Backtrack, we've got some buildup before we answer what that cliffhanger was all about!
In other news, this story is still on Hiatus, but I never did forget how it's supposed to end... Maybe I need to adopt a co-author to write the rest for me XD. My apologies if everything isn't paced as tightly as before, I'm really only getting this out by just free-writing and doing very little editing.
Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Walter Sullivan would end up a character I used, much less ended up liking XD. He's a splendid missing link for discussing Silent Hill supernatural concepts, and great for exposition!
Night chased the boats from east to west across Toluca Lake. It came with a fog that billowed on the horizon like the greatest and most terrifying of desert sandstorms- a wall of churning particulates and red lightning. They saw it spill into the city from miles away, and the speed at which it approached them set everyone to silent paddling. Even Laura.
Cultists had been spotted on the roads leading into and out of Toluca Lighthouse, which meant that the only safe route back was by water. But they had left their boats almost as the polar opposite end of the lake.
No one made a sound. Boogiemurph seemed to realize what their objective was, and leaned over to take up a paddle and assist. Walter alone stared quietly off into the distance, and did nothing. His dissociation from the present had concerned the survivors, and they were sure to keep him far away from the young Ms. Sunderland.
The group hit the docks as the last beams of light were fading over the horizon. Smoke and fog billowed up behind them, and formless shapes lashed about in the water. Kaufman met them with a flashlight in hand, and groaned in relief as he helped them all out of the boats.
"Your timing is impeccable," he greeted, and then gave the Boogiemurph a doubletake.
"He's fine," Elle mumbled as her oversized and maul-wielding companion helped her out of the boat. "At least, he's as fine as anyone is in this mess."
"Is that Mr. Pendleton...?" Kaufman protested.
"We seem to be starting up a collection." Douglas groused.
Travis beckoned Anne over to introduce her. Eileen took a moment to reassure Henry, and then let him lean on her. Douglass shot suspicious glances back at the wall of fog.
"Did you find it?" the doctor recalled the reason of their journey as he shook Anne's hand.
"We have it." Travis glanced towards the doorway. "All of it. All five. Let's get inside. Are the cultists still out there?"
"No," Kaufman glanced towards the road, "but they held out as long as they possibly could before turning in. They have vehicles, and that does give them an advantage."
The troupe of them headed in side, kicking snow off their boots and shaking it out of their clothing. They were all of them exhausted and overheated in their jackets, but their noses, ears, and fingers were individually freezing.
"So," Douglass coughed as everyone assembled in the middle of the room, and began drawing out the shimmering pyramidal objects they'd all been sent to retrieve. "Since Heather's bloody occupied, suppose instead the faceless wall-climber's gonna show up and tell us what it wants us to do with the, ah, 'Flauros' was it?"
"I don't know," Kaufmann reflected with a glance towards out-of-touch-Walter. "But at the very least, we have to protect this until Heather is able to return. It is not something we want in cult hands, and it was not something they could have assembled on their own."
"Yeah," the detective muttered. "I'm sorry, but does anyone else think 'nursing a giant evil triangle-head who wants to kill her' is a terrible reason for her not to make it back here t'night?"
"Depends," Travis muttered as he examined the Flauros pieces.
"On what?" the detective growled down at him, having hoped the old trucker would surely be on the same team.
"On who he's after," Elle murmured faintly, her stare almost as vacant as Walter's. "Maybe he is here for Edwin, and not Heather."
'He?' Only one other person insisted on calling that Red Demon a 'he.' Douglass frowned worriedly over at Elle; she'd been three separate people throughout the course of their journey so far, what with Alex's death and now this apparition of her sister. "Look," he glanced up at the massive maul-wielding and trench-coated monster who was clinging firmly to her left hand as if she was his child, "Murphy's actually still in this thing, and we're gonna get him out again."
Elle looked through Douglass, and acted as if she wasn't incredibly concerned about Murphy's state. "The Executioner Demon was always Alex, from the very start. The two showed up in Shepherd's Glenn simultaneously, summoned there by God to punish our parents for failing to uphold their covenant."
Her words would have been sufficient to disturb the entire lighthouse into uncomfortable silence, but Walter Sullivan's eerie chuckle followed after it. The assembled survivors twisted about to view him, as this was the first sound he'd made in quite some time. He was smiling almost nostalgically, and his eyes were dancing with manic glee, and the mixed messages of his facial expression were far more unsettling than Elle's deadpan assertion.
