Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I had always wondered what the bottom of a lake looked like, and now I know. It looks like the sun setting over the horizon, where the farthest depths of sky are black, but you can see a kind of layered improvement in the light the farther along you get. I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all down here if it wasn’t for the full moon.
At least here, near the bottom of the lake, I was safe. I think.
I knew that with every breath I drew, the oxygen level in the car drained. If I died here, at least it would be my way- instead of dying at the hands of that thing. The ambiguous mass of shapeless dark that could keep up with my car, even though it was going 85mph before I crashed. If I didn’t have a 4 cylinder engine, I would’ve gone faster and may have gotten away.
I first met him when I was 6, and he was the perfect house guest when we had our tea party. He wanted to bring his friends, but I insisted that I get to know him first. His friends made me feel weird anyways, because even though I couldn’t see them, I could hear them talking to us. I showed him all my stuffed toys and baby dolls, and I asked if his friends might like to play with them too. He liked my toys, but he said real friends are better, and one day I’d have lots of real friends. Maybe whenever I met his friends, we’d all be friends and have so much fun we wouldn’t need any toys.
I told my mother all about him, how his friends called him the Pale Emperor, and she forbade me from “imagining” him again. Mother was a very stern Christian and thought such nonsense was surely the work of the devil. Sullen, I explained how in Sunday school, we were taught that God wanted us to make friends. She looked down her nose at me and said that only applied to real friends and real people. I tried to defend Pale, but she wouldn’t have any of that nonsense. I scoffed at her behind the closed door of my room. Pale sensed that I was distressed and asked what happened. I told him what my mother said.
He didn’t like that at all.
Next Sunday, when we were at Church, a big, heavy wooden cross fell off the high arch ceiling and split her head open, spewing her brain matter on me. My mouth was open, singing psalms, and as hard as I try to deny it, I know I ate some of her brain tissue. Pale didn’t show up until after the closed casket funeral. I was absolutely furious. I told Pale that I knew what he did. I told him God doesn’t let killers into heaven. They burn in hell, and that’s what he was going to do one day.
He didn’t like that.
Pale stopped appearing in front of me entirely. I was glad for that, because when I yelled at him that night, he was…changing. His skin grew darker, especially around his eyes, which were beginning to turn yellow. The more I yelled at him, the more yellow they became. He got taller, and his hands started to meld together and become webbed. He didn’t look like a real person anymore.
After that, Pale started to come only at night, but he stayed hidden. What I had once considered a friend was now a stranger lurking in the dark. I could hear him whispering from the closet, asking me to come play. Other times, I heard him giggling from under my bed, telling me that all his friends were there -everyone but me. He only wanted to play again, and that if I did, we would be friends forever. He got mad because I told him wouldn’t play with him, and I wouldn’t be his friend. He started shaking the bed violently. At that point, I started to fear him. I didn’t talk to him anymore.
He didn’t like that.
It wasn’t until I was 7, on an unusually dark night, I awoke to voices. I recognized them as his friends, but they weren’t encouraging and cheerful like they were before. The voices under my bed were crying for help, saying they were trapped there, and that I’d be trapped there too. I put my head under my covers, but I saw Pale under there. His eyes were glowing bright yellow, and he smiled. I could see his elongated, jagged teeth by the mere light of his demonic eyes. I screamed.
He REALLY didn’t like that.
I flung the covers off me in a panic and started to run to the hall. I fell when I was almost at the door. I heard dad moving somewhere in the house. Something cold had closed around my leg, and I shouted again. It was shadows, but the shadows looked like hands clasped around my leg, and they were touching me. I could feel them. Cold, dead- and pulling me to their dark home under the bed. I jerked and pulled, pleading with Pale to stop his friends. He said my mom was there too, and she had decided to be his friend. Why couldn’t I? His friends pulled so hard that I slid quickly across the room towards the underside of the bed, and I saw several bright yellow eyes under there, all belonging to Pale.
The lights came on and dad came through the door. I stood up and tried to run to him, but I fell again, sobbing. My leg was so clawed and mangled that I couldn’t walk. My father taped a towel across my leg to stop the bleeding and rushed me to the hospital. The doctors said they had only seen such injuries in feral animal attacks and suicidal cases. My father denied their recommendation to put in an asylum. The doctors said I could really wind up hurt or worse. We came back to the house, and I didn’t see him that night, and I had stayed wide awake for most of it. I had hoped the light had hurt him. Soon after, we packed and left for an apartment down the road. Father wanted to so he wouldn’t have to relive the memories of mom in that house, and I wanted to so I wouldn’t be terrorized by her killer.
