"The Atonement"

By ZealPropht

Finding Mary… That had been the goal when I first came to this place. Silent Hill. A town shrouded in a mist made up of lies, broken dreams, and the anger of those who have been wronged in some way. I braved that town, and its monsters, to find her.

"Maria" was a clever distraction. Mary was by my side the whole time, or at least, her vengeful spirit was. In the end, she forgave me, I think, and I left that place.

Laura came with me, but we didn't stay together as a family the way Mary had wanted. Neither of us could stand the other's company for very long; there were too many hurt feelings on both sides to make it work out. After all, I had killed the woman who had almost become her new mother, and she was the painful reminder of things I could no longer allow myself to forget.

I did my best, though. The house was so empty without Mary, and having another human being around, even if she did have a loud mouth, was a blessing. I don't know what I might have done to myself in those first couple of weeks.

But it didn't last.

"I want you to find me a real family," she told me over dinner one night.

We were having spaghetti, and there was sauce on her chin where a stray noodle had flicked her when she slurped it up. The red on her white skin reminded me of all the blood I'd seen in Silent Hill, and I lost my appetite.

"Find me a family," she said again. "I don't want to stay here with you anymore." She didn't add, And you killed Mary, afterwards but I could read it in her accusing eyes. She was just a child, and she didn't know what to do with this murderer who was suddenly sharing her life.

"Okay," I said, and started to clean up the dishes. There was nothing else to do, really. I owed it to Mary, and Laura, to do whatever they wished of me.

So it came to pass that I took Laura to child services. They looked at me strangely as I laid out my lies before them. "I'm a widower, and not really interested in adopting a child. It would interfere with my work, and I'm hardly ever home. This had been my late wife's idea, but now that she's gone, I can't seem to bring myself to follow through with it."

The ladies there looked at me as if I were the scum of the earth, and I am. I watched them lead Laura away with mixed feelings. I had never wanted children, but Mary did. Her illness prevented her from becoming pregnant, no matter how often we tried. Laura walked out of my life that day without a backwards glance. Maybe she was trying to bury these unhappy memories, as I had. Maybe in a couple days, she could even pretend that Mary, me, and her long search through Silent Hill had just been a bad dream. Maybe she wouldn't come knocking at my door ten years from now, strung out and gaunt like those flesh-wrapped patient demons, and hold a gun to my face telling me how I ruined her life.

Guilt is a hard thing to swallow. Silent Hill had opened my eyes to my crime, and broke the door that had sealed those memories away. There was no hiding from the truth, now, and the only thing I could do was live with what I had done.

The house was empty again, with the traces of Mary still lingering about the place like her ghost. For all I knew, maybe it was. I couldn't disbelieve in anything, anymore. There really were monsters that lived in the closet and under the bed. I had seen them first hand, and I knew that no matter how you tried to fight them off, they were still there in the dark, waiting. My own fears made manifest by a town that forces a person to pay for their sins, whether they remember them or not.

The nightmares were the worst. Fleshy things chasing me through blood-strewn ally-ways, whispering words to me that only the insane could understand. Telling me that though I had escaped, I really hadn't. So long as I lived, Silent Hill would always be there, waiting for me to come back so it could swallow me up in my own personal hell.

How does one get past such a thing? It's a ticking clock, a death sentence, looming over you. It's just a matter of time before the sands run out in the proverbial hourglass. I had cheated the death I so richly deserved and continued to live in this fragmented, half-life that wasn't quite like being alive, but still too far from being dead. Like Mary. Like Eddie. Like Angela.

I found my way out. I accepted what I was and decided to live with the consequences. They gave in to the town and let it consume them. Are they still there? Would the town let things end with their deaths, or would it continue to haunt them beyond the grave?

These thoughts chased around in my brain, all the while wearing the conical helmet of the pyramid heads, wielding that great, rusty knife of despair and hopelessness. I had my life, the one that Mary had given back to me after her second death, but I was at a loss what to do with it. I was still failing her, even now. She had told me to go on living, but the only thing I could think of was how much I didn't deserve this. How could I go on living while her body lay cold in the ground being eaten by worms? Or wandering around in Silent Hill, doomed never to rest?

I tried to turn myself in the police. I walked right in and said, "Hi. I murdered my wife. Arrest me." They only half took me seriously. After all, how many people just waltz into a police station and turn themselves in for something like that? They asked if I wanted a lawyer present, and I told them I didn't. They took me into a small room, and I wrote out my confession. I, James Sunderland, murdered my wife in her sleep by smothering her with a pillow. Never mind that I did it to ease her pain. Forget the fact that I was a cruel bastard who despised her for taking away my happiness and replacing it with pills and that horrible cough. The reasons don't matter anymore. I killed her, and ran away from my guilt.

