Silent Hill Downpour Novelization (In progress)
Art by Svjeeta
Novelization by C. Johnson
The grinding of metal screeched from outside as the elevator descended for what felt like an eternity to Murphy Pendleton. The steel accordion doors had clicked shut behind him as he now stood bathed in the occasional light from passing floor windows. His sad eyes stared absently as he stood in deep thought, his mind a swirling whirlpool of emotions. It was the moment he had longed for since that life-changing night so long ago. The night his six-year old son’s lifeless corpse was fished out of the water like a discarded animal. When Charlie Pendleton was pronounced dead that evening, most of Murphy died with him. That was over three years ago. Today, he would confront the man responsible. The man Murphy and his family had lived next door to for so many years, oblivious to what sort of monster he secretly was. The man he now spent every waking moment wanting to kill with his own hands. When he would lay awake in his cell, he would plan it over and over in his mind in a variety of ways. When he would sleep, his dreams became nightmares, terrifying at first, but always ending in the same gratifying way: Murphy’s hands around the man’s throat. Today, here at Ryall State Prison, those dreams and fantasies would become reality.
The floor shifted as the elevator began to halt at its destination and the doors rocked open with a metallic squeal, revealing a dank corridor identified as Block 4 on the nearby wall. Against it leaned a tall man in a distinct blue uniform, a corrections officer.
George Sewell was a man well into his late forties, his receding hairline of dark hair slicked back in a way that reminded Murphy of a greaser straight out of the 50s. The only thing missing was a leather jacket with a popped collar and a cigarette between his thin lips. His face was stern and skeletal, his chin and cheekbones so pronounced they looked as though they could tear through the surface at any second. His brown eyes were penetrating as they gazed out from the shade of his furrowed brow, giving him the constant appearance of an archetypical bad guy. That’s exactly what Officer George Sewell was too. A bad guy. The worst kind in Murphy’s opinion. The kind who impersonate officers of the law, sworn to uphold justice while at the same time stoop beneath it to accommodate their own dirty dealings. Criminals who hide behind a badge.
Despite as crooked a human being as Sewell was, Murphy was indebted to him in exchange for the crucial favor he was here to act upon. The officer stiffened upright as Murphy emerged into the dimly lit hallway to join him.
“All right, Murphy. It’s all set,” said Sewell, his voice scratchy and poisonous. It was the kind of voice you’d expect from a man whose lifelong career consisted of delighting in the misery of others. “Make it quick, huh? Follow me”
Murphy did just that. He followed the officer along another hall that for the most part, was identical to the ones from above, recognizing the familiar green and white walls that guided his eyes forward. Except this one felt different…much darker. Deeper. As if the elevator had brought him several miles beneath the earth’s surface where natural light was non-existent. The tiled floor was filthy as it passed beneath the two men’s footsteps with loud claps that seemed unnaturally loud in the dead silence of the seemingly deserted cell block. Overhead, sleazy fluorescents and light fixtures cast sprays of illumination down in a checkerboard pattern along the hall’s length, turning the back of Sewell’s light blue shirt into a silhouette as they strode through gaps of shadow. The dark ambience reminded Murphy of the calm before a storm as they rounded a corner where a pair of double doors was propped open. On the floor where the tile became gray concrete was designated in white writing, ‘Shower Area’.
“He’s all yours now. Make it quick, cupcake.”
Murphy wanted to hit him. Send his nose exploding like shrapnel deep into his brain. It wasn’t the fact he had called him cupcake, a word that had become a sort of twisted nickname Sewell had delighted in coining. It was the way in which he said it. The cocky, sort of “shit under my shoes” kind of way. An attitude that was inexcusable knowing what kind of man George Sewell was. However, he could not strike the man. Not today. A deal was a deal. As much as Murphy despised the corrections officer as a human being, he couldn’t help but appreciate his assistance in making this day possible. The idea of what Sewell would want in return left a bad taste in Murphy’s mouth as he strode past and into a square locker room where another pair of double doors loomed ahead.
“Hey, almost forgot. Left you a little present on the bench,” Sewell reminded Murphy as his hand reached to grip the defining doorknob. “Have fun.”
Fun was hardly the word. What Sewell defined as fun was something much more personal to Murphy Pendleton. Taking the life of another man. It was something Murphy had questioned whether he had the strength to do. His burning desire to act on such an idea had cost him his marriage, his civil liberties. His humanity?
No. This is the right thing to do said a reassuring voice in Murphy’s mind. Your son is dead. His killer is still alive and he’s on the other side of these doors. The only inhumane thing about it is the fact he’s still breathing air. You know what you have to do. Just do it.
Murphy’s already sweating palm turned the knob with a decisive force and stepped forward into the empty shower room.
He was not prepared for the intensity of light that waited him inside. The sunlight peering through the upper windows contradicted the subterranean feel of the gloomy hall that was being locked away behind him. Above him, clouds of steam swirled slowly about the light as rays exposed their presence from beyond. Their density further emphasized by a central light fixture that bathed the center of the tiled room in a sepia glow.
“Hey Murph. I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” Even though Sewell had latched the doors in the locker room behind him, his voice was loud and seemed to come from every direction. “When you guys run the showers, the steam fogs up the cameras so bad, we can’t see anything that goes down in there.”
Murphy’s eyes acknowledged the black, mechanical flies on the wall. Being caught on camera had never even occurred to him.
“Get what I’m saying?”
Truthfully, having come this far, he didn’t care whether he could be seen or not. As far as Murphy Pendleton was concerned, his life was already over. Worse comes worse, they relocate him from one iron hell to another. Maybe society could do him a real courtesy and sentence him to death this time. Despite these thoughts however, Sewell’s suggestion put his cynical mind at a somewhat ease. Remaining undetected was preferable. Maybe one day he can see the world outside again and somehow atone for the sin he was about to commit.
Seizing the nearest shower knob, he turned it counter-clockwise to its hottest setting. The pipes trembled briefly before the entire radius before Murphy’s feet was splashed with steamy strings of hot water. The floor began to shimmer as he turned each shower on in the same manner. Eight total. Four on each wall. As he turned the final knob, he noticed a shaft of wood propped against the bench that was against the wall nearby. A long, lightweight piece of craftsmanship. By no means weak either. Despite its diameter, it was strong and solid, as if it had belonged to a push broom. Was this the present Sewell had mentioned?
This the best you could do, cupcake? Murphy thought, somewhat disappointed with the undisclosed weapon of choice. Maybe I can break it into a point…then I can stab the son of a bitch to death.
Before he could drop his heel down to split the wood, a sound from the other side of the far entrance caught Murphy’s attention. Silence followed. For a while, nothing could be heard except the surrounding downpour of hot water. It was soon joined by the thumping of Murphy’s heart as it accelerated beneath his breast like a derailing train.
His sweaty palms tightened into fists of granite as his right hand gripped the wooden shaft anxiously, his eyes locked on the double doors before him like a sniper‘s crosshairs. The thin windows on either door came together with the handles in a way that reminded Murphy of a face. You don’t got the balls, Pendleton, he imagined it saying. He was about to prove it wrong because now the sound of bare feet slapping against porcelain could clearly be heard over the showerheads around him. More seconds passed. A flash of skin tone behind the small window. Finally, the right door peeled away with a creak and in its place was one of the most grotesque excuses for a human being Murphy had ever laid eyes on.
Everything about him was fat. From the bulbous pair of chins that framed his face to the blob-like belly that sagged over the edge of the towel that was wrapped firmly about his naked body. His hair was blonde and combed over neatly, as if a young boy groomed for church by his mother. Accommodating this childlike detail was the fact he bore no visible body hair whatsoever about his exposed masses of skin. He reminded Murphy of a fat toddler.
