The Pastel Man by Vincent V. Cava
Consider this a warning. In the event it ever comes to you during a moment of weakness, as it did me all those years ago, say no to the Pastel Man. It doesn’t matter how much you love the person that it promises to help, nothing is worth what it wants in return. I tell you this in hopes that you don’t make the same mistake I did that cold winter night, kneeling beside my father’s writhing body on the living room floor.
It was 1997 when I first encountered the creature and ever since not a day has gone by where its awful face hasn’t haunted my thoughts. I was a teenager then, but I look at that evening as the night my childhood died – corrupted and violated by a callous hell beast with pale blue skin.
Even though it happened years ago, I still remember the events of that fateful first encounter vividly. I could tell you what my father and I were wearing, the toppings on the pizza we were eating, even the score of the football game playing on the TV. It was around half time when my father’s speech started to become slurred, which I found odd since he had been nursing the same bottle of beer since kickoff. Stranger even, I had seen him drink a six-pack to himself in the past without even appearing tipsy so I was having trouble understanding how a single drink could have such an effect on him. I realized it wasn’t the alcohol when half his body went limp and he slid off the couch. I asked him if he was all right, but his words had now become incomprehensible. I grabbed the phone off the coffee table and dialed 911.
“911 what’s your emergency?”
“I think my Dad’s having a stroke.” The thought had only crossed my mind a second before the operator answered the phone.
“Ok, we have your address. An ambulance is on its way. It should be there soon. Is he conscious?”
“Yes. He is, but I can’t understand him.” Nonsensical jumbled sounds were rambling out my father’s mouth. I was afraid. He was all I had. My mother passed away when I was a baby so I never got the chance to know her, but my dad was always there for me – doing the job of two parents. If I lost him then I would be alone.
“That’s normal with strokes. It’s good that he’s awake – “ And I didn’t hear the rest because that’s when I dropped the phone.
I was having one of those moments where everything faded into the background while my world fell silent. The football game playing on the television, the operator giving me instructions over the phone, even the sound of my father’s voice as he wailed in agony on the carpet became white noise – dissolving into the air as I lost all awareness of my surroundings. All of my attention and focus was now on one thing. The horrible abomination that was standing in my kitchen watching my father and I with a twisted smile across its disgusting face.
Its head narrowly missed scraping against our kitchen’s 9ft. ceiling as it shifted from side to side, fidgeting with anticipation like a giddy child in class on the last day of school waiting for that final bell to signal summer vacation. The pastel blue skin that covered its entire body, from the creature’s head all the way down to its feet horrible grimy feet, looked weathered and wrinkled like leather that had been left out in the sun for days. Hanging off its long, lanky frame was a plain brown satchel with black stitching. It lightly caressed the strap of its pouch with a long finger while it looked on with an eager expression on its face.
At first I thought I had gone mad from the sight of seeing my father have a stroke, but the closer the monstrosity slinked towards us, the more I realized it was no hallucination. It ducked its head under the light fixture in the living room and stepped a spindly leg over the couch. Though the monstrous freak of nature was clearly bipedal, it had moved down to all fours and appeared to be stalking us like some wild animal hunting its prey. I should have been terrified, but the horrible smile on its god-awful face made me feel more anger towards the thing than fear. It was as if it was taking pleasure in my father’s misery. Closer still it crept and I grabbed my father’s hand out of desperation in some veiled attempt to protect him. The creature stopped its face mere inches from mine before shifting its attention down to my father.
“I can save him, if you’d like?” I was taken back. I had prepared for the terrible thing to take a chunk of flesh out of my neck with its teeth or slash me across the face with its black crusty nails, but speaking to me was the last thing I expected. “He’s dying, but I can save him. If you’d like?”
I sat there, mouth agape, cradling my father’s head in my arm and staring into the two pink bulbous eyes that took up more than a third of the foul thing’s face. I remember thinking that they reminded me of Easter Eggs – a bizarre connection for my mind to make given the situation. It stood back up on two feet and once again I was reminded just how imposing the creature really was. It told me its name, which I dare not repeat because it also explained that speaking it is the best way to summon the beast. For the remainder of my story I will refer to this entity as the Pastel Man – just a name I came up with due to the pigment of its skin and the light shade of pink that was the color of its eyes. That and for some reason giving the creature a silly name always helped to make me feel less afraid of it. Not much less though.
