I pick up the clip and the drink, leaving behind perfect imprints of them in the dust. The rest of the attic is devoid of any more surprises, so I head back downstairs, items in hand. I approach the area where I left Eric slowly just in case he's woken up and still has a mad-on, but the sound of heavy snoring hits my ears.

Though no longer unconscious, he seems to have rolled over and is now merely asleep. Not that I can blame him. As tensed up as he was before, if he'd been drinking any Health Drinks he must have burned through the enlivening effects pretty quick.

Quietly, so as not to wake him, I begin to gather up his weapons to set them and the stuff from upstairs next to his feet. As I'm doing so, however, I steal glances over at his slumbering form and begin to wonder.

Hmm.

Yah. Okay. New plan.

I go ahead and finish gathering up his stuff, but instead of setting them anywhere near him, I take them further back in the store and set them behind one of the display cases again, just out of sight. Picking up the can from upstairs, I move back over to Eric, sit down on the floor, and start to lightly shake his shoulder while softly calling his name. The initial response is an irritated grunt followed by more snoring, but by degrees I finally manage to get him to some kind of waking alertness.

"What the fuck?" he yells when he notices me, then enters a thoroughly uncoordinated scramble into the nearest wall. After bouncing off and rattling the various curiosities hanging from pegs overhead, he sits curled up in the corner and stares at me, visibly shaken.

I could ask him to call down. I could tell him to calm down. I could try to appeal to him, or reason with him, or start explaining things. Instead, I calmly pick up his Health Drink, pop the top, and set it on the floor between us.

He looks from me to the drink then all around, undoubtedly trying to figure out where his rifle and hatchet went off to.

"What did you do to it?" he asks, the fear evident in his voice.

"I opened it," I say plainly. "I can't make you, but you really ought to drink it. I'm sure you've got a hell of a headache right now."

His hand moves instinctively to the back of his neck, close to the spot where David beaned him with that big length of pipe. "You poisoned it!" he shouts, fear turning into hysterics once more. "You brought me here and now you're trying to poison me!"

"If I'd wanted to kill you," I tell him, frowning slightly with displeasure at the thought, "then I would have done so while you were unconscious. But I don't want to. And I didn't bring you here. I'm trapped just like you are, which I was trying to tell you before you tried to shoot me for no good reason."

"No no no-"

Okay, my new plan sucks and I'm already starting to lose my temper. "Dammit, Eric, if you had killed me, you would have killed an innocent woman!"

My outburst was meant to shock him, but I didn't realize just how deeply the shock was going to run. His tan face turns almost sheet white as the blood drains away, and I think he's stopped breathing entirely, simply staring at me in stupefied horror. His jaw works for a few seconds with nothing coming out, then he clenches his teeth and shuts his eyes tight. From watching him I almost get the impression of a fish out of water gasping for oxygen only to find that the air around him is made of acid.

"I'm . . . sorry," I say, quieter and without quite knowing why I'm apologizing at all, only I don't think he could possibly look more stricken without actually being stone cold dead.

The muscles in his neck gradually relax, and after a moment he wipes his hand across his face and looks around as if seeing everything - not just his surroundings, but everything - for the first time.

"No," he finally says, "I'm sorry. It's know it's not your fault. I just-"

"-freaked out," I finish for him and nod my understanding. "It's disturbingly easy to do around here. Here."

I pick up the drink and hand it to him, and this time he takes it gratefully. I wait patiently as he downs the entire thing in several long gulps, makes a face, then closes his eyes and puts his head back against the wall.

"So who . . . ?" he asks, jerking a thumb at the back of his head.

"Just some guy that's been following me around," I tell him with distaste. "Sorry about that. I didn't even know he was there until he clocked you. I would've stopped him if I had."

We fall into a long silence before he speaks up again.

"I tried to shoot you," he says without looking at me. "Why are you being nice to me?"

Good question. I shrug and say, "I dunno." Then, "It's just . . . there's all this weird shit going on. I don't know if you've noticed. And I've been thinking about it a little bit. Particularly about the 'why are we here' thing. Not so much in an existential sense, but a more concrete 'what gets you a one-way ticket to Silent Hill' kind of way. And I thought maybe you would have a little more insight into it."

