Pairing: Howard Moon/Vince Noir
Warning: Violence - Heavy
Length: 10-20k words
Notes: You don’t need to have played the games or seen the film to understand this – no unusual characters are mentioned. Except monsters.
Silent Hill vs The Mighty Boosh by Maestro
It’s around the third rendition of Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’ that Howard loses it slightly. “We are not on holiday!” he snaps, swerving unintentionally and stunning Vince and Naboo into silence.
“Sure we are!” Fossil counters, giving him a hard slap on the back of the head from the seat behind. “We’re back in my birthplace, home of the brave and land of the free! You wait, there’ll be a fuckin’ parade the day Robert Aloysius Fossil rolls back into town, hoh yeah.”
“You were born in Silent Hill, Mr Fossil?” Vince asks, arm slung around his headrest and knees perilously close to the gearstick. Every time Howard shifts into third his hand brushes against Vince’s legs, and it’s getting to the point where he’s seriously considering driving the whole way in first gear to avoid the risk of a heart attack.
“No Vince, I was not, but I was born in the town of the USA. Anywhere I go in my home country I get a reception, you better know it.”
“What does that even mean?” Howard wonders to himself, and gets another smack in the head for his trouble.
“Just drive, monkey boy. Seen but not motherfucking heard, you catch my ballpark?”
“Mr Fossil, if you keep hitting me I’ll drive off the road.” Howard wipes at the windscreen with his sleeve. “And someone take Naboo’s hookah away, I can’t see for the smoke.”
“I have put it away,” Naboo says quietly.
“Hey, is that fog?” Vince peers out of his window eagerly, taking his hat off so he can press his forehead against the glass.
“That’s… that’s weird. It was clear a minute ago.” Howard slows down as something surfaces through the fog to his left: a signpost.
Welcome to Silent Hill.
There’s a long, twisting ride down through the fog, during which no one says a word, all too intent on peering out of the windows and trying to see the town they’ll be spending the next week and a half in. Chain-link fences, an occasional tree, but nothing else visible through the thick rolling mist.
Buildings start to appear as they drive into the outskirts of town, but they’re abandoned and falling apart. Everything they can see is boarded up; thick, sun-bleached planks of wood with nails dotted about here and there, long brown streaks of rust.
Howard pulls up at a red traffic light, but there are no other cars on the road. Some are parked haphazardly, like they were deserted in a hurry, half on the pavement, half on the tarmac, but nothing moving. Nothing at all.
There’s a whirring sound as Vince winds his window down and sticks an arm out. “That’s not fog,” he says in a little voice. “That’s… ash.” He rubs his fingers together, and they leave a dark smear.
“What?” Howard sticks his head out of his window. “That’s not possible.” But it’s true. “Why isn’t it landing on the windscreen then?”
“All in favour of turning around and going home?” Vince says, and Naboo and Howard chorus a quick ‘aye’.
“No, shut up!” shouts Fossil, smacking his fist on the back of Howard’s seat. “We can’t just up and leave! Bainbridge will kill m—us! Moon, get us to the goddamn zoo, pronto. Vincey, read out the instructions he gave us. Go on, drumstick.”
Vince and Howard exchange a worried look, and Vince reaches into the glove compartment for the letter Fossil gave him at the airport “because I lose stuff all the time, here, let me put it snug in your back pocket for you, okay? Riiiiiight in there.”
“‘Fossil,’” Vince reads aloud. “‘Take that idiot Moon, his irritating girlfriend Noir, and Joey Moose or one of the other fools you’ve employed, and get on an aeroplane to a place called Silent Hill. Have arranged for a sort of exchange visit with zoo in America, go and observe techniques and bring back useful zookeeping information. Don’t fuck up. Don’t reveal what an imbecile you are. Try not to die.’”
Fossil frowns. “I thought that last part was a little screwy…”
The light changes to green, and Howard pulls away, following the sun-faded signs for the Silent Hill Municipal Zoo.
“Why did you bring Naboo instead of Joey?” Vince asks, re-folding the letter and slipping it into his jacket pocket.
“Well, I… hey, that’s a good question. Why did I bring you, Naboo?”
“Because you’re going to need me.” Naboo’s voice is quieter than ever. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this place.”
“You say that a hell of a lot.”
“Only when it’s true.”
Whatever strange red-brown smears there are all over the ground, there’s another one on the Silent Hill Zoo sign that they drive past. A thick organic smudge of something, at eye level, tracing a path down to the ground, where there’s a matching stain on the tarmac. Vince winds his window up hurriedly.
They roll slowly into the zoo’s abandoned car park. Howard parks up, puts the car in neutral but doesn’t turn the engine off, the mechanical chug-chug sound comforting in the otherworldly silence.
No one moves.
“Bainbridge said someone was gonna meet us here,” Fossil says, like a child asking for ice cream.
Everyone looks out of their windows, but there’s not another living soul as far as the eye can see. There’s an odd moaning sound in the distance, and Vince locks his door with a quiet click.
“We should go home,” Howard says firmly.
“No!” Fossil opens his door and steps out. “We came all this way, a plane ride and a bus ride and a car ride! We can’t just go home now. I’m gonna see if I can find someone in charge, they’ve gotta be around somewhere.” He slams the door shut, walking around the front of the car and striding off into the zoo.
“Someone should go with him,” Vince says to Howard.
“I’m not leaving this car.”
Naboo sighs, and opens his door. “Don’t go anywhere. I mean it,” he says with a significant look, and follows Fossil, who has disappeared behind one of the dilapidated buildings.
“Some holiday,” Vince mutters, sinking into his seat and putting his knees up on the dashboard.
“I keep saying, it’s not a holiday, it’s work.” Howard looks out of his window at the dry leaves and rubbish blowing around the empty car park. “But it is pretty shitty.”
Vince makes a clicking sound with his tongue, and taps out a rhythm on his knees, muttering to himself. “Pretty shitty, pretty shitty, the ground outside is pretty gritty, everyone is slightly pissy—”
Howard grabs his hands, his head tipped to one side. “Did you hear that?”
Vince swallows. “If you’re trying to scare me, you’re about ten minutes too late.”
There’s a deafening burst of feedback that makes both of them cover their ears, and then the familiar sound of an intercom. “Attention! Attention! Will anyone who can hear this and is alive and not a zombie, repeat, not one of those brain-chomping dead guys I saw in that film Friday night, with the hot chick, you know, oh, and they’re inside the mall? Haha, I love all that shit. And the chopper, woo man!”
Howard points up at the loudspeaker just above their car, and they roll their eyes in unison.
“Anyway, if you can hear this and you’re one of the good guys with the guns, come to the head zookeeper’s office, okay? We’re a little lost and confused.” There’s a pause, and some muttering in the background that must be Naboo. “Oh right, yeah. Moon and Noir, take a left and the second right under that arch and we’ll see you in five, okay? Don’t take the goddamn scenic route, neither, this ain’t no time for a makeout session.”
Howard switches the engine off and puts the car keys in his pocket, locking the door securely. Vince is right behind him, when there’s another burst of static from the loudspeaker.
“—ucking hell it’s got my goddamn leg Naboo help me you sonofabitch oh sweet jes—”
There is a soft clicking sound as the intercom switches off. Howard and Vince are now standing so close together that they might as well be wearing the same pair of trousers.
“Get back in the car!” Howard squeaks, fumbling with the car keys.
“W-what? But… Fossil’s in trouble!” Vince stammers, clutching at Howard’s arm.
