"I'll pick you up in New York." Arikado assured him over the phone. "Just take the train, transfer over at the Toluca Lake station, and I'll get you from there."
Soma groaned. "Can't you just send some mystic carriage manned by headless horses and warp speed me to New York?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I just ordered the train tickets in your name, your first one leaves at nine tomorrow morning."
"Aw fuck. You're making me get up at seven in the fucking morning to get on a train to some nowhere podunk town in Virginia that probably doesn't even have a Starbucks to get on another train and go to New York just so you can stare at my soul and never give me any straight answers?"
"You'll only be at the Toluca Lake station for a half hour, but supposedly, according to my search, there's a Starbucks there."
"Fine, fine, whatever. You have a bonding moment with Count Dracula or whatever. I'll see you tomorrow night. You owe me a damned good burger when I get to New York." He hung up.
Toluca Lake really was the middle of podunk nowhere. Soma curled up in his train seat and watched the weird backwoods part of Virginia fly by, roadside signs that advertised weird tourist stops, a house on a rock somewhere far away from here, a supposedly haunted corn maze. Some knockoff Disneyland inspired by The Wizard of Oz.
"Visit Silent Hill." A sign said. "Make New Memories."
Well that was weirdly ominous. He rolled his eyes. He had to stop in Silent Hill, just for a half hour. Get his Starbucks and get back on the train. He was pretty sure he wouldn't make any new memories in the place.
It was weirdly empty. There was one person manning the Starbucks, and she wandered into the back before he could order, didn't come back out.
The train didn't arrive. There was no one at the station. And fuck, it was cold and that girl still hadn't come out of the back room and the Starbucks was dark. Everything was dark. Even the panel that was supposed to announce the times of the trains had gone dark. Soma swore under his breath. Tried to call Arikado.
Of course the vaguely menacing probably not human tall shit wasn't answering. It probably didn't help that Silent-Fucking-Hill was the barren land of haunted corn mazes, no mobile reception, and definitely no Starbucks. He couldn't even find his damned luggage.
At least there wasn't a castle.
Something smelled like fire and his blood ran cold and a name came into his head unbidden. A name he had dreamed about before, never dared to ask about. Adrian. Where's Adrian?
"Fuck you." He growled, to the piece of him that wasn't him. "You stay out of this. We're just going to wait for the train."
It smelled like fire.
Oh hey look at that. I brought this thing back from the dead. aftepes.tumblr.com
There was a little boy sitting on a bench waiting for a train. Soma sat next to him, to at least have someone real as the fog rolled in. Fuck, it was like eleven in the morning why was it all fogged over like that time he had been in San Francisco helping Yoko fight some witches who wanted to raise Dracula's Castle in Golden Gate Park? The little boy was kicking his legs, he was too short for the bench, his wild white blond hair reminded Soma of someone he had never known.
"How long have you been here?" The little boy asked, his accent was foreign, his face was too pale, his clothes were all wrong, like something out of an old painting.
Soma felt fear building in the pit of his stomach.
The fog was thicker.
"Um, about twenty minutes?" He shrugged. He didn't know how long he had been there, time seemed to stand still at this train station, watching this little boy kick his legs. "Are you waiting for the train?"
"I don't know."
"Well how can you not know what you're doing here?" Soma smiled, for the little boy. He couldn't have been older than five, he was so small.
"I don't know. I'm just sitting here." Like that was the most obvious answer in the world.
"Where are your parents?" Soma's brow furrowed. He couldn't just leave this strange child by himself in the fog that was thick enough to cut, thick enough that he could barely see the train tracks in front of them.
"Mama's dead. They burned her."
Soma went cold. A rage built in him that wasn't his, that he didn't want to think about, that made him sick and made his breath shake and he could barely control it. "Is there anyone else?"
"I don't know."
"How can you not know?" Soma leaned closer, touched the boy's shoulder. He was so, so cold.
He shrugged, under Soma's hand.
No, Adrian no, no, you have a father. You have a father and he is here for you and he will protect you and he will get you out of this cold, dead place.
"Shut up." Soma hissed under his breath. No, the other him, the thing that wasn't him the place where all these thoughts came from, he couldn't take away this poor boy. The kid didn't deserve all this.
"I'm Soma." He offered a smile for the tiny thing.
No no no no no this wasn't right.
Something howled in the fog. Howled like something dying, something suffering, something visceral and real. Howled wet and guttural, and Soma held tight to the boy, let the cold child bury against him. He could hear it, all but feel it, dragging closer, heavy and hot and burning like fire in the fog.
He didn't want to see it, he didn't want to know what it was, an instinctive, gut deep fear and he had to get the child a way, had to get them out of this place. It wasn't right.
This wasn't like the castle, no, this wasn't hateful. It was wrong, wrong in a twisted sort of way that Soma didn't know how to fight.
"Come with me, Adrian. We need to get out of here." Soma bit out, and saying his name was harder than anything, because it wasn't him.
Maybe the espresso machines at the empty Starbucks still worked. God or whatever knew Soma could use a coffee.