His name was Patrick Napier, a convicted serial rapist and pedophile. Sentenced to life in solitary confinement without the possibility of parole. A sentence Murphy was about to modify.
Napier stopped dead in his tracks upon noticing Murphy’s foreboding presence before him.
“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me,” Napier managed, nervous. Murphy said nothing. His gaze could have turned Medusa herself into the stone statue he now resembled. He stood tall, the overhead light illuminating his muscular physique as his features were obscured by the thickening mist. The wooden rod gripped so tightly it was a miracle it hadn’t shattered already.
“What the hell’s going on? Where’s Sewell?”
Again, Murphy said nothing as he took a step forward from the obscurity of mist, his features now more visible. He was a built like a brick shithouse, with a body mass of solid muscle conditioned by the brutal years of his incarceration. The wooden shaft in his hand swayed as he moved, catching Napier’s attention. Countless months of rage and hate poured from his being and into his forearms, as if electricity drawn to metal. A voltage so potent, Napier could feel it’s static kiss from where he stood. It was in that instant he understood exactly what was going on. He didn’t want to believe it, but there was no denying he may have just strolled into an early execution. Courtesy of prisoner number RS 273A, Murphy Pendleton.
“Guards? Officer Sewell? Hello?”
But Sewell was nowhere to be found. No help was coming, and the realization was hitting Napier like a kick in the nuts.
“There’s been a mistake. I’m a sequestered prisoner. You’re not supposed to be here.” he managed in a whiny, pathetic voice. It suited him. It was a voice that belonged to a coward, a slug, a disgrace to humanity. The sound of it infuriated Murphy and propelled him closer to the piñata of fat before him. His confusion only adding fuel to the fire.
You piece of shit…surely you recognize me. How could you not? Did you honestly forget the face of a man whose child you abducted and had your sick way with? You did didn’t you? You fucked with so many fathers, you cant remember half of them…
“You don’t recognize me, do you?” Murphy finally declared, his voice like iron against glass. Napier reacted in puzzlement, clearly wanting to deny any sort of involvement in the dialogue taking place.
“What? No…I…Guard? Guard! Anybody!?” he craned his fat neck, trying to see if anybody was present on the other side of the door Murphy was obscuring from his vision.
This worthless bastard…unbelievable…
“We used to be neighbors.”
He finally had Napier’s undivided attention. Napier studied him. trying to mentally digest the familiarity with the man before him. His brow furrowed as his beady eyes searched the depths of his brain for the answer. He had lived in many neighborhoods throughout the course of his wicked life. A man with an agenda like his made it a point to never stay in one place long. He had abducted many children from their families. Many of whom he could only remember as smiling faces during meet-and-greets. Never had he been confronted by one of them who carried the ruthless, hateful expression Murphy Pendleton wore upon his face today. Pendleton…yes, little Charlie Pendleton…The lake….
Napier’s eyes shot in the direction beyond, back to Murphy, and the fat man bolted toward the locked double doors like a bat out of hell.
The locked doors rattled loudly as Napier seized the door knobs, jerking them to no avail before banging his fists against the door like a madman. He probably thought if he made enough racket, Sewell would burst through that door like Galahad and save the day. In fact, Sewell was more likely to be on the other side of the door rolling with laughter before he would ever decide to rescue a pedophile from getting bludgeoned to death. Misery was Sewell’s business, and in this prison, business was good.
“Guards! Open the goddamn door! Somebody!”
His forearms were thick and powerful, perfectly capable of subduing a child’s frame with a frightening amount of ease. However, given the current situation, they were useless and lacked the confident strength they might have wielded once against small, defenseless children. As they struggled beneath his weight, cornered and helpless. Judging from the immediate panic in his voice since he entered the shower room and his nervous body language, it would seem this may have been the first confrontation with another inmate he might have experienced outside of solitary. Murphy was about make sure it was his last. He owed him that much. After all, this is the man that had stole everything from him. His child. His marriage. His life.
“This is a violation of my rights, who the hell do you think you are?! When I go to the warden, I-”
“No one’s listening.” Murphy interrupted coldly as he advanced toward his child’s killer. Napier steadied most of his weight against the door, slick from the humidity of the clouded room. He raised a hand in defense for the oncoming assault, his beady eyes shiny will tears of terror.
“Help! Jesus, help me!”
May Christ forgive you. Because I won’t!
Murphy’s arm slashed downward like a falling limb, the wood smacked the fat man’s skin with a sickening crack, as the younger, much more powerful inmate delivered an onslaught of painful blows to the naked, cowering mass that was his body. He continually raised an arm as if to shield himself from Murphy, but that only fueled his attacker even more as he hacked through his guard like a lumberjack on crystal-meth. His whimpers and pleas excited Murphy. His heart was hammering inside his chest so hard, he thought it would explode from beneath his chest plate. It was an overwhelming high. Napier was so weak and pathetic. It was no wonder he got his rocks off preying on children. His whines of agony brought Murphy supreme satisfaction as a collection of bloody welts and bruises began to adorn his victim’s slick, exposed skin. Now he too, knew what it felt like to be alone and helpless. How Charlie Pendleton felt when his life ended years ago at his hand.
After minutes that felt like seconds, the wood beneath his iron grip began to feel brittle. It wasn’t enough. No, this man hasn’t suffered nearly enough. Murphy seized the man’s bulk with a granite palm and delivered his knee so hard into the mans stomach, he could feel the impact against several ribs as they shattered beneath the blubber that protected them. Napier hadn’t even had the proper time to howl in agony before Murphy silenced him with the distressed shaft of wood. Like a firework, the shaft exploded against his face in a spray of blood and woodchips. His feet gave out on the wet floor and he hit the ground hard, his dark blood being carried away in rivers of hot water.
As Murphy’s damp footsteps advanced toward his fallen heap, Napier moved with a surprising amount of speed and urgency as he scrambled to his feet, bleeding profusely from his skewered face from which his nose had been obliterated. The sight of blood enticed Murphy, as if he a were a vampire drawn to it like a drug. He wanted to see more. He wanted to bleed the son of a bitch like the pig he was. Napier held up a red-soaked hand again in protest, slopping his words through mouthfuls of blood and mucus as he continued his ballad of cries for help. Murphy indulged in the sound like beautiful music knowing damn well his pleas were futile. Sewell would keep his word and those doors would remain shut until Napier drew his last breath. His final scream would be an exclamation mark to everything that had led up to this day.
As if destiny would have it, Murphy noticed the shimmer from one of the nearby benches as he retrieved from it a flawless kitchen knife, razor sharp and glistening in the light of the dank, fogged shower room. No doubt, this was the true gift Sewall had hoped Murphy would happen upon. He seized its handle the way a medieval executioner might grip his axe before beheading a criminal. He was now the judge. The jury. The executioner. In a twisted, justified sort of way, he liked the sound of it. Never in his life had he wished death upon any man. Not until now.
Murphy lunged, cutting and jabbing in quick agile slashes at the raised forearm Napier was attempting to fend him off with. The knife cut through his toddler’s skin like butter, spraying blood with each slash. Never had Murphy seen so much blood ooze out of a human being as he did Patrick Napier that day in the shower room. He had fat bastard was in tears, crying for dear life.
Murphy swung the knife upward, tearing through the right side of the man’s face before maiming his lower body like cattle to the slaughter.
