Until these bizarre events began I considered myself a very ordinary man – maybe I am and people are more amazing than I thought.
It was as if, no – exactly, that I had become an emotion: fear.
I called myself the dread.
I thought it was a dream the first time. I was trapped in a book, an illustration – a semicircle. How dread and semicircles came together was a bit of a mystery. There I lurked, sometimes returning several nights in a row, and discovered the dread was something someone else felt. I was not the dread – but the dreaded.
Unnameable and formless, I moved one night when semicircles, well that one at least, ceased to be scary. My new abode, a toy box in the corner of a darkened room. Somehow my monstrous self fitted easily between a rag doll, a water pistol, a sock and a clutter of other things.
Sometimes, albeit briefly, I had form or partial form; black scales, claws, that sort of thing. The person feeling the dread was a tiny girl and, for a reason I couldn’t fathom, she wanted me to be the thing she feared. I didn’t know her and had no idea why I was involved in this and unable to resist.
How does one react to a small child frozen in terror – when you are the source of it?
It’s heartbreaking. It’s torture. Burning in Hell has nothing on it. She was a bonnie lass then, or would have been. I only ever saw her shaking, pale and lip biting: tears and wide eyes. But I glimpsed her rarely, most of the time she hid under bedclothes.
I’m writing this because it could happen to anyone, to you, so you need to be warned. You cannot escape: just go with it.
Of course I wanted to do something about her suffering. No one should have to live like that. We all get frightened from time to time and have so many ways of dealing with it. She didn’t.
She still hasn’t learned enough even at the age of, I’m guessing, about twenty-one – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
After being the object of this poor girl’s terror for a while it occurred to me that any form of relationship, including this bizarre situation, was two way.
I attempted to become less scary. It worked a little but I gave up because the problem still remained – if something scared her she froze and cowered. I could feel the panic, feel her mind becoming blank and paralysed. That’s what I felt was my job to sort out. She needed to deal with it or her adult life would be ghastly.
A most frustrating aspect was the way we made connections, rare, always different and completely inexplicable – but never with a chance of my controlling or repeating them. God knows I tried because they could have been so useful. Sometimes I suspected she was in control. I hoped so. I was not religious and never prayed except for this – when you’ve no other options what can you do?
I cared. Intriguing perhaps but it didn’t help me understand or move forward in any way. Things continued and my pain grew to equal hers. We both couldn’t bear it. At times I wasn’t sure if I was trying to help her just to give myself some relief. Yes, I cared. I read in a newspaper article that it is possible to love other people’s children as much as your own. This is quite true – and mind-blowing.
These things happened with no easily understood timeline. I could be daydreaming or asleep any time night or day and she’d draw me into her mind until she no longer needed me.
Can you imagine my wonderful surge of joy when I realised these periods were growing shorter? Something was happening. From somewhere she found ways to cope with terror.
As she grew older I stopped being the monster in the toy box and became noisy lorries, shouting adults, teachers and bullies. Shock, terror, freeze … helpless panic.
Once she saw me in a maths problem as if I was threatening from the page. I don’t know how I did it – if it was me – but the panic turned to fun.
With my own feelings of impending doom I feared her becoming an adolescent. Was I going to be used for her ideas about boyfriends? That made me so uncomfortable I began to feel terror even when she had not dragged me into her head. Every day became a burden, waiting, waiting: not knowing. I don’t want to go into detail but it became insufferable – really messing with my life. I even contemplated suicide – not seriously, according to my doctor – but enough to be put on medication. Of course I never spoke to doctors about the cause. There are some things you can’t talk about and I wondered sometimes if lots of people carried these torments, that they were common, and what would happen if we all talked openly about them.
About the same time two major changes occurred. The first that the girl only needed me rarely, and then only fleetingly while she resolved something.
The second change resulted from an insight. Though I didn’t know who she was, where she lived or even her name, we were connected. All sorts of weird ideas came into my head. For instance did I have a daughter I didn’t know about? Who knows what secrets women can take away with them? Many years ago, responding to a plea in a women’s magazine, I donated sperm to a clinic. Was this girl the result? Only unanswerable questions grew from these speculations but the fact remained: we were linked.
These ideas also helped explain why I cared and didn’t want to be involved in her emotions regarding sexual relationships.
Fortunately this never came to pass. She must have had them sorted out. Thank God! I chuckle now when thinking about it, an expression of hysterical relief.
Then she didn’t require me for ages, not a whimper.
Tonight she does – like she’s never needed me before.
The urgency batters like a landslide. It’s dark and snowy, windscreen wipers barely clearing heavy splatting sleet. I’m on a motorway and this should not be happening – not right now! Checking the mirror while I still have some control, I pull over, set the hazard lights and struggle to find an excuse for when the police arrive. An excuse which will not lead to losing my licence. But there’s no time.
I sense she’s in danger and her dread is almost overwhelming. My heart thumps irregularly: struggling. Deep breaths, cope. There’s no point in me panicking too.
The connection has never been this urgent, though I think she’s not even aware of it, fighting to survive in a hell. But her senses and emotions swamp me.
He … there’s a he … is about to return from somewhere and enter the house. He has keys. This man has invaded her life to the point he controls it and dominates her. He’s been crushing her spirit: she feels weak and helpless. This is a critical moment. He’s physically strong and controls her financially. Something has happened and he’s returning to break her once and for ever.
I’m in turmoil, thoughts disordered, rigid arms on the wheel, the stink of fear-sweat rising. Oh Christ. Keep calm. I must use my training – I’m not capable of clear thought in all this.
OK, training… When you’re out of your depth, when the firemaster can’t see what’s happening … withdraw. Abandon your equipment and get out. Call for backup, tell everyone what the situation is. You cannot do everything. Superheroes are fiction. The factory, warehouse or ship is about to explode with you in it. Firefighter: you are in danger.
Abandon, get out, communicate.
What am I trying to say here?
Being a human is teamwork.
She’s connected to my thoughts, my emotions … my skill in coping, drilled through years of experience: my confidence.
She’s looking through a window. A car pulls up, snow flurries in street light. Sobbing choked words into her phone, she’s shaking, stumbling, running along a landing, down stairs, snatching a coat and keys from hooks, kicking slippers off, trying to lift boots, dropping the keys, lifting them. Shoeless, she dodges into a darkened room.
His feet, heavy, booming. The hall and staircase fill with shouts and fury. Boots on stairs. She runs out of the door he’s left open. Barefoot in snow, praying that the battery in her key fob still works. Tugging the car door open, slipping, crying out. He’s running down the garden path, knocking the gate off its hinges, pulling her out of the car by her hair. She’s on the ground … being hit.
Blue lights – she called for backup. Oh, my girl, you did everything I could think of. I can breathe again! How my heart bursts…
He’s being handcuffed. A police officer helps you up. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so beautiful.
I hope you’ll never need to call on me again.
Not that I’d refuse.
©Gary Bonn, 2018