Chapter 38

Epilogue: Nowhere Bound

"The Southern Aurora was late again

As I waited at central to take you home

Winking spinning sparkling lights on our flat earth

You talk about the old groundling ways...


It took six days for the weather to become notable enough to worry about.

The weather report had spoken of the unusual snowfall that had taken place over the last several days, claiming that it would be clearing up within the week. However, a full week later, the skies over Ashfield still insisted on turbulent winds and a chill factor to beat any that Ashfield had ever seen. Things had only intensified with time, perhaps the result of some great and terrible thing's dying breath, a thing trying one last time to lash out and cause as much damage as possible.

It was 20 degrees below zero.


Henry shivered.

He sat on the couch in his apartment once again, curled up on its center cushion, feet tucked beneath him and blanket shrouded around him. He'd just been released from the hospital two nights prior; as amazing as it had sounded even to him, Walter's bullet had barely grazed his lung. There had been some abrasion damage, but no puncture wound to be seen. The staff at St. Jerome's had determined that an unfamiliar toxin had been responsible for his breathing problems--so unusual was the toxin, in fact, that Henry's doctor, Melvin Coolidge, M.D., had been interrogated by a Federal Agent mere hours after the document reporting its presence had been reported, having been inadvertently discovered by the Department of Homeland Security.

All in all, it was amazing for Henry to be alive this cold winter morning. It was amazing that any of them were still alive.

Already, the events of that night had grown faint, foggy--perhaps it was because the toxin had affected his memory, sent those last terrifying moments into a dreamlike blur, remerging only in the darkest of nightmares. Perhaps it was because the very nature of the conflict beneath the town, the distortion of time and space, had interfered with the storage of his memory. Or perhaps it had all been a strange, super-realistic kind of dream, taking place on another plane of reality altogether, much like the events in this very room, oh so long ago.

Strange...his original clash with the likes of Walter had taken place less than two weeks ago, yet the memories had already vacated to the farthest reaches of his mind; it seemed as if years had passed. Perhaps that, too, was a side-effect of the perpetual distortion that took place in that other world? He would never know. And for once, he was content with that.

He took a slow, shuddering breath; better he may be, but still a far cry from well. He would be bedridden for at least another week, or in the worst-case scenario, a month. The poison had been neutralized and the bullets removed, but there was always the chance of recurring complication, be it from the actual injury or from one of the countless countermeasure operations conducted thereafter. He would have to be wary of any changes in his chemistry, small or great.

But even so...knowing all that he had gone through in the past two weeks, it felt absolutely thrilling to be alive. This feeling he had now, it was like the high-production-value Hollywood sequel to the one he'd had upon escaping from Walter's original Otherworld concoction; like winning the lottery twice.

On the TV, the weatherman read out the forecast for the upcoming week; according to their telemetry, the next four days would be sunny with clear skies, but so far this week, all the reports had been wrong. It was a meteorological anomaly--though the conditions for perfect weather seemed to exist in the atmosphere, it continued to snow. Henry didn't know whether or not to feel threatened by that; he thought he could sense the finger of a greater being--sinister, mindless with rage--probing through the works, furiously seeking a self-destruct button. Could it really be...could Walter still...?

No, Henry asserted. He's dead this time--as dead as he can be, anyway. I'm sure of it. He won't be bothering us anymore.

But still...


Where the suburbs summer play in wrinkled sand

And never never never neverland

I get home I see them, I drive down

I look out, I see those lines and lines and lines of swell and smiles

Coolangatta, what's the matter?


At one o'clock that afternoon, a brown sedan pulled into the driveway of a well-to-do-looking house in the residential district of South Ashfield. The two-story residence appeared to have been recently painted; the central woodwork had been done over with a soothing robin's-egg-blue, the doors and windowpanes a soft and just-as-soothing white.

The detective observed all of this with a melancholy sort of deja-vu as he killed the engine and carefully removed himself from the sedan, taking care not to aggravate his bullet wounds. He had been shot in three places, but the damage had only been severe in one--the right lung. There had been a massive reconstructive surgery around the site of the wound, with a recovery period of almost a full week before he'd been permitted to leave the hospital. The doctor had told him that six days was a phenomenal recovery time for such a surgery; most patients took months to recover from that level of intrusion.

Douglas made his way up the slippery driveway, his walking shoes every-so-often sliding on the frosty tar. He tried his best not to fall down--the last thing he needed was to be rushed to the hospital here and now, less than an hour after his dismissal.

At last, he made it to the front porch--a long and narrow concrete-paved thing, marked on the far end by a calm little swinging bench and bordered with a four-foot-high wooden rail. Not too far to the right of the bench was a screen door; it was this door before which the detective now stood, raising his hand and rapping gently on the wooden frame.

At first there was nothing, which was what he'd expected; he hadn't been able to tell if anyone was home because the garage door was shut, but he'd figured the house was probably empty--Fran worked a lot during the week, or at least she had when he'd known her, and it was the middle of a weekday. No reason for her to be home, really.

But then, from beyond the door, footsteps. And a voice.

"Just wait," the high, muffled voice pleaded.

A dog barked.

"Shut up," the same voice hissed.

There was a click, and then the wooden door opened; a white, middle-aged, blonde-haired woman stood in the threshold. She wore a blue bathrobe of the same shade as the house itself and cradled a small, scruffy white beagle--surely no more than a year old--in her arms. She opened her mouth to speak, saw the detective, and seemed to choke on whatever words she'd had at the ready.

