The old gods never left Silent Hill. They still hold powerful sway on those who step foot on the sacred grounds, and they still grant power to those who venerate them. Power to defy even death. Power to bear life from nothing more than a wish.
He wanted Mary. They gave him Maria.
Somewhere in the deepest reaches of his mind, a voice screams that she can't be real. She's no different than the monsters that shamble through the town, figments meant to torment him. She's not Mary, but his base desires snuff out his rationality. She's warm and willing. Her touch is soft against his skin. She's technically perfect. It frightens him.
When he finds himself back at Rosewater Park, he still has her blood drying on his skin. Was that creature Mary? Her spirit? His memory of her? It had her voice, that soft and pleading sound, whispering his name as he dealt the final blow. It couldn't be her.
Mary's still in the car.
The staccato rhythm of high heels hammer into his mind. He keeps his gaze trained on the blank expanse of fog over the lake.
"You killed Mary again?"
"That wasn't Mary. That was just something I…" She touches his arm. His skin burns beneath his jacket sleeve. "Maria?"
"What James?" Maria's voice is too quiet, too close to Mary's.
"Aren't you dead?" She drops her hand and tries to answer, but he cuts her short. "We need to get going."
He pushes off of the rail he had been leaning against; she catches his sleeve. "What about Mary?"
He doesn't respond.
The fog gives way to a light drizzle as they climb the trail past Nathan Avenue. The improvement in visibility does nothing to lift their moods. James marches on like a condemned man, eyes glued to the path before him. Maria follows in his wake, arms crossed over her chest, the thin cardigan doing nothing to protect her from the chill or the damp. She keeps pace with him, even as the gravel gives way beneath her boots at every step.
He's leaving with her. He chose her. This should be her ultimate victory. The illusion breaking free to become the reality. A dream becoming flesh and blood and escaping the mind. So why does it feel like nothing has changed?
That gnawing doubt is tossed to the wayside when she spots the baby blue coupe at the end of the parking lot. She bolts for it, skidding to a halt in front of the driver's side door while James jogs after her.
"James, I'm freezing," she whines, yanking her sleeves down over her fingertips as he digs through his pockets for the keys. "Hurry up!"
"It's unlocked," he says, giving her one of his patented dumb stares.
"It's… unlocked," he repeats. She sucks in a sharp breath through her nose and yanks on the handle with nearly enough force to snap it off. The door smacks into James with a dull thud as she climbs into the car. The quick "ow" he lets out brings a smile to her face.
It takes him two full minutes of pulling useless garbage out of his pockets to find the keys. Maria settles back against the passenger door, draws one leg up across the leather seats and closes her eyes as James starts the engine. He cranks the heat and a grateful sigh escapes her lips. It's heaven.
A subtle squeak pierces through her lull. She stirs and cracks an eye open to find James white-knuckling the steering wheel. "Let's go, James."
He's frozen in place, save for the continuous flex of his grip. Maria straightens, following his line of sight to the lake. There's nothing but the water and trees, maybe a few sailboats bobbing off in the distance. She touches his arm and receives no response.
"Well?" she asks, digging her fingers into his coat. "Earth to James! What are you waiting for? Let's get out of this hellhole."
He takes a breath, drawing some of the life back into him, and glances her way.
"There's still something I need to do."
He pops the trunk and her heart skips a beat. Oh, her.
"You'll come back, right?" She hugs his arm to her chest possessively. "Promise me. Please?"
He tenses and pats her hand awkwardly. "You have my keys. I can't go far without them."
"Promise," she insists, giving him her best wounded deer look. "Promise me, James."
"I promise." Her death grip on him loosens just enough to free his arm. As he turns to leave, she just catches the corners of his lips tug down, the look an even mixture of regret and distaste. She hopes it's from the task at hand, though she suspects it has much more to do with the foreign and all too familiar skin she had pressed against him.
As soon as he shuts the door, her eyes dart to the rear view mirror. The trunk blocks her view, but she sees him wrap his arms around her in her mind's eye. She sees him cradle her, press a kiss to that thin, limp hair that once was soft as silk. Maria crosses her arms and slides lower in her seat, but she catches a hint of movement on the periphery of her vision.
