Chuck Wendig has made his groovy 2017 return to Flash Fiction challenges! I missed last week’s, as I was HARBORING THE FREAKING WINTER PLAGUE, but I managed to get it this week. Today’s theme?

Something that scares you.

As Chuck said in the initial post:
“This week, I want you to write about something that scares you.

This can be something overt and obvious (CHAINSAW CLOWNS) to something deeper (“I am afraid of losing my mind to Alzheimer’s”) — but I want you to take aim at it and lay it bare on the page and construct a story around it as best as you can.”

My story immediately sprang into my head. Rather, the creature of my story did. This one, guys, is… it’s unfiltered, uncounted, and it may be a little all over the place, but it is truly something that scares me.

Here’s how it poured out.

I knew it was coming. I could tell by the changing wind, the prickle at the back of my neck, the caws that echoed out from the street corner. It always waited, there, just out of sight, just around the bend.

And it was always there.

I paid my check at the bar, taking an ice-cold Coke in one hand and my To-Go box full of Muffaletta sandwich in the other. The skyline was already a blurry gray, the vibrant hues of sunset already gone. One by one, the streetlights flickered to life, illuminating the Midtown neighborhood I had always called mine. I was lucky enough to know all these streets by name, and every nook and cranny they held; tiny squares upon squares of alleyways, all leading back home.

If I was really lucky enough, it wouldn’t know how to follow me there. It hadn’t learned how to, yet.

I waved to the bartender, to the shopkeeps and owners I knew around the square, hurrying to keep my rising panic under wraps. I had made this walk a thousand times, and it had been there for every single one of them. I could call someone, anyone, but what would I say?

“Someone- no, something– is following me, all the time, everyday. And someday, I’m afraid it’s going to get me.”

That was a one-way ticket of a conversation.

I shook the thought away, but it stuck in my mind like a fly in a spider’s web.

They always did. Every God damned one of them.

I could still hear it behind me, rustling, quick, awkwardly timed steps always ten paces back from mine. I zigged and zagged through the tiny alleys, cutting East or West before turning North again.

Home. Was. North.

Right?

God damned spider webs. North became “No, is it really North? Because you were just thinking South, and it’s the opposite of North, so…”

Yes. It was North.

Four more blocks to go.

A car door slammed nearby, nearly undoing every nerve I had left. I hurried ever faster.

North. North. North.

I could see the side fence now– all I had to do was round the corner, go in through the gate, up the stairway, through the door. My legs ached, my chest burned. Tired lungs heave-ho’d through each breath.

In the gate. Up the stairs. I fumbled with my keys, finding my house key last of all. The first deadbolt slid smoothly– the second stuck. The caws and clicks were coming closer; they were loud enough that I knew it was in the yard with me. The second bolt finally gave way, after I had nearly broken my key in half. I hurried in through the door, slamming it shut. Something moved just outside the frosted glass.

I had made it, one more time.

I ran for the stairs, bolting up each square case until it leveled out at a hallway. At the very end was my studio door, open and inviting. Like a kid in the dark of night, I ran for it, feet slamming against the hardwood floor. Door closed and locked, I waited for the sound of silence.

The clock ticked, tocked, my breaths evening out in rhythm with the second hand. This would be over soon– it would go away, hiding and waiting for the next time. Sliding down the door, I turned toward the innards of the room, examining every shadow that was cast by the lights outside.

The cawing had stopped.

I moved to the lamp on the sofa table, clicking it on and watching the bulb spring to life. Everything was still in order; books stacked everywhere but the bookshelf, the red light of the tv blaring out, desk empty of anything but a million papers.

A sigh rattled my innards. It was over. I was safe for another round. I moved toward the window, itching to close the drapes to the outside world.

I noticed the movement outside the glass far too late.

It burst through the window, landing on its feet, and I could finally see it in full; the short, slender body of a woman, all wrapped in black leather cords, each one buckled together tight against grayish-black skin, legs covered by knee-high boots and more of the same leather straps. Elongated arms ended in human hands, each one holding a small sickle. Her face– Gods, her face– was that of a crow, with red eyes constantly ticking back and forth. The beak reminded me of an old Doctore’s mask, though judging from her stench, there were no herbs to be found in its maw.
Her head tilted one way, then the other, her arms spasming in time with each movement. I held my breath.

Then, she was upon me.

Her sickles dug into my arms, anchoring me into place, muscle sliced cleanly from bone. Her beak pecked wildly at my chest, the hooked tip eventually smashing its way into the core of my being. Blood flowed from me, droplets of life hurling themselves onto my bookshelves, my tv, my table. I couldn’t find my voice beneath her furious pecking, though screams waited, poised in my throat.

She had always waited. She chased, and chased, but she always allowed me to get away. One more time, one more dance, before she finally pounced.

The blood that spoiled my vision made the whole world red. For a few seconds more, I could see her; she seemed to study me, even as my consciousness faded. I felt the tug of metal, the suction of her blades leaving my flesh. My body hit the floor unceremoniously.

Each breath was a war. Every blink threatened to be my last. The creature did not move. She simply waited, her head cricked to the right, then left. The last thing I heard was a furious caw as my world slid into blackness.

It took her 31 years, but my own darkness had finally been the death of me.

Anxiety was her name.

This is the story that demanded to be told.

Something that scares me, is losing myself– losing the battle– to my anxiety. And it is a near-constant war these days. Since November, my OCD and Anxiety have been hard at work, plugging away the days with figuring out how much they can possibly destroy me. It’s like my mind is partitioned, and I just can’t seem to break into pieces of it. In these hazy times, my memory starts to suck, and I can’t seem to express myself properly, despite my utter frustration. I can’t concentrate. I have no eloquence. I fight to form even the most basic thought trains.

Some days, it’s very hard.

Other days, it’s quiet in here.

All of those days, I pick myself up, smile, and do the damned thing, because I’m a warrior, and that’s what warriors do.

But sometimes, even the bravest of warriors lose the battle.

And in that regard, I never want to lose my mind.

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