Chapter 17: A Release of Delirium
The world turned deep crimson, the color of living tissue. Nimh stood in a hallway, the very floors, walls, and ceiling of which seemingly stitched out of living tissue, thousands of tiny veins all pumping and retracting. Steam arose from the floor beneath her old-fashioned sneakers, unpleasantly warm, and carrying the thick odors of sulfur and burned materials: scorched leaves, singed flesh, melting rubber. She heard a not-too-distant dripping and chains jingling against one another.
It's as if I'm inside a living thing, and an old, old machine, all at once, Nimh marveled, half in fear and in amazement. In all her wildest fantasies, wrapped up in her own demented lies at Stonewall, she could have never imagined such horrid things on her own. Never.
She made her way down the hall, taking it at a steady pace, her ears honed for attack on either side. Nothing must get in her way of reaching Nichole. She owed her former best friend that much. At length she came to the end of the long hallway and hit a dead end. A giant pipe about twice her width ran up into the ceiling and down into the floor. Instinctively, she knew she must go down. Wherever she was, she would have to go deeper into the bowels of it to get to Nichole. It would most likely mean her imminent death. She was afraid, but the fear was held back by her determination and her guilt.
"Okay," she murmured under her breath, looking the pipe over. Part of the pipe had corrugated from constant water running across its metal surface, and the result was a human-sized, rusted rent in the pipe's surface. Nimh searched for something to strike against the pipe, but she was afraid to touch the walls. And the floor was made of a diamond-patterned metal grate, flat, without anything to pry up.
Nimh turned around and checked down the hallway once, making sure nothing was following her. The pyramid demon had not entered through the wall. He was not a part of her, despite what Dr. Rutilus had said. He was a punisher, a tormentor, yes, but not birthed from any piece of her.
But perhaps he is a part of all of us. She shuddered. A flickering caught her eye, a dapple of white light that darted across the wall to her left. She reversed direction and faced the pipe again. She saw nothing. Perhaps it had been her mind playing tricks. She turned around again and the light flashed momentarily on the ceiling. She looked up. Nothing.
What the hell?
Nimh took a few cautious steps forward, but stopped again when the light returned, briefly. She marked the angle and followed it back to the source, and realized with a little jolt of revelation that the light had been reflected off of the pendulum she now wore around her neck.
Her hand strayed to the little circle of flat metal. She waited, watching. There! A beam of light leapt at the opposite end of the hallway, a small spark of illumination in the thick blackness. She jogged toward it, one hand on the pendulum, keeping it steady.
"Nichole?" she called, quite out of breath after the first few yards. She kept going despite not receiving an answer. Now and then the reflection bobbed on a wall, or the floor, or the ceiling, only for a moment, and then it vanished. Someone, somewhere, was shining a light, trying to grab her attention.
She went on, calling Nichole's name, and began to pass doors that looked to have been white, at one point in time, but were now crosshatched by brownish-red cracks. She tried every lock, but none would give. Eventually she came to a T-section and had to choose between right and left. Fortunately, the reflection appeared again, to her left, and she followed.
As she inspected and passed more doors, she underwent a sense of déjà vu. As she walked past the second to last door before the hallway turned right, she heard an old man's fumbling, foreign language, crying and muffled.
My God, she thought. It's the same voice from the beginning. I must be in Stonewall.
That explained the familiarity of the corridors, but did little to ease her terror and uncertainty. At one point she had to stop and sit down on the floor and breathe, deep, calming breaths, rocking back and forth. She only did this for half a minute before continuing, she did not feel safe standing still for any longer than that.
At last the light guided her to an open door and she peeped around it to look in at the room. The stark white tiles and bed sheets stung her eyes, even after such a brief amount of time back in the dark and crimson corridors. She stepped inside the room and searched for any abnormalities—here was an empty bed, the sheets ruffled, here was a porcelain toilet, drained f water. It looked like the room she had been captive in, what felt like so long ago, but the piles of food trays and trash and broken tiles that she remembered were not there.
