He liked taking long drives while she was at school. Something about the act of driving was intrinsically calming, peaceful; the constant cacophony of fear and memories in the back of his mind quieted down into a low hum and he could find a few moments rest. He knew it was called 'road coma' and that long-distance truckers talked about it, but he thought of it as a form of mediation. It was one of the few things that brought him peace anymore. His daughter and road coma were all he had left.
Harry Mason pulled his truck over to the side of the lake, near the bridge to Silent Hill. He never crossed the bridge, never got any closer than he was now, but something about the place drew him. His conscience mind shied away from the memories, tried to regulate them to the deep pits of his memory, and for some reason, the closer he was to that accursed place the easier it became to forget. He wondered sometimes what would happen if he crossed the bridge someday and entered Silent Hill again. He could envision driving across, entering the town, and then… oblivion. Sometimes he wondered if oblivion wouldn't be a bad thing.
He angrily swiped the back of his hand across his face. He was crying again, and he hated it. He hated the hold the place had on him, the way it affected his every waking moment. He was a father, dammit, he had responsibilities, he didn't have time to ruminate in the past or contemplate the darkness! If he wasn't there to take care of Cheryl, no one else would, and she needed him.
That was the worst thing, he thought. The worst thing was that Cheryl would get older, become an adult and not need him anymore, and all he would have left was the loneliness.
Harry sighed and reached his hand for the ignition switch. Thinking like that just made him want to cross the bridge into Silent Hill even more. It was pointless, destructive. It was time to go home.
As he started to turn the key, he glanced up towards the bridge just in time to see a sedan go flying through the railing and crash nose-first into the glassy surface of the lake.
"Shit!" Harry exclaimed, sitting bolt upright. He watched in shock for a few moments as the sedan started to sink, and his mind foggily announced that there was someone in the driver's seat of the car. Someone who was lolling over the steering wheel, motionless.
"Shit!" he repeated, and flung open the door to his truck. Not thinking, he ran towards the lake, dove in, and started swimming towards the sinking car with broad, strong strokes. He had been a champion swimmer in high school (longer ago than he cared to admit), and he was grimly pleased to discover that his swimming ability was something Silent Hill hadn't been able to take from him. Happiness, companionship, drive to live, yes. Swimming ability, no. Harry Mason: one. Silent Hill: everything else.
He got to the car just as water started to gurgle over doors and into the open windows. The driver was another man, bigger than Harry, and leaning limply over the steering wheel. Harry reached in through the window and started pulling him out of the car. The other man wasn't wearing a seatbelt, thankfully, and there was enough water in the car already that he was starting to float. 'Finally, a break,' Harry thought crazily as he gave one last tug and the man came free of the car. Tucking the other man's head under his elbow in a carry half-remembered from life-guard classes years ago, Harry struck out for the shore.
The suction created by the sinking car pulled at them, almost wrenching the other man from Harry's grasp. "No!" he muttered through clenched teeth. "You're not getting another one!" He barely had time to wonder what he meant by that when the suction increased and he had to focus all his efforts on swimming.
After what seemed like a long time but was probably only minutes, Harry dragged himself and the other man onto the shore, where he collapsed and started heaving great, exhausted breaths. The other man lay face-down beside him, limp and unmoving but for his shallow respiration.
Slowly, Harry's breathing slowed and the fear started to ebb away. He sat up and looked down at the other man.
He was taller than Harry and heavier, although not by much. He was wearing a green jacket that looked vaguely military, jeans, and heavy boots. His wet hair was longish, dark blond and shaggy, like he hadn't gotten it cut in a while. Curious, Harry rolled him over.
His eyes were closed and sunken, framed by the darkest circles Harry had ever seen. He had the ghostly pallor of someone who doesn't spend much time in the daylight (much like myself, Harry thought ruefully) and the beginnings of a scratchy blond beard. He looked like he was at the early stages of middle age, but something about him seemed much, much older.
"Hey, buddy." Harry started gently shaking the man's shoulder. "Buddy, you okay?" Stupid question, given the circumstances, but it was all he could think to ask.
The other man suddenly coughed up a mouthful of lake water and opened his eyes. Dark green eyes met Harry's blue ones, and Harry recoiled a little. He had never seen such a haunted look before (not true, his mind whispered. You looked like that after going to that place.).