There were not enough derogatory adjectives in the dictionary to describe what Napier was as Murphy destroyed him. Reunited at long last, Murphy held no remorse as his right hand diced way at his former neighbor. Killing him would not bring Charlie back. No. But at least it would give his untimely death the closure it deserved. At least he would be avenged. As long as Pat Napier was rotting in hell, Murphy could die in peace. Even if it meant he would be joining him there in the near future. After all, what more did he have to lose?
With Herculean force he plunged the blade deep into Napier’s shoulder blade, severing every fiber beneath it with a good 180 degree twist. Buried to the hilt, it protruded as Napier attempted to scream, his low pain tolerance, so much so he was beginning to slip into shock. Yet his survival instincts remained relentless as he staggered toward the door like a determined robot. Murphy would not let him walk away again. Enough was enough. The appetizers had been consumed. The main course had been devoured. It was time to pay the bill.
His fists found Napier’s face as he pummeled the monstrosity with powerful haymakers. With knuckles of concrete he socked the bastard hard in the jaw before delivering a skull-splitting head butt that was more than worth the recoil of pain. His body rolled as his impaled shoulder made contact with the floor, pushing the remainder of the knife in further right to the hilt. The steel shard lodged inside was now a permanent part of his being for what would be his final moments of life on Earth. He whimpered in agony for a moment, and with effort, began to slither on his stomach like a snake with brain damage.
He was attempting to crawl. Severely wounded and overweight, it was surprising how he was able to pull himself so far so quickly. Thick trails of dark blood paved the way behind as it drained out from the knife wounds beneath him. Once again, his itinerary was the locked double doors. What else could he hope for? The odds of the inmate behind him sparing his life at this point was close to none. After all the atrocities he had committed, not even God himself would open that door.
A bloody handprint slapped against the door momentarily, and is if admitting defeat, it slid south in read streaks as Napier turned in a heap to face him. The steel felt like ice against his back. His eyes turned upward to assess prisoner RS 273A as he closed the distance between them, casting a deciding shadow over what would soon be the pedophile’s own corpse. With his final ounce of strength, Patrick Napier raised his fingertips to the angel of death, pleading one last time. He was barely ready for prison, let alone the eternal damnation that awaited him.
Murphy couldn’t believe his ears. Despite everything that had happened in the savage minutes that just elapsed, Napier still pretended to be oblivious to Murphy‘s motives. He knew damn well why he was being punished. Maybe he thought by acting innocent and victimized, Murphy would spare his despicable existence. Regardless of what he thought, his projected ignorance was the last straw for Murphy. He had heard enough.
“You know exactly why.”
From the back of his waistband, Murphy withdrew a hidden blade of his own. A last resort. The chamber exploded in a bloodcurdling scream as Napier prepared to meet his maker.
In the locker room outside, a delighted George Sewell welcomed the sound. Patrick Napier was a monster. He deserved to die. Not a tear from Sewell or anybody else at Ryall State Prison would be shed for him. Silence followed within. The only audible sound was the downpour of hot water hitting porcelain.
Murphy awoke in a cold sweat, his jumpsuit sticking to him like a second layer of skin as his ears adjusted to the steady rapping of metal against metal. Echoing in his mind was a familiar scream. Preceding it was something more but by the time his conscious mind had assessed the ceiling of his cell, the details that seemed so real moments ago were gone like raindrops at sea. But always the scream remained. The scream he thought would never return to haunt him. How wrong he had been. “Did I wake you, Pendleton?” The light from the other side of the bars was overwhelming for someone like Murphy who had just crawled out of a dark, subconscious hole. Despite the intensity, he welcomed its radiance in opposed to the voice addressing him. Attached to the shadow that peered into his cell was George Sewell. Had it been anybody else, he might have thanked them for rescuing him from the terrifying depths of his brain. Now all he wanted to do was fall back into a coma and let whatever it was rip him apart. He would much prefer that over hearing another word this unimaginable bastard had to say. Already he could see that despicable pet-name falling into the chamber of the gun that was Sewell’s mouth. Sure enough, it fired. Just as sure as Tonto and Kimosabi.
“C’mon. Rise and shine cupcake, you know the drill.”
He did indeed know the drill. All too well. Bad news was, Murphy’s idea of it was re-decorating his cell with the officer’s cranium as a parting gift. The good news? Murphy would be leaving Ryall State Prison forever today. He and several others’ numbers had accelerated to the top of the stack after the riot that had taken place only weeks prior. After the dust settled, word got out about what Murphy had done while fists were flying. An act so unforgivable, the warden was ready to put Murphy in a dress and drive him to Wayside personally. Thank God for civil rights…
Problem with all of that was, the only people who actually know the truth about what happened was Murphy, and Officer Friendly here. The real criminal. The man who had orchestrated the entire scheme just for the sake of cold shoulders and pure, sick entertainment. Because of him, one of the few people whom Murphy cared for during his incarceration was in a state worse than death. A man whom Murphy held in the highest respect. Regardless of how guilty and responsible Sewell was for what happened, Murphy had only himself to blame for getting involved with Sewell’s deals in the first place. He had made a deal with the devil, and the devil had came to collect. Just as Murphy was beginning to understand the error of his life choices, another precious soul had been robbed from him. It was as if God was tormenting him. Even though he would be the first to admit he probably deserved it, he couldn’t help but thinking that maybe both God and the Devil were just two sick kids with a magnifying glass.
From beneath his cot, Murphy retrieved a thin, leather bound, black book and stashed it into his waistband. It was his only real friend since he first arrived at the prison. As bitter as his therapy sessions were, Dr. Sara had been generous enough to prescribe him a journal to record his thoughts and reflections. From recalled dreams to bible verses, it was Murphy’s trusted outlet when screaming at the wall failed.
He turned to face the door, his powerful wrists suspended through the opening as if he were a tamed beast called to attention. The cold of metal closed around each wrist tightly as Sewell’s skin-tight leather hands secured them in a way that was anything but comfortable to Murphy. He imagined himself strangling the prick with them as soon as the door opened.
“Guess today’s the big day, huh?” said Sewell in a fake, sympathetic tone as if he’d actually miss making Murphy’s life any worse than it already is. The pathetic thing was, he truly would miss Murphy for just that reason. He would have to find himself a new cupcake after having somebody as interesting as Murphy Pendleton come and go, the odds of finding a replacement would be like replacing a tropical toucan with a pigeon. Sewell would probably cry himself to sleep later tonight, Murphy thought as he tried to avoid eye contact with the skeletal face only inches away, breathing bullshit like a dragon breathes fire. “Tell you the truth, I’m sort of sorry to see you go.”
Murphy wanted to laugh out loud because he knew how true it was. This guy, Sewell. He could have had a successful career as a comedian versus law enforcement. His cauldron of lies, sarcasm and twisted charisma would make for some powerful allies on a stage. But even the crudest of audiences would find his existence insulting and that train would de-rail fast and violently. How would he take his revenge on the world? He became a corrections officer.
“Prisoner secure! Open 302B! Transfer!”
In response, there was the usual loud buzzer that preceded the door as it slid open. With a final clang, the world awaited Murphy as he moved forward from the shadows like some kind of creature. He gave his cell a final glance as he joined Sewell in the hall, bidding farewell to the cell he had come to know and love. How he would miss the claustrophobic little square with its luxury fold down metal slab and the freezing walls that bordered it. There was even a bible still inside at the cot’s end, so that the next lucky sinner may move in and find possible salvation. Murphy had read it cover to cover. Apparently, Murphy learned, you have time for things like that when you’re in prison. Despite this however, all he himself had found at Ryall was further damnation.
