Part I: The Welcoming-Chapter 2
There was no sound of wind howling in my ears; just the quiet stillness of hills, the crunch of the tires on gravel roads, and the hushed breathing from Cheryl.
The slow strobe-light effect of the hillside lights began to give me a headache after some time, especially from focusing on the road for so many hours already. Considering how many miles I’d driven over flat plains, it was a miracle I didn’t get road-hypnotized. So it was no surprise I was getting very anxious for a break seven hours into the trip.
When I was four hours in, I found that the radio seemed to lull me to sleep rather than keep me awake. I decided it best for me to provide my own soundtrack for the remainder of the trip, that “soundtrack” being the very thoughts that rambled through my thick head.
A specific thought kept pushing itself to the forefront of my mind, but I continually fought to keep it back.
“This road trip could prove to be a very good story,” I thought inwardly. “It would be personal, making it even more interesting to readers. Who knows what kind of strange secrets and history we could encounter.”
I mentally slapped myself on the hand, recoiling from the thought. How could Harry Mason, writer of the Daily Stand, make money off such a story? I could hear the title now.
“Journalist’s Daughter Crazy:
Conspiracy With Cultist Town.”
Using a story from my own life about my daughter’s misery to pull in more readers…I got nauseous from the simple mention of it. I applauded myself generously from keeping this story from my editor. My editor, being the greedy man that he was, would kill his own mother just so he could have the exclusive scoop. I knew sooner or later that he would put together the pieces.
The stress’ affect on Cheryl had begun to transfer to me, putting a damper on my creativity and causing my writing to become more monotonous and bland. “Writer’s block via daughter”, I thought to myself every tine I sat down to my laptop, hoping in vain that words would start forming a great story because they felt pity for me.
Times were tough, and it was showing. This seemingly strange trip (screw that, it was strange) could make or break my career. As painful as the experience had been for my daughter and I, there was some good that could come out of it. I began to feel that a new, stronger bond had formed between us since Jodie’s death.
Since the day we found Cheryl on the side of the road, I knew my life would change. As much as a blessing Cheryl was to my wife and I, I always felt Cheryl bonded more to Jodie than I. As much as I tried, I felt as if I could never break those walls down. Maybe had Cheryl been my blood-daughter, it would have been different. Still, I loved her very much as my own flesh and blood.
Now, through the grief of my wife’s unfortunate passing and Cheryl’s dreadful experiences, something had happened to those walls. Perhaps a small, invisible army had marched around Cheryl’s mental “Walls of Jericho”, singing and shouting until the Walls had come a ’tumblin’ down. Now able to breach the walls, I felt a closeness with Cheryl that I’d never felt before.
God, I missed Jodie. As the lights blurred past me in the dark road, it oddly reminded me of how the long fluorescent lights of the hospital seemed to fly past overhead as I chased after Jodie’s limp form in a hospital gurney.
The doctors all talked too fast.
The lights went by too fast.
Jodie’s life…it all went by too fast.
I remember standing by her bedside, the salty tears stinging my eyes. It reminded me of being out in the ocean way too long. But this ocean was much. I was drowning in this one.
As the life drained out of her, I’d told her how much I loved her, and how much the time I did have with her meant to me. I apologized for being so closed up when she got sick…I was never too great with dealing with real-life trauma. Under stress I either yelled or clammed up, and with her I acted more clam than human. All the interviews, and all the stories I wrote that seemed so gregarious and open…that was easy because it wasn’t me.
Now as she lied there on that hospital bed, I thought of how many more times I should have said “I love you” and how much more I should have expressed my feelings with her and how I should have admitted when I was wrong and how I didn’t mean anything harsh I ever said and how I--
Stop it, Harry!
--and she had tried to speak, but couldn’t really say much of anything, being so weak. But I knew. Her eyes said more than any words could. They truly are the windows to the soul.
When I first found out that my wife was sick, I put on a show. Anyone, especially men, know about putting on this particular performance. You try to act strong and brave to give everyone else’s strength, or act like it doesn’t bother you as much as it really does. And in these situations, it’s all a bunch of crap.
Problem is, it does bother you. Yet we still hide.
Over the six months, I kept up the false bravado, hoping the façade would make everything all right no matter what, and that I was handling the situation with ease. Fake it ‘til you make it.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The wellspring of grief and tears that I had pushed down had gotten full. At each moment that Jodie’s condition worsened, the well began to fill, rising further to the surface. After a time, the well was overflowing, and the pressure was too great. I finally let it burst.
As I lay beside her on the bed, I thought back on all the times we had. The times we had tried to have a baby was hard. “She’s just not going to be able,” the doctor had said.
There were so many nights we lay in bed, her arms around me, completely encompassed with one another in the ecstasy of love making. The love we shared was sweet, and satisfying like a frosted beer on a hot summer day. Though I didn’t verbally express my love (ironic as it sounds being a journalist), the physical part was never too hard for me. The fact still remained: Jodie knew I loved her, and I knew that she loved me, and that’s all that mattered...and then we found Cheryl. She was our angel, the answer to our prayers.
Those were some damn good years, and that was a fact. And nothing could take it from us, except for….