The stranger reached up and grasped weakly at Harry's jacket. "Muh… heh…" he murmured before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed back onto the sand.
Harry sat back, genuinely perplexed. Now what?
"Buddy, we've got to get you to the hospital," he told the other man. "You need to see a doctor." The other man made some noises deep in his throat, which Harry took for consent. "Can you stand up? I don't think I can carry you."
The stranger could stand, but barely. He leaned most of his weight on Harry and seemed unaware of and uninterested in what was going on around him. He let Harry lead him back to the truck and allowed himself to be stuffed into the passenger seat. When Harry closed the door, the other man leaned his head against the window. By the time Harry had walked around to the driver's seat, the other man had collapsed into a heap against the passenger side door. Harry got in and locked the truck's doors so his passenger wouldn't fall out while he was driving. He silently cursed himself for never bothering to get a cell phone. If he had one, he could have called an ambulance and handed off this stranger to the professionals.
"I'm taking you to the hospital, okay?" he told the stranger. "I'm taking you to see a doctor."
"Silent Hill," the man replied, his eyes still closed, his voice gravelly and rough. It was the first clear thing he'd said.
Harry froze. "What?" he asked quietly. He reached out and shook the other man's shoulder. "What did you say? Come on, buddy, what did you say?" The other man looked at him blearily and then his head sank forward onto his chest.
Harry hissed in frustration. Had this man been to Silent Hill? Did he know something about the place that Harry didn't? Harry put the truck into gear. It was a coincidence, it had to be. Just because the stranger had been driving from the direction of Silent Hill and had a certain haunted look about him… it didn't mean that he had seen what Harry had. "I'm still taking you to the hospital," he told his passenger. "Just hold on until then, okay?"
The other man muttered something that sounded like "red god."
They were halfway back to Portland and the hospital when the other man started shivering uncontrollably.
Harry looked at him, worried. He was cold, too; it was early spring and the lake's water had been frigid. The truck's heater was on, belching out warm air, but it didn't help much when you were wearing wet, sodden clothes. "You okay, buddy?" he asked again.
The other man abruptly leaned across the seat and wrapped his arm around Harry's waist. He pressed his face into Harry's shoulder and started shaking his head slowly back and forth. "Cold," he murmured. "So cold…"
For having just survived a car crash and near drowning, the stranger was surprisingly strong. Harry awkwardly pulled his right arm free and draped it over the other man's shoulders. The other man curled in towards him like a kitten seeking heat, pulling his legs behind him until he was pressed right against Harry. "Cold, so cold…" he kept muttering into Harry's neck.
Harry didn't have it in him to push the other man away. He wasn't sure he could have anyway; the other man was holding on to him very tightly, and Harry had to keep one hand on the steering wheel. So he kept his arm around the stranger's shoulders, holding him and being held, and Harry would be lying to himself if he said he wasn't enjoying this on some level. He hadn't been this close to another adult in a long, long time… not since Silent Hill, in fact. He had tried, he had, but there was always some invisible barrier between himself and people who hadn't seen what he had. It made getting a date hard. So he had thrown himself into parenting, into being the best dad he could for Cheryl, and if that meant he missed out on some pleasures in life, so be it. 'Another thing that place took from me,' he thought bitterly.
The other man had stopped talking but kept himself pressed into Harry's warmth. Harry could feel the stranger's breath on his neck. When he tried to pull his arm back so he could have both hands on the steering wheel, the stranger clung tighter to his waist and whimpered deep in his throat, so Harry left his arm where it was. He could drive one-handed for a little while.
As he drove with the stranger practically in his lap, Harry realized how good it felt to be held like this. It made him feel… human again. For the first time since that place, Harry felt like a complete human being again instead of a shell of one. He felt a momentary pang of guilt that Cheryl wasn't all he needed to be complete, but that was quickly drowned out by the growing heat of the stranger. He wasn't being a pervert, Harry reasoned, since the other man seemed to genuinely need his warmth. It wasn't gay or anything, it was just two guys helping each other. Still, it didn't have to feel this good.