Then something under the bed caught her eye, a blurry square that stood out from the shadows, and she dropped to her knees and poked her head underneath the mattress. A sledgehammer was tangled in the springs of the bed. She grasped the cold, heavy head of the hammer and wrenched the handle free. She pulled herself out from under the bed and stood up, hefting her new tool in her hands.
No sooner had she darted out of the room when she was attacked by a creature she had never seen before. A gray blur descending from a pipe on the ceiling, swooping down like a vulture, shrieking. Her eyes just barely made out a lethal set of talons aimed at her face. She ducked and swung the hammer over her head, but she miscalculated the weight of it and the hammer dragged her down onto the hard tile floors, knocking the breath out of her. The creature wheeled and came at her again, and this time she saw large, black, empty eyes, two seed-shaped pits for nostrils, and the long, razor-sharp beak that was open in a hiss of malice, the curled tongue lined with purple muscles and the back of a throat that bulged and taughtened.
Nimh stood shakily and tightened her grip around the smooth handle of the hammer. The creature let loose another ear-splitting cry and extended its talons, aiming for her eyes. She had little opportunity to time her swing, and so she swung again blindly. The hammer missed and smacked against the wall, the shock so great that she was forced to drop it and cringed. The bird-ghost's needlelike talons did not miss; they raked across the flesh of her right shoulder.
She clutched at her wounded upper arm, heaving deep, rattling breaths, and when the banshee-ghost-bird-creature dove at her again, she ran, ducking just enough to feel the gust of its wings. Now she had to choose: the hammer or, very likely, her eyes and face. The bird landed on top of the pipe, just above the door to the open room, and Nimh shuddered to think that it had been watching her the entire time. It leered down at her with its empty sockets, its rotten skull cracked and bare in patches, long, dark, ragged hair hanging down around the sides. It had bulky, powerful shoulders and a wingspan that nearly stretched from wall to wall. Its chest, she noticed for the first time, had two female breasts buried under downy feathers and coarse dark hair. Pieces of flesh and wispy rags trailed down the split tail-feathers, and the eye-watering smell it had released from attacking her was something like mildew and bird shit mixed together.
I used to know what these creatures were called, she thought. In her head she only thought banshee, even though she knew it was wrong. The hammer lay about fifteen feet from her current location, and the banshee was perched above and just behind it. It ruffled its wings and cocked its head, the breasts like two small tumors swaying with the movement. Disgusting, miserable creature. All she wanted was the fucking hammer, was that too much to ask? It was then that she remembered the thing's name, and by remembering, she had power over her fear at last.
"Harpy!" Nimh accused, and she sprinted for the hammer, drawing her head into her shoulders. The bird, startled at her outburst or perhaps cocky, waited another second or two before it screeched and dove. Nimh flattened her body as her fingers grasped the handle, and she landed on one knee, pushed off, spun, and swung. The hammer collided between the Harpy's muscular neck and shoulder.
It squawked and crashed to the ground, floundering in a torrent of wings and feathers and dust. Nimh placed her foot between the harpy's breasts, pinning it down, and hesitated, pitying the twitching, squealing creature before her. Then a fresh wave of pain stung her shoulder, and she swung the hammer overhead, bringing it down with a splintering crunch of bone and brain.
She lifted her foot and picked up the hammer, stepping over the smashed remains of the harpy without a second thought. Her shoulder throbbed and stung. She felt the wounds gingerly with her other hand. Even in the dim light, she could see that her skin was puckered and pink around each slash mark. The harpy had something highly infectious on its claws, and had introduced it straight into her bloodstream.
Don't have a lot of time now, she thought, and told herself not to panic. In truth, she felt overwhelmingly serene, but perhaps that was because she was so damned tired. By the time she reached the pipe, she was trembling and her forehead was slick with sweat. Despite her revulsion to the bleeding walls and rusted tiles, she sat down, and felt a tiny, pumping heartbeat beneath her that was not her own. She rested for a few minutes, in the silence and the gloom, and soon she drifted off into a state of half-sleep, half-wakefulness. Her shoulder bled freely, but she was so fatigued she hardly felt it.
