Friday, September 21, 2007

Fiction Friday

This Week’s Theme: Pick an unusual phobia and explain why a character has it.

Outside the heavy wooden door she stopped dead in her tracks. The banshee energy that had propelled her from her small unit, to this building suddenly dissipated. Her heart beat picked up its pace, and slight film of clamly sweat seeped across her body, both clothed and bare to the air. Matching the breakneck speed of her heartbeat, her breathing became short, shallow and chaotic. With steady determination she took a deep breathe in, holding it for a count of five and controlled, slowly, releasing it in a long sigh. Again she breathed like this and felt the oxygenated blood reach her brain, the tingling in her extremeties abating.

It was the first time that she had left her home in 12 days. If she left it another day, she knew that she simply would not leave. Would they find her weeks later dead from starvation in her own home, too afraid to leave its safe and controllable walls.

She placed a sweaty palm on the cool door. The wood was calm. It didn't ask difficult questions, it didn't offer a silly smirk in return when you offered a simple and truthful reply. The door inanimate, unable to think and without judgement or criticism didn't ask for a definition of Triskaidekaphobia. But it hadn't been that way all her life. For the majority of her life, she had been a vivacious and courageous woman, she worked, she had passionate love affairs and thought of settling down, buying a house and having babies. She had not always been gripped with this morbid, crippling fear ... it had been slow to creep up on her after her Grandmother's death three years ago. It had been a slow but steady decent into a hell she had never known existed.

Looking at the sign on the door, she was glad to see that it simpy said 'Triskaidekaphobia' - no attempt at either humour, light heartedness, or political correctness. It was just the bare bones of facts and she was grateful. There was no mention of it being a 'support group meeting', a 'twelve steps program' or a 'information evening'. If the truth be known, she wasn't actually sure what kind of a group it was. The listing on the internet had stated it was for liked minded Triskaidekaphobic people. When she'd rung for the address and details she was relieved to discover the meeting has been moved up a day from its normally scheduled date.

With her breathing under control and with a moment's reckless abandon she pushed open the door. She was late and already there were a number of people sat in a circle in the dimly lit room. With amazing mental agility she quickly counted the number of people present, it was second nature and happened automatically .... 8, 9, 10, 11 ... 12. A moment later, with sickening awareness, she realised that she was the 13th person in the room. 'Dont' pass out, breathe, breathe, breathe,' she ordered herself. Her hands shook violently and her legs threatened to fold beneath her. 'Breathe, breathe, breathe,' she muttered. 'Be like Mark Twain - its OK, they just wont have food for you!'

"Good evening," welcomed a woman, with a soft gentle face and severely drawn back hair. "Hi," she squeaked pathetically, her vocal cords so tight with nervous tension she sounded more like a chipmunk than herself. 'Thanks for having me along.'

"Please take a chair," offered the soft faced woman, dragging a chair into the circle.

Avoiding looking at any of the other people already sitting and now looking decidedly uncomfortable with the fact that the number of people in the room had just increased, she quickly crossed the room. She knew if she gave it another thought she would scuttle out of the room, never again to regain her nerve to venture out to face her fear with others.

"We've already begun our introductions. My name is Jacqui and I'm the facilitator. I am a trained therapist, but that is not my role here. My role here is to provide a safe space to enable you to explore your experiences and be witnessed by others who share a common experience. To introduce ourselves we share our first name, how long we have been a Triskaidekaphobic and what you believe began your journey on this path. This helps us to get to know each other and to see that our experiences are all unique, we all share fundamental similarities."

She nodded to let Jacqui know she understood the rules of the space. Across the space of the next half hour she learnt Martha had been been afraid of the number 13 since she had a car accident five years ago. Martha had originally been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and then OCD, finally as being Agoraphobic - but it wasn't open spaces she was worried about. It was the possibility that she may come into contact with something associated with the number 13. She'd been on medication for depression, which exacerbated her symptoms. Martha had been coming along to these meetings now for a year. She called herself a recovering Triskaidekaphobic

Bob's fear of the number thirteen sprang from superstitious nonsenses that had been hammered into him as a small boy by a relgiously zealous and superstitious mother. The tales had morphed into an irrational fear for him in adolescent, spurned on by litres of testosterone and low self confidence. He admits he could well have become fearful of black cars, ladders or any of the other gobbledeegook his mother had churned out - but there was something about the power of the number 13 - something he still didn't understand. He was now 22 and somehow she felt that Bob wasn't his real name. He didn't look like a Bob! He also didn't call himself a recovering Triskaidekaphobic. She wondered if he was a support group junkie like in Fight Club?

All too quickly for her, it was her turn to share.

"My name is Lily," she introduced in a quiet and restrained voice. "I've been a Triskaidekaphobic for exactly two weeks .... before that I had not idea that I was mentally ill or that my condition was more than just an over blown superstition. I didn't even know it had a clinical name. A phobia! I realised something was not right when my fear of 13 stood between me and what I wanted to do. I read on the internet that something is only considered a mental illness when it impacts negatively on the person or their family. My friends and family have laughed at me for the last few months whenever my fear of 13 comes up. They are not in my body to hear the blood thumping in my ears, to feel my entire body tremble like I'm hooked up to low level electricity. I'm fucking terrified and no one takes me seriously. That was until a fortnight ago."

Twelve days ago, on the 3rd anniversary of her Grandmother's death it all fell to pieces and she couldn't bare the thought of another travesity of fate and locked herself in the house. It was Friday the 13th when her Grandmother had passed away. Her death hit her hard. They were close, she had been more a mother to Lily than her actual mother was. To make it worse, she had suffered the fatal stroke infront of Lily during their weekly afternoon soiree of Arctic Fire tea and beestings. Her face had twitched a little, the colour draining all of a sudden from it. She said she felt a little ill and then fell off her chair. Even with concerted CPR until the ambulence arrived, Granny had passed to the other side, to explore all the notions and theories that she'd had in this life.

