He finishes parking the Chrysler in front of Daisy Villa when a young man walks up beside him, gesturing for him to pump down the window. Reedy little guy. A too-friendly smile creases the lines around his mouth.
"Detective Cartland,I presume?"
Douglas squints up at him. "I know you?"
"In a minute, you will." He sticks out a cold, dry hand, giving him another grin full of coffee-stained teeth as he reluctantly takes it. "Vincent Smith: I intern with Brookhaven in Silent Hill and Green Ridge here in Orono. I, ah, believe you may have met one of my patients?"
Douglas pinches his lips, skeptical, while Vincent cranes his neck trying to get a better view of the apartment building. The nearby clinic is empty as far as he can tell, and the kid doesn't look the type to hurdle construction barricades.
"Nice place," Vincent remarks. "Her father moves them around so often it's hard to keep track."
"Whaddya want?" His words come out a little more brusque than he intends them to. But he's worried about scaring Heather if she sees him talking to a stranger. Douglas tightens his grip around the wheel until the vinyl casing creaks. "You're not one of Claudia's, are you?"
Retreating a large step, he throws his hands up with his palms facing outward. His every move seems histrionic, as artificial and deliberately calculated as those of an actor. "What is it with you people and assuming I'm one of her little lapdogs? I've got nothing to do with her, alright?"
"But you do know her."
"Correction," he wags a finger, "I know of her. Enough to tell you that Heather'll be in big trouble if she doesn't stop her."
"She killed her father."
He curses under his breath. "Oh. My condolences." Reaching into his vest pocket, he produces a map and slides it in his direction. "Listen. Leonard Wolf is Claudia's father; he lives in Silent Hill. Incidentally, he's the only one who can help us put an end to her madness."
"Why don't you go see him yourself?"
"Now see, there's my problem. He's convinced Claudia is harmless but wayward. He won't listen to anything I have to say. But if he knows what's happened here… " He shrugs. "Of course, I can't force you two to do anything you don't want to… "
"I'll have to talk to Heather about it." He doesn't even try to keep the slightly distrusting edge from his voice now; he knows the shitstorm his kind can talk up. He knows the lies and the misleads, the imperceptible tampering of words till they mean something else entirely, little holes they poke inside the mind, how innocently and inadvertently you can let out biblical flood. "Who are you, anyway?"
Another lush smile overtakes Vincent as he slides a hand over his breast, as if pleading earnesty. "Consider me a friend, Mr. Cartland. Just a simple nudge from providence."
He gives the map a glance. The business district lies encircled in red, along with a few sites in the newer portions of town. Vincent has repeatedly emphasized Leonard's house on Bachman Street in Old Silent Hill.
"I'm not sure if he's been discharged yet."
"I thought you said you interned there?"
"Mmm, part-time. Can't know everyone's comings and goings." Vincent begins to leave, but promptly spins on his heel. "Oh, and one more thing? Tell Heather I'm sorry for her loss. Really."
The door cracks open ten minutes later, when Heather climbs down the short steps to the front stoop. Even though Vincent is long gone, she peers after the dark expanse of asphalt as if she can sense his presence.
"Who were you talking to?"
"Some guy named Vincent." He pauses. "He's a friend of yours, right?"
Her folded arms affirm she must know him somehow, though not precisely on friendly terms. He's suspected as much.
"Anyway, he said when we get to Silent Hill to look for a guy named Leonard."
"Probably trying to send us on a wild goose chase," Heather says, and slams the passenger door shut. "Though I guess false clues are better than no clues at all."
That reminds him—he pats his coat liner.
She accepts Harry's notebook with a measure of hesitation. "What's this?"
"Your father was holding onto it."
He remembers exactly where he was when he received the call to identify his son's body: in the kitchen trying to boil some week-old spaghetti.
In retrospect, the phone seemed to shriek from its place on the counter. He should have picked it up sooner, shouldn't have grumbled, "Yeah?" like the good-for-nothin' he was. Instead he answered gruffly and waited, idly stirring the pot; moments later his blood ran ice and the small, tinny voice on the other end asked, "Mr. Cartland?" as foam ran down the sides of the boiling pot, inflaming the burner with a faint, menacing hiss.
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Eric."
He hung up. He reasoned it away as a cruel practical joke, the old fool. There was no way his boy could have possibly been that stupid. No, Eric said he would come home right after work, after Douglas had practically twisted his arm getting his word. Even though the punk bitched and moaned and rolled his eyes, he knew he'd pull through. This was just his way of getting even in the meantime.
