called the police." At the top of the stairs Irving led them across the landing to a door with several dour-faced band posters and an X made of Caution tape.

"Suicide note?"

"Not exactly." Irving opened the door. Abbie expected more of the same band posters and other markers of a teenager's interests, but what she saw was closer to an obsessive's version of a police case board.

"Whoa." The entire wall on the left side of the long room was clear of any furniture and covered from top to bottom with drawings and print-outs of pictures of a faceless man in a suit and news articles about disappearances and sudden deaths—small town newspaper code for suicide. A large piece of posterboard in the center had a rough painting of a symbol Abbie didn't recognize, which looked like an X with parentheses around it. "I can see why you called us in, Captain."

Crane hurried to the wall, skimming over the articles and drawings. "Fascinating."

"Do you have the note he left for his friend?" Abbie asked.

Irving handed her a bagged sheet of paper. "I'll get you a copy later."

"It's not what I'd expect in a suicide note. Sounds more like he was going off to a fight. 'Lisa, I know I've been talking a lot lately about those stories I found online, but none of it is true. None of it is real. Forget that I ever told you anything about him. Please, don't believe in him. Thanks for everything. You've always been my best friend, no matter how much I screwed up, and I hope I can see you again after this is all over. I've got to go—Cody.' What do you want to bet that the 'him' in this note is that faceless guy all over the wall?" Abbie handed the note back to Irving.

"I believe you are correct, Lieutenant. It appears that young Cody may have credited this creature with these disappearances, judging by the arrangement of these items and the marks he has made on the newspapers," Crane said.

Abbie nodded, studying the rest of the room. All of the furniture was pressed against one wall, an oak bed, dresser, and desk squeezed close together. A laptop sat closed on the desk. "We'll need to see what's on that computer. Can we talk to the friend?"

"She's downstairs in the kitchen. She's not taking this very well, so you might not be able to get much useful information out of her." Irving's phone beeped and he glanced at the screen.

"She's seventeen and her friend disappeared and left her a cryptic note. She has to be scared," Abbie said.

Irving went to the door. "I'll be leading a search through the woods near the house. Look into the faceless man, and let me know if we have even more of a situation than the missing boy."

"Do you believe that a search may find the boy alive?" Crane asked the question Abbie wouldn't have asked. She knew better, after her time as a cop. A search and rescue effort's chances of success went down with the ticking of the clock. Whatever the likely outcome, the search teams always had to believe there was a chance that they could find the missing person alive, but Cody Nelson could have been missing since Thursday afternoon, and it was a Saturday morning in the middle of January. He could have been exposed to the elements for more than a day.

"There's always a chance," Irving said, and left.

"But if this faceless fellow was after Cody, it may not be as much of a chance as we'd like," Crane murmured, his eyes focused on a close-up painting of the featureless face.

"We don't know that yet. Let's talk to the friend and see what she knows." Abbie went to the bedroom door. "Crane?"

He pulled himself away from his study of the wall and she led the way down the stairs to the kitchen.


A small redhead in an oversized blue sweater and leggings sat at the round table in the welcoming kitchen. She clutched a steaming mug in her hands, staring at the coffee with unseeing eyes. Abbie pulled out a chair to the right of the girl. "Lisa? I'm Abbie Mills with the police department, and this is Ichabod Crane. We'd like to ask you some questions about your friend Cody."

Lisa looked up from her cup, her green eyes meeting Abbie's and then skittering away. "Sure, but I thought you guys were going to look for him in the woods?"

"We have teams out doing that right now, but we need to cover all avenues and try to pinpoint where Cody might have gone. I promise you that we will do everything we can to find Cody," Abbie said.

Lisa nodded. "Yeah, okay. What do you want to know?"

"Has Cody's behavior changed recently? We noticed a lot of unusual pictures and articles in his room." Abbie saw Lisa's eyes go to Crane and tipped her head to him. He stopped pacing and came to the table, sitting across from Abbie.

"Lately? The last six months, he's been way too into that stupid Internet meme. You saw it—the Slender Man?" Lisa shook her head. "Cody used to be so different. He wasn't super popular or anything, but he had other friends. Then he just started to pull away from everything and everyone that didn't have to do with that thing." Her voice cracked and she scrubbed at her eyes.

"I know this is hard, Lisa." Abbie pressed her hand over Lisa's.

"Can you tell us more about the faceless fellow—is he the Slender Man that you referenced?" Crane asked, leaning forward.

"Yes, that's him. He's just a joke or whatever that someone made up to scare people. Cody said the Slender Man was real and he'd been around for hundreds of years, but that doesn't make any sense. He's not real, but Cody was totally obsessed with him. He started skipping school, keeping a crazy blog and only talking to people online that believed in the Slender Man. He wouldn't talk to anyone else anymore, not even me."

"But you still came over to check on him. You're a good friend," Abbie said. "We'll need the URL for his blog. Is there anything else you can tell us about Cody that might help us find him?"