Murphy accompanied Sewell to the end of the hall, where with a smartass gesture with his nightstick, he gestured for Murphy to lead. He could feel Sewell’s lurking stare behind him, probably twirling his nightstick like it was the coolest thing since colored TV. He loved that little club of his. Probably kept it up his ass when he wasn’t fondling it, trying to impress the more weaker-at-heart inmates. Any excuse he could find to slug a poor sap, Sewell would take police brutality to new plateaus.
Around the corner, the two stood before a barred door. Judging from the camera above, it was a security checkpoint of some kind that needed special clearance for entry. After a moment of visual authorization, the door slid open with a clatter.
Awaiting him on the other side was a zoo. A wall of other caged animals screaming vulgarities as Murphy made his way across the elevated catwalk. Murphy couldn’t help but let his eyes wander to the right as he acknowledge each one. Black. White. Black. Hispanic. All bearing the same olive jumpsuit Murphy wore. Some were practically squeezing between the bars for a chance to take a swipe at Murphy as he passed, all to whom Sewell wasted no time bludgeoning with the polished baton. Not because he was looking out for Murphy, but because he was a man who loved being hated. It was his way of waking up and saying good morning. Some people get energized in the morning with a cup of coffee. George Sewell found his caffeine in shattered faces and missing teeth.
Many of the faces they passed were angry. They were angry Murphy was leaving before they had a chance to settle some sort of score. Murphy hadn’t exactly been the most popular guy on campus during his time served at Ryall. A good friend often said it was because they could sense his underlying good nature the way a bee senses fear. Even after everything Murphy had done, Officer Frank Coleridge still considered Murphy a good man. His wisdom was one of the few things about Ryall Murphy would miss.
At the same time, others were mocking him, because they were glad they weren’t the ones beings sent off to Wayside. For all they knew, Ryall was like a preschool compared to the maximum security facility that awaited Murphy on the other side of the Maine wilderness. In that respect, their revenge against Murphy had already been realized for them.
“We ain’t sightseeing, Murphy…” said Sewell as he reached the end of the catwalk.
After a final barrage of profanity and bullets of saliva, Murphy joined him in the shadows of yet another security checkpoint. The cameras zeroed in, and the two continued onward as the circus of Block B faded behind them with the clash of locking metal. An elevator awaited them at the far end, filling Murphy with irritation. Standing with George Sewell in a confined elevator for so much as ten seconds was like approaching a house of glass with a sledgehammer and being told you can’t smash it.
Murphy would have preferred an elevator ride in silence, but Sewell made that impossible with the habitual slapping of his nightstick as it rocked in and out of his leather palm. Sewell’s usual cologne filled the enclosure with a strong odor of black licorice. A fragrance that strangely suited his personality.
The floor braced itself for landing and the doors opened to reveal another corrections officer standing guard several feet ahead. Murphy recognized him. Officer T. Willis.
He was a beast of a man, standing easily over six feet. Bald head. black skin. A thick mustache framing thick lips. He had earned the nickname, Ving amongst the prison populace. An obvious reference to the actor, Ving Rhames whom he closely resembled. This resemblance was only heightened by his silent demeanor as he stood with a shotgun propped against his shoulder attentively. Had Murphy tried anything against Sewell, this gentleman would have had him pumped full of lead before the doors even opened. Willis watched him with a challenging gaze, as if were to warn him, “Don’t fuck up.”
Sewell guided Murphy past the black hulk, turning him right to face the doors that lead to the outside world. Waiting before them was a lineup of two other inmates. Sanchez was one of them, an inmate Murphy despised with a passion that rivaled even that of Sewell. Behind Sanchez was a black gentleman of whom Murphy was not as familiar. Two more nameless officers Murphy had never seen stood on either side as Sewell ushered him forward before stopping him with the slash of his nightstick.
“Well. Guess this is it. No fond farewell?”
Murphy remained silent as his eyes remained at his feet. Even though Sewell’s menacing face was gawking inches away, he would not give the asshole the courtesy of eye contact. The only fond farewell Murphy could comprehend was a blow to Sewell’s face so hard, a ballistics team would be needed to extract his teeth from the nearby wall.
“You gonna miss us?”
More rhetorical questions. Sewell was trying to get a reaction out of Murphy. It was the only way to bring closure to their twisted history. Murphy shook his head in disbelief and decided to humor him.
“Not even a little.”
Sewell stretched backward with a sinister chuckle, amused. Must have been the answer he wanted to hear. A confirmation of departing hate. Now Sewell could die happily…
“Give it a couple days at Wayside Max. I bet you’ll start to miss this place after all.” Sewell said before leaning uncomfortably close to Murphy’s face. “Cuz we sure are going to miss you.”
With those venomous last words, Officer George Sewell withdrew from Murphy’s life forever as he addressed the other officers present with a wave of his nightstick.
“Move em’ out!” he said sharply and with the sliding of metal, Murphy’s face was soon bathed in the glare of diminishing sunlight awaiting him outside. Finally, his sad eyes had averted from his feet to the fenced-in compound where an immaculate blue bus was waiting across the way. Along its side in a thin red banner it said in black writing, ‘Ryall State Correctional Facility’.
Murphy stepped into the light he as he and the two other inmates strode single file toward the officers waiting at the bus’s entrance. He could still feel Sewell’s presence monitoring alongside the rear. The clapping of his nightstick was audible proof. A handful of additional guards were also present with shotguns, prepared to take action in the worst case scenario. At the bus’s door stood a woman holding a clipboard. Her attire was not that of Ryall personnel as she wore a dark blue jacket over an olive green uniform and thick sunglasses. Even though her eyes were obscured behind the dark lenses, there was no mistaking her look of total disgust as he and the other two inmates approached the bus. The officers’ scrutinizing expressions detoured Murphy’s eyes back to the pavement as he saw Sewell’s shadow walk forward to present them to the woman ahead.
“All yours now, sugar.” he heard him say in that black licorice tone of voice. With a rock on his heels, his footsteps clapped back toward the prison behind them. George Sewell was gone. Never to darken Murphy’s doorway again.
“Let’s get this over with.” said the woman. Her voice was strong and commanding. A no-nonsense kind of woman. It was all too apparent she had total authority over the transfer. Most likely one of the head officers at Wayside Max who would be booking them in.
“Yeah. All right. You heard the lady! Mount up!” said a bald, white officer opposite the woman. He too held a clipboard probably containing the details from Ryall’s end of the procedure.
Sanchez stepped forward, grunting with arousal. His perverted gaze was on the eye candy looking back at him. Clearly he and his right hand had been close friends during his incarceration. As if he couldn’t have been more obvious, he had the attached stupidity of opening his despicable mouth.
“Mmm, mmm. What we got here?” he murmured in his trashy, south-of-the-border accent.
What a dumb-ass, Murphy thought.
The woman threw her head in the direction of the bus, sickened by the viscera that was Sanchez’s existence. With a grunt of disappointment, Sanchez sulked on board. Clearly, the Mexican was too stupid for words as the next contestant stepped on up behind him. Unlike Sanchez, the black fellow was more that abiding. Finally it was Murphy’s turn.
Just as Murphy began to follow suit, the stiff edge of a clipboard smacked flat against his chest. Like a terrorist stepping through a airport metal detector, he was stopped dead in his tracks. Murphy’s eyes remained on the ground for a moment, mentally speechless as to why he had been singled out. What could he have possibly done now…it was as if Sewell had swapped bodies.
“Pendleton?” she inquired, her voice steaming with heat.