Feeling myself getting emotional over my reminiscing, I snapped back to reality, watching the roads pass by, when suddenly a field caught my eye.
Without warning, the synapses in my brain began to fire off. A new connection flowed through the neurons in my brain.
This is where we found Cheryl…
As tempting as it was to stop, I didn’t. The sound of the wheels and the road soothed Cheryl and she slept soundly now. If I stopped, I was afraid that if she awoke she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. And if she asked questions, I didn’t want to lie to her. Not now.
I looked out at the grassy patch of road beside me. This was definitely the spot where Jodie and I had found her. I couldn’t believe that I had never figured it out before.
As if there weren’t enough questions already floating around, many new ones began to spring up, as well as a new possibility. Cheryl could have been born in Silent Hill.
I let my mind flow freely with the questions, and tried to answer them as best I could. Yet, no answers were definite enough. I had to find out for myself. Finally tired of wracking my brain for answers, I began to think back on when Jodie was sick again.
I missed her so much. This invisible hole had formed, and for now, Cheryl was able to fill it. Yet, when I thought of Jodie…
Although the dark years with Cheryl preceding her death were hard, I would do everything over again in a heartbeat, if it meant that I could see Jodie again. Life was hard, but the best times could be made within the hard times. I always believed it, but in all honesty you can’t always feel that way. Hard truths are easier to believe than soft lies.
I shook myself out of the past thoughts, trying not to get too lost within. Instead, I thought maybe I should turn the radio on and see what was worth hearing. I reached over and clicked on the radio and was immediately greeted by a harsh, piercing noise.
Instinctively, I held my hands over my ears, making it hard to concentrate on the road. In that unexpected moment, I swerved too hard to the right, barely brushing the guardrail. Panic set inside me as I felt sure the Jeep would plow through the rail, but Lady Luck seemed to be on my side for the moment. She was a saint…
While all this was happening, Cheryl woke up with a startle to the screeching sound, and began to wail. Her screams seemed almost in sync with the radio’s noise.
I frantically punched at the power button with my thumb, proving unsuccessful and my panic retarded my coordination. The screaming made it that much harder to concentrate, and I swerved to the left towards the mountain pass. The strange squeal changed, turning into spikes of static
“Cheryl, stop screaming!” I yelled, finally hitting the button to turn off the sound. With the squealing noise gone, Cheryl simultaneously ceased her yammering, and the air fell into an uncomfortable silence.
Before I could even breathe a sigh of relief, blue and red lights began to flash from behind us.
Superb timing, Pork Chop. I thought, suppressing a small giggle in my throat. Cheryl pulled her knees up to her chest and her eyes did a superb imitation of a trapped doe.
“You alright, hun?” I spoke softly now, hoping to keep Cheryl calm. I felt a little guilty for yelling, but I’m sure Cheryl understood that I was just reacting. She responded with a quiet, simple nod of the head.
“Alright, just be very still, okay? The officer probably saw me swerve and wanted to know what was happening.” Cheryl nodded her head again, and turned inquisitively, looking through the back window.
From looking in the rearview mirror, I could tell that the police car was not that big…in fact, it wasn’t a car at all. It was a motorcycle. I began slowing down, trying to find a suitable spot to the side, but could find none that were far enough from the road. The cop sped up, and was soon right next to me.
The officer pointed to me, then pointed out to the right. Following her gesture, I saw she was referring to a gas station half a mile from our current position. I waved courteously with a forced smile. Anxiety began to set in.
Was I going to be in trouble? Anyone who watched my car swerve the way it did would suspect a drunk driver, and I was sure that’s what the officer surmised. I could hear her telling her buddies on the force already, “Yeah, some irresponsible drunk dad taking his daughter for a car ride of terror around the mountain.” After a minute or two, my newly acquired friend and I reached the aforementioned Texaco station.
By now, I was becoming surer by the minute that I could be arrested for reckless driving and even child endangerment with Cheryl in the car. And the Dad of the Year award goes to….
How could I have been so stupid? I thought. Swerving like that because of a stupid noise. My stupid reflexes…I could have killed us both! Inward I was smacking the back of my head. I glanced back over at my wide-eyed daughter, a deep regret settling in me and making me sick. The poor girl was sucking her thumb, which she hadn’t done in years.
“Thumb out, Cheryl,” I said softly, and she quietly removed it.
I deserved this, but not Cheryl. Her daddy had let her down, and I was so close to reaching my destination. All I wanted to do was help her, and now I was going to get locked up, and Cheryl would be taken away from me, and…
”Calm down!” I shouted inwardly. “Just relax, and explain the situation. That’s all you can do. Getting yourself worked up is not going to help anything!” I had a bad habit lately of overthinking and exaggerating. With no one else to do it, sometimes I had to yell at myself to keep my mind straight. Very therapeutic…maybe I’ll go back to school for psychology.
Two minutes passed, which felt like an eternity for me. I was sure, completely convinced, that cops took their time on purpose to make you sweat. It was probably part of their police code, to freak people out--of this I was sure.
