a/n: After a bit of thought I decided to continue Uneternal Sleep. Most likely this story will have 5 parts. A huge thanks to everyone who reviewed; I greatly appreciate comments and make a note to respond to everyone. I especially want to thank my friend Maiafay, who can always be counted on for very practical writing advice.
Part 2. Lady Lazarus
Mary awakens on the altar. A great force of breath sears through her lungs, throwing her eyes open and sending her limbs into convulsions. Her back arches. For the first few minutes, she's not capable of taking in air of her own accord; something else is forcing her to take in great, deep drags, trying to recover from the sheer terror of being awake after what feels like a millennium of sleep. Her breathing gradually slows to a normal intake, and her heart's terrible throbbing begins to abate.
Beams of sunlight peer in from poky holes in the roof, throwing stripes on her face and clothing. All around there is a damp, musky smell.
The versicolored stain glass windows are entrancing. She can make out the images of unknown saints in various forms of prayer and obeisance. The arched ceiling wavers in her unsteady vision and ready for any reason to collapse. She has a horrible, copper taste in her tongue, like someone has punched her teeth out and a pool of blood has been sitting in the pouch of her cheek. With a stiff, painful effort, she manages to turn herself on her side. Her entire body is struggling with a vast numbness. She feels like she hasn't used any of her limbs in years. Her voice can only utter one word. A helpless, unanswered name.
"James…" she wheezes. Her voice echoes into the hollow. "James…"
For what feels like hours, she can't move off the marble slab. She has to take her time and slowly will her body to cooperate with her. She has to take it one anguishing step at a time. She focuses on letting her upper body loosen so she can sit upright, and then work on waking up her legs, but that seems an eternity away. Her body wracks with sharp aches, now forced to reverse the process of rigor mortis.
"Mary?" his voice is raspy, but more articulate than hers. "Are you awake?"
She inches herself closer to the edge, looking down.
There on the floor lies James, pallid and almost bloodless. His hair is a stark, frightening gray. His hands are clenching his stomach. He spits out a cry of happiness. Tears rim his eyes. "Mary… You… You're…"
"James." Her arm falls over the ledge and reaches out to him, but he's too low for her touch. They're both too weak to even make contact with the tips of her fingers. Though their reunion is a little stilted, it's more than she or James ever hoped for, and it's really real. Somewhere in the stuffy muddle of her dreams is happiness, and this is what she drifts from reality clinging to.
It's such an alien experience, looking at oneself for seemingly the first time. She can barely believe it's these eyes staring back at her, ones that are no longer blood shot or strained. They're just as good as anyone else's. Her newly washed hair lays flat against her head, stuck around her face like algae, all of it restored. No bald patches, no clumps of hair in the sink. Her skin is smooth and healthy, freed from the leprous color that once stained her skin. She's as healthy as she was 3 years ago, far before the diagnosis.
She only wishes she could say the same for James.
He doesn't want any medicine, any assistance at all. He only wants for her to wash off the grime of Silent Hill and sit by his bedside, letting him bask in her, a living example of what the world believes to be impossible. Lady Lazarus. That's what James says the press would coin her.
The Resurrection of the Deceased, that odd book James has by his bedside, calls her simply 'the reborn'.
One of the tenants seems to think she's an interesting specimen. Whenever she passes by, groceries in hand, keys dangling from her hands, he's there. He offers help, but she always refuses.
No, no, don't worry about me. I got it.
There's no conceivable reason for him to be so interested in her above all the other neighbors. He tries to give Laura lollipops, but Mary has since commanded that she isn't to acknowledge that man in any form. Now, Laura pretends he's invisible.
This doesn't wound him. Not at all. Perhaps that's what bothers her the most. There's never any indication of wounded pride, nor has he taken the hint yet. They pass by that man every day after she picks up Laura from school. He just smiles and waves, an eerie neighbor immune to discourtesy. Every day strengthens her discomfort. Pretending he's little more than air isn't solving much. She wants a reason to call the cops on him, but he's given her no such reason. He's merely a bother.
She can't help but wonder: what exactly does he want? Is it just his disposition to be unsettling or does he have something to tell her?
His eyes, like a ghost, follow her as they always do. She closes the door behind her and Laura, leaving his smile in the hallway.
James sobs in his room as Mary prepares his breakfast.
The coffee brews like a dark chemical in a flask as she sifts the eggs from the pan and onto the plate. The grease, a light brown, gathers in dewy tears, sizzling around his bacon. On the countertop is a medium breakfast tray, where his plate and glass of milk lies. She places three slices of bacon sit beside his salted and peppered eggs.
The toast pops up, stiff and giving off heat. She spreads the butter and cuts them into hypotenuse pairs. She takes the jelly from the fridge and puts in two more slices of toast. James tends to have a varying degree of taste these days, almost as if he wants to try everything he's already eaten before it's too late.
But she can't think about that. Of course he's going to be alright. He's just a little weak from the experience, is all. Silent Hill has taken a lot out of them both.
Mary saunters in with the breakfast tray. She hopes his stomach is a little stronger today. He won't improve much if he doesn't get his nutrients. She sets it down on the bedside bureau to attend to him. James' hair is tousled from sweat, fueled by nightmares and a persistent paranoia that every time Mary goes out of the room, she won't come back.
Mary plucks a tissue from the box of Kleenex, dabbing under his eyes and wiping his wet nose, which he hasn't much strength to keep after. As it is he has trouble chewing and swallowing. Soon, she guesses, she'll have to look into getting a feeding tube for him if he continues at this rate, losing more strength each day instead of improving.
She positions him upright and slides the breakfast table out from under the bed, unfolding it and placing it over his lap. She sets the tray there and offers a weak smile, stepping back and sitting down in the chair to monitor his eating.
He groans intermittently, and picks at his food. Mary sighs; she had expected that. If he won't eat, it won't go to waste. Laura likes dippy eggs.
At the thought of Laura, she remembers the man and falls into thought. She wants to ask James so many things, but she doesn't know where to begin. Much less if she should even ask them in the first place. She questions the wisdom of even telling him about the man that lives down the hall. That he's been asking questions. Invasive ones. Like "How long have you been staying here?" and "You said you were married. How come I've never seen the lucky guy?"
Yesterday he introduced himself as Art Miller. Not that she asked his name, but it seemed important to him that she know it. Point in fact he wouldn't allow her to leave until she revealed some things about herself, in which point he matched some of her experience in an uncomfortable way.
"You vacationed in Silent Hill? Oh, I know that place. I used to live there. Took my niece to the amusement park, went rowing in Toluca Lake every spring. I even went to church there," he laughed.
God, that guy gives her the creeps.
James grows fatigued after his breakfast. Mary clears away the tray and asks him if he wants anything else. He shakes his head and lolls off to the side, about to fall asleep again. Mary's brows lower and she deliberates for a moment on just what she should do. At length she decides to reposition him so he's reclining on his back again. She also fluffs his pillow and brushes the hair from his face. The circles under his eyes are darkening. He gets more sleep than a bear, yet he never wakes without complaining of aches and pains.
Mary leaves the room as quietly as she can. She makes a point to leave the door open a crack. From past experience, the sound of the door closing will have him calling out for her almost immediately.
In the living room, Laura's small body is encircled by sprinkles of crayons and several coloring books. Her teddy bear, a small one that she discovered with needles in its head, sits near her hip as she scrawls in white and red.
"Are you hungry at all, sweetie?" Mary bends to her level and runs her fingers lightly through Laura's wispy blond fringe. "James didn't eat all of his breakfast. Or, if you don't want any eggs, I could fix you some cereal before we get going."
Laura stops coloring and ponders this question for a moment. She turns to Mary and asks, "Is James going to die?"
Mary feels her chest tighten. She swallows, and searches for the most considerate and caring response, but finds it's scattered somewhere in an inaccessible area of her mind. "I don't… No. He's going to be fine," Mary decides. "Do you want me to put Hi-C in your lunch bag or Juicy Juice?"
She shrugs, indifferent. She cleans up her crayons and unzips her book bag, filing her homework to make room for the coloring books in the back. Laura may only be 8 years old, but she certainly isn't a fool. Mary can really use some good self-deception right about now, but for some reason, she feels like she's been through this before. These feelings aren't new.
Which can only mean that, deep down inside her, she must know how this is going to end.
Laura stops what she's doing and looks at Mary again. "But if he dies… you're never going to have that baby you always wanted."
Mary's takes a seat on the couch and pats her lap. Laura sits on her while Mary rubs her arm reassuringly. "It's alright, Laura. I don't need another one. You're already my baby," she says, challenging Laura's hanging head with a smile, because she has to. However much it hurts, Laura needs this smile from her. "Nothing's ever going to change that."
Laura's lips seem to tug in a more cheerful direction, but in the end she doesn't give in to the lighter expression she'd been aiming for. Meekly, she asks, "Do you promise?"
Mary casts her eyes to the door of James' room. All the uncertainty of the future seems to stare back from that hallway, and for a minute it's too overwhelming to ponder on. But then she remembers a very important thing. James is man of his word. He promised he'd take Mary to Silent Hill again one day, and for all intents and purposes, he did.
If one man can transcend even death for a promise, then what excuse does she have? All the greater burden to bear, because through James' sacrifice, Laura and Mary were given second chances. And even though the price he's paying doesn't welcome much optimism, that's really all the reason she needs.
She turns back to Laura, squeezing her small palm.
"I promise, sweetie."