Ok, let me just get straight to the point: I do not believe for one second that no other child played the bath game growing up. I’m convinced my friends are trolling me, but they’re not responding to my messages and so I’m left with little choice to bring my question here, hoping SOMEONE will know what the hell I’m talking about.
I was around 5 or 6 years old when my babysitter introduced the idea of The Bath Game to me; she said it was a fun way to engage the imagination and that I could find something truly special within the water.
I didn’t question it, even then, because she was the boss and I thought she was pretty, I didn’t wanna make her mad by refusing or risk having my Nintendo taken away if I was disobedient. So when my Mom told her to bathe me one night, I was excited to try it!
Her instructions were pretty simple, and I’d come to write them down, because with any game there HAS to be rules:
1: You must do the bath game alone. These instructions can be given, but you have to be isolated for the game to begin.
2: The tub should have some sort of thick bath soap that includes a lot of suds and a dark liquid. Ensure the top of the water is obscured and the sides are caked in it, including the handles to get out.
3: Only hot water. No cold and no resistance upon getting into the water. If it hurts, it will pass as your skin gets used to it. Ignore any reddening on the skin.
4: Take a deep breath, make sure it hurts just a little, know you will not be coming back up for a while.
5: Dive in and don’t look back or rise up. Allow the current to take you and keep your eyes open.
6: Your vision will blur, but it will eventually clear and you’ll see something in the plughole. Go to it.
7: Trust in what you see, let your body relax.
8: When you meet the sea emperor and the lights above the water go out, you’ve won the bath game and can come up for air!
The babysitter was so excited she could barely contain herself, bouncing around and eyes wide, a thick liquid flowing from her eyes. She didn’t even bother wiping it, content to be sharing in my submersion by proxy.
I stood there in my bath towel and expecting her to follow me in, but she shook her head, nostrils flaring.
“Only you. Rule 1, remember?” She beamed, and I felt my face grow hot. She was so pretty when she stared at me like that, I’d have done anything. “You’re special, I can’t wait for you to win and get your prize!”
“What do I get?” I was eager, but I HAD to know. What kid didn’t love prizes?
Her lip twitched, and she took a moment to answer, but I remember her expression never changed. Not once. Her teeth chattered as she said one word:
I had no idea what she meant, but in my mind I assumed like any child it was gaming all night, eating what I wanted and no school… what kid wouldn’t want that?
I went in and noticed the bath was already running, a thick bath soap I’d used to give myself foam beards was caking the entire tub, save for one spot to safely get in. The water so hot that it was steaming up the mirror and making my body sweat. Rules 2 and 3 were taken care of, it seemed.
A little freaked out but unperturbed, I took a couple of practice breaths before inhaling deep, feeling the pressure mount and slowly stepping into the tub, careful not to let my feet slip. Even at that age, I knew I could easily hit my head on the faucet and cave my skull in.
Nothing was going to stop me winning this game.
The water looked inviting, but murky. The thick paste had covered the top in a layer of foam with small patches of the black liquid poking through, the bottom obscured and creating an illusion of depth. As my feet touched the water, I felt the searing heat ripple through my skin, threatening to tear at the flesh. But you’d be amazed at how determined a child can be when a prize is up for grabs.
I decided in my infinite wisdom that I’d brave it in one go. I exhaled and let my body up to my neck sink down, the pain enough to make me yelp and try to get out. But after a couple of moments, I took in one final deep breath and pushed on, submerging myself fully.
Eyes burned, and senses dulled in the inky, hot blackness. It felt like swimming through tar, but as the rules suggested, ignoring it was the only way forward. My stomach pushed in protest and muscles began to burn, but I focused on letting the current take me, not even questioning how a current was a thing in a bathtub… I did wonder; was it always this wide and deep?
I focused on the sinkhole and saw long, scaled hands protruded from either side, the nails sharp and cracked, soft flesh flapping in the water and coming off in small chunks. It started pushing at the edges of the sinkhole and widening it, my body steadily being pulled towards it as the lights above darkened and the burning in my chest became less of a problem. In fact, everything in my body relaxed, and all I had to do was float.
I saw into the sinkhole and it took many years of reflection with an adult mind to figure out what I experienced as a child. Words still fail me 30 years later, they’re inadequate and unable to capture the beauty below.
A sprawling obsidian city meshed into coral reefs that pulsated colours I recognised and many I had never seen before or since. The further I descended, the more blinding the eyes got, as if they are guiding me to land.
Further down, at the entrance to the city, two large statues loom either side to a grand throne. They’re imposing, pilot lights swinging on their skulls, orbs for eyes and mouths in places they shouldn’t be. One holding the tip of a sword with several spikes running the hilt, the other a grand hammer.
It’s when I see the throne that I feel the burning in my chest return and something pulling me back and up.
It’s empty, and yet it’s not. Something is sitting upon it, but it isn’t. A flickering image… or perhaps my eyes deemed it too much to bear full witness to. But I felt it in that moment, it knew I was disobeying the rules and saw fit to punish me.
It craned its horrific skull up towards me and as it smiled; the eyes blinded me, filling my body with such agony that my ribs felt as if they would snap under the pressure, eardrums burst and skull split open. I felt as if I was dying.
My next memory was being in a hospital bed, unable to speak, and a tube down my throat. I was beyond terrified to be hooked up to machines and even more scared that I’d let down the babysitter, that the creature in the sinkhole was coming for me. I thrashed around until my Mom’s concerned face came into focus and she soothed me.
Tears stained my face, and I was faced with a long recovery, both physically and mentally. Therapists came and went. None of them believed “The Bath Game” was real. Every single one of them told me without fail that my babysitter was simply mentally unwell, had tried to manipulate me and drown me, that all I’d seen was my oxygen starved brain.
But I knew better. Even when she was sentenced to a mental institution and apologised for deceiving me, I knew better. I never deviated from that one pervasive thought that’d burrowed into my brain like a parasite.
I’d failed the game.
I bring this all up because I know someone has experienced this. They have to have seen it. It’s too specific for one person out of 7.5 BILLION to have gone through. Does nobody remember the way the tub expanded when you dove in? The widening sinkhole with the great hands? The weird, indescribable lights of the coral reefs beneath the tub? The fish-men statues holding artifacts of power? The sea emperor that resides between realities? Everyone in Sturgeon says I’m crazy. They don’t believe me, but I’ll have proof for them soon.
I tried recreating the game myself over the years, but maybe my failure was simply too egregious and the emperor simply won’t allow me to re-take. I’ve caught glimpses in the steamed up mirrors, though. Promises of what could be, if I just show the resolve to go there again.
Thankfully, my son can do it for me. He’s so excited, having grown up on the stories of what lays beneath the sinkhole in the bathtub. I made him wait until he was older to undertake the game; I had to ensure if he told others, they wouldn’t think him too young.
I sent him in about a half hour ago, I can only hope the fact he hasn’t returned is proof he met the sea emperor, but he shouldn’t be there much longer, right?
I want to go check on him… But because I lost, I don’t think I’m permitted to interfere.
I even stood outside the door, ready to pull on the handle, but my legs won’t stop shaking. I feel my throat close up and sweat run down my head. Perhaps it’s a sign not to interfere?
Please… someone…. ANYONE… Tell me I’m not crazy. That I’m not alone.
Someone has to remember The Bath Game.
Because as my mind wanders and fear creeps in, all I can think of is the prize my babysitter promised, the prize my son has been promised.