A few months ago I noticed that the viral cryptid known as the "Slenderman" bears a pretty shocking resemblance to our favorite Irken Elite with his Pak legs extended - multiple long, spindly legs, small body, simple face, and an incredible knack for destruction. Zim would probably be more than happy to borrow some pages out of Slendy's book. And thus was born the idea for this story.
If you haven't heard of Slenderman, don't worry. I wrote this with the intent that it would stand on its own in the IZ fan community. Just consider it an outside reference, of sorts. However, there are going to be a TON of references to the "Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom" episode of Invader Zim (it IS my favorite, after all) so if you haven't seen that one in a while, maybe have the script open in another tab or something.
Rating is for (eventual) profanity and violence. Nothing sexually explicit, but expect a few curses (mostly on Gaz's part) and bloodshed about on the level of an edgy CSI episode. I anticipate this being pretty dark, folks.
Oh, and I don't have a beta reader right now because the beta reader-application-process-whatever terrifies me. So if you take a look at this and say to yourself, "geez, I could really kick the crap out of this story," then by all means PM me. I am more than happy to have any unbiased source kick the crap out of it before I foist it on an unsuspecting public, if that's something you'd be willing to do.
Chapter 1: Zita's Question
Hi Skool was a hideous montage of awkwardness. Any number of T.V. specials and inspirational emails had assured Dib that every gawky, pimpled teenager was just as off-balance during these years as he was. As he stalked through the hallways on his way to lunch, watching the other students flirting and gossiping and joking with one another, this claim seemed pretty dubious. Everyone else seemed to act much more self-assured than he felt. He hoped that all those chipper, reassuring adults would at least grant him that.
He hitched his messenger bag a little further up on one shoulder, sidling sideways through a particularly stubborn group of girls. His height made it a little easier to find a path through the other students; Dib had broken six feet at his last physical and was well on his way to cutting the same imposing figure as his father. If he could learn to stop slouching, that is.
Stopping at his locker, Dib took a minute to shuffle around the books in his inventory. History and English were in the afternoon, so he grabbed a copy of Frankenstein and thudded his biology textbook onto the bottom shelf. Other teenagers parted around him like a wave as they walked, with such regularity that he was badly startled when he shut his locker door and saw a girl standing behind it.
"Crap!" Dib squeaked. His voice hadn't sounded half-broken like that for a few years, and he ran a hand nervously through his hair to calm himself down. The girl stared at him until he got over his fit.
"You're Dib, right?" and she lowered her voice conspiratorially. "You discovered that alien a few years ago?"
Staring in disbelief at this lavender-headed girl who knew his name, Dib spoke with hesitation. "...yeah. That was me."
Zita! That's her name! We went to Middle Skool together!, he realized suddenly. She looked much different with her hair long instead of spiked crazily over her head.
"And you know a lot about the paranormal?" Zita asked, still speaking so quietly that only he could hear her. She was still difficult to make out, what with all the screaming the students in the hallway were doing.
"You could say that. I mean, it is my job." He stopped and zipped his messenger bag shut, watching her warily. Sure, Dib got along with Keef and Melvin and a few of the other kids most of the time, but he couldn't remember the last time a random student had spoken to him without reason. He had gone from being systematically mocked to mostly ignored, like a distasteful piece of furniture. "Oh, don't mind the Dib in the corner. Belonged to a previous owner, you see. We're having it sent away as soon as possible." They acknowledged him when they had to, usually polite but rarely kindly or with interest. Nothing more, nothing less.
Zita was starting to seem frustrated at his refusal to talk. "Well...what do you know about ghosts? Like, how can you tell the difference between things a ghost does and just...weird stuff happening?"
"That would depend on the type of ghost, mostly. A residual ghost would just make noises, lights, that kind of thing. An intelligent ghost could probably move objects or try and communicate. Why?" Despite his defensive instincts, despite his desire to avoid putting himself in a situation to be made fun of, Dib's curiosity had been piqued. It was hard for him to walk away from a question about the paranormal. Especially one that seemed serious.
"Hehe - it's actually sort of a funny story." She gave a silly giggle and Dib resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Torque and I were...hanging out at the abandoned asylum across town. He likes to go there because it's technically trespassing and he's such a daredevil. You know the one, I think - the Crazy House?"
"Oh, you mean the Crazy House for Boys? Yeah, I think I've got some clue what you're talking about." Dib said, feeling vaguely ill at having the place brought up. His mind quickly shuttled this out of the way with a spike of anger - it had been Zita herself who'd sentenced him to a narrowly-escaped life locked in a padded cell, all those years ago in middle skool when his ravings had annoyed her.