Finally, my mind had recovered enough from shock to allow me to stutter out a few words, “What do you mean you could save him?”
“What I do is make deals, young man.” Its voice was surprisingly angelic – like a thousand choirs all singing in unison. If one were to close their eyes while the creature spoke to them, they might imagine they were listening to a seraph, not the hideous monster that was sporting a depraved grin in my living room. However, its extraordinary voice only managed to make me feel more uneasy. It wasn’t right that something so beautiful would belong to such a repulsive creature. The Pastel Man gestured to its satchel. “I have the ability to save your father’s life, but you have to agree to a deal with me.”
“What kind of a deal?”
“Everything happens for a reason, even death.” Its mischievous smile widened just a bit, as if the creature was getting to the punch line of a joke. “It’s true that I can save your father’s life, but someone must die in his place. One shall die, so another may live. That’s the deal.” I clutched my chest. “Not you, what would be the point? No, I’m giving you the option to choose the person who will be replacing your father this evening.”
I was stunned by what I was hearing. “Are you death?”
The Pastel Man threw its head back and let out terrible howl. It was only later that I would come to realize that was how the wretched thing laughed. “No, I’m certainly not The Grim Reaper, although you aren’t the first person to ask me that. I’m not the devil either, nor do I work for him. Let’s just say I’m an independent contractor, shall we?” Two tiny holes that lay on the center of its face in the absence of a nose flared in satisfaction of its explanation.
“I can choose anyone?”
“Well, not anyone. That wouldn’t be very fun would it?” I could see a row of shark like teeth hiding in its mouth as it separated its lips to speak. “Your father’s replacement must be someone else in your life.”
“I’m not a murderer.” My voice was tiny. It barely escaped my mouth. I looked back down to my father. He had lost consciousness and his skin was becoming pale. “And I don’t think I could kill anyone I know.”
“You don’t have to murder anyone, young man.” The sly creature was moving into its final pitch. “All you have to do is tell me who it is you want dead and I will do the rest. Surely there must be someone you wouldn’t mind out of your life? A teacher, an ex girlfriend, a rival at school perhaps?”
There was. I had fantasized about it many times, but never in my wildest dreams would I have ever acted on it. Everyone has that person in their life who is toxic. Someone who makes getting up in the morning more difficult and I was certainly no exception. “Walter Flannigan,” I muttered under my breath.
“Walter Flannigan. He’s the guy at school who gave me this.” I lifted my shirt and showed it the handprint shaped bruise on my chest that Walter had given me during one of his infamous “hazing sessions” in the locker room earlier that week. “He’s been shoving me into lockers and beating me up since I was a freshman. The faculty doesn’t do anything since he’s the best football player in the history of our school. He’s a five star recruit going to a huge college next year. ESPN even did a piece on him.”
“Ahhh,” The Pastel Man began to snicker to itself. It somehow widened its already enormous pink eyes even more, then crouched back down to get face to face with me again. “What fun is being a king, without serfs to torment, eh?”
“Well I’m tired of being tormented so just go and kill him before I change my mind!”
The Pastel Man shot a massive hand out and wrapped its long fingers around my face. The grin that it was wearing since I first laid eyes on it had now been replaced by a scowl. “YOU DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO! ARE WE CLEAR!?” I nodded sheepishly. The grip it had on my face was so tight. I understood then and there that if it wanted to, the creature could easily snap my neck or crush my skull like an egg. “Good, because it’s not so simple, young man. There are steps that must be taken.”
“Yes,” A playful smirk once again returned to the Pastel Man’s face. “You will have to be present when this Walter Flannigan dies. In fact, I need you to summon me or else I can’t complete my end of the bargain. Get the boy alone and speak my name. You must watch him die by sunrise or else you will be violating the terms of our agreement. So do we have a deal?” I nodded again and the monster released its hold of my face before snatching my hand. Its giant paws swallowed my palm as we shook to cement the deal. “Excellent. With this handshake our deal is binding, young man.”
