The idea for “Pale Lady” came to me many years ago, even before 2016, which is when this partial version was written. I’m publishing it without revision or completion.
It’s a wail – that scream that chills the very essence of my being. It howls out from nowhere bringing with it a vision of her — her deathlike skin almost glowing in the night. Haunting my dreams for months, I can’t explain why it echoes in the darkness. The scream and the pale lady is all I remember.
Scott nervously looks over at me. I must have been thrashing in my sleep again. He worries too much.
“How much longer?” The question is like that of a child uttered through a yawn. I rub my eyes and stare ahead.
“We have another hour… depending on traffic… maybe he should have left earlier,” the last said more to himself — doubting himself — than to me. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired…” A sigh escapes my lips, “just tired.” Mentally numb would be a better assessment, but that throws up red flags. “I’ll just be happy to see the mountains.”
I’ve spent days feverishly organizing this impromptu trip. The cool crisp air of the mountains carry with it tactile memories of youth and the warm embrace of a loving, but lost, family. It’s my attempt at escape from reality – to relive a simpler time. If I can just get to that perfectly nestled chalet of innocence, I will be able to evade this feeling of looming tragedy.
I can still hear his voice clearly. “Don’t get to far ahead, munchkin.”
“I won’t Daddy.”
The air was always fresh — damp with a bit of a chill. The water ran cold across my feet, soothing the sting from the rocks below. It was our place. Dad and I would hike through the wooded mountain, straying from the suggested trails, to find this little piece of paradise. How it became our special spot, I don’t remember, but it was ours. The sun shown down through the trees just right to make the dancing waters look like diamonds spilling out along the brook. I was always too preoccupied by the beauty. I was never ready, yet I knew that it was coming. Up into the air I would go. My feet would always hit his knees before being tossed up into the air again. The woods would be filled with my giggles. Wildly flying, I felt like a bird even though his strong arms were cradling me through every twist and turn, finally bringing me to rest atop his broad shoulders.
I feel a gentle shake on my thigh. I must have nodded off again. It feels that I am in an eternal state of slumber, yet it’s never enough to quell the fatigue.
“Hannah, wake up and look.”
Through slits – sleep has crusted over my eyes – I see the majestic rocks that reach up to the heavens. A hope swells in my chest, even though the peaks are crowned in black. The mountains are known for roaming storms with their hauntingly beautiful, rolling thunder, but the darkness is always brief and what follows is majestic.
She had a laugh that was contagious. Where all else was weighted down by the thick fog that was sneaking through the mountains, her glee floated above to dance on top of the mist. Dad was whispering in her ear — one of those jokes that I wasn’t meant to hear. Her lovely face flushed, she tried to hide a Mona Lisa grin.
She walked to the back of the car and collected her easel and paints from the trunk. Turning to me, she smiled and then turned back to the mountains. “Isn’t it beautiful, Hannah?”
“The storm made it?” The ground clouds were still a mystery to me.
A melodic humming of approval was my reply.
The fog hung low in the valley, creating a what looked like a mote around the base of the mountain. Sunbeams were just beginning to peak through the gloom, and created perfectly placed rays to highlight the tops of the trees. It was indeed one of the most lovely sights that my youthful eyes had seen, or that I have ever seen still.
“Mama, don’t you want to hike with us?”
She smirked. “You two go enjoy your special spot. I’ll be fine right here — just me and my paints.”
I’m jolted into the door. Damn… Did I fall asleep again? Scott is carefully maneuvering his way up the snake-like roads. Rain crashes down on the SUV – the sound drowning out all else. White light strobes around us as the thunder shakes the mountainside.
Ahead I see the outline of something white — perhaps the tail end of a deer. As we come closer, I can see that the figure in front of us is flowing — almost like sheets blowing on a line. My eyes grow wide as I realize the trailing robes of faint shadow seem to be leading us up the mountain. The cloak-like apparition seems to turn around, becoming an illuminated and gaunt, almost skeletal, face with hair flowing seamlessly into veins of white light. A piercing wail pulses through me as the face comes ever closer then through the windshield before disappearing.
The top heavy SUV jolts from side to side, close to the dangerously narrow shoulder. I look out the window and see nothing but the tops of trees fifty feet below. The mountains are wildly swirling around me. Trying to regain control, Scott swerves this way and that. We slide sideways until we finally come to rest in the middle of the road.
I feel out of control – deranged with vulnerability. Screaming, unsure of whether to stay in or get out, I hold on to the door handle as if it is the gateway to life or death. “Did you see that?”
Scott, panting, stares at me in crazed exasperation. “How could I miss it? That tree was huge.”
“No… not a tree… It was pale… ghostly. It was a woman. A…”
“Sweetie, it was a tree — a big tree that nearly killed us. I think it must have rolled off the road on your side.” He is trying to calm down, but his adrenaline is clearly still pumping. He takes a deep breath. “You’re seeing things. You must have fallen asleep again — imagined it.”
“But I saw her. It was a lady… pale…”
The look shot in my direction told me everything. He didn’t see her — I must not have seen her. It’s just the fear of the moment kicking my imagination into overdrive.
