All the Colors of Death

BY : Shadowmaven
Category: Misc Books > General
Dragon prints: 683
Disclaimer: Inspired by stories by Stephen King and HP Lovecraft. I don't own rights to either and make no profit in the telling of this tale.

This story was inspired equally by H. P. Lovecraft’s, “The Colour out of Space” and Stephen King’s, “The Raft.” I don’t own the rights to either work, which I’m shamelessly pilfering for non-profit entertainment purposes. I say "inspired by," as the characters you'll find herein (save for one), are all original. Happy reading!

 

All the Colors of Death

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The gate’s open. That’s not like him. Emmett insists on lockdowns for all investigations. I thread the shank through the chains and wrestle with the links before the telltale click. The sun’s nearly down, barely an orange gleam through the trees.

The road to the site is narrow and slick; the Jeep fishtails on the first turn but I gun the engine and climb the ridge, spewing mud and wet leaves. My hands grip the steering wheel, so cold they feel wet. Then the forest closes in: a tunnel of storm-tortured trees, riddled with bulbous clusters of pale fungi that opalesce in the headlights, glaucous as the sheen on grapes at first, but then, glowing pale blue and green. From every nearby trunk and broken limb they flash like the sightless eyes of an enormous beast. Emmett said the trees out here have eyes. When he called, he sounded breathless—scared or excited, I’m not sure which. Cell coverage in West Arkham sucks and the phone died before he could finish. I shouldn’t have left him alone out here. Night eats the forest; frogs and insects shrill alien throated choruses from the lake, and mist and moonlight conspire against the senses. It’s a feral darkness, one you can feel in the pit of your stomach.

The path dips down and the trees thin, evergreen giving way to hardwood. The thick carpet of leaves squelches beneath the tires and sloshes along the car’s undercarriage. The campsite’s just up ahead. I can’t see his truck, but every light in the Airstream’s ablaze. I hop out. “Emmett?”

A loud bang sets my heart racing and sends me skidding for cover. It’s not loud enough for a gunshot, Emmett doesn’t own one, anyway. It might be a firecracker; some kid playing a prank, except the locals won’t come here after dark, especially not after what happened last year. The sworn affidavit for that night reads like a script for the Syfy channel, although it isn’t the only strange thing that’s happened in this town. Arkham’s a supernatural hotbed, a regular Eldritch Ground Zero that draws all kinds of witches, spirits, and cryptids. That last is what drew Emmett and I here. Tonight, we’re hunting a monster.

So far, the only monstrous thing here is the smell, a stench I can feel at the back of my eyeballs, equal parts dead fish, algae, and moldering plants. I don’t know what the lake’s like in the summer, but now the days are getting shorter and the nights are cooling with intention. Turnover’s begun, you can see it in the flatness of the water and the algae that float beneath its surface, their slimy fronds gone from green to bitter rust. You’d have to be crazy to swim in that.

The wind comes off the water again. Tearing through the awnings, it reveals the source of the sound: he’s left the door open. I grab my pack and holler to him as I head inside, “Geez, Emmett, why don’t you just hang up a sign that says Please Rob Us Blind?” A low buzzing is all that answers. “Emmett?” Mounting the stairs, I see them, flies, swarming over a plate of half-eaten sandwiches. He’s left the coffee on and the sink’s filled with dirty dishes. That’s a kid brother for you. I scan the shelves that house our equipment over the built-in sofa. The usual set up’s not there but otherwise, nothing’s amiss. Obviously, I’ve worried over nothing.

There’s only one walkie-talkie in the charger on the counter. I snap it up and turn it on. “Emmett, where are you? From the way you sounded on the phone, I thought the Harmony Lake monster was about to carry you off.”

“While you were pulling library duty, we got some killer footage in the woods.” Emmett’s voice crackles over the radio. “We’re setting up a still-cam with EVP at the beach now. Hey, while we’ve got you, let’s do an equipment check.”

We?  At the trailer’s far end, two video monitors sputter on. One’s the still-cam with EVP, a long shot overlooking the lake in night vision: black water and tendrils of green mist. The other, hand-held, still points to the ground. Stomach knotting, I slide on a pair of headphones and fire up the audio. “Who’s we?”

“That would be our special guest,” he says. “We met this afternoon. I’m so glad he came back out here.”

Already I don’t like the sound of this. “What do you mean he came back?”

The second camera does a slow, upward pan from my brother’s hiking boots to a pair of deep-set eyes framed in pale hair. A tall and lanky someone, whose brooding expression, until now, I’d only seen in photographs. “Manda,” he says, “say hello to David Marsh.”

“Emmett, did you bring your cell phone?” I ask in the calmest voice I can muster.

“Manda, it’s cool. Don’t freak out.”

Too late, with a side order of What the Fuck Were You Thinking? While we always interview witnesses, giving each his or her fifteen seconds of fame, we don’t allow them to participate—that’s the first rule of Paranormal Investigation 101, for chrissakes! “Not freaking,” I say. “Cool as can be—cucumberish.”

“I tried to tell you.”

“Hey, Manda, can you hear me?” David waves sheepishly at me.

“Hear and see you, crystal clear.” My voice quavers.

