Fear Itself

I have been a bit off of the radar this week, and it is just as well. If there was a way to hit the reset button beginning, oh, about 5:20 AM on last Sunday morning and moving forward up until about right now I would do it. There is a rock band named “We Were Promised Jetpacks;”  we were also promised transporter beams and time travel too. Where’s my time travel? Regardless, one cannot drive forward with their eyes glued upon the rearview mirror so we are going to talk about something pleasant, like what scare the hell out of me. And you.
Dark genre fiction is driven by fear. Stephen King was motivated to write PET SEMATARY by the fear of losing a child to the grim reaper. Authors who write what I call “fish out of water” books (think A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT or, perhaps, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, and keep reading from there) often are motivated by fear that they will find themselves suddenly thrust into a situation where they are powerless; maybe they feel that way all of the time. They are what they fear; they write what they fear.
I’m working on a project dealing with fear —watch this space later this year for more on that — but I thought I’d give you my three biggies and ask you for yours. Here are mine, in descending order:

Spiders: My earliest experience of spider-fear occurred when I was four years old on a Saturday morning. I woke up with my nose about an inch from the wall and a black widow spider was staring back at me. I screamed, jumped out of bed, and ran from the room. My dad came in and dispatched the evil thing, but the damage was done. Talk about your psychic imprints. In my house, a Taurus Public Defender is considered a defense de rigueur against arachnids. 
Narrow, tight places (no, I don’t mean that): I was in kindergarten when I discovered that I was claustrophobic, though I didn’t know the word. I was with a couple of classmates building a fort out of oversized blocks when they thought it would be funny to wall me up, Edgar Allan Poe style. I went crazy. I was actually rescued from that entombment by a classmate named Beverly d’Angelo, who went on to become an actress, but that is a whole different story. Anyway, this one has gotten worse over the past several years. It’s ironic, given that I grow ever closer with each day to being placed into one of those small boxes and surrendered back to the earth. I wonder if one is related to the other.
Heights: I get a nosebleed on a stepladder. I actually am not as bad as I used to be, to the extent that last summer I was able to stand on the observation deck of the Louisiana State Office Tower without shutting shut my eyes once.
Strange? Yes. I’m not chicken-hearted. I have faced down evil people on the street with less fear than I experience when I catch a spider in the basement. Snakes and rats (of the two or four-legged variety) and the like hold no terror for me. I don’t have a significant gag reflex or a fear of choking or the like. But fears? Oh yeah. I’ve got more than my share.
I’ve bared my soul. Please bare yours. What scares you?

27 thoughts on “Fear Itself

  1. My list of fears is long (I am a chicken) but I’ll just narrow it down:

    1. Fear of water. If it’s bigger then my bathtub, I ain’t interested. I can’t stand on a pier and watch the water beneath the slats of wood. Freaks me out. No wonder I love the desert so much.

    2. Snakes. The mere sight of one makes me scream. They are the most hideous creatures on the face of the earth.

    3. Fear of doing something stupid that would harm someone else. This one sounds idiotic, but on two different occasions as a kid I slammed a door shut, hurting the fingers of two different people (unintentionally). Fortunately no fingers were lost during the slamming of doors, but it has made me mindful of my actions and their impact on others (though you can never quite avoid hurting others as long as you breathe.)

  2. I should add fears 1 & 2 are related. When I was a kid our school took us to one of the state parks. The archery was cool. But it wasn’t so cool when I was forced to get into a canoe and go out into the pond of brown water–which had snakes in it.

  3. Well there’s certain kinds of bugs, namely centipedes, shield bugs, and a couple types of spiders that give me the heebie jeebies.

    And there’s the fear of being immobilized in a tight space. Its not truly claustrophobic unless I feel the tight space on three surfaces at once like back, chest and one shoulder at the same time…then I freak.

    My biggest fear is one that has changed a bit in scope over the years but has remained somewhat constant in meaning.

    As a kid of about 6 or so I had a recurring nightmare that repeated frequently until I was about 8 or 9. I was in a store looking toys when all of a sudden they came alive (the particular toys were a couple of Kukla and Ollie puppets, some of you know what that is) and these toys thrust me onto a mattress that suddenly grew to a stack of mattresses and I was instantly lifted too high up to get off. Then a bunch of something like the Oompa Loompas came dancing about and treating me like some kind of royal god…or sacrifice. There was lots of confetti bursting all about and I was scared witless by this.