"I am starting to appreciate Laura's terrifyingly chaotic perspective," Walter hummed gaily. "I don't believe any of us know what is going on, despite how convincing we can sound in the moment." Then he giggled, hugged his arms to himself, and propped his chin coyly up on one hand. "How odd: I feel strangely elated by the sounds of blasphemy." He didn't look elated. He looked manic, or perhaps frightened.
Laura, who alone out of everyone had migrated to the back of the atrium and was leaning down the hallway, gave a loud sniff and then turned back towards her ragged crew of chronic Silent Hill Survivors with suspicious eyes. "Do I smell pancakes?" she demanded, elated by something far less esoteric than Walter.
Lisa Garland had made a banquet of pancakes. The smell of home-cooked flapjacks and maple wafting through the house stopped Travis Grady dead in his tracks around halfway across the atrium as he came to investigate. James was caught flatfooted just an instant later, and Douglass nearly knocked them both over. Laura was so excited that she whooped.
"Lisa Garland is an angel," Douglass postulated before stepping forward to investigate the kitchen.
Travis glanced after him and then went to settle down back down beside the Flauros. He kept his sad thoughts to himself; he was one of the few survivors who had ever met the original Lisa Garland.
While most of the party went off to survey the Wonder-That-Was-Pancakes, Walter stepped innocuously closer to Laura Sunderland. He noticed that The Instigator of the Supreme-Pancake-Distraction had surprisingly not gone to obtain food just yet, and had instead pulled out her phone and lingered behind, and was now swiping and tapping about on the screen. Was she intentionally misdirecting attention and lingering behind?
"Such interconnectivity is interesting," he broached quietly, with respect to her phone. "Possessing its own nuances for manipulation by the aether. Very different, even, from old lines."
Laura glanced up at him with a chuckle that suggested she wasn't startled at all to find him there. "Hey, you're talking again! I keep forgetting just how old you are. Did they have dial tones when you were young? Would you like to see this? It's called a smartphone, but that just means you can swish your fingers about on the surface to do things."
The half-ghost blinked innocently. "What sort of things?"
"Well, mostly check the internet. Which I don't think Silent Hill really has. I can still take pictures and write notes, though." She showed him. "I'm kinda forgetful! See? Just tap that, and you can take a picture of anything."
He leaned near to have a look, but then frowned and tugged at her arm. "Did something happen?"
"Wah? Oh, some cultist tried to hold me hostage," she pushed up her sleeve to show him the rest of a bruise he'd glimpsed. "Don't worry, I'm pretty tough." He lifted curious eyes to her. "Err, when not getting dragged about by indestructible, blade-wielding armor-heads." She reached to her head to pat at where the majority of her thick blonde hair had been chopped off a few fights back. "It was a nice change of pace to feel capable of defending myself."
Walter looked up at her hair as well, and then frowned back at her face. "In the beginning, it took me some time to decide whether I would help your party," he, perhaps, apologized.
"All's well that ends well?"
His mouth surely quirked. "You may wish to reconsider whom you are saying that too, and what 'ends' this innocently offered idiom might accidentally seem to legitimize."
"Okay, point," Laura recalled, and then shrugged and drew his attention back to the phone. "So let me show you how I can take a photograph. See?"
Her affect of shallowness and acute attention deficiency was strangely disarming, even paired with her manipulative wit and sharp observational prowess. She was equal parts soft, dynamic, sharp, and steady.
"It seems like a polaroid," he commented of the photograph.
"God, you are ancient," she laughed.
"When you say 'God,'" Walter frowned, "You don't mean Mother, do you?"
"Err," Laura looked up at him hesitantly. "I don't think I'm qualified to have religious discussions with the guy who can regenerate limbs and phase through walls. It might sour our friendship, which would be unfortunate, as I have taken quite a liking to you."
He blinked rapidly and stared vacantly through her for a moment. Then he lifted his head a little to peer through the walls. "Tell me about the thing you call 'God.' I will not judge. I have seen churches and mosques, but I have always seen the object of their faith as distant, cold, lifeless, powerless; Uncaring for its children or believers; Uninvolved to the point where its mere existence should be questioned. Mother is very obviously real."