"Fran," Douglas rasped.

"It's you," she said, holding onto the dog a little tighter.

The dog growled under its breath, eyeing the detective with obvious malice; Fran hushed it by rocking it gently and rubbing its forehead.

"Why are you here?" she asked him, her eyes bold and--he was sad to see--afraid. "Why did you come back?"

"Fran, there's something I need to tell you."

She seemed confused...but then, realization dawned on her face. "Is this about...John?"

"Is Nina here?"

"She's asleep upstairs. Why, what happened?"

"I'm...I'm sorry."

Fran regarded him with wide eyes, full of fear. "Did something happen?"

"There was an incident," Douglas said, hanging his head. His instinct was trying to pry him away from her, but he knew he had to face her when he said the words. "A man...this guy had a rifle. John saw it, and he tried to warn us, but--"

Fran's face had sunk; she looked fifteen years older in a second.

"He was killed," Douglas said. "If he hadn't...if he hadn't said anything, then I wouldn't be standing here talking to you now."

"I see," she said, stone cold.

"I thought you should know," he said. "He--"

"Don't," she interrupted. "I don't want to hear it again."

"But it's true," Douglas said. "He didn't talk about being at home much, but he did. He loved you guys a lot."

"Maybe he did," she said. "But that's in the past, now. Things are different."

"You're right about that," Douglas said. "Things are different. And they will be, forever."

She looked confused.

"I don't want to trouble you anymore," Douglas said, nodding in her direction as he turned away. "I'll get lost now. Tell Nina I said hey, will you?"

Fran didn't answer.

"I'm sorry for what happened," he said, and started back down the driveway, crossing the lawn.

She watched him go, feeling like she needed to say something, anything at all...but no words would come. It was impossible to describe the sensation which filled her heart at that moment: John Phillip Herring was gone. He'd been survived by a wife and a young daughter, victims of that timeless beast, the divorce. On the one hand, she felt liberated...but on the other, there was now this new hole in her life, this thing which could never be filled. Because, no matter how much she tried to deny it, deep down, she really did still love him. And she knew he'd felt the same way about her. Nina loved him, too.

But now he was gone.


Douglas hadn't cried in fourty-three years, and he wouldn't now. However, he would feel the greatest despair he would ever know as he drove back to his two-bedroom home on the southern edge of Ashfield, to his only family--a collapsible bed, a kitchen set, and a portable TV with the worst reception this side of the Pacific Ocean. He had time to mull over everything that was gone now, everything he'd had in the palm of his hand only weeks ago; he had time to think about everything that had changed--everyone that had changed--and all the things that could never be the same. He had time to think about how badly he'd missed the train with Heather, and about where she must be now, in the thrall of whatever lay beyond this world. He had time to think about everything, about nothing, and all the things in between; he had lost a son once, many years ago, in a bank robbery, and he had blamed himself then. Now he had lost what amounted to a daughter, as well, and for this he found he could only blame himself as well.

He wouldn't commit suicide--he wasn't quite that far up the creek--but he would spend lonely nights from here on out lying wide awake, wondering what awaited him at the end of this long road. In the many sleepless nights to come, he would find himself wondering how he planned to make it through the rest of his life without allowing himself to succumb to this overwhelming despair. Henry and Eileen were the only two living humans in the world who would be able to relate to him, and they had their own lives, their own problems; he wouldn't--couldn't--allow himself to burden them with his own. Now that their paths had split once again, he was on his own, just as he had been before. Except now, even Herring was gone--his only equal in all of the Ashfield Police department, his only reprieve from the harsh world of the next generation.

For the next step on this harsh road, he would have to find something to live for. He would have to find something he could feel for, something to drive him through each day in spite of his losses. With this in mind, he pulled onto the curb and parked in front of the building closest to him on the left side of the street--a charming little food joint with the timeless title of The Lamb.


He came in just as he had a week before, listening as the wind chime over the door clattered noisily against the glass paneling, and approached the bar. His walking shoes creaked across the wooden floor, and when he sat down on the nearest available bar stool--next to a younger but still getting-on gent in a flannel overshirt and faded jeans--it squeaked beneath his weight, crying for oil.

The Lamb was not a busy establishment even in the mid-afternoon lunch hour; the man sitting beside him was one of only two other solicitors. The other, a little old black woman who seemed like the type to have been coming here for ages (and probably solely for nostalgic value), sat in a booth against the far right-hand end of the room, against a picture window that offered a glorious view of the dirty alley between the Lamb and its next-door neighbor. Eventually, after giving him several minutes to look around and familiarize himself with the join once again, a balding black man who looked to be in his mid-fourties emerged from the room behind the counter, wearing a white chef's apron. He eyed Douglas, sensing a potential customer. "Sorry, man--can I help you?"

"Actually, yeah," Douglas said, straining to sound somewhat content. "I was wondering...does that other girl still work here? You know, I think her name was Katherine?"

The man to Douglas' right seemed piqued by the mention of Katherine's name; he turned towards the detective. "You serious?"

"Yeah," Douglas responded, not quite confrontational but very much put off. "Why? What's wrong?"
The guy behind the counter shook his head solemnly. "You didn't hear?"
"What?" Douglas asked. Anxious, he slid off the stool and onto his feet. "What happened?"