“And Naboo! We can’t leave without them! And we’re better off staying with other people anyway, right? Safety in numbers?” Vince keeps pulling at Howard’s sleeve, making it even harder for him to open the car door.
“Are you insane? You want us to go in there?”
“I’m… I’m sure it’s just a joke. A hilarious joke.” Vince doesn’t sound convinced, but the fear in his voice is enough to spur Howard into taking action.
He puts the car keys back in his pocket, hand shaking only a little. “Alright. First left, second right, did he say?”
Howard swallows, moving his arm a fraction of an inch away from his body so Vince can hold firm to it. “Stay close to me.”
The rest of the zoo is as rundown as the entrance. Old newspapers are swept towards them by the wind, dancing around their feet, the pages devoted to murder and death and graphic photographs of crime scenes. Dead trees clatter their branches at them as the pair step cautiously along the little zoo streets. The falling ash seems even thicker now, making empty cages seem sinister, as if horrible genetic creations could be lurking at the back, in the mist, waiting to pounce.
There is another static sound, making them both jump, and they cower, waiting to hear more screams from Fossil or Naboo, or possibly the moans of a monster that has worked out how to use the intercom.
But the crackling doesn’t stop, and after a few moments Howard realises it’s coming from Vince. “Shut up!” he hisses, as Vince pats down his pockets to work out what it can be, and eventually pulls out his mobile phone.
“Is it some new fancy ringtone?” Howard whispers. “Is it Naboo? Answer it!”
But Vince’s eyes have gone wide. He clutches his phone in one hand, and with the other points a shaking finger over Howard’s shoulder.
Howard spins, hands already up to defend himself.
He sees a naked man, doubled over, standing maybe six feet away. There is something strange about his skin, a mottled grey like a dead fish, translucent. He’s hairless, not speaking or moving, just… quivering slightly. Waiting.
“Fossil?” he calls out hesitantly, and the man sways, following the sound of his voice, but doesn’t move towards them.
The crackling from Vince’s mobile has reached fever pitch, and he stuffs it under his armpit to muffle the sound slightly.
The man moans, takes a faltering step forward.
“What is it? Is it an animal?” Howard whispers to Vince.
“I dunno,” he whispers back. He cups one hand around his mouth. “Hey mate, are you an animal?”
The hideous creature moans, taking another step towards them, and stands up a little straighter. That’s when Howard sees.
It’s not a man, hunched over. It’s some kind of hideous deformed thing, a body with legs, but no head or arms, just a torso, a horrible, bulging torso. Like a man whose arms have been bound inside a straightjacket, struggling to get out. Some kind of mouth, or eye, or hole opens up at the top, and it spits at them, a long stream of liquid that catches Howard square on the arm.
“Run, Howard! Fucking run!” Vince screams.
Howard turns tail and follows his best friend back through the zoo, back towards the entrance. He feels a horrible searing pain in his left arm, and clamps his right hand over the wound only for the heat to somehow spread to there. He stops, yelping, holding his hand up to his face. The skin on his palm is bubbling, melting away from a sort of acid.
“Help, Vince, help!” he calls out, Vince already a couple of strides in front of him, and sinks to his knees, pulling at the zip on his Zooniverse jacket.
Vince hurries back, and his eyes widen when he sees the oozing mess on Howard’s upper arm. Quickly, he strips Howard of his jacket, pulling hard at the fabric already melting into his flesh.
Howard screams as a layer of skin is ripped away along with the cheap polyester, his shirt sleeve ripped from the shoulder down, already fused with the jacket.
Vince is muttering something inaudible, babbling away to himself as he stares at the burned skin on Howard’s arm. “We… there’s water. Bottle of water, in the car. Just get to the car.” He puts an arm under Howard’s, and pulls him to his feet.
Howard notices absently that the static has stopped.
“Can you make it to the car, Howard?” Vince says, close by his ear, and Howard nods sharply, hissing as Vince accidentally brushes against his wound.
They leave Howard’s jacket behind, forgotten, as they head around the corner and into the carpark, Vince’s mobile crackling into life once again.
There are a crowd of acid creatures hunkered around their car, peering in at the windows or shuffling along the white lines marking out parking places. At the sound of Vince’s mobile, they all turn and face the pair. The closest creature howls at them, a long, plaintive moan that is picked up by the others, one by one, like a deformed wolf pack.
“Run!” Vince yells, and bent double, Howard does, Vince’s hands on his back and under his arm pulling him onwards, blindly, past the car and out through the front gates into the street. There’s another mob of the monsters to their left, so Vince pulls him in the other direction, off through the fog.
They run and run and run, the bursts of static on Vince’s phone alerting them every now and then when to take a different direction through the network of streets, until they’re standing in a litter-filled alleyway, leaning against the brickwork and panting, his phone finally silent.
“What—the fuck?” Vince manages.
Howard sinks to the ground, eyes screwed up in pain. He hasn’t run like that in a long time—he always thought that getting a stitch would be more painful than an acid burn, but never really wanted to be in a position to test that theory.
Vince’s breath is warm on his bare shoulder as he sits next to him, pulling his arm into the light to examine it a little easier.
Howard holds up the palm of his other hand. It looks like burnt chicken skin, wrinkled and puffy and black. His fingers are pulled inwards like a claw, his hand spasming every time a nail makes contact with the wound. “Oh my God, oh shit…” he whimpers, half-sobbing.
“I’m fixing it, I’m fixing it,” Vince mutters under his breath, unwrapping his white scarf from around his neck. He holds it up, measures it out halfway, and bites it, tearing it into two lengths.
“What are those things?” Howard says, forcing himself to stare at the sky and not at what’s left of his hand.
“I don’t know… zombies?” Vince wraps half of the scarf around Howard’s upper arm, covering the burn from the ash slowly falling around them, and Howard bites his lip until it bleeds.
“I don’t think… ah! That zombies spit acid.” He holds out his hand, and Vince begins to wrap it up. “This hurts, Vince. This really hurts.”
Vince’s eyebrows are drawn together and his mouth is set in a thin line. He looks like he’s going to cry. “I don’t know much first-aid, Howard. I skipped that course, remember? Fossil said he’d give me half the money he would have spent on it instead.”
Howard shakes his head as Vince clumsily tries to tuck the end of the scarf under the mock bandage to stop it unravelling. “I don’t think they cover this sort of thing in St. John’s Ambulance. We need proper help.”
Vince rocks on his heels. “We could try walking out of town? I think we can outrun those things, they’re not very fast…”
Howard clutches at Vince’s arm with his good hand. “I really don’t think I can stand the pain much longer.” A spot of red starts to seep through the bandage on his upper arm, dark against the white material.
Vince puts a hand to his mouth, eyes wide. “Okay, okay, okay. We could… we need help, right? Serious help?” He pulls out his mobile phone. “Fuck, no signal. But… it makes no sense! It gets all that static, off those zombie things, why can’t it…” He waves it around in the air for a bit, eyes watching the screen carefully, but gives up with a sigh, slipping it into his pocket. “I wish we could call Naboo. God, I hope he’s alright.”
“He’s a shaman, he’ll be fine.” Howard screws his eyes shut as another wave of pain hits him. “Vince… I need painkillers. Fast. We need, like, a chemist, or a Boots, or…”
“Or a hospital.”