Lisa bit her lip. "He thought the Slender Man was after him. He told me that again a couple of weeks ago, and he blew up at me when I didn't believe him. We had a huge fight. That was the last time I talked to Cody." Her tears overflowed her eyes and she slumped in her chair.

"We're going to do all we can for Cody. Thank you for talking to us, Lisa. You were a big help." Abbie stood and walked to the doorway.

"Please find him—find Cody. He's been sick—coughing all the time. He said that the Slender Man made him sick, which is ridiculous, but he really wasn't doing well. I don't think he was eating enough, either. If he's lost in the woods in this cold—" Lisa broke off, the bleak conclusion hanging in the air.

"We've got teams combing the woods right now. We'll find him," Abbie said, and meant it. But she couldn't say what kind of condition Cody would be in when they found him.

Outside the kitchen, Crane spoke low over her shoulder as they went back upstairs. "If young Cody was being pursued by that faceless creature, we may not find him in good health."

"I know. But I couldn't tell her that, and judging by what he wrote in his note to her, Cody wouldn't want her to believe the Slender Man was after him." Abbie nodded to the cop on the upstairs landing. "Can you bring us a couple of boxes, please?" She continued into Cody's room.

"Are we leaving?" Crane sounded surprised, but Abbie nodded.

"The house is the home base of the search and rescue. We might be in the way if we stay here. Besides, Corbin's files could have some useful info on this guy." She tapped a crude portrait of the Slender Man on Cody's wall. "Let's do a search for anything else that looks important."

They searched Cody's room, Abbie systematic, Crane looking for inspired hiding spots. She quirked a brow as he folded himself into odd positions to search under and over things. His search didn't seem to yield any results.

"Teenagers aren't up to a Mason's standards for secrecy, I guess," she murmured.

"Did you say something, Lieutenant?" Crane sat up after feeling under the dresser for hidden panels.

Abbie picked up a photo on Cody's desk. "He kept a picture of himself with his parents next to his computer."

"Unusual for a young man isolating himself for months, perhaps?"

"Yes. Unusual for most teenagers, actually. Isolating himself wouldn't be that unusual if it didn't come with a side of obsession with a faceless monster."

"In my day, Cody would have been of an age to have entered a profession and to court young ladies with the intention of seeking a wife," Crane said, standing and stretching.

"Now that really would be unusual for teenagers these days." Abbie set the family photo down. "He has a picture of Lisa here, too. It must have been hard for her when he pulled away from everyone."

"He may not have wished to burden anyone with his problems."

"But his friends might not have seen it as a burden. If they cared about him, they would have wanted him to rely on them." She turned her head to meet Crane's eyes. She wasn't talking only about Cody now, and she wanted him to know that.

"Perhaps that is so, Lieutenant," he said, but his eyes fell away from hers. "Have you found anything of use to us yet? I confess that I have not."

"No." She went to the grotesque wall and began to pile the papers in a box to take back to the archive. "And there's no 'perhaps' about it, Crane."

He came to the wall beside her, untacking the papers, but said nothing.


At the archive she settled in with a cup of coffee, a sandwich from the drive-thru, and Cody's computer. Crane unpacked the boxes from Cody's wall on the same long table, sorting the papers into articles, artwork, and video stills. He hadn't asked about the video stills and probably didn't know exactly what they were, but he wouldn't let that stop his work. "I found the blog," she said.

Crane swept himself into the chair beside her. "Excellent. How you can find anything so easily on that machine, I am not certain. It seems as if many of the items on this computer exist only to confound a person's efforts to find what they seek."

"That's the Internet, Crane. It's full of distractions and sidetracks and ads meant to pull your attention. But you have some experience with that, don't you?" She smiled at him, her voice sly.

"If you are referring to that woman that propositioned me through the computer when I was reviewing documents, I can assure you I did not seek her company out and refused her advances with the utmost haste."

"You must have peeked at the screen again, though."

Crane drew himself up on a thread of indignation. "If I glanced at the machine again, it was only to ascertain that the lady had not yet retreated from covering my work."

"Sure it was." Abbie took a sip of coffee. "But you know, Crane, if you want to know more about the present time, the Internet is a good resource for you. Learning to navigate it could be rewarding. A huge amount of information is available online."

"You may be correct, Lieutenant, but I would prefer to save such explorations for a time when we are not doing critical work," Crane said.

"Maybe we should sign you up for a class at the community college. Computers 101. But you're right, we need to find Cody now." She flicked through the blog. "That's strange. The last entry is a warning not to read the blog, and it looks like he stopped before he finished writing it. 'Don't read the blog, don't trust anything you see here, don't believe in him—' and it cuts off there."

"Much the same message as the young man wrote in his note to his friend."

"Yes. There's a video a couple of entries back, let's watch it now." Abbie turned up the sound on the computer and hit play. The video showed the Nelson's backyard, shot from Cody's window. At the edge of the woods a thick fog crowned the grass. The video distorted, the frames crossed with static and the audio blurred, but Abbie saw a too-tall figure in a black suit stepped out of the woods. It was not quite human, his arms too long, and his face blank. The video cut out entirely when the faceless head tipped up to the camera.

