The town was completely and utterly empty.
Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Inara, and Book walked down the main road, guns out, leaving darkened footprints on the ash-covered road. No one spoke for a few minutes; the town was like a graveyard. Sound seemed out of place entirely. Mannequins stood clothed and posed in the store windows, though their clothes had holes and were covered in black splotches.
"This place is creepy," Jayne said, opening a door and peering inside an empty, abandoned barbershop. "They left all their stuff here."
"Fires must've come up quick," Zoe said, glancing down a sidestreet. "Situation like this, I'll bet half the people didn't get evacuated."
"You sayin' we're gonna find burned up bodies layin' around?" Jayne asked.
"I'm sure they came in afterward in protective gear and removed the bodies," Mal said, mainly to keep Jayne from losing his nerve. He wasn't sure they'd actually done anything of the sort.
Inara knelt down, picking up a doll. The thing was barely recognizable in all the ash and dirt.
"They left everything," she said quietly.
"Let's keep moving," Mal said. Something about this place didn't feel right to him. Even on this deserted street, he felt as if he was being watched.
He spun around. He could've sworn he heard Simon call for River…but no one else seemed to have heard anything.
Just your imagination.
He looked in the windows of a small clothing shop, where child-sized mannequins stood in the windows, a few of them having fallen over. Beyond that he could see the clothing racks, still packed with clothes, and various objects lying on the floor.
Whoever owned this place never came back to salvage the things that survived the fire. And there was no looting, he thought, spotting a woman's purse sitting on the counter. Something horrible happened here. And it wasn't just a gorramn fire.
All of a sudden, a loud noise in the distance made all of them stop in their tracks. A siren. It grew louder, scaring birds from their hiding places and leaving Mal with a profound sense of dread.
"What the gorramn hell is that?" Jayne asked, cocking his gun. The sky suddenly began to darken, not with clouds, but just as if someone was dimming the sun. And it wasn't stopping.
"Sir, we should get out of here," Zoe said, but Mal shook his head.
"No. Simon's here. We have to find him. Get out your lights," he said, pulling out his flashlight.
"What's happening?" Inara asked, clinging close to Book, who had one of the three flashlights.
"Damn good question," Mal said as the world plunged into complete darkness, leaving them with only the light from their flashlights. Odd sounds filled the world around them, and Mal caught glimpses in the light from his flashlight of buildings rotting away, and the ground beneath their feet turning red and cracking.
"Captain, we oughtta go back and get more guns," Jayne pointed out. Mal started walking again.
"Got no proof that the siren means anything beyond the sun goin' away," he said stubbornly. "We keep goin'."
He took two more steps before his foot landed in something soft and warm, all the way up to his ankle. He stumbled back and lowered his flashlight, which lit up a human body of a man wearing heavy leather and what looked like a gas mask.
What Mal had stepped in was the disemboweled abdomen.
Mal stood in shock, hearing the sounds of someone throwing up behind him.
That wasn't there fifteen seconds ago.
Then, Mal himself almost threw up when the man's hand moved, and a groan left his mouth. He was still alive.
"Listen," Book said, and Mal managed to tear his mind away from the disgusting image before him long enough to try and listen for was Book was talking about. At first he heard nothing but the pained, quiet moans of the nearly dead man on the ground, but then he listened harder. Book was right; there was an odd sound, a gasping sound, soon accompanied by thuds. Heavy, strange clumsy footsteps.
"Where is it?" Zoe asked, swinging her flashlight around, looking for movement.
"There. Over there," Book said, turning around, his flashlight lighting up the entrance to an alley. There was a pitiful, gasping moan, and then a creature stumbled out that drew a gasp from Inara.
It looked like a tall, misshapen man. Its skin was mottled grey, and there was a gaping black hole in its stomach that was dripping black, steaming goo as it walked. It has no arms- instead, its chest and shoulders kept shifting, molding, as if there were something inside that was trying to force its way out from within. It walked with jerks and convulsions, pigeon-toed to the extreme, its feet dragging and the rest of it looking off balance. It had no eyes; only gaping black holes in its head.
"Oh my god. Oh my god," Inara was saying, backing up until she hit Mal. The creature was coming toward them, pitiful noises escaping its mouth, the black ooze sizzling as it hit the ground.
"I'm gonna shoot it," Jayne said, lifting his gun. Book, however, wouldn't have it; he grabbed onto Jayne's gun and lowered it.
"It's defenseless, Jayne."
"But it's creepy!"
Mal was just about to intervene when the creature made the decision for them. It was about ten feet away when it suddenly heaved forward, and black goo shot forcefully out of its dripping stomach, coating both Book and Jayne in the oil-like substance.
"Shoot it!" Mal yelled, and Zoe raised her gun, unloading her entire clip into the creature.