I hadn’t seen him until tonight, almost 20 years later. I sensed him before I saw him, but it was a presence as familiar to me now as it was then. I immediately grabbed the keys to my car to leave and go stay with a friend. As I passed the doors down the hall, I saw him in the bathroom first, then each room after that, smiling that terrifying, carnivorous grin. As I flung open the door to sprint out, I heard the cries of his “friends” pleading with me not to go. I did anyways.
He didn’t like that.
I pulled out of the driveway and with the screech of tires I was gone. I was sobbing hysterically, barely able to see the road ahead of me. I looked in the rearview mirror. He was standing in the middle of the road. As I drove farther away, he didn’t move farther away. He was as unmoving as the road, yet still ever present. I picked up speed. I saw him jerking, moving unnaturally- inhumanly. I glanced down at the speedometer. 80, 82, 83. I looked back, and he was almost upon me. 85.
I snapped my attention to the road in front of me. He was there, watching with his bright yellow eyes. I grit my teeth and prepared for impact. He disappeared as soon as my Civic hit him, but the steering completely failed, and I veered off the road.
When I ran my car into the water because of that shapeless dark, I blacked out briefly. Next thing I knew, it was slowly sliding upside-down to a drop-off point. I looked through the windows of the car. If there was ever a black blacker than black, it would be at the bottom of this lake.
I glanced around for my purse. In the crash, everything flew everywhere, and my car wasn’t the cleanest of sorts. I found my purse in a Subway wrapper smudged with BBQ sauce. I sat up on the ceiling and rested my upper back on the seat where my lower back was meant to be. I fumbled about my purse, pulling out a pack of Marlboro reds, or as my father called them, “cowboy killers”.
If I was going to die, I wanted a damn cigarette. I hadn’t even thought about making a break for the surface. I refused to go where he was. A part of me actually wanted to die here, at least away from him. I thumbed the lighting mechanism of my wind-proof lighter. I stared down at the flame and drew deeply from the cigarette. When I looked up, my heart stopped.
At first, I thought it was from the lighter, because there was a little yellow light at the bottom of the lake; however, they began to multiply. The lights and the darkness came closer. I realized that the car was moving to the drop-off point. The wind-proof lighter blew out. I looked behind me and screamed. The Pale Emperor was pushing the car. My breaths were labored as I kicked the window, trying to escape.
He HATED that.
A gurgled growl rang in my head, and I was certain I was going to die here if I didn’t get out now. Precious moments went by, and the drop-off point came ever closer. I frantically looked around my car for something to bash the window open with. Everything was so scattered, so chaotic. I scanned the clutter, opened the glove box- but I could find nothing. Then, I thought of the metal cigarette box in my purse. I immediately reached for my purse and grabbed the metal box.
I raised my hand to strike the window with the edge of the box, but Pale’s face appeared, his shapeless maw opening to utter the most inhuman shriek I ever heard. It caused me to drop my box. I looked around the ceiling for it, but Pale jerked the car and my cigarette box tumbled underneath some garbage. I shifted everything in an all-out panic, the discordant groan of metal and the increasing hopelessness of my situation was the crescendo of my worst fears.
Everything started to get dark, but I found it. I raised my hand to bash out the window, but I saw those horrible sets of yellow eyes. I looked up to see the moon getting further and further away, succumbing to the nothingness that enveloped me. And I was too. The only light in the darkness was the cigarette I had lit that had rolled into the corner. It was almost dead.
I grabbed it and breathed life into it. As I puffed the cigarette, the inside of the car glowed red, dimming every few seconds to burn brighter by another breath of life, like a pulse. It seemed like I smoked through it so quickly, but in reality I was afraid of the light going completely out. I opened the cigarette box.
I had 5 cigarettes left.
I searched for the lighter, but couldn’t find it. Desperately, I lit another cigarette with the dying embers of my last. Smoke filled the car, but I could see them when I took a drag from my cigarette and the light glowed bright.
Their bodies were gray, except for Pale’s. His was black. He was full of strange holes, like his skin had been stretched too far and ripped.
The other creatures he called his friends milled about the car. Pale smiled. He knew I was nearing my last cigarette. Despite my trepidation, I edged to the window to see if I could see the moon. Barely.
It was so dark down here. I realized the moon was getting farther away. No- I was still sinking. My cigarette started dying.
I breathed shakily, and Pale’s toothy smile spanned wider. I heard him in my head ask me to meet his friends, but this time, it was a whisper. Each time he asked, he asked more loudly. His friends, the gray ones, begged me not to go. Cheerily at first, but the deeper I sunk, the deeper, even more desperate their voices became. The cigarette went out.
He liked that.
Credit To – James Ticknor