A/N: Having spent over a decade away from this site, I decided to dive back in with something as familiar as it is new. Ten-plus years ago, I wrote a few stories about Silent Hill here. The following is what you might call a "re-imagining" of one of those stories. Love it or hate it, I'd appreciate knowing what you think. All types of criticism are helpful in their own way.


Dear Sister

Prologue

"You just don't understand. That's all there is to it," Mark said. He brought a cigarette to his lips and sparked a Zippo in front of it. The orange glow of the tip pierced the darkness around them and brought his pale, unshaven face into view. Steve felt his hand tighten around the steel pipe he'd been holding.

"What don't I understand?" Steve asked, barely able to keep a level tone. Mark cocked an eyebrow as he took a drag but didn't answer. Steve bit down on his lip until he tasted blood. "What don't I understand?!"

"Why are you yelling?" Mark's voice was choked from the smoke he was holding in his lungs. He let it out in a cloud that hovered around him in the stale air of the storage closet. He lifted the shotgun from his lap and swung it up onto his shoulder. If it was supposed to be a threat, Steve wasn't impressed.

"You and Alice…" Steve growled. "Both of you just keep telling me I don't understand. Well what is it? I'm tired of this shit, Mark. I'm tired of playing your game."

"My game?" Mark asked, leaning forward on the box he'd been using as a stool. "What part of this is supposed to be my game?"

"You aren't honestly blaming a child-"

"I'm not blaming anyone," Mark interrupted. "You're the one who can't take responsibility for his actions." He was silent after that, his cold brown eyes locked on Steve's. Mark took another haul from his cigarette before he spoke again. "Why do you think we're all here? Why do you think you're chasing that little bitch around this town and who the hell are you trying to save her from?"

"You," Steve said instantly. Even as the word escaped his mouth he started to doubt it. After what had happened in the department store… "I'm saving her from you…"

"Really?" Mark blew out another wave of smoke and laughed. "Then why does she keep running away from you? Every time you turn around, where does she go?" Steve couldn't find the words to answer him. Mark dropped the cigarette to the ground and snuffed it out with his boot.

"I've only done what you wanted to do. What you wished you could do." Mark stood and closed the gap between them in one quick motion. Steve suddenly found it impossible to forget about the shotgun Mark was holding. He could feel the cold metal of the barrel pressed against him.

"The only problem here, Steven…" Mark grinned. The glow from his cigarette was the only reason Steve could tell he was just a mere few inches away. Face to face in the dark, the ash and ember only just bright enough to confirm he wasn't alone. "The only problem in this town is you. This is entirely your fault, and that is what you don't understand."


Chapter One

It was close to midnight when Steve made it back to the house. It was summer in the suburbs, which meant having to keep an eye out for any stray toys that might have found their way into his yard. His was the only house that still had a light on, the families around him already settled in for the night. He kicked a dodge ball, hoping he'd picked the right direction before reaching his front door.

Steve fumbled with his keys, silently wondering if he'd ever feel comfortable enough to leave his doors unlocked. Everyone else in the neighborhood did, but Steve had grown up in the city. An unlocked door was an invitation he was ready to chance yet. He twisted the knob and slowly pushed his way into the two-bedroom home he'd found for himself.

"Back up, Charlie," Steve whispered, urging the German Shepard away from the doorway. The dog grudgingly obeyed after a whimper. Steve slid off his sneakers and spent a while greeting his loyal companion before the pair made their way into the kitchen. Habit led him to the answering machine. The blinking red dot told him someone had called while he was out.

"Steve," started a familiar voice as he searched the fridge for something to eat. "It's your mother. I'm sorry Sweetie, but I'm gonna have to cancel the visit. A ah…" Steve took advantage of her pause to crack the beer he'd found. "An old friend is in town and she's having it out with that no good husband of hers. Raincheck?"

"Sure thing," Steve said, as if the message could hear his response. He felt something bump into him and held out a hand for Charlie. The canine rested his head against the open palm.

"And…" The message continued after the caller sighed. "I know you're tired of me saying this, but I really wish you would stop-" Steve pressed the delete button and a loud beep told him the message had been erased. He wasn't in the mood to hear the rest of it. It wasn't anything he hadn't heard before.