It took six shots to take the creature down, and then Mal and Zoe rushed to Book and Jayne, helping each of them shed their jackets. The black ooze turned out to be an acid- it was eating through the jackets quickly, leaving only black powder. Luckily, very little of it had hit their skin.
Mal spun around, trying to see through the darkness where the agonized scream had come from; it sounded like Simon. His flashlight couldn't light up far enough down that road to see, though.
As suddenly as it had left, the light began to return to the sky. The buildings began to restore themselves, and ash began to fall again.
"You shoulda let me shoot it!" Jayne was yelling at Book, who was busy trying to use his sleeve to wipe the rest of the acid from his clothing.
"I believed it was defenseless."
"A lot'a things you believe ain't worth nothin'!"
"That's enough," Mal said, starting to walk down a side street. "Come on."
"Captain, we need to go back to the ship and get more weapons," Zoe said.
"I heard Simon. We're going to check it out."
The world around them was back to 'normal', or as normal as it could be for Silent Hill. Mal ignored Jayne's complaints and Zoe's sigh of frustration, following the direction that the voice had come from.
Nobody. There was no sign of Simon on the street.
"Mal," Inara said, pointing to the ground a few feet ahead of them. There was a human sized section of ashes that was thinner than the rest- as if someone had been laying there and just left moments before. Footprints left the sot, but they were filling in with ashes too quickly to be followed.
"He was here," Mal said, trying to see where the footsteps led to, with no luck.
"Sir," Zoe started, stepping forward, "He's alive. I have to insist that now that we know, we go back and get more weapons before that happens again."
Reluctantly, Mal nodded; he knew she was right. Slowly, still glancing around for Simon, he turned and began leading the crew back toward the ship. Jayne was the most on edge, jumping at every sound, his gun at the ready. Inara was clinging to Book's arm, putting on a brave face but obviously terrified.
"When we get back to the ship, Inara, you stay there," Mal said, and for once, Inara didn't argue with him. They passed the place where the dead body and the acid-creature had been- no sign of them remained.
"Can I stay on the ship?" Jayne asked, but Mal simply ignored him.
When they reached the edge of town, though, a whole new problem came to light.
Mal's eyes widened as he saw what lay ahead; a void, a white, foggy void. The ground simply dropped off, the road disappeared, leaving only the jagged edge of the world.
He stepped over the chunks of broken road to the edge, looking straight down. No bottom in sight. A cliff to the right, a drop-off to the left, and in front of them…the end of the world. Zoe and Jayne stepped up beside him, both having the same look on their face- fear and amazement.
"We came in on this road," Zoe insisted. "I know we came in on this road."
"Monsters musta ate it when it went all dark," Jayne growled.
Inara kneeled down, peering over the edge, her hands visibly shaking. "What now?"
Mal stared at the empty space before him, his jaw clenched and his hand tight on his gun. "Somebody's messin' with us. Roads don't just fall off the world," he said, and then he turned to his crew. "Zoe, you're with me. We're gonna go back and keep lookin' for Simon. Jayne, Book, 'Nara, you stay here. Kill anything that approaches. We'll be back for you."
"What if we run outta ammo?" Jayne asked.
"That's why I'm leaving you with them. Be creative."
Simon moaned, shifting on the ground, barely conscious. The pain was too much.
"Simon. You need to get up."
Simon opened his eyes, having to squint at the now-lit-up landscape around him. His entire body felt like it was on fire. He slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position, looking down at his body.
At least twelve handprints were burned into his arms and legs, and one on his neck. The clothing was burned away from the handprint-shaped raw, red burns, the edges of which were blackened.
"Come on. Follow me."
He looked up, and found that River was standing just down the street, watching him. Simon stumbled to his feet, choking out her name. She gave him a half-smile, then turned and began to run, and Simon caught a glimpse of a red ribbon tied in her hair.
He started after her, stumbled and almost falling. It was painful, almost unbearable to try and keep up with her, but at the moment he didn't care. He didn't even care to think on what had attacked him or why the darkness had come; all he knew was that River was trapped here too, alone in this dangerous world.
She turned and ran into an alley, and Simon followed- but when he got into the alley, no one was there. It was empty. Not even footprints marred the ashes on the ground.
No answer. His voice echoed in the empty outdoor corridor.
He stumbled forward, forcing himself to get to the other end of the alley. Once there, he realized where it led to- back to a different section of the main road.
Across the road, a frayed red ribbon moved with the gentle breeze, hanging from the sign of an old hotel; a red ribbon much like the one tied to the skeleton key in his pocket. He crossed the road, looking in the windows at the abandoned lobby before he pushed open the door and stepped inside.
A new voice broke the silence, making Simon jump in surprise.
"There is no one else. You are alone. We are all alone."
