~ Chapter Four ~
Nobody appeared to be forthcoming with a response that made any sense. What had happened down the ladder on the first floor was some kind of explosion; they had all heard that, the ones that weren’t inside the store or on their way out at the time, but beyond that none of the group had offered any kind of explanation as to why it happened. Claire supposed that she should be – and in fact they all should – thankful that they all appeared to be unharmed, mostly. Unharmed physically if nothing else, because she herself was shaken, her heart racing from the upward scramble to the second floor and the shock from the explosion itself. Her whole body was trembling and she hugged her arms around her upper body to try to calm herself.
It was the youngest of the group, Darren, who finally asked, “Did anyone happen to find any ammo back at the shop? I’ll try to find a first aid kit to help anyone who might have one to spare. Sayuki? Maria? Beth?” His voice sounded as shaky as she felt and she wondered for a moment what his story was, why he was on the bus and where he’d been going. Casting her eyes around the group she wondered where all of them had come from and what their reasons were for being on that ill fated bus.
She shook the thoughts aside for the time being, pushing her hand inside her pocket to produce a single bullet. She held it out in front of her in her palm.
“I … I found this earlier, and held onto it.” And then remembering the cigar box from earlier she added, “I have some painkillers too, just aspirin or something. Found them downstairs, if anyone needs something.”
Her legs suddenly felt unsteady and without warning she crumpled to the floor, tucking her legs up close to her body and holding her head in her hands then, allowing herself to be completely emotionally weak and tuning out her surroundings and company for a moment. As selfish as it was, if she didn’t just shut down right then, even temporarily, she was afraid that she was going to lose her mind, quite literally.
She squeezed her eyes shut and started humming a lullaby, one that she wasn’t consciously aware of ever hearing, but that seemed to naturally come from her memory. Memory of what? The talking of the others nearby was distracting and she hummed louder, closing her hands over her ears. She didn’t want to hear or see anything just then. She didn’t want to face the reality of the situation she had found herself in. She wasn’t sure how long she sat there that way, in her own little world, but apart from the sound of her own humming, she saw and heard nothing in her minds eye aside from the fog and the sound of the creatures that resided in it. Both of which she had a feeling would haunt her forever.
A woman’s voice broke through her self-imposed shutdown, and for a second, it sounded so far away, so she took her hands off her ears and inclined her head sideways, listening to see if she would hear it again.
“Claire?” Sure enough, there it was again, and it was coming from the bag on her hip. Her hands trembling, she opened the canvas flap and peered inside, the light on the LCD of her mobile phone was lit up at the bottom of the bag and the voice seemed to be coming from it. She looked around at the others but either nobody else had heard it or they simply didn’t care. She waited another half a minute or so to be sure that she wasn’t hearing things but sure enough the third time she heard her name coming from that phone – the phone with no service, she reminded herself – she ripped it out of the bag and pressed it to her ear.
“Hello? Who is this?” She whispered, almost as if she was afraid that someone would reply. It was irrational, but so was the phone talking to her to begin with.
No service, Claire. The phone has NO service.
But all she heard in return was static, like the sound a radio makes when it is bumped off it’s broadcasting channel, or the television when it was accidentally switched to an untuned channel.
She sat there with the phone pressed up to her ear for a minute or two, she wasn’t sure how long and then just as it crossed her mind to put the thing back in the bag where it had come from the static gave way for just a moment and the voice came through again.
“You made it, Claire. You came, now you must –“
She dropped the phone back into the bag as if the thing were burning hot. Her head was spinning, she could feel the color drain from her face and her mouth went dry all at once. If she hadn’t been well enough scared before, she was now. What the hell was going on, and whose was that voice? She was aware then of Harper’s presence right beside her and she glanced at him as he stared at her, his brow furrowed with concern. He wasn’t the only one. A couple of the others were now staring at her too as if she had grown an extra head. Normally she would have been upset or offended by the way they were looking at her; at least a couple of them talking to each other in hushed tones between themselves about what they had just seen and heard as she stood there talking to the phone with no service but the wave of nausea that washed over her made her unable to focus on anything else. She stumbled to her feet and looked around frantically for a rest room sign and clutched the bag on her hip so tightly her knuckles turned white.
“I think I’m going to be sick…” she managed to mumble to Harper before she rushed forwards along the tiled floor in the direction of the ladies bathroom.
Bent over the toilet bowl, Claire finally stopped retching once her stomach had been emptied, but replacing the nausea now was a pounding headache and she felt dizzy. She leant her forehead on the cold porcelain of the bowl and forced herself to gain some control over her breathing, that would help, wouldn’t it? In through the nose, out through the mouth. Slowly, the dizziness subsided, and she moved away from the toilet and sat back, leaning her head against the wall of the stall, still concentrating on her breathing.
