Kim Gets the Fear

Here is a section from a light novel I wrote in college and never intended to publish. The novel is a ghost story about a man called Joachim (“Kim”), invited to the countryside where he grew up for a reunion by his childhood friends.

Inside the grocery they filled a cart with plant-based foods. Kim washed a leaf under the mister and ate it as he ambled. He was considering a final stop. The happiness of the day recommended it to him, but the deep chime in his heart had suggested it: he wanted to see his old house. He measured: could he bring Benjamin there, in good charity? He could return later on his own. He wanted Benjamin to see it. He wanted to go now. Kim paused to admire the shelves of shrink-wrapped Richard’s Cajun Foods, the red banner of his childhood. In that same instant, the lettuce turned flat in his mouth and his body stiffened.

Kim had a fear which came on him periodically. He had gone to a doctor for it when he was twenty-two, after years of having wondered whether he was afflicted with some kind of mild epilepsy; the doctor walked him to all sorts of specialists, and when Kim was 25 he repeated the process with even more elaborate investigation, but no one had ever found a somatic explanation for Kim’s fear. Somebody called it a panic attack.

It was unlike a panic attack. Kim would stand in line at the burrito place, or lift the nozzle at the gas station, and a tip of cold would touch his heart. The fear was coming on, inevitably. He would lean against his car or fold his arms. The cold would widen over his heart and then withdraw, and then Kim would be beset by a vibration inside his body. It was the kind of vibration one walks away with after an hour in the cab of a semi. As it grew it would emit the opposite of a noise, busier than static and rising in volume and width. And inside this aura there was a soft and lively dread. It wasn’t a panic of the shape and confusion of the anti-noise—it was a definite dread, enclosed with Kim, jumping like a paramecium. Kim was himself a paramecium. Kim understood himself to be a half-dome drop of slime or mercury on a field of other drops. Kim’s body was a temporary tree his spore stood up in. In the future, Kim was a mold in a slick sheath, a single cell in silence beside a billion silent others.

Then the anti-noise would cut off and the fear would be over like a light turned off. The sensations of Kim’s ordinary world would rise toward him like birds toward a shaken feeder, and for an instant Kim would be surprised at the nature of sensation, that it faced him and that he faced it, and that he was not a single body on a grid expressing an infinitely unique broadcast which would cross with no other, forever. An instant later, even the memory of the fear seemed insane. The fear lasted between fifteen and thirty seconds—Benjamin had timed it. It came every couple of months.

Benjamin’s cart rattled to Kim’s side from a distance away. “I guess nobody’s going to want liquor,” said Benjamin. “But I thought it’d be polite to get something anyhow.” There were bottles of wine tucked beside the carrots.

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