She closed her eyes. Her reality was all too real for her right now. Her life, what it had become, wasn't exactly as she pictured it. In the beginning, when things were simpler, she believed that her life would have entailed her father and herself living together, spending as much time with one another as possible. That was the only place she saw her life going and she was content with it. However, that dream, that want for that simple security, was taken away from her when she was seventeen years old, when her father was brutally and unjustly murdered under the orders of a psychotic woman who got what was coming to her (and you'd never convince Heather otherwise).
Where she found herself now was sharing an apartment with one Douglas Cartland, the man who witnessed most of the horror she had once upon a time. Since then, they'd been sharing an apartment together and Heather found herself comforted by the presence of someone, anyone close to her, however she couldn't help but fear that when she came home one day, the same fate would befall Douglas as it did Harry.
The nightmares started. Douglas watched her night after night, sweat trickling down her temple, her eyes darting around the room in an attempt to make sure the creatures hadn't crawled out from her nightmares after her. Heather never asked for comforting, never asked for a shoulder to lean on, but Douglas was there regardless and it seemed his presence alone was enough to get Heather back to sleep afterwards. The elder gentleman watched over this girl as his own and he always would. That was something he knew for sure.
Heather opened her eyes and the sight before her was one she never expected to see. Blood, corrosion, carnage and dismemberment. Her surroundings reeked of sulfur and rust, the air around her warmer then she had remembered it being just a few moments before. A pang of panic hit her and suddenly, she found herself lost within a moment, a place in time she never thought she'd have to return to.
Each and every bitter sensation was too familiar to Heather and each step took her deeper into a world she thought she left behind. Her eyes shot from left to right, taking note of the hellish red tint her surroundings took on. Did she even dare to take a step forward? Would this be the first step into a replication of a time in her life that she thought dead and gone? Heather found it hard to swallow the lump in her throat but she pressed on, her mind a slur of questions she wasn't quite sure she wanted answers to.
Was she dreaming? The soles of her feet ached, her heart threatening to beat right out of her chest and that looming presence of impending doom weighing down upon her entire body; that answered little. Regardless, she'd accept this as her reality until something threatened to break those walls down. Admittedly, her perception of reality was a bit shaky, had been since what happened ten years ago. Things never felt right, not since losing her father. Even the simplest problems had their fair share of complexities and she never learned how to shake it off. Everything amplified, the volume and the sheer magnitude of each issue was augmented and she found herself unable to escape it. It was always with her, just as her father was.
It became darker and darker still, the blackness blanketing her surroundings. Instinctively, Heather reached up and flicked on a light stationed at the breast pocket of the white vest she wasn't even wearing. Her hand moved on its own accord and she found it peculiar.
Not as much as so as when the light actually went on. Okay, that was weird.
The flashlight's beam broke through the darkness and offered her an increase in visibility. She did tread cautiously, the familiarity of this moment almost sickening now. Heather's stomach churned, unaware that her surroundings were feeding off of her anxiety, her stress. The darkness around her was growing denser, more palpable. Slowly, this nightmarish breeding ground of insecurities began to mutate, ever shifting, changing to something Heather might feel more comfortable in. This situation was becoming more and more familiar as the seconds slipped away.
No, now she was certain she'd lived through this exact moment once before. Each footstep retold a story she never wanted repeated. Heather felt herself becoming the punch line of a very cruel joke that she'd never find amusing. She'd never admit it but right now, she was afraid.
The silence was grating on her nerves, making her feel uneasy. At times, she'd hear an ominous scraping however everything would return to that hollow silence that only fueled her uncertainty, her worry that this was going to be a repeat performance of something she already struggled to get through with her mind and body intact. The moment was repeating itself, everything down to the knot in her stomach and the disgusting scent lingering in the air. Heather was losing herself in all of this, her memories flashing back to Claudia, Vincent, her father…
Suddenly, a rather large crash summoned Heather from her memories as she quickly caught the gasp in her throat. Instinctively, she reached to her side for some sort of weapon, a way to defend herself, but she came back with nothing. Well, this wasn't going to end well. She found herself ready to run but her legs locked and she was unable to even consider movement. Lifting her eyes to the shadows, she attempted to see through it, see past the darkness. She needed to know what this was before she could decide how to act. She had learned that much. From her experience, there were just a few things that could not be outrun, like the past for example.
Hurriedly, she attempted to calm her breathing as she aimed the beam of light towards the figure which had flawlessly blended in with the darkness. What was before her was a large creature that seemed almost human but she knew better. The sharp angles of a triangular mask was the only thing that separated him from a human and a monster. What resembled a smock, bloodstained and ragged, was tied sloppily around the creature's muscular waist. A broad chest and a strong stance made it quite the picturesque vision of intimidation and she could not tear her eyes away from it. Heather's heart raced, her mouth dry as she found herself unable to utter a single threatening word. With gravel in her voice, low and predatory, she finally muttered, "S-stay back."
