Silent Hill (a ghost story)

by Rose Campion

Silent Hill (a ghost story)

originally written for the Lyric Wheel Challenge- the Horrible Wheel.

archive: sure, grab it.

warnings and rating: R for violence and sex that isn't particularly graphic. More angsty than violent, but still definitely on the dark side. Also, post-colonization, so more angst there.

Disclaimer: Silent Hill the video game belongs to someone else, I forget who. I just borrowed the premise, filed off the serial numbers, took it across state lines and ran with it. We all know who Mulder, Doggett and other X-files characters belong to. They were getting dusty from lack of use though.

pairing: M/D

The camp was in full lock-down. That was the only reason I caught John before he left. John could do little but pace like some caged animal at the subterranean camp's heavy iron gate. No doubt about it though. If we hadn't been locked down, he would have been gone and all I could have done was hope I could follow him and catch up with him in time. I moved into his path, thinking that all along, our relationship had been like this, each of us careening off in some crazed direction or another seemingly ready to dance off the edge again, only to find the other in our path, stopping us, being the others safety.

John startled when he realized his trajectory had been intercepted by something far more substantial and real than whatever demons were haunting him at the moment. Real and substantial were not, in my experience, necessarily equivalent.

I didn't have to ask what was wrong. We knew each other too well for blandishments like that. He simply held out his hand to me. He dropped a crushed slip of paper into mine. The paper was pure white, almost startling so against the background of the camp where everything was imbued with the red dust of the desert. I opened the paper from its crumple. In the unsure hand of a child, crude loops and wavering lines was scrawled a note.

"Daddy," it read, "You said someday we could go back to Silent Hill but we never did. Now I'm here all alone. Luke."

John was nearly as white as the note, strained and shaking. I was suddenly furious for him. I ran through my mind the list of everyone in our camp.

"Where did you find this, John? I'm going to find the sick fuck who wrote this..."

"It's him, Fox," John said, voice wavering, even as he interrupted me from the threats of bodily harm that I was about to make. He was obviously not believing that he was saying what he was saying, or that he believed what he said. "It's Luke. The handwriting is his. I know. He needs me. I can feel it. I have to go to him."

"You're sure it's his writing?" I asked. I looked around for confirmation from my own sources, the spirits that haunted my waking world, but they gave me no sign. In the echoing room, sunken in rock, the only sounds were our breathing and the casual, mechanical thrum of the ventilation system.

John took the slip back from me and as if only now realizing the havoc he'd wrecked on it, he smoothed it ineffectually. "It's Luke's. Without a doubt," he said, with such finality, that a whole team of Bureau handwriting experts would fail to convince me otherwise. Not that there was even a Bureau anymore to have such experts.

"I have to go to him," John said.

"We'll go as soon as the lockdown is lifted," I said. We. Us. Partners for so briefly during our time at the Bureau, but partners, in all senses, for years in the armed resistance against our would be alien conquerors. I could no more let him leave this enclave without me than I could let one of my arms leave without me.

He nodded his response. He didn't express gratitude. He didn't have to. The only thing I saw in his face was relief that one thing in his life was exactly as it should be- that I would always be there to catch him at the edge, or go down into the chasm with him, as sure as A follows B.

"What, or where is Silent Hill?" I asked, thinking ahead to making plans. It would be a dangerous trip, how ever far it was.

"Small town on the Jersey shore. Had a boardwalk and a rinky-dink amusement park. We went there once as a family. Just the kind of thing a kid loves. He always wanted to go back but there was never time and honestly, the place was kind of a dump."

The Jersey Shore was most of a continent away.

"We'll leave as soon as the lockdown lifts," I promised him.

Four days later and still there were signs of alien crafts in the skies over head. In the shuttered, endless night of our cave and shelter, the day and the night ceased to matter, became a convenience to mark the passing of the hours. Because hands were required at all hours, I had drifted in to keeping my watch in the middle hours of the night, and sleeping during what convenience kept us calling day. Because I kept this schedule, John drifted into it as well.

You think that because a cave is underground, dark, it will always be cool, damp. That was not the case with our cave. To say that a cave is womb-like is trite, a cliche, but things become cliches because they are true. And descending into the cave the first time is to walk into dark and heat that is so profound one thinks one is walking into the very birthplace of the world. Surrounded by magnetite, we were safe, succored.

It was in this dark and this heat, this safety, that I slept, curled onto narrow camping mats on a rock shelf, wrapped around John. And I dreamed, of a pale blue sky overhead, so pale it approached white. And punctuated into that light cerulean were exclamation points of intense fire, questions of engagement, retreat, and contact asked in contrails of plasma that grew faster than could be possible. Alien craft were in battle, our skies their Verdun. And in the end, this glory faded, the contrails disappeared, and though the azure seemed somehow diluted, faded, there was at last nothing left in it. Empty skies.

I startled awake and reached for the light we kept close to hand. John woke at my disturbance.

As a flick of the switch sent our world into a play of light and shadow, John said, "You had another dream."

"The skies are clear. The lockdown will be lifted," I said. My dreams, perhaps they were extrasensory, some kind of telepathy or distance viewing, perhaps they were sendings from my beloved dead. Either way, when they came with such clarity, they were true and real.

"We should get some more sleep," John said. I looked at the clock. Three in the afternoon. He added, "We'll leave under cover of the night."

There is enough evil in this world without the influence of those from worlds beyond. There are creatures of fearsome power that reside in the cracks between what is bright and good in this world, creatures that have no portion of green blood.

In the mountains of the Mexican desert where we had been hiding, I had lost track, not just of day or night, but of the seasons. We approached Silent Hill in the winter, across a sere landscape of brown and black, passing through the scorched stands of trees of the New Jersey pine barrens. As we traveled, we saw signs of habitation, but few people, most of the remaining ones too frightened to show themselves to strangers passing through.

