I.

The 2002 Maxima sped down the highway as the surrounding landscape gradually changed from a mountainous scene to the outskirts of a bustling suburb. They had only been on the road an hour, but already they penetrated the outskirts of South Ashfield. Despite the brilliant sunlight that accompanied them throughout most of the trip, the mood of the passengers of the car was far from bright.

Michael McNeal kept his eyes glued to the road, secretly thankful for the silence that had settled since they left the college parking lot. The quiet gave him time to formulate exactly what they were going to do when they got to South Ashfield Heights. He bounced back and forth between a pessimistic and optimistic conclusion to their endeavor.

Optimistic. They would arrive at the apartment complex, greeted at the door by Henry Townsend. He would take them upstairs to his apartment where Christine Mitchell sat on the couch, cheerfully sipping on tea. The apartment was gloriously furnished and perfect, nothing like the nightmarish world of Silent Hill. The reunion would be grand and everyone would live happily ever after.

Pessimistic. They would arrive at the apartment complex, which would be mysteriously empty, dilapidated, and downright creepy. Somehow, the doors lock and imprison them once again in the horrid nightmare began in Silent Hill. More monsters, less ammo, and no reprieve from the macabre surroundings. Then they die. The end.

Michael turned the air conditioner up a notch, wishing that he hadn't worn his three-quarters length wool coat. Sure he looked cool, and it offered more pocket space, but it was a bit warm outside for such an outer garment. Maybe it was the long-sleeve, button down white shirt he wore underneath. Of course it was too warm for both the shirt and the coat. He should've worn shorts and sandals instead of jeans and durable boots. Then again, if they encountered any of the circumstances they had the last time, Michael was confident that his current clothing choice was practical and sensible.

He stole a glance at Heather Mason. She was dressed for action, wearing dark jeans and a matching jacket, which only fell to just below her bust line, and underneath the jacket, she wore a tan t-shirt and sported her boots. Trey Harrison wore some cargo khakis with a maroon t-shirt over a white long-sleeve t-shirt and hiking boots completed the ensemble. Michael thought they looked more like well-dressed college students on their way to either a rowdy party or a coffee shop.

Heather ran her fingers though her tussled, unstructured hair but kept her gazed fixed at the passing buildings on the passenger side of the car. Michael couldn't imagine how she felt venturing back into the lion's den. She barely escaped the horrors of Silent Hill. Twice. Now, she elected to join them to save both Henry and Christine, who weren't as fortunate as them. They remained trapped in whatever evil Silent Hill managed to spawn.

And they were the only ones that could save them and stop the evil, or at least, that's what they kept telling themselves.

Trey nudged Michael's shoulder, pulling him from his thoughts. "Hey, can we stop at a bathroom?"

Michael nodded and made a quick right turn. He pulled into a gas station and parked on the side of the building. Despite the modern architecture of some of the surrounding buildings, the red brick building with sloping overhangs reminded him of something from the sixties. He wondered if there would be a potbellied clerk rocking to the oldies behind the counter.

Michael turned to Heather and Trey. "I'm going inside, do you guys need anything?"

Heather shook her head, still mysteriously silent. Michael thought about telling her to get some fresh air and to shake it off, but he knew that she wouldn't listen. She seemed determined to go with them when she surprised them in the parking lot, but she had suddenly settled into a quiet depression.

Actually, now that he thought about it, his own mood wasn't as lively as before. A morbid foreboding has settled over him and had only gotten worse since they were nearing the apartment complex. Maybe it was his imagination, but after seeing the same thing in Heather's and Trey's eyes, he wondered if they were being effected by whatever power had manifested itself in South Ashfield.

Michael turned to Trey, but he had already hopped out the car and dashed around the corner to the bathroom.

"I'll be right back, okay?" he said to Heather. He hoped to elicit some kind of response from her. The entire trip she had simply stared out of the window as if she was searching for something.

"Okay," she replied as if catching what he was trying to do.