Dib slammed his locker door shut with a jarring clang, feeling no remorse as Zita flinched at the sound. "You've got a lot of nerve, you know? I've been quiet since seventh grade; I haven't bothered anybody, so I don't know where you get off by bringing that godforsaken place up. If you wanted to call me crazy you could have just done it to my face instead of making up some stupid ghost story."
She stared up at him for a moment in wide-eyed confusion, probably deliberating whether to laugh at him or run away. Then a light of recognition glimmered somewhere amidst all the eye shadow and she whispered "oh" very softly. Dib wasn't surprised when it took her a bit to recall the incident - what had been a nearly life-ruining day of terror for him was, of course, a footnote in the Perfectly Normal Life of Zita.
"C'mon Dib, you can't really still be mad about that whole Crazy Card thing? We were just kids then. I'm being serious. You don't think I'd risk talking to someone as uncool as you if I didn't have a real question, do you?" she said, with a frustrated breathiness as though he was being unreasonable.
Classy. Maybe if you wait around long enough she'll insult your sister, too.
Dib grimaced a little and turned away from her, unwilling to argue or tolerate Zita's mockery any further. He made it about two feet down the hall before he felt her hand on his arm, tugging him roughly backwards. He froze almost mid-step despite his distaste for her; a girl touching his arm was no common occurrence.
"Okay, I'm sorry. That was lame. Just listen to this, okay?" Her voice was a little softer now, less demanding.
Dib recognized some familiarity in her plea to be acknowledged. He'd heard the same tone in his own voice, whenever one of his discoveries went ignored by his peers.
"Make it quick." he said shortly. "The line at lunch is going to be a bitch."
Zita tossed her hair dramatically before beginning her story. "So like I said, Torque and I were hanging out at what's left of the Crazy House, and we kept hearing these weird noises. Up on the higher floors, you know? I thought it sounded like screaming, but Torque said it was more like metal - he said it reminded him of the way monster trucks sound when they scrape against each other."
"Did you notice anything else weird while you were there? Stuff that looked like it had been moved recently, footprints that weren't yours, that kind of thing?" Dib asked, settling more comfortably into his role as an investigator. Thinking about this conversation as an interview and not an awkward rehashing of childhood traumas seemed to at least calm his nerves a bit.
"I don't think - I mean, I wasn't looking at the scenery a whole lot, you know? Hehe. Oh! But I do remember that when I went to get up off the ground, I saw a lot of little markings on the floor. Like, you know when you move a piece of furniture off the carpet, and it'll leave round, flat spots behind? I remember seeing those everywhere once I started noticing them." Zita waved her hands distractingly as she spoke, revealing flashes of gaudy violet nail polish.
"That's...kind of unusual, I guess. Marks on the floor probably wouldn't last since the place was shut down. And screaming in an abandoned building is always suspicious. Especially one with a lot of negative energy." Dib said, with deliberate evenness.
Tapping her foot in obvious impatience against the ground, Zita crossed her arms across her chest and glared up at him. "So what do you think? Does that sound like a ghost?"
"I don't know. It sounds like there's a good chance of paranormal activity, but I'd have to check the place out myself. Gather some empirical evidence, do some research on the history. See how many kids died there, you know the drill."
If Zita noticed or cared about his bitter emphasis, she gave no indication, and Dib realized it was pointless to try and make her feel badly about the six-year-old damage she'd done him. Her brain probably didn't even have a "guilt" setting. Dib had to admit that he envied her that.
"Well, in that case, you're welcome. It's probably not every day that you get a new case handed to you. But if finding a ghost in the Crazy House makes you famous like finding that alien did, you better give Torque and I some credit. We knew about it first, after all. Anyway, I have to go to lunch. My friends are probably wondering what I'm doing."
With that Zita pivoted neatly on one high-heeled foot, leaving him gawking angrily at the spot where she'd been standing before she disappeared into the throng of rushing students. Dib gave a rattling sigh of frustration, only half believing that the whole exchange had even taken place - he wondered vaguely if Zita made a habit of talking down to "uncool" students like himself, just to remind him of their place on the social ladder.
This made Dib feel a little better about technically lying to her by pretending that he had any intention of carrying out an investigation in the Crazy House. There wasn't a force in heaven or hell that could drag Dib back to that place. If Zita wanted to get famous by discovering a ghost there, she and Torque would have to do it on their own time. Maybe they'd get eaten halfway through like in some straight-to-video horror movie.
Dib started making his way toward the cafeteria, shoving moodily past any of the many students that were shorter than him. Without really thinking, Dib's right ring finger found its way to his mouth and he gnawed nervously at what was left of the nail as he walked. The metallic taste of blood did little to discourage him; there was a thin layer of caked crimson embedded in each of his cuticles from his near-constant nail-biting.
