This week we have a Lovecraftian story to fill you to the gills with fear. Steven Van Patten imagines a beautiful lake with a dark secret beneath its waves.
Narration provided by Carl Stewart. Audio production by Davis Walden.
Don’t forget: All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. We’d love to start producing weekly episodes, but we can’t do that without your help. If you enjoy the show, consider supporting us for as little as $1 per month. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join and enjoy extra perks.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have a Lovecraftian story to fill you to the gills with fear. Steven Van Patten imagines a beautiful lake with a dark secret beneath its waves.
But before we get to the story, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Jennifer, Ash, Najar, Jason, and Annie.
Thanks also to Alifah for making a one-time donation via PayPal. You all have my eternal gratitude. Again, NIGHTLIGHT is 100% listener supported, so we need your help to keep bringing you new episodes. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast.
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy Pink Lake by Steven Van Patten, narrated by Carl Stewart.
As the dingy cargo van rocked back and forth, Derek found himself drifting off to sleep, his heavy eyelids hidden behind his dark sunglasses. The only things keeping him awake were his camera and lens case jostling around his neck and making it hard to be completely comfortable. He had been feeling especially antisocial that day. Too bad for him that the precocious ten-year old seated in front of him was incapable of taking his silence as a hint.
“Derek, are you rich?”
“Because I saw you making a phone call. My dad said that’s expensive. That’s why he’s not letting me call my mother.”
“Well, Bijou, I had to check on my mother. She’s getting up in years and I kind of sprung this trip on her without warning. She’s worried.”
Derek was lying. The truth was, the malaria medication he was on since he’d come to Senegal had made him woefully depressed. His mother was fine. He called her and a few other people back in Brooklyn because for the first time in his well-traveled life, he genuinely felt homesick. But that wasn’t a conversation he was going to have with a child.
“I wonder if my mother is worried about me,” Bijou muttered.
“I’m sure she is. Mothers always worry.”
Bijou turned back to the window. “This trip to Pink Lake was your idea, wasn’t it?”
She was correct. Even though many in their party had never been to Senegal before, no one else in the travel group had cared as much as he did about sightseeing. Derek was a travel-blogger who, for the sake of being frugal, had tagged along with a group of drumming and dancing students whose main priority was to receive tutelage in the arts from Senegalese masters.
Months ago, a friend sent him a brochure that boasted of a two-week long trip to Senegal for a mere fifteen hundred dollars. Accommodations included airfare, lodging, dance and drumming lessons and guided sightseeing. Distracted by the price, he completely overlooked the part where the drumming and dancing weren’t as much optional as they were expected.
After paying the price in a series of PayPal installments and arriving at JFK airport, Derek met Malik Saw, the Senegalese master drummer that would act as his host once he arrived in Dakar. He was mildly surprised to see that out of the other Americans joining Malik, he was the only African-American other than Bijou making the trip.
Bijou Saw was Malik’s ten-year-old daughter. Malik, as it turned out, was a man with two families, one in America and one in Senegal. Bijou was Malik’s only American-born daughter, forced to take the trip to Senegal after Malik’s American ex-wife decided she needed a solo vacation. Arriving on the same flight as her father’s guests, the Americanized Bijou, dressed in a fluffy pink dress that first day, spent much of her week being ignored by her father, mocked by her half-siblings and shown nothing but contempt by her father’s Senegalese wife. But there were several strangers divided between Malik’s main house and the nearby guest house and she would find solace in talking to them. She had grown especially fond of Derek’s dry wit and matter-of-fact responses to things.
“Why didn’t you tell everyone that you couldn’t drum or dance at the airport?” Bijou asked.
“Didn’t seem important.” He wasn’t exactly lying this time.
“Can’t drum or dance, but you’re on a drumming and dancing trip. I dunno.”