Heather heard the door slam and heard the tinkle of chimes as Michael entered the gas station then everything was silent again. She sighed deeply and let her gaze fix upon everything and nothing at the same time.

Though everything in the environment registered in her mind, Heather's focus was on what she couldn't directly see but what she felt. As they neared South Ashfield, the pulse of malevolent energy only grew stronger. She wondered if Michael could feel it, but she figured the connection to Silent Hill he displayed before had been severed. So she was the only one who could sense the strength of the evil they would face.

There was something different about this than before though. Heather couldn't put her finger on it, but this energy was tainted—completely wrong. It was as if someone or something were toying with something that they didn't have a full understanding of. They were dancing on the outskirts of casting the world into oblivion, yet because of their own inexperience or immaturity, they were doing something horribly wrong.

She figured that this time, they were probably dealing with a simple-minded freak of The Order, who somehow found out about the dispelled plans of Father Tom and sought to bring back his version of Samael. When would it ever stop? When the world was cast into some dark, hellish existence? When everyone experienced nothing but suffering and pain, everything good erased permanently from existence? The thought depressed and angered Heather.

She knew that Michael was concerned, feeling his caring glance and hearing the worry punctuating his questions. But she just couldn't draw herself from her own anxiety. So she simply stared out the window, hoping it would all simply pass.

Heather sighed and glanced about the car. She hadn't voiced it, but was impressed with the cleanliness of the inside of the car. Most college kids had wrappers, papers, and trash scattered everywhere with no intention of cleaning it up. She took the neatness as a reflection of Michael's personality. He seemed organized and the type to have it together. But Trey, now he would definitely have a messy car. She smiled slightly as she imagined having to kick aside pizza boxes and other totally ludicrous wads of debris all over the seats and floor just to find a spot to sit.

She glanced in the mirror and caught sight of a drawn, pallid face staring at her. His dark eyes met hers through the mirror, and Heather felt a chill go down her spine. She averted her eyes immediately, not wanting to draw his attention by staring back at him. It was enough that they were going to battle some otherworldly force that had imprisoned their friends. She didn't need a perverted psycho chasing after her as well.

Heather tried to concentrate on the gas station, wondering what was taking Trey and Michael so long. She could have simply gotten out of the car and went inside as well, totally diffusing the situation, but surely the creep had lost interest.

She chanced a glance at the rearview mirror and froze as the man now appeared to be in the backseat. His longing gray eyes stared back at her with an unhealthy interest, while his mouth curled into a sneer. His stringy blond hair framed his narrow face, which somehow gave him an even more menacing quality. But the thing that caught Heather's attention was the curved blade pressed against his tongue. His rolled it over the tip while he stared at Heather.

Before she could react, he lunged forward.

She gasped and began to immediately put up a fight, though she anticipated the cold blade plunging into the back of her neck. But as she turned around to face her opponent for one last time, there was no one in the backseat. No strange man, blade in hand, waiting to slice her to ribbons. No pervert leering outside the back window, imagining her naked and bloody. There was absolutely no sign of the man she saw.

There was no way Heather could have imagined him. His rancid breath and musty odor still lingered in the car. And his eyes—there was no mistaking it. Heather did not imagine that man. But where was he now?

II.

Trey's bladder was on the verge of bursting open, spilling urine all through his insides before erupting out of his stomach in a rush of warm, amber waves. At least, that's what Trey presumed what would've happened if he had waited five more minutes.

Rushing to the farthest urinal from the door, Trey relieved himself, exhaling loudly. While the trickle of liquid echoed in the bathroom, Trey took a glance around. The bathroom was much bigger than Trey presumed. Gas stations were known for their creepy, dirty bathrooms with one toilet and graffiti all over the walls and door. This bathroom was large, almost as big as the store section of the gas station with a long line of urinals across from the sinks. Trey saw that the bathroom had another section, probably where the stalls were located. The bathroom itself wasn't that dirty, but it did have a thin layer of grime and erosion, which made Trey feel a little uneasy. It reminded him of the bathrooms in Silent Hill.