"Well, ah, if I knew your god was the only god in existence," Laura broached carefully, "I think I'd still want to disbelieve her into non-existence and just deal with the consequences of a sad atheist death of oblivion. Cause I don't really think anything deserves my veneration, no matter how powerful it is or how badly it can help or hurt me, unless maybe that thing is infinitely good. So whether my cold, lifeless god is real or not, I think I prefer him. At least omnibenevolence is an ideal to aspire to."
"You do not think mother is good?" he asked disbelievingly. "Even after all you've seen?"
Laura stared at him for a second as if heroically repressing the urge to display shock. Her tone was then matter-of-fact: "No. I think she's authoritarian, and her religion is good at using esoteric, holier-than-thou dogma to make you feel guilty for not doing things the way it wants you to. But that's mental abuse, not omnibenevolence." He frowned further, and she shook her head. "Hey, um, Walter? Did you ever feel any guilt over any of the things you did?"
His face melted free of expression. "At the beginning, I had feelings of conflict, so I was led by light to do what was necessary. Later, after everything was in motion, I felt euphoric anticipation of her coming..." he trailed off, and did not complete his thoughts, reflecting on the screams of his almost-sister, the tattered body of a doll, and the twisted manifestation of dead twins.
Laura took in a slow breath, and began: "It sounds like you naturally believed in something very different from what you were being taught. But then someone hit over, and over again, until you couldn't fight to defend that something anymore. And when you gave in, and surrendered those unspoken morals, you were no longer being hit. So it was a huge relief of pressure and you felt good. But... again, that's mental abuse taking advantage of a child's need for approval. It's not love."
He looked down towards her with shuttered eyes and curled blonde hair shadowing his countenance, and there was a darkness glimmering out from within him. Laura shifted from foot to foot, recalling that he was still in his fully adult form, and as such was not all-together stable.
"You were being hurt," she continued gingerly. "And no one deserved to crawl into your head like that, or to put thoughts there that weren't yours. No one deserved your surrender, least of all 'god' or the people who led your-"
"Stop." His voice was light as gauze. "Please stop."
Laura fell silent. Then she stepped close and took his hand in hers. "I know it's sorta insensitive of me to say this right now of all times when I just made you so upset and ought to have known better, but, um: Please don't hurt and/or kill me."
He followed her with his gaze, and took note of how close she was standing. "I won't," he repeated, and then lifted his gaze to where Eileen Townshend was trying to get some food into her shaken husband. "I tried, once. I would not recommend it to anyone."
Laura squeezed his hand, and did not draw attention to the way he had once again conflated living people with the roles they played. "Hey," she called up to him. He looked towards her, messy hair getting in his face again. "I need some food, but do you want to go meet me on the porch and just enjoy the cold for a bit? You look like you need some plain human company, what with these old farts getting all fussy whenever they see us talking."
His expression abruptly looked pained, or... maybe just pensive? "Okay," he agreed quietly, leaving her to wonder what sort of complex things were going through his head.
Laura joined him with two plates of food, and surprised him by placing one into his lap. "For you. Double decker with blueberry drizzle and whipped cream. If that can't knock a person out of a melancholy, I don't know what can."
A melancholy? Walter blinked inquisitively downward at this unexpected feast, and then glanced over as she sat down beside him upon the porch bench and adjusted her coat about herself. Her breath was a hot mist on the air, and she dug into her own plate with vivacious relish. Her butchered hair stood up in chaotic tufts of yellow.
"I am starved like a wild dog," she confessed to him through sloppy bites of pancakes. "C'mon, try yours at least!"
He did, hesitantly, cutting off a corner of the food and transporting it to his mouth. Sweet. Sweet and creamy, and carrying an aura of comforting memories he had no experience with and could not share with her.
"Howsit?" she slurred past another mouthful.
He took another bite, and his temporary body did appreciate the sustenance. She was not as oblivious as she painted herself; her charm was in the contrast of her internal and external attributes. She reminded him of almost-sister, in a way; cocksure, rude, swaggering even amid insanity, but somewhere soft beneath the outer shell. It felt less a facade and more a dichotomy.
