Hello again. Despite the encouraging feedback I've gotten so far, I can't help but wonder if anyone is getting bored with the domestic setting and the volume of dialogue. As this is a hurt/comfort fic, I do usually tone the action down quite a bit for stories like these, and they tend to focus more on the individual relationships between characters and character development. I also wonder if anyone thinks my writing style can be confusing to follow at times, since I flit in and out of flashbacks and things like that. Constructive criticism is welcome as well as compliments!
Chapter Seven: Unwell
Laura's clothes were strewn all over the bedroom. A jean skirt and the pink bra from the day before lay in a crumpled heap by the bed, and her worn Hollister tank-top was spread out over the covers. After a long night of talking about a wide array of subjects, Laura decided to take a shower. James stood staring at the clothes, feeling a certain dread.
In all the time she had been here, no one had called her. He never saw her take out her phone to text anyone. Wasn't someone thinking about her? Wondering about her? Searching for her, possibly?
At the risk of entertaining the thought that he could be sheltering a runaway, or that she might not be be in college at all, he turned on the TV.
Some old CSI: Miami was on. He always held a little disdain for forensic shows like this. The reason didn't present itself, though.
About fifteen minutes later, the water stopped running. Steam started streaming through the bottom of the door, floating upward and disappearing before reaching the ceiling. She was in there for another ten minutes after that, emerging from the bathroom with a towel wrapped carelessly around her hair and her bald forehead beaded with water droplets. She looked like a plain mermaid, except with an older, more discerning look. He wondered why, especially at her age, that her eyes could do so much to him. Make him feel invaded. Found out.
She broke into a smile and said, “CSI?”
“Huh?” his eyes flitted to the screen. “Yeah. Don't really watch it, but there's hardly anything good on.”
“You need better cable, then.”
“Dish is fine for me. I'm not a big TV person. Most of the time I just keep it on to fill the house with some noise.”
Laura elapsed into silence for a little while after that remark. She seated herself and started squeezing her hair dry with the towel, tussling it every now and then to get some volume going. Her hair was too flat to put any body into it, he knew, but she still applied all sorts of “voluminous” products to her hair anyhow.
“You remember Joseph?”
“Of course.” He changed the channel.
“Well I didn't tell you this when I was little, but I found out that Stan pulled a dirty trick on me to get me to work against you and Joseph.” This she stated very glibly as she shook her hair out. Her tawny blond hair settled like a wet rag across her sunburned shoulders.
“..I figured that.”
“That's not all he did.”
The channel changed again.
“He lied. He told me that if I didn't testify, then they would just give you life in prison. And then they'd throw me back in the orphanage 'to rot'. That's how he said it... 'To rot'..” Laura's expression grew dark. “And that's what they did.”
“I didn't get life in prison, Laura,” he patted her damp shoulder. He went to the kitchen to pour her something to drink, thinking that she could probably use it, even if she wasn't thirsty.
When he came back with it, she stared at it for a moment, and then her eyes creased hatefully. She grabbed it from him, spilling a little on her thumb and setting it down on the table hard. “Why don't you ever tell me anything!”
James still had his hand in mid air, cupped around an imaginary glass of water. His mouth slightly agape, he only breathed through his lips, again unable to speak anything that would really answer her. Instead, he took out his quickly diminishing pack of Marlboro Reds and lit up. Laura looked appalled.
Her hands were digging into her knees and her mouth was set in a hard line. “You're not going to heal if you never let it out, you know.”
“You'll be a great psychologist one day, Laura,” he puffed smoke out and rested his head on the couch. “Just talk to your patients like you talk to me.”
A desperate confusion began to set in her features. She shook her head and turned away, not sure what to say anymore.
James took another drag of his cigarette and looked at his burnt hand. The spot had become purple and begun to shed. When he stretched out his palm, it would sting. Her fingers threaded through his own and caressed the sensitive area around the wound.
“How did you get this?”
“How do you think?” he pulled his hand away.
“You don't..hurt yourself like this on a regular basis, do you?”
He rolled his eyes and closed his hand into a fist, staring at it with some degree and bitter concentration. “I'm not some depressed teenager. I think I can handle my crappy moods without mutilating myself constantly.”
“Talk to me.” she languished on the couch, sweetly touching her fingers to her lips.
“Hello Moto..” his phone burst, a square of blue light visible from his jeans pocket. Sweet salvation. He groaned and pulled it out, taking another second to look at the caller. He glimpsed at Laura and put a finger to his lips, and opened the phone. “Victoria,” he murmured.
The voice on the other line didn't wait for a greeting; instead it rambled on for a while in its small, indistinct voice.