Howard opens his eyes, and Vince’s expression is triumphant. “We passed a hospital on the way into town, I remember, it was on my side of the road. Brookhill, Brookhaven, something like that. It can’t be too far away. And zombies don’t eat bandages and drugs, right?” His mouth twists desperately, and Howard nods more because he wants to reassure him than because it’s necessarily a good plan.
“Do you remember where?” he asks hoarsely.
“Wyndham Street,” Vince grins. “I read it over and over when we were parked at that traffic light.” He taps his forehead, and Howard smiles faintly.
“Let’s go then.” Vince tucks his arm under Howard’s again, and pulls him to his feet.
Howard almost passes out.
“There’s less zombies on this side of town,” Vince whispers, peering through the gates to Brookhaven Hospital for any sign of life.
Howard is resting his aching head on the cool brickwork next to him. “Maybe that’s because there’s something even scarier inside.”
Vince laughs. “You’re such a pessi—” He stops himself, and turns to face Howard, face pale. “You could be right. But we don’t have much of a choice, here.”
Howard shakes his head, rolling it against the wall. “I know.”
Vince takes a quick look over his shoulder, and holds his phone up to his ear. He nods firmly, and pushes hard against the gates, which give way with a squeal of rusty hinges. He pushes them open just enough to slip through, and then beckons Howard to follow him.
Vince puts his shoulder to the gates, trying to close them, but Howard stops him. “We might have to run away again. This could be where the whole thing started, for all we know.”
“Sorry, not thinking.” Vince steps lightly in front of Howard again, leading him up the steps and to the double doors of the hospital. Luckily, they aren’t locked, and swing open silently.
Vince peers through the gap. “Power’s out,” he says. “There’s no lights. And it’s pretty dirty in there too.” He leans in a little further. “I wonder how long this town has been abandoned? What the hell was Bainbridge thinking of, eh?”
“I think he knew exactly what he was doing,” Howard mutters darkly.
Vince opens the door as wide as possible, propping it open with his shoulder to let Howard past.
The hospital is ridiculously dark. Howard has never noticed before, but hospitals do seem to skimp a little on windows, an architectural decision that is really not working in their favour today. The floor is tiled in black and white, like a chessboard, but covered in the same litter as the rest of the city, and blurred into a murky brown from dust and dirt. A noticeboard to his left announces a softball game (‘Doctors vs Nurses!!!’) the following weekend, but has no date on it.
“Do you have a torch?” Vince asks, still propping the door open, his voice echoing around the empty halls.
“I’ve got one of those little Maglite things on my keyring.” Howard moves his hand across to dig into his pocket, then hisses in pain as the bandage brushes against his skin.
“Come here, you fool,” Vince says, pulling at Howard’s beltloop. He leans back against the door, and lifts Howard’s shirt up with one hand.
Howard stares at the door to the left of Vince’s head as Vince digs around in his pocket for his keys.
“Ever the explorer, eh?” Vince laughs.
Howard’s eyes bulge. “What?”
“You know,” Vince says, holding Howard’s keys up triumphantly. “‘Be prepared’ and all that.” He flicks the torch on, and shines the weak beam off into the darkness, letting the door slam behind him.
“Fucking hell,” he breathes, and Howard struggles to make out the shapes in the corridor ahead. Medical equipment, those little metal contraptions on wheels that you hang bags of saline off. Chairs and things on their sides, like they’ve been thrown against the walls and left where they fell. A table, with some clothes on it, and—
No. That’s a gurney. And a bodybag.
Vince reaches for his hand, but he’s on the injured side, and Howard pulls away with a yelp.
“Sorry Howard,” Vince says, shamefaced, still standing as close as possible.
“Just… let’s just find some drugs, alright?” Howard glares, but does move around to Vince’s other side so they can link fingers.
They walk slowly past the gurney, their footsteps echoing in the empty halls.
“No static,” Vince whispers.
They hold their breath as they pass it, but nothing happens. It doesn’t sit up, or moan, or come at them out of the bodybag with a hideous scream. Some people in this town are staying dead.
Vince shines his torch ahead again, revealing a T-junction. “Which way do you fancy?”
Howard sighs, feeling faint. “I don’t care, I don’t. Whichever.”
Vince takes a tighter grip on his hand, and peers around the corner to the left. “Fuck!” He jumps back in alarm, and Howard gets ready to run, but nothing happens.
“What? What is it?”
Vince pulls him forward, and they both peek around the corner. Standing only a few feet away is a faceless mannequin dressed up as a nurse, complete with a dirty and threadbare uniform, her arms tucked behind her and her head fallen forward, as if she’s a clockwork toy that’s run down.
Vince shines the torch up and down her body, and from the way her skin shines in the light they can tell she’s made of plastic.
“We can just edge past her,” Vince says, stepping out into her path.
“Are you insane? She’ll come to life! And kill us!” Howard lets go of Vince’s hand, taking a step back and looking over his shoulder in the other direction. “Let’s just go this way, yeah?”
Vince holds up his phone. “There’s no static. I’m this close and nothing’s happening.” He takes another cautious step forward.
“Famous last words.”
“Howard, look.” Vince shines his torch past the dummy nurse and on a sign attached above a door. ‘Storeroom 1’.
Howard swallows, the throbbing in his arm getting fiercer as time goes by. “No. If there’s a Storeroom One, there have to be others. Let’s go this way.”
“Don’t be so—” Vince takes another step forward but is stopped by a rather large fire axe skimming just millimetres past the end of his nose and burying itself in the wall by his head. His mobile phone crackles into life, deafening. The dummy nurse tugs on her axe, making a screeching sound of gears crunching against each other, and pulls it out of the wall, raising it for another swing.
Vince turns and runs, but drops the torch in his haste to get away.
“No, Vince! Leave it!” Howard calls, arm outstretched to pull Vince to safety, but Vince is already ducking the nurse’s next swing. He drops to his knees and picks up the keys, light swinging crazily, showing now Vince’s terrified expression, now the smooth plastic of the nurse’s face, now the glint of the axe-edge.
“Vince, let’s get out of here! Into the street!”
Vince is by his side, and he flashes the torch behind them to show that the nurse has taken several teetering steps forward, blocking their escape back the way they came. “Run!” he calls, and they pelt it down the corridor to the double doors at the end.
Vince slams into them, but they don’t move. He rattles the bar desperately as the nurse advances down the corridor, but they’re definitely locked. “Dead end!” he yells, hardly audible over the static from his phone.
Howard turns, looks behind them. The nurse’s movements are jerky and rhythmic like a Christmas toy, her axe bouncing off the walls as she swings it ever nearer. For someone without a mouth she looks like she’s smiling.
He reaches for Vince’s hand, and Vince wraps his fingers around his, but Howard smacks at him, reaching for his other hand and for the torch. He shines it away from the nurse, much as he hates the idea of her advancing on them unseen, and looks at the walls.
There’s a door to their right.
He puts the torch between his teeth, and grabs the handle with his good hand, prays to all the gods he doesn’t believe in.
It turns easily, and he falls through it, stumbling into a low desk and bruising his leg painfully. Vince is right behind him, slamming the door shut and pressing his shoulder against it.
There is a banging sound which must be the nurse walking into the door, and then a soft thunk. Howard looks up and sees the very tip of the axe pushing through the wood about an inch over Vince’s head.
He adds his weight to Vince’s, pressing his back against the door as low as possible, and gives him the torch. “Move the furniture, block the door!” he calls out over the noise.
Vince looks at him in disbelief, as if to say, shouldn’t that be your job?