"It appears that young Cody may have been correct when he told Miss Lisa that this Slender Man was pursuing him." Crane leaned forward to reach for the pile of video stills. "These appear to be images from the video."

"He might have been examining the video frame-by-frame, looking for clues about the Slender Man. But it's also possible that he faked the video. With today's technology, it wouldn't be too difficult to make something like this up." Skepticism was one of a cop's most important qualities. Corbin had taught her that, even as he'd gently pushed her to have the faith to believe in possibilities beyond the norm. "But given that Cody's disappeared and that this is Sleepy Hollow, I think we should proceed as if the video is real."

Crane inclined his head to her. "I agree, Lieutenant. And I am impressed that you are willing to push your natural reluctance to believe without an abundance of evidence aside here."

Abbie shook her head. "We just don't have time for it right now. But I do believe is that this is Sleepy Hollow, and there are forces beyond our understanding at work in this town. It's entirely possible Moloch is the one pulling this Slender Man's strings." She clicked to the first entry of the blog. "We should split up the work here. I think it's best to start from the beginning with Cody's blog. Do you want to read it, or do you want to look through Corbin's files?"

"I will look through Sheriff Corbin's files," Crane said, so quickly it made Abbie smile. "I fear that any contact I have with that machine will only slow our progress."

"Let's get to work."


Ichabod hunted through the files of Sheriff Corbin, spending only a few moments on each paper before shunting it aside. Although Ichabod had never met the man, his organizational system was cleverly arranged and Ichabod had quickly grasped the fundamentals. Corbin had organized his unruly data into divisions by the type of phenomenon: Creatures, Weather, Books, and so on, with further sensible subdivisions. Ichabod was certain that if Corbin had any information on the faceless fellow it would be found in the Humanoid Creatures section of his documents. Abbie did not like searching Corbin's files very much, and Ichabod thought that it might be because belief was almost assumed by the organizational system; why would you search for something in these files if you did not believe in the reality and value of the information contained within?

He pulled out a packet of letters, yellow with age, with a much more recent note stuck to the front. "I have located something relevant. 'Do not read. Do not believe in the Finely Dressed Gentleman in these letters, if you do read them. Be careful.' It is in Sheriff Corbin's handwriting."

Abbie looked up from the computer. "That sounds about right. The Finely Dressed Gentleman? The Slender Man was wearing a suit in that video, and that warning matches the one that Cody put up on his blog. Are you sure you want to open those letters, Crane?"

"You are reading young Cody's writings on the computer, which have the same warning. We need more information, and that information may be contained in these letters. I can see no alternative to reading them."

"Corbin must have read them, if he wrote that warning about them. I wish he would have left a longer note, though. Why aren't we supposed to read this stuff? What does believing in the Slender Man do?" Abbie asked. She picked up her coffee, found it empty, and sighed.

"Perhaps the answers lie within." Ichabod untied the knot in the twine holding the letters together. "I shall begin at the first letter, as you have done with the blog."

He brought the letters to the table, and sat in the chair opposite Abbie, reading.

My Dear Eliza,

Everyone said that the country outside of the City was beautiful, and I have found that to be true. Unfortunately the beautiful country is also lacking in the finer entertainments of the City. The greatest excitement I have encountered in my time here is the gossip at Church on the way out from the sermon. The women of this village cluck like hens in the yard. It is interesting, but not as interesting as the gossip of the City.

I know that you shall wonder about my health, and I would hasten to assure you that I am doing well here. The air is crisp and has a clean scent that the City can never claim. I have seen the Doctor twice this week, and he is most pleased by my Progress.

I shall write to you again very soon—

Your Dearest Younger Sister,

Jane

He continued through the letters, but the top five were all in the same vein as the first, a litany of complaints and commentary from a young woman sent to Sleepy Hollow due to her weak lungs. The replies from her sister Eliza were not in the pile, and Ichabod wished that they were; the unbroken perspective of a fifteen-year-old girl was not of the greatest fascination to him. He did enjoy picking out the features of a life closer to his own time, though.

"Have you found anything relevant yet, Lieutenant?"

"No. The first month is just a bunch of complaints about school, his parents, his clubs—normal teenager stuff. How about you?" Abbie asked.

"I am afraid I have much the same information as you do at present. These letters are from a young girl to her sister, and there is not yet any appearance by the Finely Dressed Gentleman referenced by Sheriff Corbin." Ichabod stood and stretched beside his chair, hoping to reinvigorate himself for the search.

Abbie shook her head. "We'll keep going, then. There must be something here." Her phone trilled shrilly on the table. "Hello? Yes, Captain. I see. We'll be right there."

"Was that Captain Irving?"

"Yes. The search teams found Cody. He's dead."


The trek through the forest took them well over a mile from the Nelson house, according to Abbie's phone GPS. Captain Irving met them at the site and waited for them to duck under the yellow crime scene tape. "Mills, Crane. Search Team Three found the body hanging from a tree."

"So it was a suicide, then?" Abbie asked.

