M is for Merinthophobia, The Fear of Being Bound

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“This is what you get for listening to your hormones,” she growled to herself. Rolling her eyes, she loudly proclaimed in a mocking falsetto, “Oh, Astrid! It will be so romantic! Just follow that gorgeous, complete stranger to some god-forsaken jungle teeming with all manner of dangerous creatures, and I’m sure all of your most depraved sexual fantasies will come true. Take a chance for once in your boring, little life!”

She let out a strangled sob. What could have possessed her? On impulse, she had followed the excruciatingly sexy man who would have looked equally at home at a surf competition or behind the wheel of a Maserati. He was polished, but with a dangerous, wild aura, as if he were not only up for anything, but prepared to lead the way straight to Orgasm City. If he had introduced himself as “Bond, James Bond” she wouldn’t have been surprised at all. In fact, she probably would have responded with a heartfelt, panty-soaked, plea to be allowed to stroke his 9mm semi-automatic.

But none of those things came to pass. Instead, she had boarded the bus–bound for Hell for all she knew–in some sort of trance and settled into the uncomfortable, ratty seat directly behind him. As she stared like an idiot, the sandy-blonde, blue-eyed god had begun speaking–in Portuguese?– with the man next to him. The conversation grew soft and heated until it was silenced with the kind of kiss only lovers shared.

Red-faced, Astrid stayed on the bus long after she should have gotten off, finally shuffling down the stairs in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the clothes on her back, her clutch containing her passport and some local currency, and her trampled pride. Although she was obviously a tourist, the driver must have assumed Astrid knew where she was going.  He didn’t even watch her traipse off into the rainforest before spewing dirt and rocks from the spinning tires in his haste to be done with his day.

Initially, she traveled with some confidence through the impossibly green vegetation, certain there would be a village where she could spend the night and pick up a bus ride back to the capitol. But it wasn’t long before the seriousness of her situation began to dawn on her. She was lost in the South American rainforest, and not another soul knew she was missing in the first place.

Astrid initially tamped down the panic crawling up her throat by reminding herself that she had experience camping in the woods. Unfortunately, the woods of Northern Illinois were nothing like this. There, the trees were farther apart, and the flat, even ground was covered in a soft layer of leaves, pine needles, and moss. Here, the flora fought for resources by coating every surface imaginable, creating a living maze of trees, ferns, moss, fungi, and vines. The feel of the oppressive humidity, the screams of monkeys and tropical birds, even the cloying scent of the jungle blooms hammered the differences home for her. If she didn’t know better, she would think this was another planet entirely.

It was the vines, though, that finally got to her. The thick, emerald ropes hung from branches like serpents slithering out of the canopy.  Each time the wind swept through, a sound–dry and sinuous–brushed against her ears, making her cringe as if slapped and ball her hands into fists. Her mind tormented her, imagining the vines as a single creature slowly surrounding her, intent on wrapping her in its tight coils. Binding her. Squeezing until there was nothing left.

They were everywhere. Coiled on the ground, entangling her ankles. Wound around trunks, snatching at her wrists. Swinging malevolently from above, grasping for her throat. She began to feel trapped, weighed down by her now overwhelming terror. The hope of adventure and passion that had filled her with a reckless abandon only a few hours before now crystallized into a frozen dread.

Crushing helplessness drove her to her knees, sobbing. Her only goal now was to escape the vines, but they had somehow encircled her with a writhing curtain of ropes. The circle tightened, sliding ever closer, weaving in and around as it snaked toward her, around her, over her. A breeze swept through the jungle, whipping the vines into a frenzy as they constricted around her limbs, binding her so tightly that she could no longer breathe.

“No…,” she exhaled as the jungle swallowed her whole.

 

L is for Lysssophobia, The Fear of Rabies

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“Ugh!  Get that filthy thing off the porch!”  Jessica squealed.  In one smooth motion, she hopped back behind Addie, and glared daggers at the small, furry creature scurrying about on the wooden deck.  As if realizing it had an audience, the beast turned, reared up on its hind legs, and peered sorrowfully at them through the screen door.

Addie rolled her eyes at her big sister and scoffed, “It’s just a squirrel, Jess.  They’re everywhere, for Pete’s sake.  Besides, that one’s just a baby.  It probably wants a walnut.  Hand me one from the bowl over there, will you?”

Jessica’s face collapsed in revulsion.  “You’re not going to feed that thing, are you?  They carry all kinds of diseases like malaria, plague, and… And rabies!”