The espresso machine still worked, and the coffee in the carafe behind the register still worked. Adrian sat behind the counter, kicking his little boots against the dusty floor, watching Soma, his eyes were wide and almost golden. So familiar.
"Do you, um, like coffee?"
"Can that thing that was in the fog find us here?"
Soma flinched. "I hope not."
"I think it hates me." Adrian mumbled, he reached his hands out for a coffee cup.
Soma found cream, sugar, everything worked like the place was still open. Like at any moment people would walk in, order their lattes, their morning coffee and pastries, and be on their way. Like there was a normal world out there.
Adrian sipped on the warm coffee, and he smiled. "Are you trying to find your way home?"
"Yeah. I am."
"I don't know where my home is. It moves sometimes, when Mama and I are in danger."
Soma pocketed a couple of cookies out of the pastry case, held his hand out to Adrian. "We should try and find a way home then, shouldn't we?"
Adrian took his hand, and Soma wasn't Soma, for long moments. He was the other thing, the other him, walking with his child, and he would keep him safe, and he would keep him warm, and he would keep his smile as bright as the sun he couldn't remember and he would keep this child so close, so close, never let him go again.
The employee's only sign on the swinging door was rusted over like it had been decades since anyone had been in this Starbucks, and Soma clutched the coffee he had made for himself all the closer, held Adrian's hand tight.
"Do we have to go in?"
"It's either that or wait for the fog." Soma tried to be reassuring. He was the adult here. He had to protect this kid. No matter who, or more importantly, what, he was.
Adrian nodded, his little face set in an imitation of bravery.
But the hallway the door opened to was cold, freezing cold, rusted over and was that blood or something else and what should have been a normal passage for employees at the train station was twisted up like Soma's gut. It was dark. So dark.
He quickly took one last, long drink of his coffee, managed to get his cell phone out, turn on the flashlight app. Better, but only by some.
Adrian tightened his grip on Soma's hand. "I don't want to go."
"Me neither, kiddo. But sometimes we do things we don't want to get to the good stuff, right?"
He nodded, small, and took his first weak steps with all the bravery a small child could muster.
The hallway was too long. Like the long, twisted, impossible hallways of the castle, a rusted dark corridor, the clanging of metal he couldn't find the source of the only sound, little puffs of smoke when he breathed. Adrian's breath didn't smoke. His hand was cold. Soma didn't ask, but he thought he might know. He didn't want to know.
His breath was so weak, Lisa had to put her hand on his tiny, pale chest to make sure the baby was alive at all, and it broke his heart that she worried so for their child. He was too cold, his breath too small, he slept and he didn't move, and he barely cried. He didn't know how long the infant would last in this world, he shouldn't have made it as long as he had. After all, a child of their union shouldn't be.
A woman's scream broke the memory Soma didn't have.
"Mama." Adrian whispered.
They walked, and they walked and walked and walked and Adrian's shoes made a soft clicking sound on the floor, echoing through the dark hallway. His phone's flashlight only lit so far ahead of them, like the light itself was being eaten away. Adrian's hand tightened around his, and the scream reverberated through the room once more and it was louder, impossibly loud, and with it came a burst of heat in the freezing hallway. Light, too bright, but light all the same.
They were on a narrow path in an endless abyss of nothingness. Adrian froze, and his little breath broke on a sob.
"Mama! It's Mama we have to go get her!" He pulled at Soma's hand, yanking him down the hallway toward an exit Soma wasn't sure existed. And when Soma didn't move he let go, sprinted into the nothingness.
"Wait, Adrian! Adrian!" His voice wasn't his anymore, and Soma swore internally. What the fuck was this place anyway?
So he ran. And he ran and he ran and he searched inside for souls that wouldn't come to him. The only one that would was the last one he wanted, that demon, that thing that he could never be. It was pushing at the edges of his consciousness, kept Soma running far longer than his legs wanted to hold him, past what his breath should have been able to hold. Kept him running because that was Adrian, that was his Adrian, he couldn't be out there in the darkness by himself he was too small, too weak.
But for once Soma agreed with the thing in his head, the other soul. He didn't want to leave a child alone with those screams. Another one pierced the air, and Soma ran ever faster, until there was a door. Another door. A fucking rusty door in the middle of black nothingness at the end of a hallway that had gone on entirely too long.
But what choice did he have?
Slowly, Soma pushed the door open, peeking his phone flashlight into the room.
No, not a room. Her room. A small, one room cottage, a fire in the hearth, herbs drying in front of it. A small bed, a pot in the fire boiling tea, a table where a meal was being prepared. Like she had just stepped out, to get vegetables from the garden, or to indulge one of Adrian's curiosities, showing him what kind of bird had landed in the window. The place felt alive, warm, welcoming.
Soma grabbed an axe left by the door, a heavy thing, presumably meant to cut firewood or slaughter chickens for food. Not a battle axe, it was heavy, utilitarian. But it would do. Soma didn't trust the calm.