Murphy slowly brought his eyes up to study the details of the vixen barring his path. Even though he could not see the bloodlust in her eyes, his intuition told him it would not be wise to get fresh with this woman. Because if looks could kill, Murphy would already be dead.
Like the tone of her voice, she had fiery auburn hair that was tied back in a tight bun. Her eyes and brow were anonymous, obscured by a pair of black sunglasses. Beneath them her face was soft yet angular, with the strong chin that might have belonged to her father. She had her mother to thank for the full, rosy lips that were currently curved in a frown of scorn. As though she had just watched Murphy murder her dog without knowing she was the owner. Judging from the shape in which her jacket and uniform fell over her body it was clear this woman was in peak physical condition. On her jacket was a black nametag with embossed white letters. A. Cunningham.
“Get on the bus.” she finally commanded, withdrawing the clipboard.
Murphy’s face twisted in confusion. What the hell was that about? he wondered as he climbed into the narrow bus. She had been sizing him up for some reason. He had never even met this A. Cunningham before. Even so, her icy attitude had gotten under his skin somehow. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was more to Cunningham then met the eye.
Murphy seated himself on the left side, welcoming the cushioned seat as he rested his forehead against the cold glass. In addition to Sanchez and the third wheel, a couple other inmates had already been boarded. Everyone for the most part carried the same, tired expression in their eyes. That was, with the exception of Sanchez, who seemed wired and ready to raise hell should the opportunity arise. Cunningham boarded up front next to the driver, her deadly aura radiating from behind the caged partition that separated them from the animals. With a content nod to the driver, the man identified as M. Koons reached for the ignition.
The bus came to life with a tremor as the engine awoke from a mechanical slumber. It was a sensation Murphy hadn’t appreciated in a long time. Nothing more beautiful than the sound of a good engine, he would always pride to his son.
“Buckle up and get cozy. We got a long ride ahead of us.” hollered Koons as he shifted into drive. The bus peeled away from the ensemble of armed guards and collected speed as the chain-link compound whizzed by in shades of gray. The brief sunlight that had welcomed Murphy was long gone as dark clouds assisted nightfall. Spotlights from the guard towers overhead were easily visible against a layer of fog that was coming in from the north. The direction in which the bus was bound.
The bus went dark as it left the lit compound of Ryall and into the foreboding landscape beyond. The only light now was that of the high beams before the driver as the box on wheels winded along the desolate, wooded road. Rain began to hammer ruthlessly against the roof as they were swallowed by the jaws of a savage squall amongst the sea of treetops. It was a deafening torrent. It wouldn’t have surprised Murphy at all if the ceiling collapsed under the weight of the assault. Up front, Koons could barely make out the freshly painted yellow lines that meandered throughout the curtain of fog as he toggled his bright settings in a irritated struggle for visibility. If this kept up, they would be a good hour or two behind schedule. Despite the urgency of the delivery, it was a deadline Koons was not willing to risk his life or the lives of his passengers to adhere to. His foot eased on the brake pedal, as he brought the metal horse from a hasty 65 miles per hour to a precautious 45.
Wayside Max was clear on the other side of Toluca County. Connecting the facilities was Highway 73, a lonely black serpent of asphalt spanning over two-hundred miles across Maine’s most dense and treacherous national park. Despite its beauty on a good day, Paleville National Park was a wonderland of thick, pine foliage and steep elevations that threatened the nervous bus as it made its way alongside winding, steel guardrails. The cliffs on the other side looked as though they dropped into voids of nothingness as fog consumed the primitive landscape.
Koons was native to the area, having driven in Maine most of his life. He understood the lay of the land and the wheel beneath his fingertips under just about any condition. For that reason, it was he who was entrusted with delivering the more dire of Ryall’s transferals. But even as the prison’s most astute wheelman, the atmosphere around him was uncomfortable to say the least. Not only in the sense of the weather but the overall feeling of dread that was creeping up his spine inexplicably. All he could do to combat it was push a little more on the brake pedal as he rounded each guardrail. The deadly dame next to him hadn’t said a word. Her mind was clearly on neither the road nor the weather as her Gorgon-gaze pierced the partition in the direction of Murphy Pendleton.
Murphy could feel it too, but was choosing not to acknowledge it. The soaked glass felt good against his forehead as he comfortably put Cunningham to the back of his mind. Not being a native of the Pine Tree State, Murphy watched on like a foreigner as a green road sign materialized against the bus’s headlights. ‘Silent Hill,’ it said, along with the insignia of Highway 73 in which they were barreling down. It was a destination that meant little to Murphy, but at the same time he couldn’t help but acknowledge its power. In a glimpse the sign was gone, replaced with another dark wall of pine.
Outside the trees passed like rorschachs as their shapes emerged from the night fog, triggering memories as Murphy began to dose off. He had been behind on sleep the last couple of nights due to the relentless night terrors that plagued him. His eyes half closed as he could see flashes of Charlie playing in the back yard. Carol was there too. Before long, Murphy’s eyelids touch home like the garage door he and his son had spent so many hours behind…
Car after car, he and his son had dissected and restored back to life like greasy surgeons. From beaters to classics, Murphy would regularly acquire a new body every other weekend needing some sort of repair or tweak. Despite working a blue-collar union job, Murphy had often considered opening his own shop and pursuing his passion as an auto-mechanic. A well-being he would undoubtedly pass on to his son, his pupil.
As Murphy wheeled himself out from beneath a 65’ Chevy Impala, he noticed that his assistant was no longer standing by at his side. The wrenches in which the boy had been holding for him were discarded on the floor nearby.
“Charlie?” he called out. “Where’d you go?”
Murphy found himself searching not only the garage but the entire property. His son had seemingly vaporized into the fog that was beginning to suffocate the Pendleton home. It was in that instant that Murphy heard a faint cry soaked in anguish.
Murphy’s heart did a nose-dive off a Himalayan cliff as he turned toward the source.
“Charlie!” he screamed as he tore off from the driveway in the direction of Charlie’s voice, taking him sprinting down what seemed like an endless Fancher Street. He could see nothing as the fog had become immensely dense. Eventually, the skewed street signs marking the approaching intersection materialized from the white depths. The corner of Fancher and Bellows. The streets that had only hours ago been soaked in suburban sunlight were now barely recognizable.
He could see the taillights now. A white van that seemingly melded into the fog was turning right along with Charlie inside. Murphy’s voice tore from his thick throat as he charged the fleeing vehicle. Not once in his mind did he doubt his stamina as he gave chase on foot, as futile it probably seemed.
“No! Charlie! Charlie!”
But the van was gone. Murphy was there alone, in a street that resembled purgatory more so than the neighborhood he had known so well. In which he had raised his family. Suddenly his surroundings began to illustrate this one tragic failure in which he was practically in tears realizing. He couldn’t accept that he was too late. Murphy once again, sprinted into the fog. The only audible sound being his own ghostly breaths and sobs.
Eventually, the abstract shapes of buildings in the faint light turned to pine trees and he was no longer in familiar territory. It was a wilderness. A void of ghostly forests and echoes of a child crying. Forever it seemed like the road stretched. When would he arrive at his destination? With each step, came another mile per hour in which Murphy’s heart was accelerating until eventually he halted as his legs were instantly submerged in water. Cold depths embraced his ankles like skeleton hands as he searched the atmosphere, wading into unknowing waters. The fog cleared slightly as he could now recognize his surroundings as some sort of remote lake.