Aggravated though he was by Zita's harassment, standing in the lunch line and chewing the tips of his fingers calmed Dib down considerably. Other students pushed by him with deliberate indifference, only casting him the occasional weird look. Right. He'd forgotten that waiting in line alone with your fingers in your mouth tended to freak people out. He wiped his hands on his pants and jammed them into the pockets of his jeans instead, hoping to avoid any more distasteful glares.
Dib wasn't even sure what lunch was today. He took his serving of horribleness from one of the cafeteria drones, feeling whatever-it-was squirm slightly on his tray as he turned to the lunchroom. A battlefield of tables and screaming students stretched before him. For a second or two Dib glanced around, looking for a flash of violet hair - Gaz rarely let him sit with her anymore, now that she had her own sorry excuses for friends. But he still liked to know where she was, at least.
"Move it, Membrane! Some of us already have a place to sit, you know!" Torque rammed the edge of his own tray roughly into Dib's back from behind him in the line, inching him forward.
"Sorry. I'm going."
Keef and Melvin usually had room at their table. If he got there late they would even pull a chair up to the short end for him, a kindness that he still found surprising. Dib clattered his tray down between the two other boys, trying to catch up in the conversation.
"You can't still be arguing this," Keef was saying in exasperation. "Leia never had a thing for Luke. Period. She just screwed with his head to get back at Han Solo."
Melvin slammed his fork down on the table, nearly spearing the sleeve of Dib's jacket. "Yeah, and Han believed it! There had to have been chemistry there somewhere. And you have to give me that Luke wanted to get with Leia, no holds barred."
"Yeah, as part of his princess-saving fetish, maybe. What do you think, Dib?" Keef asked him, looking on with reddish eyes.
"I dunno. I never really paid much attention to the Leia-Luke dynamic. She ends up with Han in the end, so what difference does it make?" He took a sip of chocolate milk and rolled his eyes as Melvin and Keef each groaned at him in turn.
"It makes all the difference!" shrieked Melvin. "We're just gonna have to watch them again and go over this point-by-point. Either of you guys free tonight?"
"Oh, wait. Let me just check my calendar." Keef pantomimed opening a book and scrutinized its imaginary pages. "Well, if I move back that supermodel party and don't bang Catherine Zeta-Jones until tomorrow, I should be able to fit it in."
Dib snorted in appreciation. "Geez, Keef. Don't you think she's a little old for you?"
"Good question. I was definitely old enough for your mom last night, though. Burn!" Keef held up one hand for a high-five, and then wilted visibly when no one took him up on the offer.
"What about you, Dib? Can you make it over to my place tonight? I bet my mom would even let us get Chinese!" Melvin asked, pointedly ignoring Keef's antics.
For a very uncomfortable thirty seconds or so, Dib chewed reflectively on his bite of food while he thought. These kinds of invitations were rare for him. There seemed to be some kind of social barrier between talking to people at lunch and hanging out with them outside of school that he was never quite able to cross.
Then again, Dib had never been one to choose social standing over duty.
"I'd really like to." he said, choking down the last bit of hopefully-meat. "But I've got work at the Paranormal Investigation firm. Today's really important, too - Agent Bill is giving me my first solo case."
"You have work on a Friday? At your ghost-hunting job?" Melvin asked, eyebrow raised and voice sharp in some combination of surprise and suspicion.
"Sure. That way I'm not hunting down vampires on a school night. I'm sorry, guys. I'll have to watch Star Wars with you some other time." Dib tried his best to sound apologetic, but he still wasn't sure that Keef or Melvin thought much of his excuse. He slumped down a little in his chair, picking idly at the lunch that he would rather paint himself with than eat.
"That's okay, Dib. At least you have an after-school job that you like. My mom's been trying to get me to apply to MacMeaties for months." Keef said cheerfully, undeterred by any awkwardness that had fallen over the conversation.
Before long they began discussing the finer points of Ewok evolution, with Dib's ungraceful rejection soon forgotten. Although Did had his own opinions on how natural selection might work in an extraterrestrial environment, he found it difficult to get into the debate. Zita's condescension and the fact that his job dominated over his already meager social life sucked the urge to talk right out of him.
Dib tried to kick the sudden somber mood out of his mind. What difference did a few hi skool interactions matter in the greater scheme of things? After all, in a few hours he'd be free of skool, free of the doubting Melvins and mocking Zitas of the world, and doing exactly what he'd been meant to do from the very start: investigating the paranormal. The day could only improve.
So believe it or not, I've actually gotten the majority of this story already written out. The only delays in updates are as I revise, so expect Chapter 2 later in the week. Otherwise, any review, even if it's just "OMG this was terrible" is more than welcomed. Just so I know that the thing's uploaded and out there.