"We're investigating it as a suspicious death. He was hung from a branch fifteen feet off the ground with no obvious way for him to get up there, and no ladder or anything else for him to have stepped off. If it was a suicide, it was damned difficult for him," Irving said. "There's the tree."

Abbie followed his pointed finger to a tall, barren tree. The branch Cody must have used to hang himself was the lowest on the tree, and there was no obvious way to climb up to that point. "That's a hell of a vertical leap," she murmured. They'd already cut Cody down, and his body lay in plastic on the ground.

Crane circled the tree and then crouched beside the medical examiner. "Lieutenant."

Abbie walked to the body and dropped down beside Crane. Cody's body showed signs of exposure and the skin of his neck bunched up where it had pressed against the rope. Abbie figured he'd probably been hanging from the tree since Thursday night. Damn. They never could have found him in time to save him; they hadn't even known he was missing until this morning. "What is it?"

"Look at his arm." Crane gestured and the medical examiner turned Cody's right arm. Carved into the flesh between the inside of his elbow and his wrist were the words Don't believe me.

Abbie swallowed. "From the angle of the cuts, it looks like he used a pocket knife and wrote this himself. He must have been desperate to keep anyone from even considering the possibility that this was done by—" she stopped, glancing at Crane. "By someone else."

"It would appear so," Crane said.

Abbie nodded to the medical examiner and he zipped up the body bag. Abbie rose, Crane close behind her. "How tall was that thing in the video, Crane? Nine, ten feet?"

"It would be hard to say for certain, but I would agree that it was in that range. Surely it would be easier for a creature of that height with oddly long arms to hang Cody than it would be for the young man to get up there without leaving any trace of his climb." Crane raised an eyebrow and Abbie nodded again.

"The looks on your faces don't reassure me that this is all over," Irving said, crossing his arms.

"Unfortunately, sir, we can't be sure that it is over yet. We've found some disturbing things on Cody's blog about the creature he had pictures of in his room, and this—" Abbie gestured at the tree, "—doesn't exactly look like a garden-variety suicide. We'll continue our investigation. I'm assuming there will be an autopsy?"

Irving nodded. "I'll have the preliminary results sent to you when I have them. Find out why that faceless man targeted this kid, if that is what happened. I don't want an epidemic of bizarre suicides on my watch." His phone beeped and he walked away to answer the call.

"You heard the Captain. Let's get back to the archives," Abbie said.

"An epidemic," Crane said, his eyes narrowed.

"What is it?"

"Nothing, yet. Let us return to our work quickly, Lieutenant. There are some possibilities I wish to explore."


Physics is so boring, and Mr. McConnell is the worst science teacher I've ever had. How does anyone ever pass this class?

Abbie agreed with Cody about physics and about Mr. McConnell—she'd had him for science herself—but she was impatient to find something about the Slender Man. She skimmed two more entries and then stopped, scrolling back.

I saw something strange at the edge of the woods tonight after I left Lisa's house. I could have sworn it looked like the Slender Man. That's ridiculous, though. I've been reading too much creepy stuff online. I need to focus more on school. College applications are coming up.

"Well, well," Abbie said, leaning closer to the screen.

I saw him again today. I think. It's hard to tell sometimes, it's just something out of the corner of my eye, something wrong, and then sometimes I can't remember at all.

Abbie wrote a note about the date of Cody's third encounter and added 'memory loss' under her list about the Slender Man.

Today I saw him outside the window at the edge of the woods by the backyard. Lisa was in the room, and I pointed at him, but she said she didn't see anything. How could she not see him? He was there, plain as day. She didn't believe me. I think she's worried that I'm losing it. I have to prove that he's real. I have to make her see the Slender Man.

Abbie shook her head. "That's a bad idea, Cody."

Crane made a sound of agreement. "Miss Jane is also showing judgment of questionable quality at present."

"They were kids. Kids do stupid things. Believe me, I know." Abbie returned to the blog.

It took me almost an hour to set up the camera. I'm getting sicker. It won't be long now. He's going to come for me, and this time I'm going to get it on film. Once I show Lisa the video, I know she'll believe me. She has to. Everyone on the Slendy blogs believes me now. Once I got that picture—but that wasn't enough for Lisa. The video will make her believe in him.

Abbie wondered if the compulsion Cody had to make Lisa believe in the Slender Man came from his need for Lisa's approval or from something more sinister—the influence of the Slender Man himself. He could be like Moloch, compelling his underlings forward like pawns, the way Moloch did with Brooks.

I put the video up. Everyone saw it, thousands of people saw it. They believe it, believe in him. Lisa still wouldn't say that the Slender Man is real. I don't think I have much time left now. I can always feel him nearby. I catch him out of the corner of my eye all the time. He's going to come for me, and this time it'll be the end. It's almost a relief after these months of dread. I'm going to fight. I don't believe that I can defeat him, but I'm going to fight anyway.

I have to fight.

The last entry was after that, with the warning against reading the blog or believing in the Slender Man. Abbie sat back in her chair. Lisa hadn't been able to see the Slender Man when Cody could—was he hallucinating, or could the Slender Man only be seen under certain conditions? It was a power he was given in the Internet lore, but what could those triggering conditions be in reality?