The guilt then began to seep in, and embarrassment. What an idiot she must have looked back there, when people were actually hurt, in shock and in need of help, and what had she done? Cracked up, had a meltdown in front of a group full of strangers, all of whom were as scared, confused and in shock as she was no doubt, but none of them had lost the plot. She wanted to smack herself in the forehead with the heel of her hand.
“Idiot!” She mumbled out loud, and then started slowly back to her feet. When she felt steady enough to move, she fished around in her bag, she and retrieved her phone, checking the call log for actual evidence that she’d received a call, but it showed nothing new. The last incoming call had been from a friend back home.
One she’d probably never see again…
She shook her head, cutting that thought off before it could go any further. She was going to get out of this.
Still, she had spoken to someone, and the voice had been familiar, although she couldn’t place it. Stuffing the phone back inside her bag, she pushed the door of the stall open and moved back into the bathroom.
It occurred to her suddenly that while she’d been having a mild mental breakdown in here, that she had no idea where everybody had gone, if they’d moved on or if they were still outside where she had left them. But she was hyper aware of how alone she was in that bathroom. It was too quiet. She couldn’t hear any movements or voices outside anymore and the only sound that issued from inside the bathroom was her own breathing.
Suddenly, all that Claire wanted was to see another familiar face or heard a familiar voice – one that wasn’t coming from the other end of a phone with no service at least. She frowned.
Harper. Admit it sweetheart, you want Harper.
Her head snapped around at the voice, it was her voice again, the woman on the phone. But the bathroom was still empty. Great, first she had started hearing voices on her phone and now she was hearing things in her head too?
“Big picture, Claire. There is a big picture here, and you’re not seeing it. The world doesn’t revolve around you, at least, not to these people.”
“Fuck… “she squeezed her hands to the sides of her head again, “I’m going crazy, I’m actually going crazy.”
“Get a grip, Claire!” the voice was louder now, and more firm. “Look at yourself and get a grip.”
She turned towards where she’d manage to pinpoint the voice coming from, the mirror, and what she saw caused her mouth to drop open and the screaming to start. She didn’t know whether it was shock or fear or even confusion but in any case, it wasn’t her face she was looking at, and once she’d started screaming she couldn’t stop.
In her peripheral vision she was aware of someone else now in the bathroom with her and er eyes widened in surprise at the appearance of the man beside her – Harper – and clapped both hands over her mouth, attempting to stifle the noise she now realized she was making. Her surprise at seeing him and having something to distract her from the face in the mirror was quickly replaced with relief.
“Look!” she pointed at the dirty glass on the wall, her outstretched arm trembling,”do you see her?”
Not alone anymore, it’s going to be alright, not alone anymore. She repeats the mantra in her head, and looked at him expectantly. He didn’t say anything for a moment, and she blinked rapidly before looking at her reflection again. It was just her. Claire. No raven haired stranger with the piercing eyes of green. Just Claire and her mane of red hair a disheveled and unsightly mess, her eyes wide but now confused instead of frightened.
“You saw her right? Harper?”
He didn’t respond right away and she wished that a hole would just open up beneath her feet and swallow her whole. He glanced between her and her own reflection in the mirror and then slowly shook his head.
“No. I didn’t see a thing, I don’t see a thing except you.”
She covered her face with both hands and a small muffled sob issued from her and she felt his hand on her arm, gripping firmly but gently. His voice held a slightly softer tone when he spoke again.
“What happened in here? Don’t worry, I’ll believe you. Whatever it was … or is.”
That was all she needed to hear. She trusted him.
Too damn trusting, Claire, that was always your problem.
She shook her head trying to get rid of the voice, her voice again. She was calm now, seconds earlier she’d been screaming hysterically. Back outside in the hall she’d been rocking herself and humming lullabies but now, now she was just too exhausted to do anything but just accept that whatever was happening, she had to play along, because really, what other choice did she have?
“There was a woman in the mirror, but … but it wasn’t me. She had black hair, green eyes. And back in the hall, she spoke to me on my phone too. I can still hear her voice, in my head. She won’t go away.”
He thinks you’re crazy, Claire. One hundred percent bat shit crazy.
“I’m not crazy, “she whispered.
She allowed her hands to drop from her face and looked up at him with big eyes still glistening with tears as she brushed her hair back from her face.
“Why were you going to Silent Hill, Harper? You were going to Silent Hill … weren’t you?”