Diana was a sweet, caring old woman. She was the only mother he had ever known, but they weren't related by blood. She'd confessed to taking him in a few years ago and lived to regret it ever since. It wasn't that he loved her any less. That just wasn't possible. It was that she feared he did. The very idea of searching for his biological parents horrified her.

A single woman who'd never had the chance to start a family, she'd become a little…protective. "The day I found you wandering around that park was a blessing," she would say. "Your parents abandoned you but gave me the most wonderful gift in the world. Why would you ever want to find such awful people?"

"I'm not really sure, Charlie," Steve confessed. The dog tilted his head to the side and wagged his tail. Steve crouched down and placed his hands on either side of Charlie's face, scratching his cheeks. "You know why I love you? 'Cause you don't tell me I'm a crazy person. No you don't!"

Charlie let out a satisfied woof! and panted. Steve put his hands on his knees and pushed himself upright. Giving up on dinner, he went to grab Charlie's leash. He'd barely made it around the rickety wooden table he'd filled the kitchen with when the phone started to ring. Steve froze and turned towards the clock on his stove. It was past twelve now. Who the hell called someone this late?

By the second ring, Charlie started barking. The dog was posed to attack, growling and howling at the phone with everything he had. Steve was at a loss for words. This was the same dog who got bullied by the neighborhood cat every time he went for a walk. Common sense overrode the sense of shock when he realized the noise could wake up the neighbors.

"Charlie!" Steve yelled, but the dog wouldn't stop. Slobber flew from his mouth as he barked at the phone, covering the cabinet and floor. "Charlie, stop! Now!" Steve crossed the kitchen and reached out towards his pet. Charlie twisted his head and growled at Steve threateningly. Steve jumped back a step, his body reacting to the threat before he could even process it.

"What…" Steve stared at the dog that hadn't even chased a squirrel before tonight. The answering machine picked up and Charlie fell silent. He dropped to the floor, put both paws over his nose, and began to whine. Steve heard an automated voice tell the caller to leave a message in the corner of his mind. He took a step towards the dog shaking on the linoleum floor.

A loud burst of static made Steve jump back for the second time. He sprinted over to the answering machine and jabbed at the buttons frantically until the call was disconnected. The other end of the line had been nothing but a wash of white noise. That was one hell of a shitty cellphone connection. Or maybe some screwy automated call? Or…

The whimpering had stopped, but Charlie didn't get up from the floor. The dog looked up at Steve with wide, fearful eyes that almost broke his heart. He reached out to his pet and was greeted by a whining noise and a flurry of affectionate tongue work on his hand. Steve looked back at the phone and down at Charlie, but no matter how long he thought he couldn't figure out what had happened.


Coffee was one of the greatest discoveries man had ever made. Steve swore to be faithful to it early in his life and it had been true to him in return. When the cries and laughter of the neighborhood kids came pouring through his bedroom window well before noon, Steve knew it was time to rendezvous with his caffeinated lover.

Charlie followed him from the bedroom to the coffee pot with all the excited energy of a puppy. You're ten, old man. I don't know how you do it, he thought, nursing his cup of Folgers. He was well into his second cup when he remembered what had happened the night before. Charlie was practically grinning. There wasn't a trace of the dog he'd met last night.

Steve pulled on a worn pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt and grabbed Charlie's leash from the front hall. He hooked it through the dog's collar, slid on a pair of flip-flops, and braced himself for the cruelty of the morning sun. Charlie bounded ahead, the sound of children exciting him. He stopped on command when Steve clicked his tongue and waited for him to catch up before adopting a more relaxed pace.

"I see he's listening to you now," said a woman to his left. Steve winced through the sunlight to see who was talking to him so ungodly early in the morning. A plump woman in her forties was glaring at him from the lawn next to his. How she found the time to do her makeup with the three toddlers jumping and screaming around her yard, he couldn't guess. Who was she trying to impress?

"Good morning, Mrs. Collins," Steve said as amicably as he could. He'd made the mistake of calling her by her first name once. She'd told him not to with all the grace of a three-legged deer trying to run. "Sorry, did Charlie wake you last night?"

"Who didn't that beast wake up last night?" she sneered. "I told my husband we were going to regret letting some…bachelor with an aggressive breed like that move in."

"Charlie's not really an aggressive dog, Mrs. Collins," Steve said, ignoring the disgust that she wrapped around the word "bachelor." "He plays with your boys all the time. Your cat sends him home with his tail between his legs."