She needed to clear her head, come back to the work fresh. "I'm going to go get some dinner, I'll be right back. Any special requests?"

Crane glanced up, startled. "Please do not get me those oddly shaped breaded 'nuggets' masquerading as chicken."

"Burgers it is," Abbie said, grabbing her keys out of her purse.


Ichabod rubbed at his neck, blinking rapidly. The small handwriting and aged paper of Jane's letters made it uncomfortable to read them for a prolonged period, but there was no other choice at the moment. He needed to finish reading about Jane's encounters with the Finely Dressed Gentleman. They had started in a way that supported the nebulous theory in his mind.

Today Aunt Mary and I visited the local Butcher's wife, whose son has grown ill of late. Aunt Mary cautioned me not to go to the boy's room lest I come into contact with his Illness, but I confess I disobeyed her as the visit was drawn out for hours. The Butcher's son is a boy of fifteen, and I must say that I found him quite Handsome; if he had not been so long ill, I believe he would have had an even finer appearance than Simon Tull.

I spoke to him at length, and I believe I may have stumbled on a most intriguing Mystery; for the boy, whose name is Jeremiah, told me that the cause of his illness is actually a Finely Dressed Gentleman. I inquired if he believed Poison by this Gentleman was the source of his sickness, but he demurred. He declined to tell me any more, but I am indeed intrigued. I will investigate further about town and make some careful inquiries.  I very much wish to find out more about this Mystery.

Ichabod could not fault young Jane for her curiosity, but feared it may have led her to a terrible end. Still, she seemed a clever and resourceful girl, if overly occupied with young men, so perhaps she had found a means of avoiding Cody's fate.

Dear Eliza,

I have barely come into the house, but I needed to write to you immediately. This afternoon I have encountered the Finely Dressed Gentleman. My hands will not stop shaking; I hope you are able to read this missive. When we were in the yard after Church, I saw something out of the corner of my eye at the edge of the forest. It was a figure of great height, much more than the tallest man I have ever seen. His arms were too long and his body so thin that he looked quite wrong. He was dressed in garments that made me certain he was the Finely Dressed Gentleman that Jeremiah referenced.

But the worst thing, my dearest sister, was that he had no face. None at all, he had not a single feature to speak of. My mind could scarcely grasp this Horror. I held the arm of our Aunt Mary and pointed out the creature, but she could not see him. What Dark Magic is this?

I am afraid, Eliza. I feel fear down to my bones. Yet I still feel compelled to learn more about him. You must believe me, he is real. Please write to me soon, Sister. I do not know what I will do without your Wise counsel.

Your Obedient,

Jane

Compulsion—that was a power Moloch had over his followers.  Had the unfortunate young Jane been compelled by the power of the Finely Dressed Gentleman, or had she acted out of her own curiosity? Ichabod knew well the compelling power of a mystery. But there was only one more letter left.

Dear Eliza,

I fear this may be my last letter to you. There is so much I wish to communicate to you, but there is no more time. I believe that the Finely Dressed Gentleman is a Danger to this world, and I must do all that I can to stop him. I cannot think of a means for a mere Human like me to defeat a Monster like that one, but I must try. My health has grown poor, worse than it was in the City. Jeremiah was correct in asserting that the cause of his Illness was the Finely Dressed Gentleman. The more I have seen him, the more ill I have become.

I will fight. I do not believe that I can win against a Supernatural creature, but I will fight regardless. I wish that I could see your dear face one more time, Sister, and that we could hide under the blankets and gossip about Simon Tull again, the way we did when I was well and home.

Goodbye.

Your Loving Younger Sister,

Jane

He's coming now. I can see him at the edge of the forest. Only now have I fully understood my Mistake. Please, Eliza, do not believe anything that I have written to you about the Finely Dressed Gentleman. I have been ill with Fever, and my mind is not entirely Whole. Do not believe me. I am so very sorry. Please destroy these letters. I love you—

Ichabod set the page down gently on the table. The ink was spotted with tears, belonging to either Jane or Eliza. "That poor girl." He was alone now. Abbie had gone to procure a meal at the rapid food vendors. He drew in a deep breath, exhaling slowly. There was so much to consider here.

But first he must yield to the demands of his body. He rose from his chair, heading to the door.


Abbie tapped the steering wheel, waiting for the light to change to green. "Food is going to get cold," she said, pushing out her breath in an impatient punch. She needed to get back, sit down together with Crane and figure this thing out.

The light finally changed. She turned into the police department, parking and reaching into her car for the bag of burgers and the drinks. Something caught her eye near a tree far from the lights of the parking lot. She dropped the bag of food on the seat and reached for her gun. A faceless man in a black suit stood beside the tree, easily eight feet tall. It was tough to keep her eyes on him-the essential wrongness of the thing made her want to look away. She finally blinked, but he didn't disappear.