Howard holds up his bandaged hand. “What can I move, exactly? Get on with it!”
He feels the door open slightly as Vince lets go of it, and spreads his legs a little to help him lean against it, pressing his back more firmly against the wood.
There is another thud, and the blade is on his right this time.
Vince shines his torch across the small doctor’s office they have ended up in, looking for suitable items, and notices the heavy wooden desk resting against the wall just parallel to the door. He puts the torch down on top of it, and pushes it from one end, managing to move it maybe an inch before collapsing, breathless.
The axe comes through by Howard’s head in the same place, wiggling a little to make a gap, and Howard hears the screech of the nurse through the wood. His shoulder is complaining no end, but he grits his teeth and keeps the door closed. “Hurry, Vince!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying…” Vince gives the desk another hard push and manages to move it across the door a little, now close to Howard’s thigh.
A plastic fist punches through the hole that the axe made, flapping around blindly. Howard tries to edge away from it, but feels the door open a centimetre or two, and is forced to stay where he is, head straining to lean away from those blood-stained fingers seeking him out.
Vince yells in frustration, like a weightlifter at the Olympics, and pushes as hard as he can. The desk suddenly rushes forward and slams into Howard’s leg, but it’s now blocking most of the door.
Howard calls out in pain, and this seems to be the clue the nurse has been waiting for, because the hand darts towards him and takes a firm hold of his hair.
“Ow! Get the fuck off me!” Howard struggles against it, reaching up to pull himself loose with his good hand, which is unfortunately on his other side, making the whole thing awkward. He slaps at it as Vince struggles to push the heavy desk the last few inches, and the dummy hand lets go of his hair to snatch at his fingers.
Howard pulls away, leaps away from the door and Vince slides the desk across just in time as the nurse tries to push her way through, closing the door with a satisfying click. There are a couple of loud thuds as the nurse tries to force it open, but the heavy desk stays firm.
Howard and Vince collapse against the opposite wall, panting, sweating, watching the door as the axe slices through it again and again.
“That’s not going to hold long,” Howard manages in between gasps.
Vince shakes his head, shining the torch around the room to look for another exit.
There are none.
“Look, though,” Vince points, tugging on Howard’s shirt. “A first-aid box.” He scampers over to the steel shelves above where the desk used to be, pulling out the bright green box from under a pile of hospital paperwork, and carrying it carefully over to Howard.
“Could you….” Howard can’t finish the rest of that sentence, his head lolling to one side, black spots forming at the corners of his vision, but he manages to point at Vince’s phone. His friend understands, turning down the volume of the almost deafening static.
“Hold on, Howard, just hold on.” Vince opens the box, picking up his torch. “Get you fixed up, then we’ll find a way ou—” He stops suddenly, his breathing heavy. “No. No.”
“What?” Howard props himself up and looks at Vince, head bowed, hair hiding his face.
Without saying a word, Vince turns the first aid box around so that Howard can see into it.
Howard closes his eyes and lets his head fall all the way forward onto his chest, lets the blackness come, because what’s the point any more? Even the noise of the nurse hacking her way through the door gets suddenly quieter.
“Howard, Howard…” Vince is shaking him by the shoulders but he can’t manage the energy to tell him to stop, it’s really nice to just let go and—
He sits bolt upright, and sees that Vince has dug his nails through his makeshift bandage into the wound on his arm, his face pale and frightened in the torchlight.
“Don’t fucking faint on me, Howard!” he manages, voice high. “I can’t do this, all this leader stuff, you’re the one who’s supposed to do this. I can’t look after us both!”
The nurse has now hacked a hole in the door big enough for her head to fit through, and she leans in and screeches at them. Vince winces, but still stares at Howard.
“Y… you’re doing fine…” Howard says, mouth suddenly dry.
“No, I ballsed it up, the whole fucking thing! It was my idea to come to the hospital. I’m the one who woke up Nurse Ratchett. I’m sorry, Howard, I’m so sorry.”
Howard lets his head fall forward a little and kisses Vince full on the mouth, feeling that Vince’s lips are as dry as his, his face as hot and damp. He kisses him again, partly because it’s really nice and partly because it doesn’t feel like he’s going to be able to move his neck ever again.
Vince puts his arms around him and pulls him closer, fiercely, like they’re in the Arctic (again) and they need to share body heat (again), kissing him over and over on the mouth and the cheek and babbling something Howard can’t make out about stupid missed chances and life-or-death situations, and how they always pick the worst fucking moments ever, which Howard can’t argue with.
“—would just be nice if once, for once we could do this somewhere comfortable with sofas or cushions or at least some natural light and—”
“—and, and… what?”
Vince pulls back, confused, but does listen. It’s quiet, silent as the grave, as Howard would put it. The dummy nurse is gone, leaving only a large hole in the door to prove that she wasn’t a hallucination, and Vince’s mobile has stopped crackling.
“We… we’re safe?” Howard says in wonderment, and Vince clamps a hand over his mouth.
Out of nowhere, an air raid siren sounds, the long low moan familiar from every war film he’s ever seen.
“You had to jinx us, didn’t you?” Vince mutters, his head hanging low.
“M-maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s why the nurse left, and we can get out of here and go look around the rest of the hospital. Like a monster scaring alarm.” Howard blinks, the dark spots creeping in around the edges of his eyes again, but this time they don’t go away. He clutches Vince’s arm, worried that he’s going to faint, but Vince stands up, looking just as worried.
“What’s happening?” Vince mutters.
The room is changing, shifting under Vince’s torchbeam, like a train departure board flipping crazily. The tiles shift, turning from a dusty brown to an obscene red, sticky to the touch. The walls, once covered in peeling wallpaper, are suddenly rusting metal grilles, with menacing fans spinning behind them, casting shifting shadows. The desk disappears, sinking into the floor, and the plywood door transforms into something from an old prison, five thick metal bars from ceiling to floor. There’s no light fitting, but he can still see. As if the walls themselves are glowing. As if they’re in Hell.
The air raid siren continues to wail.
“I don’t know, Vince, I don’t know.” Howard gets to his feet with some difficulty, not wanting to touch the wall or the floor. “You’d let me know if I’d passed out, right?”
“Howard, where are you?” Vince shines the torch around the room, his voice shaking.
“I’m right here,” Howard says, reaching out to touch Vince with his good hand. But his fingers stop short of making contact, unable to move. It’s like magnets repelling, there’s some force there pushing him away.
“Howard!” Vince spins, panicking, and as he moves the forcefield moves with him, slamming Howard’s injured arm into the wall.
Howard calls out in pain, a thick line of blood making its way out from under the bandage and down towards his wrist, and he grits his teeth, head bowed. “Vince, for fuck’s sake!”
Vince is scouring the room, shining the torch into every corner. “Howard, where are you? Where did you go?” He walks right up to Howard, shines the torch into his face, and yells at him. “Howard?”
Howard breathes deep, straightens up, and looks into Vince’s eyes. He’s looking straight through him. “Vince? Why can’t you see me? I’m right here!”
“Shit shit shit…” Vince mutters, half under his breath, leaning his back against the wall and breathing deep.
Howard tries to put a hand on his shoulder over and over, but can’t make contact no matter how hard he strains. “Vince. Vince, I’m right here. Look at me, please. Look at me.” But he doesn’t.
There is an odd rumbling sound, and both men look up. A scratching, scraping sound, getting nearer. Like metal grinding against stone, low and dull and rhythmic. Vince walks over to the door hesitantly, shining his torch through. “Howard?”
