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.

 

E is for Eosophobia, The Fear of Daylight

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The bone-white sliver of moon was barely an inch above the line where the Earth kissed the nighttime sky when Bert Tucker awoke with a start.  His breath was labored, his brow dappled with sweat the stale air could not blot away, and his cobalt blue eyes were wide with panic.

“What time is it?  How long have I been out?”  He muttered to himself in confusion.  His eyes darted from the riverbank where he had stopped to rest, to the sky.  He moaned.  “Oh, God.  The moon.  It’s almost set.”

He quickly gathered his pitiful cache of belongings and got to his feet, almost tumbling into the rushing water in his haste.  “There must be something,” he breathed.  “A farm, or an inn.  By all that’s holy, there has to be a place nearby.  It’s almost dawn!”

Bert moved as fast as he was able, dragging his deformed left leg behind him through the brush alongside the river.  He scanned the horizon for anything that could provide shelter from the approaching daylight, all the while cursing his weakness.  If only he hadn’t stopped, hadn’t overindulged earlier in the evening, he would have had ample time to find a place to hide from the sun.  But he hadn’t.

It had been so long since he had felt warm blood on his lips, that the wounded deer had seemed like manna from heaven.  He had fallen upon the doe with a savagery born of desperation, drawn its life into his body, and left the carcass with its leg still trapped and broken within the hunter’s snare.

After finding the river and bathing, Bert basked in his good fortune by lying down in the soft grass to contemplate the stars.  He had not intended to fall asleep.  Now he would pay the price for his foolishness.

He swore aloud when he realized that the inky night sky had already faded to a soft gray.  He ran his hands through his dishwater blonde hair and frantically limped in a circle, praying for guidance.  His eyes fell on a deep depression carved into the steep bank on the far side of the river.  Erosion had swept away the soil from beneath a huge river birch, and the majestic tree had fallen, leaving a cave-like gap at its roots.

Bert heaved himself into this crude sanctuary just as the heavens blushed a warm pink to welcome a new day.  He tried very hard not to think about whether his uncontrollable shaking resulted from the chilly water or relief.

D is for Decidophobia, The Fear of Making Decisions

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“Did you ever notice that Rosie won’t ever choose anything?” Joseph asked his mom and dad as he shot an accusatory glare at his little sister.  When he was certain his parents weren’t looking in his direction, he punctuated his allegation by sticking out his tongue at her.

“I do, too!” Rosie retorted.  Her blue eyes flashed dangerously, and her plump cheeks bloomed a bright pink as she mirrored his scowl.

“Name one time,” the boy taunted, clearly enjoying himself.  “You can’t, because you never decide anything.  I’ll bet you can’t even figure out what you want for your birthday, or what’s your favorite color, let alone what you want for dinner.”

“I do so choose stuff!  All the time!” she countered, her voice dripping with frustration.  “You shut up!  You’re not the boss of me!”

“Children!  Oh my God, stop it before my head pops off,” their mom moaned from the kitchen island behind them.  “Joseph, leave your sister alone.”

Victorious, the little girl returned her sibling’s mocking tongue salute.

“Rosie!”  Her father’s voice cracked like a whip.  “Knock it off.”

The kindergartener pouted at being reprimanded by her father, thrusting her lower lip forward and folding her little arms defiantly.  When this failed to earn her any sympathy, she slid off the wooden chair and stomped out of the kitchen to sulk privately.  Her brother silently followed a moment later with the intention of rekindling their argument out of earshot of his parents.

Joseph found his little sister huddled in a corner of her room, hugging her favorite stuffed toy fiercely.  When he saw that she was crying, though, all thoughts of additional teasing flew from his mind.  “Hey, don’t cry.  I’m sorry,” he offered, flopping down on the beige carpeting beside her.  “Why are you so sad?  Because Dad yelled?”

“No,” she sniffed and wiped her nose on a pink sleeve.  “It’s just that I’m too scared to choose things.”  She lifted her head a little and looked at him earnestly.  “What if I don’t do it right?”

