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The International Writers Magazine: Fear Itself

Tessa Foley
"And you won’t feel a thing." He lathered. "Not a thing."

I was one of the first to have the operation. I have a scar six inches long which, far from being ugly and a source of ridicule, makes me a minor celebrity. I wear shirts missing the top buttons to show the fat white centipede that crawls down my cleavage. People stare at it all the time and even though they are still nervous because they haven't had the surgery. For a minute they can see what it would be like to own one of these markings and they can see what it would be like to realise peace when they finally raise their eyes to my placid, flat smile.

Not everyone can afford this procedure though and so their situation is much like mine was a few years back. I was an hysteric a while ago and now I find it difficult to care about anything. Complete bliss. I'm extraordinarily lucky to be like this, you see, most other people are in a complete state of panic for their entire lives. The world threw itself a great big hissy fit and it still hasn't calmed down. The only way to calm it down is to take away the source of the panic. Hence the operation.

Hysteria took hold in the mid twenty-first century and nobody is quite sure how it came about. There are several theories concerning the origins. If you ask me, it was a long time in the coming. People in offices using the internet all day and having "YOU ARE A WINNER!!" screamed at them in assaulting green and red stripes. Gutter press headlines bawling "THOUSANDS DEAD!". Coffee by the gallon. The threat of disease and going to hospital and getting a NEW disease from the unclean sheets. The threat of attack by hooded vipers in the street. The threat of sandwich bags filled with explosives. Men with beards. Muggings, car accidents, hurricanes, virus, computer virus, faster faster, cycle-by shootings more, more, repossessions, colours, neon, bullying, phone ringing, dance music from the neighbours, pound, pound, POUND, paedophiles moving in to the attic, overindulgence, glass in sweets, crash smash, wallop, PANIC!

You might think that people who avoided technology and newspapers would be safe, but Hysteria proved to be contagious. A housewife who abstained from the trappings of modern day life could only go so long before her husband or kids returned from daily life wide-eyed and shivering. It would panic the caring mother so much to see her child that she would never come back from that terrified state herself. Mainly though, Hysteria just became. It wasn't an evolution. It just became.

The average heart rate for a resting human rose to over 110 beats per minute and got progressively worse every year. Seatbelts were introduced to armchairs to remind people that they should relax and it didn't do any good. I myself used to clip and unclip the catch until the sound panicked me even more and I would have to get up and pace the room. Every person had the same look, that of two-week-old kitten – the surprised speed freak look. The streets became slightly dead as everyone peered through their curtains, horrified by the prospect of tabloid promise. Newsreaders were taking so many drugs to steady their hands that two died of opiate overdose during a live broadcast, a smug, serene grin passing over them as they were stretchered away.

The hysterical state of the nation had spread by plane, train and automobile to around the world. The panic surrounding foot and mouth and bird flu had a lot faster wings than the actual infections. The worry over gun crime shot across the world faster than a bullet. The world was permanently illuminated because everyone was afraid of what might happen when you turned the light off.

Of course it wasn't all bad. Obesity was practically eliminated. When people could find the stomach to ingest something and hold it down, the strange mince that we all developed to keep us constantly moving burned it off immediately. A lot more work got done in the world. Well of course it did, no one slept and everyone was so scared of what might happen if we didn't do the work. The sensationalist newspapers were abolished which so many had wanted for so long, but it didn't do much good. They had already done their damage and the slithering writers we had call come to hate had nothing to do, but go home and panic.

Unfortunately though, the suicide rate did rocket out of all recognition. Not that anyone went on country walks anymore, but the country park up the road from where I lived was like a macabre Christmas tree decorated with the breezing, noosed bodies of the hopeless. Then the car park had filled up because people had driven there, seen the bodies hanging, panicked some more about what that might feel like and gassed themselves in the cars.

Hysteria did have a balancing effect on some people though. They were scared enough to want to die, but so scared of death that they struggled on. I was one of those. I tapped and tickered my way through ghastly days and flickering nights, my ribs rising ever closer to the surface and scratch marks littering my skin. I'd had money, the result of a high flying career in management consultancy before people gave up all hope on managing, before Hysteria throttled the nation and there was no one to take it from me. It sat unused and waiting for a good cause.

The curing procedure was dismissed at first as a hoax. How could one live? However without scorcher writers to label scientists with boffiny put-downs, it wasn't long before the possibility became a real one. Weeks after the first tentative mentions, I knew I had to go through with it or drive off Beachy Head.
I sat in a stuffed leather office with a remarkably calm, white-coated man. He was reassuring and reclining and oily and obsequious and I longed to be him. He showed me his scar.
"All that fear gone" He treacled. "We can take it all away and you'll be normal again. Remember what it felt like to sleep? To eat? To walk in the rain? To walk in the street?"
"I don't remember." I spittered.
"Yes you do." He smarmed. "And you want to have it all back."
I knew from the way he was talking that I was going to have to sign over a massive amount of money. The thought horrified me, but every thought horrified me.
"One question." I twitched. "Who performed this operation initially? I mean, how did anyone stop having Hysterics long enough to perform it?"
"There is an answer, but trust me," He oozed "And I swear that when you wake up, you really won't give a shit".
I almost went in to a blind seizure over hearing the doctor use such vulgarities, but I swished a jagged signature on to his form and I tore a cheque from the book, giving him pretty much every pound sign I had ever sweated for.

There are an awful lot of romantic connotations attached to the word "heart". It is used as a pseudonym for love, for a deep commitment, for the embodiment of the being, when in actual fact, all it is, is a muscle. It's wet, red pump that assists the living process and so it's really not all it's cracked up to be to own one. The cardiectomy was not a hoax. It was a delightful reality.

As soon as I had signed, I felt a sting in my arm and I knew that someone had administered an anaesthetic. My mind was shrieking and I started to fight, but hot, soapy unconsciousness swept me in to a cushioned cuddle and from then on, I forgot what it was to feel afraid. I woke up to a world without sirens, without a pulse and without danger.

© Tessa Foley November 2007>

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