"Well, if you think I'm going to let that feral beast near them again!" She crossed her arms and Steve had the strangest urge to offer her a soap box to stand on. "You better tighten his leash from now on. I'll call animal control if I have to."

"He's a dog, Mrs. Collins. Dogs bark." He was finding it difficult to be polite with her. "Now you know, as well as I do, that last night was the first time he's ever-"

"The first time is never the last," his neighbor spat. "That whole breed…right up there with pit-bulls, you ask me. Give them some slack and they start chompin' away at the first person stupid enough to go near them!"

Okay. Time to go before he said something he'd end up regretting.

"A pleasure as always," Steve said with the biggest smile he could muster at nine in the morning. He led Charlie around the block and away from her without a second glance. So much for an invite to the next backyard barbecue. Weren't small little neighborhoods like this supposed to be friendly? They probably were with each other. He was the outsider, after all. What kind of man isn't married with three kids by his late twenties?

Steve rolled his eyes at the thought. Change was probably the last thing Mrs. Collins was going to welcome in her slice of life. Besides, it wasn't like he was going to brood over the lost chance of companionship. People don't know their neighbors in the city. The idea was novel and kind of interesting when he'd first gotten the house, but it didn't last long. Everyone was always up in someone else's business in this place. There was barely any privacy.

When he'd spent enough time roaming with Charlie, Steve shuffled back towards his house. The German Shepard sat patiently as he unhooked the leash. When he was free, Charlie padded off to the couch and curled up for a nap. Steve envied him for a full minute before the rumbling in his stomach made him think of breakfast.

The phone started to ring and he immediately had flashes of Charlie making another scene. He glanced over to the dog and saw he hadn't reacted. Steve decided, after enough time to be sure, that Charlie couldn't care less about the phone. He plucked it from the cradle and pressed it to his ear.

"McArthur residence," Steve said professionally.

"Steve?" asked the caller. "It's Officer Janet, down at the station?" Steve leaned back against the table, heard it creek, and decided against that. He pulled out a chair instead.

"Well this is unexpected. You're calling me? It just feels…backwards…" He smiled at the chuckle he heard. Janet had been his correspondence in the case for his parents. Not that there was much of a case, per se. She'd worked with him to put out an ad letting him know he was searching. That was really all they could do since he had almost nothing to offer that might help them track anyone down. He'd met her for lunch a few times to talk about the case, but he wouldn't have been against the idea of trying dinner some time.

"I'm sorry I called so early. I know you hate mornings," she said. "I just figured you'd want to hear about this as soon as you could." Steve immediately tensed.

"Hear about what?"

"Well…" He heard some papers moving and knew Janet was trying to find something. "Someone called here a little while ago. She said she's your sister."

A maelstrom of questions ran through Steve's head. They came one right after the other, in such quick succession that it he couldn't latch on to one long enough to understand it before another stole his focus. An anxious curiosity compelled him to listen to what Janet was saying but she sounded distant, as if she'd never picked up the phone and just tried shouting the news from the police station.

"Anyway," He heard Janet saying in his first moment of clarity. "She said she'd be holed up in some little resort town for a few more weeks. After that she wants to come out here and meet you."

"What town?" Steve blurted out at the first opportunity. There was a confused silence on the other end of the phone. "I don't want to wait a few weeks. I'll go to her, instead. What town?"

"Steven," Janet started, her voice measured and tight. She sounded like a mother trying to talk to a child about something complex. "You don't even know who this woman is. It wouldn't be the first time someone pretended they knew more about something than they do for the attention. I don't want to say that's what's happening, but do you really think it's a good idea to take a chance like that? Driving out to the middle of nowhere to meet a stranger?"

"Did she say anything about her missing brother?" Steve asked, hoping Janet hadn't already shared that much when he'd been lost in his own head.

"She said that someone had grabbed her brother from the restroom at a gas station," Janet said. "She wasn't old enough to remember anything, but her parents told her all about it. Apparently they never saw him after that."

Grabbed at a gas station? As unpleasant as it sounded, that would mean that his parents hadn't abandoned him. It would mean that he had a father searching for him somewhere, that he had a sister. It meant there was a woman out there who'd missed her son enough to tell her daughter about the brother she couldn't remember.

