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Poking a Pencil at Fear

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.


April 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

April 6The woman tells her friends to go on without her. They’re at the crest of a ridge that overlooks thousands of acres of wilderness in the Inland Pacific Northwest. Sun breaks through the clouds and they are illuminated, a human crown on top of the world. The friends want to hike to a thumb of sheer granite further up the trail. She declines. Says she doesn’t feel well.

In two hours the friends return to find the woman curled up beneath the boughs of a pine, sobbing. She can’t explain why. She says every time she stands she feels vertigo. One friend stays, to help her off the mountain ridge, while the others continue their hike and several days of back-country camping.

“Agoraphobia,” says the man, recounting the story. He was one of the friends who continued on the journey. Later he found out that she’d suffered an attack of agoraphobia — “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.” (Mayo Clinic definition.)

The man became fascinated by his friend’s condition. He empathized with her anxiety, understanding that she had many possibilities open to her but had to make a decision to choose one. The rest would go away. Unable to let go of the possibilities and confronted with endless wilderness, she succumbed to anxiety. This incident sparked the idea of a new book and and a new character. The author telling the story had just read from book two of the series.

Writers are story-catchers. I believe many of us were (are) voracious readers, but at some point we have to catch our own stories and not the ones already upon the page. Many writers are inspired to write because of the stories they read. Others find inspiration in discovered stories. I’ve gravitated to the latter, becoming a story-catcher in the way song-catchers record and reclaim forgotten tunes of folk history.

Before I ventured to the Well Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, south of Sandpoint, I went to North Idaho Cider. It was a social event, yet I had managed to arrive late and the social part had left. So I chatted with the brewers, sipped a Logger dry cider that tasted of wood and spring sunshine, and caught fantastic stories. One of the brewers is a long-time investigative journalist covering the political beat. We started lamenting how writing has changed since the 1990s and how writers fell from grace and no longer earn their value as wordsmiths,  story-tellers and truth-seekers.

Yes, we cried little pity tears in our cider, then we moved on to the good stuff: swapping stories.

By the time I arrived to the bookstore, I was ready for more stories. As I’m meeting more local writers, I’m pushing myself to ridges of vulnerability. I’m continuing to read your flash fiction and mine at Open Mic to get people interested in what we are doing at Carrot Ranch; to find new authors and bloggers. I’m hosting Wrangling Words (the Idaho Writers League and two screen-writers showed up last time) and volunteering at the library. I’m helping other writing organizations to support writers, including BinderCon. And I’m stepping up my freelancing — I just submitted to some major US magazine networks, the Washington Post and some big regional publications.

I fell into a gig because I was outside my comfort zone and in the right place at an opportune time.

I’ve said it before — serendipity happens when we do something. We can’t hide in the boughs of a pine forever and expect unexpected gifts. Yet, not only is it uncomfortable out the comfort zone, it’s also vulnerable. We might fail. We might look foolish. We might be misunderstood or under-valued. But we won’t succeed, shine or prove our worth without trying. Despite our best efforts, situations occur beyond our control and we have to deal with them.

Last week I had shared a soul/sole polishing experience for Irene Water’s Times Past challenge. Every time I thought of the beach (which was the prompt) I thought of the sand at Sioux Beach, which made me think of what it felt like to lose my home. Not a cuddly memory. Yet, I had just met an inspiring New York Times best-selling author, Laura Munson, at the BinderCon event I had hosted in Missoula. She was our live speaker. I also met the phenomenal rising star, Montana writer and Binder, Stephanie Land. Both inspired me to write harder truths. So I did. And I felt vulnerable.

I don’t know if feeling vulnerable made a difference, but when I learned last Monday — completely out of the blue — that our house lease was not going to be renewed because the owners decided to sell, I was rocked to the core. I became that agoraphobic woman and huddled beneath a tree. I didn’t just sob, I howled. How can I be displaced — again? What is so wrong with me that I’d face the possibility of homelessness a second time. Vulnerability. As renters, we are vulnerable to the whims of owners. As owners we are vulnerable to a fraudulent system.

Every time I stand up, I get vertigo. My eyes water when I’m trying to watch my screen. I feel a sharp pain when I look outside at the beauty of Elmira Pond and think, it’s not mine. But it never was. In fact, my first post at Elmira Pond Spotter acknowledged that Paradise resides in the Shadow.

Still I rise from that hiding place on the ridge and face the wilderness like a Weeble (Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down). Agoraphobia demands that fears be faced. This is the worst thing I’ve feared. A repeat. But it is not a repeat because I can make choices. I am not without those. And one choice remains strong: I’ll write my way off this ridge.

This has me thinking of Mary McCanles. I’ve struggled with the last segment of Rock Creek because her scenes feel flat. Sarah and Nancy Jane are clearer. Then it came to me. I can imagine Mary feeling similar to how I feel. She must have felt displaced by Cobb’s tragedy. It wasn’t her doing, yet she was the one left behind. Even Sarah and Nancy Jane left. She was vulnerable, too.

But she made it off that ridge and raised all her children on one of the ranches Cobb built. She survived Indian attacks, locusts and the villainized reputation of her husband.

April 6, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a response to an agoraphobic moment. Does your character see the shadows or the light filtering through? This can be used as a character trait or as a moment that causes an anxious reaction. Explore the character’s discomfort — embarrassment, indecision, feeling trapped. The scene can be direct or overheard. Is there a solution when fears are faced?

Respond by April 12, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


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.