Silent Hill was on the shore, just as John had said. The hill in the name must have been one of the dunes to either side of the little town. The buildings of the town were scorched, burned to their foundations some of them, all standing empty, carcasses of structures, like a menace of beetles had shed their carapaces and abandoned them. The parking lots of the big box stores had buckled, cracked, and nature had begun to reassert itself, growing tall weeds in the spaces between man made rocks, but now this reconquering was on hold because of the bitter winds and dim sunlight. These weeds stood dead, brown and shriveled in their place.

In this town, unlike most of the others, there was no sign of hidden survivors- no hint that behind the walls, or in remaining basements, or undercover of brush there was some inhabitant waiting until we had passed to emerge and gather their hardscrabble living together again.

We concealed our vehicle in one of the still standing garages, careful to push brush and debris against the door again, and conceal our tire tracks, so it appeared that the garage door had been unopened for years. Indeed, it had. The attached garage was all that was intact of a suburban tract ranch house. We could see the remainder of walls, the burned remnants of a life. Inside the garage was a dead SUV, resting on its rims, tires flat and rotted, cracked. To make room for our truck, we had to move bicycles, including two small pink ones, the kind that have streamers from the handlebar ends and glittery decals, lawn chairs, a lawnmower, boxes of old Reader's Digests gone yellow, toys, tools. All of it the leavings of a happy life. What had happened to the two little girls that had ridden those bikes, I wondered. While they had been in use, the bikes were obviously well loved, their white trim grubby, the vinyl seat on one torn. John said nothing more than necessary as we shoved and hauled. We saw no skeletons in the rubble of the house, nor did I see any glimpses, no matter how fleeting, of little, sad spirits. This house was not haunted, no more so than usual anyway. Wherever the inhabitants had or would die, it was not here.

It was Alex Krycek that delivered our first warning.

"Go back to Mexico, Mulder. It's too dangerous here. You have no idea what kind of nasties you'll find under the rocks here," he said, sitting on top of a pile of twisted and melted plastic siding, as John and I walked past, on our way to the boardwalk and the ocean. He looked just like the night he had died, minus the bullet hole in his head. I ignored him and kept walking. John looked back. I knew John couldn't see my beloved dead, but he seemed always to sense when I was in contact with them.

"Don't talk to me then," Krycek said. "I'm just a dead guy."

Krycek always looked like he did when he joined the legion of the dead, now more than ever, more numerous than the living. In my mind's eye John and myself always looked that young as well though the visual eye's simple truth was that we were as beaten by time as these ruins around us. Krycek, I thought, you're still a beautiful man. A beautiful, fucked up man.

The dead do not change. They become eternal and that is only one of the many ways they are lost to the living. His motives remained as they had always been- my best interest, as perceived by him. That did not include John. I think it would be inaccurate to call him jealous. Only say that death had frozen him in time at such a moment that he could not see that John's breath and my own were one.

I walked on.

The first color we saw was the amusement park. All around was brown and black. Even the gray overcast sky seemed almost brown. The clouds weighed heavily in the sky, seeming mere feet from the ground. This winter had no white blanket of innocense to cover the ground. This was the winter of strip and scour, bitter cold winds that laid everything bare. It made me long for my desert and the clean emptiness there. The ocean, from glimpses caught between dunes, was brown and gray with pollution. The gray white seafoam was rimed with ice. It would be good to leave this place.

The park, like I said, was the only color in sight. And that color was the gaudy, unnatural bright of plastic and carnivals. The amusement park was right on the beach, next to the crumbling piers of the boardwalk. It was a kind of Coney Island of the mind, if the mind in question was plagued by doubt, nightmares and misery.

The big sign announcing the name of the park had toppled long ago, shattered in hundreds of pieces of faded orange plastic and broken, splintered beams. But the rides, mostly, were intact. The merry-go-round had been plundered though, robbed of its fantastical mounts- gone were the horses with their flaring nostrils and swirling manes, the gryphons and lions. The game booths and vending stands were boarded over, the plywood covering them grayed against the chipping carnival colors the booths had once been painted- blue, pink, green, orange.

We walked around the amusement park in silence broken only by the sounds of waves crashing onto the shore time after time. Not even the racous, mournful cry of seagulls could be heard. We looked into any buildings that were already opened, on all the rides, until it was nearly dark. Neither of us were certain why we'd come to this unspoken agreement to search the amusement park first.

"You don't see anything, do you?" he asked me, for perhaps the hundreth time that day.

"No, guy. You know I'd tell you if heard even the tiniest whisper," I told him, more patienly now than I had been at the beginning.

"Let's go," he said. "Set up camp in one of the more intact houses. This place is creeping me out."

We found a house on the outskirts of town that was more or less untouched by the ravages of destruction and touched only by the ravages of simple time. What was once a front yard was obviously on its way to becoming part of the pine barrens again, but the roof still held against rain and the windows were unbroken. Eerily, it was as if the house's inhabitants had just walked out one evening, leaving the house behind. A magazine was left open on the dusty couch, a coffee cup with a rim of something brown in the bottom on the floor next to the couch. It seemed we were the first to intrude since the owners had left.

Usually, when on walkabout like this, we'd scrounge supplies if they were available, appropriating any non-perishables that we found, but in this oddly, museum-like place, by common, unspoken agreement, we took nothing. Everything in this place seemed to have some kind of taint on it. We ate from supplies brought with us, and then we rolled out our sleeping bag, two of them zipped together, on the living room floor. We went to sleep immediately after.

I had gotten used to a life without television, but thankfully the dark hid the one big mocking eye of the cyclops that used to dominate my non-working hours. It was a new moon that night. Even without the cloud cover, it would have been dark. As it was, the room was pitch, so dark once we turned the camping lantern off, I kept my eyes closed to keep out its relentlessness.

John didn't sleep either, though he gave pretense of doing so for about an hour. I could tell. There was a familiar rhythm and a pattern to his tossing when he was truly asleep. About an hour later, he turned to me and pressed his mouth to mine. He took me roughly, but despite hands that were hard and thrusts so urgent as to be almost savage, there was a great, desperate tenderness there. He needed this of me. He needed me to take everything he could give me. I let him ravage me and when we came, it was together, with no words, no cries, but deep, laboured breathing and I biting my hand to silence myself.