“They do not!” the younger girl countered, shaking her reddish-blonde curls in exasperation.  “Well, maybe the rabies thing, but not those others.”  While it was true that she was mature well beyond her six-and-a-half years, she still could not fathom the depth of her sister’s odd obsession with rabies.  It was sickness like any other.  All you had to do is go to the doctor, and they would fix you right up.  Addie knew her sister wasn’t afraid to go to the doctor like she was, so what was the big deal?

“I forbid you to open that door, Adelaide Rose.  Absolutely forbid it!”  Jessica shouted, her normally pale face growing crimson in anger.  “Why, that awful creature is practically foaming at the mouth, and you want to let it mosey on in here like it’s the damn Queen of Sheba or something.  There ain’t no way I’m gonna let that disease-ridden, disgusting beast make us insane with its damn rabies!”

Addie’s mouth hung open.  She had never heard her sister swear before.  Maybe Jess really was scared.  “Uh… Okay, Jess.  I was just… Um.  I’m sorry.”

“You better be!” Jessica spat, shaking her long, dirty-blonde bangs from her eyes.  “Because if you’re not careful, you’ll end up just like Auntie Kay.”

“Auntie Kay?  Who’s that?”  Addie’s blue eyes clouded with confusion.

“Mama’s little sister,” Jessica said, her tone both matter-of-fact and conspiratorial.  “She went to the looney bin before you was born.  She got bit by a dog with rabies, and completely lost her marbles.  The doctors said there was nothing they could do.  She was so crazy from the rabies rotting her brain that she hung herself in the bathroom.  She died all alone in that awful place, Addie.  Mama was so heartbroken that to this day she won’t even speak Auntie Kay’s name.  Just up and forgot her.”

Jessica’s eyes brimmed with tears.  She whispered, “I don’t want Mama to forget about me like that.”

Speechless, Addie stepped into her big sister’s embrace and the two girls wept, silently clinging to each other for comfort.

Realizing that it no longer had the attention of the humans, the red squirrel flicked its tail twice in disappointment and returned to the task of searching for food.

 

 

J is for Judeophobia, The Fear of Jewish People

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She crouched by the window, and separated the wooden blinds just enough to allow her to observe the man loitering at the end of her walk.  He didn’t look like he was a Jew, but appearances were notoriously deceptive.  That’s why they used to wear the star, so that there could be no question of their contamination.

Her breath caught in her throat.  What if she had forgotten to bolt the door?  In a flash, she dropped the slat and raced to the door, certain that it would burst open before she could secure it.  It was locked.  She propped her back against it and tried in vain to quiet her breath, her knees weak and trembling.  After a moment, she spun around and peered through the peephole in the heavy, steel, entryway door, a faint hope fluttering in her chest that the man had moved on.

He had not.  He was now walking toward her house.

The world tilted sideways in her mind.  Lightheaded and sweating, she swore and backed away from the door, eyes wildly scanning the room for anything she might use to protect herself.  She no longer doubted that this man was a Jew, an abomination.  She could feel his hatred, his jealousy, the vile taint of his very existence.

She wanted desperately to flee, to escape his fury.  But where?  Her confusion deepened even as her focus on her fear sharpened.  Jews are dangerous animals, she told herself.  To that, her inner voice–which was oddly similar to that of her grandfather–calmly responded, What do we do with dangerous animals?  We put them down.

Suddenly, she knew what she had to do.  She sprinted to the hall closet–her bare feet slapping the tile noisily–and frantically searched through the coats, hats, and scarves for the Mauser.  Gasping with relief, and she pulled the pistol from the lower shelf and checked that it was loaded.

Ding-dong.  The bell ringing sent a jolt of adrenaline through her aching chest.  Armed, she shuffled back down the hall to the front door and once again checked through the peephole.  A victorious smile came to her lips when she saw the Jew’s back to her, retreating like a coward the way he had come.  She freed the locks with a shaking left hand and threw open the door.  The man didn’t even have a chance to turn to face her before she fired, splattering blood and bits of brain across the concrete.

It was only then that she noticed the package he had placed on her stoop, and the horrible truth of her error lanced through her madness like a scalpel.  With a suffocating remorse, she turned the Mauser on herself, adding two to the tally of lives snuffed out with her grandfather’s service pistol.

I is for Insectophobia, The Fear of Insects

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“Hey Stan,” the plump woman seated at the front desk called over her shoulder.  “I got a live one for ya.  200 East Elm.  The lady on the phone’s practically hysterical, so you better get over there right away.”

“All right, Doris,” Stanford Moye responded from the office with a weary sigh.  “I’ll take the new kid with me, show him the ropes.  Did she say what it was?”