It was hard to run after him, so hard, but she was a cop. She darted across the parking lot toward the Slender Man. He waved his arm, and the world seemed to melt and sway around her. She felt dizzy and had to stop. She tried not to take her eyes off that thing, but in the space of a single blink he was simply gone. She swiveled around fast, searching.

Nothing.

She fell on her butt on the grass, breathing hard. "What the hell?" She needed to get back to Crane, make sure he was alright. Abbie holstered her weapon and jogged back to her open car. She took the food and drinks with her—if they were going to fight some too-tall evil being, they weren't going to do it on empty stomachs. They were in this fight until the end. Witnesses didn't have the luxury of a night off. "Hours are even worse than a cop's," she said, a wry smile on her lips.


Ichabod strolled down the hall to the gentlemen's washroom, letting his thoughts drift. The archive building was used by no one else with any regularity. Captain Irving had seen to it that Ichabod and Abbie would be able to pursue their important work undisturbed. They were always given advance notice when someone would be retrieving documents or cleaning here. He pushed open the swinging door to the empty washroom.

He'd been pleased to have easily grasped the fundamentals of the urinal based on their similarity to a toilet—the thought of asking Abbie to explain how to use the men's washroom was unpalatable. There were already enough things that he needed her assistance with; relieving himself was not a subject he wished to broach.

He glanced at the frosted glass window set high above the top of the stalls as he moved to the sink. Ice cracked in his veins. A faceless head watched him on a thin neck, blurred by the texture of the glass, but not enough to obscure the lack of eyes or lips or nose. The creature must be ten feet tall to see in such a high window so easily. Ichabod swallowed, grateful that he had finished at the urinal before looking at the window. Being caught with his breeches open by the supernatural would have been too much.

"The Finely Dressed Gentleman, I presume?" he asked, forcing his feet to move toward the window. Pinpricks of sweat broke out all over his body.  The faceless head tipped, as if curious, but it slipped out of view immediately after. Ichabod leaned back against the thin wall of a stall, breathing unevenly. He went to the sink, washing his hands and splashing cool water on his face. But what if that creature was still outside?  "Abbie," he said, and ran out of the washroom.


"Crane," Abbie called as she entered the archive building. He ran down the hall to her.

"Thank goodness, Lieutenant." Crane ran his hands over his face.

"What happened, Crane? Why are you wet?" She went to the archive room, dropping the food and drinks on the table.

"Something did happen, but I am not certain if I should discuss that, or the contents of the letters. It may not be safe for you."

Abbie hopped up on the table, facing Crane. "I was going to say the same thing."

"Then it seems we have both been affected by the same creature. Or perhaps I should say infected?" Crane pulled out a chair next to her, sprawling out in it.

"Infected?" Abbie asked.

Crane glanced away, obviously reluctant to speak.

"Listen, Crane, we both read an account of the Slender Man. Whatever you think that thing is, we need to talk about it. We need to come up with a plan. We're the two Witnesses, aren't we?" He met her gaze and she continued softly. "We're in this together."

He nodded once. "You are right. We are in this together. I finished reading Miss Jane's account of her encounters with the Finely Dressed Gentleman. Whilst in the washroom, I saw the man himself outside the window. He must have been ten feet tall."

"I saw him, too. He was exactly as Cody described, eight feet tall, dressed in a suit, and lacking a face." Abbie tapped the table. "Wait a minute. What was he wearing when you saw him?"

"I could not see his garments because of the height of the window."

"When Jane wrote about him, she called him the Finely Dressed Gentleman, but that would have meant different clothes back then. I doubt he showed up in a Men in Black style suit." Abbie pushed herself off the table, pacing.

"I do not know what manner of suiting that is, but you are correct. What Miss Jane would have considered finely dressed would have been very different. What are you thinking, Lieutenant?" Crane steepled his fingers.

"When I saw him I pegged him at eight feet tall. I'm a cop, so I'm trained to make reliable observations. But for you to have seen him in the window, he would have needed to be ten feet tall. Those windows are high. That means we saw two different versions of the Slender Man."

"What each person sees is dependent on what they believe they will see." Crane jumped up. "Yes, yes, it makes sense. I have a theory. What if this is a disease that Pestilence is attempting to spread?"

"A disease? Spread by the Internet? That's impossible." Abbie crossed her arms. "How would it work? There's no physical means for infection to spread."

"That would be true, if it was a disease of the body. But what if the disease is a kind of spreadable hysteria? It creates a belief in this creature in one person, and that person feels compelled to spread that belief by the disease. As the belief spreads, the creature's power grows and it appears to the infected person more and more, until they are finally killed by themselves or by the creature. The final means of death is not clear, but the fact that this disease will kill is not in question." Crane gestured widely, absorbed in his theory.

"Spreadable hysteria—like the Salem Witch Trials? Isn't that what happened there?  Then it spread to other towns that held their own witch trials. But why use something like this, which can be thwarted if someone doesn't believe, when Pestilence can use diseases like the one at Roanoke?"

