Writing Exercise #4

We had a little more time on this one (I think there was an operational error on the timer), and I took advantage. The challenge was “What frightens you?” To which my immediate reaction was “Hell, what doesn’t frighten me?” And so it went.

Dr. Louis asked his first question, “Mr. Crenshaw, what are
you afraid of?”

I almost walked out then and there. I didn’t care how  highly recommended the guy was, I thought it was a stupid thing to ask. What was I afraid of? Hell, what wasn’t I afraid of? But I was on the hook for the first session whether I was there or not, so I decided to play along.

“Well, there’s spiders.”

“That’s a common one—“ Dr. Louis began, but I didn’t let
him finish. “And mice. And Cats. And… snakes. And dark holes where snakes might
be hiding. Let’s see…. Wasps. Bees. The entire hymenoptera family, really.”

“Your chart doesn’t mention an allergy.”

“What’s that got to do with anything? Now, where was
I…right. Hymenoptera, and lepidoptera too—that’s butterflies and moths.  Plus cattle prods. Cattle. Herd animals of any kind. Dust. Mold. Germs. Sterile environments. Polyester–”

“Out of curiosity,” Dr. Louis asked, “Why polyester?”

Another stupid question. “Chemical outgassing from the
fibers causes cancer…and add cancer to the list, of course. Then there’s corn,
corn shucks, corn tassels…the whole plant, really. Those leaf and shuck edges
are like knives.”

“Add knives?” he asked, apparently trying to be helpful.

I frowned. “Strangely enough, no. I’ve never had a problem
with knives. Isn’t that odd?”

“Odd? Perhaps, but good to hear.” Dr. Louis opened a drawer
in his desk and pulled out what looked like a chef’s butcher knife. It was
brightly polished, appeared very sharp, and was nearly a foot long not counting
the handle.

“Why do you keep a knife in your desk?” I asked.

The therapist shrugged. “Doesn’t everyone?”

I didn’t have a desk, so I couldn’t answer him, except to
continue the list. “Desks. I don’t like desks.”

“Noted,” said Dr. Louis. “Anything else?”

“Only the limits of my imagination. And add imagination, by
the way. Don’t trust it.”

“Nor should you. That’s where most of your fears are coming

I took a deep breath. “So you’re saying it’s all in my

“Isn’t that why you came to see me?”


He smiled then. “What about serial killers?”

“What about them?”

“Are you afraid of them?”

I thought about it. “Sure. Who isn’t?”

He nodded. “Good. I was starting to feel left out.”

Dr. Louis picked up the knife and tested the edge.
Satisfied, he got up and approached me. He looked the part, I’ll give him that,
but I didn’t move from the comfy wingchair, even though I had a clear shot at
the exit on my right.

When Dr. Louis was within three feet of me, he stopped. I
just looked up at him. “You said you were afraid of serial killers,” he said.

“I am. But you’re not one.”

“Oh? And how do you know that?”

“Because I’m scared to death of the unknown, and anything
new, like new people, but I’m more afraid of doctors than regular people. I
didn’t just get a few recommendations before making this appointment–I studied you. Even managed to track down a few of your former patients–all still alive, by the way. It was hard, but I made myself do it, and I kept at it until it was almost as if I knew you myself, and that’s the only reason I was able to keep this appointment. Oh, and one more thing I’m not afraid of….”

“Which is?”

“Bad jokes.”

“It wasn’t a joke,” he said, but he turned then and returned to his desk, put the knife away, and sat down. “It was an attempt at therapy.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re swamped by imaginary fears. Contrasting those with
a real threat often applies a shock to the system and puts the others in perspective and starts the patient on the road to recovery, but I can see that’s not going to work with you.”

“Maybe there’s something else you can do.”

“Many things. If there was a point.”

I frowned. “A point? What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve listened to you, Mr. Crenshaw. That’s
something you haven’t been doing, or you would have heard what I heard. How
fondly, even affectionately, you described your fears. No furtiveness, no shame. You could have been describing a series of old flames, seen through a haze of nostalgia.”

“I’m afraid of nostalgia,” I said.

“You should be.” He glanced at his phone. “We’re almost out
of time, Mr. Crenshaw, so I’ll make this quick. There was one instance, one
only when I did not hear the affection in your voice—when you spoke of the
unknown. That’s your real fear. The others? Yes, they dominate and control your
life, but they’re familiar. Almost comfortable. You know the old saying? Better
the devil you know? You know your devils very well, Mr. Crenshaw, and my
professional opinion is that they’re not going anywhere. Now then—Before you
leave, is there anything you’d like to ask me?”

I felt numb, but I heard myself speaking. “Yes. I’ve been
listing my fears for you, so it’s only fair—Dr. Louis, is there anything you’re
afraid of?”

He smiled. “Sure. I’m afraid,” he said, “that I can’t help

I added one more devil to the list.

The End


(c) 2011 Richard parks