Last week can only be described as “interesting.” If you don’t read my Writing, etc blog or follow my mayhem on Facebook, you may want to go here to catch up a little. Go on. I’ll wait.
Okay, so now you know I’m working my way through the trifecta of colonscopy, scratched cornea, and cat bite, all within a two-day period.
First, let me say that my foot is healing nicely, and Moochie cat is snoozing comfortably in my basement, showing no symptoms of rabies so far. But we’re only on day four of the ten-day quarantine. I’m a little like the guy who jumps out of the 50-story building and, as he passes the twenty-fifth floor window, can be heard saying, “Nothing’s happened YET.”
Besides providing a ton of research material for a future story (I swear, you have to complete more reports for an animal bite than for a gunshot wound!), the experience has made me think about other aspects of fiction writing. Motivation. Ticking clock. Deep-seated terror.
I’ve been a farm girl all my life. I’ve been bitten and scratched and kicked more times than I care to mention. So my initial reaction to this bite was blasé. Other than the stream of curse words I directed at the culprit, of course. I had plans for the weekend and figured if I wasn’t healing by Monday, I’d go to the doctor. But as the day wore on and my foot ballooned into a painful, crimson lump, I became strongly motivated to take more immediate action. Words like “blood poisoning,” “septicemia,” and the dreaded “rabies” started rolling around in my brain.
For me the big one was the “R” word.
The first horror flick I ever saw as a kid was a movie by the title of “Old Yeller.” Okay, some of you may not consider it to be in the horror category, but for me? Lifetime emotional trauma. We saw it at a drive-in theater and I spend a large portion of the evening on the floor of the car, hiding.
I also have very vivid memories of an episode of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman where one of the characters contracted the disease. I’ve blocked out the details in my mind, but I can attest that it further traumatized me. I’m not a germaphobe, but the ideas of “no cure” and “always fatal” scare the bejeezus out of me.
Forget my modest fear of needles. Give me the damned shots before it’s too late.
Hence the ticking clock. I remember all those news stories about pleas from family members. If you happen to see this particular dog or cat, please let us know so our loved one won’t have to undergo those dreaded shots. And it has to be done SOON.
All this played out in my mind Friday night (can you say “sleep deprived”?) into Saturday morning. And as I sat on the bed in the emergency department having an I.V. jammed into my arm, the urgency of the doctors, nurses, and techs fed my fear. I was told if I had followed my original plan to wait until Monday, they’d have been admitting me.
Staff members bustled in and out, asking questions about the cat, taking reports, making phone calls.
I’ve had family members get less attention for a heart attack.
With the antibiotics dripping into my veins, the threat of infection seem to be quelled. But that ticking clock continued to run. We needed to catch the cat ASAP.
Now, some municipalities may have facilities to keep quarantined animals. It turns out my little rural township doesn’t. So confining the little furry perpetrator became my responsibility.
Moochie is happily serving out his term in my basement. Unless he shows symptoms before next Tuesday, I’m safe. And even if he does, I’ll know about it and be able to get treated. So for me and this episode, the panic has passed.
But it’s made me think about what strikes terror in our hearts? What motivates us to take action when we’d really rather be camping? For me, the monster in the dark wasn’t a…well…a monster in the dark. It was the memory of a scary childhood movie. The fear of certain, painful death if left ignored. The idea that a small, furry pussycat could be the harbinger of disaster.
How can we put these ideas into our stories? Not by remaking Old Yeller. But by making the threat to our protagonist something seemingly innocuous. By finding something that is so terrifying that it can’t be ignored.
What is your monster in the dark?