Lily's boyfriend had been a tower of strength. He moved in with her and it was the steadiness she needed in her life. Thirteen months later, to the day, on the 13 October she'd come home early from her job in a call centre and found him in bed with her best friend. The affair had been going on almost as long as their relationship. Distraught, she had immediately booked off three weeks holiday and escaped overseas. Thinking nothing of it, immersed so thoroughly in her own misery, she didn't notice they had booked her into room 13 on the 13th floor. A hotel that did not stand on superstitious tradition. On the 13th night there, her room was burgled. Gone were her passport, her travels cheques, all her clothes, jewellery - even her sanitary pads. In a dirty street worn set of clothes she presented at the Australian embassy to wait for confirmation of her citizenship status. It was there that a courteous diplomatic staffer pointed out to her the strange coincidence of the 13s. The staffer, a sensible blonde girl in her early 20's stated "It's a good thing that you're not superstitious"

'"I had plenty of time to contemplate the concidences while I was stuck in the Australian consulate waiting for a new passport. There was no one to ring home who cared where I was, or who could help me. The staff at the consulate were lovely but I became known at 'Unlucky 13' and I returned home wearing that caul. I became hyper vigilant to the opportunity of the number 13 rearing its ugly head and biting me on the arse. Not that there really was terribly much else to take. I quit my job at the call centre, the incoming phone number began with a 13 and the panick attacks I had walking into work, completely disabled me. I couldn't function. "

"I took the opportunity to invest time and effort into my painting. My Granny's estate had left me enough money to live comfortably for a few years while I got myself sorted out - but I was blocked. The canvasses remained blank, the new and old paints unopened. I became obessed. I could only ever have 12 of anything on a shelf in the cupboard and I stopped catching the bus incase someone got on or off and there were 13 of us on the bus. I was continually worried that 13 would happen. I had no ability to control the world around me and ensure there was never 13 of anything that I was part of ... so I stayed home. There I could control it all - the sky could not fall in, the world end if I was there because 13 raised its ugly head. Twelve days ago I pledged to never again leave the house but also pledged I'd get myself help.

"The rational part of my brain tells me to snap out of it, reads up on the beauty and spiritual dimensions of the number and how the patriachy has bastardised both the number 13 and Friday - meant to be a sacred and auspicious day dedicated to Venus, the number 13 bringing an extra special dimension to it. I've read up on the natural occurence of 13, the number of lunar cycles in a calendar year, the number of periods a woman will have in a year .. but it always ends up coming back down to the obliteration of the Knights Templar, Apollo 13 and the 13 sitting at the Last Supper.

"I knew yesterday that if I didn't get out today I might never leave the house again. And here I am, Triskaidekaphobic and ready to reclaim my life again."

Bob beside her had been whispering something to Martha as she concluded her sharing time. Lily shot him a contemptuous look for his rudeness and then was overcome by the odour of gas.

"Do you smell gas?" she asked Bob quietly, wondering if that was what he had been muttering about under his breath to Martha while she was speaking.

So enraptured by her story, being completely present and supportive for Lily as a newcomer, no one had noticed until now the stink of leaking gas.

"I think it would be a good idea for us all to all go out onto the pavement, and have the gas investigated" Jacqui suggested, but it was the last idea that she had as the roof came crashing in with a thunderous explosion.

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paisley said...

nnnnnooooo.. this is tragic... an answer to the fears they all shared... this is just tragic!!!!!

Paul said...

Is it still a phobia if the number 13 really is out to get you?

Love the dark humour of this!

Jodi Cleghorn said...

I didn't make it really explicit (because was abiding by the 'no edit rule') but had they had their meeting on the 13th, as scheduled, the building would have already been blown to bits. The meeting was bought forward a day to avoid meeting on 'the 13th'? So was it the phobia creating their reality (and demise) or were they all being stalked by the number 13?

Thanks for your comments Paisley and Paul - was feeling very raw about putting my writing out there (especially since I'm in week one of The Artist's Way!) I dont normally write dark stuff!

Writergal76 said...

This is awesome! I love how you draw ou the suspense of what the phobia is-- and then deliver the goods. :)

I also love that it's the fear of 13 that is the unusual phobia. I'd heard of this before, but hadn't anticipated that was what the problem was until you brought it into the narrative. Then, your use of the various stories of how/why the people feared thirteen-- all of those details were fascinating.

I love this! Perhaps it's a short story!? Or a slice of life narrative? Either way, bravo and thanks for sharing. It can feel like being out on a limb to share work fresh-off-the-press, but it's also exhilirating and awesome. You have a great free-write here! :)


danae sinclair said...

ha! I really enjoyed it Jodi - what a fun bit of lunacy :)

tumblewords said...

Lots of interesting things going on here - I wasn't familiar with the word. The twist at the end is great -

SuseADoodle said...

excellent explanation of why 13 bit her in the arse. Maybe someone in the group should have been an Olfactophobe -- afraid of odors -- to save them all from their fears of 13. LOL. Great story!

Dalissa 365 said...

This was a splendid write! I was not expecting the ending at all... I wanted them to know what Jacqui and Bob were whispering about. I almost thought they were going to tell Lily that she really is crazy... crazier than them, that is.

gautami tripathy said...

I loved that ending.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and encouraging comments. Can't wait for next week.

lissa said...

What an unexpected ending but then again maybe it was expected as the number 13 was deem as unlucky.

Nice description of the fear of number 13.