Honesty

[The following is a transcript of a recorded conversation between Elaine Logan and Benjamin Vanderwaal on the 27th of December, 2011. Tape begins.]

Elaine: Shall we start?

Benjamin: Certainly.

Elaine: I guess, lets get the raw curiosity out of the way, since that’s clearly what you’re expecting with the recorder and all. What the fuck happened with you?

Benjamin: You’re going to have to be a bit more specific. Lots of things happened to me.

Elaine: How about you just tell me your version of what happened. Start with what the fuck made you decide to go looking for Slendershit in the firstplace.

Benjamin: Well, that’s an easy one. I didn’t really think that the Tree Walker was real. I just thought it’d be a lark to go traipsing around the Black Forest for a few days. Little did I know.

Elaine: Right. So, I guess the biggest question is what was going through your head when you went all crazy and murderous?

Benjamin: That one’s not so easy. [Squeaks as he fidgets uncomfortably in his chair.] I don’t need to tell you how much it changes things when you find out its real. But it was different then. There wasn’t this big community you could turn to for support and advice. This was new, terrifying and there was no one there to help me. My whole concept of reality was turned on its head and I didn’t take that very well, to say the least. As my mind started crumbling, I grabbed on to the first idea I could, anything that I could use to stop myself falling apart.

Elaine: And that idea was killing people? I mean, I’m in no position to judge. I’m just curious.

Benjamin: There was a bit more to it than that. Try not to laugh. Basically, I was convinced that, because this creature was the very heart of darkness itself, that I could only combat it with light. And I decided, somehow, that the best way to create more light in the world was to give everyone toys.

Elaine: Toys?

Benjamin: My father ran a toy company. In my mind, I thought I could use his toy company to make everyone in the world so happy that the Tree Walker would basically be smiled to death, but, in order to that, I first had to make my father’s toy company the most powerful in the world. And thus, I started forcing Marcus and Winston to destroy every threat to his toy company that I could find or imagine.

Elaine: That’s… interesting. So what happened after the big showdown where they left?

Benjamin: Well, Marcus and Winston quite literally walked out on me and left me alone with my father’s corpse. After a few minutes, I collapsed into a sobbing wreck. I was found basically catatonic some hours later by my father’s butler, who covered everything up and arranged to have me smuggled out of the country to the villa in Naples. I spent a few months recovering there and started researching the Tree Walker further. I found the tomes of mythology about Torfhaus and Nebelfort and decided to try and find Nebelfort. So I moved to a house on the edge of the Black Forest and started walking it every day, hoping that I would find the way to Nebelfort or die trying. Obviously, I failed on both counts.

Elaine: So what made you decide to come back to see Marcus and help Hannah?

Benjamin: Well, how could I not visit my best friend one last time? Despite everything that happened between us, I grew up with Marcus, he was like my brother. I knew he was going to do something, I could see it. If he didn’t throw himself out a window with a noose around his neck, he was going to ride off into the night in his car with a sword to try and slay the monster. I couldn’t stop him; if I’d gone while he was conscious, he would have shot me on sight, he admitted it himself. As for Hannah, well, she was meddling in things I’d spent years studying intensively. I just figured that if she was going to be meddling in it anyway, the least I could do was give her some direction.

Elaine: Fair enough. I’m glad you got to see him again. Does it bother you that Hannah got so much further than you did?

Benjamin: No, the only thing that bothers me is that she wasn’t able to get far enough. After all those years, all those hours spent walking through that goddamned forest, the closest I came to figuring out how to destroy it still wasn’t close enough. That’s why I came back here. For years, my only purpose in life was trying to find Nebelfort. Then someone else found it and, after all the work I did, it didn’t make a single difference.

Elaine: [She starts to say something.]

Benjamin: Actually there’s another thing that bothers me. I never got to find out what happened there. She could still be alive for all I know, trapped in some sort of eternal torment. She could be another corpse in the throne room. Either way, I wish I could at least do her the dignity of laying her body to rest. That does bother me. A lot.

Elaine: …I’m so sorry.

Benjamin: I know you are, but I’d rather not dwell on it. Do you have any more questions? These are the only two hours of unrestrained honesty you’ll ever get out of me and possibily anyone else in this world. Don’t waste them.

Elaine: How’d you get past the guilt? [This time the squeaks of uncomfortable figeting come from her chair.]

Benjamin: By realising what guilt is. It’s emotional self-flagellation and you can’t cure that by hurting yourself physically and mentally too. You just have to recognise that you did evil and strive to do good from then on. I wish I had something more profound or helpful, but that’s all there is to it. Learn from your mistakes and better yourself with the lessons.

Elaine: I…

Benjamin: There’s no band-aid, Elaine. You can’t just get over it. It takes years of hard work and patience. In fact, fuck it, you never get over it. All you can do is learn to cope.