He spun around and came face to face with a woman. She wore gray, tattered robes, and she was covered in dirt. Her hair was long, matted, and light grey, and she moved half bent over, as if carrying a heavy weight on her shoulders. Looking beyond that, though, Simon could tell that she had once been beautiful, and in a way still was. Her features were soft, her skin pale and even, unmarred beneath the dirt, and her eyes were a gorgeous, piercing light blue.
She looked familiar.
"Who are you?" Simon asked gently. The woman watched him warily, poised to flee at any moment.
"Names do not matter here," she said, her voice worn and tired. Simon carefully stepped toward her.
"I'm looking for my sister," he said desperately. "She's got long brown hair and brown eyes. Have you seen her?"
The woman's stare was intense as she studied him. "You won't find her. Not in this hell."
A bang from behind him drew Simon's attention away from the woman, and he turned to see River going up the stairs just past the front desk of the hotel. Forgetting all about the strange woman in rags, he sprinted after River, wondering how soon his battered body would give up on him.
"River! Wait!" he pleaded, his voice hoarse as he followed her up a flight of stairs and out into the hallway of the next floor up. He followed the sound of her footsteps around a corner and down another hallway, where he promptly lost her again. He turned in a full circle, and then his eyes fell on something odd.
On one wall hung a large painting, one of a woman tied to a ladder, a fire set at her feet. Her mouth was open in anguish, but the people painted around her showed no remorse, no pity.
That wasn't the most interesting part; there was a slice right down the middle of the painting, as if it had been cut open with a knife.
Simon stepped up to the painting and pushed open the tear, shocked to see a door hidden behind the painting. The door had a gold plate on it which read "111".
Glancing over his shoulder, he pushed through and opened the door, only to almost fall into a dark gap between two buildings. The room led straight to the building next door, leaving a gap between the two with quite a fall if one were to step into it.
"Alright. Okay. You can do this," Simon urged himself, and then with a cry of pain, he took the leap and landed on the other side.
This building was full of machinery, some covered by blankets, some not. It was crowded, leaving only a small path to work through. But as he looked up, Simon could see someone disappear up the ladder on the other side of the room.
He pushed on, weaving his way through the machines and to the ladder. Steeling his will, he raced up the ladder to the top, and stepped into an outside courtyard between this building and the next.
"Verily the demon calls for them to reap what they sow, and the executioner will bring about their fate," he heard a voice say, and he looked up to see River standing beside a massive hole in the ground.
Then, she began to fall forward.
He leapt forward, grabbing her and pulling her away from the gap, catching a glimpse of bright red fire burning far below. He dragged River away from it, holding her against him, breathing in ragged gasps.
"River…mei-mei, you scared me to death," he said breathlessly. She didn't answer, only clung to his shirt.
That was when Simon heard the siren begin to go off again. His throat went dry, and his heart practically stopped.
It's happening again. It wasn't a nightmare, it's happening again.
Without hesitation, he grabbed River's wrist and dragged her toward the nearest stairwell that he saw, pulling her back down into the building. She didn't fight or even seem scared as he got her down to the first floor, but he knew there was no way they could find a safe place before the darkness fell again.
His hands shaking, he looked around the first floor of the building for anything that could use. He headed to the nearest cabinet and began opening doors even as the light faded from the sky.
"Yes!" he said in relief, pulling a flashlight from the shelf. He flipped the switch, and was ready to kiss Buddha's feet when it actually worked, despite being only God knows how old.
This time, he saw what happened when the darkness took over. He saw the room rotting around them, saw the floor cracking and the walls peeling and turning red and wet. River watched wide-eyed, but still she didn't appear to be scared.
"The demon's come again," she whispered, and then before Simon could stop her, she took off out the door to the outside. Simon yelled after her and followed her out, almost running into her when she stopped ten feet from the door and turned around to face Simon.
"The executioner will resolve their sins," she said desperately, and then she began backing up.
"River, what's wrong?" Simon asked, and then he heard a screeching sound behind him, metal against concrete, like nails on a chalkboard magnified a hundred times. Dread overcoming him, he slowly turned around, and promptly screamed and stumbled backward.
Behind him stood a man at least 9 feet tall, wearing an apron that looked suspiciously like human skin splattered with blood and viscera. On his head was a metal pyramid, bolted to his back and sitting on his shoulders, concealing his head. His skin was a dark yellowish color and splattered with blood, and his muscles were intimidating, to say the least. In one hand he dragged a metal knife that was at least as long as he was tall, and in the other hand, he dragged the body of a skinned woman.
Simon was frozen with fear; he had no opportunity to escape before the monster dropped the skinned body and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him up off the ground. Simon kicked and fought, but knew he couldn't escape that steel grip. After only a few moments, his air was completely cut off, and he was near blacking out.
Suddenly, bullets rang out and the monster holding him jerked and shuddered, and then dropped him to the ground and turned around. Simon hit the ground hard, and the last thing he heard was Mal's voice before he fell into unconsciousness.