Someone was singing. It was nice. She couldn't understand the words, but it was some kind of chanting, a prayer or ritual song. It was Nichole's voice. Nimh stood up, wide awake and transfixed, and made her way over to the pipe. A girl's voice reverberated up through the metal, garbled and echoing, nearly lost in the din of the dripping water and a thousand other creaking, grinding noises.
As soon as she reached the pipe and couldn't walk any farther, the voice stopped. Silence invaded her ears once again. Nimh touched the corroded metal and felt little chips of rust flake away under her fingertips. She got the hammer and hefted it, choosing the spot on the rusted area that, were it human, would be near the heart. She swung and the hammer sank through the rusted surface like a fist through butter. Again and again she laid into it, until shreds of red metal piled at her feet. She set the hammer aside, unable to take it with her, and squeezed through the opening.
Cool breaths of air wafted up from the small dark space beneath her. She took a deep breath and stepped off the edge, backwards and down, sliding, a morsel of living food down a metal throat.
She landed swiftly on hard ground. Stars of agony exploded in her line of vision and she lay there, motionless, but recovering. Her shoulder blade ached in addition to the surface wounds, now, and she had a bad feeling that the infection, or poison, or whatever it was, was spreading. She sat up and looked around. She was on the edge of a forest, behind her, the opening of a sewage pipe leading out of a cement wall.
Nimh got to her feet at last and tore the bottom lining of her shirt and tied the ends to make a sling. She cradled her injured arm and limped into the woods. The gray trees were immersed in mist, soothing and calm, and not quite so frightening as the streets. Her steps were muffled by thick moss that grew underfoot.
Light spiraled out from her pendant, dancing across the bark of the trees. She followed it, backtracking every so often when the reflection seemed indirect or off. The light led her to a clearing, where a giant hole swallowed everything, about twenty-five feet from where she stood. Directly across the hole stood Nichole, holding a flashlight and with a stony expression on her face. She was wearing a white autopsy gown. She lowered the flashlight and stared at Nimh.
Nimh stared back, unsure of what to do next. She raised her good arm and waved. Nichole took an uncertain step backward.
"You're Nichole's spirit, right?" Nimh asked. The girl shrugged. The hole gaped between them, ominous and large. She was afraid her friend would jump down and be lost forever in that blackness. There would be no returning from there, she thought.
"Do you remember me?" Nimh tried again.
Nichole nodded. Even at this fifty-foot span of separation, Nimh felt knives from Nichole's eyes boring into her. She was angry and confused, Nimh knew. She had died prematurely and had lost so much: a promising time through school, her dream job, her family and friends, the sheer joy of rising in the morning and simply being. A crazed man had snatched it all away from her, violently, and Nimh was the root cause of this theft of life.
"That's why you called me with that light," Nimh said. She grasped the pendulum chain and lifted it over her head, dangling the pendant before her. "You called me with this."
"I called you," Nichole's spirit spoke at last. Her voice matched the singing Nimh had heard in the pipe. It was icier than her living voice, lined with cold rage. "I called you so I could see you face when you get what you deserve."
Nimh spun around, but it was too late. A harpy creature flapped and swooped, pushing her backwards. She ducked, the vulture-woman flew overhead and soared out of sight. It would be back, she thought. She had to act quickly.
"I'm sorry," she called, making her way around the hole toward Nichole. Nichole didn't move, but she looked ready to turn and run at the slightest insult.
Nimh held up her good hand and walked steadily. "I spread all those nasty lies at Stonewall. It was wrong of me. But I was lonely, and hurt, and jealous of you, Nicky."
"Hurt?" Nichole sneered. "Compared to what? He ran into me with a car, Michelle!"
Nimh winced at her old name, which seemed more like a swear than a thing to be known by.
"Oh, that's right," Nichole spat. "I forgot you don't go by that name anymore. What is it you're calling yourself now?"
"You can still call me Michelle, Nichole. But I'm not the Michelle that you knew."
"Damn right you aren't," the spirit said flatly. "The Michelle that I knew never hurt anyone. She didn't lie or deceive. Not like you. And I thought you were my friend." The last sentence was rife with despair and grief.
Nimh said gently, "I still am your friend."
"I mean it," Nimh continued. "All I've ever done in this place is try to find answers, like you."
