The room was small and cramped. Echo’s against the cold beige walls killed any clear semblance of a sound. It was appropriate under the circumstances. Who really would want to hear the words of the men who had known this place?
I woke from a dreamless sleep with a feeling of dread. It was a feeling like someone had walked across my grave. That was when I saw him. He was clinging to the corner of the cell with his feet. No, not feet, talons, which were cleaving the steel walls of the box that had become my home.
I began to exclaim, focusing on his visage as the bleary sleep began to clear. He quickly cut me off with a clap of his hands.
“Quite the predicament you find yourself in,” his voice clear and resonant in the cell, “And to think, it wasn’t long ago that this place would have never been a potential for you…”
I had heard it said that we do not tremble because we are afraid but that we are afraid because we tremble. I was more that trembling. I felt a twinge in my stomach. My skin began flush. It was a sense of panic. It was the feeling of weight, massive and oppressive, penetrating me and making my skin feel foreign over my bones. I understood one thing; I wanted this feeling to end.
“What are you?” I stammered.
The creature hunkered back on his haunches and launched from the wall. His talons became soft pink human feet as he landed. Silently he rushed forward, stopping his face mere inches from mine.
His sudden movement quickened my pulse. I pulled back into the corner of my cement bunk, startled. I pressed my back into the wall and drew my knees into my chest.
He stood there, hunched, sort of like a bird. Arms drawn back behind him, head tilted slightly, scrutinizing me with his gaze.
“My dear boy, I am Fear,” he said softly. “I am Eternal. I’ve been here since the first spark. I’ve been here forever, since before the birth of this primitive race. I serve the Universe and wait for the fulfillment of Entropy. I am, for our purposes, a corporeal emotion.”
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“I come to those who don’t understand. I help align them with the power to fulfill their destinies. I’m here to give you a chance, lest this little experience of yours won’t have the impact that it should.”
I finally saw him then, the shock beginning to subside. His eyes were black and swirling spheres buried by sinister facial features. His eyebrows came to perfect points as he smiled, showing blinding radiant teeth. He must have noticed I was staring at him. He closed his eyes and upon opening them again a new pair or radiant turquoise irises focused on me.
“So what do you know of me?” Fear asked softly.
I had no answer for him. I was still struck dumb by his presence in my cell.
He sighed and stood. As he turned away he began walking in a small circle between my bunk and the cell door. With each step I could see him start to transform. His clothing, which was black and tight, became white and flowing. His hair faded from a deep black to a glowing blonde. The sharpness of his features became gentle and beautiful, angelic. I could see the malevolence disappear as he became something new.
The abhorrence he had fueled in me was transplanted with awe. He spoke to me, his voice soft and delicate in its tone.
“Emotions are a physical thing. We can embody what you call flesh and blood, but only when needed. My kind lives a different sort of life, but we live. All sentient creatures are wired with our essence; it is the gift of creation bestowed by the Universe. We teach you how to survive, and many do so without intervention. Some go so far astray that they need something more.
“Most don’t need assistance,” Fear sighed, “but on occasion there are those who could change the world if they were properly motivated. Some, like you, don’t understand the power their feelings can give them.”
I was mesmerized by this transforming spirit. I had heard of people claiming they had supernatural encounters, but nothing exactly like this. It still didn’t seem real, like a hallucination from withdraws more than anything real.
Was what this thing was telling me the truth? That I was unlike other people? Was I flawed in some way? Should I believe what this creature was telling me?
As if he read my thoughts the creature responded, “You run from fear, yet here I am, I am incarnate. Right now I am pleasing to look upon. I can also be fierce and dark, as you have seen. I am illustrating a point; you must pay attention. Lest I take charge and press my fingers through your soul to teach you these lessons.
“I have a changing face. I can be harsh or gentle, healthy or crippling, subtle or profound. I have come to teach you the necessity of Fear, to break your resistance and let you embrace what you hide from.”
I saw a smug satisfaction on his face. This creature, this beast, was enjoying this. I looked within for a way to dispel the creature, a way to regain control of my senses, of which I was sure were simply running amok with delirium.
I felt unknown feelings begin to pool in the corners of my eyes. He saw this, rushing at me just as one plunged down my cheek. With a soft touch he reached out with his finger, gently catching the tear and drawing it up to his parted lips. He seemed to savor the taste of that physical manifestation of my emotional response. That was the moment that I realized I would have done anything to not have to face my fears. I wanted to continue to live in that oblivion that I had grown to love.