The phone shrilled again and he practically barked into it.
"Cut it out! You tryinna give me a heart attack or some—"
"Mr. Cartland, your son is dead."
Silence. He sagged in his seat. " …what?"
"The license on his wallet claims he lived at this address. You are Douglas Cartland, aren't you? …I regret to inform you, Mr. Cartland, about an hour ago your son attempted to rob a teller at gunpoint. The responders who arrived shot him in the chest and back. I realize this is sudden, but unless the surviving next-of-kin comes to claim him, the disposal of his body will become a matter of discretion of the Orono police."
In his dreams, his son's thin hand still grips the handle of his pistol. Fingers he could never pry open no matter how much he pulls, let go, you little punk-
This time the corpse has changed. Instead of light blue eyes mirroring his own, Heather's dark, bloodshot irises stare back at him, murky and half-lidded.
She gurgles a familiar smile.
"Let go, old man."
Douglas tosses and turns for about half an hour before leaving his bed. Heather, curled in the fetal position with her back to him from the other bed, is dead to the world. She hasn't even bothered with taking off her boots.
It seems an eternity passes before it decides to become light again. He dozes in the nearby recliner as she eventually stirs.
Douglas rose from the chair, his knees popping from having sat there for so long. "Morning," he says. "How ya feelin'?"
Heather shrugs, wandering a palm up her cheek to rub the sleep from her cornea.
She looks like hell. Her eyes bear purplish bags of flesh, the only spots of color in her ashen complexion. Her matted, unwashed hair clings to her face; her right cheek bears pillow creases. She still emits the faint scent of Harry's blood despite having rinsed her jacket in the bathroom sink.
"You don't have to look at me like that."
"Sorry." The word flows from his lips, mindless automation.
"Yeah, well. You're not looking too prime yourself, hotshot." Her attitude slackens a little as she sits up on the bed, cross-legged, studying the carpet. After a minute she manages a wan smile. "Guess we've seen better days."
Mist wanders past their window. A few droplets glide down the panels, casting faint shadows on the curtain. Pearly white veils obscure them from the road not twenty feet from their room.
"Douglas," Heather says in a small voice. "Do you think… My father… "
She raises glistening eyes.
It seemed a quick death. Douglas can't say for sure, but he'd rather believe it was. He wants to tell her the blood she saw was no indication Harry suffered, if such a thing would comfort her. In this case, all he can do is give her a single word.
While Heather ruminates, fixed in her own thoughts, Douglas remembers the map and pulls it from his coat liner. At least it didn't get too crumpled.
"Here." He hands it to her.
She looks as if he's grown two heads. "I don't need one."
"Just in case."
She smooths out the creases and promptly wrinkles her nose, holding the brochure under her nostrils. "Why's it smell like Camels and peppermints?"
"Tryin' to quit," he says, "but damn if this place ain't makin' it tough."
"Ha. No kidding."
"Yeah," Douglas says. "I'm fifty-something years old, and I never seen nothing like this. Still feels like I'm dreamin'."
"More like a nightmare, I'd say."
Heather retrieves her pistol underneath the bed. A Glock, rusted from the blood. She checks the clip, shoves in a fresh one, and hastily yanks out the bedside dresser for spare ammo.
She does all this without the slightest tremor of hesitation, as if she's been killing monsters and enacting revenge fantasies her entire life. A small, cowardly part of him feels he ought to leave her to her own devices, as she knows better than anyone how to kill this god-thing allegedly growing inside her. He fears his interference might result in her hurting herself for his sake.
Yet… Seventeen. Still a child in many ways. A grieving child, driven by the burning need for retaliation. He's beginning to feel seeds of doubt take root inside his gut. He shouldn't have driven her here, shouldn't have indulged her this anger…
(she's the same age Eric was when)
At first she merely piques a brow, but he catches a flicker of vulnerability when she returns a little too quickly to surveying her inventory. He doesn't like chancing the name change, but at this point it's his only means of dismantling her carefully raised walls. It's hard to tell when she looks at him just which part is Harry's Cheryl and which belongs to the Heather he met at the mall. And which, an altogether unsettlingly calm and knowing presence, remains Alessa Gillespie.
"Whatever happens, just promise me you… You won't do anything stupid."
A corner of her mouth lifts mirthlessly. "I could tell you the same thing, old man."
Heh, he mutters. "That's different. I've got a lifetime of stupid things to look back on."