After, we drifted into a sleep that was no more comfortable than our lovemaking had been, but just as necessary.

It was still in the deep heart of the night when I was woken by the light of the camping lantern. John was sitting up next to me, holding the note in his hands. Or so I thought.

Noticing that I was awake, he handed it to me. In the dim light of the lantern, I read, "Daddy, hurry. It's cold and I've been alone here so long."

"It was in my hand when I woke up," John explained. Just like the other one had been.

I was not frightened, not in the leaping at every sound and thudding of heart beat since. Yet, I was terrified, the kind of terror that settles down around your heart and sinks stabbing icicle fingers into your sense of peace and well-being. The kind of terror that feels like an inevitable, plummetting, fight against gravity on the way down to the bottom of a cliff. But as long as we could be together, it was more than enough.

"We can't do anything until the morning. Go back to sleep," I said. I reached for him to pull him down to sleep again. I wished that we both were younger and that recovery time was not an issue, so I could make love to him again, anything to reassure him.

He let me put my arms around him and gentle him into sleep. I remained awake, and in the last, darkest hours of the night, watched over him until the dawn.

Alex Krycek was waiting for me again on the way to the amusement park.

He didn't bother to talk to me at first, only stood in my path. That was effective enough because he must know that I can not abide walking through the dead. As unsubstantial as they are, my skin prickles as I pass through them or where they have just been, there is that shudder that begins deep in the spine, an unthinking, bodily revulsion. Yes, it was enough to signal clearly to me that Krycek wanted me to go no further.

"What are you doing here, Alex?" I asked. "Why can't you leave me alone? I have to do this."

I knew the answer, the same one he told me nearly every time. Because I needed him, I couldn't let him go.

He said it, the thing I expected to hear, "Because you need me and since I'm only dead to you, this is the only way. I'm saying stay away."

"I can't," I told him.

"Then if you won't listen to me, let me go. Why won't you let me rest in peace, Mulder?"

It wasn't that I wouldn't. It wasn't that I wasn't willing. I didn't know how. I didn't know what action or what change of my own will was required to let him go. I had told him many times, him and all of my ghosts that they were free to go, and yet, somehow, they remained bound to me.

John meanwhile, was looking away, acting as if he was scanning the surroundings for any signs of danger, anything but acknowledging at this moment I was speaking with the wraith that had been Alex Krycek. There was long and painful history there that bore no further exploration.

I walked around Krycek only to find him in my path again. "Go back to Mexico, Mulder," he warned.

I was reminded, oddly, of a character in a comic book I had read only because it had found its way into the scanty library we had at camp. The character was a man, not a good man, who at death was turned into a crow. Alex Krycek, as a crow, sitting on a fence, shouting dire warnings to me that I would never listen to or heed.

I turned away from him again and towards John. "Maybe we should investigate the boardwalk first today," I said.

The boardwalk revealed nothing more mysterious than rotting pilings and the fact that the ocean was not totally dead. Fresh seaweed had washed up with the low-tide. I poked a toe in the sand at a likely looking spot and dug up a very alive clam, remembering a long lost childhood at the shore as I did. John stared out over the ocean. I think both of us grieved this near death, if not of the world itself, then the world we had known.

"He's not here," John said, after we had lingered a while at this border between the surface and the deep.

"The amusement park," I said. Whatever it was we were looking for, it was there.

I hopped up onto the forever still carousel carefully. Even from the ground, I could see that floorboards had rotted out in places, in addition to the the holes that had been left in places where the carousel animals had been ripped away from their moorings. John joined me, even more carefully, feeling with a foot each step forward. He walked to the center where mirrored panels had been taken off. He looked inside at the maze of mechanicals, the gears and works that once had driven this carousel.

One look and he quickly pronounced, "I don't think this thing could ever spin again. Looks like it's locked solid with rust."

He continued to look at the works for some reason and I turned away, to look down through a gap in the red and white patterned floorboards, what was left of them. I saw nothing, just black void, unbroken and taunting.

I heard the skirl of calliope music and a susurrus of voices, some child calling out "Dad!", and laughter light and frolicking. Not like it was some lost sound, brought from times past on a breeze of memory. No, this was right in my ear, as immediate as if I were here in this park's heydey.

I looked up for John. He was standing still at the open access panel, as if he had heard nothing.

He turned, and for the moment, looked entirely lost. "Why are we here, Fox? I let him go. I scattered his ashes. He should be gone. To wherever."

It is said that there are no atheists in a foxhole and John, though he still professed no faith, had come through the events of the past several years admitting finally that there might be some higher power, and some kind of life after death.

"Did you hear something? Just then?" I asked, purposefully not answering his question. John could rationalize himself out of nearly as many things as Scully did. John shook his head slowly. "Like calliope music? And laughter?"

"No, nothing," he said, turning away from the broken carousel.

I hesitated at the door to the fun house. "Stay close to me," I said, thinking of another fun house, another time. "No, hold my hand."

I held my hand out to him and he didn't take it. He might have slept with me every night for the past five years, when necessity did not keep us apart. He might have made it perfectly clear to everyone at base that it was me he was fucking, and if they couldn't deal with that, the door was that way, and don't let it hit you on the ass on the way out. But affection to another man was something he still struggled with. John did not hold hands. But I was in no mood for any of his 'John Doggett might be a faggot but he was no sissy' posturing bullshit at the moment.

"For safety," I said. "I don't want to lose you in there."

"You're not going to lose me," he said. Then he cracked, one side of his mouth twitching up in a brief grin, "You should be so lucky."

"I mean it, John," I said. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. Something, or someone was waiting inside the fun house. I shoved my hand right under his nose and he reluctantly took it in his. In mine, his hand was hard, all bone, sinew, and callouses, the skin thin where it wasn't calloused.

We passed the first corridor without incident. It was just the warm-up, so to speak. There were movie-style monsters painted on the walls, probably visible in spot lights when the house had been open, but now visible from daylight streaming through holes in the roof.

