C is for Catoptrophobia. The Fear of Mirrors

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Opal Perkins bustled around the farmhouse nervously searching for anything that she might have missed.  The place had to be perfect for Omar’s arrival.  She had waited too long and worked too hard to blow it on a forgotten detail like a doorknob or a piece of jewelry.  She’d be damned if she was going to let anyone take him back to that awful place because she screwed up again.

She knew her twin was still sick–that much Dr. Barrett had made abundantly clear–but she wanted her brother home, needed Omar to be a part of her life like she needed to breathe.  It was the sole reason Opal had gone through so much trouble and expense to purge every marginally shiny surface from their family home.  She removed every last mirror, bought the best non-reflective windows and covered them with sheer drapes, and swapped out all the doorknobs, light fixtures, and faucets with modern, matte-finish, black hardware. She even donated all her jewelry and her beloved sequined party dress to the church for the annual rummage sale.  Opal  told herself that she wouldn’t be socializing all that much once her brother came home in any case.

She opted to take all but one of the family photos down from the walls and place them in storage rather than replace the glass.  The image she kept–the one from the Christmas before Omar was committed–had given her comfort throughout the years, and she was unwilling to part with it.  It was the last time her family had been together and happy.  She remembered the love and joy that had filled the house when she looked at that picture, and she wanted so very badly for those feelings to infuse the house again.  So, she had that photo enlarged, framed with non-reflective glass, and hung prominently in the foyer above the console table adorned with a shallow, wooden, bowl of flowers.

The doorbell rang, and Opal hurried to answer it while wiping her sweaty hands on her skirt.  At the door, she paused to smooth her hair and steady her breath.  This time will be different, she silently promised herself.  The bell chimed again, and she put on her most radiant smile before throwing open the door and greeting her guests.

Ignoring Dr. Barrett, Opal flung herself into her twin’s arms and clung to him with all her might.  “Dear God,” she whispered into his collar.  “Please don’t take my brother from me again.”

Omar patted his sister’s back awkwardly.  “Sis?”  His voice trembled.  “I can see it in that picture on the wall.  Mother’s hand mirror.  The one she got for–”  He shoved Opal away and whirled away from the open door.  “Take it down!  I can see it!  It’s going to–”

Before she could stop him, Omar lunged down the wooden steps and disappeared into Dr. Barrett’s van, shattering her hopes beyond repair.

 

A is for Achluophobia, the Fear of Darkness

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The sounds of the forest slowly blossomed in her ears.  Crickets chirped.  Frogs croaked.  The wind ruffled the newly uncovered Spring leaves, sending them skittering over the ground.  Flies buzzed.  A faint scent of copper, musk, and fur hung in the chilly air.

She bowed her head forward, feebly lifting her hand to meet it, and gasped as pain arced through her body.  She held her breath until the pain eased, squeezing her eyes closed, and ran shaking fingers through her hair.  It was only when she felt the sticky wetness that she noticed the tang of blood on her tongue.

“What happened?” she croaked.  She forced her eyelids–suddenly heavy and unresponsive–open, managing only the barest of gaps through which she could examine her hand, and saw…

Darkness.

Her eyes flew open.  “No.  No,” she babbled.  “It wasn’t even dusk.  It couldn’t be… I was almost home!”  As she became more awake, memories flooded through her.  In a flash, she recalled her hasty, last-minute trip to the store and her relief that she would be home before… She ground her teeth together, unwilling to even think the word.  Then she remembered the streak of tan from the right, the jarring thunk, and her own scream before she could recall no more.

She swallowed, the blood in her mouth mingling with bile as it entered her stomach, and opened her eyes wider.  Shapes swam into view, misshapen and ominous, pressing in close to her.  She clamped her eyes shut again.  “Breathe, Lorene,” she reminded herself.  “Just like Dr. Saunders showed you.”  She tried to ignore the sharp ache in her chest, the thick pounding in her head, the terrifying absence of any sensation at all below her waist, and inhaled, counting steadily.

Inhale.  One, two, three, four.  Hold.  One, two, three, four.  Exhale.  One, two, three, four.  Hold.  One, two, three, four.

The tempo of her breathing involuntarily increased as her fear heightened.  She was injured, alone, and night had fallen.  She could feel the darkness stealing up on her, enveloping her, squeezing.  She had no doubt that if she opened her eyes again, her heart would beat its last as the darkness devoured her.  She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.  Even now, she heard the night whispering to her, caressing her skin, daring her to surrender, to let let its black tendrils constrict around her until there is nothing left.

“No,” she whispered, tears washing tracks through drying blood.  “You can’t have me.”

A cold voice rose unbidden in her mind, vowing, “In the end, Darkness takes all.”

