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Fear festers

I will be posting pieces from Chronicles of Chaos here, along with accompanying music. Enjoy, and remember, there is always an underground.


There’s a standard dictionary definition of “fear” that anyone can look up. It would be a waste of time and space to include it here. The sources of it are different, but everyone knows what fear feels like. Some of us experience it more often than others.

Growing up, I was afraid of my own shadow. Everything scared me. From severe storm warnings flashing across the bottom of the TV screen to potential alien invasions, I lived in what felt like a constant state of fear, ready to run from whatever catastrophe life chose to throw at me. That’s to say I was Chuckie Finster, basically. Only later on did I realize my doomsday mental state, which I’ve become better at quelling, is called anxiety, which has saved me from a lifelong panic attack.

It didn’t help that my older cousins deliberately frightened me with scary movies, mainly “It,” during those fragile years. I can remember seeing Tim Curry’s Pennywise for the first time more vividly than most of my childhood memories. My younger sister Karlee and I were at Grandma’s house with my three cousins — Jason, Lindsay and Matt, who were all siblings.

We were watching TV in Grandma’s basement living room when “It” came on. My cousins already knew about it because they were old enough to know things like that. They also knew that it’d frighten their skittish baby cousin. Reflecting on it now, I can’t think of a clown before Pennywise unexpectedly crashed into my psyche. I told them to stop, to change the channel. Grandma always watched the soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” and I found the introduction soothing. “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” I suggested that, but my cousins giggled and turned up the volume. My sister, who couldn’t have been more than five years old, sat there unphased, which only convinced my baby brain that Pennywise wanted me and only me.

He could turn fortune cookies into oozing orifices and lives in a complex sewer system only he knows how to efficiently navigate. I’d never be able to escape if he dragged me to his underground kingdom. He’d chew on my spindly limbs like chicken wings. Poor Georgie. I felt his fear. My panic blurs what happened next that fateful day at Grandma’s, but an adult stepped in to stop my torture. It didn’t matter. The damage had been done. I avoided clowns for over a decade. They still irk me.

In Pittsburgh, there used to be a steamboat called the Good Ship Lollipop that trolled the city’s three rivers with its crew of clowns. They’d welcome kids to join them to experience downtown from a different point of view, but I always knew they were lying. That it had to be a trap. Why couldn’t the adults see that such a carnival cruise was a ruse to drag their children to the lawlessness of international waters where the clowns could do whatever they wanted with us? For all I knew, Pennywise had christened the Good Ship Lollipop the flagship of his demon fleet. I don’t know if the ship is still in service, but if it is I have half a mind to sink it. May it rest and rot away at the bottom of the Monongahela River. No child would ever again have to endure the weirdness of it all. The giant catfish of local lore would make quick work of the clowns. But Pennywise still occasionally visits me in my dreams.

I took the opportunity to pass down the fear years later when I let my younger cousin Joe watch the original “Pet Semetary.” The scenes of the bedridden Zelda and undead Victor made him visibly uncomfortable, but he continued to act tough and sit through it. I have to give him credit. He took it better than I had.

But once Gage died and came back as a demon child, Joe couldn’t handle it any longer. My uncle stormed in after Gage hid under the bed, sliced poor Jud’s Achilles tendon and then bit his throat for a bloody kill. “OK, that’s enough,” he said, and the party was over.

My dad, who hated when I’d complain about on-screen horrors, would constantly tell me how fake it all was.

“Imagine all the bloopers of them laughing,” he’d say. But I couldn’t. Clowns ate children since the beginning of time, and baby dolls were alive and liked to kill kids with kitchen knives. These were facts of life. He didn’t get it.

It’s ironic that I grew to love scary movies, but I still don’t do haunted houses or any other fake frights. The real world has always provided me with enough scares on a daily basis. Or spiders. Never had an affinity for those eight-legged freaks with their head full of eyes, bulbous butts that poop out sticky webs, and their uncanny ability to pop out at just the right time, like when you’re in the shower or on the pot, immobilized and vulnerable. Tarantulas supposedly taste like popcorn if you fry them over a fire. I learned that from one of those backcountry survival shows. But you have to cook them just right, or they’ll fuck up your stomach. It’s something with the boiling point of their venom. I’d rather eat my own arm or starve to death. But I digress.

It’s Halloween, and everyone’s feeling spooky. How cute. It’s a holiday that has become associated with free candy, elaborate costumes and pumpkin carving, but its origins are more fantastical. About 2,000 years ago in modern-day Ireland, Britain and northern France, the Celts celebrated their Nov. 1 new year with a festival the night of Oct. 31 called Samhain. The revelers would dress up and dance around bonfires lit with crops and sacrificial animals. It was a time when the Druids, Celtic priests and prophets looked into the future, hoping for good fortune during the upcoming harvest. They also believed the dead returned to Earth around the same time to terrorize the living. The ritual slaughters and willingness to burn their crops was meant to appease the restless spirits. This tradition continued until the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic territories around 43 A.D. Samhain then cross-pollinated with similar Roman fall festivals, including All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, respectively. The night before All Saints’ Day was eventually called All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween (it was still Samhain, if you were Celtic).

Halloween didn’t catch on right away in the newly established American colonies, given the power of the Protestant religion. Colonials would hold harvest festivals each fall, but Halloween wasn’t widely accepted or celebrated until more Europeans immigrated to America. It’s morphed into what it is today after centuries of reinterpretation, barely resembling the original incarnation. Nowadays, especially in America, Samhain is more associated with Glenn Danzig’s deathrock band of the same name after he left the Misfits or the movie “The Wicker Man.”

Like the Celts’ Samhain festival, words have a way of redefining themselves over time. To me, fear isn’t Tim Curry in clown makeup anymore, though I’m still terrified of having my Achilles cut whenever I sit on the edge of my bed.

I’ll let Kurt Vonnegut explain, as he did in a 1978 letter to his daughter Nanny: “About fear: I heard a Hindu holy man say at a lecture a couple years ago that it was crucial to learn how to make decisions without allowing fear to become involved — and that fear liked to hitch rides on all sorts of words and images. When fear intrudes on your thinking, it may be an old, old fear, hitching a ride still, but one which need not really concern you anymore.”

Fear for me is more of an internal creation now; it’s insidious, hitching a ride on my insecurities and paranoia. Fear festers inside my skull. It’s inaction, more than anything — a frequent feeling of inadequacy or complacency. Fear is self-doubt. Fear is regret. Fear is caring what other people think of you. Fear is letting free will slip away. Fear is a façade you create that hides what you truly want to do and say. Fear is faking it. Fear is wasting time. Fear is man-made. Ultimately, fear is a mythical hitchhiker, but we all still feel it catching a ride on everyday trivialities, some more than others.

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