“She was screeching like a monkey, Stan,” came the indignant response from the front room.  “I did catch the word basement, and something about a buncha tails, so I’m thinking silverfish.  It’s the right time of year to be seeing those little devils, right?”

“Sure,” Stan replied.  In truth, silverfish weren’t seasonal, but he wasn’t in the mood to get into it with Doris.  She could be a pain in the backside when corrected.  He gathered up his clipboard, phone, and wallet, and headed through the dingy office suite toward the front door.  As he passed his smartly dressed assistant, he noted her disapproving frown–she had commented many times in the past how his uniform had grown shabby over the years–and respectfully asked, “Please call up Trevor, will ya?  Have him meet me over there.”  As she picked up the phone, he trudged out the grubby, glass door to his van.

Trevor’s battered Honda was parked across the street from his destination when Stan arrived.  He pulled into the driveway of the neat, little cottage, parked the vehicle, and made his way to the front door.  Apprehension softly caressed his heart when he discovered the crisp, blue, door slightly ajar.  He hesitated, then pushed the door open wider while calling out “Hello?  Ma’am?  It’s Stanford Moye from Stan’s Pest Control.”

Silence.  The air suddenly felt heavy and still, as if all the world was holding its breath.  Stan shook off his uneasiness and stepped into the house.  “Trevor?  Are you in here?  Hello?  I’m coming in.”

The cottage wasn’t large, and he could clearly see into a majority of the rooms on this level.  Its pleasant, rustic decor did nothing to calm the sense of foreboding now crawling up his spine, and he had to bite his lower lip to stifle his urge to run.  Instead, he walked deeper into the house, stopping abruptly when he saw what could only be the door to the basement.  It was halfway open, and completely coated in silverfish.  The creatures were streaming up out of the basement like a tidal wave of squirming legs, metallic scales, and twitching antennae.

“What the–” The words tumbled out of Stan’s dry mouth only to be cut off when he caught a flash of pink amidst a mass of swirling, silvery, scales lumped together at the threshold.  He took an involuntary step forward to get a better look, and recoiled when he realized the deformed lump was actually a motionless, human hand wearing a glove of insects.

Immobilized by shock, Stan watched in horror as the bugs crawled toward him.  When he could feel them wiggling up his legs beneath his trousers, something within him shattered.  He screamed and spun around to escape the way he had come, but it was too late.  The army of silverfish had blocked the exit with their writhing bodies, and were advancing toward him.

Once they began biting, Stan slapped at his body in a futile attempt to knock them off, but it was no use.  His desperate screams were drowned out as the silverfish swarmed into his ears, nose, and mouth, suffocating him.  His last thoughts as he collapsed to the floor were a litany of regrets.

 

H is for Hematophobia, The Fear of Blood

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Please don’t let there be blood.  Please don’t let there be blood.  Please don’t let there be blood.  

Beatris Hammonds chanted the mantra in her head as she looked in dismay out her storm door at the child crying on her sidewalk.  She had seen the little boy fly headlong off his scooter when it hit the place where one slab of concrete was a few inches higher than the next, heard his howl of pain as his knees met the concrete.  She had had an idea who he was from her constant surveillance of the neighborhood–Billy, or Bobby, or some such thing from down the street–and recalled that his parents were always sending him outside to play, alone and unattended, while they did Heaven knows what.

“Shameful,” Beatris cursed under her breath before cracking open the thin, metal door and shouting, “Go home to your mama, son.”

The boy only wailed louder and cradled one knee closer to his chest.  He rocked on his backside a few times before falling over into the fetal position with his back to her, blubbering pathetically.

The old woman pushed the door open wider, debating whether to step out onto the porch.  She was reluctant to be out of doors in only her nightgown and robe, and wary of the very real possibility that the boy might be bleeding all over the concrete.  She didn’t want to see the blood, knew she would probably faint at the sight of it, but she still felt the long dormant need to determine the extent of his injuries.

Beatris had been a nurse in the war, and as such, she had seen more than her share of blood and gore.  Her intense reaction to the sight of blood had only developed once she returned home.  The doctors called it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but Beatris didn’t care what it was called.  All she knew is that the sight of blood brought back all those memories of the horrors she had witnessed in the line of duty.

She closed her eyes, clenching her fists so tightly she left crescent-shaped imprints on her palms.  With a deep breath, she pushed the fear rising in her chest down and let her training take over.

“Let Nurse Bea take a look at you, boy,” she cooed with only a slight tremor in her voice as she shuffled through the door and down to the walk.  “I’ll get you fixed up.  And if you’re a good little patient, I’ll administer your prescription of cookies and lemonade personally.”

