It's been ten years since those fateful several days. It's not as though memories of these events ever really escaped me, but you know how it can be. Life's new challenges can at times edge out the memories and take precedence. Life certainly did offer the lion's share of challenges for Laura and myself after Silent Hill, but the memories have always been there, and for both of us.
Challenges? Sure. It would have been lovely if the whole ordeal ended on a happy note, with the kid and the born-again husband riding off into the sunset and happily ever after. Real things obviously contrast with the movies in many regards, and that was the first of many for us.
I thought about a lot of things on that long drive back to Ashfield. What were we going to do? I had been forgiven by my wife, and presumably by Laura, but it still didn't change the fact that I had committed what was essentially murder. An autopsy would determine that in about ten seconds, and given that Mary's illness was such a mystery to modern American medicine, there would be no doubt an autopsy would be in order. I personally had two options.
The first would be to go home, call the police, and confess to them what I had done. I would be arrested and charged with murder of some degree. A lenient judge might view the case in a favorable light, the grieving husband euthanizing his terminally-ill wife. Maybe that would earn me a reduced sentence. Maybe not. Maybe I might spend the remainder of my life in prison. Regardless, I would have to face the Sheperds, nice people who never did me one iota of wrong. Mary forgave me, but would they? Would Charles and Nadine Sheperd forgive me the death of their only daughter, or Nicky and Will Sheperd their only sister?
The second was just as unappetizing, but in the end, it was the second choice that I decided upon. Maybe that makes me a coward. Maybe it means I'm selfish and self-righteous. After all, I had already suffered plenty for my crime. My experience in Silent Hill was far more acute than any prison term, and besides, I received forgiveness from the only person whose opinion really mattered.
There was one other factor though, and that was Laura.
We stopped for dinner in some small town past the Massachusetts border, around seven or so. It was then that I asked her to tell me exactly what Mary said to her. She refused, saying it was their secret and she meant to keep it. I have never asked her since, and she has never volunteered to reveal anything. She did tell me many other things, though. Growing up in one orphanage, spending most of her early childhood sick, never knowing who her parents were. She was sent to Edward the Confessor's Home for Children three years ago, and met Mary last year when she contracted the chicken pox and spent some time as a patient in the nearby St. Jerome's Medical Center (I later found out that her immune system is, shall I say, less than stellar). She told me that she saw Mary sitting in the commons, "looking real lonely", and she went over and struck up a conversation. From there, it seems like a rather profound friendship was born. After Laura overcame her chicken pox and was released, she made a point to return and visit Mary every time the opportunity presented itself, and while I don't specifically recall ever noting her presence except maybe in passing, she certainly knew me, and despite the nice things Mary had to say about me, Laura was never convinced. I guess she had good reason not to be, what with me increasingly taking time away from my obligations of marriage to sit at a bar, sometimes with a beer, more and more often with a shot glass, taking the easy, cheap and painfully temporary way out of reality.
It was just about a week ago, when Mary was taken to Brookhaven for some of what the doctors called "geographic therapy", that Laura discovered that her best friend in the whole world had been whisked away under her nose, without a word of warning. As it turned out, it was a letter that brought her here as well, the one she let me read in the hotel. Apparently, Mary had told Laura so much about her love of that little town in western Maine that Laura guessed that it was where she had gone. Maybe I'm underestimating her, but I bet one of the nurses told her, though she vehemently denied that.
Then, the kid actually hitchhikes her way out of Ashfield, some dangerous and daring moves in times like this, for one never knows when a ride might end in rape or murder or God knows what. Ironically, the last leg of her journey had her riding shotgun with none other than your friend and mine, Eddie Dombrowski. Once in town, they went their separate ways, meeting only once more, the meeting I had witnessed. I never did tell her about Eddie, not what he did, and not what I did. It's not something she needs to know. I can't really imagine she'd cry much over him, though. She never spoke well of her dog-slaughtering benefactor.
In any case, we arrived in Ashfield sometime after 10 that night. She was absolutely delighted to see our house, to see the place where Mary had lived much of her adult life. She explored the entire house from top to bottom, displaying an almost-religious awe in the places in which Mary's presence was strongest. I sat her down and told her that we wouldn't be staying here, that we had to leave tomorrow. Surprisingly, it took little convincing on my part. Children seem to accept things so much more easily than adults do. It's a shame we lose that as we grow older and more cynical.
I let her sleep in our bed, while I would take the couch in the living room, but not yet. There were things I had to do before the night was through. There was Mary, yet. Her body. I refuse to detail what I did with her body. All I will say is that I buried her discreetly, and with as much love and care as I had in me. It wasn't even a quarter of the treatment she honestly deserved, but I did all I could do.
There were other preparations to be made. I withdrew money the next morning, eight thousand dollars. We had almost twenty in savings and bonds, and I didn't touch any of it. I scanned the classified ads the next morning and purchased a used vehicle that afternoon, an 85 Dodge Caravan, for $3,500. I took a taxi to the seller's place, a college kid who went into far too much detail about his new car and how suped-up it was going to be. I drove my new car back home, and Laura and I started packing.