He latched on to the idea as quickly as it was forming. He'd been taken away from a loving family during an average day. By some miracle he'd gotten away from whoever grabbed him or they just dumped him at the park. Diana had found him and treated him with all the love he'd almost been lost without. Fast forward a couple of decades and the sister, who'd never had a chance to know her brother, finally finds a man matching his description by chance in some missing persons file she finds online.

Okay, it was a stretch, but it was one he was willing to make. It was something to believe in until proved otherwise, and there was no way he was going to wait "a few weeks" for the possibility that it wasn't the real deal. No. He was going to prove it one way or the other before he could fall in love with false hope. Not that he wasn't already.

"Did she say anything else? Why does she think it's me?" Steve pressed the receiver to his ear hard enough that he felt a nagging pain.

"Steve, I really don't think you should be doing anything drastic here," Janet said. "Just wait a few weeks." She was dodging the question. He could hear it in her voice.

"Janet, why does she think it's me?" Steve was firm, hoping she got the message loud and clear: I won't take "no" for an answer. The woman on the other end of the phone let out a long sigh and gave in.

"Her brother went missing twenty-five years ago," she said at last. Steve felt butterflies as he did the math. That would've made him two or three, right around the time Diana found him. Janet messed a few more papers on her desk. He was starting to think it was a nervous habit. "She says his name is Steven."

"I think that about settles it," Steve said, rising from the chair in his kitchen. "I'm going to meet up with her and find out for sure."

"You know this isn't something you can make an afternoon out of, right?" Janet cleared her throat. He pictured her straightening at a desk, preparing to test his resolve one final time. "This is one hell of a drive. We're talking a 'motel for the night' kind of drive, and that'd be the halfway marker at best."

"I've got a couple of favors I can call with the boss," Steve said without a second thought. He had his doubts about being cleared for the time off, but he definitely busted his ass hard enough at the office to deserve it.

"What about Charlie?" Janet asked. Steve looked over to the dog in question. He was happily sleeping on the couch, paws dangling over the arm, blissfully unaware that his master had almost forgotten about him entirely. If he hadn't mentioned a dog in a lazy attempt at flirting, Janet wouldn't have been able to remind him.

"Shit…" Steve muttered, not sure what to do. He thought of taking Charlie for a whole five seconds before refusing to consider it. Even if motels were known for loving dogs, Charlie's behavior in the car was intolerable. He couldn't sit still and failed to understand personal boundaries. Something about cars brought out the worst in him. Well…cars and phones, apparently.

"Look, I know you're really excited about this, and I was the one who even called you in the first place, so…" Janet let out a long, low breath and whispered something about not believing what she was saying. "I don't want to be the bitch that raises your hopes and makes you sit on them. I'll…I'll help out with Charlie."

"Seriously?" Steve heard the enthusiasm in his voice and felt embarrassed. He coughed in a poor attempt to cover it. "I mean…yeah. That'd be cool. You want to bring him over to you or…?" He pretended not to hear Janet laughing at him.

"No, no. My landlord would freak if I came in with a dog. I don't mind going to your place."

"See?" Steve said with a grin. "You act all cool and professional at lunch, but I knew you had a soft spot for me."

"Those were business meetings," she explained as if it were common knowledge. "Of course I'm going to act professional. You never took me to lunch for anything besides the case." She was respectful enough to call his little page in the annals of "lost and searching" a case. Bless her heart.

"Are you saying I should ask you about dinner, instead?" Steve suggested. Janet made a noise.

"Steven McArthur, you are not asking me out for the first time hours before you go out of town." It was a statement. Steve laughed.

"All right, all right." He walked around to the counter and leaned against it. "Seriously, though. I appreciate this more than you know."

"It's just a dog, Steve."

"Not just Charlie," he said. "Everything you've done for me. If you hadn't put in the work that woman wouldn't have even found me. Even if it isn't the real deal, it doesn't mean any less."

"Oh, Mr. Sweet Talker all of a sudden," Janet said with a chuckle. "Don't worry about it. It's my job. And speaking of, I'm getting some looks. I've been on the phone long enough that it's leaving 'work related' and entering 'personal.' I have to go."

"Okay. I'll leave a spare key under the rug and some notes for Charlie and my number on the counter. Just call me if anything comes up. Seriously, thanks again." Steve was in the process of saying "goodbye" when Janet interrupted him.

