A piercing screech erupts throughout the land, waking every slumbering creature in its path. Pushing through the flaps of the tent, the chilled night air quickly takes a hold of me and attempts to encase my every fiber in a sheath of impenetrable frost. My heart pounding, I pull my thick jacket close to my body and take off across the lake of ice in the direction of the horrible sound.
With each step I take, the shrieking of the banshee increases in volume. As I near the site, the yelling of men can be heard in accompaniment. The scene soon enters my vision, and I stop abruptly behind a circle of men working furiously to contain a mysterious creature at the heart of the group. With nothing but the light of the moon and it’s surrounding stars, it is nearly impossible to discern what is taking place before me. A man senses my presence, my father, and looks in my direction with concern.
“Lilah! Go back to bed! This is not for you to see!”
The terrible screeching continues, only more shrill to my ears than before now that I am in close proximity to the source of the harrowing sound. Morbidly curious, I squat down and try to catch a glimpse of the banshee through the chasms created by the men’s legs. A deformed shadow crawls across the ground at terrifying speeds. Startled, I instantly shoot up to my full height. Instinct urges me to run, but my feet have become one with the ice below. I open my mouth to call out to my father, but shut my jaw tight when I realize that my voice has fled. With wide eyes, I am unable to look away from the scene as my brain tries to make sense of the chaos.
My head snaps in the direction of my father, and I am greeted by a stern, commanding look.
“Go back to the tent! This is no place for you!” he repeats.
Father‘s order breaks the spell binding my feet to the icy lake. With eyes still glued to the circle of men, I hesitantly move to action, but am suddenly jolted awake by an ice cold hand that has gripped my ankle. Peering down, I see the pale, contorted face of a young boy.
My eyes dance across his darkened features in a desperate attempt to peel away the shadows. With a jerky movement, the child raises his head to the light of the moon and releases another piercing shriek. Terror-induced adrenaline races through my veins the moment the juvenile’s form hits my retinas.
Gills accent the child’s cheeks, razor sharp teeth protrude out of his mouth, and vicious, alien eyes stare back at me with animalistic hunger.
He tugs on my leg with all his might, and I come crashing down to the hard ice underfoot. Snarling, he grabs at me in every which way he can, but is quickly pulled back by my father and his men. The boy claws the air as he is pulled off of me, and I reel backwards across the ice out of horror. For the briefest of moments, terror fills the child’s eyes as he is carried back to the center of the foray. The silent communication of fear stirs up a feeling of dread within me, and a part of me worries for the boy. Before the men can close the circle once more, I catch a glimpse of a large, shining fish tail flapping under the child’s torso.
“Take Lilah back to the tent!” my father barks his order out into the harsh night.
In a stupor, I do not realize that one of Father’s men has picked me up and is carrying me back to the campsite until the scene has slipped out of sight.
“Put me down! Please! I can walk,” I command.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, miss.”
I continue to plea, but suddenly stop as a terrible vision materializes before me.
Peering over the man’s shoulder down onto the diamond-crusted lake, a horrible, yellow-eyed face glares up at me from under the sheet of ice. Scaly lips peel back to reveal a mouth full of sharp daggers as a muffled, blood curdling screech attempts to crack through the monster’s frozen enclosure.
A scream tears of out my lungs as the magnetic force of fear pulls me out of the negative dreamscape and into the neutrality of the waking world. Wet sheets stick to my skin from the coat of sweat I have produced, and my vision struggles to keep up with the crazy swiveling of my head brought on by a feverish state of disorientation. My eyes latch on to familiar items throughout the room, permitting the fog that clouds my mind to lift.
I struggle for breath and stymie the racing heart within my chest with a clammy hand.
I have had yet another nightmare.
The arrival of Father’s swift, clunking boots ushers out the ocean of darkness with a quick flick of a switch.
“Lilah, are you alright?” concern strangles every word that leaves his mouth as he rushes to my bedside.
“Yes, I’m alright…just another nightmare,” I struggle to say reassuringly.
The edge of my bed sighs under the weight of my father as he brushes a sweat-drenched strand of hair out of my face. Worried eyes carefully analyze the fragile mask of bravery that I have hastily put on.