"There was a robbery," the proprietor said, speaking with a visible trail of melancholy behind his voice. "Money, like always. She give it to him, and he shot her anyway. Point-blank, right in the head. She's dead 'fore you could say, damn. Got it all on security."

Douglas felt his heart sink to the pit of his stomach. At first, he couldn't even speak. "What...when? When did this happen?"

"Just a while ago," the proprietor said, pity creeping into his voice in place of sadness. "Maybe five, six days, I think. Late at night."

He knew it was crazy--it couldn't be, it just didn't make sense, and on top of that it simply wasn't fair--but he knew, nonetheless, that she had been murdered on the same night he'd left for Silent Hill. Possibly right after he'd walked out the door. Had the attacker seen him, judged him as a threat, decided to wait until he'd gone? Would Katherine still be alive if he had stayed a bit longer?

"Just goes to show ya," the proprietor continued. "This town ain't right. It ain't been right, not since I was a boy. And it's gettin' worse every day."

Douglas understood...he understood very well. It happened to all towns eventually, as they grew and matured and got too big for their underwear--the same thing that happened to people who became famous, to business owners once their work found corporate ground, to bands once they started taking their popularity for granted; they abandoned their families, their old lives, altogether in the interest of moving forward into a future that was certain to bring fortune...yet still uncertain in so many of the ways that mattered.


Paradise, it's a surfer's world and flashing lights and real estate

One last wave...


Eileen set what few items she'd selected from the back of the store--a small rack of beef, a six-pack of beer, two or three bottles of differing types of pepper and spice, and a cheap glass of champaigne--onto the counter, then proceeded to fumble in her pants for her wallet while the clerk, a bored middle-eastern guy with the distinct name of Rico, tended to her purchase and bagged it for her. As soon as she returned to form with her wallet at the ready, Rico unceremoniously declared her total. She obliged, paying him in exact change.

"Weather's pretty nasty," Eileen said conversationally, scooping the bag containing her new possessions off of the counter. "Sort of cold for this time of year, huh?"
"Yeh," Rico said indifferently.

Eileen shrugged, tipped her head towards him, and started on out the door and into the domain of the elements.


The drive home was long and lonely; the weather had become so harsh in some places that the road was barely visible, forcing Eileen to slow the pace of the vehicle to a crawling twenty miles per hour. In the denser part of the business district, the tall buildings kept the weather at bay for short intervals, affording a more manageable level of visibility--at one point Eileen was actually able to read a billboard that invited onlookers to attend a book club meeting for some author at the local bookstore, a friendly-looking guy named Hemant who had apparently sold his soul on the internet. He would be available the Next Two Days ONLY! 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.! If Eileen was interested, she would Have To Hurry! because Time was Running Out!

She took a moment to wonder why someone would advertise a book club meeting so urgently.


The weather was so bad by the time she reached the end of Skiba Ave. that she almost missed the turnoff at Andriano Place; the sign jumped up at her from beyond a curtain of snow, startling her somewhat. She veered suddenly, temporarily vied with the elements for control of her vehicle, and made the turnoff without too much trouble. Andriano Place put her at less than five minutes away from South Ashfield Heights.

Soon, she would be home.



Henry stirred, pulled from his sleep by the sound of that voice. A familiar voice...

"Eileen?" he murmured, rolling into a sitting position. The blanket he'd been wrapped in earlier now lay tousled around his ankles. "You home already?"

But there was no answer.

Probably a dream, he thought. Wasn't Eileen's voice, anyway.

Then whose had it been?

He didn't know...but at least now he did know that he wouldn't have to attribute it to anything supernatural. The crazy stuff was done and over with; now he could get back to watching The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, not worrying about the afterlife or the before-life or the eternal suffering of the universe. All that was becoming like a bad dream...on the one hand, it was almost a shame that it should disappear so quickly. But on the other...perhaps it was better. It was not mortal man's place to know his standing in the grand scheme of things--either because he shouldn't, or because he couldn't. Either way, Henry knew he'd be just fine if he went the rest of his life without knowing. After what he'd seen down there...

What did I see down there?

He couldn't really remember anymore...some kind of creature. A big, scary thing, pulled from a mental patient's worst nightmare. A harpoon...a devil's head...a bird...and something else.

"Whatever," he mumbled, stretching his arms out as he rose to his feet. He felt a strong cramp light up in his left lung, and although he knew it most likely wasn't anything serious, he decided to ease up. Didn't want to take any chances.

At about that time the front door abruptly crashed inward, spilling Eileen into the room. She had two plastic bags cradled in her arms, and she seemed about to lose one of them.

"Hey," Henry said, rushing to her aid, "you should have called me." He scooped the bag out of the air just before it would have fallen.

"You're not well," she scolded him, nonetheless accepting the bag he had rescued. "You're supposed to be in bed, or at least on the couch. Did you finish the Colbert Report already?"

"The whole first season," Henry goaded.

"In two days?" Eileen said, disbelieving, as she hurled the bags up onto the counter and spilled their contents.

"What do you think I've been doing around here, playing with myself?" Henry jeered. It was an unusually perky comment, and it struck Eileen as a little odd.

"You feeling alright?" she asked him, feeling his forehead. "You're a little warm. You should get to bed."

"I'm fine," he said, shuffling weakly towards the fridge. He had to squeeze in behind Eileen to get close enough to open it; it was embedded into the counter right behind where she now stood, putting together her high-end beef dinner. He pried it open and plucked a cold juice drink pouch from inside. "Whatcha making?"