“You mean, what if you miss out on something because you made the wrong choice?” he asked, puzzled.

“Um hmm.”  She nodded and returned her gaze to her heart-covered bear.  “What if my tummy really wanted pizza and I gave it hot dogs?  Or what if I hurt yellow’s feelings by making blue my favorite color?”

“Well, colors don’t have feelings, so I think you’re okay there,” he offered with a gentle smile, lifting her chin so that she could see his expression.  “But what’s wrong with picking one thing for one day, and then having the other thing another day?  That way, you get to have both, just not at the same time.”

“But what if I pick the wrong day?”  She blinked, and another tear followed the damp path left by its predecessors.

Joseph’s grin widened.  “Well then, you just choose to make it the right day instead.”

Confusion clouded the little girl’s face.  “How do I do that?”

“You get up in the morning and tell yourself that everything you choose today is the perfect thing for today.  You trust yourself.  And if you do make a mistake, it’s okay.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Even Mom.”

Their mom’s voice calling from the kitchen made both children jump.  “It’s awfully quiet up there.  You two didn’t kill each other, did you?”

“No, Mom,” they answered in unison, giggling.

“Did you decide what you want for dinner?” she asked.

Rosie wiped her eyes with her other sleeve, and smiled warmly at her big brother.  “Yes, mama,” she called.  “We want… Cake!”  At that, both children spontaneously dissolved into a fit of laughter.

In the kitchen, the woman rolled her eyes, fixed her husband with a rueful glance, and sighed, “They are definitely your children.”

 

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.

 

B is for Bogyphobia: Fear of the Bogeyman

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Cayden knew he wasn’t alone in the empty room.  Knew it like he knew his own name.  It wasn’t a ‘feeling’ or a ‘belief.’  It was fact

He also knew that no one would ever believe him.  Oh, sure, they’d pretend.  First, they’d crouch down and speak to the air next to him as if the faceless, shadowy, man-thing leering over their shoulder at him was an invisible playmate.  Then, they’d give Cayden a spray bottle filled with water and labeled ‘Monster Repellant’ in his mother’s handwriting.  And finally, they’d do the obligatory shake down of the dust bunnies under the bed, followed by a cursory, annoyed shuffling of the soft disarray of stuffed animals, cheap toys, and clothes in the closet.

“See? Nothing’s in there that isn’t supposed to be.  Nothing is going to get you,” they would conclude with an exasperated roll of the eyes, implausibly ignorant of the creature huffing in amusement right next to them.  “Now, go to sleep.  You’ve got monster repellant, a night light, your teddy, and the new dream catcher to catch those bad dreams and keep them from waking you anymore.  You’re safe.”  Then they’d turn off the light, and leave him alone with it.  Again.

‘Safe,’ they’d promised.  He hadn’t been safe for what felt like months, not since the man-thing first appeared, slinking through the night to carry away bad little kids like his grandmama had told him.  The first few nights, Cayden would lay in his bed, eyes wide, body stiff as a board, barely daring to breathe, while simultaneously praying that it was gone for good, and listening fervently for any indication that it was already there.  If he fell asleep–which he rarely did anymore–he would claw his way back to consciousness screaming.  Over time, however, his soaring terror had honed his senses to the point that he simply knew when the creature was in the room.  Even when–like now–it couldn’t be seen.

As if reading his thoughts, the man-thing chuckled–a sound that sent icicles plunging into Cayden’s fluttering heart.  Tears flowed unchecked down his pink cheeks as his small limbs shook in silence.  He curled his little body into an even smaller ball around his teddy, and snuggled further under his bunny-print sheet and blanket.  When the bogeyman ran a hand lightly along the curve of his back, Cayden stifled his scream by shoving a fist into his mouth and biting down hard enough to draw blood, but he could not stop the liquid warmth that seeped into his pajama bottoms.

In the morning, Cayden’s empty bed–rumpled, whimsical, bunny sheets stained with tears, snot, urine, and blood–would provide the only proof the boy could have ever offered, but only after it was much, much too late.