"I'm not a child, you know," Heather says, and, with a hint of mischief touching her voice, adds: "Are you sure you're not the one who's afraid to be alone?"
He lets the kid have that one.
Leonard Wolf's house is a simple one-story affair. Glass shards crunch underneath his soles as he ascends the creaking porch stairs. Weeds choke the tiny plot of land forming the yard; vines threaten to gag the windows as they crawl up the siding.
The porch has been vandalized. Through the aerosol dripping from the unpainted shingles, Douglas can only make out a few scrawlings: 'FREAKS'being a prominent declaration.
No matter how misguided it is, Douglas raps his knuckles once against the door, in case Leonard may actually be home. A bit of paint flecks off, revealing letters carved into the door.
Bless the enraged, for they shield Her love.
Bless the fearful, for they venerate Her love.
Bless the vindictive, for they treasure Her love.
Bless the hopeless, for they crave Her love.
"'llo?" he asks stupidly, leaning to peer through one of the broken windows. "Leonard?"
Only silence answers. The darkness within the house is dimly lit by the effervescent mist that caresses the air, rendering everything in silhouette.
Douglas glances through the yard again, at the dense, snarling vegetation. He doesn't want to risk getting caught in those weeds in the feeble hope that the deadbolt may have decayed loose, so he decides to muscle the lock.
As luck would have it, that isn't what gives him a challenge: Leonard had a chain installed, stopping the door inches short of opening fully and giving him a whiff of sour air. He punts his shoulder against it a few more times and the rusted links snap.
He half-stumbles into a house whose interior presents as depressingly bare as its exterior. No paintings, no plants, no carpet. The gray wood constituting everything from floor to ceiling has begun to rot from exposure, filling his nostrils with mold and decay.
He walks first toward the living room, tearing through fine veils of spiderwebs, and withdraws his Zippo to get a better look at the sparse furnishings. As the tiny flame struggles to carve a path through the gloom, he sees nothing's been moved in Leonard's absence. The only furniture here is a couple of warped footstools and two wicker chairs with holes gnawed in their backs.
A pair of beady eyes glint a reflection of his lighter. He jumps as a black rat hisses at him and scurries off, its claws scratching the pliant wood underneath it.
"Christ," he mutters with a shake of his head.
Faintly, he hears rustling. A book falls from the warped shelves and vomits its pages on the floor before him, revealing a bundle of letters stamped in religious insignia. Letters to a church which mention holy chapels and sacred rites. Leonard's, by the looks of it.
That you manage to do this yet time and again astounds me. Does your impertinence know no bounds? To think! What other foolishness have you stuffed inside my daughter's head? Yesterday she looked me in the eye and she told me, "Father, after the world is cleansed in fire, will the unbelievers be saved, too?"
You can imagine how scarcely I held myself. All I taught her from birth, unraveled in a single question. Frustration jailed in the very crevices of my teeth.
I said, "No, child." And I quoted Verse 56: "Shall you, lord and keeper, preserve the germ which harms your household? Shall you allow filth and pestilence to accumulate till all in your house fall ill? No, if you indeed exercise mercy and love; for the health of your stead you should not treasure such things but eliminate them. And so it is within God's kingdom. So the blasphemous and the heathen shall not be rewarded with the eternal gift, nor spared the Abyss."
And do you know what she said, after my explanation? "But." But! As if the Word were not proof enough!
"But nothing! Who told you such nonsense?"
"You know you cannot lie to me. Someone put those words in your mouth. Who?"
For a while she shifted around, refused to speak clearly, which only inflamed me more. That boldness which gave her strength had evaporated from her; oh, Claudia! Why, when you at last grow a backbone, must you always abandon it? She kept gazing down at her feet as all shameful daughters do. " … l'ssa."
" … ssa."
"Speak up! Or by God—"
"Alessa!" she screamed at last. "Alessa told me!" Screamed. Never have I witnessed the child so hysterical. "Oh, but don't! Father, don't!" Then she flung her arms around me and sobbed, as though I'd dare touch a single hair on her precious Alessa.
I know neither girl comes by this naturally. You've been flapping your mouth as of late, haven't you, spraying loose and insolent words for our children to parrot back to us? Point me to the Verse that claims the heathen shall feel the joy of God's paradise. Can't find it? That's because not a drop of ink was set down to record such lies. You may fool those girls but I see the truth. Treachery does not hide long from those who serve God, and that, woman, humble servant you are not.