We didn't really take a lot in the end. Much of what was taken was sentimental, photo albums, clothing, that sort of thing. I took several items of personal value, most of which I was to sell in the coming months, like my vinyls and tools and a few valuables that I could bear to part with like china and silverware. I was thinking more utility than anything, and I left behind most of what I owned. In all honesty, I missed little of it, and I don't regret it.
Our last duty in town was to hit the local K-mart and stock up on some non-perishables and clothing for Laura, nothing but necessities. We left Ashfield, Massachusetts on May 17, 1994. We both left our entire lives behind there.
To this day, we have never been back.
I had no real destination in mind, but I did want to get far away. I wanted to start my new life in a place nowhere near where I had started and finished the old one. The logical solution was to go west, and the best way to go west was to take Interstate 90 out of Boston. We could have gone all the way to Seattle if we wanted.
We didn't, though.
There was a sort of liberating freedom that came with what is essentially a well-provisioned fugitive lifestyle. For nine days, we traveled I-90 at a rather leisurely pace through New York and Ohio, and though neither of us really spoke of it, we were looking for a new place to call home. The thought of being a drifter the rest of my life was extremely unappealing, and it wouldn't be good for Laura, either. If I was to take the responsibility of raising this kid, I could only do it right if we were grounded somewhere. It was Interstate 90, the longest paved road in the entire world, that brought us there.
We stopped for lunch in a small town in Wisconsin, on the Minnesota border, a lovely little place called La Crosse. I can't be the poet and weave a tapestry of words that describe its appeal, but I personally was taken in by the beautiful sights of the bluffs. There was just a sort of benign, understated magic, I guess. Maybe there wasn't, I don't know. But we stayed past lunch, past dinner, and got a hotel room for the night. Next thing I know, five days later, Laura and I are apartment-hunting.
That's where we've been, ever since. Ten years in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a place I hadn't even heard of until the day we came across it. As nice as the place was, there were some rough days, especially that first year. For you see, it wasn't James Sunderland who purchased a lease on that apartment. During those five days, I had to make some discreet inquiries about some rather unwholesome activities with some rather unwholesome people. Even in small-town Wisconsin, you can find such people, people who will sell you a new identity for a sum of untraceable cash. I found such a person. Twenty-four hours and two-thousand dollars later, Kevin Ingraham signed lease papers with Underbriar Properties, and got a small, two bedroom apartment with his daughter Laura. The day after that, Kevin Ingraham got a job, second-shift grocery stocker at the George Street Piggly Wiggly. Hardly enjoyable work, but it was income.
Things got better as time went on. Laura enrolled in elementary school. I kept my job at the supermarket for two years while I re-enrolled in higher education (as Kevin Ingraham didn't get to keep James Sunderland's associate's degree). Once I got it back, I got into management at a department store. Now I'm making thirty-four grand a year, after seven years.
More immediately, I'm leaving the auditorium of Logan High School. It's early June now, just over ten years since it all happened. I just watched my daughter receive her diploma. She turned eighteen last month, but I think it was today that I saw that snotty little handstomper become a woman. I'm so proud of her, and I'm so glad I got to be a part of her life. There's so much of Mary in her that it almost hurts sometimes. It's not so much the personality, really. Laura's louder and brasher than Mary ever was. She had a mouth that occasionally got her into trouble, but she also had an impish wit that got her out of it as often as not. It was other things, subtle things. Most people probably wouldn't notice them, and I'd bet Laura herself doesn't realize it, but I do. Mannerisms, gestures, that sort of thing. The way she cocks her head when she's deep in thought. The way she snaps her fingers when she's nervous. You know, stuff like that. She has shades of Mary, but she's her own person. I'm glad for that. She can surprise, too. Our relationship was more cautious friendship than anything at first. I was Kevin to her, and I still am for the most part. But we grew closer than that. I don't know for sure if we ever truly became father and daughter, but…
…but when she was at the podium, to take her diploma, she thanked Dad.
Me. Dad. It was a little scary and a lot wonderful, and I won't lie, it brought a tear to my eye to hear her call me that in front of thousands of people.
Laura's going to a post-graduation party, and I know she'll have a good time. I also know she won't do anything stupid. Stupid isn't in her nature. She grew up fast, and she has a good head on her shoulders. I'll be seeing her tomorrow, I know, and I'm not worried in the least. I'm at home now, myself, at the kitchen table.
I've been reminiscing a lot lately. I guess it's the whole ten-year deal. I've been thinking a lot about what happened ten years ago, and it's funny that I am. Nine other such anniversaries have come and gone, and while I haven't even started to forget the experience, I never really gave it an incredible amount of thought until this year. There are still things about it all that I don't understand, and probably never will. I know for sure now that whatever I experienced was due in at least some part to my own mind, because I had long ago learned that no disaster had struck Silent Hill on the morning of May 14, 1994. The town had gone about its business even as I wandered empty, broken streets populated with all sorts of horrors. But I didn't, really. As I said, I don't understand a bit of it, but there's no doubting it happened. I have the letter, and I have Laura, to prove that it did. It was not an experience I would ever even think of wanting to try a second time. It was horrible, and I'm sure it was at least partially responsible for the hypertension I have today.