“So let us talk my friend,” he said as he resumed his pacing. “Let us discuss our relationship, and how it brought you here.”
“Really, that’s what we are to talk about?” I responded emphatically, his words had struck a nerve.
Quickly he raised his hand to me, “You see, that right there… You don’t respect me, you avoid me, and you talk around the truth instead of facing it outright. If you feel me you deny me and run away. What good am I amongst your tools for living if you can’t communicate with me?
“If you wish to never come back to this place, if you wish for me to leave and never return, they you best pay heed to my lessons and respect me!” Fear said with a demanding tone.
At that the creatures form changed once again. He now wore a casual button down shirt and slacks, grey on grey, with gold rimmed glasses materializing on his face. His face barely changed, only aged slightly, with wisps of grey at his temples.
I realized that this creature was imitating someone I knew. It became clear that my thoughts and memories were open to him. From them he pulled this image of Doctor Corwin. The doc was the only person who I felt I had ever totally trusted. I was able to accept things that the doc told me because I viewed him as a person of authority, with no vested interest in manipulating me to negative ends. I counted his advice and opinions amongst those that genuinely mattered.
“So what is your greatest source of fear,” even his voice had changed, and hearing that familiar tone calmed me and twisted my stomach at the same time.
“I don’t know… I’m pretty scared of spiders. I scream like a girl and freak out if one gets on me.”
Fear sighed, “That’s more shock than fear my good man; dig deeper. Why did you turn to drugs? What kept you using? When people think of fear they automatically think of spiders, snakes, clowns… sources of dread. None of those things made you use.”
He then approached my bunk and sat next to me. With a knowing tone he asked, “You claim you are afraid of needles yet you shoved them into your body multiple times a day for years. Why?”
I whispered, “I hated myself more than the fear…”
“Ah, that’s getting closer. Fear should be the most powerful motivator you have. How did hate transplant that? You weren’t born hating yourself, so when did it begin? What happened that caused hate to overcome my influence on you?”
At that moment one of the guards passed the window to my cell and looked in. There sat Fear, and yet, without a second glance he moved on.
Was I hallucinating all of this? Were my withdraw symptoms that severe?
“You aren’t imagining me my friend,” Fear quipped, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Perhaps a demonstration then…”
With that the room grew cold and the constant and penetrating light in the cell went out. In the dim haze cast through the window I could see my breath on the air. I rose from my bunk and wrapped my blanked around my body, walking towards the door. Suddenly there was Fear, his original shape, dark and foreboding, staring at me through the window. I gasped and turned back to where Fear had been sitting. He was there but was now dressed again in white robes with soft features. He smiled at me.
“Watch him,” Light Fear said to me, raising his hand towards the door.
I turned back to the window and watched the ominous doppelganger on the other side. I couldn’t help but stare at him; his movements were not quite human, only a frightening imitation. I shuddered at the thought of what his natural state must be like.
Dark Fear smiled at me and raised his hands in prayer, pressing them to his lips and closing his eyes. As he did this the light around him began to fade to blue, as cold as the air. He then stepped back through the fencing on the tier as though he were vapor, hovering over the day room.
He opened his eyes and raised his hands and I could hear a howling wind from the other side of the door. I looked out and saw the officers on the cell block. They were frozen, like mannequins, covered in white frost. The entire cell block was frozen, covered in sheets of ice.
The creature floated there in the blue light that had overtaken everything. Arms outstretched, chin tilted down, he made a sinister little grin at me. Those dark pits of desperation he used to see were locked onto me. I was entranced in disbelief at the spectacle.
Slowly he bent his elbows; bring his hands to either side of his face. As he snapped his fingers the door of hardened steel shattered, exploding outward. A great sucking vortex, like a winter’s gale, pulled me forward momentarily. I resisted, I was shivering, the air cutting through my thin inmate’s garments. I looked back at the light one, he only nodded at me, and that’s when I heard that ominous voice.
“Come out here boy!” shouted Dark Fear, “I know what it is that you fear, I will show it to you!”
I heard his voice echo in the freezing catacomb beyond my door. I stood staring out into the space, I couldn’t move.
“Go and see…” I heard the soft voice of Light Fear come from behind my ear; his not quite warm breath against my neck.