I watched curiously as the Pastel Man reached into its satchel and fumbled around until it found what it was looking for. In between its repugnant fingers it held a strange looking insect about the size of a quarter. The bug buzzed its wings in an attempt to flutter away, but could not escape the Pastel Man’s grasp. With its other hand, it pushed down on my father’s jaw in order to open his mouth.
“What are you doing?” I asked, but the Pastel Man didn’t answer. It then violently stuffed the insect in my father’s mouth jamming it down his esophagus with its filthy fingers.
The Pastel Man rose once more to its feet. “There, the deed is done. Your father will recover in full. Now it’s your turn. Remember, the boy dies by sunrise or the deal is off.”
It turned its back to me and began to slither away.
“What if I change my mind?” I asked.
The creature stopped almost mid stride and twisted around. Again its smile had been supplanted by an awful sneer. I felt even less safe then when it was holding my face in a vice grip earlier. “Your father’s health has already been restored so someone must replace him. One must die so another shall live. That was the deal. If you fail to complete your end of the bargain then that someone will be you. Believe me when I say this young man, I don’t need to be summoned once our deal has been broken. I will come for you. That is a promise. And when I do you’re going to wish you never crossed me.” With that it continued out the kitchen and through the backdoor. I chased after it, but by the time I got outside into the back yard, the thing had disappeared. It was then that I spotted the lights of the ambulance as it pulled up across the street from my house. I flagged down the EMT’s and led them to my father.
It wasn’t difficult to find Walter. I knew exactly where he was going to be, but I had completely lost track of time while waiting to hear from my father’s doctors in the ICU. I had to hurry to Eddie Gillen’s house. Eddie’s parents were out of town and he had been talking all week at school about the “Rager” he planned on throwing. There were two things I knew about Walter:
1) Eddie was his best friend.
2) He never missed a party.
It was somewhere around 3:30 AM when I pulled my car up to Eddie’s. I parked a little ways down the street so I wouldn’t be spotted. Because I had gotten held up at the hospital, I feared that I had missed my chance to catch Walter. My concerns were alleviated when I saw his raised pick-up truck still parked in the driveway. Another thought crossed my mind. What if Walter had gotten too drunk and passed out. I tried to think of away to get into Eddie’s and get Walter alone long enough for the Pastel Man to do whatever it was it had planned. Luckily for me, it wasn’t too long before Walter stumbled out of Eddie’s front door and climbed into his truck. I let out a sigh, having just escaped a potentially challenging problem.
He pulled out and I followed behind, staying far enough away so that I wouldn’t tip him off. He was drunk. Even from the distance I was tailing him, I could see his truck swerving in and out of its lane. The Pastel Man’s otherworldly voice played itself over and over like a heavenly broken record in my mind.
“You must watch him die by sunrise…”
I wondered if I even had the courage to summon the creature again. Seeing it once that night was traumatic enough. Could I really handle looking into its horrible face for a second time? And what about Walter? Even though he was a huge ass, he didn’t deserve to die and certainly not at the hands of that thing.
It will kill you if you don’t let it kill him. Just remember, you’re doing this for Dad.
I’m not sure if it was the little angel on my shoulder or the little devil that was whispering in my ear. I looked out my driver side window. A pink ribbon lined the horizon – the very first signs of sunlight making its presence known in the dark evening sky. In a couple hours morning would arrive, and I would be too late to complete my end of the bargain. I would see the Pastel Man again one way or another.
Walter lived up in the foothills outside of town where some of the wealthier people owned homes. I had been there once for a school project – one where I did all the work and he ended up taking the credit. We had come to a part of the road leading towards his house that cut through a wooded area. I knew there would be no houses for a stretch so I decided that was where I would make my move. I sped up until I was tailgating the truck then started flashing my brights and honking my horn. I was prepared to rear end him in order to get him to stop driving, but it didn’t even take that to get the job done. He must have been panicking. His truck started to swerve violently across the street before running off road, sideswiping a tree, and coming to a complete stop.
I pulled up behind him then hesitated for a moment. A glimpse of the creature's grin flashed through my mind causing me to shudder. I got out of my car, but left the engine running and my headlights on. “Hey Walter!” I shouted.