Yet, on the other hand, it was a necessary experience. It was something I brought on myself, yes, but it saved me from something worse. I don't know what that something was, exactly. I might have hit the bottle again, and with improved gusto. I might have one night decided to play another game of Russian Roulette with my Colt only to actually win the prize. I might have just lived out the remainder of my life a broken, unhappy man in prison. I don't know. All I do know is that I'm content with the life I have today, and I wouldn't have it if I hadn't gone through that special hell. I'm not rich, and I don't love my job. I'll probably not be much more than I am now. But I can deal with that. I have most everything I need to be content.
The only thing I miss, besides my wife of course, is my father. I never told him about any of it. Never told anyone anything. At first that didn't bother me. It's not as though I had a particularly great relationship with my father, after all. But you know, absence does make the heart grow fonder, to give a cliché life. I do miss the old man. I miss him a lot. But I've never even thought of getting in touch with him. His son is dead, after all. James Sunderland did not survive Silent Hill. James Sunderland is the past, a past that no longer has a place in my heart. He was a man who meant well but messed up badly. Kevin Ingraham is the man born from his mistakes. Kevin is a mostly happy guy.
But Kevin has no family, besides his daughter, and Kevin regrets that sometimes. Especially right now.
Even though James Sunderland was a dead man, I still read the papers from Ashfield every now and then, to see what they had to say about me, if anything. They did, early on. They had searched for Mary and I for a long time. I was never treated as a suspect for anything, but as a missing person. Eventually, they gave up the search and declared us both lost. I was relieved. It's the way it should be.
But there was an interesting article, and I didn't even see it in the Ashfield Register. It made national news, thought hardly a headliner.
I remembered while in Silent Hill seeing an article about a guy named Walter Sullivan, a man who apparently had a penchant for serial killing and was caught not long after slaughtering two kids with an axe. He had killed himself in prison, and I later saw that man's tombstone in the catacombs within the Labyrinth. Both times I thought the name familiar, but I never made a connection, and I had forgotten about it even before I left the town.
As it turned out, Ashfield had been wracked by a series of serial slayings earlier in the year. Three people had been killed, and one Eileen Galvin came close to being number four. Every body, including Galvin's, displayed mutilating marks identical to those found on earlier victims killed by Sullivan. The police were calling it a copycat case but had few leads and no suspects, noting that other killings with similar modus operandi had been discovered almost concurrently. It was a double shocker to find that not only did this article dredge up one old memory, but two, for as it happened, the three murders and fourth attempted murder all took place in the South Ashfield Heights apartment complex.
Dad's picture was in the byline. The black and white photo showed a man who had aged twenty years in the ten since I had seen him. He had been the building's superintendent since I was a baby, but the killing spree had done terrible things. More than half of the tenants had canceled their leases and hoofed it out of there. The place had suddenly earned a very unfavorable reputation (the editorializing writer twice calling it the "South Ashfield Slaughterhouse"). Dad was up to his neck in lawsuits, and even though he was likely to win them, he was old and even through the print I could see it was taking a terrible toll on him, and he would almost certainly have to sell the complex, if he wasn't forced to forfeit first.
That's what really set off this reminiscing streak. It broke my heart to see him like that, and it made me realize something about myself that I had done my best to ignore and forget for the last decade; James Sunderland wasn't completely dead and buried. I had cut all the ropes and drifted away, but still, there were ties I couldn't see, that I didn't want to see, and in retrospect it was perhaps only a matter of time before they started pulling me back. Seeing Dad like this, it touched something in me. It made me remember Mary, and how I felt when I saw her in a similar broken state. When faced with that particular bit of adversity, I handled it the wrong way, and I would feel the effects every minute for the rest of my life.
And that's why I'm sitting at the kitchen table right now, with my cordless telephone sitting on the table next to my newspaper. I remember not being there for Mary, and having to live with that regret. I still did, you know. She forgave me, but I never completely forgave myself. It still stuck with me, and there were times I would spend sleepless hours, even now, wishing futile wishes, that I could have a second chance and do things differently. Well, in a way, I did get a second chance, one that I'm eternally grateful for, but you know, it's still there, deep down. Regret is perhaps the most difficult monster to slay.
Would I regret never speaking to my father again? There have been times when I would have answered in the negative, in days gone by. James Sunderland might have said no. Kevin Ingraham wasn't so sure. Kevin Ingraham had a new life, a content life, and that life might well be placed in jeopardy if the ghost of James Sunderland comes back to life now.
Maybe so. Maybe not. I guess I would have to tell him everything. Whether or not he would go to the cops would be his prerogative and no one else's. Yet, in the end, I did pick up that phone, and I did dial that number, and as I listened to the pulsing hum of the connecting line, I knew for certain that I was making the right decision this time, no matter how things turned out in the end.
May 29th, 2005 – August 30th, 2006