He shook three times (anymore and it was considered a faux pas) and zipped up. He flushed and the water churned lazily around in the urinal but really didn't wash away all of the waste. Trey shook his head, turned to the sink, and stuck his hands into the moderately hot water. Trey rubbed his hands together as a healthy lather bubbled up; he then rinsed it all down the drain and turned off the faucet.

But as soon as the water stopped, another out-of-place noise resounded through the bathroom. Trey thought it sounded like a sob, but it as quickly as he had heard it, it was gone. There were no other noises in the bathroom, nothing to indicate that someone else was there. Yet, he was sure that he heard someone crying. Trey stood still for a moment as he honed in on every little noise in the bathroom. Another sob escaped from around the corner, putting Trey into a state of alarm.

Was someone hurt? Was it a lost child? Had someone gotten stuck in the stall?

Trey shook the water off his hands and started carefully around the bend. The thought crossed his mind that he should just go back out to the car and get Michael and Heather. But Trey didn't want them to think he was being jumpy already. The evil was at the apartment complex and in Silent Hill. There was no way something awful had taken up residence in this gas station bathroom.

The stalls came into view and instantly, Trey knew there was something amiss. There were several stalls—Trey counted twenty-one—lined up on the right side of the wall. Small, mildew-covered windows let in only small rays of sunlight, casting this side of the bathroom in a dusky hue. But Trey was absolutely sure that the gas station wasn't this large from the outside. No gas station in America would ever have a bathroom this large.

Before he could think twice about investigating, a hard wail came from the last stall. The door to that stall was ajar, while the rest were closed.

A typical horror movie moment, Trey thought. This was the part where he was supposed to call out foolishly to whatever hid in the darkness. Well, Trey wasn't playing that game. He slipped carefully down the length of the bathroom until he neared the stall. He then cautiously leaned forward to peek into the stall, hopefully catching the resident wailer unaware.

Trey barely got a glimpse of a small boy before the stall door abruptly slammed shut. He jumped back in surprise and felt his mouth go dry.

"Hey, I'm not going to hurt you," Trey softly offered. He didn't hear anything else from the stall. The boy was probably holding his breath. What a brat.

He moved closer to the stall and rapped on it, hoping to elicit some kind of response.

"Come on, open the door. We'll find your parents, okay?" Trey said. He assumed that the kid had been separated from his parents and somehow found solace in this creepy bathroom. Surely, his parents were worried sick about him. Or maybe he was being a brat and his parents pretended to leave him to teach him a lesson. They probably were somewhere in the parking lot waiting for the little boy to stagger out of the bathroom crying and calling for his parents. Parents could be awfully cruel.

Trey smiled when the child knocked back on the door. Maybe he wasn't such a brat after all.

He knocked again and the boy responded much more quickly this time.

Trey knocked again, beginning to enjoy the back and forth game between the two of them. He remembered when he was a small child and the small games he and his mother used to play. Though thinking back, peek-a-boo was trite and making funny faces was just plain silly. Still, those small things were pleasant and surely the small boy felt some kind of connection through the small game.

Trey rescinded his original opinion of the boy. Well, he could still be a brat, but right now, the small boy seemed a little more innocent and vulnerable than he initially presumed. It was possible that the boy was a good kid, a rarity in this day and age. Most kids had attitude and would sass adults just as quickly as their own peers. But maybe this kid wasn't like that.

Trey knocked again.

Something pounded on the door from the other side, throwing Trey against the tiled wall. His shoulder hit the wall hard. Trey lost his balance and slid to the floor. Panicked, he scrambled to his feet. There was no way that small boy could have hit the inside of the stall door that hard. Trey suddenly felt like there was something horribly wrong.

As he rose to his feet, Trey heard a gasp come from the stall, followed by sickening crunches and wet smacks.

Without thinking, Trey rushed to the stall and banged on it. "Open this door!"

His statement wasn't necessarily directed at the boy, but to whoever or whatever that had suddenly made its presence known.