“Is it the same one you’ve been having?”
With a sigh, I nod to let him know that he has guessed accurately.
The corners of his mouth twitch into a gentle frown, while his head droops and his hands meet to interlock at the small of his neck.
“Maybe it’s not the best idea for you to join us on this next fishing trip.”
I tense up at the suggestion and shake my head wildly in disagreement.
“No, Papa. It’s been years since I’ve ventured out to the lake. I want to spend time with you so that I can get to know you in your element, to see you engrossed in your passion as a fisherman. I must go.”
Father shifts his gaze to the floor.
“Please do not go just for me.”
I latch on to my father’s shoulder with a stern grip and glare at him determinedly.
“I’m doing it for you, but I’m also doing it for me. I have got to break this horrid nightmare of a curse so I can move on with my life. I can’t sleep. I can hardly function because of these incapacitating visions.”
My eyes bore into the back of his head, but he makes no motion to respond. In the quiet moments following, I silently pray that he will respond favorably to my appeal.
Slowly, Father straightens up and manages to turn to me with a hopeful expression.
“If you think this trip will break your curse, I will allow you to come.”
I smile warmly at the old man.
“Yes! Thank you, Papa.”
The bed returns to its original shape as Father makes his way to the door. Hesitating, he lingers by the door frame with his hand poised over the light switch.
“Lilah…please try and get some rest. Laugh and be merry in your slumber. Those are the dreams that are meant for sweet daughters such as yourself.”
The room is drained of light as Father’s boots plod off into the night.
Darkness, a familiar stranger, returns.
Bouts of stealthy snoozes are quickly cut down throughout the night as I lay guarded in my fortress of sheets. My eyes shift defensively throughout the room as I keep a flashlight, my sword, gripped tightly in my right hand and a pillow, my shield, firmly placed over my midsection.
Slim beams of light creep through my window to announce the early morning before too long, and I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I have survived another night. I waste no time in abandoning my bed, and find myself briskly traveling down the cold hallway outside my room with a blanket draped over me protectively. My bare feet slap against the floor, creating a beat for my shadow to dance along to against the quiet walls of the house.
Involuntarily, my eyes squish up in response to a slit of hazy, glowing light resting at the end of the dark hallway. Anxiety slows my pace in response to the unknown danger fast approaching. Plodding feet gradually bring me closer to the obscurity, and within moments a door manifests before me.
Father’s trophy room.
Misty light pours out of the ominously ajar entryway, sending a chill up my spine.
Chased away by the demons from my nightmares, years have passed since this place has felt my presence. Promises of unseen terrors press against the thin barrier separating me from the unknown, and bottled-up whispers of the dead trickle through the slight crack.
Apprehensively, I take a step closer to the gateway to tribulations and peer cautiously through the thin slit of light.
Nothing stirs in the room of the dead.
Wanting to quiet the lifeless mutterings that haunt me, I consider entering the room. My body and mind yearn to sleep through the night, and my duty as a daughter drives me to overcome this overwhelming fear.
Hand shaking, I reach for the door.
A bead of sweat trickles down my neck as my fingers wrap around the doorknob with ease.
What am I waiting for?
Without further hesitation, I push the door open and quickly rush into the room before anything, or anyone, can keep me out.
A thousand greetings hail from the cold, dead eyes of dozens of fish mounted to the walls of the room. Their mouths hang open dumbly, an invitation to venture inside to nestle within their stuffed bellies. I grimace at the realization that this vast sea of scaled beasts have been swimming in the shadows of my home all this time.
The blanket I wear as armor shields my fearful, beating heart from the soulless, prying eyes. Cautiously, I creep around the exhibit and examine each specimen with care. My eyes jump from one glistening body to the next, in search of the monster from my nightmares. An enormous brute enters my line of vision, its sad state begging for sympathy. It is not the creature I am looking for, but captivating nonetheless. Lured in by the semblance, I bring a hand out to graze the side of the beast. I shiver when my skeptical fingers make contact with the cold, lifeless sheen.