Elaine: …I know. That’s what I was doing. I thought I’d finally found my good work, something to really redeem myself…[She sighs.] Doesn’t matter. Why did you want time to prepare for this little question and answer session?

Benjamin: Because…[He sighs heavily.]…I have a degenerative brain disease. My memory is not quite what it used to be.

Elaine: [She gasps.] Well, fuck. I’m sorry.

Benjamin: Thanks. Any more questions?

Elaine: What do you hope to accomplish now?

Benjamin: As much good as I can with the time I have left.

Elaine: I got that part. I meant do you have any concrete plans?

Benjamin: As of right now, no.

Elaine: Um. If you were me, what would you be asking right now?

Benjamin: Well, asking me my biggest regret seems like an obvious one.

Elaine: Sure. What’s your biggest regret?

Benjamin: That’s a tough one. I think having Mark killed.

Elaine: [She shivers at the name.]

Benjamin: Mark was the man who stole my fianceé, supposedly. In reality, he picked her up after I lost her. I had a skewed perception of events, to say the least.

Elaine: Understandable.

Benjamin: Yes. Any more?

Elaine: Why’d you decide to come here?

Benjamin: It’s the closest thing to a home I have.

Elaine: [Silence followed by a couple of deep, shakey breaths.] Must be nice.

Benjamin: It suits me well enough.

Elaine: Do you think this place is really safe?

Benjamin: Not from the Tree Walker, no, which is why I’m only offering a few nights’ stay at a time. The security system should keep out any of his minions though.

Elaine: So you’re expecting to die here.

Benjamin: Unless I have reason to leave, probably.

Elaine: I hope you have reason, then. You’re a good man, I’d hate to see anything happen to you.

Benjamin: [He laughs at that.] I’m going to die whether it’s here or Antarctica, Elaine.

Elaine: I know. But still. [She sighs.] You know what I mean.

Benjamin: I do, I’m just a pissant old man.

Elaine: [She makes to speak, then hesitates. Silence.]

Benjamin: Anything else?

Elaine: Did you ever try to end it?

Benjamin: Before or after the Black Forest?

Elaine: Either, I guess.

Benjamin: Around twenty-eight times, I’d estimate.

Elaine: Before or after?

Benjamin: Both. Perhaps ten times before and eighteen after.

Elaine: [A slight gasp.] Why before?

Benjamin: I wasn’t terribly accepting of my own sexual identity when I was young. You might have read about it.

Elaine: Ohhhh…[A pause.] Wait, so you’re gay? I completely missed that…

Benjamin: I would have thought the bit where I ordered the death of a rent boy who was blackmailing me might have given it away.

Elaine: Right. Now I remember. [She sighs.]

Benjamin: Yeah, that.

Elaine: Hopefully you’ve gotten a bit more comfortable with yourself now?

Benjamin: I have. I’ve really toned down the murderous intent in the past few years.

Elaine: [A faint laugh.] Heh, I know the feeling.

Benjamin: Is that the last one?

Elaine: Well, I can’t think of anything else. Does that cover everything you wanted to get out?

Benjamin: There’s not a single thing I’ve said that I wanted to say except for the advice I gave you about guilt. This was all for Emily.

Elaine: [A pause.] Why do you care so much?

Benjamin: My actions have killed and orphaned enough children. If it’s within my power to help Emily or any other child, I’ll do everything and anything I can.

Elaine: Thank you. For everything.

Benjamin: You’re welcome.

[Tape ends.]

A Point of View

Yesterday, Elaine went to try and find some friends of hers who apparently also live in Vermont. Apparently it didn’t go well for her because she came back here very upset and locked herself in a room with a big bottle of rum. I didn’t like that anyway but when I saw the little Emily looked upset about it, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went upstairs, made Elaine open the door then sat her down and gave her a good dressing-down. She tried to act like her drinking was the only problem but I told her I’d noticed her not eating properly. She tried to defend herself by saying she wasn’t directly harming herself but then I pointed out that just because wasn’t directly harming Emily didn’t mean she wasn’t harming Emily either.

She tried to appeal to my past, saying that I of all people should understand guilt. She’s right, I do understand guilt and that’s why I had to try and stop her hurting herself. After further words were exchanged, she said she would eat more but she said it without even looking at me, so I could tell she was lying. In the interest of doing the best I could for Emily, I made a deal with Elaine; if she promised to start eating properly, I would do anything she wanted for her as long as it was in my power. She took the deal and asked for two hours alone with me during which I would have to answer every single question she asked completely honestly. I agreed straight away.

However, we are not doing the interview for another few hours and it won’t be posted until tomorrow. I want to find Marcus’s old tape recorder first, so I can record this conversation for posterity; I have a feeling that she’s going to ask the kind of questions I only want to answer once.

Merry Christmas, Emily

Happy holidays, folks. I hope you’re doing well.