"Dinner," she said. "I was thinking...I figured we could just, you know, hang out tonight."

"What do you mean?" Henry asked, oblivious.

She turned to face him, uncertainty creeping into her face. "Um, well...see, there's something I need to tell you, but...well, let's just say I want you to be sitting down."

"Is it bad?" Henry ripped the straw off of the side of the pouch drink, slid it out of its plastic wrapper, and stabbed it through the soft spot on the top of the pouch.

"No," Eileen said, "not at all!"

"Wow," Henry responded, interrupting his own sentence with a long suck from the juice pouch. "Must be really good, then."

"You'll see," she said coyly, and returned to the rack of beef. She had already worked the plastic wrapping off of it, and she now opened the cabinet beneath the sink to her right and deposited it into the garbage can. "Help me remember that tomorrow's garbage day, alright?"
"Alright," Henry said, and started back towards the couch.

He won't remember, Eileen thought to herself. He never does.


By seven o'clock that night, all was silent in the town of Ashfield. The town itself seemed to have grown weary from the weather; the snow now blanketed much of the town, reflecting what remained of the evening sun back up into the sky in a brilliant shimmer. The sun itself seemed to grow tired; soon it, too, would seek the temporary reprieve of sleep, giving up its outpost at the edge of this hemisphere...and there would be no benevolent celestial entity to watch over the town in the final chapter of this story.


Henry came out of the bathroom, clothed in a fresh white button-up shirt (long-sleeved, the only way he would wear them) and a faded pair of blue jeans--no socks--and immediately smelled Eileen's dinner project, which he now presumed complete.

"Smells good, huh?" Eileen's voice ebbed from down the hall. "Why don't you come get a look for yourself?"

"Alright," Henry said, his voice slurring ever-so-slightly in reaction to his nighttime medication; he was still getting used to the drowsiness and nausea the medication brought upon him at the slightest effort, even when standing up--he could only hope that Eileen's beef dinner would help with regard to the nausea.

The living area was as black as had been that night in Silent Hill; the only illumination came from a six-pronged candleholder, perfectly centered (as far as Henry could tell, anyway) on the dining area table. In the candle's gentle light, he could see Eileen's smiling--though visibly nervous--face. He remembered her earlier promise, and wondered what news she was about to drop on him.

"Come on," she said impatiently, belying the smooth tone of her voice. "Sit down, already."

"Huh," Henry said, obliging. Impressive setup; she must've worked hard on this. He'd only been in the shower for fifteen minutes--had she done all this in that time? He had to admit that he hadn't really been paying attention; he'd been half-asleep on the couch, watching the Weather Channel for the past few hours.

"I," she started, hesitating. "I, um--"

"What's wrong?" Henry asked, reaching a hand across the table. "Did something happen?"

Eilen shrugged. "Sort of. I mean, yeah, but...well, it's kind of--"
Henry met her eyes, forcing back his urge to fall asleep. He wanted her to see in his eyes that he was all business now. "You can tell me, whatever it is."

Eileen grinned, obviously somewhat relieved...but she still seemed uneasy. "I've thought about it for the past few days--I never doubted that I was going to tell you, or anything, I just wanted to figure out how--but now...well, I'm worried about how you'll take it."

"Just tell me," Henry said. "That's the only way to find out. It can't be that big, can it?"

"You," Eileen said, stumbling; her heart was racing in her chest, as it had been the night before they'd traveled to Silent Hill, in the room with Henry. "You and I...we're going to...we're going to be..."

Henry saw it in her eyes before she actually said it; his face lit up in response.

Seeing his expression gave Eileen the courage to just spit it out: "You and I are going to be parents."

Henry's eyes widened; his chin would have hit the floor, had the table not been in the way.

"You're not--"
"No, no," Henry said, gesturing forward with his hands so harshly that he nearly knocked over the plate on which Eileen had set his half of the beef dinner; only narrowly did he avoid sending it crashing into the champaigne glass to the side. "No, not at all! It's...well, it's great! When did you find out?"
"A few days ago. I went to the doctor's, and...well--"

"Eileen, that's so cool!"

Deep down, Eileen felt a sigh of relief trying to escape. "Wow, you're taking this a lot better than I expected."

"What," Henry said, incredulous. "Did you think I was just going to walk out? I wouldn't do that to you; I love you, Eileen!"

With those words spoken, an awkward, heavy silence permeated the room. For a moment, Henry was afraid he'd set her off (though he didn't know why).

"So you did mean it," she whispered. Henry didn't exactly know what she was talking about--wasn't even sure if he'd heard her right--but after a moment, he decided he didn't care. "You know what this means, right?"
"I don't really want to get married," Eileen blurted, feeling strangely out of context.

"What?" Henry said. "Why not?"

"I just don't believe in marriage," she said. "I never have. It's not that I have anything against it, or anything...I just...well, I guess it feels kind of like jumping on the bandwagon. What we have...I feel like what we have is more special than that."


"Are you okay with that?"
"Well," Henry said, blinking harshly--his brain seemed to be trying to escape through his eye sockets, just from the shock of these last few moments--"let's not get too worked up about anything just now. We'll talk about the details later. For now..." he raised his champaigne glass across the table. "Let's have a toast, shall we?"
Eileen looked confused. "To what?"

"To us," Henry said.

"You're so cliche," Eileen said, giggling.

"Love is a cliche," Henry responded, with a chuckle of his own to boot.