Overwhelmed, I stumble back from the monstrous fish. Hand clasped over heart, I close my eyes and try to steady the rapid breathing that forces my lungs to work so hard. To my chagrin, the fiends that haunt this room have a stronger impact on me than I would like to admit. When my breath finally becomes deep and fulfilling, I slowly open my eyes to face the demons once more. As my eyes readjust to the surroundings, a faint, sparkling scale tinkles in my periphery. Unknowingly, I shift to view the origin of the strange glimmer.
My breath catches in my throat as I gaze upon an endless, glittering fish tail protruding from the corner of the room. Vicious snarling rings throughout my ears as the boy from my nightmares tears across my vision, fighting for life.
Leaning against my father’s taxidermy desk for support, I struggle to regain my balance. Fixated on the terror before me, I try to piece out the wretched souvenir.
I scan every inch of the shimmering skin, and am perplexed to find that there is nothing particularly horrifying about the tail itself.
In fact, it could even be considered beautiful.
The trophy is terrifying in that it has no front half, no face, no beady-fish eyes to let me know that it’s life was taken many years ago. In the place of a stomach, a flat, wooden trophy board hides the inner contents of the catch. I look around the room wildly and, to my horror, realize that there are no other souvenirs such as this.
Could this really be that young, fearsome boy from so many nights past?
Short, rapid breath returns to overwork my lungs as I stumble backwards towards the door. Unable to shift my gaze from the tangible evidence of my nightmares, a spell of paralysis surges throughout my body, numbing every limb and digit. I fumble for the doorknob behind me, but can’t seem to find it in my dumb blindness.
Instinctually, my body goes rigid at the sound of a door slamming from across the house.
The soft sound of singing can be heard travelling down the hall.
Father is awake.
A rising panic builds up in my chest, a forceful reminder that I cannot be found in this pathetic state. New fear quickly wrenches me out of my stupor, allowing my hand to locate the doorknob. Without hesitation I stumble out of the room, sealing the gate of terrors behind me. The singing grows louder as he nears.
“By the light of the moon
does the old king rule
in his dark watery dominion
His kingdom does shudder
at his frightful command
for he cannot be contested
by sea or land
O Pelleas, King of the Lake
All creatures do cower
in your wake
O Pelleas, King of the Lake
All fools shall break
if they attempt to take
what lies under your waters.”
The echo of Father’s clunking winter boots reverberates throughout the house, increasing in volume with his approach. I compose myself before the stompers can close in on me.
He rounds the corner of the nearby hallway and stops abruptly when he sees me planted before the harrowing chamber. A puzzled look crosses his face as his eyes come to rest on me.
“Lilah…are you alright?” his voice is soft.
“Yes, Papa, why wouldn’t I be?”
Father pauses to stare at the door behind me.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen you so close to this room.”
“I’m fine. I was just walking by.”
Eerie silence follows my explanation, and I begin to worry that I have been caught. However, after several moments, feelings of uneasiness are soon replaced by concern when I notice a peculiar look on Father’s face. A strange glaze coats his cedar-brown eyes as the room of haunts continues to captivate him.
“Papa? Really, I’m okay.”
I place a careful hand on his shoulder as reassurance.
My touch seems to lessen the power of the incantation possessing Father, and he gradually brings his attention back to me. He blinks a few times, and a look of recognition clears up his eyes. Uncomfortably, Father clears his throat to break the awkward silence.
“Alright. If you say so….“
I struggle to suppress a sigh of relief, but manage to pull it off.
With a step back, Father looks me over and chuckles at the sight of my pajamas.
“Please get dressed. I need your help gathering firewood for the trip.”
I am comforted to see that Father has returned to normal, but am left with a lingering suspicion.
With a desperate need to gain distance from the deadly exhibit, I scamper off down the hallway in pursuit of the sound of plodding boots.
Father and his men set up camp on the ice-laden lake as I lug piles of freshly chopped wood onto the campsite. Carefully, I arrange the logs on a dry tarp before pausing to take a break. With a gloved hand, I wipe away a river of sweat that has formed along my forehead. Tiny, salty water droplets rapidly solidify along the side of my glove.
Although it is only late afternoon, the frosty air nibbles vigorously at my exposed cheeks. Hastily, I wrap a scarf around my face to keep the chilled temperatures from creeping in and turning my flesh raw.