“I know, I know.”
Some more garbled language, a nod on James' part, a quick, “Okay. Yep.”
He closed the phone like a clam and shoved it back in his pocket, standing up. “Uhm..” he took a moment to survey his apartment. It was in shambles again. Too many pizza boxes on the kitchen counter. Some bottles of ice-tea on the table. The TV screen was dusty.
“I'm going to start tidying up. If I don't, Victoria will have a BF.”
Laura burst out laughing at the unexpected White Chicks reference. “A BF! I didn't know you liked movies.”
“I don't.” James set off to clean the house.
“So is someone more important than me coming over?” she asked, crossing her arms in faux contempt, though he knew it was how she really felt to a degree.
James trashed the pizza boxes and wiped down the table, “You can stay, if you want,” he continued, followed by a huff of exertion as he tried to scrub a small stain out of existence, “But I don't know how you'll feel around her. She is a little.. much, even for me.”
Laura went into the bedroom and came back with her hair brush. “Is she coming over right now?”
“In a little bit, she'll be here, yeah.” The sink turned on and James washed his hands. Without turning around, he asked, “So you're staying?”
“Nah, I have to go to classes soon anyway. And besides, you probably have a lot to discuss with her that's of a...” she picked at a knot in her hair, “A private nature.”
James didn't respond.
Laura reemerged with only two books and a pack of chewing gum in her arms. James studied her, tempted to ask why she was leaving with so little, but she beat him to it. “I'm going to be coming by after classes.”
He wanted to say something but for some reason his mouth kept closed.
In a flash a look of genuine concern graced her features. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah,” he exhaled.
Her departure strangely set him on a route of thinking that was a tad unsettling to consider. It had been two days since she came here, and still no talk of relatives, any friends aside from Katelyn, who she was now on bad terms with, and no talk of college. She never brought up her classes or anything interesting she had learned. She only wanted to know about him. How could she get on him about not telling him anything if she didn't want to spill anything herself?
Scratch what happened to him. That was old news. What had happened to her?
In view of the fact that Victoria would be here in a few minutes, James put away his cigarettes (she didn't like it when he smoked) and changed his clothes, which he had sloppily slept in.
By the time he finished all of these busying tasks he caught sight of Victoria closing the door and stuffing her keys back in her purse. “Hey.” she said lightheartedly.
“Hey.” That was quick.
“So you told her?”
“I didn't tell her like you told me to. I just said I wouldn't push her away anymore. That's it.”
Victoria didn't look all that impressed, but she nodded anyway. “That's good I guess. She stayed over?”
“Now you said you met her in Silent Hill, correct?” she began to sound like a cop.
“Yes, you are correct,” he mocked.
“Okay. So.. Did she see any monsters, like you did?”
“..No. But why would she? She was only 8 years old at the time. She had no baggage.”
“What do you mean?”
He sighed, took a deep breath, and tried not to care how crazy he sounded. “They don't... It doesn't appear.. I mean, you don't see anything unless..you have something in your heart. Something dark and—unresolved.”
“And who told you this?” she tilted her head.
“No one. I just know. Eddie, Angela—and people I haven't even met. They all said the same thing. Said they saw things.”
“Hmm.” James wasn't used to seeing this kind of troubled look on Victoria's face. Whether it was because she might just be giving some credence to what he was saying or she was now beginning to think he was even crazier than she thought, he couldn't ascertain.
“Now, you said you took a lot of papers with you, right? While you were walking around, you picked stuff up..” she said to jog his memory.
“Yeah, I picked a whole bunch of stuff up. A lot of it I didn't keep though. It just made me heavier.”
“And do you have any of those papers?”
James shook his head. “They're all with Joseph. I never bothered to ask for them back. For all I know, they're tacked on some policeman's bulletin board as a clue for missing people, or my psychiatrist has them.”
Victoria's eyes did a strange thing. They suddenly flitted to the side, and then to the ceiling, as if she birthed a new idea. “I want you to call Joseph.”
“Don't have his number.”
“Then look him up,” Victoria snapped, “And then ask for everything back.”
Victoria nodded. James went into the kitchen with a huff of defeat. “Want some coffee?”
“Sure.” she went to the bathroom and fixed her hair, which the wind had blown a little out of place. Through the mirror, she could see the door to his bedroom slightly ajar.
Victoria stepped out and glimpsed at James, who had her back turned to her as he took out a container of Maxwell House coffee and started washing the long neglected dishes. She slipped off quickly to his room.