Eric chuckles and throws one of his hands wide. "You've got me. I don't have a clue why I'm here, or you're here, and I haven't seen anybody else. Except for those . . . things."

"Did you-" I start, then bite my lower lip nearly clean off. The next question is going to be hard. I don't know why, exactly, but it is. "Did you . . . do something?"

He looks up at me now, eyebrows coming together in a mixture of confusion, curiosity, and caution. "Like what?" he asks.

"Like . . . hell, I don't know. Something . . . bad. Or made you feel bad. Something that might have driven you . . . a little crazy."

"I don't like this question," he says, looking away again. "Ask me a different one. No, don't do that. It's just going to be a worse question, isn't it?"

It is. So in my great wisdom, I decide to skip it. I think I've got the answer I need now anyway.

"Your stuff is behind the cabinet over there," I tell him as I stand up. "There's some ammo and a key I found upstairs. I think they're yours."

"Thanks," he says, unmoving, still staring off into space.

I stretch my legs to shake the pins and needles out. Then, without any further ado, I leave Canopy Curios and get back to finding the local police station.


"And you won't," he says with absolute certainty. "You didn't shoot me before. You won't now. You don't have it in you. I've been shot at before. You don't even have half of what they had. You don't have the guts. You're not like me. You're not a killer."

He takes a step forward, and it requires all of my self-control not to piss my jeans. My hands feel like all of the nerves have been stripped out of them. Even though I can clearly see everything below my wrists shaking like crazy, I simply can't feel it. My fingers are numb blocks of wood on the ends of my arms. He takes another step. And another. Just a few more and he'll be within range to simply snatch my weapon away from me. Turn it against me. Or, perhaps worse, simply fling it in the corner and do something far, far worse.

I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't.

I-

Thock!

Thock?

As I watch, stunned, David's eyes cross and he slumps down to the ground, unconscious. I look up to find, of all things, Eric standing there with David's pipe in his hands and looking down with a look of disgust. "Is this the asshole you were talking about?" he asks, and it takes me a few seconds to realize what he's talking about.

"Oh, yah," I say distantly. "He's the one that knocked you out."

Eric looks up at me with a smile as he hefts the pipe thoughtfully. "Guess that makes us even then."

Guess so. Wait, what?

"Eric? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Saving your life?" he says as if he doesn't understand the question. "I don't know, really. I was just following these sewer pipes and all of a sudden there was all this padding on the walls, and then I popped out here. Or over there, I should say."

He turns and points at an open manhole sitting in the very corner of the room. "I saw this guy giving you a hard time, found this pipe sitting up against the wall, and decided to put two and two together." He raises his eyebrows. "Did I do good?"

I'm not one given to over-dramatic displays of affection like hugging the person who just saved me from a psychotic madman. Now is no exception, but I definitely feel like it might have approached being one.

"Jesus Christ, yes," I tell him breathlessly.

The gun in my hand is still shaking slightly, and I take a moment to make it stop, catch my breath, and take in the new Eric. Since last we met at the curio shop, he found a new button up shirt that suits him well, and he's added a few new weapons to his personal armory. A backpack sits strapped to his shoulders, looking very much like my own, funnily enough. And I don't really know if I look even half as grimy and beat up as he does, but if I do, then I look absolutely fucking atrocious, even by my standards.

"Okay. So. Wow," I say after a moment. "Um, thanks for saving me. I . . . I just really didn't want to shoot him."

"It's probably best you didn't," he replies, then frowns slightly. "I've been thinking about what you said before. You know, about my having done something bad. And . . . I think I did. Sometimes I think I can get the feel of it, just the edges, but then it sort of slips away if I actually look at it for too long. I don't know if that makes any sense at all-"

"Perfect sense," I assure him.

He looks at me with something like wonder. "Right. So anyway, I've been thinking that this place . . . feeds on that or something. And if we do things like what we did before, either for real or just symbolically, then it just makes the monsters stronger. I don't know what you did, Miss Morgendorffer, but if it involved shooting someone, or killing them . . . "

His sentence trails off, but I understand what goes unsaid. And yes, it does make absolute sense. Too much damn sense, almost.