"I'm not going to hurt you." Replied a smooth, calm tone which surprised the blonde considering what supplied the voice. However, the voice didn't echo through the rusted halls. It felt as if she were hearing it within her head, the vibrations flickering through her mind. There wasn't an ounce of maliciousness within the voice; regret, maybe but no malice.
Her eyes adjusted to the darkness with a disturbing amount of ease, "You're a…"
"No," The voice immediately objected. Of course, outward appearances played a large part in her hesitance but the voice belonged to someone who knew first hand what this place could do to someone's senses. Inside, there was a gentility that, in a way, frightened her. She had never sensed even an iota of warmth in such a morbid place, rusty and foreboding, faith abandoning the cacophony of screams and painful yowls. To feel a pang of warmth, even a single whisper that embodied softness, confused and comforted her in the same turn. The being spoke again, the voice still as soft as a psalm, "You've been here before, haven't you?"
Heather nodded. There was no fighting it. She had experienced this nightmare before and regardless of her efforts to eradicate those memories to the very back of her mind, they continued to haunt her, appearing in cryptic flashes whenever she closed her eyes. It was an eternal nightmare she had the misfortune of remembering. She suddenly found herself wondering how this creature knew of her time spent in this warped and dismal place.
The creature, composed of a broad chest, blood stained cloth and a rather intriguing headpiece, stood motionless. Lifting a hand, the monster extended it to the blonde who didn't look too willing to accept it. "Listen to me," The creature urged, "I know what I look like to you but that's not who I am." Motioning down to its hand once more, the monster gently spoke within Heather's mind, "You're letting this place cloud your judgment. I'm not a monster."
"Please," Interrupted the creature, "Look beyond this. My sins have made me this way but my heart still beats like yours." Exhaling, the monster asked once more for her understanding, for her to look past what she thought she knew, "Close your eyes. Look through what I am and find what I was."
She was afraid. This could have been a trap, something she'd regret yet she was compelled to obey the seemingly gentle giant. Heather lifted a hand, fingers trembling, as she carefully placed it within the creature's colder palm. Her heart raced, unable to place exactly how touching this creature made her feel; a flutter and a quiver, relief and fear. Taking a moment to exhale, she closed her eyes and tried her best to block the malevolence out of her mind. Her head was spinning, her senses flaring. Nothing felt right, a demonic fabrication and yet the only thing she consistently felt through the maelstrom of uncertainty was the monster's hand holding her own loosely. Heather squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on that sensation and only that. It was peculiar, to rely on something so minute, so small and fragile and it worried her, how she was clinging to each small movement. She hadn't let herself feel much of anything since Harry's death. Her heart stuttered, that familiarity washing over her in a calming fashion.
Heather slowly opened her eyes and the sight before her shocked and amazed her at the same time. A monster no longer stood before her, the scent of blood and madness fading slightly. What she saw now was not the monster she believed summoned by Silent Hill but what, rather who, stood before her was a man, looking to be in his mid-twenties. His deep stormy eyes and strong chin were his first noticeable features. Dark brown hair accented his slightly paled skin, the expression he wore somber and soft. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, a faint jingle beckoned Heather's attention; two metal dog tags shifted against the dark fabric of his shirt. He towered over her but it was an almost comforting quality.
The blonde was at a loss for words. She wasn't facing a monster, a creature spawned by hate and bitterness, but a man. Words, resented and warped by ten years of desperately trying to forget them, ran through her head.
They looked like monsters to you?
Hazel eyes widened and she caught a gasp in her throat. Had the form always been his own or did the monster's guise melt away as her fear and angered dispersed? He was human; flawed, heart beating, no more a monster than she was. This wasn't a trick, was it? Heather's eyes met his and she tried to steady her breathing, erratic and uneven.
"What…who are you?" She corrected herself, taking a small step backward. It seemed the motion was understood as the male's expression changed so very slightly. He wasn't surprised by her apprehension; he expected something on a grander scale to be completely honest.
"My name is Alex," began the monster turned man. There was a slight rasp to his voice, deep and strong, "And you're Heather."
"How did you-?"
"These walls talk," The statement hinted at a dark secret this place wasn't interested in hiding. Alex's eyes followed Heather's more than obvious uncertainty, tracing her expression, studying it silently. He watched her mulling over the content of his statement in the back of her head. She was fairly easy to read.
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Heather had roughly half a dozen questions, statements, concerns but she found his simple introduction all but explanatory, "Who are you?"
