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Old Fear

Come out, come out, wherever you are

By Christy MunsonPublished 2 months ago Updated 26 days ago 10 min read
10
Old Fear
Photo by Amber Weir on Unsplash

She admonishes herself with a mumbled, "Dammit!"

She inherited her grandmother’s procrastinator’s curse and her mother’s penchant for drama. During all that rushing around, she's forgotten her cell phone, again. Probably left it at the party. Room temp beers are out of her system by now, but that matters little to none, given she lacks a sense of direction.

She half-smiles and flushes, annoying pink crossing her cheeks. It occurs to her she never learned the city streets. Never memorized street names. Definitely ignored the secondary roads. Sure, she prides herself in knowing the way to and from a few stores, where she finds her favorite things, but that’s it. Without nav assist, she can't possibly find her way from that howler back to AJ's place.

It's her place, too, now. She smiles to think of it. Their place, together. AJ'll make fun of her, of course, when she gets home. Feels odd calling it that, home. It's only been two weeks. Six years on and off, mostly on, living separately, and now two thrilling weeks under the same roof. Both names on the paperwork. It's given their relationship a new lease on life.

She'll make them dinner and they'll share a steamy shower and they'll forget all about the inconvenience of her ways, and they'll laugh together over sunny-side up eggs and toast with concord grape jam about how badly things could have gone.

She pulls her wreck of an old olive sedan into that spill of street light at the end of the alley. She needs to get her bearings. Broken gauges hide if she’s low on gas, so she cuts the engine when she slows to a stop in the derelict lot. A cigarette smokes itself dry as a black alley cat bats its butt into an island of weeds. She muses for a moment that she might finish it off. Then she thinks better of getting out of her car.

Thinking of AJ's kiss, she fishes round in the glovebox for the map, the one her father folded up and placed in there right after he cosigned. She knows, as he knew, she can't read a map to save her life. Coordinates make no sense to her, even now. But Dad always said, "Better safe than sorry."

She wallows, deep in the memory, unable to stop herself sinking into the bittersweet sting. That’s the worst part of missing him, knowing wherever he is on the other side, he's doing all he can to look out for her, and still she’s failing him. It’s an agony she hates to relish, but it’s the closest thing she’s got to having him here.

Maybe she'll surprise herself with her prowess. AJ would tell her she's got this, if AJ were here. All she needs is practice.

She turns off the spotty car radio and unfolds the map into her lap, fighting the steering wheel for space. She flips on the tiny overhead light, feebly attempting to concentrate. Her heart jumps, as does her body, startled at a loud pop that smacks the silence. That single street lamp blinks its death, announcing surrender, its embers fizzing into the absolution of pitch darkness.

At first, she laughs at her foolishness. How easily she’s discombobulated by the smallest things! Then a cold sensation pricks her flesh, creeping up her spine, awakening her ears to small scratchy sounds outside her car window. She tries to calm herself, thinking how ridiculous all of this will seem sometime later. Much later.

Must be the cat.

Soon she will laugh about it all with her tender lover, the twosome cuddling on AJ's couch, their couch, snacking on buttery popcorn, watching their favorite sci-fi flick for a third time.

A sudden shock of shattering glass leaves her breathless. The rear window—someone smashed it in.

That was intentional.

Instinctively she screams, crumpling the map, batting it out of her way. She fumbles round with the car’s ceiling, trying to shut off the overhead spotlight even as she struggles to restart the car's grumpy engine.

It won't turn over.

He stands, lingering, testing her, teasing her, watching her watching him in the sideview.

She tries the engine again, flooring it. Flooding it.

He walks slowly, striding confidently, dragging his bat behind him, knocking a few glass stragglers, grinding bits to dust beneath his might.

She spots his frame coming closer and closer.

Then he vanishes, tragic as mist, fatal as fog.

She cannot see but rather hears the bat being held loosely between his fingers, the long wooden instrument dancing, popping, slowly twisting itself in the sparse moonlight, grinding gravel, smacking at metal.

Pouncing catlike he lands suddenly, heavily, at her side. His hands are inches from her shoulder just the other side of the sealed glass. He helps himself to a wide stance, bent knees, bat at the ready, tapping the thick end into his firm hand.

She's trapped. Damned seatbelt straps her in. She's panicking, riding the flooded engine. She screams terrified, all lungs, throat, diaphragm, and self-preservation.

