AW Flash Fiction — Fear — 10/17/10

This one comes with a disclaimer–I don’t like it all that much, especially the ending.  I’d like to say I ran out of time, but the truth is I ran out of steam.  You’re probably wondering why I bother to post it.  I like to think it has some salvageable merit.  There’s at least one sentence in it that earned me some kudos.  That’s what I like about the AW Flash Fiction regulars–they always find something nice to say.  Perhaps I can edit it at some point but it is what it is for now.


Imagine a life unbound by irrational fears, without exaggerated stress and anxiety? What if you could have such a life? You can! The Anxiety Clinic of St. Paul Minnesota has the answers you seek.

Zoe flipped The Anxiety Clinic’s brochure for the thousandth time, worried she’d missed some sort of disclaimer. What if she died during the surgery? What if she didn’t die but became a vegetable? What if she lost all ability to command her muscles, became trapped in a body that tethered her to the charity of others?

She shook her head and regarded her mother who gave her a tight smile then patted her leg.

“It’ll be so much better for you, Zoe. No more phobias, no more anxiety. You’ll be able to live a normal life.”

Zoe contemplated the foreign concept of normal. She’d been frightened of her own shadow for as long as she could remember, had no memories of not being afraid, none of feeling safe or secure. As she’d aged, her list of triggers for panic attacks had only grown longer. She’d contemplated suicide but had been too chicken to do it. Only her self-loathing exceeded her terror.

“This surgery is the answer to our prayers. Dr. Peur has an excellent track record.” Again her mother reached out and touched Zoe, this time to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. She wondered just who her mother was trying to convince, Zoe or herself.

A tall thin doctor with a gaunt face strolled into her room. “All set, Zoe?”

She was too nervous to do anything but nod. Her voice had gone into hiding. She hoped she still had one after the surgery.

Dr. Peur gave her mother a cagey glance. What hadn’t he told her? If she began screaming, would they cancel the surgery? Maybe they planned to lobotomize her, end her suffering. Is that what that look had meant. Did her mother think caring for a lobotomized daughter was preferable to one with chronic anxiety and phobias?

“I see Dr. Crainte has already begun to sedate you so you’ll soon be sleeping.” He nodded at the man who’d been fussing about with the equipment at the side of her bed, the man whose face soon loomed over hers.

The darkness descended as Dr. Crainte asked her to count backwards from ten. Ten, nine….

“…never seen anything like it…much more extensive than we thought…oh, here she comes. Well, that’s a relief.”

Zoe blinked her eyes open. The world flickered like a bad television picture, rolling up then dropping down, as she tried to concentrate and make sense of the images flooding her consciousness. Her skin itched and her throat ached. A quick glance at her surroundings suggested she lay in a hospital room. Why was she in a hospital room? Other than the mother of all headaches, she felt fine.

“Zoe! How do you feel, baby?”

“Mom? What happened?” Was that her voice, all scratchy and shaky?

“You had brain surgery, honey, but you’re going to be alright now. Everything is going to be so wonderful for you.”

“Brain surgery? Why?” She lifted her arm to touch her head but the tubes trailing from her right elbow confirmed her mother’s message. Raising her other arm, she touched the bandages that encircled the entire top half of her head. “How long do I have to stay here?”

A tall man in a white coat closed the gap between his position at her feet and the side railing of her bed. He gently inspected the bandages, flashed a light back and forth between her eyes. “Probably a week so we can monitor for swelling then remove the stitches. We had a tiny complication. You had a benign tumor that we removed, so we did a bit more snipping than we originally thought.”

“Oh. I feel fine.” She managed a smile that broadened as her mother gasped then clasped her hands together, the picture of delight.

The doctor gave her a textbook grin and pat on her arm and with a nod at her mother, strolled from her room.

The next week passed with the speed of tectonic plate movement. Zoe yearned to leave. The dull hospital environment stifled her new-found confidence. She wanted to drive fast, parachute from airplanes, climb mountains, watch Wes Craven movies, go crabbing. (She’d once seen a commercial for Deadliest Catch but had to change the channel before it had even finished.)

A quick check of her watch put the time at midnight. Discharge day. Problem was, she didn’t think she’d survive the boredom long enough for the paperwork to be completed. Maybe just a quick walk around the block…

Outside and five blocks away from the hospital, she inhaled the warm summer air, finally free from the olfactory grip of bleach, alcohol, and iodine. No squeaky linoleum, only the rough scrape of the cement under her slippers. Freedom…from fear, from anxiety, from nerves and skittishness.

She glanced down the street in front of her. A curl of cigarette smoke climbed seductively from the alley ahead and to her right. Curious, she crept closer. She had the sense that she’d forgotten something, but try as hard as she might, nothing came to her. Only a few steps remained until she’d be abreast with the alley. The nagging sensation of loss again tugged at her consciousness but she shook her head and stopped.

In the alley, a shadow crept from behind a dumpster. What an odd place for a person to be, she thought.

“Hey Miss…Miss…can I ask you a question? These directions don’t make any sense to me. You got a second?”

The man walked closer, a tiny scrap of paper in one hand, a knife in the other.

Zoe looked first at his right then his left hand. He only wanted directions, after all. “Sure thing. Where are you trying to go….”

eh…had more promise when I first started it. Oh well.