Scared Shitless (DOG EAR)
p until the 50s, heroes were never scared. When faced with a wave a Zulus or an airship unraveling beneath their boots, heroes would clench their lantern jaws (whatever that means), tighten their fingers around their bold-action rifles and think of England. But never, never ever were they scared.
In the 60s, Louis L’Amour would occasionally mention fear in his stories, but it was usually the secondary character chattering his teeth while the blunt hero would tell him it was natural to be frightened. Not that we’d witness the hero’s own fears, just that he would admit to them.
For me, being scared was last Sunday night when Irma came up the west coast of Florida. This super storm was churning its way north, its size spanning the state. No place was safe. The last report we had from the TV was that it’s Northwestern track up the Florida western coast had shifted and now it was closing with Orlando and ready to strike it with that deadly forward-right scythe that all hurricanes have. Then the winds rose outside, blasts that buffeted the house. The power went out, the router went down, and we were cut off in the darkness.
We followed through with our plan to huddle in the center hall of the house, all the doors closed. And what a long night that made as we tried to sleep while Irma tried to tear its way in. Wind came through the floorboards and I wondered if any moment would be my last. At one point I woke up from a haunted sleep to hear that “freight train” noise everyone always says they hear right before a tornado hits. Even the wife woke up and we both looked at the roof, listening to it thunder past.
And that’s terrifying. I remember sweat on my forehead, my heart pounding, my tongue dry. I waited for the boom and crash of a collapsing house but none came. Eventually 3pm rolled past as well as the worst of the storm. We went to the bedroom and collapsed, falling into deep sleeps that the storm couldn’t rouse us from until 8am. Outside of some shingle damage, a dropped section of fence (my neighbor’s concern) and two big chunks of branches I’ll need a chainsaw to cut clear, we’re okay.
But yes, that was scared. Not heroic-scared, but a U-boat crew getting depth-charged scared, the fear of blind helplessness.
I was going to say that nobody every touched on total fear like this. However, I can think of two examples in modern (realistic) literature where they do. Catch-22, with Yossarian as a terrified bombardier in World War Two, flying his ever-increasing mission count with white-knuckled panic. And then, there is Harry Flashman of the Flashman series, who openly admits to cowardice and dies those thousand deaths for our amusement. And yes, it comes across as funny but the main character does relate being scared, as scared as scared can be (and he knows this, having faced everything from Chinese Boxers to Apache warriors). So credit where credit is due – a least some writers still know how to relate to human emotion including the terror of death and the end of everything.
Hurricane Charlie made me write Indigo, a story where crows battle in the face of that storm. But Irma scared me so bad I just want to forget it. I never want to relive that experience again.