He likes it when they scream.

Her breathing escalates. Her eyes widen. Her pulse freaks out. Her focus narrows. She hyper-focuses on all the wrong things.

She cannot see his face. It occurs to her that, in this moment, his anonymity might be a blessing in disguise. Christ.

He taps on the glass like an officer preparing to issue a ticket. Doesn't bother looking at her. He's watching something, someone, over his left shoulder.

Others? There are others?!

Fear makes her mute.

Now that just pisses him off.

When he lifts her unlocked door handle, she's his.

She tries to keep the door from opening, but it's no use.

She struggles, slapping her thin claws at his, a crazed bird swooshing at a tornado. Her balled up fists feign skill, desperate to land, but her torso's utterly unprepared to absorb successive shocks to her kidneys.

Her mind blanks. It wouldn’t matter now if she could think. She knows nothing of psychological warfare. Nor of self defense.

He pulls her up and out of the car by her long, dyed roots. Uses a thin blade to resolve the seatbelt. Lands three love taps and a buoyant jab with his bare fists. He follows up with his hellacious uppercut to the chin. Taps at her ribs with the meaty end of his bat.

Lights out. She slumps to the asphalt, rag dolling but still slow breathing.

He tosses her over his shoulder, a sack of fingerling potatoes. Nods toward the tree line. Hears motorcycles rev.

With ease he carries her away from the tree line, far away from her car and the cat and the broken street light, toward the bed at the back of his waiting American-made pickup truck.

He drops her indelicately into the back, fresh meat atop richly pungent mulch.

He brings her back to the workshop, dropping her, almost gently, down onto a flat old urine-strained mattress. It was readied and waiting, for her, in the middle of an open space. Near the entry point.

He smiles thinking of it.

Happily, he watches her sleeping for the whole first hour. Salivating and chewing, he makes quick work of a Granny Smith, one crunchy bite after the next. Uses the same knife to pare its rind from its flesh. Used it earlier to slice off its seatbelt. Symmetry has its place.

He speaks to no one. Doesn't have to. It's his turn.

She's next to enter the maze.

*

She sleeps a long while, exhausted, battered. When she comes to, it's morning. A single shard of thin white light occupies the far corner.

Wherever here is, it's nowhere close to where her car is, or was, which is nowhere close to AJ.

Wherever here is, she knows, in that way human beings sense finality, here is that terrifying secondary location her father told her never to allow herself to be taken to.

*

Time has passed, but she has no way of telling how much. She doesn't wear a watch. She'd always counted on her cell phone to tell her everything she needs to know.

*

She's awake when he enters the room.

He’s smiling, his imagination racing. She recognizes him. Not his name. Not his face. It’s his smell she knows, intimately. Before her stands Old Fear.

Her pulse thumps out of her neck as she watches him putting the respirator on, tightening its straps against his pasty baldness.

She isn’t tied down or cuffed or even locked in. Somehow that makes it worse.

Then she sees it, the first door to the maze. An indoor maze. There are other doors too. Doors leading in every direction, leading to who knows where.

Her captor’s partners can be heard scurrying about, helping with levers and knobs. He can't be everywhere at once, so he delegates. The others, they're squirting healthy doses of poisonous fumes, a sickly perfume, into the maze to chase away the last waves of fresh air. That was his choice, for her. She watches the sticky substance, heavy like crystalline dew, dripping to the floor.

Old Fear has plans for her.

She can hear him. He knows it. And she knows he knows it. For her benefit, and his, he laughs. He laughs from a place inside himself others have learned to push into the deepest recesses. What others find repugnant, he embraces. He laughs wildly, playfully, egregiously, knowingly. She is his. He all but cries with joy when he hears himself howling through the heavy plastic.

This is going to be fun.

His instructions are clear when he tosses a mask at her feet: don this party mask, this death mask, this dehumanizing mask. Behind it you will relinquish all notions of identity. You no longer exist. You are an extension of me. Put it on.

Unlike his mask, hers does not afford protections. Hers constricts, blinds, disorients. Every advantage he keeps for himself.

She thought she understood his game. But as the truth of it connects, vomit trickles in from the corners of her mouth, sludging into the mask. It happens without conscious thought, simply upon hearing his first full sentence:

"Run."