"Just a random thought," she said casually. "Wouldn't it help to know where you're going before you get off the phone?" Steve could've slapped himself.

"All I know is 'resort town'…" Steve pressed his palm against his forehead in humiliation. "Christ, I'd be halfway to Orlando when I remembered Charlie was here alone if it weren't for you." Janet was trying her best not to laugh again. "I know, I know. So where am I off to?"

"Some little place a ways out," Janet said. "If I remember right, it was…" More rustling as she dug through papers. Maybe it wasn't just for the nerves? "Ah. She said she'd be staying a few more weeks in a town called Silent Hill."


It was amazing how many shitty things he could ignore when he was looking forward to something. Steve realized too late that the fast food he'd ordered was cold and soggy, but he didn't think twice about it. The place he stopped to sleep was a rundown hole but it didn't faze him. His GPS had decided "recalculating" was a better option than telling him to take a turn on at least three occasions, and although he wanted to throw the damn thing out of his window he forgot all about it when he found himself in Brahms.

He'd gotten as far as he had without once focusing on the negative because he was just too excited. Anxious? It was definitely one of the two. Steve was having a hard time deciding where to place his chips on that bet.

The second day of his drive had brought along rain, but it was barely a drizzle. He was having such a time trying to pick the perfect speed for his windshield wipers (squeaky or blurry, squeaky or blurry) that it took him a while to notice the fog bank he'd drifted into. Steve flicked on his headlights.

A large sign with peeling paint and faded lettering told him he'd finally reached his destination. Welcome to Silent Hill. It was a nice gesture and all, but it seemed a little…dilapidated for a resort town. Maybe tourists weren't flocking like they used to. Or they spent the money on the roads or something. Why waste time and money advertising at this point? Not like the road goes anywhere else…

Steve noticed the fog was getting thicker as he drove. By the time he turned onto Finney Street, it was something to be reckoned with. He could barely see more than a car length ahead of him. Beyond that it was a white wall of nothing. Buildings came at him from thin air as if the fog was spitting them out one at a time. Steve tapped the break until he was driving slowly enough to feel safe again. He twisted a knob for the high beams, hoping it'd let anyone nearby know there was another car.

Speaking of people nearby, where were they? He saw an old pickup truck on the side of the road once, but nothing and no one else. Maybe it was the part of town he was in? He'd looked up a motel to stay at, one close to a part of town called Central Silent Hill. There were bound to be a few stragglers around there, right? The fog couldn't keep everyone inside. People still had to go to work.

Steve drove over a bridge and slowed to a stop in an attempt to read the street sign through the cloud of white. Hoping it was Crichton, he took a right and continued on his way. He was pretty much where all the action was at this point, far as he knew. He drove by quite a few shops and the street was lined with cars on either side, but something just didn't feel right. Why didn't any of the stores turn on a light to be seen through the fog? Why were there so many cars but no drivers?

Where was everyone?

Steve turned when he could no longer follow Crichton. He knew the motel was somewhere nearby and kept watch for it. The only clue that he'd found his destination was a large sign plastered on a greenish building that said "MOTEL." Steve parked in front of the building and stepped out to get a better look at Riverside. He was starting to wonder if he should just get back in and try to find somewhere else to stay. There was a hotel nearby, if what he'd read was to be trusted.

Steve took a few hesitant steps towards the entrance, looking all around him for traces of life. His visibility improved outside of the car, but not much. It felt like he was in a closed bubble, that nothing existed outside of it. Hell, nothing existed inside for that matter. Nothing alive, anyway.

There was a door nearby that he made his way to, hoping it would bring him into a lobby or something and he could finally get some information. Someone to tell him why the town was so empty would be ideal. Or someone who would know the best place to go if you're trying to find your long lost sister. Maybe just a person to shoot the shit with. At this point he really didn't care, so long as it was another human being.

The door was locked. Not wanting to believe it, Steve rattled the handle with more force and tugged at it. He grunted in frustration and knocked to see if someone would answer. When he was met with silence, Steve tried again and called out. Short of breaking down the door, he wasn't getting in.

After another failed attempt at signaling for someone at Riverside, Steve turned around and shouted out into the streets. He was starting to feel like the town was abandoned. The way his voice carried through the silence, it didn't seem like he was too far off. It couldn't be, though. That woman said she was staying here. She could've been lying, but why pick a place like this to pretend to be?