“No, that’s not me,” Howard says, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Vince can’t hear him. But he knows that whatever’s coming is trouble. “Vince, that’s not me. We have to get out of here somehow.”
Vince pushes the door, and swears. “Locked. How the fuck…?”
“Okay, well,” Howard starts banging on the walls, but Vince can’t hear that either. “Maybe one of these is loose? We have to try!”
The noise gets closer and closer, in time with heavy footsteps. Thud. Draaaaaaag. Thud. Draaaaaaaaaaag, the noise of something heavy being pulled along, something so heavy that whatever is coming is slowed down considerably. But this means nothing when you’re trapped.
Howard is banging the metal panels on the furthest side of the room, staying as far away from the door as possible, but Vince is still leaning through, shining his torch down the corridor. “Hello?”
Howard hears Vince gasp, and turns, sees him back away from the door and drop the torch.
“What is it? What?” Howard stands by Vince’s side, feeling like he can help even though Vince can’t see or feel him, when a man steps into view on the other side of the door.
He’s seven or eight feet tall, taller than Howard. He’s dressed in a blood-drenched butcher’s apron that reaches down to his ankles, some kind of white clothing under that. Huge, muscle-bound but human arms. Clenched in one massive fist is a sword bigger than the man himself, rusty and old, too heavy to lift, dragging on the ground.
But on his head—this is the most terrifying part, and the strangest—he has no head. Or if he does, it’s hidden behind a giant, metal structure. A huge rusting pyramid, stretching up to the top above him, down to the corners either side of his neck, and then down still further to a razor-sharp point somewhere over his chest. Like the nurse, like the zombies, it is his lack of a face that is the scariest part.
The rusting pyramid tilts from side to side, and Howard knows that this man can see him even through metal, is sizing him up.
With his massive hands, he strains, and lifts the sword, thrusting it forward through the bars to reach them. Vince has the foresight to leap to one side, Howard doesn’t have the energy, simply closing his eyes, his fingers clutching the grille behind him.
When he opens his eyes, the sword has neatly divided them without hitting either. Pyramid Head holds it there for a moment, and then lets it fall to the ground, readies himself for another go.
Vince leaps nimbly over the blade, narrowly missing being cut in two, lengthways, as Pyramid Head raises the sword to try to catch him, but lands, panting, on the other side of the room where the monster can’t reach. Howard hurries over to him, heart pounding.
“What now, what now?” Vince mutters to himself.
“It’s okay, the door’s locked,” Howard reassures him, then hears the jangling of metal. He looks over to the door and sees that Pyramid Head has taken out an enormous ring of keys, and is slowly sorting through them for the right one. If he could, he’d be whistling.
“Come on!” Vince yells, banging the walls. “There has to be a way out!” He hits metal panels at random, blindly, smacking and kicking everything he can reach.
There’s the grate of metal on metal, and Howard spins, looking for the door opening, that huge sword seeking him out again.
Instead, Vince’s frustrated violence has actually got results. A little way above his head, one of the panels has shifted aside slightly.
“Yes! Yes!” Vince takes hold of the corner with both hands and pulls with all his might. Howard reaches to help, but is pushed away by the invisible forcefield again. Pyramid Head is still sorting through his keys, but it won’t be long.
“Come on, come on…” Vince mutters to himself, sweat beading on his forehead as he pulls as hard as he can. There is a sudden clang, and the panel falls free, and Vince falls backwards.
Pyramid Head inserts a key into the door, staring down at Vince dispassionately.
“Let’s go!” Howard screams, moving over to try to climb into the hole but is pushed aside when Vince steps up, scrabbling at the edges. Pyramid Head unlocks the door, which swings open on squealing hinges, as Vince struggles to pull himself into the small hole.
Howard jumps up and down, yelling “come on” over and over as Pyramid Head steps into the room, dragging his sword behind him.
Vince pulls himself up as Pyramid Head sees what’s going on, and raises his huge sword. Howard dodges aside, calling for Vince to look out…
He pulls his leg up and is inside, crawling to safety, as the massive sword slices into the metal wall just a fraction of a second too late. Vince is gone, he’s safe.
Howard crouches in the corner, trying to make himself as small and invisible as possible. There’s no way he can climb into the tunnel—it’s too high up, his arms are too weak. He’s a dead man.
Pyramid Head lets his sword fall to the floor with a clang, and Howard winces at the sudden noise of it, the weight of it only a little way away. He turns to Howard, and Howard knows that whatever is going on here, the monster can see him.
“Please don’t kill me…” he whimpers, unable to help himself.
Pyramid Head lifts his sword into the air, but instead of bringing it down with full force on Howard’s head, he leans it against his right shoulder like a soldier with his rifle.
Howard blinks, still cringing, but nothing happens. “I… I don’t understand…” he says finally.
Pyramid Head does nothing.
“Is it… oh God.” Howard bites his lip. “My wound. My arm. Am I becoming one of them?”
There’s no time for an answer, were an answer forthcoming, before Howard passes out.
When he comes to, it’s pitch black again. It’s like being in a well, or possibly underwater, the darkness presses down on him almost physically and he feels a strange, primal fear.
He’s still hunched in the corner of the room, he can work out that much from the walls behind and to the right of him. He reaches out with shaking fingers, and feels, not a rusting metal surface, but peeling wallpaper. Whatever transformation the doctor’s office had undergone before has been reversed, somehow. But Vince is gone, as is the torch, and his mobile phone, the early warning system. There could be a hundred monsters in the room right now, waiting for him to make a move and reveal himself.
He wants to fall asleep again, rest his head on his knees, but he can’t bring himself to close his eyes. Even though there’s no difference with his eyes open or closed, he finds himself staring into the utter blackness for any sign of anything. And listening. Vince can’t have gone far, surely? If… if he can still see him.
Howard feels the fear rising again as he remembers how that creature just looked at him, and left him. As if they were paired somehow, together in that place, as if they were the same. He finds himself rubbing at his arm through the bandage, checking that it still hurts, because if it goes numb, that means… what? That when he takes the bandage off, he won’t see a scar, but instead that grey, dead skin. He’s seen enough zombie films to know what happens here. One person gets attacked, is infected, and that’s it for them. Vince not being able to see him, that must be the first sign, he’ll be stuck here forever and—
He hears footsteps somewhere outside the room, the squeak of rubber soles against the tiled floor, and sees a glimmer of light peeking through the door.
“Hey! In here, Vince, in here!” he calls out, his voice hoarse.
The footsteps stop. Which is a good sign, Vince can still hear him. He must have run away but then come back, followed the way back to find him. They’ll get out yet.
The light gets stronger, and the footsteps louder. He can see by the dim light coming through the door that whatever happened in that other world, the metal-and-blood world, affected this office too. The plywood door, with a huge hole hacked into it, is wide open; the desk that was holding it closed has been chopped into firewood on the floor.
There’s a blinding light through the hole in the door, and Howard has to put his hands up to block it, unable to see who’s holding the torch. “Vince?”
“Who the fuck is Vince?” says a harsh voice, in an English accent. “And who are you?”
Howard freezes, one hand up in front of his eyes. The voice is familiar, but he can’t quite place it: not Naboo or Fossil, but then who else? The mystery person isn’t attacking him or spitting acid at him, though. The police?
“I’m… my name’s Howard Moon. I need help.”
The man steps into the room, shoes padding softly on the floor, and continues to shine the light right in Howard’s eyes. “Put your hand down, now, and let me see your face.”