"Then I guess I need to thank you for stopping me too," I say. "But hey, what do you say we put this little thanks-fest on hold for the moment and find somewhere better to chat? I'm not exactly looking forward to being around when Little Boy Blue here wakes up."

Eric readily agrees and the two of us move over to the only exit that doesn't involve one or the other of us backtracking. As we climb the ladder up through the padded concrete tube, we leave David and whatever horrible plans he had in store for me behind. Even with Eric here with me, I just don't feel confident in trying to do anything to help David. It's unfortunate, but I think Mordecai may have been right and David's simply beyond any help at this point.

I can only hope that someday, somehow, he'll be able to overcome his demons. For now, I still need to focus on beating my own.


I blink rapidly and wonder when exactly the DVD stopped. Wonder if it had actually ever been running at all. It had all been so clear, as if I'd been right there in the middle of the event again. And why not? It was the moment in time that I'd been living in for the past several months, wasn't it? The one that had kept me trapped in the past, never allowing me to see a present or future for myself, even as I tried so hard to repress it and pretend that it had never happened.

It's defined me since the moment it happened, and it's what's defining this place. It's what Silent Hill has been turning against me, using like a weapon to bludgeon me, to gnaw at me, to tear me apart like a wild beast.

No more.

I open the DVD player, pull out the disk, and put it back in its case in my backpack. Turning to the small table behind me, I start to pick up all the items left there for me and sort them into their respective places. Two Health Drinks, one of which I go ahead and drink down. Seven bullets for my pistol, just enough to refill my current clip. Four shotgun shells. A full magazine of tommy gun bullets. And finally a palm-sized stone in the shape of a square and with a carving of a dragon on one side.

All this in hand or stored away, I go back to the door I came in and knock on it, letting Eric know I'm finished. I had asked him to step out while I watched the DVD, and he had complied immediately, having had the same idea himself. He's a pretty decent guy, it turns out, despite whatever shit may have gotten him stuck here.

"Are you okay?" he asks the second he's in the room. So you see, case in point.

"No," I tell him truthfully. "But I think I will be. Suffice to say, theory proven. Something awful happened . . . but I'm going to put it right. I can't ask you to go any further with me on this, but-"

He cuts me off with a wave of his hand. "Hey, don't worry about it. I get the feeling that if it weren't for you, I wouldn't have made it this far in the first place. Whatever's on the other side of that door, I've got your back. Okay?"

"Thanks."

"No problem. Now, let's see here . . . oh, hey, that's weird."

To the amazement of both of us, Eric reaches into his pack and pulls out not just the dragon key I found back in the shop, but two more keys and, of all things, two more stone plates like the one I'm holding.

"I've been wondering what these go to," he says. "Um . . . tell you what. I'll supply the puzzle pieces if you figure out the puzzle. I'm a little crap at these nursery rhymes."

Fucking puzzles.

But despite my misgivings, the work proceeds fairly quickly. It's actually a rather simple cypher combining the tales of St. George the dragon slayer with the game of rock/paper/scissors, and after just a minute or two, I've got all the stones in their slots and all the keys in their holes. The end result is a soft click followed by the door swinging out slightly.

"Ready?" Eric asks.

"Definitely," I reply.

With a confident stride, I step forward, ready to finish this once and for all.


She stops suddenly and looks around in shock. " . . . Daria?"

"Yah, sis. It's me."

I smile at her. Not my normal Mona Lisa, but a full, open smile that she watches in wonder before throwing her arms around my neck and hugging me like I was the last life preserver on the entire ocean.

"Oh God Daria it's been so terrible there were these things and I saw them doing all these terrible things and I wanted to stop them but I couldn't and everything was so dark and scary and I just wanted to go home and this voice kept saying these awful things about you and Mom and Dad and all my friends and I don't understand what's going on at all!"

"It's okay," I tell her as I pat her gently on the back. "You're safe now. It's almost over. Isn't that right, guys?"

Quinn gasps in surprise as she notices the two men - one with a shock of white hair and the other looking as battle hardened as I do right now - standing behind me. I can almost sense Mordecai rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously as he says, "Yes, Miss Morgendorffer, it would certainly seem that way. And I do apologize . . . we didn't mean to eavesdrop or anything."

