What Fear Really Looks Like

Everyone who has ever attempted to get inside a theater with me knows that I don’t do scary movies. Yes, despite the black wardrobe, library of spell books, and unexplained affinity for bats despite having never seen one in person, I am not onboard with paying approximately ₱250 to have Caspar’s spooky cousin catch me off-guard.

You would think that my firm resolve in rejecting such films would mean that I know what fear looks like… but you’d be wrong. For a long time though, I thought I did: snow white skin, bloody teeth, and eye sockets that are empty but still somehow able to bore into your soul. Occasionally accompanied by a distorted body or long hair that covers half the face.

But when fear actually walked into my life, as real as could be and not as the impostor I had known for years, he flashed a beautiful, heartwarming smile.

The memory begins,

and the sky is on fire.

I am a middle school student, alone in the office of my father, the school’s guidance counselor. Classes ended an hour ago, but I am waiting for the school faculty meeting to end so that me and dad can finally go home for dinner. My wrist is cramping up from writing, and so I scan the room for something to look at in attempt to burn time some other way. My eyes land on the only window in the room: a small, glass rectangle on the office front door. Through it I can see the basketball court, tinted orange by warm sunlight, as the sun prepares to swap places with the moon. Dusk is approaching, but not fast enough.

The door opens out of the blue and I am greeted with a face that’s eerily familiar. A voice says “hello” with nervous emotion but masculine tone, and its owner’s identity springs back into recollection. A boy. An upperclassman two years my senior. I didn’t know other students were still on campus.

I know his name and that he’s graduating soon, but not much more than that. I could probably count the number of sentences we’ve exchanged on one hand, but still said “okay” after he asked if he could come in and chat. I think that maybe this is an opportunity to turn an acquaintance into a friend. I get up from my father’s desk to sit next to him on the brown leather couch.

The flames in the sky outside slowly begin to extinguish themselves, and the boy and I make small talk until we aren’t anymore. After his last sentence, he turns away from me for reasons I don’t know. A silence creeps up behind us both and my senses heighten. All of a sudden, I now can smell the musty carpet floor beneath us. Now I can hear cars passing in the driveway in front of the school entrance. Now I can see the veins climb over the hills of my knuckles; my hands balled into fists on top of my knees. A darkness forms a spiral at the pit of my stomach and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

I look back upon this now, and wonder if that was a message from the universe telling me to run, because

the next moment his lips are on mine.

His arms, trained strong by his regular sports activities, keep me pressed against the cushions behind me. My mind is somehow both blank and overflowing. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. My boyfriend is surely home by now, waiting for me to reply to his texts. My dad is in this building upstairs thinking I’m studying for my test.

When I snap back to reality, I push him off and leave the room. I reach for my mouth and feel as though I could still feel the force and desperation against me, as if it echoed behind my every movement. I get home and take a shower hoping that the feeling of violation will wash down the drain. I scrub and rinse and scrub and rinse and scrub and rinse… but it won’t come off. I’m sure the sky outside is black.

He messaged me the next day, and somehow I was the one who felt guilty.

I don’t know how he managed to trick the frightened sheep into believing it was the wolf.

But that was fear in his purest form. Not a jumpscare, not a ghost, nor any other monster depicted by fiction, but a person, seemingly friendly, overpowering me. One second he was a dandelion in an open field, and the next he was thunder, cracking down from the sky in a rumbling bolt. He struck the lightning rod in my spine and I was powerless. Trapped.

Maybe I still am now.