Poking a Pencil at Fear

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

April 13, 2016

FearThe Mayo Clinic considers agoraphobia to be a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. So what does that mean to a writer?

This week, writers poked a pencil at fear and explored how to use such an interesting disorder as a way to explore. Some writers explored (or questioned) the diagnosis, considered it as a motivation or centered stories on it.

The following stories are based on the April 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment.


First Aid by Anne Goodwin

They say, in an emergency, the training kicks in. But I’d hoped I’d never need to put it to the test. Yet I pulled over promptly, running through the ABCs in my head.

Fortunately they were conscious, and breathing, and there wasn’t much blood. After making the 999 call, I was calm enough to let work know I’d be late.

Wall-to-wall meetings, the usual stuff. I looked forward to cocktails, scented candles and a warm bath. But, back in the driving seat, I can’t start the car. It’s not the engine that’s stalled but trust the world is safe.


Childhood Fear by Susan Zutautas

Lying in bed I was terrified to get up. I never knew what kind of mood my step-mother would be in. Would she be in a good spirits or in her usual mean mode? Would I be yelled at today for something I did to displease her, or would she find a reason within herself to hit me. Straining to listen to see if she was up or not, I quietly lay there trying to get up enough courage to make it to the bathroom. Then I heard the big slam of pots and pans coming from the kitchen.


Tense Melodies by Imagenn

The classical music in the air, the sweet melody that lifted the darkness off my shoulders stopped abruptly. My chest was tight, my hands clammy. A rope was being coiled around my heart.

Fearfully I looked up towards Kye. His hands had stopped. His face exposed the overwhelming panic clutching his throat. I didn’t take my eyes off Kye but I could sense the people in the audience eyeing each other, saying unspoken questions.

Why’d he stop?

Did he forget the notes?

Will he keep playing?

He raised his fearful eyes to my tense; asking his mum for support.


When Breakfast Becomes a Decision by Charli Mills

The wagons left yesterday. East, not west. Mary collected eggs in the henhouse at dawn. Soon the orb was orange, the rutted road empty. Leroy said he’d not come back if she refused to go.

And refused she did.

Except now, Mary wanted to toss eggs from her gathered apron and run down the road. She changed her mind. Eggs splattered and Mary fell to her knees, clawing at her clenched throat, wheezing.

“Ma! Ma!” Roe ran to her throwing his arm around her shoulders. A sob finally escaped and she cried muddy tears before rising to cook breakfast.


Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are by Lisa Reiter

Come on out, come on – it’ll be ok. I promise it will.
What if they don’t like us?
What if that doesn’t matter?
What if we’re wrong?
How can you be wrong?
What if we’re bad?
You’re not bad, how can you be bad?
Some people might think we are.
They might, but does that really matter?
It would feel terrible.
And what would it feel like if you stayed in there?
And why?
Because someone might like us?
Because someone might need you.

And so the words came out, tumbling all over the page, just in case.


Just by Elliott Lyngreen

No. He cannot imagine music. Roger flustered hands, “open your ears Spence. It’s just in your head.”

(Whatever happened to ‘the body sends pain signals to the brain identifying that something is wrong’?)

Roger’s intentions were not to humiliate the husky Spencer.

Tense, disheveled speech, along with signing, Roger despairing, “you just think your ears won’t hear,” nervously and repetitively engaging with a song – ?#?canyoukeepuhhh_secret? – as if Roger’s song that he just wanted to be heard.

“Don’t over-think. Psyche yourself out. Let open your ears, and listen,” fingers decoded. “Gotta face this man… no IdeA what you’re missing!”


Sense of Space by Pat Cummings

Travis swallowed, his throat dry. Panic rolled in his gut as a crowd of children surged past. Disneyland was a scary place for him!

His therapist’s voice cut through his fear. “Look around, Travis,” she said. “What do you see when you look down?”

“Kids. Lots of kids.” The words escaped past gritted teeth.

“Okay, Look farther out; what do you notice?”

Travis shook. He was going to lose it! “Their parents.” Then, “Too many people! Too many!”

“Okay,” came her quiet reply. “Now look up.”

Above him, the endless sky brought him the sense of space he needed.


High Meadow Reverie by Bill Engelson

It had been a bonnie bit of roaming, thought Aggie Runacre. Whether God’s plan or simple fortune, her encounter with Clancy Dobbs had eased the darkness that shrouded her.

She had kept putting off the trip from High Meadow. What was it her oracle, Pearl, had said? “Now? No, not now. If not now, when?”

“There it is, Aggie, Union City,” Dobb’s said, adding a welcome layer to the voices.

The spell broken, she looked out on a swarming humanity, buzzing like a revival meeting.

“Seems very frantic, Mr. Dobbs.”

“Folks dizzy from goin’ nowhere, Aggie…the definition of civilization.”


Panic Attack by Kerry E.B. Black

I couldn’t catch my breath. Bands circled my chest, squeezed, threatened to crush my ribs into my soft insides until the mash leaked out in tears. Pain shot through to my left hand, numbing my fingers. “Help,” I gasped. My kids watched a movie in the car’s DVD player as I begged strangers for information. Sweat slicked my face and plastered my hair. “Where’s the closest hospital?” I pictured the scene in Steel Magnolias where the toddler tried to revive his dead mother. The vision shook me. I prayed.