"Well," Eileen said, raising her own glass, "here's to the most awesome cliche ever to grace the pages of a crappy Nora Roberts book."

And with that, their glasses rang out with a harmony almost as sweet as theirs...and the night was truly perfect.


Ahhh, get up and run

'Cause there's a beach lies quiet near the open sea

And a carpark lay streched out where the bindis used to be...


The end of the story draws near, my friends, and I thank you for having come this far to learn the truth. But there is one last thread to be followed; it protrudes from the sand quite conspicuously. It is our duty to follow it to its end. Won't you come and see what awaits at that end, that end which is not so far at all anymore?

There is but one last setting, one last story, one last run. Come and follow; I'll see you at the place where the ends meet and all is one...


The time is eleven o'clock p.m. on a weeknight--we're not sure which--and the setting is a small bar on the outskirts of South Ashfield. Douglas Cartland has been unable to bring himself back through the doors of the homely little Lamb for some time now; he is plagued with the guilt of what he sees as the third death for which he is inadvertently reponsible. Henry has seen to it that Eileen is taken care of for tonight--one of her close friends from before, a young woman named Amy for whom she once babysat, is sleeping at her apartment in the event that she should be stricken with some late-night pregnancy-related need, what with this being her fifth month--and he has taken Douglas out to the bar for some conversation. He has noticed some changes in the detective's behavior of late, and none of them are good--he has stopped visiting. He has become withdrawn and brooding. He hasn't been returning phone calls. He hasn't shown up for work. He seems to have given up on everything, and Henry thinks he knows why.


The atmosphere at the Goin' Jookin pub was one of partying; it was the sort of place one might go after graduating college...after flunking out for the fourth time, going back, and finally succeeding. There were at least fourty other patrons, probably more, and there was not a single moment when the juke box wasn't blaring pop tunes from some Smash Hits collection disc or another.

The bartender saw that Douglas' glass was empty and stopped by to fill it without question; Douglas didn't even have to ask this time, not like he had with his first seven drinks. He thanked the guy, who nodded back and went back to preparing some drinks for another party at the far end of the bar.

"Doug, come on," Henry said. "You're gonna drink yourself to death."

Douglas shrugged, took another sip. "I would insert some self-pitying line right there--probably something about how nobody would miss me--but I'll let you do the work. My brain's getting fuzzy. Not that I'm complaining."

"Don't," Henry said. "We're all in this together."

"You're not," Douglas said, "and I don't want you to be. This is my problem, and I'll get through it. I'm not gonna die, not yet. I may be in a slump, but--" he paused, taking another swig. "I still know what I'm doing."

"I wish I believed you," Henry said, swiveling his bar stool away from the detective. From here, he could see a man standing in front of the juke box, dressed almost exactly like he was except for one detail; instead of a white shirt and faded jeans, this guy was wearing a black shirt and faded jeans. "That guy's getting ready to play Fat Lip again. Want me to beat him to it?"
"Nah," Douglas said, waving one hand with an abnormal amount of effort. "It's alright. Just don't let him play the whole album. I don't like that one by...what'd you say their names were?"

"Blink something," Henry said.

"Yeah, those guys," Douglas said. "I don't like that one."

"Come on," Henry said. "Quit drinking. You're gonna regret it tomorrow."

"Did you take me out to get me smashed, or to talk?"
"A little of both, I guess," Henry said. "I figured you'd want to talk more if you were smashed. But that doesn't seem to be the case."

"There's nothing to talk about," Douglas said. "Heather's gone. She's not even dead. If she were, then I could at least know it was over for her. But it's not."

"You don't--"

"You know," Douglas said. "You didn't tell me what you saw down there, and now you say you don't remember, but I know you saw her. Even if it was only for a little knew what happened to her."

"It wouldn't help to know," Henry said.

"You would think that."
Henry couldn't answer--anything he could've said would've sounded like it belonged in an old Christmas special, maybe "It's A Wonderful Life," complete with snowbound ending sequence. Instead, he could only listen to the pop-metal riffage that blared from the juke box as the man in the black shirt played "Fat Lip" by Sum 41 for the eleventh time since Henry and the detective had arrived two hours ago.

I'm gonna go over there and rip that CD out of the juke box in a minute, Henry thought.

"You know," Douglas said, his words ever-so-slightly slurred by the onset of the alcohol, "the more I think about it, the less clear it is. I can't seem to figure out where exactly it was that I went wrong."

"What do you mean?" Henry raised his voice slightly to be heard over the juke box.

"Where I screwed up, missed a beat."

"You can't possibly--"

"Whatever we're going to do," Douglas interrupted, "let's do it outside. This music is giving me a headache."

Henry wasn't sure he wanted to postpone the conversation, not with it going the way it was...but it was probably worth it to get some peace and quiet (they had only themselves to blame for the noise; coming to a pub for a peaceful discussion was like going to a church to pick up single women). Douglas left a twenty-dollar tip on the counter and then he was gone--surprisingly agile for someone who'd taken in as much alcohol as he had this night.


"It's worse now," Douglas said, shivering in spite of the warmth offered by his coat (though not by his hat; Henry felt odd seeing the detective without his little hat--in his mind, it had become ingrained into the guy's persona). He leaned over the railing on the pub's back porch area, taking in the tranquil view of the snowpacked meadow which stretched out ahead as far as the eye could see, marred by distant woods on either side and a brilliant open sunset on the far end.