Trey looked down at his feet and saw a pool of blood seeping out of the stall. Trey took a step back, struck with the fear that whatever they had thought they left behind in Silent Hill had followed them. And now, it was here in this bathroom.

The stall lock popped and the door opened slightly. Everything told Trey to run and get the others. He didn't have his crossbow or anything else to use as a weapon. Well, he had his fists, but something told Trey that his physical power would be nothing against whatever was in the stall. Still, his curiosity overwhelmed his since of logic, and Trey stepped forward cautiously.

At the slightest provocation, Trey was ready to bolt out of the bathroom, hoping the rays of afternoon sunlight would dispel and disintegrate whatever creature would be hot on his heels. But he wasn't content to simply leave without knowing what happened in that stall. Or to that small boy.

As Trey drew closer, he could feel his body tense and his palms begin to sweat. Fear began to creep through his spine and infest his limbs, putting him on edge. A drop of sweat trickled down the side of his face as he pushed open the stall door.

Despite the blood on the floor, the stall was unbelievably clean. Trey felt dizzy for a moment, faced with a strong sense of wrongness. Not that he wanted entrails to be scattered all over the place, but he didn't expect this. Where was the boy? What was in the stall only moments ago? Where had the blood come from?

The bathroom was silent once again, and Trey was alone.

A bubble rose to the top of the toilet water. It shouldn't have been so alarming, but Trey's blood immediately began racing again as more bubbles erupted from the depths of the toilet. Then they became pockets of blood. The water churned and rippled like a small storm had suddenly developed within the toilet.

Trey had only backed away a step before a bloody hand shot out of the toilet and steadied on the seat. The other arm followed suit, but braced against the opposite side. Simultaneously, they gave a foundation for a grotesque figure to emerge from the toilet.

Drenched in blood, lacking of skin or any real defining features, it jerked its way from the depths of the toilet. None of its movements were fluid. It trembled and convulsed as it pulled its body halfway out of the toilet. A misplaced, gaping hole smacked then opened as a little boy's scream exploded out of it.

Finally, Trey's body reacted with his mind, and he dashed out of the bathroom, the scream following him all the way back to the car.

III.

The interior of the gas station was disappointing. It looked like any other gas station populated with rows of snacks, counters of unhealthy fast food, and an Icee machine in the corner. To the right of the entrance were two small booths next to a coffee machine. But the most disappointing thing was the strange clerk behind the counter, peering unkindly at Michael. As silly as it may have been, he really was expecting a potbellied, balding fellow that would greet him kindly as he walked into the store.

Michael nodded kindly at the clerk, but his expression didn't change. Maybe the clerk knew that Michael was a college student and automatically lumped him with the hundreds of other drunken troublemakers that stumbled down to South Ashfield for a good time. The clerk must have had a bad incident with college kids and decided to hate every single one thereafter.

He shrugged off the rudeness of the clerk and headed to the back where the refrigerators were located. They lined the entire back wall and circled around on both walls. Michael immediately noticed that there were twenty-one refrigerators. It was strange that there would be so many refrigerators in such a small gas station. But he found it more peculiar that he had counted each one before he realized it. Michael realized that there was some significance to it, but he brushed it off attributing his keen alertness to fatigue tainted with paranoia.

Despite the odd number of refrigerators, they all housed a variety of typical cold drinks that were most popular on the streets. Even the not-so-popular drinks had a section in the refrigerators. Though he was impressed, Michael simply wanted a bottle of water.

He scanned the shelves until he found an icy bottle of water but frowned. The bottle was water was in the last refrigerator and the only one left. But that wasn't the problem. It was all the way in the back of the refrigerator.

Maybe the clerk should take more time to stock the shelves than staring at me, Michael sourly thought. But he pushed the thought out of his mind. The clerk may have had some sort of personal problem that he was dealing with, and Michael just so happened to be his scapegoat.

Michael shook his head. He was always making excuses for other people. He did his best to give people the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes people made it hard.