Disgusted, Harry realized he had half an erection. Wasn't this day just full of surprises? Momentarily steering with his knees, Harry flipped on the radio and found a political pundit spouting nonsense. There. That was about the most unsexy thing he could find on short notice.
Harry drove past the hospital. He didn't know why, couldn't explain it, but he took the stranger home. Maybe it was a bad idea (of course it was a bad idea, his mind yammered at him, he had a seven-year old daughter at home and he didn't know this guy), but his gut told him that the other man needed help, and he needed the kind of help that only another survivor of Silent Hill could give him.
'Survivor,' Harry mused as he bodily hauled the stranger out of his truck and towards his apartment. Now that was a funny word, one that he had never thought to apply to himself before. It fit though, now that he thought about it.
The other man was walking a little better now, but he still had to lean on Harry. He was starting to wake up a little bit too, looking around in a daze. He was remarkably calm for someone being led into a stranger's apartment, but Harry thought that if he had been in Silent Hill, he would have seen much worse things than Harry and Cheryl's small, cheery apartment.
The stranger didn't protest when Harry dumped him on the couch. He sat there in a sprawling mess, staring up at Harry with his sunken, dark eyes.
"I'm going to run you a bath," Harry told him. "You need to get warmed up, and I don't think you're up to a shower quite yet, are you?" He was surprised when the stranger shook his head. "You understood that?" The stranger nodded. "Okay, you stay here. I'll be back in the few minutes." The other man blinked at him a few times, then curled up into a ball on the couch cushions.
Harry grabbed a couple of towels and took them to his bedroom. He dried himself off as quickly as he could and changed into some dry clothes. He really needed a shower, he stunk like the lake, but it would have to wait until after the stranger had had his bath.
Harry ran the bath with water as hot as he thought the stranger could take it. Somehow, he thought that would be pretty hot. Considering how weak and out of it the other man seemed, Harry dumped some of Cheryl's bubble bath in the water so that the stranger would get some soap on him. The bubble bath fizzed and rose into puffy clouds in the steaming water.
The other man was sleeping, clutching tightly to a pillow and mashing his face into it, when Harry came back into the living room. Harry gently shook him awake and then guided him to the bathroom, the stranger leaning on him and stumbling a few times in the hallway.
Once in the warm, steamy bathroom, Harry was faced with a dilemma. He didn't think the stranger was strong enough to take off his own clothes. He knocked the toilet seat closed with his foot and sat the other man on it. Gritting his teeth, he helped the stranger out of his jacket and shirt, then knelt and took his boots off for him. It helped to imagine that this was just like helping Cheryl get ready for a bath. Harry noted that the stranger's torso was covered with bruises, some old and yellowing, others fresh and vivid against his pale skin. Sometime recently, this man had been beat to hell.
Sighing, Harry faced the inevitable and gently undid the stranger's belt buckle. He was startled when the other man reached up and brushed his hands away. "You can do that part yourself?" he asked.
"Yes," the other man said quietly.
"Uh, okay," Harry answered, a little flustered by the stranger's response. "Leave your jeans outside the door, okay? I'm going to wash your clothes for you. You, uh, take as long as you need in the bath."
The stranger leaned forward over his knees, his head hanging between them. His forehead nearly touched Harry's before Harry pulled backwards. "Thank you," the other man said.
"You're welcome," Harry told him, surprised at how touched he was by the stranger's thanks. He waited another moment, but the other man didn't say anything else, so Harry got up and slipped out of the bathroom with his clothes.
He came back a few minutes later and found the stranger's jeans in a crumpled pile outside the bathroom door. No sign of any underwear, but Harry wasn't sure he'd let a strange man wash his boxers either, Silent Hill or not. Gathering up the clothing, Harry headed to the laundry room. Behind the bathroom door, he heard a small splash and sigh. Of relief? Of despair? He couldn't be sure.
As he was loading the washing machine, a wallet fell out of the stranger's back pocket and landed on the floor. Harry stared at it like it was a small, dangerous animal. He hadn't fallen so far that he was willing to go digging through another man's wallet, had he?
"I can't keep calling him buddy, can I?" he asked no one in particular, and picked up the wallet. When he opened it, an envelope, much folded and creased and now damp with lake water, fell out and fluttered to the floor. He picked that up and put it on top of the dryer. Curious, he thumbed through the folds and creases of the wallet.