We had a fairly standard Christmas morning here, in spite of the circumstances in which we all find ourselves. Somewhere along the way, Elaine started buying presents for Elliott and Emily, especially the latter, who, I must admit, we all spoiled today. Elaine showered her in stuffed animals and toy vehicles, while I bought her the entire Artemis Fowl series of books and told her she could take any books she wanted from the library (I’m sincerely hoping she doesn’t take a shine to any of the tomes of eldritch lore). I am assuming Emily liked her presents as there was another round of “glomping” on her part.

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a dinner and I prepared a banquet; turkey, ham, potatoes sweet, mashed and roasted, green beans, carrots, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, cinammon apples, pumpkin pie, fruit salad and plate after plate of assorted cakes and pies. Everyone dug in with gusto and enthusiasm, except Elaine again. To each their own, I guess.

Afterwards, I once again retreated to the library for further research, though I was occasionally joined by Emily, who was racing around the house with a toy plane in her hand. It wasn’t a bad Christmas at all, if I do say so myself.

First Impressions

Today, I got my first set of arrivals. I was in the library reading a book about serial killers when I heard the crunch of gravel as a blue Honda sedan pulled up outside my front door. I got up to greet my three visitors; Elaine, Elliott and Emily of the Take the Myth and 23 Seconds blogs. They were an odd sight to behold. Well, Elaine and Elliott matched pretty well, she with her flame-coloured hair and tattoos, he with his multicoloured bangs and piercings, but Emily seemed a tad out of place with her curly brown locks.

As the three approached, Elaine limping, Elliott slouching and Emily rocketing towards me to engage in what I believe is referred to as a “glomp”, I was glad I had food waiting; even Elaine, though much fuller-figured than her companions, looked like she had recently lost a huge amount of weight and all three were like specters in their clothing. Once Emily was done hugging me and thanking me for having them over for Christmas, I brought them in for generic junk food (chicken wings, potato wedges, cheese sticks, etc.) while I finished putting together the roast pork dinner. After the appetisers, I sent the two adults off to pick room for themselves while the child entertained herself by running around the ground floor and asking me about any minor interest she came across.

When dinner was served, Emily and Elliott devoured everything I put before them, as one would expect, though Elaine was more of the “pick at it half-heartedly” variety of eater, though I’m not sure that that wasn’t just her being put off by the fact that her long sleeves kept getting in the gravy.

After dinner, they went to watch a movie in the media room while I went to the library to do some research. Judging by the occasional echoes of laughter travelling through the house, I’m guessing they’re enjoying themselves. I’m glad. However, I am tired and wanting sleep, so I shall be the old man that I am and retire early. Good night.

The Longest Night

One year and one day ago, a man called Timothy Holiday tried to fight the darkness. He set off into the night with a mask and a sword to kill a monster. He failed.

How many have tried to strike against him and fallen? Too many. And why is it always the best of us? Why is it always those who have dedicated themselves to the highest moral cause, the cause of all mankind? Those brave few who alone are capable of overcoming base human nature and standing against evil in the name of all humanity; those who are brave not because they stand without fear but because they stand in spite of it.

We find ourselves in dark times, friends. We find ourselves acquainted with the night, an oppressive and brutally cold night that binds us with ropes and chains and tries to make us bend and break. It would be so easy to turn our backs on the world, too easy. But we cannot. Though it pains us, we have to keep caring about the world. Those who die trying to fight the darkness are not the only martyrs. Those of us who endure the evils of this world and do not succumb to them are martyrs too and we must continue to be martyrs because if we are not willing to martyr ourselves to the cause of humanity, who is? If we who have seen the darkness at the heart of the abyss will not stand for our race, then who of the ignorant will?

Our memories of the failure, fall and final end of the man called Timothy Holiday, the hero called Zero, are painful memories. But they are memories worth keeping and worth remembering. We can never forget those who have gone before us. If we do, we risk forgetting ourselves. I know that all too well. Remember Zero, friends. Remember all who have given their lives, but remember also those for whom they gave them.

Take on the armour of the light of the greatest cause anyone can ever fight for and you will be able to withstand the evil of this night, the longest night of all existence. Take on the armour of man and, when this is all over, you will be able to stand, not as a martyr, not as a survivor, but as a victor. Take on this armour and we will succeed. Eventually, we will succeed.

Home?

I’m back, I guess. In some sense, this is my home, though I’m not sure to what extent. I mean, yes, I’m from Vermont and, yes, I spent a lot of time in this house when Marcus and I were growing up but…I don’t know really, it just feels like I’m a stranger here.

Anyway, after settling in, I’ve given what I want to do some thought. To be honest, I really don’t know what I want to do, so for now, I’m extending an open invitation to anyone who’s having trouble with the Tree Walker and needs a comfortable place to stay a few nights. I’ve got more spare rooms than I have fingers, so I have no trouble accommodating groups. Anyone who’s interested can drop me a line at mindthestep161@hotmail.com and we can sort out the details in private.