Derek sighed and stared out the window. While sympathizing with Bijou and being observant enough to see how bad of a time the girl was having, the thirty-five-year old travel reporter had his own problems that first week. Along with the side-effects from the malaria pills, Derek found himself caught in the middle of the growing distrust between Malik and his guests, as Malik’s wife and the two young men Malik had hired to escort the American students to and from the dance studio began hitting the guests up for money at every turn. It would be revealed that many hidden fees were connected to their stay. Then, of course, there were the guests themselves:
The two ‘Janes’, one Korean-American, the other an Irish-American, were both great djembe players. Paul was a young, red-headed amateur, probably Irish as well, though Derek hadn’t bothered to ask. Nico was a seemingly pleasant 30-ish Italian-American anthropology student who had been schooled in Italy, so his accent was so thick no one else understood him half the time. José was an enthusiastic Cuban-American dancer in his 20s, which was probably why his parents were there to see him off at JFK. And then of course, there was Cynthia.
While everyone other than José had shown up at JFK by themselves, Cynthia had been seen off by her boyfriend. This didn’t stop her from occasionally disappearing with one of Malik’s guides for hours at a time four days into the trip. And because she had been to Senegal before, Cynthia, a thirty-something professional dance instructor and Jewish-American Princess from Queens, assumed the role of ‘cruise-director’ over the group just as the hidden fees, lack of diverse food and a guest house with a partially missing roof began to irk the other Americans. There was also the issue of the Americans beginning to feel that their drumming and dancing lessons weren’t anything special, or as Irish Jane had put it, “Nothing we didn’t already know before we got here.”
Cynthia might have kept her veil of expertise in place for the remainder of the trip had she not made the mistake of eating an egg sandwich she had picked up from a sketchy-looking restaurant only to become violently ill the next morning. Bored with eating the same fish dish at Malik’s for the past week, the rest of the Americans could have easily gone over the egg sandwich cliff with Cynthia, had the rest of them not listened when Derek casually tried to warn her by saying, “The Center for Disease Control website advised against eating eggs or dairy.”
With no trust left in the Senegalese hosts and Cynthia literally debunking herself, the remaining healthy Americans felt they had no choice but to put their faith in Derek, the one person who wanted nothing to do with any group decisions or debates. He didn’t even want to be in the dancing and drumming classes, but quickly learned how to play the bass drums, or doun-douns, to help the time pass. When that became tiresome, he reminded Malik that he and his boys, Pop and Mamadou were dragging their feet on the sightseeing portion of what the brochure had promised. Then he used his status as the perceived leader of the Americans to coerce Malik to arrange the trip to Pink Lake.
Cynthia had recovered just in time to come along and sat shotgun next to Mamadou, who drove. Pop, Nico and Paul were seated in the first row, the Janes and José filled the second, and Bijou was by herself in the third. Derek had purposely slipped to the back. Whatever disappointment Bijou felt about her father bailing on the excursion at the last minute was partially alleviated when she realized Derek’s choice of seat meant she could question him without interruption the entire drive.
“Finally,” Derek said under his breath, as the van pulled up to the far end of the mile-and-a-half long lake and stopped. They piled out single file and stood next to each other, taking it all in.
“Derek, you were right. That water really is pink,” Korean Jane marveled at the almost bubblegum colored water.
“Why is it like that?” Bijou asked.
“The mineral deposit attracts a certain type of bacteria, which in turn affects the color of the water,” Derek explained.
Noting the men toiling away in the water, Irish Jane asked, “What are they doing out here?”
“These guys make a living mining the salt from the bottom of the lake. They sell it to various companies, but a lot of it ends up in France.”
They watched tall, dark and wiry Senegalese salt-collectors engaged in various stages of the mining process, either standing chest deep in the lake just outside their boats chipping at the mineral deposit with a long metal rod, or steering their boats on and off shore and adding crystals to already formed triangular-shaped piles. Many of those piles stood about ten feet high. The entire process would have appeared more oppressive if not for the sheer beauty of the lake. However, it was hard to ignore the heat.
“How can these guys do this all day?” Derek heard Paul ask.
“They don’t really have a choice,” he answered without turning to face Paul. “Unless you want to open a Starbucks out here.”
Derek stepped away from the others and snapped photos of the lake as the others watched the collectors work for roughly five minutes before their entire entourage was surrounded. He stopped shooting long enough to observe Pop and Mamadou feign shooing the salt collectors away, only to still let one of them talk to Paul and Irish Jane. Convinced that this was yet another con, Derek turned his back to the lake and began taking pictures of the piles of salt and the handful of men who had continued to work despite the presence of the Americans. Pictures. That’s what he needed to concentrate on. Unfortunately, his companions had other ideas.