He found a driver's license. The man's name was James Sunderland, and he lived in Ashfield. Harry had been right, he was about five years younger than himself, in his early thirties. In the picture flaps, he found a picture of James with a pretty young woman; they had their arms around each other and were smiling into the camera. Most of the pictures were of James and the young woman together, and all the other ones were just of the woman. The final picture flap had no photo but the pressed remains of a flower; the water had ruined the flower and it fell out of the flap with a wet plop.
Harry felt a troubling mixture of relief and sadness. James had someone to go home to, he had a family, a loved one. He could get him cleaned up, rested and on his way, and then Harry could go back to the life of quiet desperation he had been leading and would continue to lead.
"Dammit," he whispered, and propped up the wallet so it could dry off.
The front door banged open, making him jump. "Daddy, I'm home!" Cheryl yelled from the front room. "Where are you?"
"In the laundry room," he called to her. "Meet me in the kitchen, okay?" He slammed the washing machine shut, got it started, and then went to the kitchen to make Cheryl's afterschool snack. James Sunderland and his young woman could wait until after his daughter had eaten, he thought, a little viciously.
Cheryl was halfway through a plate of peanut-butter crackers and tales of recess adventures when she suddenly stopped and stared at the doorway leading to the kitchen. Harry swiveled in his chair, a bright lance of terror stabbing through his chest. For a moment, he expected to see one of those things from that place standing in the doorway.
James stood in the doorway, leaning heavily on the door frame, his hair wet but clean and a towel wrapped around his waist. In the late afternoon sunshine coming in from the window, the bruises and scratches on his torso stood out in bright contrast to his pale skin. He gazed at Cheryl and Harry with a slightly bemused look on his face.
Cheryl recovered first. "Daddy, are you having a slumber party?"
Harry mentally shook himself. "Uh, yeah, sweetie. This is Daddy's friend, James." Friend?
Cheryl looked at James for a few more seconds before she decided that he was okay, if a little strange. "Hi, Mr. James. I'm Cheryl." She looked at Harry reproachfully. "Daddy doesn't let me have slumber parties."
Harry forced a grin. "Maybe another time, sweetie."
Cheryl offered James a peanut-butter smeared cracker. "Do you want a cracker, Mr. James?"
James shook his head. He was swaying on his feet and looked half-asleep.
Harry got up and went to support him before he fell over and flashed his daughter. "I'm going to help James get to bed, sweetie," he told Cheryl, already starting to guide James to the bedroom. "You stay here and finish your crackers, okay?"
Harry helped James to the bedroom. The other man seemed to get heavier and sleepier the closer they got to the bedroom, leaning harder and harder on Harry until his knees nearly buckled under the weight. By the time they got to the bed, James was almost sleeping standing up.
Harry tossed the other man off his shoulders with the last of his strength, and James collapsed onto the bed facedown. His towel came loose and flapped around his hips. Harry stood over him, panting, and then lifted the other man's legs until all of him was on the bed. Suddenly grateful that he hadn't bothered making the bed that morning, Harry pulled the blankets up over James's body and then pulled the damp towel out from underneath them. There was no way Harry could pour James back into his clothes without help, and besides, they were still in the washing machine.
Harry crept towards the door. He was almost out of the room when James spoke. "Don't know your name."
Harry looked back, amazed that the other man wasn't asleep yet. "I'm Harry," he said.
A slight smile danced at the corners of James's mouth. "-Arry," he muttered, and the word turned into a quiet snore.
Harry stood in the door for a moment and watched James. The other man looked peaceful in sleep, quiet, like he was resting without dreams. Some late sunshine drifted in through the window and caught James's hair, turning it into a burnished gold halo. For a moment, Harry envied him. It had been years since he'd slept like that.
"Daddy! Want to play Wii with me?"
Harry gently closed the door to the bedroom. "Coming, sweetie," he called, and started off down the hall.
