TO MY PRECIOUS DAUGHTER

Cheryl

April 4, 1997

When I sit here with this notebook, the words are all there. They course through me like some kind of terrible energy. My hands are trembling. There are so many reasons why I want to do this, and so many reasons why I don't. There are also reasons why I must and why I shouldn't. I'm afraid. I've been afraid ever since Silent Hill. I don't think anyone could go through that hell and come out thinking it's done with forever. Each time I wake up, the first thing I have to do is make sure everything is as I remember.

But it is you for whom I truly fear. I can write this all out a hundred times and my heart will still not be free of it. It could be that consciously reliving the nightmares will allow them back in at night when I can't do anything to avoid them. I'm doing it anyway, because you might need to know. I hope I'm wrong. I hope you'll read this and think of it as one of the crazier things I've written. But I need to tell you the truth. If I take it with me into the oblivion of death, it may end up being an experience wasted.

I still don't know everything about what happened then, and I know I never will. What I do know is that it all has to do with who you are.

Valerie and I loved to spend a week each year in Silent Hill. The place really did earn the name its locals gave it, especially in the springtime. The summer guests were still usually another two months in arriving, and early-comers like us would have the entire town to ourselves, it seemed. I guess three, maybe four years we did that. The last time we went was in March of '73, when we'd stayed at the Lakeview. We had a wonderful time, but only upon leaving did it truly become special.

It was Val who saw it and told me to pull over, insisted that I pull over when I refused. There was a baby on the side of the road, she said, and ignored my incredulity. We pulled onto the shoulder, and I followed Valerie on foot. About a quarter-mile back up the highway, I saw the bundle, too, and I knew Valerie was right. Someone really had left an infant in the tall grass. No, infant wasn't even proper. It…she…was a newborn. Her face wrinkled its tiny features upon seeing us, and then she gave us a smile we couldn't help but return.

"But what is she doing here?" Valerie asked.

"Who knows? She probably belongs to someone back in town. Should we take her to the police station? Or the hospital?"

Val considered this for a moment. I had already decided that we'd do whatever it was she decided. That's when I saw the baby extend its tiny red hand and clasp Valerie's index finger. The look on Valerie's face made it clear to me that we would not be returning to Silent Hill. She reasoned pretty well, too. The baby had clearly been abandoned. Some of the people in Silent Hill can be on the funny side sometimes, but none so loopy as to drop babies on the side of Highway 26.

I knew there was more, though, but I couldn't blame her. You see, we'd always wanted a son and daughter, one of each. For the first three years we were married we tried with great vigor and no success. Come to find, Valerie was infertile. One of the worst nights I ever had as a husband followed that doctor visit, at least up to that point. That was why, when she asked if we should keep the baby, I didn't say no. Valerie chose the name, and that too I approved.

Cheryl…

I think back upon that day. March 29th. It is the fulcrum upon which my entire life pivoted, the clear division between two fundamentally distinct segments of my life. I thought I understood this pretty quickly, knowing as I did that fatherhood is one of the greatest changes a man experiences in his life. If that were all, perhaps I wouldn't have these worry lines, or the nightmares. When Valerie died a few years later, though the pain and heartache was unbelievable, even that doesn't quite match March 28th, 1973 for sheer catalytic impact in the life of one Harold Mason.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Val and I never made any effort to locate Cheryl's biological parents. She became our child, our sweet, dear child. We never did tell her of her origins (not that we had any better idea ourselves), and that's also a part of why I write this. You deserve all of the truth. Even without it, Cheryl grew to be a happy and healthy little girl. Her only heartache in life was to have lost a second mother.

The symptoms began that summer; swelling, inexplicable fevers, the pains that moved around without warning. The diagnosis came down in November; Lymphoma. Today, medical science has pretty well defeated it, but Valerie got it twenty years too early. She fought hard.

I can't even write about that. When I try to think about it dispassionately, the memories force their way back in, and there's no way I can write anything coherent about it. I know well of the so-called stages of grief, but I never allowed myself to experience them all. I couldn't. Cheryl was barely three years old, and I think for her, Val's death visited upon her heartbreak far more profound than any I could imagine. Valerie was my wife and I loved her as much as I've ever loved anyone, but mothers are almost as God in the eyes of children, and that perhaps went double for children who have so few others to call their own. Cheryl had only myself, and for that reason, I had to be a rock.

But on the inside, I felt like something evil took root, and every day I felt that nebulous something expanding, conquering my soul inch by inch, to one day tear through my very skin as it finally becomes larger than I am.

I couldn't tell anyone about that.

This is too much. I have to stop for now.