April A to Z Challenge Theme

My very first blog posts were published in an alphabetical sequence, mostly because I had no idea what to write about.  Since then, I’ve posted erratically on a variety of topics and even half-heartedly participated in a few April A-Z Challenges.  In my defense, I’ve also published a novel, had a short story published in an anthology, completed a few children’s eSeries with BigWorldNetwork.com, and narrated audiobooks for a variety of talented authors, so I think I deserve a bit of slack.

In exploring my role as a writer and developing my author platform, I’ve been unable to decide what to do with my blog.  Should I use it as a journal to share my aviation experiences, the antics of my children, or my struggle to improve my health?  What about a loose collection of short stories?  Or all of the above?  I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that I want to be a better writer, and that takes practice, dedication, and more than a touch of fearlessness.  With that in mind, I’m going to participate in this year’s Blogging from A to Z April Challenge by using “fear” as my theme.  My grand plan is to offer you 26 short stories featuring a different phobia each day–except Sundays–giving my creativity and writing skills a much needed workout, and hopefully providing something entertaining for you to read.  With any luck, completing this challenge will also help me banish some of my own fears.

I hope you’ll join me on my dark adventures into the very depths of our fears beginning April 1st.  I’ll do my best to give you the chills.Image

Drinking from the Fire Hose

There have been several times in my life when I have stepped so far outside my comfort zone that I was unsure I would ever find my way back.

My J.R.O.T.C. Drill Team

While some of these jaunts were exercises in personal growth, such as performing as a member of my high school J.R.O.T.C. drill team, competing in my local Junior Miss Pageant, and even going away to college, most involved flying.

Some milestones on the path to a pilot’s license are mild comfort zone busters:  first solo, solo cross country, check rides, etc.  Others, such as initial Learjet 35 training at Flightsafety International Inc., are akin to drinking from a fire hose.

Learjet training

Prior to my two week indoctrination into the right seat of the Lear, the most complicated piece of equipment I had flown was a Cessna 310.  Going from this relatively docile aircraft to the bad tempered rodeo bronco that hid behind the sleek facade of the Learjet was exhilarating, terrifying, and so far outside my comfort zone that I couldn’t even speak the local language to ask where I might find a bathroom.

For two weeks, I and three of my colleagues were completely immersed in Lear 35 systems, operating procedures, high altitude and emergency operations, and simulator training.  Each night, I would have nightmares about whatever system we had gone over the day before, certain that I would never, ever, be able to remember even a fraction of the information dispensed.  Each day, we were thrown into the deep end of an unfathomable ocean of information and expected to dog paddle our way back to the shore.

It wasn’t until much later on that I realized the only way to truly learn to operate a Lear was to actually fly it.  At first, you are so far behind in your copilot duties that the captain is essentially flying solo until you catch up, which usually occurs about 30 minutes after landing at your destination.  But eventually, your comfort zone expands to the point that you know the cockpit blindfolded.  And that’s usually about the time you’re ready to upgrade and belly up to the fire hose again.

The moral of this story?  Don’t let fear keep you from drinking from the fire hose.  If I had allowed fear to win, I would never had known the pure, unadulterated joy of flying a Learjet.  Who knows what you may miss out on if you won’t break free of your comfort zone?

Cheers!

May I Have My Change, Please?

The Universe is a wondrous place.  Order and chaos, miracle and mundane, light and darkness, swirling in a majestic reel where the only constant is change.  While some of us balk, fervently wishing for things to be the way they once were, others embrace change as one would welcome a lost lover.  Change is inevitable, just as everything that has a beginning must also have an end.

Although change is inevitable, the rate at which it happens ebbs and flows within the river of time, causing eddies of swirling ideologies and emotional convictions within humanity.  Throughout the eons, these eddies have stirred man’s conviction to use religion, emotion and ideas to inflict horror upon those with differing views and beliefs.  In the eyes of the Universe, I cannot imagine us being more than violent, arrogant children squabbling over something as inconsequential as a pebble, when only together can we gain the mountain.

We are all part of a whole.  What happens to one, happens to us all.  Is not the Golden Rule to treat others as you would be treated?  Where is that sentiment in politics?  In business?  In each and every minuscule moment of our collective days?

One need only look to the news to see the whirlwind of change that rages around us.  War, natural disasters, political maneuvering, and crimes of hate, greed, jealousy and passion stain our era with the blood of innocence.  What will it take to propel us past this vortex in the river and alter our course before we founder on the rocks of our own self-importance?

I think a change is in order.  It begins within each and every one of our hearts as an affirmation to simply follow the Golden Rule, and I believe it will end, as all things eventually do, with all of us sharing a much better place than we inhabit now.