Chris Brosnahan (over here: http://chrisbrosnahan.blogspot.co.uk/ ) is running a daily challenge for the month of October called #Octobophobia where he presents a new phobia each day and challenges himself, and anyone else who fancies a pop, to write a short story about the relevant phobia. Do follow him to see what he creates (@ChrisBrosnahan). Some of the early entries are disturbing and I’m sure the trend will continue.
Below is my contribution for Cynophobia (a fear of dogs). I can be found here @ on Twitter.
I often wonder, do people know the aetiology of their fears? The things that can keep them awake at night, or those niggles that are never quite at the back of their mind? Chances are most have no idea. I know where and when mine was birthed into my world, snarling and convulsing. I was eight and visiting family. Outside I played with the older children and watched them pet their dog, which was tethered with fraying, blue plastic, rope. It was a collie and passive at their touch. When they stopped petting the dog it turned its attention to me. It lowered its head and bared its teeth. Growls found their way from deep in its throat as a prelude to the explosive bark that followed each one. Saliva was pulping at one corner of its mouth and shook with each threat of violence it sent my way. I was safe though. The rope, although fraying was holding true. I was advancing towards the dog. I had a hand on my back.
`No, I don’t want to.’ I said.
`It’s friendly really’ they insisted as I was pushed forward.
One of them reached out and petted the dog immediately subduing its savagery. It kept its eyes on me.
`Pet it.’ I was told.
My protests were unheeded. I reached out and tentatively petted the dog’s head at arms length and withdrew my hand in one piece. I smiled with relief at the taller children and turned to get back to a safe distance. There was no growl, no bark, just searing pain in my exposed thigh. The dog withdrew its teeth from my flesh with speed and I was dragged away from its snarling, rabid mouth. Tears spilled down my face as the blood spilled down my leg. The ensuing chaos saw me whisked off to the local GP with a long stay in the waiting area dripping blood onto the floor, before being bandaged and receiving shots. I wasn’t seriously injured, apart from being gifted six scars that could be used as a dental record for the dog. The bastard wasn’t even put down. It would have another victim, the face that time, before the owners decided that their pet was indeed a danger to children. The experience taught me a couple of things. Dogs were dangerous, and people’s stupidity equally so.
As an adult I wouldn’t say I had a phobia of dogs as such. I wasn’t transformed to a quivering wreck in their presence but I sure as hell didn’t trust them. I would sometimes cross the street to avoid them if I saw a person walking more than one at a time, but that was just good sense from my perspective. I’d risk passing a single dog and its owner if said owner had it on a short leash. The small yapping dogs didn’t really bother me at all. I barely even saw them as dogs. They were almost a distinct species. Parks though, I never went to parks. People have a habit of letting their pets gallop freely. No thank you.
Sometimes I did have dreams. Nightmares really. Never about the day I was bitten specifically. They would be about white teeth bared in shadow that concealed the size of their owner. I knew though, I knew they were wolves. Circling me. Hunting me. I’d awaken with my heart racing and chest tight. But, again, I wouldn’t say I had a phobia exactly. Those were nightmares and I could function just fine around dogs. I simply preferred not to be in their company.
I’d started a new job two weeks prior to getting my first invite to a work social. I wasn’t ever a fan of unofficial compulsory team building. Maybe that was the cynic in me speaking. It was a Friday evening and the quick pint quickly turned into pints. I was having a good time despite my best efforts. Jay-Jay, who I’d not had a chance to talk to properly prior to that was a fun guy. He had a smart answer to everything and a back-catalogue of funny stories that I wasn’t quite convinced were all of his own. But who cares? I was having fun and bullshitters are a harmless breed. I sent a text to my partner to let her know I would be running later than expected. Jay-jay had convinced me to join him for a `few more cheeky pints’ at a betting venue he knew.
`A casino?’ I asked.
`Something like that, but better.’
I was intrigued and followed his lead. We took a cab thirty minutes from the city centre. I was sobering up, tiring, and was significantly less interested in a “few more cheeky pints” than I had been. The cab fare home alone was going to render the extra couple of drinks a waste of time and money. But I didn’t complain. Jay-jay was fidgety with what I assumed was excitement and I wasn’t going to be “that guy”.
We rolled up to a warehouse in what looked like an industrial estate. Jay-Jay paid the fare and I watched the cab disappear back the way it came. I wasn’t at my most comfortable but I had just enough alcohol in my system to decide everything was alright. Jay-Jay knocked hard on the metal door and like something out of a gangster film a slot scraped open and a shadowed figure asked for a password.
`Red Baron’ Jay-Jay said.
The figure slid open the door and we stepped inside. I was led down a few steps towards a basement. Halfway down, that’s when I first heard it. It wasn’t the cheers and shouts from the amassed crowd somewhere below. It was barks.
`Jay-Jay?’ I said.
`It’s cool man. It’s cool.’
I didn’t feel I could turn around and leave. I hadn’t heard what destination Jay-Jay had told the driver. `Shit.’ I thought as Jay-Jay opened another door and led us into the arena. People surrounded a pit dug into the ground and two men stood inside it with their dogs on a leash that were squaring up to each other and straining their leashes to attack. Money was exchanging hands and the smell in the air was musty and of metal. Jay-Jay told me to wait and watch the `fight’. I only saw glimpses. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it all. The dogs ripped and tore at each others flesh adding to the blood already caked into the dirt. It didn’t last long. It was long enough for the losing dog to suffer as it whined in the jaws of the victor. The life escaped its broken body to cheers, braying, and boos from the crowd.
I felt nauseous. Not least by the savage display but also because I’d never before seen a pitbull. The victor, now back on its leash was so pumped full of adrenaline that the owner — and I say owner, not master, as this monster was its own master — could barely keep control of it. The animal, the dog I mean, was enormous and its mouth was wide, like a comic book grin from ear-to-ear.
`Just what the hell am I doing here?’ I thought as I felt sweat trickle down my left temple.
I turned away from the monsters and the bloodbath looking for Jay-Jay. I saw him talking to a large man in a leather jacket. Jay-Jay spotted me. I must have been pasty white at that point. He waved me to approach them and I did. I was unsteady on my feet but managed to navigate the boisterous, blood-thirsty punters. I stood wobbling by Jay-Jay’s side keen to ask him to take me away from this place. I was going to give him a piece of my mind. Didn’t he know how much trouble we could get into? Jay-Jay looked at me and then back to the stranger in leather.
`Our debt is settled?’ Jay-Jay asked.
The man simply nodded in reply. Jay-Jay turned to me with an almost apologetic look on his face and took a step back. I was confused. That was until I felt a sharp push into my back and no longer felt the ground beneath me. I slammed into the pit floor hard. The wind was knocked out of my lungs. There were cheers from the crowd that now surrounded me. Like something you’d hear from assholes in a pub after a member of staff smashed a glass. I looked up and saw the victor of the last fight. Snarling. Growling. Barking. There was saliva congealing in both corners of its mouth and it only had eyes for me.