G is for Gephydrophobia, The Fear of Crossing Bridges

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Melody stopped short when she saw it, skidding her cruising bicycle to a halt.  “No.  No, no, no.  There’s another way around, right?”

Susan laughed, twisting around without stopping her forest green mountain bike to call to her friend.  “Come on.  It’s just on the other side.  You have got to see this view.”

Melody didn’t budge.  She studied the quaint, old-timey, covered bridge the way a person would examine a half of a cockroach in their sandwich–with horror, revulsion, and a sinking feeling of dread.  It didn’t matter how pretty it looked, cradled amidst the purple wildflowers poking up through the vibrant emerald grass, spanned majestically over frothing rapids, and bathed in golden rays that sparked the swirling mist into a kaleidoscope of rainbows.  As far as she was concerned, it was a roach butt in her egg salad, and there was no way in hell she was going to take another bite.

Recognizing that her friend would need some coaxing, Susan swung her bike around and rejoined Melody at the top of the gentle slope.  “You really need to see the meadow on the other side.  It’s amazing.”  She nodded at the camera bag strapped securely to the back of Melody’s cruiser.  “You could get some award winning shots.  I’m serious.”

“Not if I have to go over that,” Melody scowled.  “Look at how rickety it is.  It’s probably condemned by the park service or something.  Or… Or–spiders!  No way that thing isn’t completely coated in giant spiders and their hairy little babies.”  Her shudder faded away when she saw Susan’s give-me-a-frikkin’-break expression.  “Trolls?” she asked sheepishly.

“Oh, come off it. It’s just a bridge.  What are you afraid of?”

Melody sighed.  “I’ve always been afraid of bridges.  I know it’s stupid, but I can’t help it.  I’m sorry I made you come all this way for nothing.”

“For nothing?” Susan asked.  “What kind of friend would I be if I let you miss out on this opportunity because of a silly, old, bridge?  Let’s walk our bikes and hold hands.  You can even close your eyes if you need to.  I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You would do that for me?” Melody asked her doubtfully.  “But what if I can’t do it?”

Susan got off her bike and held out her hand.  “We’ll never know until we try, right?  Face your fear.  Trust me, the payoff is worth it.”

F is for Felinophobia, The Fear of Cats

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“There it is again,” Aaron whispered to his friend, Joey.  “See it?  The stupid thing’s just sitting there staring at us.  Throw a rock at it, Joe.”

“No.  You do it.”  Joey was grateful that his voice didn’t betray his jitters.  At least, he didn’t think so.  Aaron probably wouldn’t notice in any case, intent as he was on the tabby parked across the street with its tail curled demurely around its feet.

“Gimme a rock from Mrs. Watkin’s yard, and I will,” Aaron instructed, his eyes never straying from the cat as he crouched behind the oak.  He didn’t like that cat.  There was something about it that gave him the willies.  He saw it everywhere, like it was following him, staring at him like it knew.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the younger boy countered indignantly.  “Besides, Ms. Watkins would tan our hides if she caught us stealing any more of those stupid white rocks.  Jeez, they’re just rocks.  I don’t know why she has to be like that.”

“She’s a bitch.”  Aaron spat the word bravely, showing off.  He wanted to glance behind him to get a load of the shocked look on Joey’s face, but he didn’t dare stop watching that cat.  He had an icy feeling that if he looked away, even for a moment, that it would somehow be… closer.

Joey stood and peeked around the tree.  “It can’t be the same one, can it?  I mean, we were at school across town when we saw it at recess.  Cats like to stay in the same place, right?  Like their–their home or something?”

“Yeah.  I think they’re territorial like tigers.  Stupid, little, tabby like that’d be chewed up and spit out over by the school.”  Aaron bared his teeth at it when he saw it casually lick a front paw while it continued to stare in their direction.

Aaron gathered his courage, stood, and stepped out from behind the oak.  He cupped his hands over his mouth, and shouted, “Hey!  Shoo, you stupid cat!  Get outta here!  You hear me?”  He was sure it would run away, but it didn’t.

Instead, the tabby returned its paw to the ground and lifted its hindquarters, looking for all the world like a mountain lion about to pounce.  Tail held low, ears laid flat, emerald eyes glittering darkly, the cat hissed, sending a spike of fear through both the boys.  That was enough for Joey to abandon his friend for the safety of home.  He took off running without a backward glance.

Aaron didn’t notice.  He was frozen with fear.  “It’s just a stupid cat,” he whispered, trying to calm his racing heart.  “You’ve seen the insides of dozens of those fur bags.  This one is no different.”

He was wrong.  This one was very different.  And Aaron was not nearly as fast as Joey.