Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fear and Life Lessons - Short Story

This week's short story prompt from Chuck (link: was short and sweet: Write about what scares you. Not as easy as it sounds, but to give up on only the second challenge was not an option. You'd think the first thing on my list of fears would be to spell it all out right here. It is a little bit scary, but that's the point I guess. Feedback and comments are welcome and appreciated. Thank you.

Fear and Life Lessons
by Michelle Baillargeon

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed when we realized they were inside of us.” Stephen King

What scares me? My first reaction is a quick “not much.” I grew up reading horror stories and watching scary movies. I’ve had a long relationship with horror so it takes a lot to give me a good scare these days. The last time was The Blair Witch Project. It was original, clever and it looked just like the woods from my childhood. Scary. 

I realized, though, scary monsters do exist. They’re giant, hairy creatures with big claws and pointy teeth and they live inside me. Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman have nothing on these guys. Comparatively, my monsters have such unassuming names: Bees, Conflict, Winter Driving, Heights, Missing Out, Meeting New People; but they pack a punch. Yet, one cannot live in fear. Not completely, not happily and not for long. So, one chooses her weapons carefully and charges into battle. 

Bees, wasps and yellow-jackets scare me. It’s not so much the bee itself, it’s the threat of the chase or the possibility of the sting. When a bee or wasp flies near, something cold and clammy grabs my heart, I hold my breath and freeze, waiting and watching. Will it fly away or come at me? Panic builds inside me until the bee flies away, unaware. I have a policy now: “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.” It seems to work. I am able to keep the cold dead hand from clutching at my heart. I can even appreciate them (from afar, of course). The monster isn’t dead, but I’ve shushed him. 

When I was in the third grade, my family was in a car accident in Vermont. It was winter, snowing, and extremely cold. That was the night I learned bridges freeze first. My Dad, who’d been hunting, was asleep in the back seat, my mom was driving. I had shotgun, which gave me a front row seat to the whole event. We hit the first bridge head on when the car went into a spin. We watched, helpless and at the mercy of the ice, as the deep ravine below the bridge came into view (did I mention my fear of heights yet?). The car bounced off the guard rail and the car completed the spin. We slid onto the next bridge where the scene was repeated. Somehow, Mom got the car to the median, where all six of us scrambled from the car, unhurt. A pickup truck with a camper on it hit our car and rolled down the median, just missing my little brother. 

I watched as, during the drive back to Pop’s (at speeds much too fast for what we’d just been through), my Dad gripped the state trooper’s dashboard so hard he left fingernail impressions. I watched as my mother fell apart, imagining how close we’d all come to being hurt or killed. I soaked it all up. 

I got my license as soon as I could, loving the freedom it provided. Life balances out the good with the bad, which meant that I also had to deal with driving in the New England winters. Winter brought the constant fear of snow (or, God forbid, ice) storms; how many inches are expected? will I be able to get home from work? will they plow in time? The stress and outright fear was near paralyzing and I put up with it until I was 39. My best friend and I moved to Arizona that year and I’ve never had such peace of mind. Monster down. 

Meeting new people scares me. It goes beyond shyness. I’ve learned to, if not control, downplay outward signs of my fear (blushing, racing heart, sweaty palms) and just go in for the introductory handshake with a big smile. Deep inside, the monster of low self-esteem rears its ugly head: have they already made up their mind about me? do they only see my weight and my double chin? 

I know two things for sure: life is short and you can’t have too many good friends. This fear, in its own way, has formed who I am now. So I remind myself not to judge a book by its cover, give people the chance I want to have, get to know them first. To assume that each new person I meet is that shallow is to doom a potentially wonderful new relationship. That monster is still inside of me but he’s smaller now and I brush him aside. I’d rather be optimistic than afraid.

I moved to Arizona in November of 2006 toting a brand new cell phone for the long trip. Two months later, I got a call from my mother telling me about her brain biopsy happening the next day. The volume on my cell was turned up and stayed on. I vowed not to miss one phone call or message - and I didn’t. I got the call saying Mom had a small stroke. I got the call saying Mom’s doing better and was able to go the fair. That November, I got the call saying come now, there’s not much time. I also got the calls from Mom herself, precious phone calls about everyday stuff. 

It’ll be ten years this fall that she’s been gone and I still can’t be without my phone. I am afraid to miss “the call” when it comes, what ever it might be. This monster has a tight grip on me and it whispers in my ear, “what if…” 

I hear my friend’s voice, too. It’s loud and clear. It says I only have an illusion of control over any given situation; if something has happened, when you get the call isn’t going to change it. I try to listen to the stronger voice, and I’ll get there. We went on vacation and I was actually able to leave the phone in our room while we went to pick seashells. It was liberating, so I’ll hold onto that feeling. Monster phaser on stun. 

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne


  1. Good job at describing and conveying your fears; although I don't share them all, I can easily imagine myself in your position. I think low self-esteem is something many people feel at some point or other, and I think it's a shame in some ways that we can't see into the minds of others when we meet them for the first time, because I'm pretty sure we'd see some of our own fears mirrored right back to us.

    Congratulations on gaining a little independence from your cell phone! I think your friend is right, in that they give us a false sense of control, compounded by the fear of missing out if tragedy should strike. Yet, in the days before cell phones, we coped. The difference is, now we carry our fears in our pockets, so that even if we're away from home, we're not out of reach of the fear. Or, that's how I see it, anyway.

    As for feedback, which you requested... hard to give, really. You write so personally, and because it's personal, there is no 'right' or 'wrong' with what you've written. I will just say, keep in mind that proper nouns are capitalised, whilst common nouns are not. So you're right to call your mother "Mom", but referring to your father would be "my dad" and not "my Dad" (unless you're missing out 'the', as you did with Mom).

    Thanks for the insight into your very personal (and often justified) fears!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. This prompt certainly brought up a lot of things and I weeded out a few that I thought I could speak about clearly and honestly.

      I do agree that probably more people feel the way we do inside than we imagine. Some people look like they have so much confidence and have "it" all together. Maybe some people are better at pushing through.

      I appreciate the help with the capitalization - I'm gonna make a note and try to make sure I pay attention... Thanks again for time and thoughts!