Towering, dark woods blanketed in a fresh coat of snow surrounds the eerily silent lake. A lone hawk soars over the landscape and quickly disappears into the cover of the frozen canopy nearby. Biting, frigid air desperately paws at my insides in search of heat as my lungs take in a deep breath. I shield my eyes against the intense, bright sun setting against the horizon of the trees as I circle the area to get a full view of my surroundings, but am suddenly interrupted by the yelling of men several feet away.
My head snaps in the direction of Father and his men, who are working arduously around a fishing hole they had sliced out of the lake earlier that day. As a coordinated unit, several men tug and pull on a mystery that lies beneath the surface. The small, exposed pool of freezing water, disturbed, slaps the sides of the icy walls surrounding it. Several waves manage to splash on to the frozen surface, forcing Father and his men to urgently dodge the attacks. With zealous effort, the unit finally hauls the enigma out of the desperate waters and on to the frigid surface.
Frantically, I run over to the scene to offer my help where it is needed. Upon my approach, I am shocked to find a naked, unconscious man resting on the ice. Long, fair hair cascades down his soaked back, and glacial skin envelops his being. Startled by his strange appearance, I raise a hand to cover my mouth so as not to betray my feelings. One of Father’s men, unnoticing, cradles the man in his arms and attempts to resuscitate him. After several moments, the man sputters to life like a spigot.
“Lilah, get this man a blanket and a pair of clothes. Men, let’s get a fire started, quick!”
I nod at my father’s order and take off back towards the campsite. Several packs are strewn about, filled to the brim with the trip’s necessities. I shuffle through the contents of a nearby bag, and find several layers of clothing to bring to the man. When I arrive back at the scene, the stranger is breathing, but has yet to open his eyes and acknowledge our presence. I rapidly pick out a shirt, and lightly touch the man in offering.
The lids covering the stranger’s optics slowly rise like curtains as I stare with apprehension. Drapes fully pulled back, the man calmly shifts his face to meet mine. I let out a yelp and drop the remaining clothes to the ground.
A pair of intense, yellow eyes bore into my soul.
Petrified, I clutch a hand to my mouth and shuffle back in fear as the strange man continues to hollow me out with his gaze. Gracefully and silently, he rises to a sitting position. One of Father’s men shoots an angry look in my direction as he picks up the remaining clothing littered across the ground. Reluctantly, the stranger shifts his attention when the fisherman places a jacket over his exposed shoulders.
“What is wrong with you, Lilah? Sir, are you alright?”
The stranger blinks innocently as he peers around the landscape.
“Where…am I?” his words are sleek and rimy.
“We pulled you out of the lake, sir. It’s a miracle that you didn’t die.”
The man continues to look around the campsite, surveying the area.
“Is that so?”
Lips twitching up into a crooked smile, his gaze finds me once again.
Eyes locked, I gasp when I realize that the yellow tint of his irises have melted into a cool, ice blue.
Father’s fellow fisherman ignores me and continues to engage with the man.
“Let’s get you clothed, sir. It’s important that we get you warm as quickly as possible. Here, I’ll help you.”
Muffled crunches deafen my ears to the man’s reply as my boots take off across the snowy ice into the security of the nearby woods.
Safely hidden with the dead forest, I come to a full stop and place a hand against a nearby tree. Without warning, my body lurches forward to release a thick stream of toxic bile that had been brewing within my belly on to the dirt ground near my feet. Empty, I slump down to the earth haphazardly against a wall of rough bark.
Seeking reprieve, I close my eyes. Momentarily, I am lost to the world in the quiet darkness of my mind as the tranquility of the silent forest engulfs me. Grateful for the respite, I release a gentle sigh.
After a few moments, a pair of small, burning fires ignite at the back of my lids. Mesmerized, I watch as the modest embers bloom into enchanting, dancing flames. Slowly, they creep towards me.
Suddenly, an unexpected pause.
I gaze at the intense, burning lights in wonder.
Abruptly, the infernos pick up speed and rush in towards me with a newfound intensity. The hateful, yellow orbs I have been fleeing charge in at me without haste.
With a start, my eyes fly open instantaneously.
I turn to the side and release a new batch of vomit.