Indeed, you call me a hideous father? It is true I may discipline Claudia too sternly for your taste, but in doing so I protect her soul as I would my own. My sentry sleeps not one day nor one night. How long sleeps your sentry? Long enough for your daughter to scribble "No God" all over your altar walls? Ha!
He reads the letter twice, stunned that Vincent would have advised them to seek out this nutcase. However awful its sentiments, the responding correspondence manages to be even worse. It was penned by a woman named Dahlia. Alessa's mother.
I'm sure Council admires your ability to blather on about nothing, Leonard, but quite frankly you just bore me. One of these days you'll burst a blood vessel. If the girl comes home reciting things you don't like to hear, God rest your fiery soul, it's not because of me. I doubt if you tied that poor creature to a chair and made her quote Scripture till she turned blue she'd be any closer to attaining salvation than I am reaching through the air right now and grasping it.
None of us will reach Paradise sitting around waiting for it to descend. That's why we need God here and now, on earth as She once was. And God must be born from a good womb. A strong womb.
Now listen carefully, because I don't much feel like bashing my head against a wall. I finished speaking with the hospital director yesterday. He outlined our goals clearly. As it turns out, it is possible to summon God through the flesh. But first we need a suitable incubator. This above all.
None of the girls at the school nor the orphanage have proven even remotely sufficient in that regard. Their fragile little bodies cannot handle the strain of Her presence—their fragile little minds even less so. Tell me, has the Church bred nothing but simpering flowers in the past ten years? Spare me the theatrics; you know it to be true.
If I keep mentioning Alessa it's because of her power. I have to admit power like hers springs rare, and it's given me pause to think. There was one who showed promise, long ago. Her infant displayed markers of such power, but as fate would have it, it was born male. She told me she intended to drown it, send its soul back to the preternatural realm so it would re-descend through her womb with the correct gender. You may cry it barbaric but that was custom back then. Given the circumstances, I would have done the same. Of course, the lily-livered harlot changed her mind at the last minute and took the worthless flesh with her. You like to dwell upon slights, dwell upon this—all of that power, lost, because of one woman's weakness.
So you understand; it is not enough the Mother have a strong body. She must also demonstrate the rare mind impervious to fear and attachment. If the seed of God comes to fruition, would the Mother willingly set loose her progeny in the world, with her heart empty and her eyes unclouded? She must, if she desires salvation. She must be willing to suffer, willing to lose all as our Lord has lost.
These girls, these women, they're cowards all, feeble-willed and vain to boot. If you've ever seen the way young mothers covet their newborns the way I have—they gurgle and regress into children themselves!—then you'll know they'd rather swallow coals than relent those tiny bodies.
We need one whom minds neither the loss nor stain of sacrifice. Or … Perhaps one young enough not to understand just how the fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh.
It's incredibly unformed as far as notions go, I admit, but I have yet to hear any of those old robes come up with better. There's very little time we can waste now if we wish to take part in the Miraculous Descent. Precious little. I'll speak with the director tomorrow.
And of course Alessa wrote no such thing on my walls. Do you truly believe I'd allow that? Honestly, Leonard.
A curdling shriek pierces his ears. He whirls around, dropping the journal, followed by the clatter of iron against stone, the sound of boots crushing silt.
"I don't like that I must do this," a woman says, "but God cannot save your soul if it is errant. You understand I am punishing you now to spare you the flames."
Douglas startles as the dead hearth bursts alive, crackling a thin, pointed fire from seemingly nowhere. As it hisses cinders to his incredulous eyes, he hears a quivering breath. The shadowed outline of a small girl kneels beside the hearth, her back littered with bruises. He can hardly believe the sight of their grotesque welts bursting from the skin, that the blood dribbling between them stems from the poker at her side.
The glow recedes.
Douglas bolts for the door. He's got to get out of here. He can't stay in a house where children were being abused, no matter how screwed-up they'd eventually become.
At that he hears the shriek of a siren: a thin, yearning sound as pointed as a newborn's wail. The lighter breaks free of his grip and snuffs out its flame as he clutches his head, which now feels like it's being split open with one of the pokers.
As he staggers into the next room, the woman chants:
"God calls us, Her chosen ones
to guard Her from harm and pestilence
so the heathen shall not be given the eternal reward
nor spared the Abyss … "
His voice dwindles to a whisper.