I moved forward involuntarily, startled. I hadn’t heard the one in my cell move until his voice broke the silence.
I took a breath, feeling the cold burning my lungs as I stepped out onto the tier. I felt the crunch of ice under my feet. Everywhere I looked I saw the cold frozen kiss of Fear. Each and every cell was covered with ice, making them indistinguishable from the walls. I heard no other sounds, save my breath and the pounding of my heart.
Slowly and cautiously I began to descend the stairs. I reached out for the hand rail and recoiled, having been met with burning cold. I struggled to pull my skin free and nearly lost my footing on the slick steps. I had to move carefully as I approached the ground floor.
In the middle of the room the creature stood. He was now clad in a black suit, black button up shirt and a tie as red as blood. His head was adorned with a black top hat, tilted back on his brow. I looked back at the gaping hole that was my cell door wondering if the other one was still in there or if they had recombined.
He beckoned for me to come, and as I approached his obsidian eyes sharpened and he made a sweeping gesture with his arms. A swirling gust of warmth rushed around me. A circle in the frozen blue space, clear and normal, began to materialize before me.
I paused, hesitant, questioning the reality of this experience. As I stepped into the circle I could feel the cold recede. My breath disappeared and the dull ache I felt deep in my bones began to subside. I felt the warmth wash over me. With two more steps the shivering, of which I had not been aware, quaked gently and subsided. Even the air in this space had a magic to it, arousing my senses with a scent. It was something like fresh cut grass on a summer day.
“Sit please, let me help you understand,” said Fear, motioning to the center of the circle.
A burst of wind struck me briefly as a wavering blue light appeared at the center of the circle. From within that light I could see two extremely high-back chairs coalescing into existence. I walked the short distance to the center of the circle to touch the glossy black leather cushion. It was ice cold, my had leaving a damp looking silhouette on the seat.
“Why is it cold?” I asked. “Why ice, why blue, everywhere…”
“Ha!” exclaimed the specter, “Is everything to you logic and questioning? Will knowing the why of those things help you to embrace the lesson you must learn? Very well, if you want to know… we needed some privacy to have a proper discussion. I stopped the flow of time. Outside of this circle is the cold and frozen waste of stagnant temporal mechanics. Watch…”
I sat on the cold leather of the chair and watched Fear breach the frozen waste beyond the circle. He headed straight towards a frozen pillar, which I soon realized was the frost covered form of one of the officers. He circled the man, frozen in mid stride, coyly placing his hat on the officer as he peered back at me.
A sudden cracking sound broke the silent display. Before I understood what was happening Fear was again in the circle, sitting in the chair opposite me. On his lap he displayed the severed arms of the officer.
I recoiled, heart pounding out a terrible rhythm of terror and surprise.
“Sit!” Fear quickly rebuked as I reared away from the terrible scene.
What else could Fear show me? What else did I have to learn that he hadn’t shown me since I woke?
“Boy, you will understand soon!” his voice cracked like thunder in the silence. “Terror, shock, these are merely my children. They are as impressive as a magicians trick, and just as superficial. Real fear comes from within, from looking inside yourself and facing the truths from which you hide.”
Fear sighed and stood, tossing the limbs onto the floor. The frozen blood within them had begun to melt, spurting out onto the floor with a wet thud as they hit. He circled my chair, not quite looking at me, and not quite looking away. It was like I was being examined, judged. After a moment he stopped in front of me, kneeling thoughtfully.
“I’ve toyed with you,” Fear said softly as he looked down. “I only needed to make you receptive. The lesson is this; you reek of fear. You run on instinct and that instinct tells you to avoid your emotions, to think your way through, rather than feel. It felt like the easiest thing to do. Didn’t it?”
He drew himself up slowly, raising his arms above his head and exclaimed, “You wouldn’t believe how many of us Eternals wanted you! You see, there rules governing when we interact with sentient beings. Guilt, Anger, Regret; they wanted to exploit you. Misery and Resentment would have come and just ended you had they not been out hunting. Hope and Gratitude wanted to save you, but their lessons would have been lost on you…”
Fear placed his hands on the arm rests of my chair and stared into me, into my soul, saying, “Really… they are too ‘feel good’ for my tastes. No… in the end I was the logical choice, for I am neither truly good nor truly evil. Your very life depends on you learning how to face your fears.”