Steve started back towards his car, wondering if he should've waited for Janet to get in touch with his potential sister again. The exciting chance he'd taken was starting to feel more like a stupid impulse. He decided to call Janet. It would be like throwing up a white flag, considering how much she'd protested the trip, but what other option did he have?

That was when he heard something. Steve froze, his hand midway to his pocket, and strained his ears. No. He definitely hadn't imagined it. Something was scraping against the concrete. It was quiet, but it was there. If the town wasn't so oppressively quiet he wouldn't even have known it was happening. Steve looked around wildly, searching for the source.

A short distance up the street there was a shadow moving through the fog. It was getting smaller and less distinguishable, which led him to believe it was moving away from him. Steve jogged towards it and stopped when he could see it a little more clearly. The shadow was a person, he was sure. They were hunched over, but he could make out the general shape of a body.

"Excuse me!" Steve called, his feet springing into action. He didn't want to run up to them like a madman, but he kept a steady pace to catch up. The person didn't seem to hear his calls, even though he was close enough now to see they were carrying something. It was dragging on the ground, whatever it was, and he knew it was the cause of the scraping sound he'd heard.

"Hey!" Steve shouted as the figure turned. The shadow disappeared between two buildings, down what he could only assume was an alleyway. He broke into a sprint and turned into the alley, determined not to lose track of the only other person he'd seen since Brahms.

The fog wasn't as thick in the narrow space between the buildings. The alley was littered with heaps of trash bags and was gated off by a chain-link fence on the opposite end. Steve caught a glimpse of his target as they squatted down behind a Dumpster. The scraping came to a stop, a strange scratching sound taking its place.

Steve started to feel uneasy. He'd been so desperate to find someone that he hadn't stopped to consider what kind of person he could have been following. There was something off about a man who wandered into alleys and crouched behind garbage. Steve moved towards the stranger, but with a greater sense of caution.

"Hey…You all right, buddy?" He hoped he didn't sound nervous. Steve saw a sliver of pale skin peeking out at him. The man he'd been following wasn't wearing a shirt. He was scrawny, as if he'd been starved. Steve could count his vertebrae. There was a low, muffled moaning like he was holding a hand over his mouth.

"Are you all right?" Steve asked again. All fear and apprehension went out the window when the moan became louder. If the guy before him was actually sick, there was no one else around to help him. Steve hurried over to the stranger's side, mentally running through the map he'd seen online. There was a hospital nearby, wasn't there?

"Buddy, are you…" Steve trailed off as he got his first good look at the person he'd followed into the alley. A shirt was the least of this guy's problems. He was exposed from head to toe. His feet were covered in dried blood, the toenails cracked and scabbing. It was what he'd been carrying that made Steve leap away from him.

The man was holding an arm covered in long, jagged nails. The rusty iron spikes spotted the pallid skin in a macabre mockery of freckles. It wasn't until he stood up that Steve understood the severed arm belonged to the man who was holding it. His left shoulder was nothing more than a socket. Muscle tissue dripped form the festering wound onto the ground as he steadied himself in front of Steve. A large chunk of skin had been hacked away from his chest exposing the mess of blood and tissue underneath.

Although no longer a part of his chest, the skin that had been removed was still a part of his –its- body. It had be twisted and pulled in a wrinkled mess over its face. Large, rusted nails held the flesh in place, like someone had taken to it with a nail gun. The muffled sound of its moans suddenly made sense.

With knees that literally knocked together as it moved, the creature started towards Steve. It raised its dismembered arm as if it planned to beat him down with the tangled mess.

Steve wanted to scream. He wanted to throw his hands up and run like a child. There were reasons against either one happening any time soon. He couldn't scream because his throat was occupied in a battle to keep down the vomit. Escape wasn't an option because of the chain-link fence. Steve had backed away from the entrance to the alley after trying to help the poor bastard.

Helluva lot of good that turned out.

Steve backed into the fence and realized he had nowhere left to go. He crouched down and began to feel around blindly for something to fight with. His eyes refused to look anywhere but the knotted lump of skin hiding the creature's face. The piles of garbage that filled the alley made it impossible to know what he was grabbing at without a visual aid.

With one quick, deep breath, Steve ripped his eyes away from the monster shuffling towards him and focused on the hunt. He saw something metallic leaning up against the fence and grabbed for it. Steve didn't even check to see what he was holding before he twisted his hip and brought it down on the monster.