    There have a few iterations of this dream over the years (one of which included several very amorous geisha’s that I will not go into detail on this post about).

    But the gist of the dream is that I am thrust into some type of authority/power/leadership position and am terrified at not knowing what these people want or not knowing that I can fulfill their requirements.

    IE. Fear of being thrown into the unknown, ill prepared, and under armed.

    That may be why I write the thrillers I do, where the good guys are just living their lives when the baddies come to town and the goodies are unexpectedly forced to do something about it.

  4. I get sweaty palms watching someone on TV who is in a high place, so heights seems to top my list. Although on closer analysis, I don’t mind heights so much as the idea of falling or, most specifically, the sudden stop at the end.

    And spiders. Always spiders.

  5. I was almost drowned as a kid so I fear drowning. That doesn’t keep me from boating or wading into water, but I’d be the first on to panic on the Poseidon.

    Various manners of death have given me nightsweats, like suffocating (drowning revisited) or getting burned alive. (I just creeped myself out.)


  6. I’m terrified of water. I can get in a pool as long as it’s just up to my chest and I can touch the side.

    During Air Force basic training back in 1968(!), I had to run an obstacle course that included a rope swing over a stream. I caught the rope too late and did a header into the water. I freaked and thrashed in the water, knowing I was going to drown. Then I heard the T.I. scream, “Stand up, stupid!” I finally got my feet under me and stood up. The water was less than waist deep.

    Heights would be second on my list. I’ve tried to walk across the Royal Gorge bridge three times, and each time I turn around half way and stagger back.

    So if I ever decide to kill myself, it won’t be by jumping off a bridge into a river.

  7. Excellent topic! Here are my three:

    1. Spiders. I have a similar childhood scare story to yours, but it was my mother who was bitten. Snakes and rats don’t bother me, but I’ll scream at the tiniest spider sighting.

    2. Large crowds. This may be claustrophobia, as I’m usually afraid I won’t be able to get OUT of the crowd without being trampled.

    3. Losing my kids (to death, not in the mall.) This one speaks for itself.


  8. Snakes (huge den of snakes), teetering heights, small spaces (under the house, under the kitchen sink), crowds, large open spaces, freeway congestion – just to name a few. It’s easy to avoid all of the above in Montana. However there are a few giant rattlers in the eastern part of the state.

    Coming out of the glass elevator at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, I found myself in a revolving restaurant perched on top of a pole. The view was hysterically breathtaking. At the point where I realized the entire restaurant was rotating around up there, I lost it. I’m sure the waiters are still talking about it. It was one of those “One Way Out” moments.

  9. 1. Fear of snakes.
    2. Fear of being in water over my head.
    3. Fear of being buried alive.

    I would posit that these fears (and whatever such irrational fears others may have) arise from the memory of dying in such a fashion in previous lives. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, it does explain these fears. Some people (previously as insects) were eaten by spiders in their webs (a horrible way to go) while others, like me, drowned or were buried alive.

  10. Thank you all for sharing. I don’t feel quite as bad now, having three fears that sink my boat.

    Snakes don’t bother me, though they should. Spiders — most spiders — run from people. Snakes will come right at you. Several years ago I was on one of those air boats that they use in South Louisiana. It wasn’t a tour boat so I was getting a real taste of things. Snakes were hanging off of trees and hissing at us. One of the guys on the boat would swing at them with a paddle, laughing all the while. That REALLY got them angry. I’ll never forget that.

    BK, what park was that in what state? Doesn’t sound like fun.

    Basil, the puppet/mattress fear is one I’m familiar with. I had a solitary episode with that as a very young child in the crib. I mistook one of my stuffed animals for a monster. Many years later, I saw the monster again. It was in the movie ET. Maybe Spielberg had the same phobia at one time.

    Mike H., we are brothers of a different mother! Indeed, falling is the worst!

    Oh, Jordan, that would have freaked me out as well. Glad you made it to dry land. That must have been terrifying.