“Hey, so they’re offering boat rides across the lake,” Paul said over Derek’s shoulder, as Derek stopped taking pictures in order to change to a wider angle lens. “Only five sayfa. What do you think?”
Derek’s lips curled and he raised an eyebrow as the lens snapped into place. “Dude, I’m old school New York, so I’m hip to the scam where they tell you that boat trip is only five dollars until you get out to the middle of the lake, then homeboy jacks the price up another twenty bucks to take you back. But please, don’t base your decision on my cynicism. Do you, bro.”
Derek turned back to taking his pictures. He overheard as Paul sighed, conveyed an abridged version of what he had said to everyone else, then slowly led the group to the boats.
“Why ask me if you’re not going to heed anything I fucking said?” He half-chuckled as he framed up another photo, moved left and bumped into someone. He was about to apologize when he looked down and realized that it was Bijou.
“I’m sticking with you!” she announced.
“Lovely,” he said.
“Do you want me to take some pictures of you? You could put it on the ‘Gram’.”
“You’re not having a lot of fun, are you?”
“Fun wasn’t the goal, Bijou. I’m working.”
Bijou pouted slightly as Derek looked over his shoulder to see that three boats had gone out. Nico, Paul and José had piled into one, all the while questioning the man rowing over the safety of all of them being in the boat. The Janes were in a second man’s boat, while the third salt collector’s boat was occupied by Cynthia and her side beau, Mamadou. Pop had been left behind and didn’t look very happy about it. Derek chalked it up to jealousy and turned back to his picture taking.
When the attack started, Derek had been facing the piles of salt. Otherwise, he might have had the chance to photograph the long green snake-like protrusion as it raised up nearly thirty feet in the air, then came down hard enough to cleave the Cynthia and Mamadou boat into pieces. Only the boat’s owner had managed to jump clear, while the lovebirds appeared lost in the froth and wake created by the tremendous splashdown.
The Janes, bobbing helplessly in their boat a few feet away from floating chunks of bloodied wood, screamed and held each other as their rower jumped out of his boat and swam away. Paul and the others, panic stricken, fell out of their boat. Terrified and taking in mouthfuls of salty water, they noticed that the area near what was left of Cynthia’s vessel had gone from pink to red. Seeming content to leave the screaming Janes to their fate, the men swam as hard as they could in the other direction. They would find their escape hindered as the water itself seemed to push against them, keeping them in the lake and forcing them to tread water.
As everyone on the shoreline stopped what they were doing, Derek ran to one of the salt collectors. “There’s a friggin’ giant octopus in there, and you jackholes are charging for rides?”
Pop appeared behind him. “That’s not an octopus.”
“Well, what the hell…”
Without finishing the question, Derek turned and realized that what he had been looking at wasn’t a giant tentacle, but the body of a beast. It raised up straight out of the water again, over three stories in height. As it pivoted towards the Janes, he saw the dark green pupil of an eye that opened and blinked at the top end of it. That was all there was to the creature’s face; no mouth or nose, just a single eye at the end of a long, reptilian body. The thing’s eyelashes were black and the length of a grown man’s forearm. They oozed a gelatinous substance.
“Tribute! How dare you not give me tribute!” a voice seemed to call out from nowhere. “Everything you have of value! Leave it in the water!!” The creature floated closer to the Janes.
“All we have is some loose cash!” Korean Jane managed to shout.
“In the water!”, the voice cried. The Janes emptied their pockets of all their money, threw the paper and coins in the water, then grabbed the metal rod left by the owner in the boat to push themselves away from the creature.
A jeep pulled up behind Derek. A tall, grey-haired Caucasian dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and rubber slippers stepped out of the vehicle and marched purposefully towards the lake, towards the creature. As the man passed them, Derek and Bijou saw that the man’s eyes were all white. This prompted the terrified ten-year old to scream and grab Derek’s waist. They watched as the man waded into the water and collected the Janes’ money as the bills floated to the surface.
