Be Afraid
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Plane"
Originally featured on 11-27-2007
As part of our series "Things Both Flat and Round"

“This chick is way too into it.” You can count on somebody saying that, or something to the effect. Your rational self would take it as a compliment, but you don’t hear it because you’re so deep into the illusion it would take a mile of rope to haul you out. Of course you are; anything less and you’d be just a petit moody woman wearing an apron.

They won’t know that you’re in earshot, and they won’t hate you when you lean your head in the doorway, hogtie them with your eyebrows and say

“Write that on my tombstone.”

They will sit in uncomfortable silence until one of them laughs and then they’ll exchange glances and they still won’t hate you. You’ll be half way down the hall.

You put up that fourth wall when the other actors are still chatting about their divorces and their computer upgrades. Long before you’re in costume, you’re in that place. We will pay fifteen dollars to meet you there so that we can bolt from it. Whoever invented the phrase fourth wall anyway, and why would they need to?

Once the chainsaw is in your hands, you’ll know what to do. Crouch down into a sprinter’s stance and wait for the tour group to hit their mark. If the person in front is looking behind them and talking to their friends when they round the corner, you’ll wait until their head turns, and before they’re facing twelve O’clock, you’re already in a lunge, the chainsaw raised above your head and your thumb squeezing the trigger that releases compressed air to simulate the sound that a chainsaw would make. The best is when it’s a burly man fronting the group. The bigger they are, the louder they’ll scream. And if they scramble backwards and their girlfriend catches them before they fall, you’ll make eye contact with her as you work that weapon, and she’ll be so scared she’ll trip over the darkness as she runs out the exit. She will cry and he’ll be humiliated-

And they will love you for it.

At times the groups will be inadequately spaced and you won’t have time to reposition yourself before someone sees you and says “watch out, there’s something in that corner’s gonna jump out at us-” That will make you genuinely angry. In such cases you will put down the chainsaw and run up into his face with your eyes moving left and right like they’re slicing carrots and shout get your chicken out of my backyard I got welts on my neck don’t breathe in my face I’ve seen the blood on the wall spell your name I can’t take any more of your lies but they won’t hear your improvised rant. All they’ll hear is the adrenaline in their legs, and you’ll know it’s working. You might even clutch their shoulders with your hands shaking in that way you practiced for an hour in your bedroom every night that first week of October.

They will see you in their recurring nightmare with the latex scar stretching across your forehead, your springy blonde hair frizzed out in front of your face and the darkened eye sockets sunken into the white face paint with accentuated cheekbones. You drool in a focused stream down the center of your chin. You rehearsed that too. Your teeth will tremble and rattle. The propulsion starts in your thighs, flings you to your full height like a slingshot, and your weight is all in that chainsaw.

After repeating that motion nine hundred and thirty three times in four hours, your legs will be twitching with pain, and you will wince when you get out of bed the next morning. You will walk with a slight limp from your cubicle to the coffee break room.

Jen in marketing and Steve from the call center will be chatting about some celebrity scandal that’s in the headlines. They’ll acknowledge you with a forced “Hey Tina” as you sip your double decaf and then continue their repartee. They only stuck one leg out of the conversation — for caution’s sake — and did not have to back up more than a sentence to resume it.

They think it’s weird that you dip a Camameil tea bag into your coffee, twirl it around a few times and then suck on the bag, wrap it in a napkin and stow it daintily in the front pocket of your purse. They hate you for combining coffee and tea, for thinking that you can play both sides of the field in one taste sensation. They don’t want to know why you’re limping and why you look sleep deprived, and why you wear those hangovers from last night like a trophy.

You won’t respond. You will ignore them because you have cultivated the rare ability to do so with impunity. Somebody has to fill the niche of creepy, silent office bitch, and they’re glad that it’s you, because if it was somebody else, she would probably be much larger. You stand five foot two and your wrist is about as big around as a toothpick. Their naïve, idiot notions of power will make them vulnerable some day. But you don’t hate them for that. Idiots are your clientele.

After Todd comes running through the maze of horrors in his bloody sundress and Goldilox wig with the fake meat clever buried in his fake breasts yelling “We’re done! We’re wrapped, everybody!” you won’t understand the dripping sensation in your ribs, like your skeleton has just become a sponge and a five-year-old is squeezing it, wringing out something that feels like raw egg filling your skin like a bladder.

In the changing room the others will be talking on cell phones while they peel off their prosthetic devil horns and sweaty clown costumes. They comment on how lonely you must be, crouched in that pitch dark corner with the chainsaw waiting for your opportunity. You just look at them.

You want badly to explode out of a dark corner, rev your weapon at them and slice their sanity into a salad with your eyes. But your body is a slouching bag of raw egg.

Driving down Leger Street with the passenger side window rolled down all the way, your head will become a bubble of surreal dizziness bobbing around inside a skull that feels about twice as spacious. That is when you will think about your sadness. You won’t understand it, but you can enjoy it, sip on it like an aged wine. The lines on the road caress the corner of your vision where they curve like a hook around the sides, because that’s what spacetime geometry does; it curves, it twists, it ties knots, it makes infinite lines into spirals that bound you up tightly leaving marks on your skin, it makes planes into suffocating candy wrappers twisted cutely on both sides and solid vertices into squishy blobs of snot. Your eyelids will melt into each other like chocolate fondue and then

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!bitch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the sound of a car horn will jerk you back into your car, back into 11:54 PM on a Thursday night, back into your sadness. You’ll swerve back into your lane and you’ll laugh because he called you a bitch. Did he actually call you a bitch, or did your mind just hear the horn and paste a syllable on top of it from an aborted dream?

You’ll laugh because this stranger on the road could easily have walked through the maze of horrors and been traumatized by a skinny woman wielding a chainsaw. The object of his terror at this moment was a drowsy woman behind the wheel. You’ll laugh because there’s so much to laugh about that would require copious amounts of coffee to rationalize, and you are proud.

Tomorrow night I will round that corner and you’ll be there.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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