The shadows grew, the flames rising impossibly tall, wrapping around the room, the shadows covered everything and there was a woman burning on a witch's pyre. A child lying in the ashes. The shadows grew.
Soma was falling and he heard the other thing inside him scream in agony.
Arms were reaching out the fire, blackened, burned things, a woman's wailing scream and he was in the room, her room, but he wasn't, he was in the shadows, in the fire, and the arms were reaching for him and he swung the axe in wild arcs. All he knew was that he had to get out. Grab the kid, his son my son I must save him, and get out. Run out of this fucking town if he had to.
Make new memories, the sign had said. He'd do his best to forget this place.
Burned hands reached out for him once more and in their palms were fangs, screaming, that woman's agonized wail, but there was hate in the flames, shooting out over him, the burn was impossible. But Soma kept swinging, every time he cut off one arm another appeared in it's place. And another and another and another until they were grasping, grabbing, biting into him and Soma could only swing his borrowed axe, and a voice that wasn't his emerged from his throat.
"Give her back! You cannot take her image like this!"
And then Soma wasn't Soma anymore. He was watching, from inside his body, as the thing that wasn't him beat back the flames, tearing arms and throwing them, cursing in a language that had died eons ago, cursing the flames and the shadows and demanding they give her back.
Give her back.
Give her back!
Give! Her! Back!
Once upon a time, there was a garden. It was the only place he could see the sun. Lisa loved the spring, and so in that garden it was always springtime, and she would keep the garden beautiful, the flowers always bloomed, she kept herbs and vegetables and she taught her son what could be used to heal common ailments, what could be grown to cure. He would step out into the garden to be among his family. He taught Lisa to dance in that garden, she had never had to learn before, and so he took her into his arms and he hummed tunes so she could keep the beat with her steps. Adrian took his first steps in that garden.
It had gone to frost when she passed.
It had died with the castle.
Soma woke in the garden, and he wasn't himself, but he was. He could feel the warm sun, hear the honeybees that buzzed in the flowers. Adrian sat next to him, his golden hair lit by the sun.
"Mama died, didn't she?"
It nodded with Soma's body, gathered the boy into his arms and held him.
"I want to go home." Adrian cried, in the smallest voice, holding so tight to him. "I want Papa back."
"I'm right here, Adrian." He soothed, but Soma knew what the boy saw wasn't his father.
"I know. But I'm not."
"You're right here." Soma, no, it wasn't Soma, reassured him. "Right here, my Adrian, I'm not letting you go again."
"No, I'm not." He murmured. "I'm at home and you're not you."
"I know it doesn't look like me, but it is. I promise. I'm back and I'm not leaving you again." He stroked his hands over Adrian's arms, clutched his little hands so tight. Soma's voice quieted, a whisper, even as he screamed in the back of his mind.
"You're not you." Adrian insisted, squirming away from him. "Not here and not at home."
"Adrian just calm down, it's okay, it's going to be okay, we're going home now." He promised, and it was all he wanted. A second chance, his beloved son, this town had given him all he could want. He clung to the boy, even as the fight went out of his little hands, he sobbed helplessly.
"No." The child whimpered, "No you're not you and I'm at home like it was just like it was and mama is there and they never ever burned her and papa didn't turn into a monster I'm at home this isn't real I'm not real." Tears streaked down his pale face, he tugged away, one more time, helplessly.
He didn't let him go. Couldn't. This was his chance to have his love returned, his family back. He gathered the boy into his arms, picked him up as he stood. The child didn't resist, limp in his arms, crying quietly. Soma, somewhere far back in his mind, railed against it, he didn't want to go back to the castle. Didn't want to steal away this child. But Soma wasn't there anymore. Soma didn't matter. He was so far away, pushed so far down it would take a miracle to bring him back.
Silent Hill didn't deal in miracles for the innocent.
His castle loomed in the distance, rising from the lands behind the church, a growing, living thing that stretched and warped and overtook the skyline of the town. Silent Hill was made for him. It worked away at the soul, took the guilt and built it as real and visceral as the boy in his arms, cried himself to sleep. He walked through the remains of a pyre, the ashen bones of a witch burning in the center of town, and he walked to his castle. The pyre would remain, as he willed it, a tribute to his anger, his rage, the things taken from him.
Perhaps Silent Hill would give it back.
If he gave to the town, it would give to him.
They'd come looking for this vessel, for Soma screaming for his fate in the back of his mind. They'd come looking for him and they would come here, and he could give back to the town that gave to him. Whatever Silent Hill wanted, blood, souls, power, he would give. After all, it had given him power, power to take this body, and the most important thing of all.
Tiny Adrian, sleeping in his arms, his once more. It wasn't a perfect recreation, merely something built of his memories, but it would do. At least, until Soma's absence brought the real thing to him. And so Silent Hill would be his home, and he would grow the castle around the funeral pyre, and he would find it's Gods and it's power and he would remind humans why they feared the dark.
Visit Silent Hill, the signs called from the highways and train tracks. Make new memories.