Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next? So if we think of our fears as more than just fears but as stories, we should think of ourselves as the authors of those stories. But just as importantly, we need to think of ourselves as the readers of our fears. And how we choose to read our fears can have a profound effect on our lives. – Karen Thompson Walker in her TED talk, “What Fear Can Teach Us”
I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel. . . – Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
The reader can’t put down the book. It’s well past midnight and her bloodshot eyes stagger across the lines. She turns another page. This is better than Stephen King, not even in his league, clipping along against a minor chord shuddering in the shadow of the action. Every door opens on a freefall into hell, each descent rank with its own unique boil and famine.
She does not look up. She is ready for anything without being the least bit prepared.
The crack across the ceiling spiderwebs without a sound while her pinhole focus contains only one character marooned on one desert island where melting icecaps have designs on the shore. Fingers, each alone as huge as her thigh, push through. A gaze presses close, taking in the whole of the room. Still she hasn’t noticed. Those fingers wedge wider an entry, those fingers give way to hands.
The pages of her fear are a shield. They fasten her yet again into the cockpit’s choking chemical burn, strap down her arms and freeze the throttle. The churning sea races to greet her. The certain but predictable disaster is comfort of a sort. If any of this came true — which it surely will, because something enough like it already has (how do you think this became her personalized Choose-Your-Own Adventure?) — what would happen if she closed the book? What if, halfway through her final descent, she yanked the cord, severed the word, and cast the whole thing onto the nightstand?
What if she looked up?
Giant eyes, each the size of her own skull, take the measure of the room. Of her shape. Her scars, her tics, her threadbare sheets.
What if she looked right at (it) and watched the pulp of those hands jarring loose chunks of drywall, ripping back the illusion of structure? What if the impenetrable box containing her artless version of Dante’s fifth circle — forged, as it was, in infancy, no doubt — is penetrated after all?
She will not be able to unsee.
She’s already had her shot at that.
Those unbreathing, rolling, unmoored eyes are glass buttons made real by some inverted pinocchio magic. (He) is the golem she moulded from the debris of punishment and silence, the same one that slipped eventually down the side of the bed and fed on skin cells and broken sleep for three lifetimes.
She never reached down to tend him but neither did she root him out. Such concentrated matter does not fade or decay, certainly not without its turn in the light.
He comes trailing the stink of hunger. And something else.
He crawls in beside her, filling the not-forgotten space between her and her dogeared book, spilling into corners. This is where he began. She watches him peel back a crusted mouth that is a funhouse image of her own. She has no choice but to let him show her what she stuffed down his throat when she was not ready to bear what she couldn’t name.