"Pestilence draws strength from the number of infected. What better way to infect a huge number of people than through that machine?" Crane pointed at the computer. "From Miss Jane's account, I believe that only the butcher's son and Miss Jane died as result of their encounter with the Finely Dressed Gentleman. Two is not enough casualties for Pestilence to ride forth into this world. But the virulence of this kind of disease would always be limited in the era of hand-written letters. Now, that machine holds vast amounts of information and a multitude of people consult it every day."

Abbie went to the laptop, her brow furrowed. "It's an incredible means of transmission, if it could be used this way. If this Slender Man disease really took off—if millions of people were infected—Pestilence would gain tremendous strength."

"He could gain enough strength to ride forth," Crane said.

Abbie closed the laptop with a decisive click. "No Horsemen of the Apocalypse are going to ride forth into this world if I can help it. What can we do?"

Crane took a drink. "Sheriff Corbin appears to have read the letters and survived, and understood their potential, as he put a warning on them. Perhaps Miss Jenny would know something more about the specifics of his encounter with Miss Jane's letters?"

"No." Abbie shook her head. "If this is a disease, I'm not going to risk spreading it to my sister. We can't bring anyone in on this." She sat down, opening the burger bag and setting out two servings. "Let's eat while we work on it. No sense in running on empty."

"Very well, Lieutenant." Crane sat, gingerly opening the burger box. "What is this?"

"It's best not to ask," Abbie said, taking a big bite of her burger.

Crane shrugged and took a bite. "It cannot be any worse than Valley Forge."

They ate, exchanging the details of Jane's and Cody's accounts before lapsing into silence for several minutes.

"If this is a kind of disease, then it can be treated. Infections can be cleansed. People are treated for mental illnesses these days, too," Abbie said.

"Since the disease grows stronger with the strength of belief, I would theorize that there is a critical weakness to the Finely Dressed Gentleman." Crane set his half-eaten burger down in the box.

"I'm all ears."

"Miss Jane and young Cody both intended to do battle with the creature, but neither one believed that they could actually do it harm or defeat it. Since belief is the key to the disease, I theorize that the most important thing to have whilst combating the creature is the belief that the creature can be defeated."

"Alright, I can see that. The Slender Man is a creature that causes illness and death, and he can be cleansed from this world. I can believe that.  I'm fond of fire for cleansing of this kind, personally. We've had good luck with that before," Abbie said.

"Fire has long been thought to have cleansing properties, and much of your modern sanitation relies on high temperatures to purify."

"Look at you, watching the Discovery Channel at night."

"The History Channel, actually, although I have found that name to be a bit of a misnomer." Crane arched his brow.

Abbie laughed. "You're right about that." She squared her shoulders. "So, cleansing fire. Are we agreed?"

"I am with you for the duration, Lieutenant. If you believe cleansing fire can destroy this creature, I believe it as well." He inclined his head to her.

Abbie nodded, lowering her eyes briefly to conceal how he'd touched her with his firm faith in her. "This all seems to center on the woods, and I'd prefer to take this guy on well away from populated areas, so I think that's where we should deal with him. Let's get some supplies and go after him."

"This Slender and Finely Dressed Gentleman cannot stand against us," Crane said and smiled.


She chose their weapons quickly: gasoline in glass containers for easy throwing and breaking against any monsters, a blowtorch, and old fashioned torches—sticks with rags around the tops dipped in flammable liquid. Crane had offered to make those, eager to contribute to the effort, and frankly he was better at it than Abbie would have been. They went out to the forest. Abbie wasn't sure what would happen here—if they would see the same creature or separate ones—but she was certain that they would defeat it. They'd taken on worse things than this and come out ahead.

The snow crunched under their feet as they headed toward the spot where Cody had died. It was bitterly cold, well after midnight, and visibility was low even with flashlights. The moon was a tiny sliver in the sky, offering the skimpiest guidance. "Conditions could be better," she said.

"It is a bit dark, but the wetness is better to keep a fire from spreading after we kill the creature."

"You're Mr. Sunshine tonight." Abbie smiled, trying to lighten the mood a little. She didn't mind their demon hunting work too much—she couldn't have stopped it even if she had—but the atmosphere got heavy sometimes, and it was hard to deal with the constant gloom that came packaged with the actual end of days. Even if she was in the woods in the middle of a bitter January, she wasn't going to let it get her too low. She'd kill this Slender Man with Crane and then go back to the cabin and have a late midnight snack while watching Crane scoff at the History Channel.

That would be just right.

"Lieutenant." Crane stopped suddenly, staring and pointing at a tree only a few yards away. "He's here."

She didn't see the Slender Man where Crane said he was. "I can see him," she said firmly, putting as much belief into it as she could. The blurry outlines of the Slender Man popped up in front of her, but it wasn't the same as it had been in the parking lot; this was Crane's version. He was taller but just as faceless. Icy horror pooled in her stomach but she ignored it. She stepped forward, throwing one of the glass containers of gasoline at him. It broke against the Slender Man, gasoline dripping down his weird necktie and waistcoat. She pulled the blowtorch out of her bag but was knocked flat before she could turn it on, the air pushed out of her lungs in a sharp slap by the earth.