The next corner plunged us into darkness. I was in the lead and I walked right into something. It clanked, clattered and was hard. Like sticks. Or bones.

Just part of the exhibit, I told myself. A plaster skeleton to frighten the kiddies. I pushed it out of the way as I told myself that my heart wasn't racing, that I hadn't just had to stop myself from screaming.

"What is it, Fox?" John said, letting go of my hand to grab a flashlight out of his pocket. He illuminated the situation.

"Just what it looks like- fake skeleton," I said, holding up a fibia and tibula for demonstration. In the clear light of the flashlight, it wasn't even a good fake skeleton. A rank amateur like myself could see that it had been wired together wrong in places, the ball joints of the hip attached to the wrong points on the pelvis, patella missing completely, some bones in the arms so long they could have have only been meant to be from the legs.

"I remember this one," John said. "It scared the crap out of Luke. Barb gave me a hard time for months for taking him in at all."

"How old was he?"

"Six," John said, turning his torch away from the skeleton and down the corridor. He didn't offer me his hand back but I reached for it and took it.

"She should have," I told him as we walked past more of the plastic spooks, avoiding them this time.

Another turning brought us to the hall of mirrors. All of the sheets of mirror were still intact, and as in the other part, light streamed down from the broken ceiling. As we walked into the middle of it, endlessly recursive reflections of Fox and John stared back at us.

I heard the noise again, the calliope's notes rising and falling in a progression that sounded merry one minute, mocking the next. Then the laughter, not a child's this time, but deep. In the corner of a mirror, there was a flash of movement. Making sure to keep hold of John's hand, I turned towards it, hoping that it was just not an illusion. I touched mirror.

And then John was gone. His hand was not ripped from mine. It was just gone. My hand full one moment, empty the next.

"John!" I called out, knowing it was futile, even as I looked all around. I saw only my own form looking back at me. And not the body I held in my mind's eye, but the stark, harsh reality of the scarred, beaten, worn and faded by the sun, body that I truly possessed. Truth can be so cruel at times.

Separated from John, I did the sensible thing, I tried to return to the house, our agreed upon rendezvous point should we be separated. I tried.

I tried to walk out of the hall of mirrors. Every way I turned, I walked right into a mirror. The location of the path out seemed to shift constantly. Confused by the evidence of my eyes, leading and misleading me, I closed them and attempted to find my way out of the mirror maze by feel alone. Touching the wall with my right hand, I walked along the perimeter of the open space, hoping to find the open hall. It seemed I walked in circles for hours though, making no progress. Heart thumping in my chest and little panic demons bleating code red at me, I opened my eyes and saw that I might as well have not moved at all. Perhaps I hadn't. I grabbed my gun from its holster, and making sure the safety was in place, I hammered at the mirror. I was almost expecting to be unable to even crack the glass, that it would repel my attacks, like some unearthly substance. I had visions of a bullet ricocheting around in the small space until it came to rest in my body. That was why I hammered at it first, rather than discharging my weapon at it, that and the lingering doubt that John might well be trapped in some other segment of the maze, though I thought he was probably gone from the maze, stolen away to some other location.

The glass cracked, then shattered with an alarming crash, leaving an empty frame, but still I could see nothing by myself through the multiple mirrors. I turned to the next mirror and shattered it, and again, until I had cleared the majority of mirrored glass from its frames and the path to the hallway out was visible as darkeness seen through an empty frame. I breathed a sigh of relief, the panic demons quieted to a dull chatter for the moment, and headed for the way out.

I thought I had found the same hall that had brought me in. I came across the skeleton again. It was scattered on the floor though, bones spread but still organized enough in the original pattern to be recognizable. I knelt down. This was not the same skeleton we had passed earlier.

It was real.

It was some person's bones. I knelt down and with my torch, examined them briefly. My mind, after all these years, still swimming with the all but useless now training in forensics quickly made determinations about the skeleton. Female. A child, of perhaps ten. Not malnourished and of good general health. The cause of death, from rather obvious scoring marks on the bones, was probably bleeding to death from deep knife cuts. Perhaps a victim of cannibalism, though that didn't seemed consistant with careful arrangement of the skeleton.

I left her there. Nothing I could do about it, not now, maybe later after I'd found John. Since the invasion, more often than not, the dead went unburied and unhonored. She was just one of hundreds of skeletons I had seen this year alone.

I could see her spirit out of the corner of my eye, not approaching me because I was a stranger to her. Her eyes were big, the whites brilliant against her dark skin. She huddled in the corner, arms wrapped around herself. Should I approach her, she would not speak with me, nor interact with me. That was the way with spirits mostly. Only a few were so angry that they would lash out at any human unfortunate enough to sense them. She had died in pain and before her time, but she was just one among the vast many who had.

I turned to go, adding familiar melancholy to the wash of emotions I was swimming in and she surprised me.

She looked up from her crouch and she spoke to me. "Don't leave me here, Mister," she said, voice hardly audible. "It's cold."

And it was. Not balmy to begin with, the temperature had dropped noticeably in the past several minutes. My breath was visible and my parka seemed inadequate, the cold finding ways to seep through its seams and edges.

I didn't think I could take her with. Most likely, she was a spirit bound to this, her final resting place by the gravity of her bones. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can..." I started.

"Please! Mister!" she pleaded. "You have to take me with. He's coming back for me and he's so mad."

The calliope music started again and the child screamed, then bolted away into the darkness. Despite my mounting fear, my heart ached for her, doomed to forever act out whatever sad, small trauma had brought her to this place.

I continued on to what I thought was the entrance or the exit. Anything to get myself out of this real life house of horrors and back to where I could meet up with John again.

Eventually, the dim light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be the entrance and not a train after all. Actually, it was a thin edge of light, outlining a door that I saw, and I was soon pushing my way out into a daylight that should have caused me to blink but didn't. The cloud cover was so thick, so all pervasive that there wasn't even the hint of shadows. It made the sky curiously flat, almost like a back drop, rather than an atmosphere.

The calliope music continued to play. To leave the park, I had to walk past the carousel and what I saw stopped me dead in my tracks.