April 5

Cheryl and I naturally grew closer after Valerie's body surrendered to its own malignant pieces. In large measure, we were each other's whole lives. Without her bright personality and undemanding love, I don't know how I would have made it through. I let my writing distract me as often as I could. Indeed, my agent was quite the lucky man in several regards. I not only kept in touch with him as with few others, but I kept the submissions flowing steady. Yet, if I had only that to rely upon as a crutch, I may well have drunk myself into the grave within a year. Cheryl was the key that kept my doors unlocked. I never really appreciated how difficult a job it must be to raise a child without a constant helping hand, a job made all the more interesting when the child and parent are of an opposite gender. I had to be mom as well as dad, and that's not the sort of thing any person can learn without stumbling hard and often.

But we did okay, I think.

April 7

Sorry. This is turning into as much a diary for me as it is a letter for you. I can't help it. There's so much I can't tell anyone, and I've been holding it all in for seventeen years. I hope you can bear with me.

Silent Hill.

Valerie and I never did go back, not after finding Cheryl. When I used to think about it, I thought it was because of the cancer. Once that got going, our little family didn't do a whole lot of anything fun. The closest the Masons had to a vacation in those years was the trip to see a specialist in Boston, and that entire episode was dreadfully miserable.

That's why it came as something of a surprise to me when Cheryl told me she wanted to go there. I felt a little spooked, truth be told. Even she didn't seem to know why, or she did and kept it hidden well. Either way, it became a persistent topic. I did not want to return. To me, Silent Hill was a chapter in a book that had been most emphatically closed. There were times I'd go through one of the old photo albums and come away feeling very maudlin. Revisiting Silent Hill would be like that, only ten degrees more powerful. But Cheryl couldn't know this, and I couldn't find a plausible reason to tell her no.

How I wish I had.

We ended up going on April 20th. It was a Sunday, and traffic would be light. The plan was to stay a week, and I would subject myself to whatever torments my memories wrought until the following Sunday. I would do this for my little girl, because I loved her. She knew this place was special to me and Valerie, but she didn't know just how special it was for her. We'd never told her the truth about that. She and I had discussed a hundred different ways to tell her when the time came, though we agreed on nothing, even when that hypothetical time would come. I thought at the time that maybe she sensed something that drew her in spite of her ignorance.

Night had fallen by the time we drew near, mostly because my prediction about Sunday traffic did not end up coming true. I don't know just what time it was, only that it was getting a little late. Cheryl was conked out in the passenger seat, clutching the sketchbook I'd gotten her for her birthday a few years earlier. I was feeling some of that myself, but I pressed on. We were too close to pull off by that point.

The traffic that had delayed us was long thinned out by that point. It got to where I wouldn't see any other vehicles for minutes at a time, though it took a fifteen minute stretch before I really thought about it. Strange, it was. Tourist season was just getting underway. It wasn't at thronging level just yet, but surely there'd be someone. . .

Finally, I did see a headlight in the rear-view. I mean that in the single, too. It was a motorcycle, ridden by a cop instead of an out-of-towner. Female. My age, maybe a year or two younger than me. She got right on my butt and stayed there for about thirty seconds, and it made me sweat. I had no reason to expect a pull-over, but I wasn't a naïve schoolboy. There didn't always have to be a reason.

In the end, there was no flash of light or siren. She pulled around and ahead, stopping only a second to glance at me before gunning it and zooming off into the oncoming distance. I shrugged it off, and let thoughts of cops take second seat to thoughts of a cold drink and a warm bed for the night. I was getting tired. The hash marks in the road seemed to blur as we drove by and ate up the miles.

That's when I saw the motorcycle again, and in that instant sleep was a light year from my mind. I could see it lying in a heap on the left shoulder. I kept my eye on it as we came to and passed it, looking for the body of the cop that had to have been deposited nearby. She wasn't there, though. That was odd, I guessed, though not terribly so. Likely I'd be seeing her in a few seconds, thumbing a ride, and I might even offer her one. Strangely, there were no skid marks leading to the bike. It was as if it had drifted, falling over only because it lost the momentum necessary to keep it upright.

Stranger, I never saw the cop.

Strangest, I only had a split second to think about it, because as I turned my head back to the road in front of me, I saw the figure. My first thought was that I'd found the cop, but I could tell right away that I hadn't. Whoever was in the road was too small, a child, a young woman. But I hadn't even the time to worry about that, because she was standing in the middle of the highway.

I was doing sixty. I couldn't have avoided her short of divine intervention. But I did try. I jockied the wheel hard to starboard, hoping at least that she'd sense her danger and get the hell out of the way. I never had the chance to know if she did. I heard the tires scream as they locked, and I heard Cheryl scream an instant later. Then came a loud crunch, because I'd overdone the turn and the front end plowed through the guard rail.

And after that, I felt the impact with as much strength as I'd heard it.

Lights out for Harry Mason.