"You've been really quiet since Heather did whatever," she reflected at last, as her pancake-induced enthusiasm slowed to more manageable levels. "But then you haven't disappeared like usual." He glanced at her inquisitively. "You know. When you want to hide that you're feeling pensive and indecisive, you usually vanish through a wall all mysterious-like. Are you afraid of something out there?"
His feelings condensed in a sudden icy pang, and then precipitated: "Those who love mother most know best that it is wise to fear her. Especially when they have sinned."
Laura straightened and wiped her face. "Are we talking about that black tentacled thing that tried to absorb you earlier, when you clued Eileen and Murphy into how to save Henry and my da?"
The answer was automatic from his lips: "Mother is god, child, and her will is in everything. Something you will learn the truth of soon enough; and as your spirit is sweet, I will pity you the anguish of the lesson on that day."
Laura was quiet for a moment, brows furrowed. "Well that felt like one step forward, two steps backwards," she grumbled to his face. "Why swat at me?"
"Good children perform their tasks obediently; well informed on the lessons they require to reach salvation. They do not ask questions; to doubt is to deny god."
"All of us are unworthy of the heat of her love, and the life-giving purity of her word. But none are so abhorrent to her as those who seek to pervert her teachings by falsifying or reinterpreting them for their own weak willed purposes. I heard you clearly; you spoke the devotion with an or rather than the proper and. Repeat it again. Shed a tear and I bring the fire closer."
Murmurs, muffles, confusion, then a sharp clatter and rapid shuffling. "Hey!" Laura had seized hold of his shoulders, startling him. Her palms flattened against his cheeks and her fingers cupped his jaw. "Hey! Hey, hey, hey, don't go back there! Holy shit- stay here with me! Don't go back there! Walter!?"
He stared up into the little golden matron's clear eyes and innocently affectionate countenance. She was not unblemished; there was an old faint scar from a knife fight over the curve of her lower lip, and her nose had been reset once after breaking. Her eyebrows were thick, and her whole forehead wrinkled heavily with every widening of her eyes.
Take my hand, almost-sister had begged him. Don't let Her have you.
He reached up to Laura Sunderland's shoulder, and saw his hand had partially dissolved into black tar and that the fingers were long, barbed, articulated claws. He'd regressed, somehow, into memories. "Laura?" he called distractedly, and he felt rather than saw her nod as she slicked back fresh ooze from his face.
"I think you're upset," she proposed nervously. "But I appreciate how you, um, tried to open up just there? The, ah, metaphorical version of 'open up,' considering you sort of very literally..." she looked down, "... unraveled..." A significant chunk of his anatomy had converted to tar: one leg, and diagonal swaths of his waist.
"I don't know what is happening," Walter marveled fearfully, turning his hand that way and that. "I don't know if I know Mother .Can I feel her, taste her, be sure of her? Everything tears and prods and warps. Everything was stable at last, but now the scripture feels like it dissolves out of my ears- why can't I find the words? The mantras? Where has the truth gone, and where is my Mother?"
A cradle over which two figures argued; one smacks the other-
-Interrupted. No longer a vision. Little Golden Dichotomy hugs him, holding together his dissolving self into a semblance of identity, a semblance of human form. She only has arms, not miracles. If he keeps thinking, he will pour out from between her grasp, and sink away into the crevices of the world.
"If Mother doesn't want me, who will?" he pleaded feebly against her, melting. "Who will find me on the side of the road and take me home? No one. Not like sister. It will be the same as before for me. All over again, unwanted, refused, the suffering will be repeated ad nauseum- will be-"
"Walter? Walter! Um- um- fuck, Hey I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the demi-deities connected to you may possibly be very confused right now!" Laura hollered.
His thoughts surfaced through panic and anxiety and memory, pulling him back up and back together. "L-laura?" he murmured, gulping past ooze in bafflement. "Wh-what?"
"I mean, Xuchibara!" Laura continued with a desperate expression, her fingers clearing ooze from his jawline. "Look I've never seen anyone dissolve into a depressed puddle this fast unless they were having a PMDD episode- and then not quite as literally- but since you're a ghost and plugged into several powerful half-gods, let's give this theory a whirl!" she chattered on.
He stared at her oval face, captivated.
"I remember when Big Red was pissed as fuck, it knocked you, my da, Travis, and Murphy unconscious! Well he just faced Heather and it clearly didn't go the way everyone thought it would, and I think you might have tapped into the brunt of some sort of half-strangled, confused backlash from him right now, and it's emphasizing your own feelings of dissociation!"