Right at the foot of the door, there lay a pair of panties and other strewn articles of clothing. The bed was not made, and two books were piled on top of each other on the side drawer.
“I told Victoria, but she didn't believe me. I told Joseph, and he wanted to use it as grounds for an insanity plea.”
Laura swallowed. “I'm sorry, James, but.. I didn't see anything. It just looked like a normal town to me.”
“It's alright. You weren't meant to,” he said softly, pulling out various brown and tattered papers sown together by withering string.
“What are those?” she pointed.
“Your material for a therapy session.” He handed her the notes he found on the street.
She read over them quickly, muttering to herself, “Run away, run away...” She lifted her eyes to his. “What is this?”
“What do you think it is?”
“So..there were others who saw those things? The monsters?”
“They weren't the same for everyone.”
“You mean they didn't look the same? Did Eddie see monsters?”
“Yeah. He said so when I first met him in the apartment building.”
James sifted through the papers and came across the old, bloodied newspaper article that mentioned Thomas Orosco, and shifted it to the back of the pile. It now came to Angela, the girl Laura never met. While they had discussed Angela briefly, he didn't go into detail about her past or her ultimate fate, as it felt like a misdeed to Angela's memory if one only remembered her as a girl with an abusive past who, in the end, couldn't escape her demons and fell into the abyss.
Eddie, however, was an unavoidable subject, and she was especially interested in his gunshot wounds because she remembered he had been bleeding in the hotel. Laura was so engrossed in the retelling of his final confrontation with Eddie that she visibly reacted to it; she would gasp whenever Eddie cursed and put her hands to her heart when James was shot again, causing him to stumble to the ground and scramble around for the shotgun. Laura's hands flew up to her mouth. James almost felt like laughing and telling her that obviously he lived through it because he was still here, but thought it would be more important to just go on with the story.
And so, after a last chance shot, Eddie finally collapsed with a frightening bellow of defeat, and died there on the cold floor of the meat locker, like an fairytale beast. The act of killing him triggered an odd thought.
“..So that's when I really started to think that Mary didn't die three years ago, which you confirmed when you told me how old you were later on..”
Laura's arm slowly snaked up his chest, and James tensed. Her fingers stopped at his collarbone, hooking onto his shirt and slowly pulling it down. Sure enough, a dark, purplish spot stared back at her, the skin surrounding it still looking puffed up and swollen, even after the time that had elapsed.
“Which one of your arms was it?” she began rolling up his sleeves.
“Laura!” James grasped her wrist and placed it back on her lap. “Please keep your hands to yourself. If you wanted to see it, I could have shown you myself.”
She looked down. “Sorry.”
He sighed, and took off his jacket. Then he shimmied out of his baggy collared polo, leaving just a plain black Fruit of the Loom t-shirt underneath. Laura suppressed the urge to ask why he was still wearing layers in the spring time, and gaped at the discolored dimple on his left forearm, mere inches from his shoulder wound. “Almost thought I couldn't use this arm anymore, it was so painful to walk, to run around.”
The battle with the two Red Pyramids he had to skim past—at this point, she was so wierded out by his macabre tale she was almost too afraid to ask questions.
But it wasn't as if he could avoid her—the mysterious woman named Maria.
“But how could she look so much like Mary and not be Mary? Maybe it was a trick.”
James laughed softly at the thought. “It wasn't the type of trick you would normally suppose. And anyway, the thing was, she wasn't real. She was just something I dreamed up.”
“Like a mirage?”
“No, she wasn't a mirage. She was real, and at the same time she wasn't. I could touch her, feel her—but I was probably the only person who could. She was only for me.”
Laura tried to wrap her head around this. No matter how she tried to believe it, to give James the benefit of the doubt, she couldn't. It was just too outlandish. She never realized how deeply he was disturbed by Silent Hill.
“Wow, James, that's...” she sighed, rubbing the back of her hands with her thumb and forefinger, “That..”
“You don't have to believe me.” James said. “But you wanted to know, and I didn't think, if we were going to continue to be friends, that I should keep this from you. That's what you wanted to know.”
Laura could have accepted it more easily if everything he'd seen had the properties of mirages, of insane delusions, but the fact that he could really batter them with a steel pipe and they would really bleed and cry out, she couldn't give credibility to. Yet, it was better than never knowing how he saw it, what he thought he went through. The fact that he could tell her these things, bizarre and terrifying as they were, was a step in the right direction.
But he said Eddie and Angela saw them, too. What did that mean, then? Was he lying?
“That's why you were surprised I didn't have a scratch on me..back there in the hospital.”