I was shaking as he took my hands. I saw he was changing again; he was becoming me! Draped in my favorite clothes, even his hair and face mimicked mine. Again he closed his eyes and blinked away the darkness replacing them with grey-blue rings of dystopian sadness; duplicates of my own.
Fear asked: “Why did you use drugs? Have you ever considered it, or has it been so long since you thought of anything other than your next fix? You next hustle?”
I had to contemplate this, turning away from the mirror he had become. It felt important, especially coming from him in my own voice, through my own lips.
“I couldn’t take the pain,” I finally answered.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t remember. I just ran from it. I stuffed it. When I couldn’t stuff it anymore I was old enough that I started annihilating it with whatever I could get. If I had an argument, if I failed, if I was judged, if my bleeding heard was right here on my sleeve… I just ran away. To anything really, anywhere I could escape. The last stop being drugs.”
He grabbed my chin and made me look at him; he was smiling, “So you know the why. Good. So what is it that you are still running from?”
I snapped, slapping his hand away, shouting at him, “Enough of this!”
I felt defensive, like I was being jerked around. Anger had flushed my skin but sadness haunted and ached in my heart. I wanted him to just tell me what it was, but more than that, I wanted all of this to stop.
The creature walked back towards the other chair. I could see him taking a deep breath. Did this creature even need to breathe? Was that for show?
“You are a coward,” he said sadly, the sound of my own voice paining my ears, “you are full of so much potential but do nothing but run from it. You are the most worthless kind of sentient; one with nothing more than yourself in your way. You’ve strayed so far away that the high overrode everything. It was more important to you than even dying. You’ve turned self-destruction into some sort of sick art form.”
His words hung in the silence. My cheeks felt hot and my stomach twisted. I felt hurt and angry at this thing. I didn’t even notice that I was crying until I felt a tear running down my cheek. My god, was I so disconnected from myself?
My mind went to that deep dark place inside me. I saw the door to that place had been ripped open and that this thing knew all the secrets I had locked away. Every stuffed emotion, all the pain and heart ache, all my fears and dreams unfulfilled; they now lay splayed out in front of me. I finally knew that was feeling was fear. I was afraid, but not of this thing; I was afraid to learn how to live.
I started to sob. Great, deep, gasping torrents of tears and breath poured out of me. I fell from the chair onto the floor, not caring that the blood from the officers arms had pooled between the chairs. I landed on my hands and knees and lowered down into a whimpering fetal position, caressed by the copper scented fluid.
“You see now don’t you?” he asked. “To truly overcome this you must embrace me. Understand, it won’t be easy; you must make a truly symbolic gesture to realize you need not fear life. You can learn how to live, and you will accomplish more than you ever thought possible if you can learn to exist with your emotions.”
Fear walked to the outer cusp of the circle. I could see plumes of his breath as they crossed into the timeless frozen zone beyond. The plume did not evanesce like it normally would have, but hung in the air. Casually he raised his hand, my duplicate, and stirred the vapor. As he conducted some dark symphony in the space outside our sitting room his clothing again began to change.
“Stand my boy,” he commanded. “Stand and embrace what you will become if you do not overcome your fear to live.”
He then turned. The horror of what he had become caused my heart to drop.
With a boney hand he reached out and said with a voice like dust, “This is where you will end if you do not overcome your fears. You will slowly rot and die. Your addiction will become so important that you will neglect everything, chasing that high until you manage to finally catch the darkness at the end of a needle. For you to overcome that you must stand. Take my hand, and embrace the future that you can change.
I pushed myself up, hands coated in blood. I didn’t want to die and end up like that. It was too horrible to imagine.
I took his boney grasp, feeling the skin disintegrate as I let him pull me into his waiting arms. As I closed my eyes the scent of death, my death, filled my nostrils. At last I understood the power behind facing your fear.
With a gasp I opened my eyes. I was covered with sweat, freezing cold sweat. I was still lying on the paper thin mattress on my concrete bunk. I was still locked in my cell, still a prisoner.
I had flashes of a creature called Fear. I also felt a peace in my heart and knowledge that I could face my fears from this day forward.
“Was it just a dream?” I whispered.
As wakefulness returned to my senses the sounds coming from out in the dayroom began to clear. They were screams and horrible words…
“What the fuck happened… Oh God! Where are his arms?!”