“Look, I don’t wanna step on your toes or anything, but I really need to do this. I still have nightmares about it—that thing out there—my friends...my friends...” His eyes glisten. For a moment, their brief flare reminds me of those fungi in the woods and his skin’s so pale, there’s a kind of aura around him, like a ring around the moon. Creepy, yes but then, no one looks good in infrared.

“What happened that night, David?” Emmett says softly. A cloud of mist rises from the lake behind him.

“There were five of us,” he snuffles. “My best friends, Mike and Lance, and I’d just finished building a raft out of plastic barrels and pine boards. We’d scrounged most the stuff from the junkyard, and even found an old outboard motor. It took some tweaking, but it finally worked! We were so psyched! We stole a mini keg, and brought Mike’s sister Jeannie and my girlfriend Sasha out here to party. Everything was cool until we stalled out there.” As he points to the center of the lake, Emmett follows, his camera slowly zooming in on tendrils of mist. The wind’s died; the mist is the only thing moving upon the lake’s flat, dark surface. “The moon was bright, so at first we thought it was just a school of fish. Jeannie stuck her hand in the water, you know, to play with them. Sasha and the guys dove in...Everyone went in except me.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was trying to restart the motor.” He shrugs. “Anyway, I can’t swim. Their glow circled around her and then got wider and brighter. Parts of it moved off, like tentacles, but that wasn’t even the weirdest part. As it circled them, it started to change—the color actually changed! It wasn’t just silver anymore, but blue and purple, and more besides. All of those colors moved in this strange kind of wave, always fluctuating, changing...”

So far, it’s everything I read in his affidavit. The story of how a monster, an amorphous thing made of colored light came out of the depths and devoured them, piece by piece. While the believer in me wants to embrace David’s story, my inner skeptic won’t let it rest: The non-swimmer survived, while his friends perished. C’mon, Manda, what are the odds? No wonder they locked him in the looney bin after that.

I only hoped Emmett would let caution temper his enthusiasm. It was obvious he’d already replaced me with David in our investigation. Well, if I had to man “Mission Control” all night, I was going to be comfortable. I turn on the radio. The only thing we get out here is WQRX, Arkham’s acoustic station. An orchestra swells Phantom of the Opera. I step into the kitchenette for a cup of coffee.

“The monster—something—has been in the lake a long time, David,” says Emmett, continuing his interview. “We’ve found accounts in personal journals, dating back to the 1920’s, that speak of colors moving beneath the surface of the water. Why do you think it chose that night to attack?”

“Hunger,” he says, in a voice as flat as the lake water. “I had dreams about it, you know, days before it happened, even before we built the raft. It got inside my head.”

“It spoke to you?”

That bit hadn’t been in his affidavit. I hurried back to my seat.

“Not in words,” said David, now standing before a copse of skeletal trees. “Colors. They came in my sleep, calling me here, commanding me. They—it—got in my head. I couldn’t get away. None of us could.”

“Are you saying that your friends had the same dream?”

“Dream, nightmare...” Emmett tightens the shot but David’s gesture is noncommittal.

I grab the walkie. “Sorry, guys, I didn’t get that. We had some interference on this end. Hey, David, I know how hard this must be for you, but if you don’t mind, could you answer that last question again?”

David looks straight into the camera. The moon breaks through the clouds, turning his long hair luminescent blue-white, his eyes lurid. “Yeah, we did,” he says.  “Creepy, hunh?” The smile that follows this makes me break out in gooseflesh. “I need to see something.” David lunges out of frame.

The camera judders and dips. Branches snap. “What? Wait up,” Emmett calls. “Where’re you going?”

“It might still be here,” David says. The camera shakily follows the bobbing beam into the woods. Limbs whip the lens. Brush and stones crunch underfoot, and then, sounds of more leaves, limbs, and something heavy. The shot’s too unstable to see anything.

“Holy shit! Manda, you won’t believe this!”

Seeing is believing—usually. I leave him alone for one night and this happens! I punch the button on my walkie. “Emmett, what? Come on, you’re out there to gather evidence. At least act like a professional, for chrissakes!”

He whips the camera into position, creating a trail of eerie green but David pushes its lens away. “No, not yet, man. Help me.”

More sounds: grunting, shifting, dragging. Something heavy but somehow hollow, and then, I hear the harsh clang of metal against stone.

“You want evidence?” Emmett stabilizes and refocuses. “Look at this!”

Heavy and hollow... As the music rushes to crescendo, a stone sinks in the pit of my stomach. A few of its rain-slick boards are cracked and one of its plastic barrels is staved in. It lists to one side when David kneels beside it and runs his hands over its surface. The look on his face is indescribable, memory and emotion sweeping across its pallor like living shadows. “I can’t believe it’s still here,” he says, eyes glittering.

Neither can my inner skeptic: Evidence in a criminal investigation and the cops just leave it behind. Yeah, right.

David’s voice takes on a dreamy quality. “All this time, it’s been here, hidden away, waiting...” As he turns away to stare at the lake, the camera moves in for a closer shot of the boards, to the large, dark stains on their surface.