The creature moved towards Paul, Nico and José. “Tribute!” After some confusion, the men followed suit and emptied their pockets. Once relieved of their funds, the water allowed them to swim to shore, out of breath and coughing. The strange man made his way to the rest of the floating money as the creature turned its Cyclopean eye towards Derek.
“Are you serious? I wasn’t even in the water! What do you need money for anyway? You’re a fucking monster living in a lake!”
Something rose out of the water just in front of Derek. It took him a second to realize it was a bloodied Cynthia. “Are you really arguing with this thing right now?” she asked as she spit up a mouthful of saltwater.
“Tribute paves the way for my father, the dark god of R’lyeh. I am his herald, sent forth to brace the world and pave the way to his destiny.” The creature’s voice answered. “A paved road requires currency.”
“Sounds like a fake ass religion, and you’re a fake ass prophet!”
“For your insolence, you will give me everything you have.” The tall man began walking back to shore, towards Derek.
“Let go of me, Bijou. Looks like I’m going to have to square up against this creepy minion dude. Bijou? Bijou?”
The girl had let go of his leg, but instead of running for cover behind him, she was walking almost blissfully towards the water. “Cthulhu fhtagn. Cthulhu fhtagn.”
“What the hell? Bijou stop! What are you doing?!”
He tried to grab her and she fought him, scratching and kicking.
“Your belongings, or I drown the weak-minded child.”
The tall man with no pupils had made it back to shore and stood in front of Derek as he continued to grapple with the girl. He just stood there, staring and muttering something in French.
Mamadou’s body, lifeless, with blood seeping from a deep head wound, washed up next to Cynthia. She screamed.
“Cthulhu fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn!” Bijou continued.
“Okay! Okay!! Just let her go!!”
The spell the creature seemed to cast fell away. Horrified as she came back to her senses, Bijou stopped fighting Derek and fell in his arms crying. He hugged her for a moment, then handed over his phone, his camera, the spare lens and even his favorite watch to the demonic Frenchman. With his bounty collected, the tall, white-eyed goon got back in his jeep and drove off. The monster sank back down in the water, barely fully submerged before the salt collectors began taking their boats back out and chipping away at the mineral deposit with their metal rods. For them, it was as if nothing had happened.
After helping a grief-stricken Pop put Mamadou’s body back in the van, the group compelled him to take them straight to the US Embassy. Upon arrival, figuring it would only slow their departure if they had all been taken for insane, they said nothing of the monster. They only told the Embassy officials that they’d been robbed and Mamadou had died saving their lives. Malik was forced to bring their things to the airport, where a pair of US Marines supervised them all booking new flights at Malik’s expense. When Malik tried to take Bijou home, she fought him harder than when she’d been hypnotized. Malik tried to protest but eventually relented and paid to change her ticket as well.
On the plane, Bijou wept softly until she fell asleep. Seated next to her, Derek promised himself that by the time they landed, he would have figured out what to tell Bijou’s mother so that the poor kid would never have to go back.
Thanks again to our patrons for supporting this podcast. Because of your support, listeners around the world get creepy stories in their ears every other week. If you want new episodes every week, the only way for that to happen is to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion by going to patreon.com/nightlightpod and support this podcast. You can also make a donation via PayPal at PayPal.me/NightlightPodcast. If you’re unable to support us financially, word of mouth is the next best way to help. Give us a shoutout online on Twitter or Instagram @nightlightpod, or Like us on Facebook @nightlightpod. Reviews are also a huge help, so be sure to leave a few kind words on your podcast platform of choice.
Audio production for this episode by Davis Walden.
And to thank you for listening until the end, we have a creepy fact for you.
It’s not just large water creatures we need to fear. A bacteria called Burkholderia pseudomallei causes a condition called Melioidosis. With over 160,000 cases worldwide and deaths of 89,000, this little germ packs quite the punch. 70% of untreated individuals die, suffering from lung failure. And it gets worse: symptoms can take months or years to develop. But that’s not even the bad news–the bad news is that this particular bacteria is resistant to almost all currently available antibiotics. So, swim at your own risk.
We’ll be back in 2 weeks with another episode.