Monday, December 24, 2012

Taking Out the Garbage

It was a late Sunday night and Myra was about to go to bed when she realized that everyone had forgotten to take down the recyclables.  She hated going outside at night.  She blamed the movies.  The Blob, I Am Legend, A Cabin in the Woods.  She was afraid of the dark.  It was the human faces, usually, the ones that morphed into monsters, that made the hair on the back of her neck rise. It was the angry face suddenly appearing at the glass that made her heart jolt with adrenaline.

She knew the monsters weren't real, yet the metaphor was there.  People, more than anything else, could be monsters.  So, in the dark, she realized that it was human faces that she imagined flowing toward her in the darkness. She was okay in the porch light.  She managed by the garage, though that dark edge around whose corner she couldn't see was a problem if she stared at it for too long.  But the worst was by the road, beyond where her motion sensor light on her garage could reach.  That darkness was deep and only a moonlit night or an occasional car on the lonely road could provide relief.  It didn't help for her to bring a flashlight.  All that did was bob around and highlight her vulnerability, making her feel as though she were being watched.  For some reason, she felt safer without it.  That didn't mean that she felt safe. 

In a self-help book, Myra had read that, to fight phobia, she needed to 'feel the fear and do it anyway.' That was hard.  She'd done it with spiders.  She had become the one to capture a spider in a glass, to slide a piece of paper under it, and take it outside to be free.  She'd even pressed back against the fear to lean back out over the cliff the first and last time she ever went rappelling, that time her friends were going and insisted that she come along.  Once she was over that edge and bouncing along the cliff, it was actually fun. 

Her driveway at night was different.  It was a darker, deeper fear, as if the dark place beyond where the light could reach was another world, as if there lay the abyss in all it's dread and splendor.  Walking toward it, especially pushing a loud and awkward bin, was heart-rending.  She was too far away from her front door for retreat, too far from the safety of the garage or the car either.  She always clicked the garage door closed just before she reached her porch, imagining that she had just enough time to leap into the house if something came around from the dark. 


She stood at the bedroom door and told Chuck about the recyclables.  He was already in his pajamas. She hadn't undressed yet.  Justin had already been asleep for an hour. 

"So, should I wait until morning?" she asked.  Chuck just raised one eyebrow at her.  She hated when he was right. It was worse when he didn't even have to say a word to be right.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Did anyone own that sentence?  She felt as though they should. 

She slipped off her slippers and grabbed the crate they kept in the laundry room.  It was mostly full.  She slipped on her garden shoes and wished for the hundredth time that she had a dog. 

She had to put the bin down, turn, and wiggle the front door handle to make sure she wasn't locking herself out.  That would have been a nightmare, even with the key under a rock beside the house.  It was all a nightmare.

The air was balmy and damp.  The afternoon rain still smelled sweet and she thought she could smell blackberries.  She stood at the door, one hand on the knob, and took a deep breath.  Something could sneak into the house behind her after she moved away from it.  Another deep breath.  Breathing was another part of fear management, she remembered. It all looks easy in a book.  When you were busy with the phobia, scenarios played out almost faster than you could adjust to them.  Before she left the safety of the porch light, she clicked the garage door opener.  The light came on in the garage.  More safety, unless you thought about how it highlighted you.  Getting to the garage wasn't too hard.  Though true monsters wouldn't be slowed in the least by eight foot fences, having a fenced back yard helped.  Another reason for them to get a dog, she thought. 

She walked down the sidewalk, trying not to focus on the darkness at the corner of the house.  What lay beyond that edge? She walked to the corner of the garage and dumped the contents of the smaller bin into the larger one. Too much noise.  There were bottles and cans crashing about.  Would that draw even more attention to her? She stood in the garage for a bit, pretending to straighten up Chuck's work bench.  It was quiet but for the dripping from the trees.  She looked out into the darkness as the motion sensor turned off.  It took two steps from safety and some arm-waving to turn it back on. 

It was time. 

Just before she'd begun to move the recycle bin toward that dark place in the driveway, she heard a noise.  It was breathing.  She was sure of it.  She stopped, her heart flopping in her chest.  She struggled to breath silently.

It stopped.

She was almost ready to move again when she heard it again.  She couldn't bear to look away from that dark place by the road.  At any moment, the flow of near-human faces would begin, emerging from the dark and lit with rage from within. 

There it was again, almost like a rasping breath, then a groan.

This was not her abundant imagination.  Was there really a person out there?  Her own voice seemed out of reach. 


The answering silence only made the adrenaline flow into her elbows and knees.  It was funny how you could feel just how far that chemical reaction had reached.

She stared, thought she saw a slight movement, and lost track of time trying to see it again.  Then, she heard the breathing, closer this time.  Myra didn't move.  She couldn't.  The only thing that was moving was her heart, which seemed to be beating itself senseless against her ribs.  The motion sensor went out again.  Nothing could induce her to move for a moment, not even the safety of the motion sensor light.  She was not 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway.'

She took a ragged breath.  It wasn't as good as a deep one, but better than nothing.  Another.  Still staring into the abyss.  Another breath.  Another. 

Then, she silently walked forward the two required steps and waved her arms for the motion sensor.  It came on.

She saw a face.

She screamed.

It growled.

She screamed again but realized, finally, that a black bear had just stood up in her driveway.  She realized that even it was surprised and afraid and she'd just blinded it with her light.  Before she could decide what to do, the bear turned and ran into the dark place by the road. 

She took a minute just to let her breathing come back to normal and just stood with both hands still on the handle of the full recycle bin.

She screamed again when she felt something touch her shoulder.

"Hey, you okay, Hon?" Chuck asked. She slapped his hand away and burst into tears.

"There was a bear," she said into his chest, "in the driveway."

Later, after Chuck had taken the bin down to the road and they'd both walked back into the house, Myra realized that the crate she'd used in the laundry room was still outside by the garage door.  'Feel the fear' or not, she was not going back outside to get that thing until daylight.

Thank you for listening, jb


  1. You know I have always enjoyed reading Stephen King!You are a darn good writer, Julie.keep on writing.