The carousel was revolving, spinning around at a steady, rapid pace, the horses and the other animals moving up and down on their poles, the music growing louder by the minute.

I stared long minutes, like I'd been hypnotized. Not an hour ago, John had been peering into the internal workings of the thing and pronouncing that it would probably never move again. And when it came to things mechanical, John knew whereof he spoke. Nevermind the fact that all of the full sized animals had been restored. I looked slowly around me. None of the other rides had mysteriously started. Nevertheless, I had gone into the funhouse and fallen down the rabbit hole.

I left the park as quickly as I could. As I walked past the entrance, I noticed that the sign was standing again, its orange and blue and yellow bright and true, garish. The edges were lined with bright light bulbs that ran in a chaser pattern.

Wonderland. The park was called Wonderland.

I all but ran to the house we'd camped in. The house no longer was nestled into the woods that were growing where its front lawn had been. The lawn was brown and dead, but had been neatly trimmed at some point just before it stopped growing. Cautiously, I walked up to the house. I tried the door, but it was locked. We had broken the lock last night when we'd appropriated the place as our headquarters. I crept around to the windows and looked in. A man and a woman were conducting their normal lives, though it seemed to be a silent, cold war kind of relationship. They walked past each other in the kitchen, brushing each other rudely out of each other's ways, but not saying anything to each other. They were eating lunch, but one person would get the jar of pickles out of the fridge, take one out, then put it back. The other person then would get the same jar out.

Whatever rabbit hole I had fallen down and where ever John was, it wasn't here. I had to go back to the amusement park and look for him.

I retraced my steps back to the amusement park, walking past the boardwalk and beach again. That was where I saw John. But he wasn't my John. Perhaps what I saw was some ghost of a moment trapped in time. This John was a young man, with a young family near him. I approached him from the side, heart pounding.

His face was unwrinkled, his hair still solid brown. Dressed casually for a beach vacation in jeans and a t-shirt, he sat looking out over the ocean on a bench next to an equally casually dressed blond. Just out of ear shot away, a little boy played in the sand. Whatever they really where, when ever they really existed, it seemed like summer to them. The boy was in swimming trunks. And John and Barbara were conducting a rip the other person's throat out argument in whispered tones. They both sat in straight backed misery on the bench, an arm's length from each other. I knew from the little I had been able to get out of John, that Luke had been the glue that held together a marriage that would have otherwise foundered much sooner, but if this was the way it had really been for them, it was far worse than that.

"Jesus Christ, Barb," young John whispered. I had never heard venom like that in his voice before. Anger, certainly, but this was poison. "Quit being such a bitch about it. I said I was sorry about it only about a dozen times already."

"That's it. You say you're sorry, but you're not sorry in the slightest. You always apologize but you just keep on doing whatever the hell you want without thinking even one solitary minute about me and the fact that it's going to be me who is going to be putting up with his nightmares while you're out working."

At that point, the ghost of their little boy looked up from the bucket he'd been packing with sand and back at his parents. They'd been watching him closely and while the tight, angry expression on Barbara's face didn't change much, John, for a moment, was another man. A sudden, genuine smile lit up his face. He called out, "That sandcastle's looking good there, little man."

Luke went back to his digging and packing.

"I resent that," Barbara hissed. "The fact that because you're gone so much of the time, when you come waltzing in, you're just such a wonderful daddy and I'm the big, bad monster who has to set rules and enforce them."

"Give it a rest already. We're on vacation. Can't you quit bitching for once and try and be happy? Maybe you might remember I'm not the total bastard you seem to think I am," he whispered back at her. Then he stood, and without looking back at her, he walked over and sat next to Luke on the sand.

I turned away. This was not John. This was some resonance of memory, no more real than the picture playing on a television screen. I walked down the beach in the direction of the amusement park. The gray waves crashed on the shore in such regular rhythm that it was almost hypnotic. I didn't hear at first, the little steps behind me, running to catch up. "Mister!" a small voice shouted and I turned around. It was Luke, not at the slightly younger age that I'd seen him on the beach, but just as he looked in the photos in his case file.

"Luke?" I asked.

"Take me away from here," he pleaded. "He's angry. He's so mad. And it's cold."

"Who? Your dad?"

Luke shook his head. "Him. The caretaker."

From the not far away amusement park, I heard the skirl of calliope music. I looked for a brief moment, but when I turned back, Luke was gone, as if he'd never been. There was one set of footprints in the sand- mine. Not sure what else to do, I turned towards the amusement park, determined to find this caretaker. Alex Krycek was walking by my side suddenly.

"No one ever told you why they closed this park down, did they?" he asked.

"No," I said, shaking my head. It hadn't seemed a big mystery. The park must have been decrepit, the rides out of date, when when John had taken his young family there. The owners probably had just decided to stop struggling against a losing proposition eventually and called it quits.

"Bodies. They found twenty bodies under the carousel, Mulder. It would have been more. The owner of the park made the mistake of going hunting on his own property. They caught him standing over the body of a little girl in the funhouse, butchering her before he was planning to bury her with the rest."

The little girl I'd seen earlier. I only hoped she died quickly before this monster had started in on the business of butchering her. I felt ill, but there was nothing left in my stomach to churn. I could understand then, why she was left to haunt this place, but why the spirit of my lover's son? Why the three of them as a young family? Why the angry couple in the house? I was determined now, to see my way through this nightmare and free all of them from this monster.

"Go back to Mexico, Mulder. All you have to do is walk back through the fun house and out its door," Krycek said. I hated him at that moment, to the fullest extent it was possible to hate someone that was no more substantial than the next breath of air. Instead of arguing with him, I only walked faster to the park.

The carousel was slowly turning when I got there, the animals dipping up and down on their poles, forever locked in a circuit, unable to progress, but doomed forever to go around in the same twenty foot diameter circle. This ride, I decided, was key somehow to the power of the place, somehow creating a pattern that also pulled other things into its power- souls, places nearby. The carousel was spinning slowly enough that I could walk up to it and hop right on.