Crane made a sound of distress. Abbie pushed herself up on her elbows, breathing rapidly. The Slender Man strangled Crane with one inhuman hand, lifting him off the ground. The strength in that lean, inhuman body must be incredible. But she wouldn't let that thing hurt Crane.

She'd lost the blowtorch in her fall but she still had her bag. Abbie pulled out one of the torches with shaking hands, and struggled with the safety switch on the lighter. "Come on, come on," she said, and the torch caught flame.

Crane struck blindly at the creature, but the arm holding him was so long that Crane could never have reached his body.

"I'm going to kill him, Crane! I'm going to burn him down to ash," she shouted. "Believe that! Believe me!" Crane's eyes rolled back. Abbie charged the Slender Man, throwing the torch at him to avoid getting close to his arm. "I killed you," she said, and filled herself with certainty, with belief in that truth.

The Slender Man burst into flames and rocked back on his heels.  He dropped Crane, roiling and twisting unnaturally. Crane coughed roughly.

Abbie rushed to him. She propped him up, his head against her chest, trying to make his breathing easier. "He's dying, Crane."

Crane struggled to speak. "I believe you, Lieutenant." He didn't look at the Slender Man, instead keeping his eyes on Abbie. His hand wrapped around her wrist gently as she held him against her.

The Slender Man didn't burn down to bone; he simply fell into ashes right there in front of them, the fire dropping to nothing instantly. Abbie let her breath out in a relieved sigh. "He's gone." She resisted the urge to touch Crane's face, his throat, his chest, to make sure that he was really whole and fine. He was right here, and she could see that he was alright. "How do you feel?"

"Better now," he said so low that it was nearly a whisper. "Your ability to believe is stronger than you let on, Lieutenant."

"I needed to save you from that thing, and so I believed that I could. Not saving you wasn't an option. But you must have believed that, too, or I don't think it would have worked." His eyes were so blue, even in the midnight forest.

"I believed in you. I will always believe in you. We are in this together, Abbie."

She swallowed. He rarely used her first name, and when he did there was a softness in it that seemed to reach inside her. "You can rely on me. You know that, don't you?"

"I know. I do rely on you, but I do not want to be a burden to you." He squeezed her wrist gently and pulled his hand away, shifting to rise.

"You're not a burden. You could never be a burden to me. We're partners. We're supposed to rely on each other." She stood, offering him a hand up. "We're in this together."

He took her hand, standing with her help, but didn't let go. Instead he bowed gallantly over her fingers, kissing her hand. "Thank you."


"Thanks for seeing us again, Lisa," Abbie said, following the girl into her pristine living room. Crane stood in a corner of the room looking out the window, politely distant.

"No, I wanted to know—about Cody." Lisa perched in a too-big chair, her small frame swallowed up by it.  Her eyes were reddened and surrounded by shadows.

Abbie reached into her jacket. "He had this photo with him when he—when he went into the woods." She handed Lisa the photo.

The girl accepted it, staring at it until tears dropped onto her hands. "This is the two of us at the Renaissance Faire, the year we dressed up in costumes. It was such a good day, just before Cody started to—to go away from me."

"He carried you with him in his pocket. He was thinking of you right up until the end. You were important to him, Lisa," Abbie said.

"Thank you." Lisa curled back into the chair, clutching the photo close. "Thank you."

They left her like that and went to the car. Abbie's phone beeped and she glanced at it. "The AV guys have finished the fake reveal of the Slender Man video's special effects. We can post it on Cody's blog when we get back, and insert some healthy skepticism into the online Slender Man community."

"It feels odd to discredit an honest young man who is now dead," Crane said, settling into the car.

"Yes, but I think Cody would have wanted it this way. He would never have wanted to hurt Lisa or anyone else, not the boy that he was in that photo. What the disease did to him, that's separate. By discrediting his blog, I think we're protecting a lot of people. That's what Cody tried to do with his last blog entry and the note he wrote to Lisa." Abbie started the car.

Crane nodded. "By discrediting them, we honor young Cody's and Miss Jane's sacrifices. What a strange turn of events."

The radio station was laced with static, so Abbie hit the Seek button. ZZ Top came on, declaring every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man. "You've got to be kidding me," she murmured.

Crane laughed.

"Sometimes I think the universe has a sense of humor." Abbie flipped the radio station to Billie Holiday.

"If you believe it, then it must be true, Lieutenant," Crane said, and smiled.







~The End~








Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
devon380black
Sep. 13th, 2014 10:00 am (UTC)
kudos
That was creepy...I like it. Kudos on writing this and merging Slender Man with Sleepy Hollow. I hadn't thought of it as a form of Pestilence but you've made me rethink it. The mass hysteria and fear could strengthen the belief [on an idea and thus give power to it].

I wonder if you'd mind sharing this on the ichabbie LJ community?

Or if I could recommend this?

...this part made me laugh: "The History Channel, actually, although I have found that name to be a bit of a misnomer." Crane arched his brow.

^too true, Ichabod :)

Edited at 2014-09-13 10:03 am (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )