Part 3. Love Psalm
a/n: I decided to end things here because my imagination went kaput on me in this story. I don't like this chapter simply because it isn't my best, but the original ending I had in mind wouldn't work. I tried to tie things up as best as I could. It's jumpy, like the second chapter was, but I hope it's not too bad. I want to write a better, unrelated coda to the Rebirth ending someday, though I don't know what I'd come up with. I plan to move on to bigger and better Silent Hill projects after this.
Mary catches Art at the gas station and her heart nearly stops dead in her chest. She doesn't think he's going to give up so easily and it scares the shit out of her. Quickly, she retrieves the snacks James asked for and a pack of cigarettes he won through a pitiable display of moaning and weeping and gnashing of teeth, and gets the hell out of there. As she passes Art lifts his arm to wave but it drops as she walks out, not even giving him the dignity of eye contact.
At home, Mary walks to James' room and sees him reclining upright, staring at nothing in particular. His eyes are half lidded and he looks more than exhausted. The shadows under his eyes have deepened. His hair is a greasy mess. His cheeks are hollowed out. It's come to the point where, if he's in pain, he's certainly not complaining anymore. He might have reached that state of acceptance and inner peace, for which she is both grateful and devastated at the same time. As he wastes away he becomes more quiet and therefore less and less of a burden, but she wonders about everything that goes on in his head. Does he still dream? If he does, does he dream that he's well again and Mary is in his arms and they're happy? Or does he dream of nothing - a blissful void he can't wait to join? The end of everything is hard, but there's nothing quite like the end of a life. It supersedes all else and reminds one, unlike anything else, of the ignominy of the world and the shit and the piss that stains in these sheets and how none of it will ever be scrubbed away.
Is he being taken to someplace pure? Does he know every secret of the universe and has he reached enlightenment?
These are silly, if not completely stupid thoughts, but somehow excruciatingly relevant. She could ask him, but does she really want to hear the answers?
Mary wants to turn on the lamp, but he always complains about how it bothers his eyes so she's conditioned herself not to do it anymore.
She approaches his bedside, asking if he's alright. James stares ahead. He doesn't seem to register it at first, but then after a moment or two he recognizes his wife's voice and turns his head to give her due attention. "What?"
"I said are you alright?" Mary folds her hands together and prepares herself for anything: a cryptic comment, an unintelligible slur, or even an insult.
"Did you see that man today?" he asks instead, taking no heed of her own question. She may as well have never uttered it.
Mary steps back and her jaw slacks. She wraps her arms around herself and turns her head, unsure of what to say. What can she really tell him? That they're on the edge of being discovered? That this man knows something's up with the family that lives here, and she's defenseless against it?
She doesn't say anything. She can't bear to.
James turns back to stare at the wall, as Mary had done when she was lying in a bed like this.
Yes, now she remembers. She had been dying. Not of the same illness - truth be told, it doesn't look like James has what she had at all. He's still has his hair. His skin, though oily and pale, hasn't completely turned to shit and started flaking off like it did to her, and despite his physical difficulties he's way more mobile than she was in those agonizing three years he'd sat by her bedside and reveled in his own helplessness.
It's all a cruel joke, she thinks. Someone's up there, laughing. Maybe.
Early in the morning, Mary is at her usual routine: making breakfast. The eggs pop, the toast steams. The minutes tick by, aware that she's keeping an eye on them. Waiting for when James will wake and begin his morning cry, like a newborn in the crib that suddenly wonders where its mother is. Waiting, waiting… She cooks contentedly in blessed silence until James' sobbing breaks out in the bedroom. On time, but still strange. She's never heard him sound so much like an abandoned child, so despairing and so… pathetic. He might have pissed on himself again. In which case, she wouldn't be surprised.
She enters the room, setting the tray on the bedside bureau.
"Are you in pain?" she asks.
"I'm scared," he says.
She squeezes his palm and rubs her thumb over the back of his hand. "We're together now. I'm not going anywhere, I promise. As soon as you get better—"
"Mary," James shakes his head. "You don't understand," he states, emphatically. Prophetically. Fatally.
She can't find it in her to say anything. The words just won't dislodge themselves from her throat.
As soon as you get better… she'd said.
She remembers now. It's all so clear now.
That's exactly what James told her three years ago.
Against Mary's urges against it, James wants cigarettes again.
As she's walking down the hallway, Art appears in front of her. She hadn't realized that he was even in the hallway. All morning something's been rolling around in her stomach, like the feeling of completion… but emptiness after the fact. She hadn't been able to focus on anything else all morning, until this asshole showed up.
He raises his hands and lowers his head. "Please, there's no need to be alarmed. Can I speak with you a moment?"
Her mouth sets into a hard line. She bunches her shoulders and brushes past him and he says, "I know about you and your husband. I know you're not supposed to be alive."
Mary stops dead in her tracks. Turns around.
Her fists shake, her mouth quivers. "You bastard. Why are you following me? Why won't you leave me alone? Do you want to tear us apart?" She steps forward, her eyes rimming and her teeth clenched.
"No." Art steps back, shakes his head in a display of resignation and shame. "You have to believe me. I'm trying to help you."
Mary, tearful, starts off down the hall and clacks down the flight of stairs leading to the elevator. Art stands where he is.
Mary has been sitting around all day and she just can't stand it anymore. She's had enough with just sitting around doing nothing while James coughs, sneezes, and rolls around in general misery. She can't take this anymore. If she doesn't do something about this she'll go insane. Resolute, she stands up and tells Laura she'll be right back, and to keep on coloring. Laura sneaks a concerned glance at her and continues scribbling.
She heads down the hall. Part of her can't believe she's actually doing this, and the another part says that it's necessary and she's got to do this. If she doesn't, it'll never leave her alone. She needs to know. What does this man want? What does he have to say to her that's so important? She just hopes that when this is finally over and done with, he'll never bother her again. She goes over the plan in her head. Stop, talk to the man, get her answers. Then when James gets better—
No. Whatever happens, she's going as far away from here as possible. Even if… James won't be following her.
She stops at room 415. Art's apartment. She knocks and steps back, her heart pounding in her chest. Will he answer? Is he even home? What does he know that she doesn't?
Abruptly her thoughts are laid to rest when the chain slides back from behind the door and Art's face greets her. His brows are furrowed in confusion and silent expectation. He wants to say something, but thinks it's probably fit if Mary states her business first and foremost.
Her eyes are red rimmed. "How are you trying to help me?"
Art's house has an austere layout. The hallway from the front door leads to the living room. He has a plasma screen LCD TV in the middle of the room, with a modern looking red couch facing it. To their left is the window, and a small bay area. The curtains are drawn, casting gloom on the apartment as a whole. To their right is the kitchen, partially cut off by a wall with a square window cut into it, where small vases rest in placed intervals. The kitchen is small, like the one in their apartment, with only a few cabinets and a small island for a table with two stools perched on either side of it.
The TV is flanked by two large black bookshelves, filled to the brim with books that Art had obviously taken the time out of his day to organize. He holds out his arm in a gesture of good will, allowing her to explore the place. She briefly considers just sitting on the couch and initiating the conversation immediately, but something catches her eye. She walks up the bookshelf and her eyes gloss over the titles. She stops dead in her tracks at one book.
The Art of Rebirth.
Mary steps back. She casts a wary glance back at Art. Quickly, she gathers herself and makes for the door.
"Mary! Wait," he calls after her.
She whirls around. "You're one of those wackos from the town! You're trying to get me into your twisted cult."
"No. I'm trying to inform you."
Mary slants her eyes at him.
"That ritual you—I mean your husband used. It's not what you think."
Her voice broke. "I don't want to know what it was, then! Just leave me alone! Please…" she backs away from him. "I don't want to go back where I came from… I don't want to go."
She makes for the door and swings it open and rushes down the hall, not even bothering to close Art's door.
Dawn rises, bright through the curtains. Her eyes, though heavy with sleepiness, are gradually beginning to waken. She turns over to her one side, then the other. She stretches, trying to get her morning bones under way. She swallows, and feels how dry her throat is. Her eyes feel dry too, crusty even. She wills herself to sit up slowly, using her elbows for support, and leans back her head and rolls her shoulders. A nice breeze is blowing through. Mary can tell the day is going to be hot.
She gets up on her feet, wriggles her toes, and makes for Laura's room, intending to wake her before she uses the bathroom. But Laura's bed is empty. She turns out and pokes her head in the bathroom. "Sweetie?"
No Laura here either.
She makes for James' room, and ever so slowly, creaks the door open. Lord knows she doesn't want to wake him so early. The earlier he wakes, the longer he spends groaning and crying.
Laura is holding James' hand, her expression calm. James looks to be asleep.
"Laura," Mary whispers, waving her toward her, "You're going to wake James. Come out of here."
But Laura doesn't move. Not at first. It doesn't even appear like she heard what Mary just said.
"He can't hear you," she deadpans.
Mary stops waving, straightens. "What?"
Slowly, Laura turns her head, and Mary sees that Laura has the marks of old tear streaks on her cheeks. Her face looks hollower, as if some of her spirit has been drained out of her body. Older.
Art opens his door and Mary is standing there, her arm raised in the fist that was knocking on his door. It drops limply to her side, and for a moment they stand there staring at each other. The border that separates Art from her seems like standing on the edge of space threatening to fall into oblivion. He breaks the silence and comes to subsequent reality with only one word.
Mary steps in without being asked and Art flattens himself against the door as his brows knit. "Mary?"
Her back to him, she says, "My husband James… he's dead."
Art freezes for a second, then closes the door. "I'm—I'm so sorry to hear that. Is there… anything I can do for you?" Though he knows it's a stupid question. Of course there's something he can do. Tell her the damn truth. But it hitches in his throat and the weight of the news of her husband's demise presses on his chest. This is a very serious moment for Mary, one of devastation and utter blankness—so many emotions vying for attention, and grief the most vicious demon of them all.
Her hands come together and she turns her head to reveal her profile. Her eyes have gone dark. "Tell me."
"It—It wasn't a ritual to bring back dead loved ones," he began, cautiously, running this over through his head. The blood thumps in his ears. The knowledge that this is a delicate situation pins him where he is and leaves him with fewer words than he imagined. He only wishes, ruefully and uselessly, that Mary had allowed him to tell her these things before James' passing.
But would it have even helped?
"It was… it was meant as a ritual enabling the performer to cheat death. By swapping bodies."
Art lets the bomb drop and stops there, gaging Mary's reaction. She's still staring at him the same way she has been. No flinch or outcry or expression of pain. Slowly, she turns to face him and her face hardens. She approaches him and the desperation takes on a new clarity. Her eyes are darting all over his face, as if searching for another, easier answer in his features. "What do you mean? What're you talking about?"
Art's eyes are downcast. He steps past her and goes to his bookshelf. He goes back up to her and opens an old tome, flipping it over to her view. She grabs the edges and stares into the text, her eyes squinting. "What am I looking at?" she asks.
"See that there?" He points at the bold heading of a paragraph that reads Ersatz Memory Shell. "That's… what you've become."
"What's an… an…"
"Ersatz… memory shell. It doesn't happen very often. In fact there have only been a few select times in history where this ritual has ever been carried out at all. Most weren't documented, and if they were, they only existed in esoteric texts among the The Order's clergy—"
"Just tell me what the hell I'm looking at!" she bursts.
Art starts and steps back. "I-I'm sorry. I tried to—What happened is… The reason you feel like Mary is because James' memories of you, in essence, formed your personality. But that's all they are. Memories. Sometimes… a person's memories, if they're strong enough, can take the place of a soul."
"Are you telling me…I'm not who I think I am?"
"You're a body of memories." Art closes the book. His eyes don't waver as he says this. "You're not Mary. Mary is dead. You're only a puppet playing her part."
Laura colors in the living room.
Mary and Art stand on either side of James' bed. Neither of them have ever been in a situation like this before. It's all very new and completely morbid. Mary looks at Art. Art looks at Mary.
"Well, here goes nothing," he says, and throws the cover over him. They don't know what to do with the body, much less how to look at each other. Just how many people find themselves in a situation like this? What's most pressing is how the hell they're going to give him a proper burial.
"It'll have to be unmarked," she says.
"The grave." She runs her fingers over the blankets and feels how warm he is still.
His lips purse like moving worms and his Adam's apple bobs once, and then stills. His eyes are the stillest thing on his face, yet the most expressive. Tense and indefinite, slate gray and filled with granite. His features, naturally somber like James, are something her heart swells in appreciation for. She smiles, because suddenly it's all so funny. It's not okay and that almost makes her laugh. But perhaps she's not that crazy yet.
"What a joke, isn't it?" she says, smiling at the body.
Art's eyebrows press down on his eyes, his jaw sets.
"I guess I'm a woman in this life now."
"This is no time to be saying silly things like that," Art replies uselessly. "Listen, I have to ask you something."
"What is it?"
"Are you ever going to tell her?"
"Laura?" Mary's face is unreadable. "I don't know," she says.
Laura coloring stops, and she takes a peek over her shoulder at the bedroom down the hall, wondering what it is they're talking about. The plans they're making. The world their words are trying to build and the power over life they're falsely assuming by doing so. But in the passing of a moment it no longer matters to her, because wherever she goes Mary will be there. And that's all that really matters.
Laura looks out of the window, drawing a heart into the window pane that streaks with condensation. The trees flank the road and waft in the breezing air smelling of grass, acorns, the fir trees and cold earth. "Where're we going, Mom?"
"We're headed to a place called Brahms, sweetie."
"What if we get lost?" Laura frowns.
"Then we'll ask for directions." Mary says.
"Mom, why are we going to Brahms? I thought you wanted to go back to Silent Hill."
"I did, honey," she smiles plaintively at the road ahead.
"Are we ever going back?"
But she knows that the decision to return isn't hers. People don't choose Silent Hill.
Silent Hill chooses you.