Nichole looked taken aback by this statement. She glanced right and left and shifted on her bare, white feet. There was less than ten feet between them now. Nichole took another step back and Nimh heard the swoosh of the harpy's wings somewhere above them. Only it sounded like there was more than one. A whole fleet of them drifted lazily in the air, black phantoms wheeling and pinioning lazily, waiting to strike. They were under her command, acting on Nichole's thirst for vengeance. If they all descended on her, there would be no fending them off…
A wave of dizziness struck Nimh, and she teetered a bit. Her arm was numb, her shoulder and back burning with fever.
"I don't have much time left," Nimh finally gasped. "Nichole…please forgive me," she croaked.
Nichole's stricken face gaped at her, then morphed into a jack-o-lantern of spite.
"Why should I?" Nichole demanded. "We're dead now. There's nothing in forgiveness." The harpies chattered and flapped their wings, eager to begin, to exact their revenge.
"You want to keep running like this?" Nimh retorted. A harpy screeched behind her, and she lowered her head instinctively. It flew overhead and did no harm, this time.
Nichole lingered on the edge of the woods and the clearing. Behind them was the hole. Nimh was fearful of the hole, but they were slowly edging away from it, and perhaps it would not be their final resting place after all.
As she got closer, Nimh saw that Nichole's eyes were red and puffy. Her waxen features had just the slightest tinge of pink. She was not just an empty shell. She was a soul.
"I miss my life. I miss my home and my parents and going to school. I miss Christmas and TV in the morning and doing soccer drills. I miss hanging out with you," Nichole sobbed. "What in the hell happened?"
The fever was going to her brain now. Nimh's vision swam and Nichole's white form seemed to glow with celestial light. It would be so lovely, to lose herself in that light, and never have to worry or suffer again.
Almost finished, almost done, a tiny voice murmured in her borderline-delirium.
"I was wrong," Nimh murmured. "I'm sorry."
Nichole walked over to her and hesitated, then put one hand on Nimh's good shoulder to steady her. Her fingers were icy, but Nimh felt them distantly, as if she were immersed in water.
"What's happening to you?" Nichle asked. But Nimh did not answer. She pitched forward and Nichole helped ease her into a sitting position on the ground. They sat together and stared at the massive cavity in the earth, the harpies circling above.
"You're hurt," Nichole said, and pointed to Nimh's shoulder. Nimh winced and waved her away.
"It doesn't matter. Just tell me one thing. Do you forgive me?"
Nichole's spirit sighed. "Yes."
Nimh smiled. "Thank you."
For a long while they sat there, friend resting in the arms of a friend, one with eyes closed, the other gazing at the place where the earth crumbled away.
"Michelle, what do we do now?" Nichole asked. Nimh did not hear the fear in her voice. The harpies circled and crooned hungrily.
"Just a few more minutes," Nimh whispered, her hand stroking the pendulum around her neck, then eventually falling still. "I'm so tired. It's taken me so long."
Someone was shaking her. Nimh tried to wake up, but the infection was seeping through her veins and burning her brain. She didn't want to leave Nichole alone again, in that uncertain and threatening place called Silent Hill, but a sea of slumber called her true name, and she had to follow it. Now that she had Nichole's forgiveness, she wanted, more than anything, that eternal sleep, a sleep from which she would never awaken to new horrors. The spirit rocked her, singing softly under her breath, until the girl that was once Nichole felt Nimh's body subside, her muscles relax and her breath make one last escape.
Nichole held Nimh's bloodstained hand and closed her eyes. The harpies rasped and circled in on them, swooping lower and lower, hungry and murderous. Slowly, both girls began to fade, like old photographs, growing more and more blurred and finally transparent, until they both disappeared into thin air. The harpies each gave one last grunt of disappointment and took to the forest once more, on a new search for some other lost soul that had yet to awaken from its delirium.
(A/N: Thanks to everyone for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to submit any reviews or critiques...but don't spoil anything for other readers! Again, Silent Hill is a product of Konami. The song Nimh sings earlier is called "6 Underground" and is written and performed by the Sneaker Pimps.)