Crucified upside-down within a metal cage, her body suspended by intricate needles. Her hair is gone; black iron needles protrude from her bare scalp instead, stretching the skin in a demented crown of thorns. Douglas looks up to the slow rusty grinding of gears as the upper mechanism surrounding her crown twists upon an invisible axis.
Errant veins bulge against her pale flesh and crawl across like insects. She maintains an eerie calm in spite of it all, possessed of a grace that can only be called divine. Although small needles split the sides of her mouth into a timid smile, he has the feeling she does it of her own volition.
"Alessa," she laments. "My dearest. I will wait in the darkness forever if that is your wish. But … My heart aches for you."
Her moan slips unanswered into the void. When she at last opens her eyes, crimson swarms toward white irises. It must be excruciating pain; yet she still finds it in herself to speak further.
"She is not fit to bear God. You know this and I know this. Do not allow her to carry Her. Our Lord was munificent before Alessa killed Her; now She will destroy the world just to burn its sinners. If Her anger is not placated, mankind will never know Paradise."
She blinks away a drop of blood that pools from her cornea. It wells over and darkens her cheek. She smiles at it, her calm unfettered in damnation.
"Alessa… Forgive me."
Rats scamper through his blurred vision. Rats and broken glass on a hard wooden floor.
Douglas pushes himself up and immediately regrets it. A warm rush of blood throbs between his temples, and he has to wonder just what the hell kinda trick this town is playing on them.
The road back to the motel has been blown by an impossible chasm, forcing him to circumvent it down Nathan Avenue. All the while he trudges through town, legs heavy and hurting, hoping Heather has found what she's desperately seeking.
Silent Hill peels back to rust and decay. Eventually the road darkens beneath him, gives way to chainlink, chokes out its own vegetation in this smothering red mist. He feels as though he's wandering through a fugue, someone's vague nightmare unfolding before his very eyes.
He's resting on a bench when Claudia finds him again.
"I hired you to find the girl and you performed serviceably."
"You lied to me about Heather, lady." He shakes his head, pushes himself up. "I don't like being used."
Grave lines etched around the woman's mouth deepen. Her nostrils pulse silently, but still she feigns poise, her gaze locked with Cartland's. "Alessa is needed to birth Paradise. But our dream was quashed when that man stole her away from us—"
"Not this crap—"
"—and then he vilified us, tainted her mind against us with his lies. I required you to maintain secrecy until the time came to help the fruition. The others cannot know what I've done," Claudia says. "The price for risking Her health is unimaginable."
"So why do it?"
"I don't wish any more to be condemned to darkness."
"Who don't deserve to be here, you mean."
"Accuse me at your own behest. I know I'm doing the right thing. After this, I don't care what happens to me. But she is our only link to Paradise, and the longer God waits, the greater the likelihood it will vanish. We cannot afford to lose Her now."
"What good'll it do?" he asks. "You can't change the past."
A glitter passes her icy eyes. Like a cinder, threatening to smolder.
"Besides," he says, "she was happy."
"I doubt you'd understand," Claudia replies. "Happiness without God is just illusion. The truth is we are all helpless without Her mercy. No one will ever love us more than She does."
"You're right, I don't get it. A God who wants innocent people to suffer sounds like no God worth prayin' to."
"No one in this world is innocent." Claudia shakes her head, scanning the black sky where crimson mists sail past like blood-ridden warships. "I know that now. Perhaps it's true that none of us deserve Paradise, but even so, we cannot stop trying to earn Her love."
"First of all, there's no 'we.' Only you. Second, did your 'God' really tell you to kill her father? Or was it because you were jealous?"
He knows he's handling fire now.
"You didn't deserve it, Claudia, but neither did Heather. Trusting in this fairy godmother, thinkin' it's gonna fix all your problems … You're only gonna hurt a lot more than you help."
She steps forth, as if daring him to challenge her again.
"Is that what you believe? Paradise is a fable, some selfish wish? No. It's a place where men will no longer suffer from the scourges of hunger, war, old age. Alessa yearned for it long ago, but because of that man, she abandoned our dream."
He snorts. "No this, no that, no nothin'. A paradise for castrated sheep, maybe. Sounds pretty boring."
"Judgment shall be delivered," she says. "When that day comes, where will you stand? By God's right side, or with your back turned to Her, facing the Abyss?"
He lifts his gun.
"You're going to kill me? Is it really so easy for you?"
"I've done it before."
"Then," Claudia says, clasping her hands together just as his bone snaps, "I truly do pity you."