Not a heart attack. No. A damned panic attack. Why?


I’m Inside My Broken Self by Sarah Brentyn

My outer shell splits in two. It sits beside me, hollow and smiling, waiting for the next layer to be pulled apart and placed beside us.

There are six. I have six faces that are exactly and precisely me. Yet different.

Some eyes are blue, some green or brown. Some lips red, others pink or peach.

Each one me.

Each one not.

My lunch tray, full of steaming food, makes me gag. Clatter of a dropped fork, shrill pitch of laughter, blur of clothing… These crack my next shell.

Over and over until I am small.

Human nesting doll.


Storm Within by Ann Edall-Robson

All he ever wanted to do stared up at him. The acceptance letter was like a thunderous storm ravaging his chest. Shards of anxiety like lightening bolts.

The Writer in Residence contract stated: “MUST teach two adult learning classes at community centre. MUST mentor at high school. MUST speak at local library”.

He would reach out to the Literary Club he met with. They knew how shy and reserved he was. Speaking in front of people was his nemesis. They would help him.

Determined to live his dream, the chest pains subsided. The horizon’s light dissolving the inner storm.


Elevator by Larry La Forge

Ed scanned the directory, encased in glass and covering two wall panels in the huge marble lobby.

Edna spotted the name of their new financial advisor. She watched as Ed pointed to the entry, shaking his head:


Sweat beads formed on Ed’s forehead. Sixteen floors, he thought as he turned toward the elevator. He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry. He eyed the shiny doors but his feet wouldn’t move.

Edna motioned to the right with a simple head nod. Ed looked with a smile of relief.

Up the stairs they went.


The Relatives by Ruchira Khanna

Katie peeked through the hole of her bedroom door.

She was fed up with the company of her relatives and scoffed at their jokes as their voices could be heard within her four walls. At first, she plugged in her ear plugs with music blasting in her ears but had to give in when they got numb.

Time was ticking, but those folks refused to leave.

Restless and agitated she swirled around the room imitating and loathing at their laughter.

Finally, she could hear the byes. That thrilled and roused her to empty her cupboard and throw clothes around.


Tick The Box by Sherri Matthews

“I can’t go in there…” Becca gasped as her mother opened the door marked ‘Job Centre’, the airless waiting room heaving. Heads swivelled.

“Just a short walk love, I’ll stay close,” whispered Carol.

“But everyone’s staring at me. My heart, feel…” Becca clutched her mother’s hand to her pounding chest.

Seated at last, Becca stared down at her trembling hands, terror rising with her nausea, unable to speak a word.

“How about waitressing?” breezed the advisor.

Carol blanched. “She has Asperger’s, she can’t leave the house without me. How the fuck will she manage serving food in a restaurant?”


Confrontation by Norah Colvin

She could hardly manage to chew, let alone swallow, the morsel of cereal occupying her mouth.

Her vacant stare and stifled moans alerted him.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m trying,” she mumbled, and squeezed her hands between her quivering knees.

“You’ll be fine. You haven’t had an attack for months. And, you’re prepared.”

“I know.” She pressed her arms against her gurgling belly. “But …”

He waited.

Finally, she looked at him. “But …”

He sponged her clammy forehead.

She looked away. “What if they don’t like me?”

“They won’t like you. They’ll love you. Come on. I’ll take you.”


Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Robbie sat perched in the stall, having memorized the graffiti, he’d become indifferent to the citrus and urine. Then the door swung open, spilling music and laughter before sweeping shut.

Silence. A pair of well-worn Chuck Taylors planted themselves facing the wall. A belch like a gunshot, then the smack of pee into the urinal.

Hop. Zip. Flush.

“You going to hide all night?”

“I told you, my stomach.”

“Your stomach. Right.”

The Chucks spun off, then stopped at the door. “They’re just girls, Robbie. One of them even thinks you’re cute.”

The door opened. Laughter escaped.

Robbie breathed.


Smoked Out! by Jules Paige

Being a friend of convenience never has a good reward.
Jane had convinced Stella to go to the rooftop and try a
cigarette. Jane had been saving pennies and nickels from
the grocery money that her mother had given her. Saying
that the missing change must have gotten lost.

The pack of cigarettes was carefully ripped open. Jane
thought she was being so smart. Stella wasn’t so sure.
One drag was one toMany – that and the odd maintenance
guy a few roofs over saying that he knew their folks and
was going to tell if they didn’t vamoose.


Bad Timing (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

She’s halfway across the street when the vertigo hits. A rushing in her ears, and the pavement is tilting from under her feet. Up on the corner, the red countdown begins flashing, alternating with the red hand: STOP.

Oh, God, all these people are looking at me.

She’s never felt so naked, so on view in her life. Lurching, she gains the safety of the Bon Marché building, panting for air as she leans against it. People look at her like she’s a strange insect, give her a wide berth.

Nothing to worry about, folks. Just another crazy lady downtown.


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  1. ruchira

    Lovely writeup and good collection 🙂

  2. Norah

    Congratulations Charli and writers – what a fabulous compilation of stories. And such variety!

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