Walter’s door jerked open and he jumped out the truck to the ground below. “Sean The Shithead?” He was confused, but clearly annoyed. Sean The Shithead was the nickname he had affectionately given me on my second week of school. Within a month he had my entire class calling me it. “You think that was funny? I am gonna fuck you up you little bitch!”
He stormed towards me with both fists clenched. Again, doubts crossed my mind about whether or not I could pull the trigger. Guilt began to pump through my veins. Walter’s life was about to end and it was going to be because of me. Memories darted through my consciousness: All the afterschool beatings I took at the hands of Walter, the Pastel Man’s wicked smile, the look on my father’s face as he kicked and screamed on the living room floor. Finally those words, spoken through that unnervingly angelic voice of that terrible monster.
One must die so another shall live.
Walter was moving closer. It was now or never. I had to choose whether or not I would summon the beast before the decision was out of my hands. I shouted the Pastel Man’s real name out in a burst of emotion aimed directly at the star football player. Walter paused for a moment, looking at me in confusion then recollected himself and proceeded towards me again – The Pastel Man was nowhere to be seen. For the second time that evening I wondered if I had gone insane. Could everything that had happened to me that night been in my head? What was real? Was my father even sick? Again I repeated the thing’s name in an effort to summon it, but this time it did nothing to hinder Walter’s pursuit of me.
He violently shoved me against the hood of my car, grabbed hold of my shirt collar and spun me around. Walter raised his fist to hit me. I winced and put my hands up in order to prepare for impact, but he never struck me. It only when I opened my eyes that I realized I wasn’t crazy. Walter’s face was white. His mouth hung open just as mine had when I first caught sight of the Pastel Man earlier that evening. I turned my head to see that unmistakable, long, lanky body slink out of the shadows and in front of my car’s headlights. Its face still wore that warped smile and I knew just beyond those thin lips was a mouth full of tiny daggers capable of tearing muscle from bone. Neither Walter nor I said a word. I think I might have been almost as terrified as him. My stomach began to feel sick as the Pastel Man stalked ever closer. I didn’t look at Walter’s face. How could I? The boy was about to die at the hands of this horrible monster and it was my fault. I didn’t have to summon it. I didn’t have to shake its hand.
“I’m sorry.” I truly was and I still am.
I hadn’t taken my eyes off the Pastel Man, but I think it had more to do with not being able to look Walter in the face than fear for my life. Walter said nothing. My car’s headlights fell on the creature’s face and now we could both see it clearly. The Pastel Man’s large pink eyes seemed to glow bright in the light of the headlamps.
Walter let go of me and made a break for his truck, but the hell beast pounced on him with a surprising amount of speed and agility that I had not yet seen it demonstrate. His screams were met with only apathy from the creature as it dug those filthy black fingernails into Walter’s abdomen. I tried to look away, but the Pastel Man made sure I remembered our agreement.
“YOU MUST WATCH, YOUNG MAN! DON’T FORGET WE HAD A DEAL!”
I forced myself to look back at the massacre. The creature’s smile had mutated from mischievous to depraved. It looked as if it was deriving some sort of sick sexual pleasure out of the torture it was putting Walter through. Deeper still, it burrowed its long bony fingers into Walter’s stomach. With a jerk the heinous thing yanked out a hand full of his intestines and dragged them across the ground as it approached me, flaring those holes on its face that filled in for a nose and clearly pleased with its handiwork.
“It’s over then?” I’m not sure if I was asking or begging the creature as the two of us faced each other in the empty street that night.
The Pastel Man threw his head back and once again let out that revolting howl. “Over? We’re just getting started.” It headed back over towards Walter, who at this point was crawling along the ground still trying to get to his truck while his innards trailed behind him. The Pastel Man cut him off and snatched him off the asphalt, easily lifting him by the head with one hand. It toyed with him for a bit, forcing Walter to look into its hideous face. With its free hand the creature reached into its satchel and pulled out a much bigger insect this time. It was different than the one my father had unknowingly ingested, both in size and in appearance. If the bug that the creature jammed down my father’s mouth was the size of a quarter then this one must have been as large as a golf ball. It was slimy – the mucous like membrane that encased its body glistened in my cars headlights. The Pastel Man dangled the nasty bug in front of Walter’s face for a few seconds.