The engine is stubbornly refusing to turn over. A new thought seeps into my mind – frightening yet completely rational. The winding roads up the mountainside will leave any oncoming travelers completely blind to our stalled ride. The same chilling thought must be dangling in Scott’s psyche as his attempts to get the engine started are becoming increasingly more manic.
A slow ruhr-ruhr-ruhr-ruhr-ruhr seems to last forever before the motor sputters to life. Scott clumsily shifts into drive and begins a uneasy ascent. Impenetrable silence fills the car.
Making it into the chalet, Scott looks relieved. It’s beautiful — just like I remember it. The fireplace was ablaze just as I’d asked. I had planned on making love to Scott in front of that fire, but after weeks of chronic fatigue, I am possessed with a powerful, negative energy. Unable to sit still, I pace around the rooms. The storm is getting more violent and every crack of thunder shakes the wooden floors.
Trembling, I look out the window; hot tears fall down my cheeks. This was supposed to be a romantic getaway – an escape to a place that holds memories of love and purity – yet anxiety and fear is taking hold of me.
I jump a little as his strong arms wrap around my waist. I feel a soft kiss on my neck and melt a little. Scott makes me feel safe and loved. Always trying to be compassionate and understanding, even when I don’t understand myself, his selflessness is eternal. I allow a moment of tranquility and sink back into his embrace. If only the moment could last…
The smell of hyacinth filled the room the first time we made love. He had listened — no other guy had listened before. The smell of roses is nice, but not my favorite. The fire was roaring and candles flickered throughout the room. The night was divine. I still return to that mystical evening — the smell of that sweet fragrance coupled with the warmth of the roaring fire — the feel of him.
The power goes out as blinding white illuminates the whole room and the cabin jumps with the deafening crack that follows. Scott’s embrace grows stronger, but the fear churning inside my body is absolute. It will not be quelled.
Before me, on the other side of the rain-stained glass, she stands — the pale lady — her long flowing robes wet and holding to her body. Her face is hollow and framed by long hair that wildly clings to her gaunt skin. A grotesquely open jaw hangs in an eternal scream — that scream that haunts my slumber.
Falling to the floor, I crawl to the other side of the room. I feel wild with anxiety. Everything in me tells me to hide. Inside my head is a piercing scream — distant yet so close — it now possesses a waking nightmare. I look to Scott for protection, and instead see his face contorted into a cringe, his hands cupped over his ears. A new realization sets in. That loud, hideous sound isn’t coming from inside my mind.
Scott moves towards me. A new fear takes hold as I now understand that he can’t see her. His eyes — full of concern, but not understanding — have never left me. I point frantically at the window, hoping that he will see — he has to see.
Streaks of brilliance fill the room and the floors quake violently. Scott never hesitates and continues towards me. I gasp. The pale lady now moves at his side — her feet hanging limp and her toes dragging the floor as she comes ever closer. I can’t move and my eyes can’t look away — focused on a mouth that hangs disgustingly open, looking as if it could open infinitely and swallow the world.
My body is heavy and I feel trapped. My eyes seem to be playing tricks. The two of them seem to be getting farther away, but they continue to move towards me. Scott has a mixture of fear and concern on his brow. Her black eyes, menacing — the pale lady’s shoulder touches his as they both reach out to me and then become merged into one. His beautiful, blue pools, still filled with angst, positioned above the gaping wail.
Every inch of me wants to retreat from the sight. I fight the weight that seems to be holding me to the floor and scramble backwards, trying hard to get on my feet, but failing at every attempt. She has him. The pale lady will devour him — engulfing him in a ghastly oblivion.
Fear is replaced with fury. I launch myself towards her, and I find myself deriving some sort of deranged pleasure as my hands wrap ever tighter around her neck. She can’t have him. She will not win. Strong hands grasp at my strangling hold. I feel them nervously fighting for some leverage. I extend my intense stare into the eyes of my tormentor. Terror fills the blue pools — blue pools that moments before were overcome with concern. My resolve fades and I become disoriented. My eyes must be tricking me again. What I see before me now can’t be right. I had her… now… my grip is tightening around him.
I must have passed out. I’m lying in bed, dressed in my favorite nightgown. Scott is asleep beside me — cradling me in his arms. He chose to sleep by my side… even after… he chose to stay.
I try to go back to sleep, but a bad force has a hold of me. Brushing his black hair off his brow, I watch him sleep and pray for this distressing feeling to pass. It refuses. Having found a dwelling, it will not leave.
My throat is dry and scratchy, and although I don’t want to leave the comfort of Scott’s embrace, I pull myself away and nervously head to the kitchen for some water. My feet feel heavy — they don’t want to go — I don’t want to go. The imminent dread of another face-to-face meeting with that hideous ghost has all but defeated me. I wait at the bedroom door for several minutes working up the fortitude to open the door — visions of her tormenting my mind.
In the living room the fire has died down to flickering embers. Spasms run through my arms and legs; and my heart feels as if it’s going to jump out of my chest.