This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 742 words.
Most people know about phobias. Common fears include spiders, snakes, heights, even flying in aircraft. Some brush them off, by saying things like “I don’t like spiders”. But for a few, the sight of a single spider can leave them paralysed with fear. One person might be afraid of a snake, and transfixed by terror. Another equally terrified of the snake can yet muster the courage to kill the serpent. Knowing the difference was the main object of my study.
Then there are the lesser-known, but equally powerful fears. Hemophobia is a morbid fear of blood. It might make someone unwell, but is unlikely to induce the sort of fear that can cause their death. Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns, something exploited by films in the horror genre. In the right circumstances, that can induce real terror in the sufferer. I included fear of dolls and puppets in that category, especially that rare fear of a ventriloquist’s dummy. It was obvious that all four had something to do with the faces. A very serious fear was claustrophobia, whether involving the ancient terror of being buried alive, or simply being confined in a small dark space.
That one was of special interest to me.
Being out in the world at work felt as if I had been dropped inside a madhouse. The noise, the people, the vast spaces inside the warehouse, and everything appearing to move at breakneck speed, I thought it might be impossible for me to endure. I learned to pretend though. I became a very good actor. After the shortest of training sessions, I was assigned to a team. We had to literally run around pushing a huge cart, using an electronic barcode device to register items listed on computer screens attached to the cart as we loaded them in. Then we rushed to the packing benches to unload, where another line of people began to wrap them up, and place them inside cardboard boxes.
Just to receive our hourly rate, we had to pick a set amount of items in a given time. Failure to do so resulted in a warning, and after two warnings, most were dismissed. There was no shortage of unemployed townsfolk waiting to take the job. The young man who trained me was called Adam, and the leader of our team was a woman named Shell. When I said I had never heard of that name before, they both laughed, and told me it was short for Michelle. During the whole shift, we were given just two breaks of twenty-five minutes each, and if we had to use the toilets in between, it was frowned upon.
Most of my colleagues were unhappy with the job, and constantly dreamed of the time they could leave to do something else. I didn’t mind it at all. Though it was physically demanding, I was fit enough, and I was rather fascinated to see the vast array of items that people were buying online. Once I got used to the noise and the number of people, I settled down, strangely feeling that I was part of something real, at long last.
It took a while for me to notice that Shell seemed to like me. According to Adam, she liked me a lot. He winked at me, warning that she was known for having a roving eye, and that in his opinion she would eat me alive, given the chance. It had never occured to me that I might be attractive to anyone, let alone this popular divorcee. And though I had no experience of carnal pleasures, or any desire to experience any, I knew what he meant when he said she would ‘eat me alive’.
After I had been there for a month, Shell came to talk to me one morning before we started the shift. The depot manager had noticed that I had a driving licence, and asked her to find out if I wanted to drive one of the delivery vans, instead of being a picker. She looked worried, and I immediately realised that she was afraid I would say yes. I shrugged, and told her I was happy being on her team as a picker, and she should tell the manager that I didn’t want to be a delivery driver. Looking around quickly, she reached up and stroked my face, her mouth opening up in a huge smile as she spoke.