“Yeah,” James absently answered, putting his papers on the little shelf by the couch, while taking out some newer papers sheathed by a manilla folder. “Take a look at these if you want.”
They were a series of pencil sketches, some poorly drawn by James' unaccustomed hand, and others by a more experienced drawer. Most of them looked like they might have been human at one point in time, except for the box-like creatures that had black, charcoalish little feet hanging from their bodies. James even gave them an assortment of names.
“Straight Jacket Thing,” or “Patient Demon”; “Mannequin,”, “Legs,” or “Barbie Dolls”; “Lips,” “Flesh bed”...
“Who's this guy? Is that the thing you saw in the apartment building? Behind the cage?”
“Yeah. At first he was the 'Red Pyramid Thing', because when I first saw him, he was blood red, but then after that I just started calling him 'Pyramid Head'.” James visibly shuddered. “He's not one to be trifled with.”
“Who drew the other ones?”
“A psychology teacher at Ashfield University.”
Laura lit up. “Who?” she cried. “Is it Dr. Strahm? Mr. Leibowitz?”
James had dreaded this. If Laura knew who the teacher was, no doubt, she'd go up to him and ask him all the questions that James was unwilling to answer. “Listen, I'm not telling you who it was. And if you pursue it, I will call up the teacher myself and tell him to lie and say he doesn't know me, okay?”
“Why are you being like this?” she crossed her arms.
“He doesn't know what I really did to Mary, okay?” he said coldly. “I just told him she died because she was sick, and since then, I've been having nightmares. I did not tell him about Silent Hill. And anyway, you know more than he does now, so just drop the damn subject.”
Laura felt a rock drop in her stomach. James could be so volatile at times, she just didn't know when it would come up and bite her in the backside.
“Are you hungry?” his voice softened. He put the papers away.
“A little,” she shrugged, still a tad shaken after James' outburst.
James rummaged around in his freezer and brushed past a plastic bag of frozen corn dogs, which Victoria brought over despite the fact he hated corn dogs, a packet of green beans, some fries, frozen chocolate pops, and some chicken patties. “Umm.. chicken patties and fries? A corn dog if you want.” James chuckled to himself.
James baked the chicken patties instead of microwaving them so they would be crispier, and added some lettuce and bacon for more flavor. He used his until-now useless deep fryer, another thing that Victoria decided to drop on him, and they sat down at the kitchenette and started eating. He guessed they were both sick of the couch by now.
“I talked to Katelyn today,” she quipped, her cheeks full.
“She wants me to leave. Well, I want to leave too.”
“Because we've just grown apart. To tell you the truth, we're quite sick of each other.” she tilted her head and took another bite of her sandwich, her eyes fixed on James.
“..So what are you going to do now?”
Laura shrugged passively, ripping her sandwich apart and stuffing herself with some more fries. Through her gorged mouth, she uttered, “I don't know.”
When she swallowed, she rested her chin on the palm of her hand. “I'll start looking around. Do you mind if I shack up with you for a couple of days?”
James saw Elise regularly at work, just as Bettie had predicted. She usually came in twice a day to get something from the back room. At both of these occurrences, they exchanged curt greetings, but one day, circumstance compelled her to visit the back room a third time, in which they started a short conversation—nothing pressing, just a bunch of small talk, which James kind of hated, but at least he could put Victoria at ease with the fact that he was beginning to branch out in the social department. It appeared that Bettie had already invited her to dinner. James felt slightly jealous until Elise added, “And she was going to ask you, she said, but she had something to do today so she called off work. I think one of her family members is sick or something.”
“Well, I'll definitely be there, if she asks.”
For some reason, the idea of Elise being at the dinner set his stomach aflutter with excitement—not necessarily the good type of excitement, but the nervous, hopeful kind. James knew his boundaries with starting new relationships, and indeed, he had been really interested in someone before, only for it to end horribly because of his sheltered personality and his now futile loyalty to Mary. He wasn't sure what would come of it, but if it could lead to anything good, then for the first time in a long while, he was willing to try.
After Elise had left, James opened his phone and decided to text Laura.
I am going to a dinner some time soon so you might be alone at the house for a while. He pressed “send”.
Error! Cannot Send Message. Code 3845 (Saved As Draft)
James sighed. Stupid phone.
He pressed the green button and called her. One ring, two, then three..
We're sorry. The number you have dialed is not in service at this time. Please check the number or try your call again.
Confusion set in like a bad taste on his tongue. He waited a few minutes for a call back or a text message, but nothing came. He called again. Still the same result.
Why couldn't he get a hold of her all of a sudden? Laura..
Are you in trouble? He inexplicably wondered.