For 16 minutes, 8 seconds, she wears the bright red latex X's over her eyes, a ghastly red rubber smile disquieting her mouth.

Old Fear ensures she runs full out, trampolining through the maze, gulping down terrible searing toxins, smacking into metal, tripping over wood, tumbling over her own two feet, falling into concrete. The poison blinds her. Permanently.

Old Fear grins and interlaces his fingers.

He thinks himself a gracious host. He imagines himself the giver of gifts. To her he gives the gift of chance. He sees to it, that she has some chance of beating the odds. She could choose to turn right and find the first door. From there she would have walked straight out of the maze and back into her former life, practically unscathed with a legend of a story to tell her lover.

And then there's the harsher reality. He tells himself she could have made different, better choices. She might have skipped the ruckus of the party, remembered her phone, learned the streets, taken self defense classes, listened when death announced himself.

He believes she would never have dared wander into his spiderweb in the first place, if she didn't crave his affections. It's the willing who wander down that cruel back alley, looking for candy, looking for alcohol and drugs, seeking thrills and danger. Surely she chose to be a player. She walked into the game.

*

Newly dead, the no longer fun body slumps against the wall, slightly smudging the newly whitewashed brick at the far end, the dead end, there where the four-mile maze abruptly halts.

She appears to be napping after tagging a poor attempt at a Banksy. He smiles, pleased.

He makes his way upstairs.

After relieving his darkest urges in the privacy of his room, he wanders into the dimly lit spaces of the communal den. He settles into the open lounge chair. Plays poker. Five card draw.

He never once thinks about the clean up crew. Or the women held unchained--but held never the less--in the kitchen. It's their job, making the pack personal pepperoni pizzas.

His turn is over. He'll get another chance, but for now he'll have to amp himself up for what comes next. In two day's time, his colleague's contestant will be brought before the judge. And all the roles will change according to a roll of the dice.

"The maze is many things, all of them unforgiving. If you’re looking for forgiveness, you’ve come to the wrong place." —The Judge

This new girl's fun. Playful. Provocative. An excellent volunteer.

She shivers, feeling her body temperature plummet. She almost animates, against her consent. But her mind and her will, they're strong. She does not run--that's her choice. Old Fear nibbles at her feet, toying with her. Creating tension. Amplifying adrenalin. His bite is liquid nitrogen against her flesh. Her limbs are frozen, immobilized. Her legs stop their kicking.

The dark skinned player has her by her throat.

She knows him. Not his name. Not his face. But by his smell. He's Old Fear. She knows he won't piddle around with foolish dampness beneath her pits. He won't simply wander off distracted, lacking follow-through. This is Old Fear, who gnaws bloody nail beds, demons at the ready, itching to insert prostrate toothpicks, should it come to that.

He hopes it will.

Old Fear terrorizes. Wears his rotting teeth as a warning sign. Spills his stagnant milky breath across its bruised skin, burning his image into its lonesome dove-gray eyes.

She squirms and gasps, struggling against the pressure of his hands, but she won't scream. She has proper training under her belt. She knows it would fuel him, if she were to scream.

But this one, he couldn't care less if she screams, or for how long. For him, it's all about how fast they run.

***

Copyright © 04/05/2024 by Christy Munson. All rights reserved.

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Dearest Readers,

If you enjoyed my writing, please like, comment, and or add your insights. Thank you!

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About the Creator

Christy Munson

My words expose what I find real and worth exploring.

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Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

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Comments (6)

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  • L.C. Schäfer28 days ago

    Oh boy this is good 😁

  • Old Fear creates fear, wonderfully disturbing and this should be a Top Story, it really should. A great image and love you dark descriptions

  • Blake Boothabout a month ago

    Wow. This was disturbing as it was unsettling. Makes you never want to be alone in the dark of a city again. Great job!

  • My heart, my poor heart. It could only beat so fast. This was so freaking terrifying! It was so vivid and I felt like I was watching a movie in my head! Gosh you're so brilliant!

  • Ameer Bibi2 months ago

    Your passion is contagious. Keep pursuing your dreams with unwavering dedication.

  • John Cox2 months ago

    This is pure unadulterated terror, Christy. If old fear is a metaphor, it is the cruelest f*ck*n one I have ever read. Good thing I used the bathroom before I read this. Stephen King has got nothing on you!

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