Shivering, I place a hand over my face defensively. Even though I have released all the waste from my body that I can, my innards still feel as if they are drenched in an ooze of despair. Confused tears trickle down my face, and I lean into my knees to prevent the chilled air from freezing the tiny rivers to my cheeks.
My moment of weakness is interrupted when the sound of crunching twigs prickles my ears.
Loud cracks enter my domain as the weight of the intruder snaps the dead, spindly branches that litter the forest floor. I hold my breath and wait for the unwelcome visitor to find me.
“Lilah, what is wrong with you?”
Father’s words have me cowering. Night has descended upon us, and I shiver anxiously in the frozen twilight as he stares at me with frustrated confusion.
“I…don’t know. Something about that man terrifies me,” I manage to choke out.
My father cups a mouth to his hand and turns to look at the campfire that has been kindled out on the frozen lake several hundreds of feet away from us.
“I was afraid that this was going to be too hard on you. I’m sorry for allowing you to come. I should have known better than to put you through this.”
Father turns to stare at me with soft, solemn eyes. A fresh tear trickles down my cheek as his words crush me, and I immediately decide that I must reverse his regret about the decision to bring me on this trip. Abruptly, I stand to defend myself.
“Papa, I’m sorry. I promise I won’t panic again.”
I look towards the ground and kick a clump of ice with my shoe.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s just…for some reason, that man is so familiar to me. The way he looks at me…it’s like he knows about my curse.”
Slowly, I raise my gaze from the forest floor to find Father staring at me guiltily. Internal alarms brought on by a spike of adrenaline ring throughout my body as I peer back at him with a perplexed expression. The sound of ice crunches under Father’s feet as he suddenly rushes in for a tight hug.
“Papa…what’s wrong?” my voice is weak and muffled as he holds me against his rough, worn coat.
“Lilah, I’m so sorry that you figured him out before me. It was my plan to take care of him before you discovered anything. I only brought you here to draw him out…please, forgive me…your nightmares…I….” his voice wavers in my ear.
“What are you saying….?”
Father says nothing and continues to cling to me. Early night chill seeps into my lungs and prickles my insides. I suck in a painful, icy blast of air as I prepare to ask my father a question that could dredge up a truth that I’m not ready for.
“Papa…does this have something to do with that boy?”
Father’s arms instantly become rigid around me. My heartbeat accelerates at a frightful speed, the THUMP-THUMP of the overworked muscle pounds in my ears.
“All those years ago…I should never have brought you out here. I don’t know what happened exactly, but….”
Father’s voice cracks. My eyes become glossy at the sight of this tough, strong man crumbling in my arms. My father, champion fisherman, spilling frightful tears over something he can’t articulate.
Quickly, he recovers and continues in a shaky voice.
“Lilah, I’m going to make this right. Don’t you worry.”
My arms fall limp to my sides.
“Papa, you’re scaring me. Please…I need to know. What happened that night?”
Father clears his throat and steps away to release me. His words come out hard and unwavering.
“Everything’s going to be okay. Lilah, I promise, I’m going to break this curse of yours.”
He pauses to work something out in his head. Brows furrowed, he suddenly looks up at me with determination.
“No, not your curse. Our curse. We’re in this together. And when I do break it, you‘ll be able to smile again. Just like you used to.”
I look at him, distrusting, the image of the glimmering fish tail trophy burning in my mind. My heart aches from the harsh struggles of a complicated game of tug-of-war. One half pulls away from Father, disgusted and afraid, while the other leans towards him in love and adoration. Before I can fill the silent space that has replaced our conversation, I realize that Father has started to make his way back towards camp.
“Come on, Lilah. Enough talk for tonight. Let’s join the others. And…do your best to treat our guest kindly. He’s gone through quite an ordeal.”
The welcoming smell of fire-roasted fish seduces us into joining the fishermen around the roaring campfire. Saddled up on a large log next to my father, I gratefully sip on a cup of hot, freshly brewed cider. The concoction slowly breathes warmth into my being, particle by particle, thawing me from the inside out. I stare down into the cup clasped within my hands, lost in the surface of my dark reflection, as the men engage with the stranger.