Silence fell over the two and it was Alex now who carefully pondered his words. An explanation, full and detailed, would be too time-consuming, of this he was certain, and too painful a thing to be recalled. He had, of course, finally come to terms with it and faced the sins he so desperately tried to deny for a time longer then he cared to admit. However, to relive it wasn't exactly something Alex Shepherd was prepared to do. It was an accident yet it plagued him, haunted him. It always would; it was his burden to bear.
Alex lost himself in thought for those few endless moments. Heather awaited his reply and yet he didn't seem too eager to retort. "Well?" snapped Heather, a sense of urgency in her tone. Alex brought his attention back towards her, a dejected sigh falling from his lips.
"I don't really know myself anymore." He finally admitted, "Whatever I say, I know you'd at least try to believe , considering what you've been through." Heather's eyes widened but Alex gave her not even a moment to deny her experiences. "But this is the truth. I really don't know who or what I am anymore. I know who I was. I was Alex Shepherd, but now…" His voice trailed off, a genuine sadness in his tone. That was the only truth he knew, who he had been.
Watching his expression carefully, something about it just broke Heather's heart. Had Silent Hill altered his world, his judgment, as much as it had hers? Heather, unsure and empathetic, found herself taking another step but forward this time. Dark eyes stared intently at the imperfection before her. The regret oozed from him, the sadness ruling his features and she felt as if a mirror was placed before her, her reflection just as fragile and delicate as the glass itself. It was hard to face herself, harder to face her flaws through him but she could feel his sadness, his stress and his uncertainty. She saw her failures in him and it crippled her.
She slowly lifted a hand, fingertips worn and cold, and extended it carefully towards Alex. She was trembling; she felt so weak but something beyond her power beckoned her. Her hand drew closer though her hesitance paralyzed her. What was she doing? This place destroyed the light and warped the soul to an unrecognizable position yet Heather found his weakness believable, consolable, almost familiar.
Sighing, she moved her hand closer and closer still until her fingertips brushed against Alex's cheek, his skin warm against her fingers. Alex closed his eyes, the human contact welcomed and appreciated. What compelled her to sympathize with this monster-no, this man? She saw herself in him and with how warped she had become, anyone like her should have frightened her and yet to not feel so alone just for a few moments, to not be the only damaged person was comforting and for this place to offer anything comforting was beyond her understanding.
"You are who you want to be. I've…fought with it, struggled with everything I thought I was. But who I am…is me…" Heather's voice was abnormally soft, reassuring, despite her own uncertainty, "And that's really all I can ever be."
It was then that Alex's lips curled into a small, ignorable smile and it hit Heather and hit her hard. Her words echoed her own insecurities, her own complexities and yet the words flowed with ease from her lips, "Heather, I told you these walls talked. I know who I was but the difference is, you still know who you are."
Hazel eyes focused solely on the man who she did not know but understood. In those few moments, she shared his fears, his anxieties. She saw through what he had become and caught a glimpse of who he had been, who he didn't get the chance to be. Her heart ached; the two had had something stolen from them, a sense of comfort and innocence that they had been forced to live without.
Swallowing, Heather parted her lips to speak, however she was abruptly silenced by a raw, abrasive sound that pierced through her very core. It raced through her body, chilling her down to the bone and yet, Alex seemed accustomed to it, as if he had heard it dozens of time before. The sirens ripped through the silence as Alex turned his back to Heather and started off in the opposing direction.
"Wait!" shouted Heather, loud enough to challenge the wailing of the sirens. Her mind raced as she tried desperately to focus on Alex, this stranger whom she felt a bizarre and bittersweet bond with, trying so hard to block out the horrific sounds, "Alex, will I…see you again?"
The man stopped and pondered the question for a few soundless seconds. His eyes were filled with a sense of indecision but he still let that small smile remain upon his lips, "Maybe," began Alex, "but I hope not."
Heather cocked an eyebrow, "Why not?"
"I'd never wish this place on anyone. Next time, let's meet somewhere a little brighter." He truly meant that. He'd never wish this desolate, horrific nightmare of a place on anyone. That's all this place should ever be, a nightmare. It was all too real for Alex but it didn't have to be for Heather. She could escape; Alex had no such luxury.
The blonde, sirens blaring, allowed a soft chuckle to exit her throat however the sound was lost in the siren's symphony. Despite the muted laugh, Alex still offered her a small smile as if her chuckle hadn't gone unheard. A knowing glimmer in the stormy eyes of the mysterious man surprised Heather, as if some bold and exciting secret lay within his heart, one she may never know.
