OTWAG: Holding the Leash

Once there was a Girl who was afraid.

She was afraid of the unfamiliar, and of the dully commonplace.

She was afraid of the dark, and of the bright lights.

She was afraid of hardness, and of too much comfort.

And so, almost everything frightened her. Looking ahead was full of the dangers of the unexpected. Looking to each side offered nothing new. Looking behind revealed a series of gaps and potholes, pitfalls and valleys so deep she forgot that they had steep walls that led upwards as well as down. So she carried on, and in a strange way the Fear became her friend; it was familiar yet exciting, it was expected yet unpredictable. She carried it with her always, sometimes a shivering mouse in her pocket, sometimes a writhing snake around her ankles, sometimes a fierce eagle digging its talons into her shoulder.

Some days, she could make the Fear do her bidding. It would stride beside her, a gundog with its eyes trained to the distance. Some days, it would dash ahead, an ill-mannered mutt dragging her behind. Most days it trotted to and fro, picking a meandering path, occasionally needing a tug to keep up and occasionally startling her as it jumped up against her.

Some people told her she must cast her Fear away, banish it for good. These words only made it cling to her tighter, shortening her breath. Some people told her to let her Fear guide her, to constantly follow in its wake. These words made her feel like a compass was slipping from her hand to crack uselessly against the ground.

Finally, in confusion, the Girl made a decision that also scared her. She decided to talk to her fear. To ask it what it wanted of her, and what she should do. She was afraid that it might tell her it wanted to leave, and that it would abandon her. She was afraid that it might tell her it had to stay, and that she would never breathe freely again. But she knew that if she never asked, she would never know, and that uncertainty was the heaviest weight to carry.

So she asked the Fear what she must do. The Fear asked her if she really wanted to know. Saying it a second time scared her even more, but she repeated her request – closing her eyes and holding out her hand, in which there was a leash. The Fear waited for a long moment, until it seemed like the Girl might give up and walk away. And then, when she was almost at the end of her strength, it spoke.

The Fear told her to push and pull. To lead and follow. To test the leash and taste the air. To allow and to deny. To whisper and to shout. To fear the terrifying and the mundane. To interrogate the unknown and question the obvious.

The Girl listened to all the Fear had to say, slowly turning the leash in her hands. She had meant to either offer it to the Fear, or tie it securely to her belt. But as the Fear stopped speaking, and turned to her expectantly, she found that neither one of these two actions was appealing. The Girl looked at the Fear for a long time, and it looked straight back at her. Its eyes glowed with warmth, and with an unsettling hollowness.

You are my Fear, said the Girl. And I will not set you free. And you are my Girl, said the Fear. And I will not let you go.

And so the Girl and the Fear walked on. Sometimes the Girl marched ahead, the leash slack in her hand, and the Fear dawdled behind. Sometimes the Fear charged ahead, the leash straining, and the Girl skipped hesitantly in its wake. But the Girl never let go of the leash. And the Fear never pulled it out of her hand.

This is the fifth attempt in a writing challenge I have set myself.

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