    Dave, that’s a great story. “Stand up,” indeed. In LA 308, the movie I’m in, there is a guy with a fear of water who drowns in a lake two feet deep. As far as crossing the Royal Gorge Bridge is concerned, at least tried three times and you staggered back. I’d still be in the middle of the bridge on my first try, waiting for the Boy Scouts to come to the rescue.

    I can understand the crowd thing, Sonja. There is a practice at rock concerts now to jam the down escalators after the show. Not a lot of fun if you have problems with crowds. And losing your kids? I can’t even go there. That transcends fear and goes to a whole different place for me.

    I had a similar experience at the Oneida Tower in Niagara Falls, Jim. You go up an elevator to an outside observation deck which is too high for comfort, and are confronted with a sign which says, “Not Responsible for Accidents.” Argh!!!!

    Mike, my own theory on spiders is that they inspire widespread revulsion because they are not of this earth. Eaten in the web…I’ll take THAT one to bed tonight!

    Thank you so much, one and all!

  11. Spiders – particularly the Black Widows I find under rocks and on my deck up here in the mountains. Thanks for reminding me, Joe.

    Leaving my closet door open – I have Steven King to thank for that one.

    High speed collisions – nothing compares on the planet.


  12. Paula, if it were me, I’d move! As it is, I spray around the perimeter of the house once a month. There is kind of a Maginot Line in our yard. Spiderwebs are present about ten feet out from the house, which means I have to spot-kill around the swingset. Such a small price to pay. The closet door thing is one I don’t share, but I get it, for sure. My wife has the high-speed collision fear and is both afraid to drive (but she still does it) and is a very nervous passenger.

  13. I still have a fear of heights and elevators (related I guess to a fear of falling) and when I was young I was freaked out by fire. I couldn’t even light a match. I think this was probably because when I was about 9 the neighbors garage went up in flames while I was in the middle of reading a doctor who book and I was convinced for a few seconds that Daleks really had invaded:) I seem to have gotten over that fear but the heights is still a major issue. I had a major panic attack at crater lake in Oregon especially when my husband and twin boys went too close to the edge. I was hyperventilating on their behalf! As for Richard Simmons…well…that fear seems pretty rational to me!

  14. Clare, thank you for that re: family members too close to the edge. I think that type of thing worries me more than when I’m on the edge myself! I thought I was strange, now I don’t feel so badly.

    Jordan, I actually like glitter and spandex, just not on me, or on Richard Simmons. What’s the opposite of a phobia?

  15. I remember reading a story after the most recent big San Francisco earthquake (20 years ago?), where someone was trapped in his car for many, many hours after the Bay Bridge collapsed. He talked about how he couldn’t move at all. His head was pinned in place, as were all of his appendages. For hours and hours and hours.

    I think that would push me to insanity. I think I could deal with the Chilean miner kind of claustrophobia from a couple of years ago, so long as I could breathe and I could move. Take away the movement part, and I’m gone.

    Spiders creep me out, but I don’t think I’m phobic of them. Ditto mice and snakes. And ticks. They kind of creep me out, too.

    What amazes me, looking back, is how well I dealt with all the stuff I did during the fifteen years I was a firefighter & EMT. I climbed aerial ladders and operated power tools on roofs when the smoke brought visibility to zero–and I never liked heights. Now, I’m not sure I could climb the ladder. Let’s not even go into the dead body stuff.

    Hmm. Come to think of it, I’ve written about most of the scary stuff in one way or another.

    John Gilstrap

  16. Paula, that covers it. Thanks.

    Thanks, BK. Never been there and now, never will!

    I’ve had that dream too, John M. Last night, as a matter of fact.

    James…that Richard Simmons thing…I had forgotten about it, but now that you mention it, it rings a bell…

    John G. I broke out in a sweat just reading your account of that guy being trapped in the car. They’d be able to find me…just follow the screams.

    There will be nightmares tonight at casa del Hartlaub. Let’s close with a story about ticks. Many years ago when my sons played tee-ball a bunch of moms started screaming. I ran over and one of the moms was half hysterical because there was a tick in her little girl’s ear. I distracted the girl and removed the tick, head and all (the tick’s, not the little girl’s). I had hold of the tick with my thumb and index finger and a pregnant woman asked me, “What are you going to do with it?” I shrugged and pretended to eat it. She promptly threw up. Bang boom bang. I felt terrible.

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