In the bustle and excitement of playing with Cheryl, fixing her dinner, and getting her ready for bed, Harry nearly forgot about the man in his bedroom. After tucking Cheryl in and reading her a chapter of Harry Potter for her bedtime story (half a chapter, actually; they were getting towards the end of the book and Harry didn't think she needed the image of Lord Voldemort emerging from Professor Quirrell's head right before bedtime), Harry went to his computer in the living room and opened the Word file that contained his most recent work in progress. 'Work without progress would be a better title,' he thought regretfully as he stared at the tortured, lackluster prose. Sighing, he started to type, trying to breathe life into stale, boring characters.
He woke with a jerk three hours later, his head in his arms and a pool of drool on the back of his hand. Groaning, he massaged the crick in his neck and shut down the computer, plunging the living room into darkness. He stumbled towards the bedroom, more asleep than awake, shedding clothes as he went. He would be up before Cheryl tomorrow, he could clean up then; besides, she'd seen her father's shirts and pants on the floor before and not been scarred by it. By the time he got to the bedroom he was down to his boxers. Knowing that if he turned on a light it would wake up Cheryl, he pulled the covers back and slipped into bed.
He was nearly asleep again when he felt something shift in the bed next to him.
Harry was suddenly, completely and totally awake.
"Shit," he whispered, staring with wide eyes into the darkness. In his half-sleeping state, he had completely forgotten about James. As his eyes adjusted, he looked over and saw that the other man was sleeping on his side, his back facing Harry.
Harry had a brief and ferocious debate with himself; ultimately, he decided that it was only for one night, and that James was so deeply asleep anyway that he didn't think a marching band through the center of the bedroom would wake him up. Besides, tomorrow he would call the young woman in James's pictures, she would come pick him up, and he'd have the bed to himself again.
Ignoring the pang of regret that thought caused him (was he really that lonely?), Harry rolled over so that his back was facing James. Listening to the slow, peaceful rhythms of the other man's breathing was surprisingly relaxing, and Harry was almost asleep himself when James rolled over and threw an arm around him.
Harry froze, wide awake again. James shifted in his sleep and pressed himself up against Harry's back, pulling the smaller man close to him. He sighed in Harry's ear and then moved his leg up over Harry's, effectively pinning him to the mattress.
Harry's mind raced briefly, but he was too tired to try and plot out some elaborate escape that would preserve his dignity and not wake up James. Besides, if he was being honest with himself, it felt really nice to be held this way. Just like in the truck earlier, he wasn't aware how much he missed this kind of interaction until that very moment. He realized that he didn't care if it embarrassed James; in the morning he would be gone and Harry would never see him again.
Sighing himself, Harry leaned back into James's chest. The other man pulled him closer, and Harry extricated his arm and put it over James's. He couldn't bring himself to take James's hand; no matter how lonely he was, he just wasn't that bold. Content against the warmth of James's bulk, Harry closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The alarm went off at seven o'clock, filling the room with the cool notes of Debussy's 'Clair de Lune.' Harry swam out of sleep gradually, aware that he felt really and truly rested for the first time in years. He went to turn off the alarm, but something was holding his arm down.
Opening his eyes, Harry suddenly realized why his arm was pinned. During the night, he had shifted onto his back and James had pressed up beside him. The other man's head was tucked into the space between his shoulder and neck and his arm was curled around his chest, holding Harry's arm to his side. Thankfully, James had moved his legs so that Harry's were free.
Harry pulled his arm free and turned off the alarm. Then, hardly realizing he was doing it, he ran his hand down the side of James's face, pushing the other man's hair out of his eyes.
James looked beatific in the pale morning sunlight. The dark circles were gone from under his eyes and his complexion had a warmer glow than it had had yesterday. Now clean and dry, his hair was a light gold and framed his handsome face in a soft aura. His jaw was blurred under the start of a beard, but Harry could tell that he had a strong jawline to go with his high cheekbones. Mesmerized, Harry moved his hand down to the arm James had around him and lightly felt the muscles in the shoulder and bicep. Though currently relaxed, Harry could tell that James had powerful muscles to go with his bulk, and that when flexed the muscles in his arms would stand out in relief.
Abruptly, Harry realized he had a morning erection.
He started to push James's arm off him, but James held on tighter and muttered, "Not yet," into his ear.