"No, you're fine," I say as I stand up and help Quinn out of the casing. "Sis, this is Eric Stohlman and Mordecai Kingsley. They helped me find you."

"Hello," Eric offers as a simple greeting.

"A pleasure to meet you, my dear," Mordecai says as he dips into a generous bow, takes Quinn's hand, and gently kisses her knuckles. Quinn, being Quinn, is immediately set at ease by this display of dashing gentlemanly conduct.

"Oh, you," she says with a giggle. "And . . . thanks. Both of you."

"Not at all!"

"So, what brings you out to my little corner of hell?" I ask the librarian conversationally as I look around at the scarred battleground.

With a small flourish, he pulls a simple metal key out of his pocket and holds it out to me. Slowly I reach out and take it, almost feeling as if taking it too quickly or handling it too roughly might break it, tearing it asunder like the fragile wings of a butterfly. I flip it over to let it rest in the palm of my hand then look back up at him.

"Thank you," I say gravely. Then, after a moment's thought, "So hey, I've been thinking. Exactly how many people have you actually saved from this place, anyway?"

"Including you?" he replies, rolling his eyes around in a comical parody of deep thought. "Exactly . . . one." His eyebrows pop upward a millimeter and he looks over at Quinn, adding, "Or perhaps, make that two." He then looks over at Eric with a warm smile. "And if I'm clever and lucky, perhaps I shall make it to three before the day is out.

"But, my dear ladies," he continues suddenly, "I'm afraid I may not have quite saved you just yet. After all, though I did give you the key-"

"-only I can find the door," I finish. So stupid, maybe even cliche, but I turn to one side anyway and find that sure enough, there's a door standing there where there hadn't been one before. And considering just how ready I am to get the heck out of here, I'm ready to take any cliche in a storm.

"Well, Eric," I tell my comrade in arms, "it's been real, as the kids say these days. I wish I could help you out with your stuff, but just stick with Mordecai. It may not seem like it, but he knows what he's talking about."

Eric gives the other man a sidelong glance, but nods and puts his hand out to shake mine. "If he got you this far, I guess it's worth a shot giving him a listen," he says. "Now you get back to the real world and see if you can find some peace over there."

"Thanks. I think for once in my life, I could really use some peace."

Quinn and I wave our goodbyes to the two men, then we step up to the door hand in hand.

"Ready to go, sis?" I ask.

She nods firmly. "Ready!" she says. "And, Daria . . . thank you for coming for me."

"Every time."

I put the key in the lock, turn it, and then open the door as bright light spills out and surrounds us on all sides.


My eyes blink and water slightly as early morning light hits them from a sky just starting to turn a brilliant summer blue. I step out from under the overhang to stare straight up into that void that seems so bright and vibrant and alive to me for the first time in months.

A strange sense of calm settles over me as I pull my gaze away from the few fluffy white clouds overhead and look around at the parking lot of Jack's Inn. The pavement is clean of any blood smears, Dad's car is sitting right where I parked it, and through the main entrance I can see Toluca Lake off in the distance. No monsters scuttle about in a world of mist, no strange deformities plague the landscape, and everything seems . . . normal.

I look down at myself to see that I have undergone a similar transformation. I no longer wear a wrist brace on my arm or bandages on my legs. My clothing - formerly torn, burnt, and soiled by dirt, filth, and blood - is whole once more. All of my weapons and other equipment is missing, and the backpack I was carrying most of it in is nowhere to be found.

It's almost as if the entire thing never happened.

With a trace of sadness, I run the fingers of one hand down the palm of the other, remembering the fell of Quinn's slender hand there. I find myself missing it and wishing that I could just turn around and find her standing off to the-

I turn around and find her standing off to the side, turning her face toward the sun to feel its rays on her skin.

" . . . Quinn?"

She spins around, cheerful smile on her face, and says, "Hey, you were right, Daria! It feels great out here! Kind of a shame we're leaving, I guess. I was thinking maybe we could, like, go down to the lake or something."

