Ben and I had been exploring the town for what felt like hours but could've been months. The whole time, we felt like someone was watching us.
And there was.
As we went to leave the home we'd just checked out, we saw a woman's face peeking into the thin window that framed the front door.
As I opened the door, the lady started to run away. She seemed... vaguely familiar.
And then it hit me.
"Sky?" I asked the retreating figure. "Sky Shale?"
Sky stopped and turned around. "You know who I am?"
I couldn't help but spy on the couple who was wandering around the town.
Then they spotted me. And, somehow, they knew who I am.
The woman said, "Yeah, you're from Ironton, Ohio, right? We grew up there the same time you did. I was Lara Painter back then. This is my husband, Ben York."
"Oh, right! Yeah!" I replied, half-remembering something. "How's my family doing?"
Ben told me, "They're still looking for you after 35 years, even if the police around here consider your missing person's case cold."
I continued, "What is this place? And have you been here the whole time?"
Sky said, "Yeah, I've been here a while, wherever here is. It's weird, like I can't leave. How did you guys get here?"
"Ben sorta stumbled across the trail down here, and I followed," Lara said. "I... I think we're stuck, too. How'd you get here?"
"I don't know..." I started. Then I changed my mind. "I... I was following this... imaginary friend I'd met earlier in my family's vacation to the area. I know I shouldn't have survived here this long on my own, but this... imaginary friend has been helping me."
Ben asked, "An imaginary friend?"
"Yeah, I can't really say much about him. And I guess I haven't really been alone this whole time. There's you two! And there've been other hikers passing through. They stay a while, and then they leave."
"But how do they leave?" Lara asked. "You've said you're stuck here, and so are Ben and I."
I tried to think up something quickly. "I don't know, they're here a bit and then they're gone. Sorry, I gotta go... back... to... my house or something."
I ran off again.
It's been so long since I've seen people around here, even if they aren't old friends. It's like all these people come and stay a few days, but then they're gone the next day. And I know they can't leave, so it makes me wonder...
Where did the other people go? How long were they actually here? How long did it take them to leave?
I know my sense of time has been warped since I got here. And I sometimes wonder if Manny did something to them...
After Sky ran off, Lara said, "Well, she seemed... different. Not because she's older, but something I can't place."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "That sketchy imaginary friend of Lara's... do you think he's Slender Man?"
"Oh, ha ha," Lara said.