Close up, I took a look for the first time at the patterns created on the floor of the thing in red and white paint. It was not simple stripes as my initial impression had been, or perhaps in the reality of the thing, rather than this its higher, dreamworld expression, it was stripes. Here though, the pattern was intricate, forming some mandala or almost like a voodoo veve, meant for some black and horrifying magic. I rode the carousel, not claiming one of the horses, but taking one of the few bench seats when I realized how exhausted I was. Time, in this place, was distorted. It felt like I might have been here years, at least days. My watch said exactly the same time that it had been when I first left the funhouse door. Where was John? Was he trapped in some private hell like this? And how was I going to get out of here, find him and get out? As well as rescue the souls trapped here. It was inexcuseable that I should have let myself be lulled by the motions of the wheel. I fell asleep, or something like it, and woke to find myself held by the throat.

I opened my eyes. It never fails to surprise me how dull and ordinary most serial killers are, with few exceptions. This man was no exception. This, or something like it, most often is the face of evil- an ordinary man in a ripped plaid shirt, with glazed, watery eyes, and ordinary human anger distorting his expression.

And then, as I struggled under him, not willing to give up, and the past several years having learned survival strategies that would make my namesake the fox proud, he changed.

Not in the sense that the morphs did. His features didn't flow and resolidify. His physical form remained as it was. But suddenly, I was looking at a different entity wearing the same body. No longer was the expression dull malice, but pure, lively malevolence. Some dangerous power far greater than a mere killer was at work here, using this man and this place as its vessel. My heart, as if it hadn't been beating fast enough before, now did a triple time rhythm in my chest and I was starting to feel lightheaded from lack of oxygen. I fought, landing blows wherever I could. And all the time, the carousel continued to spin.

My blows seemed to have little effect on him, no more than they would on a tree, but finally I managed to twist in such a way that I slipped out of his grip. Now free, I darted away, running for the edge of the carousel.

Then I heard him calling me, snickering almost, "Run away, little Fox. You've no place here. You're no part of my pattern."

I stopped and turned, because of the mockery in his voice. He seemed to mean what he said. He would let me go. I could cut and run. Like Krycek said. Out through the fun house, out into the wide world again.

But that would mean leaving John. And I could no more leave him here than I could leave my arm.

"I will stop you," I threatened, certain I could not back this threat up. "You will let them go. My lover. His son. The other children."

"Let my toys go?" the caretaker said. "Never. But you know about that, don't you, little Fox? Know about keeping them bound to you."

The calliope music grew louder and the carousel started to spin faster. Fearful, I leaped off, rolling to a hard stop on the cracked and rough concrete just before I hit the short fence that encompassed the carousel. I looked up. On each horse, each fantastic animal was seated a child, their face drawn up into a rictus that might be laughter, but seemed far more equal portions of fear and pain. I counted again. Only one seat on the ride was empty. All around me, I could hear laughter, only distorted on the wind, drawn out that it might seem like screaming. I looked behind me, and the park was filled. All of the rides were going full speed, people walked from here to there. The park could not have been more fully packed in high summer. Only their faces, like the children's on the ride, was the same rictus of terror or joy.

I leaped to my feet and noticed that the man I'd thought of as the caretaker was now sitting in the operator's booth of the carousel. "They're all here," he said to me. "All of them that have ever been here. Mine."

Given the decimation and destruction that the invaders had wrecked on the East Coast, it was not impossible that every person who had once visited here was now dead. Could this creature have drawn their souls here somehow? Hell as a kind of third-rate amusement park? There was, that I knew of, only one person, still living, who had been to this park- John. One seat left on the carousel, one open seat on a ride. And I'd brought him here to take his place.

The caretaker was gone from his place in the control booth. I hopped over the short fence and started casting around looking for him. As I looked for him, my eyes came to rest on John. Not my John, but again, the younger John. As before, there was an insubstantiality to him, as if he were not fully in this place, or I was not. He was sitting on a bench, next to his Barbara, watching the carousel, waving and smiling as Luke spun past. The rest of the time, the argument from before continued, or perhaps this was earlier in the altercation.

"If it were up to you, this is only thing he'd ride, isn't it?" he said, voice held to speaking tones, but the accusation and anger was clear.

"He's six!" Barbara hissed back.

"Right. He's six. I think maybe he could handle the itty bitty roller coaster they have here. But no. Here we go again, watching the damn merry-go-round."

"You are not the man I married. I don't think I even know who you are any more, if I ever did. And I think I just might hate this person you are," she said, then looked up as Luke spun around again. This time it was she who kept up the facade, with a happy smile.

As for John, her words had scored a direct hit right in the gut, it seemed, and he sat there, stony-faced, hiding whatever emotion he was feeling. I could see him begin to wind up for a retort, something that would escalate the argument even further. As fascinating as it was to watch my lover's crumbling marriage, I had to move on. I caught sight of someone going into a metal maintainance building. I followed.

The building's paint had just barely kept the rust at bay on the outside. On the inside, it was given free reign. Every bare metal surface was covered with flaky brown that my mind couldn't entirely convince my body wasn't dried, caked blood.

I turned as I heard a click of something shutting. I ran to the door I'd just heard close and tried the handle. It turned easily and the door opened. It led to stairs. I all but flew down the concrete steps. At the bottom was another door. I opened it and looked into a long corridor. I must have gone down into some kind of service tunnel that linked the rides and buildings of the park.

I checked door after door. Most of the rooms were empty of all but storage units or cobwebs. Some were obviously functional rooms, containing pipes, boilers, or intricate looking electrical circuit boxes. One room I looked into was empty by the time I opened the door and shined my flashlight in, but I heard thousands of tiny carapaces skittering away and at the leading edge of my lightbeam, I saw roaches, dozens of them. On the wall where they'd been clustered was written, in fresh, red blood, "Bound to me forever."

I turned away from it, willing myself not to let fear stop me. I continued down the hall, looking in room after room. The last room at the end of the corridor turned out to exit onto another corridor with more rooms to check.