"The weather?" Henry asked, joining the detective at the railing, though he knew the answer.

"You think it's ever going to get better?" Douglas pulled a cigar and a lighter from the inside pocket of his coat and lit up. "Or will it keep getting colder and colder?"

"It has to get better," Henry said. "It doesn't make sense for it to stay cold this long, in the middle of summer."

"We messed up," Douglas blurted.

Henry turned. "What?"

"We did something wrong," Douglas said. "I was thinking about what you said to me back there--about how I everything was pre-decided. I decided you're wrong."

"What are you talking about?"

"You already forgot?"

Henry winced.

"Maybe it was just a dream," Douglas mused. "Maybe it was all a dream. But that doesn't explain how Heather..."

"It wasn't a dream," Henry said.

"Then explain how you and I healed so quickly?"

Henry was silent.

"I came out of there closer to death than I've ever been," Douglas said, tapping on his cigar, loosing a quarter-inch of ash down over the railing as it came to mark its territory on the snow. "And just a few days later, I was up and running again. Like new."

"Almost," Henry said.

"Close enough for government work," Douglas argued. "Nobody heals that quickly. Not in real life."

"Things like that don't exist in real life, either," Henry retorted.

"So you do remember?"

"Some parts," Henry confessed. "Not much."

"We're forgetting," Douglas said with a sigh. "Is that because it didn't technically happen?"

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe it did happen," Douglas said, "but maybe it happened in a way that we can't understand. Maybe our brains...I don't know, maybe they don't know how to store the information. It's like when you get a new guy down at the bread factory, and he doesn't know where to stick the boxes when the truck comes in, so he just dumps them all over the floor. It takes forever to clean 'em up, and by the time you've got everything organized into the right boxes, you don't remember which boxes went where in the first place."

Henry focused, trying to recall something--anything--from that night five months ago. He remembered something about a girl, and a demon...a name was coming...but it had caught up somewhere just beyond the edge of his perception. He couldn't remember its name...was that because he wasn't supposed to, or because he simply wasn't able?

Had any of that ever really happened at all?
"When Heather and I went three years ago," Douglas resumed, "there was this lady, Claudia, who was in control of everything. The whole alternate world, or whatever it is...whatever kind of crazy thing lives there...she had control of it. Everything she believed was absolutely, undeniably real for just a little while--the delusions and the insanity, it all became objective reality. Who knows--maybe if Heather hadn't stopped her, that other world would have just kept on growing?"

Henry shuddered at the idea of the town's power extending beyond its borders. He already knew it was capable of doing just that--the events in Room 302 earlier in the year had been evidence enough of that. But for something to just slide into place over objective reality, overlap it like a shingle on a rooftop...

"Maybe none of it was real," Douglas said. "James, Harry, the girl, the monsters...none. Maybe it was all just some crazy fantasy."

"But how can that be?" Henry almost shouted.

"Nothing there is consistent, anyway," Douglas said. "We already know that those kinds of things don't exist. We know those kinds of things can't happen--shifting spaces, rooms that exist in the same space and time, monsters trapped in between reality and's all fiction."

"It can'," Henry muttered.

"It's possible," Douglas insisted. "At the very least."

At that moment--just as Henry was readying his response, opening his mouth to set it free--Douglas froze.


"What's that?"

Henry attempted to follow the detective's gaze, out over the horizon and into the snowfield ahead. "I don't know," he admitted. "What are you talking about?"

"Somebody," Douglas said, adjusting his coat and bringing his cigar to rest snugly in the intersection of two of the railing's wooden boards. "Somebody's out there."

"No way," Henry said. "In this weather?"

"Come on," Douglas said, patting Henry on the shoulder as he tiptoed past. "He doesn't look too hot."

Henry needed only to look up to see that Douglas was right; the figure, just now emerging over the horizon, silhouetted against the moonlight (damn, that guy's eyesight was solid! Wait, wasn't he supposed to be hammered?), was staggering weakly through the snow; each step appeared more laborious than the last.

"What's he doing out here, I wonder?" Henry thought out loud, racing to keep time with the detective's absurdly-paced footwork. "He's got to be crazy!"

"Could have been in an accident," Douglas said, trudging through the merciless winter. They came upon a snowbank as he said this; Douglas didn't see it right away, and would have been sent tumbling face-first into it if Henry had not been there by his side, ever watchful, to catch him by the collar of his coat and yank him back up to his feet. "Thanks," the detective mumbled.

Henry did not answer. Instead, he just pointed. "Looks like...hey, wait a minute--"

"Oh, my God," Douglas said, coming to realize what was happening; all in one second, his breath left him, the strength ran out of his knees, and all of the forbidden memories came rushing back. But it was more than that; in that moment, he felt the emptiness in his chest re-emerge, felt the wound rip wide open, felt all of those horrible memories flying back in to take the place of what had once been there.

The figure stumbled ever closer; his skin was the pale blue of frostbite, and his bones trembled uncontrollably. But there was one particular aspect of his physical appearance that shocked the detective and the Receiver more than anything else, aside from the fact that it was not a he but a she; for it wasn't just any she.

"Duh," she attempted to call out, her voice as cracked as her frostbitten flesh. Her eyes flickered once, and then she fell forward into the snow, gone from this plane for the time being.

"Heather!" Douglas bellowed, pushing Henry aside in a fit of hopeful sorrow and storming through the three-and-a-half feet of snow to her aid. "Heather, oh, my God, it's...!"