He turned once more to leave, the harsh scream of the sirens around them intensifying, growing louder with each passing second, the wails long and seemingly endless. Heather called out to him once more though her voice was lost within the abrasive sounds around her. She couldn't hear her own voice as she screamed Alex's name, wanting him to turn around just one more time. Meanwhile, the walls that surrounded the two began to flake and peel away, the hellish crimson color seemingly evaporating into nothingness. The world shifted, changed before her and it went unnoticed. "Alex!" Her voice cracked as she called out to him but he wouldn't turn. Each step brought him further and further away from her. Heather's senses flared as she watched him continue to move further away, leaving her stranded in a world which continued to tear away from itself. Colors, sounds and textures became everything and nothing before her eyes and yet she only saw Alex moving further and further away.
"Alex!" Heather shouted once more, however the sound seemed muted. She felt her body lurch forward as she reached for him but all she grasped was air. The sudden jerking of her body caused her senses to suspend and for that eternal second, silence reigned. It was only then that she realized, hand still outstretched and heart racing, that she was in her bedroom, pale walls painted with golds and oranges as the sun rose outside her window, burning light through her curtains.
Trembling hands slowly retracted as she pulled her knees to her chest. Everything felt surreal, as if the pounding heart in her chest wasn't her own. The storm brewing in the pit of her stomach raged as she tried to replay the events she just experienced, remembering each word and each gesture. It was all so real. He was so real and for a split second, she began to question her own reality until her answer, clear as day, spoke from across the room.
"Who's Alex?" Douglas asked in a soft, even tone. The older man hung in the doorway, gaze focused on the trembling mess in her bed. He could see her glossy, troubled eyes and the look didn't suit her, not at all.
A small chuckle feigning bemusement rested in her throat, "I don't know." She knew how ridiculous that must have sounded but it was the only truth she knew concerning this all too realistic dream which so effortlessly challenged her reality. Who Alex was, she didn't even know. She didn't even know what he was to be completely honest but she could still feel his presence lingering in the room. She shook her head, tossing a glance towards Douglas, "That sounds crazy, doesn't it?"
"Not entirely." The male shuffled his feet, eyes wandering towards an empty space on the wall, "We're not meant to know or understand everything. Maybe this is one of those times when you should just accept whoever this 'Alex' is as someone you just should know. That make sense?"
She silently nodded, mulling the words over in the back of her head. Just accept it? Were things that simple? Could things be that simple? The weight of acceptance was always heavy on Heather's mind. She had to accept her father's death, accept her involvement in something deeper and darker than she could have ever imagined. So, why would accepting this be any harder? That's all she had been doing for the past ten years is accepting, living with each of those sad and bitter memories but this, believing that maybe, just maybe, she was supposed to meet Alex for whatever reason and simply leaving it at that? It would be at least one thing Heather believed in that didn't cause her heart to ache.
Douglas watched her, watched the want to believe such a simple thing slur within her eyes. From the day he had met a seventeen year old Heather Mason, he had seen that innocence stripped away from her, tarnished and raped by a circumstance she didn't foresee and Douglas watched out for her the best he could. He could never be her father, he wasn't trying to be, but he grew attached to Heather and he wanted only the best for her, which is why his own heart ached as he watched Heather fight with herself, fight with the demons in her head. It was a constant battle and Douglas watched over her to be sure that she remained on her feet during the toughest times.
"Anyway," The elder man broke then silence, crossing his arms over his chest with a soft sigh, "He must be someone important…making you cry."
Heather scoffed, "I'm not-" She lifted her hand to her cheek and wouldn't you know it, she felt a warmth upon her face. Her fingertips brushed against a smooth, warm line of moisture that had glided down her cheek. Impossible…when had this happened? A trembling beating in her chest, erratic and unsure, intensified. She cried…for Alex? She cried for her father but for Alex? She looked up at Douglas, meeting his gaze, unsure of what to say or even how to say it.
He didn't need her to say anything. Douglas turned to leave, "Then, I think, he was worth seeing, even if it was just a dream." Just as the man in her dreams did, Douglas turned to leave but Heather didn't call him back. She was left to ponder everything she heard, everything she said and everything she saw. What it left her with was an uncertainty but it wasn't quite the bitter one she was accustomed to. What she had been left with was a wanting to know if she was, in fact, ever going to see him again. In another dream, a nightmare? The next time they met, would he be seen in the guise of the devil or the man?
She slowly lowered herself back down onto the bed and pulled the blanket over her thin frame. She could barely keep her eyes open, her entire body still tired and yearning to return to the land of sleep. Hazel eyes stared at the wall, feeling her world begin to blur and slip away from her, like grains of sand through the hands of time. Would she see him again? There was really only one way to find out. Heather's eyes fluttered closed and she let her body fall deeper, deeper into the state of sleep, her mind swimming with questions, wants and needs. He'd answer them, she hoped, the next time they met. Perhaps this time, she'd dream of somewhere with a little more sun.