Howard lowers his hand, blinking and squinting into the light, trying to make out a shape behind it. Not too tall, not too big. “Please, I need help. I’m hurt. We… me and my friend, we came to the hospital because we thought there would be supplies here, but they’re all gone.”
“Of course the supplies all gone.” The light drops, drifting over Howard’s arms and legs, stops on the makeshift bandage around his arm, and the blood drying all the way down to his wrist. “I took them.”
The man squats down in front of Howard, still hiding behind the light, but takes hold of his injured arm by the wrist. Howard sees a small hand, thin fingers, the remnants of nail polish. Familiar. “Vince, is that you?”
The man swivels the torch with his other hand to illuminate his face, like a child at a Halloween party. It is Vince, the same oversized face, the features jumping out at him. But then he smirks, and it’s not him, that cruel twist of the lips could never be Vince. There are other things too, his hair is shorter and darker, jet black rather than Vince’s blend of coffee and cream. He has a hint of stubble. And the eyes, the eyes are the same colour, but they’re darker, harder to read.
His clothes are different too, not Vince’s Zooniverse uniform, but an odd collection of battered T-shirts and jackets, dirty jeans. Like he ran through a charity shop and stole an armful of whatever came to hand, layered up for protection and warmth.
“My name’s Noel.” He pulls at Howard’s arm, and Howard winces, open-mouthed.
“You look just like him, just like my friend Vince. Noir.”
“I doubt that,” Noel mutters, shifting the torch again to shine the beam on Howard’s wound. His long fingernails slide under the bandage, and in one fluid motion he rips it off. Howard yelps, and tries to clamp his free hand on the exposed wound, but Noel slaps his hand aside.
“What do we have here? Hmmm…” he murmurs, moving the torch closer. He prods and pushes at the wound, every touch like a knife slicing into his arm.
“Jesus! What are you doing?”
Noel drops the torch into his lap, and roots around in his pocket for something, still holding Howard’s arm tightly. He puts a roll of bandages and a bottle of clear liquid down on the floor, and tosses a little rattling container at Howard.
“What are these?”
“Painkillers. Looks like you need them.” Noel smirks, twisting the top off the bottle of liquid. “Or you will.” He pours half of it over Howard’s arm, and the pain is unbelievable. Howard screams, smacking his head back against the wall. It feels like more acid, he tries to snatch his arm away but Noel is holding it firm, and blocks his attempts to stop him.
“Stop it! Stop that!” he shouts, one hand on Howard’s chest, pinning him against the wall. “It’s alcohol, it’s cleaning it. You’re lucky your whole fucking arm hasn’t fallen off by now.”
Howard calms, breathing deep through gritted teeth, and sneaks a look at his wound. The skin, what’s left of it, is red raw, and the rest is a horrible melted mess, like a candle that’s been burning too long, but he sees a trace of alcohol drip down to his elbow without harming him, and realises it’s safe.
“Take the pills, you idiot,” Noel says, head jerking to the bottle of medication on the floor. Howard struggles to twist off the top with his injured hand, but manages it eventually. He swallows two of the little round pills, dry, and feels no better.
“Hold this,” Noel says, handing Howard the torch, but Howard shows him his bandaged hand and Noel sighs, returning the torch to his lap and trying to position it so he can see as well as possible.
“Who… who are you?” Howard says when he’s capable of speech, Noel wrapping layers of gauze around his upper arm expertly.
“I told you. I’m Noel. Now, who the fuck are you, and why are you in Silent Hill?”
Howard closes his eyes. “We were… there were four of us. Our boss sent us here as a sort of work trip. But we got… we were separated, and now I don’t know where they are. I have to find them.”
“Wait, what? You came here by choice?”
Howard shakes his head. “We were ordered to come.”
Noel has stopped wrapping his arm, is staring at Howard open-mouthed. “And you got in? That’s amazing!”
“What’s going on in this place?”
Noel is muttering to himself. “Four of you, sent here… wait, who sent you? Was it just one guy?”
Howard gets the feeling that he ought to be holding this information back, Noel is too eager to hear what he has to say, but Noel is almost Vince, it’s easy to just tell him everything. “Yes, Dixon Bainbridge. He runs a zoo back in London.”
“Never heard of him,” Noel says vaguely, holding the last of Howard’s bandage and fixing it with a safety pin. “A trade of four people for one, that’s… that’s information, that’s progress.” He shrugs. “Of course, it doesn’t make any difference to us, it’s not like we can get out of town and grab someone. Silent Hill won’t let me leave, not ever.”
Out of town. As Noel eases the scrappy bandage off Howard’s other hand and drops it to the floor, Howard sort of comes back to himself. “We need to get out of Silent Hill. I have to find my friends, and we need to get out of here.”
Noel snorts. “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Howard is prepared for the alcohol this time, and it is a little easier to bear, but still he can’t help swearing loudly. It looks like Noel is grinning, but it must be a trick of the shadows, and he starts to wrap Howard’s hand up.
“W… we… there must be a car or something. Or we can just walk out, I remember the way.”
“No one gets out of Silent Hill. The place would be empty if people could just leave whenever they wanted.”
“Why not?” Howard hisses as Noel scrapes his fingernails over his palm.
“You try it,” Noel mutters moodily. “Every road out of town, the minute you get to the boundary, there’s a chasm a thousand, two thousand feet deep. No one’s managed to cross it.” He pins the last bandage and gives Howard a little slap on the knee. “You’re stuck here, mate.”
“Well, how long have you been here?”
Noel gets to his feet. “Too fucking long.” He makes a small ‘come on’ gesture with his hand, shining the torch at the bottle of pills. “Take a couple more of those, and then give them back. I need them.”
Howard does as he says, reaching out to hand them back to Noel. He reads the label in the torchlight: Mr Noel Fielding, take two daily with food. “What type of pills are they?”
“Strong ones. Be grateful.” Noel slips them into his pocket and pats it.
“We need to find my friend,” Howard grunts, getting to his feet. “My friend Vince, he’s in the hospital somewhere.”
“No, you need to find your friend. I need to find a drink, which is the only reason I came into this shitty place.” Noel turns, walks out of the room, and Howard has no choice but to follow him.
“But he could be hurt!”
“So?” Noel reaches the locked double doors and nudges them with his hip. They open freely, and he steps through, Howard close behind.
“Look, my friend Naboo is a shaman. He can do magic. Just… if we find him and Vince,” Howard sighed, “and Fossil, I suppose, we can take you with us. He’ll know a way out.”
Noel stops at another junction, peers into the darkness with his torch. He pulls out a crumpled old piece of paper from his jacket and traces a path with his finger. “Left… second right… ah, we need to take the lift. This way.”
“Don’t you want to get out of this place?”
Noel shines the light in his face again, his expression mean. “I want a drink, and maybe some more medication, so I can sleep tonight. You… you can do what you want. I didn’t ask you to tag along.” He checks his watch. “Shit, not much time until changeover. Better hurry.” He heads off down the corridor, and Howard is forced to follow him, if only to stay with the light.
They round a corner, and Howard pulls on Noel’s arm to stop him. There, a few steps away, is another nurse, head limp, arms hanging down. Waiting for them to approach. This one has a knife instead of a fire axe, but the air of menace is the same.
“Is there another way round?” Howard whispers. “One of those things attacked us.”
Noel smirks at him. “Attacked you, did it?”
“No, really. It came to life!”
