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The Fear Factor

Out of my Nightmares and onto the Page…

 

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We moved to Houston our of college. I’ve often said, we moved EAST and it was so opposite, there was some culture shock (though not as much as New Orleans, because Texas was cowboy country, too). 

There was the humidity. The first time it rained, I opened a window to feel some fresh, post-rain air and got what felt like a wet washcloth to the face. Yeah, I closed the window fast. 

There were accents and traffic and hurricanes, oh my, but for me, the worst was the cockroaches. Little ones and BIG ones (called water bugs, but they looked like big roaches and they FLEW). They dive-bombed us out of the vents! Talk about your horror story material. 

I remember one day I’d had a bad day and I saw a roach on the counter and I totally lost it. I hit it so hard and so often, even a roach couldn’t survive (at least that what’s I tell myself). So that left only a million or so of its relatives to deal with. 

But here’s the thing, I found out I was nurturing fear in the hearts of my children, too. And we all know, if we’re afraid of something, our kids are 20x’s more afraid of it. 

It was clear I was going to have to be brave. I was going to have to keep the screams in, quit running in the other direction and yes flailing was out, too. 

Maybe that’s why it all came out in Kicking Ashe. I know the following scene was definitely fueled by memories, though I might have let everything get bigger and badder in the intervening years:

A chill, one more persistent than the others trailed down her back and the hairs on the back of her neck rose. Never a good sign. Ashe pulled her weapon because in her experience, when the hair on the back of her neck rose, shooting at something would soon follow. Turned back to the empty corridor. Light stabbed down between the walls. Nothing. Gray, gray and more gray. So why couldn’t she look away? Why did if feel as if her life depended on not looking away? She backed toward Shan not caring if the whole building came down because of it. Neither building nor the floor appeared to be impacted by her passing as Lurch cranked her gravity inhibitor higher. Her toes dragged through the dust, just enough contact to keep her moving now. The soft rustle seemed more pronounced. Or she was getting paranoid. Not that paranoia seemed contraindicated in the situation. In fact, it felt wise. When Lurch didn’t mock or disagree, the hairs on her neck rose some more.

“Ashe?”

Did—was the floor…moving?

“Yeah?” Her voice had more quiver than she liked.

“I will try the controls and if it is safe—”

Black slits, or maybe knotholes began to dot the walls and the floor, popping out of the mass of gray. Her light could be adding shadow, but the angles weren’t quite right…

“I don’t think we have time to wait for safe.” Safe was an illusion. Family saying three hundred and something. She moved her head, tracking the light across ceiling, walls and floors, her weapon following the same path. The rustle increased in intensity, as if the light bothered something. Or attracted it. Hard to know which. She stabbed the light down toward her feet.

“Bug.” The word came out rather squeaky. A big sucker, too. Long as her forearm. Had the general shape of a cockroach, which didn’t surprise her or Lurch. Bugs were often the last life form to go when a world died and cockroaches were probably the most persistent of those bugs. She shifted her light, realized the bug was the leading edge of a swarm. In the words of some dead ancestor, it was a target-rich environment. “Lots and lots of bugs.”

I hate bugs. Lurch boosted her adrenal function and brought her shields online, though they didn’t actually know they’d work against bugs, since they were designed to deflect energy bursts. Pinchers the size of hands flexed just below the eyes. A clacking joined the rustle, or maybe it engulfed it.

“Keep backing toward me. When I tell you, throw yourself backwards.”

Ashe sped up her light sweep. It seemed to be holding them at bay. Or they liked to play with their food. She stepped back, felt the floor angle down. She must be close to where his ship had sliced through the building. Kept the light moving. The walls, floor, all of it appeared fluid gray—though the bugs did not seem to be fast moving—with specks of black that were probably bug eyes. I hate bug eyes.

“Wait.” His voice was a breath of sound not far from her ear. Air shifted as his free hand, now holding his weapon, moved past her shoulder. She adjusted her line of fire. In the small space, it might work for long enough. A feeler from one of the creatures brushed her hand and a small squeak of horror made it past her clenched lips.

Heard the high whine of metal on metal as the bay doors began to open. The building shuddered. Debris tumbled down, enveloping them in gray dust, muting the force of her light. The sound the bugs made changed, turned more shrill, more insistent. Lurch boosted her light just in time to catch the bugs taking flight. They fly. I hate flying bugs more than anything.

She’d have screamed but didn’t want one to fly into her mouth. She fired, the energy beam stabbing down the hall. Shan did, too. The bugs fell, igniting a feeding frenzy among the not-dead ones. The floor turned into a heaving swarm of wriggling gray bodies. Frantic clanking increased, too, just in case it wasn’t terrifying enough. The wind of their movement blew dust back in her face. The floor sagged, started to give way.

“Now!”

* * * * *

To find out what happens in Kicking Ashe, click here!

Do you have anything that is fear fodder in your past or present? Have you let it spill out on the page or at a party? (It happens.)

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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