The glass door opened easily and Michael reached into the refrigerator. He reached and felt his fingertips graze the icy plastic bottle, but he couldn't quite grasp it. It never registered that the refrigerator wasn't supposed to be so deep. And he never thought twice about the bottle of water being the only thing in the refrigerator. So when he couldn't reach it, he dismissed it as bad luck and continued to reach. This time, he got his body into it.

He leaned fully into the refrigerator and stretched fully toward the water. About to give up, Michael silently rejoiced as the cool plastic grazed his fingertips. Only a little bit more and the water would be his. Damn, it was hard work just for a bottle of water.

As Michael reached he found that the inside of the refrigerator was suddenly much cooler. His hand felt like it was wrapped in icicles. He glanced toward his hand and noticed a pale hand wrapped around his own. Michael gasped and pulled back, but the vise-like grip held him fast. Then it began to pull him in.

Michael thrashed around for a moment, hoping that the rude clerk saw what was happening and was running down the aisle to help. Hopefully with a bat in hand. Yet, Michael felt no other help. No clerk tugging on Michael's coat, desperately trying to pull him out. No one shouting from outside the refrigerator for help. Nothing. It was as if the clerk didn't see him. Or maybe he just didn't care.

Regardless, Michael let the grip pull him in a few inches before he was able to get his other arm braced against the frame of the refrigerator. He then found a way to maneuver his legs, giving him more leverage than before. With a grunt, Michael pulled against the hand, desperate for warm air and freedom.

"Help!" Michael didn't recognize his own strangled voice. There was no way the clerk would ever hear him.

Michael tugged again, afraid that his hand would break off from his body and join the other bodiless hand in the darkness, waiting for another thirsty victim to add more hands to their army. Disgusted by the thought, Michael grunted again and yanked against the hand.

As Michael peered past the ghostly hand, a visage melted out of the darkness. The face, as pale as the hand that now gripped Michael's wrist, glared at Michael for a moment. Then a smile crept across his face.

Michael gave one last tug and the hand let him go. He flew back into a shelf of snacks, lost his balance, and hit the floor. Scrambling, Michael got to his feet, not taking his eyes off the refrigerator for a moment. His hand still felt frigid and he could still feel the impression of the hand wrapped around his wrist. But when he looked at his hand, he discovered why his hand was cold. He had grabbed the icy water.

He looked back at the refrigerator and it seemed normal. There were other drinks on the shelves and the waters were fully stocked all the way to the front. There was no possible way that Michael would have been able to fit his athletic body into the refrigerator, let alone become entangled with some ghostly image.

But Michael knew he hadn't imagined it. Someone had attacked him.

He looked at the water again, which was a normal bottle of cold water. He glanced at the refrigerator again, suddenly unsure of what had happened. His mind was already developing several logical explanations for the incident.

Fatigue. He hadn't slept well and maybe it had finally caught up to him in the form of a hallucination. Which is why the clerk didn't help him—Michael's mind had created the entire incident. Or maybe, Michael had fallen asleep while looking at the drinks. Surely, people could fall asleep standing up, if they were tired enough. He fell asleep then dreamed the situation. Maybe it was a hunger or thirst induced vision. Michael hadn't eaten and he was plenty thirsty.

Michael pushed all that aside. He knew exactly what had happened. Whatever or whoever that had done something to Henry Townsend knew that they were there to help him. And though it could have easily killed Michael, it was toying with him, begging him to come. Though it felt like he was walking right into the lion's den, Michael resolved that he would find out who or what was behind all this. And when he did, there would be hell to pay.

He clenched his jaw and quickly paid for the water and stepped back into the cool afternoon air. Only then did he realize that something was wrong. He and Heather's eyes met and Michael knew that something had happened. Before he got all the way to the car, Trey dashed from around the corner and stopped at the car, gasping for breath.

When Trey finally looked up at Michael, they both knew that they had seen something that didn't make any sense. Something that could only be spawned from the bowels of Silent Hill. And it was only a matter of time before they found themselves once again at the mercy of an otherworldly evil.

Notes:

This story takes place directly after the events of Silent Hill: Lost Souls and Silent Hill 3: Harry Mason.