But they let me go. Despite my confession, despite how much I pleaded with them, they drove me back to my house. The coroner had ruled it as death by natural causes. I was obviously a distraught husband, and out of my mind with grief.

"I don't want to go back," I had shouted. "I want to be put in jail where I belong!"

"Poor man," one officer had said to another in a low voice. "To lose his wife at such an early stage in their marriage. He's gone off the deep end."

Maybe I had. I could tell anymore. Being awake felt like sleeping, and sleeping was like being in Silent Hill all over again. The lights were always burning in the house. I couldn't stand dark places anymore. I hated having to open doors. I expected that any second, I'd hear the wail of an air raid siren and would find the hallways outside my bedroom to be made of broken grating stretching over a yawning chasm below.

I had reached my breaking point, and I hadn't realized it yet. I stopped eating. I hadn't bathed in days, and my face was itchy with stubble. My days became confined to the bedroom where I slept, or stared at the ceiling. The farthest I went from there was to the bathroom, and just passing from one room to another made my heart beat like a frightened bird's. I didn't want to move from any place that felt safe, even for a moment.

I heard once that people who lived in fear for extended lengths of time have this problem. They'll sleep in cardboard boxes, even when a bed is right there for them, and eat trash despite having access to a full meal. It's conditioned into them that anything outside of what they're used to is wrong. They have to learn to stop being hunted animals and be human beings again. I felt like I was devolving the other way, from human to hunted animal, and I couldn't explain why.

The truth was, I couldn't go on living this way, pretending that everything was fine. I couldn't expect a simple, "I'm sorry," to fix this problem and walk away with Mary's forgiveness so easily. I couldn't come back to the real world as we know it and just move on with life.

I decided something, then. I actually washed up for a change, and shaved off my newly formed beard. I spent most of the money in my savings account to eat out at the finest steakhouse in town. The waiter joked that I was eating as if this were my last meal. Something in my expression must have made him uneasy, because his voice shook whenever he came back to check on me.

I filled the tank up in the car after that, and pulled out onto the rural highway that would take me to Silent Hill.

In my restless dreams, I see that town.

The roads were intact now. No more gaping holes barred me from driving around the town as I wanted. The mist was still there, and the streets still as quiet as the grave, but I was no longer afraid.

I parked the car, and went to our "special place." I climbed the stairs, my footsteps barely making a sound. There was the place where I had killed the creature that was made of legs sewn together at the waist. And further up, water had begun to seep from every inch of the walls and ceiling. Now, everything was dry, and no monsters littered the area.

My palms began to sweat as I stood outside the room. What would be waiting for me in there? I knew then that it didn't matter if Satan himself were on the other side. This was my atonement. It had been a long time in coming.

I put my hand on the doorknob and twisted it open.

The room was the same as it had been that day. Light, brighter than the mists should have allowed, filled the room from the large windows. The bed was made, the sheets untouched, and the pillow looked harmless and inviting. Hardly a tool of murder.

I took a seat in the armchair that was placed in front of the old-fashioned television. How they had managed to hook a VCR up to it remained a mystery to me. Part of a cassette tape was sticking out of the machine. I pushed it in with two fingers, watched the tape disappear inside, and heard the whir as the teeth caught. I turned on the TV and waited.

There was static for a minute, then an image appeared on the screen.

I knew what I would be shown. I knew I would see Mary in the last hours of her life, berating me for filming her, then going to the window to look out at the lake. But I was unprepared for Maria's image to take my wife's place in the film.

"James," she breathed, and that same sultry smile curved her luscious lips.

"M-Maria." I stumbled over the name. I knew she hated it when I called her Mary by mistake.

"You're back." She went to the window and leaned her hip against the window sill, pulling back the curtains enough to take a peek outside. "I thought you were gone for good."

"I…couldn't stay away."

Her smile took on a cruel edge. "Because of Mary?" She turned back to look at me from the other side of the TV screen, and her eyes seemed reptilian. How had I never seen the differences between Maria and Mary before?

"Yeah," I replied. Her words no longer had the ability to infuriate me. She had every right to hate me.

"Well, she's not here," she snapped and crossed her arms. "Nothing's here anymore. You can go back home and get on with your life now."

I shook my head. "I can't. There's nothing there for me, either. The only place I have left is here." I looked around the room. It was still empty, except for me. Maria was about as real as if I were talking to an actress on the silver screen, and yet she could hear my every word.

She sighed and smoothed a wrinkle in her miniskirt. "I wanted to you to live, James."

"I know."

"This place is for the dead."

"I'm dead enough. Or do I need a membership to join the club?"