Henry quickly pulled himself out of the snow, trembling; when they'd first come out into the night, he had barely felt the cold at all--probably because he had assumed they wouldn't be out in it long, and thus he'd had no need to worry about it--but now that they were far off into the plain, he was beginning to feel the wind sink its fangs deep into his bones.

Meanwhile, Douglas was lifting Heather into a sitting--or rather, lying--position, one arm around her shoulders. "Heather, say something! Come on, damn it!"

She only stared at him, her eyes blank. There was movement in them...but it was faint. It wouldn't be long; she was going.

"Henry," he barked, turning. "Help me!"

Henry hesitated, baffled.

"She's going to die! We have to get her inside!"

Henry came to his senses, nodding his head hard in order to shock the already-numb flesh there back into life. "Right."


"Move, move!"

Douglas' voice carried throughout the pub like an army drill sargeant, catching everyone's attention. Henry was pretty sure that every single person in the room looked Douglas' way, though nobody actually moved. "I need the table!"

That was enough for some of them; a man near the pool table in the center of the room began to converse with his nearby comrades, clearly attempting to scatter them out of the way so that Douglas could lay Heather up on the table.

"What's the deal?" this man--a flannel-shirt-clad individual with a gruff five-o'clock shadow who looked as if he belonged in the deep south as opposed to a pub in the north--asked, approaching the detective. Despite his apparently gawky question, he made sure to keep out of the detective's path until he had situated Heather on the table, using it like a hospital stretcher.

"Hypothermia," Douglas said. "God knows how long she's been out there." He turned away from her for the moment, facing the man who'd questioned him. "Just came walking up out of nowhere. Must've come a long way." Turning to the crowd now: "We've got to warm her up quickly. Can somebody call an ambulance? I don't know how much we can do here."

"Right on," Flannel Man said, and began brushing through the now-eerily-silent crowd towards the payphone by the door. He didn't even ask Douglas for fifty cents to use the phone, and for that Douglas was very, very thankful. He would have to get this gent's name before the night was through.

"Don't sweat it," the bartender--Roy, according to his nametag--called. "I got a phone right here." He reached beneath the counter and produced a handset, dialing on a concealed keypad with his free hand.

One of the other patrons called out against this declaration; "But I asked you earlier and you said all you had was the pay--"

"Shut up, John," the man's partner said, whopping him upside the head. The two looked ready to get into a fight, but at the last moment they seemed to sense the gravity of the moment and store their animosities awhile longer.

"It's only for emergencies," Roy called back, hesitating as the voice in the phone began to speak to him. "Yeah, lady? We got a lady here. Hypothermia, maybe. We need an amb'lance pretty snappy. Yeah...yeah...uh, huh...alright, then. Thankya much." He wrapped up his eloquent speech by dropping the handset back onto its cradle, then turned to Douglas. "Ten minutes, maybe. I got some blankets in the back--"

"Great," Douglas said. "Go get them, will you?"

"Yeah, yeah," Roy said, entering the door behind the bar.

Henry slid into place beside the detective, eyeing Heather's frozen form on the table. "I guess we really know how to crash a party, huh?"

Douglas said nothing.

"Here," Roy said, and the next thing Henry knew, his vision was blotted out by something huge and furry. After a brief panicked struggle, he was able to procure the towel from in front of his face.

"Thanks a million," Douglas said disconnectedly as he and Henry began to wrap Heather up in the fabric. Then, whispering into her ear: "Just another few minutes. Everything's going to be fine, just hold on for a few more minutes, alright?"


The next few hours went by very, very slowly for Douglas.

He and Henry were allowed to ride with the ambulance, taking them to St. Jerome's for the second time since their excursion in Silent Hill. The drive only lasted about six minutes--they hadn't been that far away from the hospital in the first place, so that if they had been much closer, Douglas would have been able to carry her there himself--but it felt like hours. Nobody said anything; Henry had taken his cue back at the bar.


Ten minutes later, Henry and Douglas stood in the waiting area of the St. Jerome's ER, waiting for word of Heather's condition. Henry was the first to speak.

"I'm gonna call Eileen really quick," he said, rising to his feet. "Are you gonna be alright?"

"I'm not a toddler," Douglas mumbled. Then, after a brief hesitation: "Sorry. Yeah."

Henry nodded, unable to conjure an appropriately-worded response, and journeyed off to the far end of the room where the only telephone sat in an alcove in the wall.

How, Douglas mused. How, is what I want to know. How can she be alive?

Hadn't her body been completely obliterated? Certainly, nobody could survive something like that...

But why do I care about that so much? Anybody else would just be happy to have her back.

He knew why...he knew why he cared about that so much. He didn't trust her.

What if it's not her? What if it's...

"That's stupid," he muttered out loud, warranting strange looks from the elderly couple sitting just a few chairs to his right. It then occurred to him that he probably looked like a street bum, half-drunk as he already was. He hadn't shaved in awhile, and his clothes were nearing the end of their third soap-free day. It wasn't hard to imagine that he might have a strange smell about him.

But it's not stupid, he thought. If it is...if that's what she is, then I know what I'll have to do. But...will I be able to?

The powers-that-be seemed to be teasing him. It was like Harry's "test" all over again...but how could he apply what he knew this time around, when he still wasn't even sure if Harry had been telling the truth, whether the Heather he'd seen down there had been the real one or not?