Black ooze and thoughtless twilight. Incompatible puddle of ideas.
The children of god did not know their own Mother, either. Nonsense. Madness. Blasphemy. But the Metatron was guiding Heather Mason, and would lead her to destroy everything else. Because it was all corrupted? Because it deserved destruction for forgetting Mother's face? Or...?
Somehow his food had survived when he'd dropped the dish to the floor, and despite being a puddle he'd found his way to it. The fork had been a little harder to find, as that had required hands, but by then he'd had a mouth and could continue eating. He pushed the first spongy piece of breakfast cake around for a bit, to coat it thoroughly in every type of sweet and creamy, and then consumed it. It was safe. Warm. Affectionate. It was safe like dolls were safe.
"Um... Walter...? Hello? Can you hear me?" Laura.
"I don't feel very good," he confessed into the safe food and the puddle of his arms- arms which had, at least, agreed to be arms again, even if the majority of them was black and rubbery. His face felt whole; it had to be, if he was thinking.
"I'd say not," Laura agreed, and he heard her boots on the porch as she reoriented herself to sit down on the porch beside him. "You're sort of splattered all over the walls, railings, floor, and so forth." She poked at the ooze. "This looks just like what was attacking you earlier. What is it?"
"I don't know." He shuddered. "I thought it was Mother's reproach, her hunger. It is black. Perhaps it represents a subconscious desire for oblivion."
Laura was quiet for a brief moment, perhaps reflecting on the abrupt paradigm shift he had just employed from the religious to the psychological. "You want to die?"
"I am dead," he disagreed. "Suffering does not end with death."
She straightened in comprehension.
"I had hoped it would end with paradise. But if that is not so, then sister was right: the only salvation is oblivion." He looked up towards Laura's baffled face. "That was why Alessa first approached the Red God, to make a pact with him. She would free him, if he would unmake Silent Hill and her along with it. That is why he will not rest until Cheryl Heather Mason is erased. He cannot merely kill her; he needs her to first extend his chains."
"But Alessa didn't get herself erased," Laura recalled. "She reincarnated herself. That's where Cheryl and/or Heather came from. And Heather isn't suffering like Alessa was, or like you do. Sure there are some memory scars left all over Silent Hill from it, but then Heather's supposedly this really tough and largely untrained psychic. Right?"
He didn't answer; he didn't seem to have anything to say.
Laura's frown was audible in her voice: "Walter, is that what you were talking about when you said no one would want you? Reincarnation? Being reborn as a baby?" She reached down to him, and pulled hair back from his temple. He had hair, then. "Is that something you know how to do? Are you- are you basically very similar to Alessa?"
Walter didn't budge, staring down into his blueberries.
"That's why she wants to talk to you," Laura rationalized with an intelligence that seemed to always materialize from nowhere. "She's hoping you can teach her how to manage her abilities, but you just keep muttering ominous prophecies and slinking away into the gloom. You're actually a much more highly trained psychic than she because you were under the tutelage of the order much longer, clear into adulthood."
"A 'conjurer,'" he corrected her terminology.
"It's why you call her 'sister,' because the two of you are similar. And it's why your ghost holds together better and saner than Alessa's did. You're a psychological mess, but you were taught extreme mental discipline. You know a lot more about how to move and work in Silent Hill than you let on, and it's not just because of Valtiel. You've the same sense for the 'logic' of this place that she does."
"I don't know where sister's nonsense comes from," he disagreed. "Impossible things happened."
"But maybe that's because the order wasn't-!" Laura paused. She thought about what she was about to say, and swallowed back on her words. After a long moment, she crossed her legs and sank back near the space his mass occupied. "I'm sorry. You're really upset, and here I am arguing for things that'll just make you more upset." She sighed. "I'm not the most sensitive person."
Walter rolled slightly onto his side to look at her (and at the mass of himself, black tar, splayed out like roots all over the front of the lighthouse). "How can you tell I am upset?" he asked. "And not simply violently manipulative."
She scoffed and grinned. "You look like Howl being dramatic after his hair dye went awry. Which is mean of me to say, since this is so much more more important than hair dye. But, really, you do."