Maria looked at me for a bit in stunned silence, then shook her head with a small laugh. "You're amazing. I put you through all sorts of shit, and you still want another helping. Are you a fatalist, James?"

"I'm a murderer. Isn't it the same thing, Mary?"

Maria moved towards the bed and the camera followed her. She took a seat and placed her right hand on the fateful pillow. "I'm not Mary," she said, stubbornly. "Get that through your thick skull."

"I'm sorry. Maria."

She picked up the pillow and held it to her chest. "You'll just suffer if you stay here. There are things in this town that don't want you to be happy. They hate the living. You didn't give in to them, James. You beat them." She gave another little laugh. "You beat me."

"I didn't want to. I didn't have a choice."

"You fought so hard to go on living. Why throw all of that away?"

I closed me eyes. Behind them, all I could see was blood and rust. "Because part of me didn't really leave. I fought to find you. I mean, to find Mary. And when I found out the truth, that she really was dead, and it was my fault… Living seemed to become a waste of time. I might have ended things right there, but she made me go. I had to take Laura away from here." I let out a shuddering breath. "But it's useless to deny it any longer. Laura is better off without me. I belong in jail, waiting to get a needle in my arm for what I've done. But it seems I can screw over everyone else's life but my own. Maybe Mary could forgive me, but I can't."

I sat there, staring at the space under the TV table. I couldn't think of anything else to say beyond that.

After a while, I heard Maria ask, "What is it that you want, James? Tell me."

Tears came to my eyes and I could feel myself smiling wistfully. "You really are a lot like her, Maria. I know you hate to hear that, but it's true. I think part of me loves you for that. You're the only one who can help me. I realize that, now."

"Help you do what, James?"

Her voice was so soft, like Mary's had been. I looked up at the screen and saw my dead wife looking back at me from this succubus' face. I did love her, as much as I feared her as Mary's vengeance. But this was what I came here to accept. I would embrace this fate with open arms.

"I need your help," I said slowly, "to find atonement."

I didn't understand what had happened at first. A splatter of blood appeared across the television screen, staining a close up of Maria's face, no, Mary's face, the color of strawberry syrup. She looked sad, but there was a peace to her expression; it was the look of a woman who was beyond the point of crying.

I felt a stinging in my chest, but it seemed to be coming from far away. My head moved in slow motion, and I looked down to see half a foot of sharp metal jutting through my torso. With one yank, it was pulled free and blood seemed to explode from the wound.

The blood of the Lamb of God, I found myself thinking, and let my head fall back against the chair.

My executioner came around to my left side, dragging his heavy, blood-crusted blade after him. He knelt on one knee beside the television. The giant pyramid-shaped helmet bowed a bit, and I could see weariness etched in every slimy, gray line of his body. I knew that for him, this nightmare would never end. This monster was like me, might have even been me. You could never tell in this place. I felt myself moved to pity for this demon that had once been a man, a killer, like myself, even as my life's blood pumped out around me. We were both slaves of this town, paying for our crimes in a purgatory of our own making.

My arms and legs felt heavy and cold, and breathing was next to impossible. I felt like I were drowning. Darkness ate at my eyes, searing away the edges of my vision like a fire-burned picture. I was afraid.

But the darkness didn't fall completely. A light appeared in my tunneling vision, and warmth embraced me. Was this how the damned felt in the presence of God?

I could hear Mary's voice drifting to me from that light. I felt myself reaching out for it, and knowing that she was out of my reach, forever. "You have asked forgiveness for your sins, and it is granted. Go in peace, James Sunderland."

I couldn't make my lips move. They were frozen in a final grimace of pain, and I could almost see my eyes glazed over in death. There was blood everywhere.

A hand touched my shoulder, and I looked up from where I was kneeling beside the television. The woman who had been my wife, but was now just a shadow, smiled down at me from painted red lips. Her snakelike eyes gleamed, promising all the torture my stained soul could ever hope for. Before, I had only watched her die, and felt a bystander's horror at her grisly demises. Now, I would be the murderer again, and I gave a low cry of anguish that echoed, ghostly, inside my triangular prison.

If this was what it took to atone, to kill my wife over and over again with my own hands, then it was more than enough.

"Are you ready?"

My body felt heavy and stiff as I struggled to stand. My own corpse in the chair didn't bother me. I had bid farewell to human life the moment I returned to this place.

"Are you ready?" Maria asked me again, opening her arms wide as if to embrace me.

I nodded. I could faintly hear the wailing of the mysterious siren blaring in the background as the walls and floor began to flood with water, like tears.

In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill.


Maria's smile was full of love and understanding. Her eyes held nothing but contempt. "I love you, James."

The great knife was in my right hand. Before, it had been almost too heavy to hold. Now, I lifted it with ease…and swung.

The End