Finally, the officer approached the car. Interestingly, when the officer removed his helmet, I realized that it wasn’t a “he’ but a “she.” A blonde ponytail popped out from underneath the helmet. The police officer walked up to the window briskly, with a very methodical kind of grace.
As stressed as I was, for some reason I couldn’t help but notice the officer was attractive, and the tight uniform seemed to accentuate how well she kept in shape. She worked out, it was obvious, keeping a toned, fit physique. As much as I was intimidated by cops, this one was attractive enough to make me not mind as much.
Maybe she would even rough me up a little after she put on the cuffs…
Dammit Harry, focus! You’re getting pulled over, and your mind is wandering. Keep it together.
“License and registration, sir,” she said neutrally, interrupting my inner monologue. I silently handed her all of the information, making sure to move slow and in a perfectly overly-coordinated fashion. She took the papers back to her bike, and started to process it through a small handheld device installed somewhere near the handlebars.
“Get a look at that, Cheryl? They’ve got computers on bikes! Cool huh?” I said incredulously, trying to get Cheryl to perk up a bit. She nodded, looking quizzically at the officer. Cheryl didn’t get excited about too much recently. After a minute or two, the officer returned to the car, holding out the two items for me to take.
“Thank you sir,” the officer began sharply. “My name is Officer Bennett. I saw you veer back and forth on the road back there. Is everything all right?” The question wasn’t demanding or judgmental, but it wasn’t one-hundred percent out of pure concern either.
“Um, yes ma’am. Everything is fine. We just…I went to turn the radio on, and the station I had programmed came out as loud static because we live eight hours away. Anyway, my daughter started screaming and…I just panicked and lost control for a second.” The officer looked at me, her blue eyes seeming to bore into my brain. They were a pretty blue color, like the crystalline waters of a pure lake. Yet, those sapphires were probing me, piercing into my ethical fortitude.
“You know how serious drunk driving is, don’t you Mr. Mason?” The question wasn’t a question at all. It was a rhetorical probe. I wasn’t biting the lure.
“Yes ma’am, I realize that. I’m not drunk, you can test me if you want. Search my car if you have to. I’ve had a long car ride, and I was just startled, that’s all.” The officer looked at me once more, and nodded. Her face seemed to lighten up a little. I think she was finally convinced I wasn’t some criminal trying to neglectfully kill my own daughter.
“And who’s this back here?” She said, a slight smile escaping her lips. Cheryl peeked up at her shyly. “What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Cheryl,” my daughter responded sheepishly.
“Cheryl, what a pretty name!” The officer beamed.
“Has your daddy been drinking from a bottle or anything like that?” I couldn’t believe it! This woman was unbelievable! The nerve!
“No, Miss Officer lady. He only drinks coffee or energy drinks ”
That’s right, Cheryl! Tell her!
She chatted with Cheryl for another agonizing three minutes, then turned back to me.
“You have a precious little girl back there, Mr. Mason. I recommend you don’t go veering off the road again. I believe you, okay? I just want you to be careful out there. How much more driving you got to do?”
“About an hour’s worth. I’m heading up to Silent Hill.”
“Silent Hill, huh? Interesting little town. I’ve been by there some. Good for relaxation. Very interesting locals there.”
Yeah, no kidding…
“Yes ma’am. We’re on vacation. Toluca Lake looks to die for.” I decided that short and sweet was the best thing. She seemed chatty, and I was ready to get on my way.
“Well, you two be safe,” the officer said, beginning to step away. “Get you some coffee or something if you’re continuing on, ok? If you can’t make it, please pull over to the side of the road and take a nap. I see way too many people get into car wrecks from exhaustion because they couldn’t admit they were too tired.”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied respectfully, yet still irritated. “Thank you.” The officer nodded and returned to her bike. I exhaled slowly.
“That was a close one, daddy,” Cheryl suddenly spoke. Taking in the comment, I giggled a little bit, comically wiping my brow.
“Yeah, sure was, kiddo.” Then, I decided it was probably a good idea to go ahead and get some coffee for the remainder of the trip. The officer was right. I couldn’t take any more chances, especially when I was so close.
“C’mon with me, sweetie. Let’s get something to drink,” I got out, and unlocked the doors, ushering Cheryl out with me. The gas station loomed ahead of us.
“Daddy, did you think the officer lady was gonna lock you up?” As irritating as it was how insightful kids were, you couldn’t help but admire their honesty.
“Yeah, a little bit. But you could bust me out, right?” I smiled playfully.
“How would I do that?” She said, not sure if I was kidding.
“Just smile real sweet and say, ‘excuse me sir, can you let my daddy out of jail, puh-leeeeease!!’” My mock silly grin got her giggling as we walked towards the station. Inside, I picked a hot steaming cup of Cappucino, while Cheryl downed half a Fruit Punch before we even reached the car.
“You were thirsty, weren’t ya?” I chided playfully. Cheryl burped, blushed slightly, and covered her mouth. I lightly ruffled her hair as we made our way back into the car. Wearily but in good spirits, we continued our way down the road towards our destination. Now, I had the warm comfort of caffeine and coffee on my side. This last stretch wouldn’t be so bad after all
Though, I wouldn’t be saying that had I known what really was ahead of me…