"I look like what?" he frowned.
Her eyes widened and she again recalled his age. "Walter... There are so many things I wish I could just... show you. Movies. Roller coasters. Fanfictions. Specialty hamburgers. So many things I want to show you. Like everything ever directed by Hayao Miyazaki. And Disney movies. And we need to watch Monster House together over Moose Tracks Ice cream. At the Grand Canyon. And eat the best pasta ever. And there are so many great things out there to see...!"
His eyes widened to round disks as she spoke, and he stared at her in silence for a long moment before whimpering at last: "What in all creation impels you to be kind to me?"
Laura grinned and patted a part of him that was a little less gooey. "Oh come on, it's not that hard. Happy, fearless people are the nice ones." Her brow furrowed and her expression sobered. "They're the ones who hand out free dolls. Hey, they're not as rare as you think, you know?" Ah, but they are, Miss Sunderland. "You just have to appreciate that six-and-a-half-foot-tall religiously fanatical hobos looks sort of scary to the average person, and not everyone realizes they just might desperately need a good hug now and then."
He continued to stare at her, images of Mother's near final resurrection coming to mind, and a great pool of blood and offal. His lips parted, and the hiss which left them was: "Are you still fearless?" Vulnerability. Empathy. Sympathy and understanding. They were how he had gotten into another woman's mind and compelled her to help him.
"I pretend to be!" Laura answered cheerfully, and leaned into him. "So, how many hugs does Gooey-Slug-Walter need to pull himself back together? I suspect Full-Adult-Channeling-Evil-Terrors-Walter might be sociopathically hug-adverse, but the Awkward-Teenager-Version seems good with pats on the head, and I haven't even met Little-Kid-Walter yet. Exactly what sort of extrapolation and-or interpolation ought I to be performing here?"
I am feeling violent? Walter reflected. I am feeling angry. Defiantly angry. I wish to reach out and smother her. To press my fingers through her stomach and peel her open; to make a banquet of her in Mother's honor, and all just because she is smiling.
But he would not, and the decision was easy. Had not Valtiel once threatened something similar as punishment? Walter would not so much as harm a hair on her head. He pushed himself slowly up onto his hands, dragging tendrils of black after where his body came undone midway down the torso.
Let us think about this as she does. Slowly, piece by piece. What should I make of this compulsion to hurt her? Perhaps that the Red Devil is *upset,* he answered himself. Angry, yes, but that is an insufficient word. What did Laura say? Confused. He is confused. Walter shifted his gaze to the feet of his perplexing companion, and then looked slowly up towards her face. And he doesn't like her hair. Because it is blonde? Yes, like Heather's. He is upset with sister. He is confused *by* sister.
But Valtiel was calmer now, and more forgiving, and the angel's soothing chill swept through Walter, cleansing his thoughts of fever and disorientation. He rubbed at his face, and his hands were now whole and fleshed instead of molded from tar. Then, because Laura was hugging to him, he put an arm reflexively about her, and hugged her so tightly to his collar that she made a little 'oof' noise. He took a deep breath with his cheek pressed into her hair, and doubtless tendrils wrapped about her feet. She felt solid, and heavy for her size, like an anchor.
"Is there something you want to say?" she asked him hesitantly, as astute with some senses as she was oblivious in others.
"Will you keep me?" His voice was rough, not melodic, and it cracked.
Laura squeezed him tight about his upper back. "Will you forgive me if I suck and don't know what to do and make huge mistakes? I don't have the best track record when it comes to avoiding catastrophic explosives. I can't imagine I'll be much better at adopting undead hobos."
He nodded firmly into her.
"Okay. I'm in." His insides melted more metaphorically than they had previously. She found his other hand, and held it tightly as she nestled up under his chin. Her grip was unexpectedly strong. "We're officially Team Lauralter. Don't ask. More pop culture references. You'll understand one day. All for one and one for all."
"I love you," he nearly mourned, nearly rejoiced, definitely laughed, and certainly whimpered. "I love you. I love you." As Mother? As Little Golden Dichotomy? As Laura. Someone wanted him, and the rest of the infinite universe was now filled only with easy or unimportant questions. Questions like whether or not he wanted to eat the rest of those lovingly given blueberry pancakes.
Whelp, that's all till next time I get the itch! Wish me luck!