Noel steps forward, just out of reach of the nurse, and Howard hangs back. “Came to life, huh. Let’s see.”
He leans in and snaps his fingers just in front of her face. There’s a sudden squeal of gears, and she straightens up. Her arm reaches up and back, classic Psycho-stabbing position.
“Noel, look out!” Howard takes a step forward to reach for his jacket, pull him away, but before he can get to him, Noel pulls out a gun from his pocket and shoots the nurse in the face, point-blank.
Her head explodes in a shower of blood, like a flower opening up, delicate petals dusting Noel’s face. She crumples into a heap, twitching and shivering on the floor until Noel stomps on what’s left of her head, grinding the plastic into the tiles with his heel.
Howard has one hand pressed to his mouth, unable to tear his eyes away from the bloody mess on the floor. He feels like he’s going to throw up, his stomach going crazy.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Noel mutters, looking at the bottom of his shoe. “Brains everywhere.” He scuffs it on the tiles, leaving streaks of red that glitter in the torchlight.
“They… they bleed? They have brains?” Howard manages.
Noel looks confused. “Well, of course they do. Everyone does.” He walks off down the corridor, leaving red footprints behind him.
Howard edges around the corpse, one hand over his mouth, trying not to look but at the same time compelled to. Dead, she looks like so much meat. He hurries after Noel, sticking close behind him until Noel shrugs him off irritably. “Those people, the mannequins and the zomb—”
“Mannequins?” Noel stops at another junction, pulls out his map. “What mannequins?”
“The nurse. The dummy, made out of plastic.” Howard points over his shoulder to the darkness behind.
Noel glances at him, obviously worried. “You thought she was made out of plastic?”
“She… you didn’t think so?”
Noel shrugs. “Look, you invent whatever reality helps you sleep at night. Me, I prefer to see the world how it is.” He points off to the right. “This way.”
Howard blinks, remembering the shine of her skin in the torchlight, her smooth face. “Wait, what do you mean? You see something different?”
Noel stops and holds up a hand, shining his torch down at the ground. Howard leans around him and sees a pool of blood on the floor, drying but still fresh. It trails off, a long smear of red that Noel follows with his torch up to some lift doors just ahead. Like someone’s been dragged inside.
Noel puts a finger to his lips, and pulls out his gun, cocking it. He pulls out a miniature radio from his pocket, presses a switch on the side, and holds it up and out, listening carefully. There’s nothing.
The two of them follow the smear up to the doors, which are open only a fraction, maybe a couple of inches, enough to look in but not enough to open them. Blood is trickling out through the gap.
Noel takes a deep breath, and shines his torch through into the lift. He whistles. “Jesus. Someone’s been busy.”
Howard feels sick again. “What is it?”
“Any of your mates wear a green jacket? Least, I think it’s green.” Noel chuckles. “It’s pretty much red, now.”
Howard shakes his head. “No, no, it’s not possible, it’s not him. It can’t be him.”
Noel shines the torch right in his eyes. “Friend of yours?”
“Is there a body in there?”
Noel grins. “There’s bits of a body.”
Howard clings on to the wall, head spinning, not able to say anything other than, “It can’t be him, it can’t.”
“Well,” Noel muses, “there’s not enough of his face left to be sure. To be honest, it could even be a woman, except…” He chuckles filthily, leaning inside the lift to take a closer look. “Oh wait. Look at that. Definitely a man.”
Howard can’t bring himself to look through the doors, just shaking his head over and over. “It’s not Vince, it could be anyone. There are other people here, right?”
Noel snorts. “No one who’d be stupid enough to walk unarmed around Brookhaven Mental Hospital.”
“Hey, what’s this?” Noel bends down, lifts a piece of paper out of the gore. “Who’s ‘Fossil’?”
Howard snatches the letter out of his hands, reads and re-reads the letter Fossil had given Vince to look after. ‘Try not to die.’ The top half of the letter is almost impossible to read, spattered with blood, with Vince’s blood, and he drops it, wiping his hands on his shirt over and over. It soaks up the gore on the tiles as easy as tissue paper. “It’s not him, it can’t be him.” He looks at Noel. “If you’re alive, he must be.”
Noel clamps the gun under his armpit, pulls out a packet of cigarettes and lights one. “Oh yeah, why’s that?”
Because you are him, Howard thinks immediately. “Because if you managed to survive this long, so can he. It means it’s possible.”
Noel blows a plume of smoke at him. “I’ve got myself a little hideyhole, safe from all this.” He waves his gun. “And I’ve got myself a weapon.”
Howard doesn’t listen to him, one hand clutching in his hair as he forces his brain to work. “Okay, okay. He’s not in the hospital, he left the hospital and ran away because he thinks I disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” Noel echoes, suddenly looking at Howard a little closer.
“So he would have gone… where? Back to the zoo, to the car?”
“The zoo?” Noel takes a step back, eyes narrowed. “Did I hear you right?”
“That’s where we were attacked. I’m a zookeeper.” Howard turns to show Noel the Zooniverse patch on his jacket, then realises that he left it back by the car.
Noel laughs around his cigarette, raises the gun and points it at Howard. “Where you were attacked. Those burns on your arm, that was acid, wasn’t it?” He scrubs at his forehead with his free hand. “Fucking hell, Julian’s going to laugh his arse off about this one.”
“What?” Howard takes a step forward, but stops when he hears the click of the gun being cocked, puts his hands up.
Noel throws his cigarette into the lift and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. “Can’t believe I bandaged your fucking wounds for you. Let you wander around after me, all the time you were shifting.” He makes a little throaty noise of frustration. “Got to keep your head on straight, Noel, especially out here.”
“Shifting? What are you talking about?” Howard’s eyes never leave the gun. “Why do you want to shoot me?”
“You know why.” Noel squints along the barrel, takes aim. Howard looks for a way out but they’re in a long corridor with no doors. There’s no point running.
He closes his eyes.
There’s the familiar sound of the air raid siren.
“Fuck!” Noel tucks the gun away in his pocket and checks his watch. “Shit, this is going to be cutting it fine.”
He hurries past Howard, who presses himself against the wall, hands still raised. Noel smiles, blows him a kiss as he walks backwards, fingers fluttering slightly. “Your lucky day.” He and his torch disappear off down the corridor and around the corner to the right.
Howard breathes deep, hands shaking as he lowers them slowly. He’s left in total darkness for a moment, and then the walls start changing like before, spinning and peeling from plaster into metal, shining with that eerie inner glow. The blood on the floor by the lift spreads out, covering the tiles and lapping against his shoes, then draining into the tiles, which have become stone. The lift doors shift, opening with a loud ‘ding!”
There’s no corpse inside.
There’s only Pyramid Head, his sword clutched in one hand. He steps out of the lift and turns to Howard, the sword dragging behind.
Howard runs for it, hearing the scrape of metal on stone behind him and those thudding footsteps. He runs in the opposite direction to the one Noel took, bouncing off of walls and scraping his arms against the metal in his desperation to get away from the thing following him. He takes lefts and rights blindly, just heading away.
Somehow he makes it to the double doors of the hospital, throwing himself through them and out into what is now a freezing cold winter’s night. No way of telling how long he’s been in the hospital, but surely… he checks his watch, but knowing that it’s three doesn’t tell him morning or evening. The falling ash is gone, replaced by the thick plume of smoke when he breathes out. At least he’s alive. At least that.