He never shut the trunk, just scooped Mary's body up and began the slow trek down to the lake. Maria stares, entranced by the way her limp legs swing with every step he takes. The mottled skin that peeks out beneath the sleeve of her pajamas (god, she'd had them forever, the fabric was so soft and the floral pattern was just so pretty when they were new) makes chills roll up Maria's spine. She forces herself to turn away, tries to laugh off the dread.
How silly it was that she kept getting jealous of a corpse. So silly. Only, she knows his heart will always belong to her, to the lifeless shell he's carrying. To the her that isn't her, to the woman whose face she's stolen. She swallows back the lump in her throat and switches on the radio, tuning through the stations until she picks up a signal that isn't a wall of static. She cranks up the volume and then knocks her head back against the headrest, closing her eyes. The generic pop song is just enough to pull her out of her own head. She doesn't need to think of what she is or who she'll never be, because soon he'll be hers and hers alone.
Maria's leaning against a railing in Rosewater Park, watching fog roll over the lake. A smile tugs at her lips at the sound of footsteps approaching. She's been waiting too long for him. She takes a breath, tucks her hair behind her ear, and turns to find not James, but a pale young woman staring up at her.
"Mama?" she asks, her voice nearly a whisper as she reaches a hand toward Maria's face. Maria draws her head back and the girl flinches as though burned, yanking her hand away and clutching it to her chest. "No, you're… not."
"I look like your mother?" Maria teases, settling her hands on her hips. She tilts her head and breaks into a grin. "Do I really look that old?"
She ducks her head, hiding her face behind dark, stringy bangs. "No, I… I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking straight. Just with the fog and all I..."
"I'm only joking." Maria gives her a once-over. Maybe she is old enough to be her mother. Take away that sallow skin and those hollow shadows beneath her eyes, and she's just a kid. She's a teenager, maybe twenty, tops. She even has a cute little barrette above her ear, like the kind Laura sometimes wore. Laura? She shakes off the thought and leans back against the rail, the cold metal against her lower back grounding her. "My name's Maria. Yours?"
"I-its, um," the girl says, the words seemingly too large for her mouth. She fidgets with the worn sleeves of her sweater and glances off to the left and right as if expecting someone to approach. When her eyes land back on Maria, she lets out a breath and hugs herself. "It's Angela. I… I have to go now."
"What's your rush?" Maria asks. "Got a hot date or something waiting in town?"
Angela lets out a halfhearted snort and her trembling stops. She's suddenly a different person, calm and tired, with a faraway look in her glazed eyes. "I'm alone. I'm always alone."
"Oh." Maria shifts to the left, but Angela's line of sight never changes. She pushes off from the rail and takes a full step to the left, but nothing changes. "So, I guess you're looking for your parents? Do they live in this town?"
"I don't know," she says, dragging her gaze toward Maria. "It's been such a long time. I thought she'd be here. Maybe my father and brother too, but… I can't find them either."
"Why don't I help you look?" Maria asks. "I was born here, you know. A local's better than a map."
"And what do you get out of the deal?" Angela asks, narrowing her eyes. "Nothing's free."
"Well, you've seen this town," Maria says. "There's something wrong with it. All those things crawling around. Who knows what could happen to two pretty girls like us if we're alone in the fog."
Angela screws her eyes shut. "I'm not-"
"There's safety in numbers," she insists. "And honestly? I'm scared to be alone."
"I...I guess." Angela's arms drop to her sides. She sighs. "So, you'll help me find my mother?"
"Sure," Maria says, smiling. "And you can help me find James."
James. The moment his name escapes her lips, static fills her mind. She raises her hand to her forehead and the ground gives out from under her, plunging her into liquid nothingness. She falls, the static growing louder and louder until BANG!
She jerks awake, her pulse pounding in her throat as James climbs into the driver's seat. Rain patters against the windows. "Are you alright, Maria?"
"Yeah," she says, pushing herself to sit up straight. Her hand brushes against his on the leather seat, and a pang of affection bubbles through her veins. He's freezing, poor baby. She smiles softly, closing her fingers around his and reaching up to comb back the hair plastered to his forehead. "Just a weird dream. You okay?"
"I think," he says, closing his eyes and leaning into her touch. "Mary… I hope she can finally rest."
"Mhm, she's just fine." Maria slides back to her seat, and turns her attention to the lake as James puts the car in reverse. "She loved it here, and now she'll never have to leave it again."