Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fear Factor

Have you ever been afraid? Really afraid? I don't mean just startled or surprised. I don't mean apprehensive about something bad. I mean blood chilling, muscle freezing, mind numbingly afraid... Peeing your pants optional. I've been close. I've been close a couple of times. This isn't a typical Halloween story. In fact it doesn't have anything to do with Halloween other than the fear. No one dies. No blood or gore. No ghosts, but there is at least a monster.

At least once in my life I have been afraid... Truly afraid.

The year after I graduated high school I hung around my home town trying to find some direction in my life. (See how well that worked out) New Year's eve I was invited to a party by a couple of college girls.

I knew a handful of people at the party, but not many. One guy I definately did not know got high, beat up his girlfriend, grabbed a rifle and disappeared into the darkness of an open field. Minutes later I'm standing at the edge of said field with a few other guys scanning for this freak.

He lit a cigarette. We saw the lighter and watched the glowing cherry bob back and forth in the distance. I'm no hero, and neither were these other guys. We discussed what to do... At length... Because no one wanted to actually do it.

"We could rush him. He could probably only get off one shot."

"Do you wanna be in front of that one shot?"

We stood there, hands in our pockets against the chill watching that cigarette. Then, suddenly the cherry brightened, dropped to the ground and disappeared. Last drag.

It always amazes me how certain sounds carry in the darkness. The sound of the bolt of a .30-06 closing, slamming a round into the chamber is one of those sounds. Suddenly it wasn't as cold outside as it was in my chest. "Was that...?" I had started to ask. I never finished because I was alone. I quickly dove behind the nose of the nearest car to find most of the other guys already there or behind other cars.

A minute or two later... It seemed like a week, he wanders out of the darkness, and up to the car I'm behind. I'm alone again because every other guy was moving back through the maze of parked cars. I didn't stay because I was brave. I stayed because I couldn't move. Not one inch. My mouth tasted like it was full of pennies and my arms and legs were made of lead. Should I hide? Should I run? What does a .30-06 feel like when it hits you between your shoulder blades?

He leaned the rifle against the car to light a cigarette. Without thinking and without making a sound, I picked up that rifle and slipped away. He never even glanced in my direction. I watched every step I made to be as quiet as I could. Back at the house they almost had to pry my numb fingers off of it to hide it somewhere.

Later all the guys were pounding my back all the girls were fawning over me. It was all I could do not to shake like a old man. Midnight came and went with the new year. Around one in the morning I kissed both girls goodbye and drove home gripping the steering wheel like it would keep me from drowning.
One thing kept creeping back into my head. When I looked at the gun in the light, the bolt hadn't closed all the way. Misfeed. If it had, well...

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