“Now be a good boy and open your mouth.”
Walter screamed. That gave the blue beast the opening it needed. It thrust the slimy insect in his mouth and past his tonsils with its filthy fingers. I watched on as Walter gagged, presumably on the oversized maggot as it made its way down his throat. Soon he began to turn blue. I could tell he was choking to death and even though I wanted to save him, there was nothing I could do. A minute later and the Pastel Man dropped his lifeless body to the ground.
It examined the carnage for a moment, pondering over it as if it was a masterpiece in an art gallery. Then the demon turned away, retreating back towards the shadows, and disappeared into the night without saying a word. I stood there in the road, looking at the scene and still feeling sick to my stomach from what I had just witnessed. I don’t know what I expected, to happen after the deed was done. There was no explosion, no brilliant light show where I would watch Walter’s soul either dragged down to hell or ascend upwards towards the heavens – just a dead boy in the road. A dead boy and his murderer. The Pastel Man was the gun, but I pulled the trigger. In a way there were two dead boys in the road that evening.
I knew that I didn’t have time to dawdle. At any moment a car could have come driving down the street and found me standing in the middle of that massacre. I sprinted back to my car and sped down the street towards town.
The coroner attributed Walter’s death to a drinking and driving accident, although there was understandably a lot of suspicion regarding the odd circumstances surrounding his demise. The autopsy revealed no evidence of the slimy bug that the Pastel Man had placed in Walter’s throat. The town was devastated. I remember a candle light vigil was held in his honor. A couple of big news outlets covered his death because of Walter’s status as an elite college football recruit. My father made a full recovery and just a couple of days after his stroke was released from the hospital. I would go on to graduate high school and meet the love of my life the very first semester at my university. Her name was Diana and she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. We married shortly after college, settled down and had a wonderful boy named Mathew. However, I never forgot the hand I played in Walter’s death. I have carried that guilt with me since the events of that night. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t forget. The Pastel Man wouldn’t let me.
It must have seen me as an easy patsy because the creature has come to me again and again every time a loved one has been on the brink of death, offering me the same deal I accepted that first shameful night. Though the creature had been persistent in its pursuit of bloodlust, the image of Walter’s gruesome death never left my mind and gave me the strength to say no to its propositions. Even years later, on the eve of my father’s passing, I was able to refuse it’s proposal when the Pastel Man visited me in his hospital room.
I’ve been cursed to have my soul tested till the day that I die by the Pastel Man. A test that for years I was able to persevere through, until one evening where my life began crumbling down and once more the creature took advantage of me in a moment of weakness.
Diana and Mathew were on their way back from the airport after visiting my in-laws. I was swamped at work and had to pull an all-nighter in order to finish a project by its deadline so my wife hailed a taxi rather than ask me to pick them up.
It was around midnight and I was alone in the office when I got a call from the police department. They told me a drunk driver had collided with their cab on the highway coming back from the airport. My wife and the cabbie were killed on impact and my son was in critical condition. I sat there at my desk, unable to move or formulate a coherent thought. It was then that I realized I wasn’t by myself in the office anymore. Perched atop my boss’ desk was The Pastel Man, that abhorrent smile still painted across its nasty wrinkled face. It didn’t need to make an offer. This I believe the creature already knew.
“Can you save them?” I asked.
“Yes and no.”
“What do you mean!? Just spit it out!”
The Pastel Man’s smirk disappeared and I could tell that it was not pleased with my tone of voice. Memories of the vice grip it had on my face the last time I demanded something from the creature bled into my consciousness. Perhaps it realized I was past the point of threats because instead of lunging at me as the creature had done in the past, it decided to clarify its cryptic response. “I cannot pull someone back from death’s clutches, only save them before it gets its hold of them. Your wife is dead. Now make your peace with that. Your son’s life on the other hand can be salvaged. For a price of course.”
I racked my mind. I couldn’t think of a single person in my life who deserved to die at the hands of that pale blue monstrosity. Even someone as awful as Walter didn’t deserve the gruesome fate he received that night due to my poor decision. But my son was all I had now, and he didn’t deserve to die either. Not because someone else had made a poor decision that evening and got behind the wheel of a car they were too intoxicated to drive.