Soon he could see the taillights again. But the water was getting deeper. It was nearly up to his throat. Bit by bit, the white van emerged from the mist but Murphy could only reach out as he descended into the lake’s abyss while the van itself sat upon the surface of the water as though it still been a concrete road. Murphy’s mouth was stretched in despair but he could hear no words coming from it. Only the sound of the van’s engine as it roared conclusively. As Murphy kicked off the lake’s bottom and begin to swim voraciously, the taillights became more and more nonexistent as the van drove across the lake and once again into the unknown.
Defeated, the father began to weep loudly as he let his body go weightless. All around, all he could see was steamy white and shades of gray.
As Murphy began to float in despair, his grievance was interrupted as an object bumped against him in the water. It was large, about the size of a child. Wrapped in wet burlap. Murphy hesitantly seized the mass as his heels found the edge of the lake floor once again, so he could better examine the salvage. From it came a voice.
Murphy’s eyes snapped open with a start.
Another dream. How long had he been out? The scenery hadn’t changed a bit as rain still pummeled the window before him. The reality of the bus ride was only emphasized more as Sanchez spoke up from Murphy’s right.
“you have a good nap, güero?”
Murphy said nothing.
“Tell me something, puta. That true what I heard about you?” the Mexican grumbled in a harassing tone. How typical…. No matter what the setting or circumstance, Sanchez loved confrontation. Especially when it meant breaking a tranquil silence. It was his way of forgetting what a piece of shit he was. “Did you really do it?”
“Shut the hell up!” snapped Cunningham. Her voice seething with fire and brimstone.
Sanchez didn’t like having his thunder stolen by a white woman. From his neck of Mexico, that sort of dictation in her voice would have earned her a punishment far beyond the average household beating. Unfortunately for Sanchez however, he was a long way from home and like it or not he was the dirt under her shoes. This infuriating reality swelled through Sanchez, giving him the aura of a ticking time-bomb. The second-needle only moved faster as Murphy continued to ignore Sanchez entirely. Nearly about to self-destruct, the Mexican said what any uncreative hothead would say:
“Fuck you, güero!”
Cunningham sprang from her seat furiously, smacking the caged partition with her baton.
“I said lock it up, damn it!”
Before Cunningham could take control of the situation, an on looking Koons turned his eyes back to the road and what he saw there in the headlights was a driver’s wildest nightmare come true.
Most of what should have been the unbroken asphalt of Highway 73 had become a jagged plunge into depths unimaginable. The fog only obscured their fate more as Koons’ foot turned to lead, flattening the brake pedal like a dwarven hammer. With a deafening squeal, the bus was soon gridlocked against the guardrail in a crusade of sparks. They had managed to bypass the plunge miraculously as the left side of the bus was off the ground while the right tires remained in contact with the thin strip of road that hugged the railing.
Cunningham was flung airborne against the lifeless body of Koons who had just took a fatal impact to the side of the head, pieces of driver-side window lodged in his temple. Every inmate behind them hit the right side hard like a deranged carnival ride as the bus suddenly became a monorail. Without mercy, it tore along the railing as the re-united asphalt carried them curving down a hill engulfed in sparks. A traumatized Murphy lay flattened by gravity against the maimed wall, window shrapnel eating at him like a swarm of glass wasps. It was only a matter of seconds before the guardrail gave way, sending them plummeting to their death somewhere in the Maine wilderness below.
Sure enough, Murphy’s worst fear was realized as he heard metal tear and as if in a freefall, all went silent for a moment as the bus hurled through the air in a daring spiral. Like a corkscrew it obliterated the shoulder of the road and several trees. The impact had been so excruciatingly loud, Murphy thought his eardrums had erupted. The bus turned and rolled constantly as it became re-routed down the embankment that defined the purpose of the guardrail above. Countless times the walls became floors as the bus’s metal corpse flattened trees and broke bones, spinning like the reel of a slot machine down the seemingly endless incline.
As his vision became a vortex of crunching metal, glass shards, and olive-green bodies, Murphy’s life was a flashing cinema behind his forehead. Whispering a silent prayer to a heavenly father who for all he knew had disowned him, he braced himself for the impact that would extinguish his existence.
His body was numb and his breath came short as Murphy struggled to remain awake. All he could see at first were twisted, black branches and flashing storm clouds above as muted claps of thunder tore through them. His hearing was gone. At least for the time being. Continually, his eyes would open and close. Sudden naps came and went as Murphy slipped in and out of consciousness, unable to distinguish dream from reality. Eventually, his strength returned slightly, enabling him to force his eyelids open. The same sky loomed overhead, with the exception of the thunder that had moved on some time ago. In its place, the fog had thickened. The black branches and foliage that reached into its realm only elaborated the unsteady landscape further as Murphy strained his peripherals to the right.
Eventually, he could see the faint glow of red orbs as his vision sharpened to reveal the tail-lights of what remained of the immaculate, blue bus from which he had been ejected. Amazing how even after a violent plunge off a cliff, the bulbs not only remained untouched, but were still somehow being powered from an electric current that had not been severed. In addition to his vision, Murphy’s hearing began to return as a nearby crow squawked over the tranquil melody of the nearby pool in which the bus was partially submerged. He was not deaf, thank Christ. Even more thankfully, he was not dead.
Murphy used his realized strength to regain his balance on two legs, heaving himself from the wet leaves that carpeted the scene before him. In that accomplishment, he was amazed at the reality of sustaining no crucial injuries. Despite being unimaginably sore and maimed from the exploding glass, Murphy was otherwise perfectly intact. As for the bus, it had not been so lucky.
It was a horrid sight.
The entire length of the bus had been caved in like an aluminum can. Windows were now mouths as jaws of glass protruded viciously from the wreckage. Pieces of both the bus and the obliterated guardrail had been strewn everywhere, giving the serene landscape a look that resembled a wooded salvage yard. Despite the debris of glass, metal, and mutilated trees, Murphy could not pinpoint a single body anywhere. After the disaster of what just occurred, their mangled corpses could be anywhere. More than likely they were wrenched from the bus as it was cascading down the embankment. The speculation drew Murphy’s eyes skyward as he surveyed the path in which the bus had plummeted. Trees had been annihilated. Earth had been gouged. Yet, despite so much devastation, here Murphy stood practically unscathed.
“Hello?” hollered Murphy as he scoured each side of the totaled bus, wading through cold water as the enormous puddle glistened with each disturbing step.
“If anybody can hear me, give me a shout!”
But there was no response. Only silence.
By nature, Murphy had always been a caring person. Putting others before himself. Helping people was an old habit that died hard for Murphy Pendleton. Whether it was a stranded motorist who needed a jump or a wounded inmate discarded from a totaled bus. People were people. At least until they fucked him over. In the meantime, he would repent with his good nature for the sins of prison life. It was all he could do to maintain whatever shred of humanity he had left in him.
He searched the bus inside and out in hopes of finding other survivors like himself. Not everybody on the bus deserved such an agonizing fate. Not everybody was as sick on the inside as Sanchez and Sewell. Most of the passengers in fact were simply that: passengers. People riding in the wrong vehicle at the wrong time. Even so, Murphy wished them the best of luck in their escape to freedom because he could find no trace of a body anywhere.
Suddenly, a selfish realization overcame Murphy. He was free. The handcuffs that had bound his wrists had been voraciously torn from his skin amidst the commotion. In addition, the threat of Officer Cunningham and Sanchez had been eliminated. Nothing could stop him from walking off into the night a free man as well. Then again, how could he be so sure?