The creature's head cracked to the side from the blow and it stopped moving, but it didn't fall. Steve swung again and caught his weapon against one of the nails pinning down the mask of flesh. The rusted iron tore out of the creature's head in a spray of blood and ichor. When the creature remained on its feet, Steve aimed at its buckled knees.

Steve felt a rush of hope come over him when the creature fell. There was a chance he was actually going to make it out alive. He lifted the weapon high above his head and slammed it down on the creature. Fear compelled him to bring the weapon down on the monster over and over again. A wet slap echoed out from his first few attacks and a crunching sound followed soon after. Steve beat the monster into the ground until it was nothing but a pile of flesh lumped around a pool of blood.

The adrenaline was still coursing through his body when Steve sagged over and tried to catch his breath. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand . Curious as to what had saved his life, he at last took the time to study what he was holding. It was a pipe, or a piece of one. It was a little thicker than what he'd seen running through his basement, which was a blessing more than a curse. Just holding it, seeing what it had done to the creature, was enough to help him through the horror of the ordeal.

Without thinking, he reached for his phone. He didn't know who to call or what to say, but it was an impulse he couldn't fight. Steve stuck a hand in his pocket and found nothing but the keys to his car. There was a moment of panic when the other pocket turned up nothing but a pen that was replaced with a grim acceptance of his circumstances.

He could see it now, sitting exactly where he left it. There was a note for Janet with tips about Charlie, his phone number, and next to it all was the cellphone he'd pulled out of his pocket while searching for a pen. It was amazing how many shitty things he could ignore when he was looking forward to something…

"Hi, Mister!"

Steve spun around, ready to swing his new best friend at everyone and everything. The fire of battle died as soon as he saw who had spoken. It wasn't a monster waiting behind him. It was a little girl, no older than ten or eleven, standing on the other side of the fence. Her long, dark hair was tied up with a ribbon to keep it away from her face. If the uniform was any clue, she went to a Catholic school. The gray vest she wore over a white tee was matched by a plaid skirt. Her polished black shoes were fastened with silver buckles.

"I'm Alice!" she said proudly, looking up at him with round, green eyes. "What's your name?"

"My…" Steve was put off by the simplicity of the question. After everything he'd just seen, everything he'd just done, it was the last thing he'd expected to be asked. He glanced over to the pile that had once been the creature and then over to Alice, increasingly aware that it was something a child shouldn't see.

"You do have one, right?" she asked with a giggle. It was like the bloody mess was invisible. The only thing Alice acknowledged was the man with the pipe in his hands.

"I'm…" Steve gave himself a firm mental shake. This wasn't the time to zone out. There was a child here, a child. She had to be with her parents, right? That meant there were others in this town. What was she doing out here, all alone? What would've happened if she'd been the one cornered by a monster? "My name's Steve."

"Hi, Steve!" Alice said with all the vigor of youth.

"What are you doing here, Alice?" Steve did his best to sound calm and caring. He'd never been very good with kids, but Mrs. Collins wasn't as much of a bitch when he spoke like that. Didn't seem a stretch to think it made him sound trusting. "Where are your parents?"

"Want to play?" Alice asked as if he'd said nothing at all.

"Maybe in a little bit," Steve said, although the idea of playing in a town like this was about as tempting as licking an electrical socket. "Can you tell me where your mom and dad are?"

"Are you ready?" Alice turned and bent over, her fingertips spread on the concrete in front of her. It took him a second to realize she was imitating the ready position of an Olympic sprinter. Shit.

"No, Alice, wait. I-!"

"Catch me!" Alice shouted over his protests. She ran out of view with her arms out like a plane. He could hear her laughter echoing down the alleyway despite his questionable choice of language. Some part of him genuinely hoped she didn't hear any of it. A girl that age would have a lot of questions about the words he'd just used.

Steve clenched his teeth and jumped onto the fence. Climbing was surprisingly difficult with the pipe, but there wasn't a chance in hell he'd be leaving it behind. He fumbled his way over the top and landed awkwardly on the other side. There was a shock of pain in his ankle from the impact, but he pushed it as far out of his mind as possible. He had a little girl to catch, sprained ankle or otherwise.

If he didn't move fast enough, there was a good chance something else was going to catch her first.