I caught sight of some movement at the far end of this hall and I ran towards it. Running at my top speed, it still felt like moving through molasses or some other viscous fluid. I made no progress down the corridor seemingly, but I kept moving, kept willing myself forward, one thing and one thing only running through my mind that was long past panic- this creature, whatever it was, had John, and it intended to kill him, perhaps he already had. My environment was the creation of this creature and utterly at his will. I might well be trapped in this like one of the roaches I had seen, mummified in a spiderweb.

Was what John and I had love? I'm not certain. I do know it was as necessary to me as my breathing. Perhaps it was just two people clinging desperately to the only thing familiar and friendly in a life that had changed beyond recognition in a few short years. Foxhole buddies, John had called it the first few times we'd made love, but even he couldn't deny that it was far more than that. We had called it love, but not often.

If there is the power of evil in this Universe, then surely there is some corresponding power of good. All I know is that some entity, some power allowed me to stuggle my way to the end of the corridor. I know that it was not some game of the caretaker, because I could almost feel the force of his will, fighting against my progress.

It was an exhausting journey that seemed to take longer than our multi-day trip across the continent had but at last I reached the door. It would not budge, as if the knob were mere illusion, my hand not even able to make a firm grip on it. I looked up at my struggle and Alex was by my side. He didn't volunteer anything, no words, only the patient, tranquil expression of one resigned to what should be an untenable situation. I thought back suddenly to the words of the caretaker on the carousel.

"Have I kept you bound to me, Alex?" I asked. I had once loved this man, then hated him with a viciousness that could have been born only out of betrayal of such a strong love. When he'd joined the dead, I'd told myself that Alex had paid enough for his treachery, that accounts were even. I wondered, had the part of me of that reason has no control over decided that Alex had not paid enough, that he deserved to continue to suffer in what must be some kind of hell on earth for him. Was some part of me demanding its pound of flesh still?

Alex didn't answer me and so I continued, "Because if I have, I don't want to. I love you, Alex. I don't want to do this to you. I don't want to keep you from whatever peace you deserve. You owe me nothing. I owe you. My life has changed. As much as I want to keep you bound to me, I can't."

With that, Alex nodded. He took my hand and guided it to the door knob. Together we turned, and slowly, with great effort, it opened. This dreamscape was not entirely, apparently, under the control of the caretaker.

I shouldered the door open to reveal a big, empty room. On the bare concrete floor had been drawn a pattern. I recognized it as the pattern from the floor of the carousel above, the veve. It had been created from what might be just white paint, but it glowed brightly in the dull light, too brightly to be mere paint. Along the pattern, at points I recognized as corresponding to certain carousel animals, were painted a microcosm of the larger pattern. And at each point, stood a person, mostly children, young girls, primarily, but scattered with boys, older men and women who looked wild and lost, as if they'd been derelicts once. They all had the insubstantiality of the souls trapped in this place. On the twenty-first of these points was the caretaker, bent over John who was unconscious and bleeding from a head wound.

Not thinking, just acting, I charged the caretaker. Surprise, fury, they sustained me, they allowed me to take the caretaker without even noticing that he carried a long knife, the blade at least ten inches long. I was lucky and my first blow knocked it out of his hand. It skittered just out of his reach. I grabbed his head, found a handful of what remained of his thinning, sandy hair and I bashed it against the concrete with every ounce of strength I had or could borrow from somewhere. I don't know if that killed him, but I did it again and again, until I heard a satisfying crack, and blood was everywhere. The movies had never done murder justice. Humans are full of blood, quarts and quarts of it. When we die, it is messily, not with neat little trickles out of neat little holes. Not wanting to trust that he was dead, even though he was still, I looked around for something to bind him with and found it on John. It took me longer to untie the ropes that bound him than it would have to just cut them, but I wanted those ropes. Still, I ended up having to cut one of the knots. I took up the caretaker's knife, the ten inch length of steel, the only thing in this dreamscape not corrupted by time in some way, without a single pit from rust or speck of dust even. As I cut through the knot, voices skittered through my head, loud and demanding. "Kill him, and it will be perfect. It will be complete. He will be with you forever. He's dying now, but this way, he'll be with you forever."

"No!" I said aloud. "If he dies, I'll let him go."

They call the devil the father of lies, and his lesser demons, like whatever power was infecting this place, were no different. John's heartbeat was strong and steady. He had lost blood, but he was not dying, not by a long stretch. I set the knife aside as I took the last rope and bound the caretaker with it.

Then, only then did I turn to John. He was beginning to stir and I helped him sit up. I used one of my gloves as a pressure bandage. It was probably dirty, but if we didn't get the bleeding from his scalp stopped, that would be the least of his problems. I had a first aid kit in our supplies back at the house we'd picked for camp. Once back, I could fix him up properly.

He came to rapidly, blinking his eyes and taking over pressing the impromptu bandage to his scalp. Meanwhile, impossibly, the caretaker had begun to thrash around in his bonds and I could only hope they held.

"We gotta get out of here," John said, trying to get to his feet. I wasn't about to stop him. I needed him mobile.

"No," I said. "The pattern. We have to break the pattern."

Up close, I could see that it had not been painted on, but was some kind of very fine power that clung to the floor, acting something like a liquid, something like a powder and something like neither. But it could be brushed away with some effort. I pushed my hand through the node that we were kneeling on and it smeared, spreading the glowing white around, mixing it with blood from John's wound. He got the idea and thankfully took my lead. Together we crawled around the twenty foot circle and obliterated the pattern. One by one, the souls trapped in it faded away. We were releasing them to whatever final destination they would have been destined for, had they not been trapped here. As we worked, I could almost sense the other souls trapped here begin to leave. The room took on reality and solidity. And slowly, the caretaker's body stopped thrashing around in his bonds. Eventually, he stopped all together. He was dead, or I hoped he was.

Finally, the last of the pattern had been turned to a cloud of white on the concrete and the glow faded away. It was no longer white, just dust, gray and brown. The last soul was gone. I helped John to his feet and we surveyed our work.