"She was a little worried," Henry said, dropping back into line beside the detective, "but nothing serious. We should be out by morning, right?"
"Depends," Douglas said.
"What do you mean?"

"Depends on Heather," he amended.

Henry didn't feel the need to continue past that point; perhaps if he had, he might have caught wind of the logic Douglas had used to reach his final decision...hell, maybe he might have even had a chance to change it.


Two hours went by before they were allowed to see Heather; she had been moved up to a standard hospital room. Douglas was both heartened and unnerved by this turn of events; he didn't know which gut feeling to trust.

Doctor Hettson, a short, balding, glasses-bearing white fellow clad in the traditional hospital coat, lead them down the hall towards their destination, room 107. Douglas felt every step of the way, counting down the distance between himself and...her.

"She was pretty bad when you guys brought her in," Hettson said, grinning a gutsy little grin, "but she got better pretty quick. It's amazing--you know, I don't think I've ever seen anybody recover from this severe a case of hypothermia as quickly as she has."

"Runs in the family," Douglas said, not realizing the implication he'd made.

"You should feel pretty lucky," Hettson said, nodding, and pulled away. "Let the nurse know if you need anything, alright?"
"Sure," Douglas uttered, disconnected.

"Alright," Henry spoke up for him. "We will, thanks."

Hettson waved to them and turned back down the hallway.

"Henry," Douglas said, his voice faint and raspy.

"What is it?"

"If you don't mind," he said, almost whispering, "I'd like to have a moment alone in know, before you come in."

"Yeah, sure," Henry said, patting the detective's shoulder. "Go for it. I'll be out here."

"Thanks," Douglas said, grasping the doorknob. One little turn, and one subsequent push...the creak of the door as it opened...and he was in.


The room was eerily silent; there were none of the mechanical sounds so often associated with a hospital stay, for no active machinery plagued this humble abode. Only an inactive television set, suspended from the corner between the ceiling and the left-hand wall, and the bed in which Heather now lay. She might have been comatose, for she looked the part.

His heart running a marathon in his chest, he stepped closer to the bed. His feet were trembling; he was close, very close...the time to decide creeping ever closer...the point of no return, beckoning to him. Once this was said and done, there would be no turning back. He could only hope that he was right.

Without warning---no prior stir, no sleepy movement---her eyes fluttered open. She met Douglas' eyes, and they shared a long, silent exchange.

He hoped she could not sense his intentions.

"Doug," she said, her voice a choked whisper. "I came all this way...I came all this way."

"I know," he said, kneeling down by her side. "I messed up, alright?"

"I did," he insisted, taking her hand in his. "I made a grave mistake back there. I don't remember it now, not exactly...but I remember that I betrayed you."

"You didn't betray me," Heather said. "Listen, I forgive you, if that's what you want to hear."

"It's not," he retorted.

She seemed taken aback.

"When I first saw you, I was so sure that I had missed something..."

Now her confusion turned to anticipation; the shift was visible in her eyes.

"But I got to thinking down in the ER," he went on, shaking his head. "I don't know...I'm not sure what's going on here--I'm not even sure if any of this is real--but I think I finally have it figured out."

"What," Heather asked, clearly puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"Henry said that this is the way I do it every time," he said, rising to his feet one last time. "So if that's true...then whatever decision I make, must be the right one."

"Douglas, what--"

"Heather," he said, leaning down to her, "I'm sorry."

For a moment she was afraid, but when she felt his arm slip around her shoulder in a fearful embrace, she understood what was happening.

"I'm sorry I ever doubted you," he said; his voice was trembling.

"Don't be," she said. "We all get what we want in the end, anyway, don't we?"
Douglas dared not to look her in the eye; he didn't have the courage. He just held on to her as he would the last of his greatest treasures...he stayed with her even as he felt their thoughts melding, their minds becoming one. He stayed with her even though he knew that his very role in eternity was changing before his eyes...he knew, and he did not care. Because he finally had her...and she was not going anywhere, not ever again.


Henry had returned to the waiting room of the ER, thinking that he should probably call it a night. Neither of them had a car right now, but he didn't think Douglas would have a problem making the couple of blocks back to the pub alone. Henry had to get back to Eileen as soon as possible and fill her in on the new developments...ah, what an interesting week it had been!
Just as he placed his hand on the door, though...he felt a jolt in his spine. A cold spike.

What's happening?

Something was happening, that was for sure.

"Just a feeling," he said, and pulled the door open. Any other day, such a feeling would have followed him until the darkest hour of the night, lost only to the inevitable onset of exhaustion-induced sleep. But tonight...tonight was special. Tonight was a turning point. Now he could rest easily, knowing that the great beyond would hassle him no more--not here in the land of the living, anyway. Now, he had only his life with Eileen and his friendship with Douglas and Heather to look forward to. Now, they all had something to look forward to, to worry about and care about. So what if something bad happened along the way? That was life; just a matter of keeping the things one cared about in bigger proportions than the things by which one was bothered. For now, there was only a vast, empty plain, spread out across time between now and the day he would die; a plain ripe with opportunities...with happiness, with sadness...with victory, with loss...with trouble, with resolution. was gonna be a sweet life.


When will I be yours?

When will I be mine?

When will I be yours?

When will I be mine?"

"Bells and Horns in the Back of Beyond," Midnight Oil

(Red Sails in the Sunset)



Sunday, November 18, 2007