The Pastel Man’s glorious voice filled the room again. I seemed to be hearing it from all directions. “The drunk driver that crashed into your family’s cab is still alive and in the very same hospital as your son. Why not him?”
For the first time that evening I looked into the large pink eyes of the creature. “You said it has to be someone I know?”
“Semantics. It just needs to be someone who has directly impacted your life. The moment he drove his car into your wife and son’s taxi he became a candidate.” The Pastel Man flared the tiny holes on its face with glee the way it always did when it was content with itself.
“Fine. Let’s do it,” I said. I shook its giant hand to make the arrangement official. And with that the Pastel Man gave me the instructions to complete our deal.
When I met with the doctors at the hospital they updated me on the condition of my son. “We’ve done all that we can, but he’s a fighter,” The doctors feigned optimism, but I could see in their eyes that they didn’t expect him to make it through the night.
They led me to his room and gave me some time alone with him. The Pastel Man was already there when I entered, smiling down on his broken body. Quickly I shut the door behind me and nodded to the creature. It reached a gangly arm into its satchel and pulled out the same type of strange looking insect it had shoved down my father’s throat. I opened Mathew’s mouth and with two grubby fingers the creature crammed the bug deep into his oral cavity.
“He will make a full recovery. Now it’s your turn.” The Pastel Man waltzed behind the hospital curtain in my son’s room. I knew I didn’t have to check to see if it had disappeared. If it were to make another appearance at the hospital that evening, then it would be because I spoke its name.
When I agreed to the bargain at my office The Pastel Man had told me what room the driver was being kept in. His injuries were far less severe than Mathew’s so he was in a different wing of the facility. I could feel my heart pounding as I made my way towards his room. With each step the beating in my chest grew louder. Already that same feeling of guilt I had felt while I looked down at Walter’s corpse lying in the middle of the road washed over me. I was about to take another person’s life. Who was I to decide whether someone deserved to live or die? I felt just as ugly and horrible as the Pastel Man looked. Maybe I didn’t have pointed teeth or wrinkly blue skin, but if I knew that if I went through with our deal, then I was just as big of a monster as it was.
I stepped as stealthily as possible through the door, hoping no one would notice me sneak in. As I looked down at the face of the driver lying unconscious in his bed, I instantly felt that familiar sickness in my stomach. He was a boy, no older than Walter the night The Pastel Man and myself unfairly snuffed out his life before it truly had a chance to shine. Walter could have become someone different when he matured, someone capable of doing real good in this world, but he was never given the opportunity. This driver was just a stupid teenager who made a mistake, one that he’d never get the chance to atone for. I saw Walter in the boy’s face and my stomach began to churn more. I tried to call out the Pastel Man’s name, but couldn’t. Perhaps that little angel on my shoulder wouldn’t allow me. I would not be responsible for the death of another boy. Not this time. I refused to pull that trigger.
I walked out of his room and didn’t look back. I spent the rest of the evening sitting next to my son’s bed. The first few rays of morning sunlight snuck into Mathew’s hospital room and caught my attention. I peeked out through the blinds and watched the sun rise for the first time since the night Walter died. It was beautiful. The pink ribbon that lined the horizon had bled into the sky creating a dazzling purple hue. I had my light show, and it was spectacular.
I broke my deal with the Pastel Man and in doing so my fate now rests in its filthy hands. Hands that it likely plans on burying into my abdomen. On the plus side, my son will recover in full. It will be hard for him growing up without his parents, but he’s always been close with his Aunt. My wife’s sister is a wonderful woman with a caring family. She’s his legal godmother and promised us the day he was born that she would always be there for him. Her husband does well for himself and they’ve never had a problem with money. The life insurance policy Diana and I took out combined with the money we had been putting away for Mathew to go to college will insure that there should be no financial issues while he’s under their care.
It’s only a matter of time before the Pastel Man comes for me. I have accepted that my death is near, but I’m not scared. In a way I look forward to it. It’s almost as if the boy that died within me on that terrible night has been given another chance. When I die all the guilt and hate that I’ve had for myself dies with me – wiped away so that my soul can cross over to a new plane of existence pure and innocent. The way it was before I ever met that monster.
One must die so another shall live.
That’s what the Pastel Man said.