I’ve been thinking about fear for a scary story. Thinking about what scares me and why, what scares people I know, and why. For instance, a sister and a friend are afraid of spiders. Personally, when I find a spider I put it outside. Why are spiders frightening? Is it the way they run so fast, the fact that they have so many legs? But why are those things scary? When people talk about spiders they use words like ‘scuttle’ and ‘dart’. I think it’s the unpredictability, the feeling of being not in control. Well, my sister says spiders have hairy legs but then so does her husband and he doesn’t scare her.
The same friend (I’ll let her identify herself in comments if she wishes) told me she’d be uncomfortable house sitting for us because she’d be afraid to go outside. I assume it’s the lack of any light, the surrounding woods, the wild animals. Those things that I rarely give consideration to. But this is the same friend who managed to walk a lonely road through the woods late at night with no flashlight, because she had no choice. So she has the courage to function in spite of fear. I still wonder though, what is at the root of that fear of the dark. The unknown? The unseen?
This same friend lives in the city and thinks nothing of standing at a bus stop late at night. Now that would scare me. Why? Strangers, noise, crowds. And what is the root of that? Unpredictability, lack of control.
Thinking more about this I realize we also fool ourselves into thinking we are safe. Like the following scenario, which happened to me.
You’re in a tent on a camping trip with your husband and small child. It’s late in the season, few campers, cold at night. Your food is stored in iron ‘bear boxes’ with padlocks to keep the bears out of your food. It’s late, pitch black. You’re cozy in the tent, snug in your sleeping bag, safe. Until you hear the clanging of something banging on the bear box. And hear loud snuffling. And see the wall of the tent bulge inward. At that moment you realize that the safe ‘home’ is simply canvas material, easily ripped. And your snug sleeping bag is simply a trap you cannot get out of fast enough. Finally, you realize that by locking all your food in a bear box, the hungry bear must look elsewhere. And now you’re terrified.
In our case all worked out well, of course. But what was terrifying? Again, at the very root, vulnerability, lack of control. And for me, the sudden terror that I might not be able to keep my child safe. Which could be interpreted yet again as lack of control.
So in this story I’m working on, it doesn’t seem to matter what the character is afraid of so much as why they are afraid. If I figure out the why, then maybe the reader will feel that same fear.
So what are you afraid of, and have you ever wondered why?
The photo below is a bronze maple leaf that hangs in a yew tree. My son says it’s creepy because the eyes ‘follow’ him when he walks by. A fear of something inanimate acting like something animate? Who knows.
And okay, I added a spider for my friend. Couldn’t resist.