Standing between the hospital and the thick metal gates, he turns and looks back at the building. A coward’s way out, to leave Vince behind, but he can hear the sound of footsteps and knows with the logic of nightmares that he needs to run.
The gates swing open freely, the ground beneath his feet black and cracked, like a field after a drought. Something pads towards him out of the darkness, leaps, and he turns, feels it rush past his face, sticky fur and a panting tongue. It growls after him as he runs blindly down the street—someone needs to write to the Silent Hill electric company to tell them that their streetlights are woefully ineffective—and he hears it following at a slow lope.
Chasing. But not catching up with him.
Howard knows he’s being herded somewhere, guided like a rat in a trap, pushed on. He knows where he’s going, his heart bursting and his lungs aching. Side-streets are blocked off by cars piled two or three high, or by packs of creatures who stretch out their arms at him as he runs by.
Silent Hill Municipal Zoo. As before, the sign has that horrible smear of blood on it, but he’s in the… what did Noel call it? Changeover. He’s in changeover, and so he can see what made it. The smear, going from head height down to the ground, but in this place there’s a body slumped where the blood ends, a horrible gaping head wound steaming gently in the lamplight. He’s human, sitting with his back against the sign, slumped over so Howard can’t see his face. His head has been caved in by what looks like a massive blow with something heavy, the whole back half of his skull left as fragments of bone and hair.
Howard reaches out a hand, half-sick, to lift his head and see his face. He’s so familiar.
But the air raid siren sounds again, and something horrible happens before his eyes. The blood pooled around the body sort of retracts, seeping back up and into the man’s head, the back of his skull rebuilding itself. Formless meat and pieces of brain skitter across the floor and across his legs and up his torso, darting into his head, which closes behind them, no sign of injury. Perfect.
The body gasps in pain, moans, and lifts his head, and his hands. “Please don—”
He falls back in horror, and it’s gone. It’s day again, or the low-level sunlight that he had seen when they’d arrived. He’s lying in front of the sign, a dried stain the only sign of the crime in front of him, the ash falling around him.
His arm is numb.
He walks slowly into the car park of the zoo, noticing that their rented car is gone, and with it, the acid creatures. The place is deserted and silent again, as if they’d never arrived. As if he came on his own.
Crazed. Insane. Illogical. He’s lost his mind or the universe has and he’s not sure which is worse, right now. His feet follow the path they took when they ran away, but in reverse, he can almost taste their terror from hours before, following the little streets back through the zoo.
First left. Second right. Under the arch.
Strange how this zoo is so much like the Zooniverse back home, but then again why wouldn’t it be? It’s like… it’s like… what is it like, Howard? His fingers scratch at the bottom of the bandage on his hand, and he stops, stands just outside the little office where the intercom will be, starts to unwrap it. It’s like this place has been waiting for him. He always knew he was destined for something else, another world where he would be respected and known. He just hadn’t known it would be this one.
The bandage is perfectly clean, even as he gets to the layers closer to his palm. No sign of blood or alcohol. No pain.
He gets to the last pass of the bandage, the last layer between him and the palm of his hand, and holds his breath while he does it.
Flawless skin. No sign of injury.
In the distance, the monsters howl, and he feels his throat quiver reflexively. He opens the door to the head zookeeper’s office, half-expecting to see Bob Fossil in the chair behind his desk, or dancing away to some horrible seventies’ hit. Instead, the office is in the same state as the rest of the zoo, covered in litter, dusted with earth and leaves, dark and drab.
Howard sits himself down behind the desk, on a swivel chair that gets stuck halfway round. I always wanted to be in charge. The thought hits him almost physically, and he’s disgusted to hear a little panicked laugh bubble up from his stomach, high and insane. He rests his elbows on the desk, on yellowed paperwork from who-knows-when, and hides his face, taking deep breaths of the rancid air.
He peeps through his fingers, suddenly afraid but not sure who for. “N-Noel?”
Vince steps through the open door, shaking, leaning on the doorframe for support. His clothes are soaked in some kind of horrible brown liquid, and there’s a long thin scratch on his left cheek. It makes no sense, but even after all his injuries and all the madness that’s happened, seeing Vince look like that is the worst yet.
Howard half rises out of his chair, then recollects, looking down at his hands, and sits back down. “Vince, you need to leave. Now.”
Vince is still standing in the doorway, blinking in the gloom. “Howard, what are you doing? Are you alright?”
“Get out of here.”
Vince smiles uncertainly. “Are you mental? I’ve been wandering round for hours trying to find you, you disappeared, you bastard! All round the hospital, and in the basement, and then I thought—where would you go? If you wanted to find me? And here I am.” He takes a step towards him, wobbling a little, suddenly unsteady on heels.
Howard panics, reaches for the nearest thing he can find—a mouldy china cup—and hurls it at Vince. Vince ducks, and it smashes on the wall behind him. “What the fuck?”
Howard hears something moan close by. “Go away! Don’t you understand? It’s dangerous!”
Vince’s hands are up in defence, his mouth and eyes wide. “Well come on then, you freak! Let’s get out of here!”
“Dangerous for you, not me.” Howard edges his swivel chair closer to the desk, half-heartedly rearranging papers into piles. “Get out of here before you get killed. Or worse.”
Vince blinks. “I’m not leaving without you, even if you have flipped out. Come on.”
“Listen!” Howard smacks his formerly injured hand against the wood, and feels nothing. “I’m changing. Noel knew it. The creatures knew it. That huge monster with the sword, he knew it. You couldn’t see me.”
“What?” Vince’s eyes flick to his hand, to the pure white bandage on his arm.
“I’m dangerous. To you.” Howard looks down at his desk. “And I have work to do, so if you don’t mind.”
“Okay.” Vince ignores him, pulling up a rickety wooden chair and sitting in the middle of the room. Howard doesn’t throw anything at him. “Okay. I just spent the whole day running around a hospital looking for you. Dodging zombies and nurses. Hearing gunshots from who-the-fuck knew where.” He crosses his legs. “I even went into the basement, Howard, and I saw this thing in a cage, a giant cage, and it saw me, and…” His eyes unfocus, he trails off quietly. “… and I think it told me something, maybe.”
Howard watches him carefully. “I thought you were dead.”
Vince holds his gaze. “Maybe I am. How would I know?”
“I met someone who looked just like you, you know. He was a wanker.”
Vince grins. “Sounds like me.”
Howard shakes his head. “I’m trying to protect you. This… this place… it’s where I belong. It’s what I want.”
Vince nods. “I can see that. King of the acid people, it’s always been your secret ambition.”
Howard holds up his hand, and shows it to Vince, eyes pleading.
Vince stares at it. “I don’t know,” he says quietly. “I don’t know if we’re alive or dead, if we’re awake or dreaming. I don’t.” His eyes flick to Howard’s. “But I know where you belong.”
Howard holds his breath.
Vince holds out his hand. “Let’s get out of here, Howard. Let’s walk.”
Howard stands up, walks around his desk. “I don’t think that’s going to work.”
Vince takes hold of his hand, and pulls him close. “Then it doesn’t work, and we try something else. But we try it together.”
There’s a feeling, somewhere in his chest, and in his memories, that he should stay behind. The town needs him, and he needs it. No one gets out of Silent Hill.
But right now, all he can see is a big grin on Vince’s face, and how one strand of hair is stuck to his chin, and his free hand reaching out to brush it away, and then past to his neck, and then pulling him in. And everything’s going to be alright, or as close as it gets in a place like this.
They start walking.