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Being Afraid

March 18, 2013

Were you afraid of the dark when you were little? I suppose it’s one of the “universal” fears. What I suffered from (and maybe still do, to some extent) is termed “nyctophobia,” a word derived from the Greek “nyx” (night) and the Greek “phobos” (fear). Mine was pretty intense.

I don’t think it helped when my sister Nancy hid in the doorway of my brother’s bedroom and grabbed me when I was within striking distance. At some point, you would think that it wouldn’t bother me – it was always her and not some goblin or witch. Maybe I wasn’t too bright at that age. I still climbed the stairs with dread and had the same heart-stopping reaction every time it happened.

Being the youngest of five, I was the first one to bed in the evening. The entire second floor of our house was empty except for me and the hundreds of goblins and monsters lying in wait – behind the closet doors, beneath the heat register, and certainly under the bed. I calculated the number of steps between the light switch at the door and the bed, shut off the light, and made a run for it, launching in and pulling the covers over my head (except for a small breathing slit). Sometime between eight o’clock and the time my sister Judy came to bed became the witching hours. They emerged from under my bed and clutched at my covers, trying to get a hold of me, to drag me to who knows where. They were so real I could feel their claw-like hands and dagger-sharp nails tugging at the cotton batting covered in fabric – the only thing standing between me and certain death.

Our summer cabin did not have indoor plumbing. From June until August, the last trip to the biff before bed was terrifying. Flipping the switch above the kitchen sink turned on the solitary bulb hanging from above the door of the little building, and a small light inside. I hurried through the damp, chilly grass, remembering the story Uncle Bill told about the black bear he’d met on one of his trips. As if witches and monsters weren’t enough – now I could add wild animals to the list. I hurried inside and locked the door behind me, depending on the small hook and eye to keep me safe from the dangers lurking in the black beyond the four little walls. If I was lucky, Nancy would be too busy to remember I was here and not shut off the lights. If I was really lucky, there was no thunderstorm brewing.

The characters in my story do not have to worry about outdoor bathroom facilities, witches or monsters, but they will have to face wild animals in northern Minnesota. They will have to overcome the danger they find themselves in, not only from the unknown and unfamiliar (inside and out), but also from people they thought they could trust. I will provide them with terror, paralyzing fear, and insecurity. I will also provide them with the tools to overcome and conquer their fears. Tools that will keep them alive, but not unscathed.

photoAnne Hawkinson was born in Duluth, Minnesota. The world’s largest inland port became her “window to the world” when ships from around the globe crossed under the Aerial Bridge and docked in Lake Superior’s harbor. Years later she’d visit the countries that at one time existed only in her imagination. Bedtime stories read by her father were a nighttime ritual – her favorite was “The Teeny Tiny Woman.” Because they lived near the zoo, she often fell asleep to the sound of roaring African lions. Anne graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Master’s degree and has a daughter, a son, and an endless parade of pets that provide unending inspiration for her children’s stories.

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One Comment
  1. March 19, 2013 1:13 pm

    Your description of your childhood fears is a wonderful example of being able to evoke a real-life emotion that can carry on to fiction.

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