There was no visible proof that would detour the possibility of any of them stumbling out of the fog at any second. Maybe Cunningham and Koons were radioing assistance right now. But wait, that would take them at least an hour or so to get here… Shit! How long had he been asleep on the ground? What if Cunningham was roaming the woods right now? Murphy liked to think she would have staggered off to safety but that look in her eyes from earlier worried him otherwise. She’d be looking for him. For whatever reason, her business with Murphy was personal. Sanchez could be nearby too. Assuming he had found a way from his cuffs, there was no telling what that maniac was capable of. After all, he had been convicted for some pretty sick shit. There too was always the possibility that they were all dead. Yeah, maybe he was the only survivor. By the time the police knew something had gone wrong during the transport, Murphy could be worlds away.
There was no way Murphy could be that lucky.
He knew what he had to do. He had to run. He had to get as far away from the wreckage as possible. Even if it meant hurling himself into the ghostly wilderness before him. He was willing to embrace the dangers of the wild before going back to another iron hell.
“Okay…find the highway,” Murphy found himself saying out loud. The adrenaline attached to the idea of escape had him talking to himself as he scouted the base of the steep hill from which they had tumbled. “Put some ground between yourself and the bus.”
The way back up the incline was too steep. Uprooted pines barricaded much of what was visible against the fog. Besides if the police were out searching, they would be coming from that direction. He would need to find an alternate way around the scene of the accident.
The strange serenity that engulfed the crash site was hard to ignore. All around, rays of moonlight penetrated the misty treetops in a way Murphy could only describe as hauntingly beautiful.
Their trajectory casting shimmering ribbons of silver across the surface of the pool as a nocturnal breeze kissed his exposed flesh like a succubus.
On the other side of the bus, Murphy’s soaked ankles guided him through the leaf-covered pool toward the misty shoreline of what appeared to be a much larger body of water. Its size and overall appearance obscured by the wall of fog.
Although he couldn’t be visually sure, he could feel its vastness and assumed it was of considerable size as he searched the rocky shoreline for clues. That’s when he saw the blinking between the water’s edge and a giant oak tree.
It was a two-way radio. Probably Cunningham’s as it seemed to be of a quality fit for a police officer. A static feedback was crackling from its orifices.
Murphy picked it up cautiously, as if it were a dangerous animal that could lash out at any second. If it did belong to Cunningham, then she could be nearby. Then again, so what if she was? Murphy now had her radio. Her only outlet to civilization. With it in his possession, no help would be coming. That was, assuming help wasn’t already in-route. Had Cunningham already called for backup, this little box would be buzzing with activity. Not to mention, had she made contact, she never would have allowed the radio to leave her hand in the first place. Either something abducted her from beyond or she had been drastically separated from it when the bus lost control.
“In any case, it’ll come in handy.” Murphy thought out loud as he equipped it to his waist and once again set off to investigate his surroundings.
Toppled trees shifted unsteadily as Murphy carefully brushed by them. Ducking under a fallen shaft of pine, the bus’s headlights partially illuminated a path before him as he began to distance himself from its crippled body.
Ahead of him was a labyrinth of distressed foliage and towering walls of rock. Miles of obscured brush of which he was not familiar. Mist clothed the air like a fur coat as Murphy embarked into the unknown. Weary of whatever he may find waiting for him within.
The ghostly atmosphere that radiated about the forest made the hairs on Murphy’s neck stand straight up. He couldn’t help but feel watched from all directions. As if the trees had eyes; sleeping with one open as Murphy passed by unknowingly.
“Hello?” said Murphy aloud. He had barely applied any strength to his voice yet somehow there was a slight echo somewhere beyond. All that met him in return was a surreal silence. “Can anybody hear me?”
Once again, his echo seemed lost somewhere in another dimension as he pushed cautiously through more tangle and brush. He didn’t know why, but he felt the need to make his presence known. Suddenly he was afraid for reasons unrelated to any human threat that may have crossed his mind moments ago. Human companionship suddenly felt ideal as something much more insidious lurked somewhere in the midst. The headlights behind him had faded from existence and he was now relying on obscured moonlight to illuminate his path through the veil of fog.
The lack of any noise whatsoever began to make Murphy question reality. No forest was this quiet. Murphy should know all too well. He had been an avid hunter back in the day and had experienced the wilderness under just about any weather condition imaginable. One thing he remembered from the many hours of watching and waiting was there wasn’t a minute that went by where sound didn’t play tricks with his mind. In a forest of such magnitude, there should always be noise. No matter what time of day. Birds. Crackling of brush. The breathing of the wind. The swaying of branches. The-
Murphy’s thoughts were slaughtered as a torrent of crows squawked and tore passed him in a deafening flurry. He had nearly flinched and fell over as he raised his hands to steady himself as their crude outburst faded back into silence somewhere to the east. Murphy’s eyes followed their origin to a narrow gap between two walls of rock, its contents unknown as all he could see between himself and the other side was a white haze. Had something frightened them from their hiding place?
Murphy’s curiosity fueled his footsteps cautiously toward the gap, his ankles brushing against tall weeds as he slid his body into the crag. Suddenly the mazelike setting was all too apparent as he pushed toward the other side.
When he finally pulled free from the rocky outlet, he saw it had brought him once again to the shoreline of the unknown lake. More dark rocks along the coast led his eyes to the grisly sight just inches from the water’s edge.
What used to be the body of an inmate of Ryall State Correctional Facility was now a corpse as it lay in a bloody heap a short distance from Murphy. As he crept closer, he realized it was one of the inmates he did not know. It was even hard to recognize his prisoners’ scrubs as the olive green was almost entirely dyed red with fresh blood.
Caucasian. Slender. Bald. These were the only clues he could go on as the poor bastards face had been torn off. Despite a lone crow still picking pieces of meat away from his skull, Murphy couldn’t believe that a flock of crows alone were responsible.
His face had been ravaged. Wrenched to wet ribbons beneath the jaws of something vicious. Even the lower jaw had been wrenched sideways were his lower teeth jutted out at an extreme angle. His cranium was smashed in where his brow ought to have been, brain matter steaming from the depths of his skull. All over, his arms and legs he had been mangled. As if he had tried to escape several times before being recaptured by whatever it was that killed him. The entire shoreline had been soaked in his blood, splashed like graffiti against the scattered rocks. The smell was worse than any deer Murphy had ever gutted.
Murphy hurled. Hot vomit spilling from his throat as his stomach curled like something fierce. The burn was intense as he emptied the disgust from his bowels, splashing to the ground with wet thuds. The stench of his own waste did little to ease his nausea as he restrained his breath. Never in his life had he witnessed such a gruesome sight. Not since…
“You don’t recognize me do you?”
“He’s all yours, cupcake.”
The splitting of wood against cartilage and bone.
“We used to be neighbors.”
The sound of a blade filleting through flesh.
“Help! Jesus, help me! Why?”
The scream of a man who deserved to die.
“You know exactly why.”
No. He shook the memory away. That couldn’t have been a more different circumstance. He was a monster far worse than whatever tore this man apart. Murphy had nothing to feel guilty about.
“Oh my God…”, exhaled Murphy as he slowly moved toward the corpse. The details of gore more evident as the crow flew away to reveal what remained. “This…didn’t happen in the accident.”
That was for damn sure. Whatever slaughtered this man had done it recently. His blood was shimmering with the moisture of a fresh kill. Nearby had been deposited a utility flashlight the guy had most likely been carrying. The light was still on, casting a beam of light in the direction of the misty lake.
Murphy snatched it from the bloody soil and shined it in all directions. Dousing the dark pine trees with the small spotlight. Whatever was here was still out there. Maybe watching him right now. Any second, Murphy could end up like this guy, he needed to get away from here.