I put my hand over my mouth both out of shock and in an attempt to keep everything inside of me from just coming out all at once. I can't believe what I'm seeing, what I'm hearing. But there she is, as big as life and in the flesh. My sister Quinn, fully restored to the land of the living. She-

No.

No, wait. What the hell am I thinking?

"Hey, are you okay?" Quinn asks, noticing the tear that's suddenly rolled its way down my cheek. Genuine concern clouds her face as she leans in to put her hand on my shoulder.

"Yes," I tell her as soon as I'm able to wrest back control of my own voice. "I just . . . I had the dream again. That you were still . . . "

She nods in silent understanding. The same dream, at least once a week and sometimes more. A nightmare in which she's still in the coma that held her for only five days in the waking world. A nightmare that just won't go away, just like the false guilt for having been the one driving during the accident that put her in that deep sleep. Hopefully the therapist I'll be seeing in Boston will be able to help, but right now all I want more than anything else right now is just to keep looking at Quinn, feeling her hand on my arm, and knowing that she's alive.

Really, truly alive.

"I'm here," she reassures me. "It's okay. I'm not going anywhere, Daria. Okay?"

"Okay," I say with a nod, then do my best to switch from "I'm a nervous wreck" to "I'm the boss now" mode. "And sorry to put a rain cloud over your parade, but we need to get packed and get moving, alright? No lake trip today, but if we get out of here quick enough, maybe we can get an hour of mall time in before we hunt down the apartment, okay?"

Quinn rolls her eyes dramatically, but I can tell that she's clearly mollified. "Oh fine, Dah-ria," she mock grumps before spinning her way back into the room to start gathering her things. "Oh, hey, you said you wanted to borrow my phone, right?"

I don't remember making any such request, but my head is still a little fuzzy from the nightmare, so I say, "Yah, if you don't mind." She tosses the phone through the doorway and I catch it with something approaching dextrous proficiency. "Thanks."

Though my brain is still trying to play catchup, my fingers apparently know what they're doing. I quickly sort through Quinn's contacts list, hit the Send key, and put the phone up to my ear as it starts to ring.

"Hello?"

I smile at the sound of her voice. "Hey, Mom."

"Hey, is that Daria?" I hear Dad call out in the background. "Hey, tell her I said hi! Jakey says hi, honey! Are you gonna tell her, Helen? Hi, Daria!"

"Yes, dear, I'll let her know. Honey, your father says hi."

I laugh and say, "Tell him hi back for me."

We make small talk for a few minutes. Normally I hate small talk, but today it just feels right. Just hearing their voices on the other end of the line no matter what they're saying . . . I need this. When we finally get to the business of why I called, to tell them Quinn and I are about to head out and should be in Boston by the end of the day, I feel sad that I have to let them go. Who would have imagined that? Daria Morgendorffer, devoted and loving daughter.

It's a title I should trot out a little more often, I think.

As I walk from the room over to the inn's office, I take a few moments to marvel at the sounds around me. Light traffic in the distance and the sound of geese flying overhead. The beauty of mundania. Inside the office I ring the little bell on the front desk, and after a few moments Eric steps out of the back and greets me.

"Miss Morgendorffer," he says pleasantly. "How can I help you?"

I look up at him in surprise. "Oh, hey. I didn't think you'd be here this morning, too."

"I decided to take a double shift," he says with a shrug. "Did you sleep well last night?"

"Not really, to tell the truth, but it didn't have anything to do with the room," I tell him as I push the room key across the counter. "This is a nice place you have here, by the way."

"Thank you very much," he replies graciously. "Hopefully you'll come back some day and stay a little longer with us. I believe you'll find a vacation on the lake to be rather peaceful."

"Yah. Maybe I'll see about coming back this way when I'm on break."

Huh. To my own great surprise, I'm not entirely certain whether or not I'm just saying that.

By the time I make it back to the car, Quinn has gotten everything stuffed more or less back where it came from in the back seat. After taking a moment to enjoy the lingering morning breeze blowing off the lake, we both duck into the car, put on our seat belts, and prepare for the long journey back south.

"Ready, sis?"

Quinn nods firmly. "Ready!"

We pull out of Jack's Inn and turn to leave Silent Hill at last, moving on to a future that's finally starting to look just a little bit brighter than before.

END

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