That’s blood, my inner believer chimes. It’s THE raft! I don’t know how it got here, but it is!

“Waiting?”

He’s playing you, Manda. Open your eyes!

Turning back to Emmett, he says, “That’s what I came back to do. I know that now. Really, I think I’ve always known.”

I can’t believe the next question that comes out of my brother’s mouth. “Emmett, are you insane!” I scream into the walkie-talkie, “David can’t swim and our equipment’s not waterproof!” My next words are cruel, but I can’t stop them: “We came here to conduct an investigation, not an assisted suicide!”

Emmett hands the camera off and waits for David’s signal. “If you want this to be a real investigation, Manda, we have to look for evidence at the source—not here along the shore but out there! That’s where it all went down! If we can record proof of those colors, think what it’ll mean!”

“Even if it still floats, how’re you going to get it out there?  David said the motor’s broken.”  

David caresses the motor with his hand. “Not broken, just stalled.” The camera wobbles and I watch, helplessly, as hands push the raft through a bank of mist towards the water. “The lake’s fed by natural springs, so there are plenty of currents. They’ll take us where we need to go.” Boots slosh through water.

Staccato news tones replace the orchestra.

In local news, one of Arkham Asylum’s most well-known residents is dead. Earlier this afternoon, a worker on rounds discovered the body of twenty-two-year-old David Marsh hanging in the shower room. Marsh’s death comes exactly one year after the brutal murders of his four, fellow Miskatonic University students...

I don’t wait to hear the rest. Walkie in hand, I bolt out the door, screaming for Emmett, begging him not to get on that raft. It all makes so much sense now: why David didn’t drown the first time, his sudden appearance, the raft. The fucking raft! The grass is slick. I fall twice before I close the quarter-mile distance between our camper and the beach, but before reaching it, can see I’m already too late. A motor that shouldn’t work purrs on a raft that shouldn’t be here—can’t be real. They’re half-way to the middle of the lake, two shapes in the moonlight, staring straight ahead, one of them radiating a hellish aura. “Emmett, come back! He’s not what you think he is,” I scream. “David Marsh is dead! Dead! He’s the monster! He’s always been the monster!”

Emmett doesn’t move. Static crackles on the walkie. “Emmett can’t hear you anymore, Manda,” David says, his voice growing thicker, wetter with every syllable. “I’m in his head now. He can’t refuse me. What hunger wants, hunger gets.”  He drops the radio in the water and then, waves. As he turns back towards Emmett, David Marsh sheds his skin, molting into a glowing, glittering, amoeboid from within whose gelatinous shape, murderous streaks of boreal light shudder and flash.

It is over so quickly. He blankets my brother, wrapping him so suddenly, so completely, dissolving him with every color of death, Emmett hasn’t even time to scream.

I’m doing enough of that for both of us.

The colors slither into the water, expand and undulate. I force myself to look away. That’s how it gets you, says a voice in my head. Emmett’s.

I wish we’d never come here. My brother is dead and I don’t know how to kill this creature, which is unlike any supernatural entity I’ve ever studied. I tell myself, if I can just get to my Jeep, there’s a chance there’ll be at least one survivor tonight. I’ll break the damned gate down if I have to.

I run. Watercolor follows. Gliding effortlessly along, it reaches camp before me and swarms over my Jeep. Metal groans, glass shatters; flames lick the night. It surges towards me, leaving a twisted carcass bleeding rivers of rubber and plastic.

Screaming, I race around the edge of the trailer and scramble through nettles and briars, over jagged rocks and exposed roots. Water is its source. Maybe I can lose it in the forest. Emmett speaks inside me again: The trees have eyes...

“Get...Out...of my...Head!” Branches lash my face. My foot sinks in a boggy patch and I pitch into a hillock. The mud makes a sick kissing sound as I yank myself free, losing a shoe. Half-stumbling, half limping, bruised and bleeding, somehow I reach the top of the hill, where new forest gives way to old. Only now and only for a moment, hidden behind one of those monstrous oaks, do I allow myself a backwards glance.

It’s gone. Back to the lake, I hope, and good riddance!

What hunger wants, hunger gets...

“Not me; not tonight, Emmett,” I whisper to the still darkness. Too still. There’s nothing: no insects, animals, or wind, not even the hum of my unstrung nerves or the hammering of blood in my head. My heart, like the night’s, is holding its breath. I stagger from my hiding place and stumble down the long tunnel that leads to the gate, the road, the strange foxfire my only light and guide through this hellish night.

Finally, I reach the end of the tunnel and peer out. My Jeep’s a twisted, black hulk in the grass. Every light in the trailer’s ablaze. “No, no, no, no!” I stagger back into the trees.

It gets in your head, Manda... You can’t refuse...

It’s waiting for me, a colossus of shifting, scintillating light, every color forming a face framed in a vortex of starlight. They want me. They’re all inside it—David, Mike, Sasha, Lance, Jeannie, and Emmett—trapped in this otherworldly, murderous macrocosm, the enormity of which is too much to bear. As it drifts closer, its corona, glowing unbearably bright, radiates serpentine arms. Arms that will soon lock me in a final embrace with all those faces, all those lost souls, all the colors of death.



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