"What the hell just happened here?" he asked, looking over the room, now empty of everything but the caretaker.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I said.

"Well, hell, turned out you were right about the little gray men," he said. "Try me."

"Some kind of black magic," I said. "An attempt to bind to this place every soul who'd ever been here, using the anger and hatred created by murder. I'm not entirely sure myself."

I grabbed the knife, now like everything else in this place, rusted and corrupted. It was hardly recognizable as a blade. As I touched it, the steel crumbled to dust, leaving only the plastic from the hand guards to slip from my hands and clatter on the floor.

"Let's go," I said, and I led John out of that place. I found the stairs again. We had to break out of a locked building. I'd have sworn that they were the same stairs I'd descended, but the building we broke out of let us out into the dim daylight near the ferris wheel.

As we walked around the park for one last time, I told him what happened, including, gently, the times I'd seen his younger self and his young family.

"I think it was some kind of nexus," I told him. "Just a lure to get you back to the park, to complete the set, so to speak. If Luke was ever truly here, he's gone."

Back at the house we were camped in, it was empty again, the lawn now would be forest again. I patched him up using our first aid kit. He winced at the sting of the disinfectant, but stoically bit his tongue when I accidentally hit some sensitive part too hard.

"We should go back to Mexico immediately," I said. I checked my watch. Only two hours since we'd set out for the amusement park that morning. "There's plently of daylight left. We should get going soon as we're done here."

"No," John said. "There's one more thing I'd like to see."

And so, we went back to the boardwalk. The beach was empty, the only footprints our own, the only other markings from wind and tide. We looked out over the ocean, endless seeming and I felt more alone than I had ever been before in a life almost defined by loneliness.

"This is where you saw us. Them," John asked. He narrowed his eyes and looked around again. The day was getting brighter. The sky would be centuries, possibly, before it would be scrubbed clean enough to be a true, bright blue, but the clouds had parted, and we had something like a clear day.

"Right here," I said.

"I remember that day," he said softly. "That was a rough year. I was so young. I didn't know it was possible to still love someone so much and yet want to pull their heart right out through their chest. And I was doing my best to put on a good show of still loving her for Luke's sake, you know. He deserved a happy family. But I think he knew anyway. I wish I could say goodbye to him again, but..."

He was silent for a long time, until I had to prompt him. "But what?"

"But I don't want it enough to keep him with me. And not so much to give up what I've got now. He's gone. C'mon, let's go home, Fox," he said. He turned away from the ocean, hesitated a moment, then grabbed my hand. Together, we walked away from this place.


Special thanks to the very kind Marcia Elena who sent me not just one, but three song lyrics. I'm using lines from all three.

If you play video games, you might recognize the title and even the basic premise. I don't play, but one night as I thinking about this story, I was shelving cheat books for video games in the bookstore I work at. One caught my eye. Silent Hill was the name of the game. The graphics were interesting and something resonated in the title, so I opened the book. The game starts with a grieving husband getting a note from his supposedly long dead wife, asking him to come back to Silent Hill, where they'd had many good times while she was alive. Suddenly, I had my story...

As for the whole amusement park thing, I don't know where that came from, except I think that amusement parks, even the big ones like Disneyworld, are kind of creepy.

Building A Mystery - Sarah McLachlan

You come out at night
That's when the energy comes
And the dark side's light
And the vampires roam
You strut your rasta wear
And your suicide poem
And a cross from a faith
That died before Jesus came
You're building a mystery

You live in a church
Where you sleep with voodoo dolls
Aand you won't give up the search
For the ghosts in the halls
You wear sandals in the snow
And a smile that won't wash away
Can you look out the window
Without your shadow getting in the way
Oh you're so beautiful
With an edge and a charm
But so careful
When I'm in your arms

'Cause you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully

You woke up screaming aloud
A prayer from your secret god
You feed off our fears
And hold back your tears

Give us a tantrum
And a know it all grin
Just when we need one
When the evening's thin

"Oh you're a beautiful
A beautiful fucked up man"
You're setting up your
Razor wire shrine

'Cause you're working
Building a mystery
Holding on and holding it in
Yeah you're working
Building a mystery
And choosing so carefully


Scene of a Perfect Crime - Concrete Blonde

My eyes are jaded and complicated,
tired of the liars and the masqueraded
Who steals our innocence away,
like a thief in the night?
Who took away our faith in what we know to be right? That was another world, then
that was another time
You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime.

Whatever became of the child I was
I never want to lose her no
I won't give her up
and now my heart is harder,
my skin is getting tougher and tougher
That was another world then
That was another time
You can never go back to the place where love is blind You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime

Whatever became of our sweet blind love "As long as we could be together it was more than enough" Now we're all grown up and we need so much I never knew that the price would go up as such That was another world then, then
That was another time

Well you can never go back to the place where love is blind. Well you can never go back to the place where love is blind. Well you can never go back to the place where love is blind. You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime.

(From Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Musical - Spike's Song)

I died
So many years ago
And you can make me feel
Like it isn't so
But why you come to be with me
I think I finally know

You're scared
Ashamed of what you feel
And you can't tell the ones you love
You know they couldn't deal
But whisper in a dead man's ear
That doesn't make it real

That's great
But I don't wanna play
'Cause being with you touches me
More than I can say
"And since I'm only dead to you
I'm saying stay away
And let me rest in peace"

Let me rest in peace
Let me get some sleep
Let me take my love and bury it
In a hole six foot deep
I can lay my body down
But I can't find my sweet release
So let me rest in peace

You know
You've got a willing slave
And you just love to play the thought
That you might misbehave
But til you do I'm telling you
Stop visiting my grave
And let me rest in peace

I know I should go
But I follow you like a man possessed
There's a traitor here beneath my breast And it hurts me more than you've ever guessed If my heart could beat it would break my chest But I can see you're unimpressed
So leave me be and let me rest in peace

Let me get some sleep
Let me take my love and bury it
In a hole six foot deep
I can lay my body down
But I can't find my sweet release
So let me rest in peace
Why won't you
Let me rest in peace

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