"James," Harry said, regretting that he had to wake him, regretting that they couldn't stay like this for just a little longer. "James, I need to get up."
"Not yet," James repeated sleepily. "Not yet, Mary."
"James," Harry said, a little louder. "James, let me up."
"Not yet. Stay with me, Mary. Don't go."
"James," Harry said, sad that it had come to this. "I'm not Mary. I'm Harry, and my daughter will want her breakfast."
His eyes still closed, James gave him one last squeeze and then released him. Harry slipped out of the bed and dressed in a hurry, pleading with his erection to go away before he had to wake up Cheryl. As he was moving out the door, James said fuzzily, "Come back, okay?"
"I will," Harry said softly, closing the door behind him. "I will, James."
Once Cheryl had eaten and been deposited safely on the school bus, Harry sat at his kitchen table, a half-drunk mug of coffee in his hands, wondering what to do next. He supposed the first thing to do would be to give James his clothes back, get the young woman's phone number and then feed James while waiting for her to come pick him up.
Glad to have a plan of action again, Harry got James's clothes out of the dryer, tucked the wallet and envelope back into the pants pocket, and went into the bedroom.
James was awake, sitting up and looking around. With a sinking heart, Harry realized that James looked awake and lucid this morning, no longer confused, and that he, Harry, would have a lot of explaining to do.
James's first question surprised him. "How do you know my name?"
"I… I looked at your driver's license." Harry handed back the clothes in his arms, and James took them mutely. "I didn't want to keep calling you 'buddy.'"
James nodded. His next question surprised Harry even more. "Are you real?"
Harry gaped for a minute, then forced a grin. "Last time I checked."
James pondered this for a minute. If his first two questions had been surprising, his next one crossed into the territory of insanity. "Are we in Silent Hill?"
Harry involuntarily took two steps backwards and crashed into the dresser. His motion jostled a bottle of hair gel and sent it falling to the floor. He stared at James, mouth hanging open. "God, no!" he exploded. "Why would you even ASK that?"
James looked at him intently, then shrugged. "Had to make sure."
An uncomfortable silence fell on the room as the two men stared at each other. When he couldn't stand it anymore, Harry broke it with the first thing that popped into his head. "Are you hungry? I can make you breakfast if you want."
James's eyes widened, and one corner of his mouth crinkled upwards in a hint of a smile. "Breakfast… would be great," he said.
"Get dressed then," Harry said, now thoroughly flustered. "I'll meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes." He turned and fled.
Harry had eight eggs left, and he decided to scramble all of them. While the eggs cooked, he buttered several pieces of toast and brewed a fresh pot of coffee. He didn't know why, but he was sure James would be starving this morning.
His instincts weren't wrong. James sat at the table and wolfed down everything in sight, attacking the food like he hadn't eaten in weeks. Given the way time moved in Silent Hill, Harry mused, that probably wasn't wrong. Funny, how he had accepted that James had been to Silent Hill too, based on only the three questions he had asked this morning.
When James was done eating, he stared at the empty plate for a few moments and looked sheepishly at Harry.
"I already ate," Harry told him. "That was all for you."
"Thanks," James muttered. They sat quietly for a few minutes, and then Harry asked the question he had been avoiding all morning.
"Do you have anywhere to go? Anyone you can call?"
James shook his head.
"What about the woman in your wallet? The one in your pictures?"
James looked up at him, his eyes narrowed. Then he hung his head again. "Dead."
"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly. And he was; he had felt loss too, he understood. He ignored the little spark inside him that rejoiced at the thought that James might stay here for a few more days. "Do you need somewhere to stay for a few days? Get your head together, decide what to do next?"
James looked up at him, and Harry turned away from the raw pain in his eyes. "Are you sure you want someone like me around? Someone… broken?" His shoulders trembled, and he heaved a great, wrenching sigh.
Summoning up his courage, Harry reached out and took one of James's hands in his own. "I've… I've visited Silent Hill too," he said, admitting something that he had never said out loud to anyone else, something he had barely admitted to himself.
James looked up sharply, like he thought Harry was making fun of him, but the tears shining in Harry's eyes convinced him. He looked back down at the table.
The two survivors of Silent Hill sat together, not speaking, holding hands across a table strewn with breakfast things.