“So, friend, what were you doing out here? It’s dangerous to be out this time of year all alone, your own case being a prime example of that. It truly is a miracle that you survived,” a gruff fisherman posits to the pale survivor.
The strange man smiles and tosses his long, fair hair to the side.
“Well, I suppose you could say I was out hunting.”
“What kind of game were you searching for out in this weather?”
“I had a particular specimen in mind. A young doe that I‘ve had my eye on for quite some time.”
“Seems to be an odd time of the year to be hunting deer.”
“Maybe so. But this doe is special to me and, as fate would have it, has been on the move. I couldn‘t pass up the opportunity.”
The man’s ice-cold eyes flick my way for an instant. His lips peel back to reveal a set of sparkling, white teeth.
My throat tightens up and sends the cider down the wrong pipe, causing an eruption of garbled coughs to thunder out of my mouth. Father gently pats my back as everyone turns to stare. While straining to steady my breath, I lock eyes with the smiling devil seated across the flickering flames.
After my fit has completely subsided, Father turns his attention towards the bizarre man.
“I’m sorry, stranger, I don’t think I caught your name. What did you say it was?”
The fair haired being stares at my father thoughtfully before answering.
I feel Father flinch next to me when the peculiar name hits his ear. Acutely aware of the outsiders gaze, my father manages to keep his discomfort under control. Father’s unusual reaction has me further concerned with this man’s presence.
“Hmm…Pelleas. I see. What a unique name. I could swear that I’ve heard it somewhere before.“
The stranger cocks his head to the side in amusement. A slow, devious smile upturns the corners of his lips.
“Probably from an old wives tale, I’m sure.“
“Well, we’re glad to have you. Given your precarious situation, you are more than welcome to stay the night with us.”
My eyes widen with panic.
Under my breath I beg Father to recant the offer. He throws an arm around me and gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze, but remains focused on the strange man. To my horror, Pelleas nods gracefully in acceptance.
“Yes, thank you. Shelter would be much appreciated on a night such as this. And of course, I am overjoyed to be surrounded by such lovely company.”
Bellies full of fish and cider, the late night chill prompts the fishing party to separate and retreat into the aged, discolored tents set up as sleeping quarters for the trip. After Father and I have entered our shelter for the evening, I turn to fasten up the flaps of the entrance. As I am about to cinch up the last portion of the opening, my heart skips a beat when my eyes fall upon the strange man entering the tent directly across from us. Involuntarily, my body shivers with the knowledge that this being is in such close proximity. I realize that this is the exact same incapacitating feeling elicited by my father’s trophy room.
Father releases loud, guttural snores as I hastily put together a makeshift bed. Satisfied, I crawl under the covers and quickly shut my eyes. To my despair, I soon come to the conclusion that sleep may be an impossible task as I toss and turn to the gruff song of my father’s slumber. Eyes wide, I stare at the dark ceiling of the tent and pray for the early rays of morning light to come quickly.
Light sleep must have clouded my mind sometime during the night, for I suddenly became alert to an ominous presence weighing down on me. Cautiously, I lift my head to inspect the surrounding tent space.
Fear shoots throughout my body when my eyes fall upon the outline of a tall, shadowy figure standing over me.
Father answers with a throaty snore.
“Papa? Well, yes…but not yours.”
I open my mouth to scream, but my vocals refuse to produce.
The air shifts as the man approaches, causing my knuckles go bone-white from the vice grip I have on the thin, measly blanket shielding me from this intruder. As the figure closes in on me, the fierce glow of yellow-eyes overtakes my vision.
Petrified, I am defenseless against the cold hand that snakes out of the darkness and takes a hold of my shoulder. Survival initiates a struggle until I feel a warm, creeping sensation slowly radiate throughout my entire body. My fear for this man is eradicated within moments.
Gently, the stranger pulls me up and guides me out of the tent and into the harsh, winter night. With an arm snaked through mine, the seductive smile Pelleas has constructed for me is illuminated by the light of the full moon.
“At last, we meet.”
I drink his voice in like a rich, smooth swig of red wine. The stars play upon his delicate features, revealing for the first time that this man has an attractive appeal.
“At last? Have you been waiting for me?” I blush at him dreamily.