As he turned to depart, the police radio suddenly crackled to life. Incoherent police chatter spewed loudly from the handheld device, putting Murphy even more on edge as it was bound to give away his position. He was suddenly afraid as he imagined an army of police officers converging on the wreckage nearby. They would hear the radio, see his flashlight and pursue him as a wanted fugitive. Dead or alive.
He saved what remained of the battery and switched it off, relying on moonlight as he raced back into the rocky gap, pushing himself back into the forest’s twisted, outstretched arms.
Whatever the fuck was out here on the other hand was far more powerful and deranged than any escaped lunatic or trigger-happy cop. Murphy was not about to stay and find out as barbed, dead branches slapped at his face as he dashed through the labyrinth of pine. Large, dead limbs emerged in black shapes from the mist as Murphy raced by. More and more, masses of rock began to gradually dictate the landscape as Murphy rounded a corner where a giant chasm lie dead ahead.
“Holy shit…” Murphy exclaimed as he studied the fallen pine tree that spanned the length of the chasm. Beneath its depths it looked infinite. A white abyss. Dare he try to cross this?
Somewhere behind him came a distant howl. Having been so adjusted to dead silence, Murphy couldn’t tell if it was the wind coming back from hiatus or something else. Something less reassuring. In that instant Murphy made a decision.
On the other side was a rocky cliff-face that looked climbable. Yes, he could climb to a new elevation. Shake off whatever threats were hunting him at this level. Some distance up, he could see where a guardrail was barely visible, inviting him back to civilization. It seemed like a comforting destination…if he could reach the other side of what loomed before him.
“This is crazy…” breathed Murphy, stepping onto the rough texture of the fallen pine.
He slowly began to cross the unstable shaft, using his arms as a counterbalance as the white depths passed beneath him. To either side, spiny branches brushed against his legs. As if he couldn’t have been more uneasy, the pine needles tugged at his clothing, making him pull his weight more forcefully than he wanted.
A draft of cold air swept up from below, as if it was Murphy’s grave inviting him to his resting place. He ignored the invitation and tried not to look down. Luckily for Murphy, heights had never been a problem for him. That didn’t stop this unknown plummet from scaring him to death. This wasn’t a simple glance over a canyon, this was life and death. A fifty-fifty chance. A risk he was willing to take.
With a sickening crackle, a limb snapped off under the weight of Murphy’s foot. He watched as it drifted lifelessly into the unknown below, distracting his eyes downward.
“Ugh…Christ…don’t let me fall…”
Murphy prayed for safe passage as he noticed enormous roots spilling from the side of the cliff some distance below, reaching up toward the surface. Their tendrils reminded Murphy of the legs of some enormous spider whose body was hidden even deeper from sight.
His nerves began to rock his balance as he was past halfway, the anxiety of the finish line quickening his pace dangerously. He could feel the groaning of splitting timber as a collection of cracks tore through the shaft and Murphy leapt from the beam of pine, landing in safety beneath the towering cliff-face. The tree’s enormous cadaver fell to its death with a deafening crash as it disappeared into the void of nothingness. Miraculously, he had made it.
Murphy sat in relief, trying to catch his lost breath as he acknowledged the fact that he was still alive. He shuddered as he realized he never heard a final impact of the tree in freefall. Was it a bottomless pit? A plunge from the mists of Purgatory into the darkness of Hell? Nothing made sense. The geography of this place was all fucked up…
Above him was his escape route as he noticed the ledges welcoming him upward. Somewhere up there was the highway, his portal back to freedom. Once his pulse stabilized, he stood and began to climb. The rock felt cold, almost like ice beneath his hands as he pulled himself upward. Suddenly, a metallic click stopped him dead in his tracks.
“That’s far enough!”
From his right came the fiery voice of A. Cunningham as she emerged at the other end of the chasm to Murphy‘s right, her gun raised with her finger on the trigger.
“Get your ass down on the ground, now!”
The gorge below provided a perfect window of opportunity for Murphy to escape up the rock face. It would take Cunningham time to maneuver along the edge to where Murphy stood. He could scale the ledges in a matter of seconds and sprint into the forest above long before Cunningham was even halfway across. That would have been possible…had it not been for that goddamn pistol…raised and ready to extinguish his life.
Murphy knew Cunningham meant business. This was a woman who didn’t give a single fuck as she climbed along the ledge overlooking oblivion. Never did her crosshairs leave Murphy’s body while she clambered forward. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that this woman was an exceptional shot and if he made any sudden movement, she would have him shot dead in the blink of a fly’s eye.
“Hands where I can see them! Do it!”
“Take it easy. I’m not going anywhere.” Murphy attempted with a calm and collected demeanor, raising his hands in surrender. She wasted no time threatening him yet again with the deadly weapon.
“I said on the ground, now!” she continued murderously, jabbing her pistol in the direction of the plummet. Murphy could feel her fury from across the chasm as she began to advance along its edge toward him. Her persistence amazed Murphy. She was willing to risk her life for this? An arrest!? What could he have done to this woman to justify such a dangerous maneuver? Was it some noble sense of duty that drove this woman? Or was Murphy really worth dying for?
“I was just looking for help-”, Murphy began to explain.
“And you just happened to lose your cuffs in the process?” she interrupted. Her voice seething with heat. “Save the bullshit!”
What was this bitch’s deal? Murphy thought incredulously. Her intentions seemed so surreal given the circumstances and atmosphere. Was she really intending to place Murphy under arrest now of all places? He could see the masked fear in her face as she struggled to stay flat against the cliff.
Chunks of rock spilled from the edge where her feet were positioned. Crossing the pine was one thing, but shimmying along a ledge that narrow with a raised trigger-finger was just tempting Death.
“This is stupid. I’ll meet you back down at the bus, okay?” Murphy tried to reason, his body language still in surrender. Despite this chick gunning to take him back to the big house, Murphy couldn’t help but be concerned for her safety. The last thing he wanted to see was this woman fall to her death. If he could help prevent it, he was going to negotiate however he could. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”
“Shut up!”, she snapped. She tightened the accuracy of her pistol point blank at Murphy. She was halfway to him. He could see the fire in her eyes. Streaks of dried blood on the side of her face from earlier. “Keep your goddamn hands where I can see them!”
Suddenly, Death took the bait. To Murphy’s horror, Cunningham’s body slipped downward. Her scream echoed loudly as her hands found the edge at the last second. As her gun tumbled from sight, Cunningham struggled against her own weight as she pulled and strained at the ledge she had no chance of regaining her footing on.
“SHIT!” she bellowed hopelessly. The rock ledge was too small, and she was too heavy. Her eyes moved to Murphy who stood by hesitantly. She needed his help. He was her only chance at coming out of this alive. Sure, she had given him no reason to come to her aid but if he had any humanity left in his criminal being, he would help her regardless. It would be the humane thing to do. Her voice came in a whisper, softness in her eyes like that of a wounded animal.
“Pull me up!”
Murphy threw all selfish thinking out the door and rushed onto the ledge. Determined yet careful as he shimmied toward the doomed officer.
“Hang on!” urged Murphy as he edged toward her clinging fingers.
Her left arm fell in failure, while her right arm remained by a thread. She would not last. She wasn’t strong enough.
“Oh God…!” she shrieked as Murphy’s shoes were inches away.
“Don’t let go! Don’t-”
But it was too late. Just as his outstretched hand surged forward to intercept hers, she could hold on no longer. With a terrible scream, she fell to her death. Her expression burned forever into Murphy’s mind. The face of a beautiful, horrified young woman as she was swallowed by the Earth. Into its maw and never to be seen again.