What Are You Afraid Of?
Psychological Short Stories
She looked up. Her hands clenched in her lap, and her pale eyes grew dark and stormy. She swallowed deliberately, then whispered,
Therapy. It was a concept that had always intrigued, yet unsettled her. As each year passed, she had grown more and more certain that she needed counseling, but she dismissed it on the grounds of time, cost, stigma. Deep down, though, she was probably simply terrified of what she might find.
Maura had been what her mother referred to as “a scary child”. Not that she herself was frightening, but that she lived in a scary world of her own devising. She saw things that weren’t there. She imagined scenarios that were improbable, yet horrific. She tormented herself with noises in the night that only she could hear.
Early fall. Mother awakens to a pale 5-year-old standing over her. She starts.
“I heard my name.”
“I was sleeping.” The child leans down close and whispers, “I heard: ‘Maura’.”
Mother shivers and jumps up.
“Honey, you just had a bad dream. Now go back to bed.”
She leads the wide-eyed girl by the hand to her room, and tucks the Holly Hobbie comforter around her.
“Now go to sleep.”
Mother returns to her bed, but lies awake, staring at the ceiling.
By the time Maura was in first grade, Mrs. Truba was concerned enough to speak to her teacher.
“Maura is fine. She’ll grow out of this; she simply has a very active imagination.”
That reassurance satisfied her mother. It sounded reasonable. After all, she was a VERY clever girl.
“Who knows, she may become the next Stephen King!”, Mrs. Truba told her husband. And so, no more was said on the subject. However, Maura didn’t ‘grow out of it.’ Rather, she grew into it.
As a pre-teen, Maura was a favorite in her English classes, because she wrote the best Halloween stories and had the most insight into the conflicts in pieces of literature.
“Maura, would you read your paper for the class?”
She stands, and the rest of the class murmurs in anticipation. Taking the lined sheets from Mr. Garner’s hand, she reads, clearly and slowly, her tale. As she reaches the end, she surveys her audience.
“…Wisps of smoke still rose from the ruins of the abbey. All had perished, save Sister Lucien, who knelt on the grass just beyond the smoldering foundations. Her week and her work with the cloister completed, she closed her eyes and slowly, slowly, like the scorched beams around her, her flesh charred, then crumbled, then dissipated into the mist, until all was silence. Only her rosary remained.”
The class sits in stunned silence, then jumps as one body when the bell rings. The students scurry out the door, chattering to each other in hushed tones. Maura gathers her books; Mr. Garner smiles and calls , “Great job!” as she walks out. But he, too, is left with a chill that only is broken by the next class filing into the room.
Throughout high school, she busied her mind with academics and boys- anything to keep from being alone with herself. But when the night came…it felt as if the darkness seeped in through the cracks in the walls, and the spaces in the windows, and worked its way into her thoughts.
However, life, unlike fiction, does not stop to create a problem-solving narrative around an issue, and so job-seeking, relationship-forming, and career-building continued to push and pull her along through the years.
Yet the dark lava that ran beneath the topsoil of her existence seemed to permeate each aspect, and so she found within them all a place of dread…Of her own making? Of a sinister origin? She couldn’t work out the genesis; she only knew that an overarching foreboding marked her days and exhausted her energies.
Therapy was teaching her that this was the source of her stress. However, neither she nor her therapist could pin down exactly why she felt plagued by fear and sorrow or how to stave it off. So, she was growing impatient, angry… and hopeless.
more by VK LYNNE
photograph by Greg Westfall