“For quite some time, my dear. Have you forgotten?”
I sigh happily and giggle at the man’s pleasantries.
“Of course not. I have been reminded every night.”
The man pats my hand approvingly.
“Very good. I made sure of that.”
Ice crunches under our feet as we approach the small pond that he had emerged from earlier that day.
“Pelleas, are we going for a swim?” I gush.
The man does not answer me until we arrive at the edge of the hole.
Dark waters silently beckon to me.
The stranger turns to face me, and brings a hand under my chin. He bores his eyes into mine as a slow smile creeps across his face.
“Do you find the water enticing, darling?”
“Very much so,” I whisper with apprehension.
I turn to face the enchanting abyss that awaits me and smile fondly at my reflection.
Pelleas stands behind me and wraps his cold, pale arms around my torso. I shudder at his touch. His long hair tickles my cheek as he places his head gently on my shoulder.
“Lilah…You became mine that night I lost what belonged to me.”
“…I know,” I whisper.
He lowers an arm and slips his hand into mine.
“A price must be paid. I hope you can understand that,” he breathes into my ear.
Pelleas releases me, but I find that I am still anchored to the spot he has left me in. Mystified, I watch my reflection as some hidden force slowly moves my body closer to the edge of the water. Before I am able to enter the void, a deep roar deafens the night.
I wheel around to find my father and several men running up to us, trident and netting in hand. I stare at the sight with confusion, but am jostled by the sound of a low, alien growl next to me. I turn to view the source of the sound, and am horrified to find that Pelleas’ face has transformed into a terrifying sight.
Globs of pink flesh plop off his face. Large, yellow fish eyes gleam under the light of the moon while shining blades of fury jut out from his scaly mouth. Gills flare out menacingly from the sides of the creature’s face, and slits take the place of his nose. A horrific, animalistic screech blares across the lake, releasing me from the spell I had been under.
I turn to run, but am apprehended by a scaly hand that has gripped my wrist. I whirl around to find the bipedal fish monster that has replaced the man known as Pelleas. He releases a low, throaty growl, warning me to stay put.
My father screams my name again as he and the men approach the snarling beast that has captured me. He raises his arms to throw the trident at the monster, but is deterred when the creature places my body in front of his own.
“Papa!” I screech.
Pelleas tightens his grip on me.
“So, we meet again,” he growls at my father.
“Don’t you move another inch!”
Papa has the trident raised over his head as his men spread out to circle us.
Unflinching, the monster cocks his scaly head out towards my father in defiance.
“You made this choice long ago.The silly folk tales passed down by your kind gave you fair warning, and yet you still dared to challenge me! FOOL!”
My father’s raised arms begin to shake.
“Papa, what is he talking about?” I scream.
“Please. Please don’t take her. She’s all that I have!”
Pelleas throws his head back and releases a terrifying, angry laugh.
“All that you have? What about my SON?” he roars.
Pelleas takes a step back towards the cut-out in the lake.
Father quickly falls to his knees.
“Pelleas…King of the Lake…Indeed, I was a fool to have provoked you so many years ago. I know that now. When I heard the stories, I had to come see for myself….”
The fish king roars savagely.
“See?! You did more than see, you wretched fishermen! You stole everything from me that night. My successor. My boy. My child. And what for? Pride. And you expect mercy from me?”
Pelleas quickly takes another step back towards the pond. I am terrified to find that we are teetering on the edge of oblivion.
Father’s men quickly rush in at us. As the men are closing in, a deafening, watery explosion erupts from the pool behind me. The crushing waves blast out at the men, knocking them into a stupor.
“Mine…for yours. It’s only fair!” Pelleas yells at my father.
Without further hesitation, the beast jumps into the dark abyss, dragging me along with him.
Father lets out a final roar and lunges for me. I throw my arms out towards him, but Pelleas is too quick. We are sinking fast into the unknown.
Father grabs for me in desperation, but my hand is just out of reach.
I give one last scream for my life before the creature pulls me beneath the dark waves. The light of the moon begins to quickly dissipate as we sink into the deep depths of the frigid lake. In a final attempt, I throw my hand up towards the sky just beyond the watery surface, but never step foot on land again.