I’m going to start by answering Heidi’s prompt, though I’m afraid I’m breaking the rules and going in the opposite direction…kinda…
I want Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas brought to the Broadway stage. Every time I listen to “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?” I picture the way it would look on stage, and I want it to happen so terribly. I mean, picture this: as the cast sings “Skeleton Jack might catch you in the back, and…” a scarecrow on a scare-donkey is towed up the center aisle by a ghoul, and the scarecrow rises and starts to dance as they sing, “Our man Jack is king of the pumpkin patch…!” Instead of Jack Skellington leaping into the town well as he does in the movie, there would be a trapdoor in the center of said well on stage, and after “Halloween! Halloween! Halloween! Halloween…!” he would simply drop through the floor. Then, after “In this town we call home/Everyone hail to the pumpkin song…” he would rise up again as Jack Skellington, waving to the crowd of ghouls, demons, witches, and other creeps surrounding him. I want Doug Jones as Jack Skellington, and Nathan Fillion as Oogie Boogie. If they can sing, that is.
And yeah, a part of my inner childhood wants to play Shock, the little witch lackey for Oogie Boogie…
But now, for a story…
Her Gift Saves Her Life
A potential excerpt from that series I keep talking about where the characters are loosely based on us
To set the scene a little: This excerpt is told from the third-person limited point of view of one of the main characters, Karina Cavanaugh. Recently, her professor (Dr. Avery Jericho, who teaches critical thinking via cryptozoology) has told her (along with several of her fellow students) that she is blessed with a gift, one that very few others in this world possess. What that gift is, even he isn’t sure, but he can sense when someone is…different...and he knows that Karina has something special about her. She told him that there’s no way she’s special, with her near-crippling anxiety disorder that subjects her to painful panic attacks and the constant feeling that something is wrong. She can hardly leave her dorm room, for goodness sake! Special? It’s not possible. But Dr. Jericho stood firm and told her that, next time she feels a panic attack coming on, don’t try to fight it. Instead, let it happen, no matter how scary it seems, and see what transpires. Karina rolled her eyes and left the room, thinking, “He has no idea what he’s talking about. If he understood how they hurt — how horrible the panic attacks are — he wouldn’t be saying that.”
“And, with that, it’s almost nine o’clock,” Dr. [NAME] announced. Then he waved to the class. “Have a good weekend and enjoy the weather.”
As the class adjourned, students rose from their desks and chatted happily about their weekend plans. Now that the weather in mid-Ohio had finally broken from the frigid winter temps and unrelenting snow, students were less eager to stay in and do homework and more apt to spend their time outside. The downtown area would be crowded with drinkers and partiers that night.
Karina, however, would be going straight back to her dorm room and turning on her TV. She got up from her desk in the back corner of the room and gathered her things. As usual, she was the last to leave, including the professor. Sighing, she zipped up her spring jacket and stepped out onto the front stoop of the building.
It was a relief, the change in the weather, especially for Karina. She loathed winter down to her very bones. The cold kept everyone inside, where tempers stewed and neighboring rooms grew loud and crowded. It was dangerous to walk around campus for fear of frostbite and slipping on the ice, and roads were treacherous for drivers. Then there was all the stifling clothing she had to wear to stay warm. She was little, Karina, and needed more padding than average-sized women.
But that was not the case that night. The low was mid-fifties, so all she needed was her light-weight spring jacket and a pair of jeans to keep her comfortable on her twenty-minute walk to her dorm room. There was no more snow on the ground, no more biting little teeth in the air, and no more salt on the sidewalks to stain the hems of her jeans and whiten her coveted black Converse.
And yet, there Karina stood, frozen to the concrete steps. She shoved her hands in her pockets and shuffled her feet nervously, her eyes flitting from one darkened corner to the next. No, it wasn’t the weather that would unnerve her tonight. It was the dark. Sunsets were still early in spring, so by the time Karina’s evening class adjourned, campus was completely dark save for the streetlights and bright-blue emergency stations. During the day, the usual little animals scuttled around — squirrels finally awake from hibernation, birds that had returned from their southern haunts, and a kitty-cat or two from the nearby houses — but at night, everything turned still and eerie.
A rustling from above made Karina gasp. She looked up, and nearly laughed at herself when she spotted a little black squirrel leaping among the branches of a nearby elm tree.
Karina watched the squirrel for a few moments as it leapt this way and that, seemingly without direction or purpose. It scampered down the tree trunk head-first, only to whirl around and dart back up again. The little creature calmed her wakened nerves, and gave her the little push she needed to step off the stoop and start towards the safety of her dorm room and her friends. Maybe they would watch another movie tonight. They still had to finish their Lord of the Rings marathon.
She made it out of the Administrative Circle of buildings and continued along the Eppler Complex, where a chattering noise caught her ear. Karina looked up and saw that the squirrel from earlier was behind her, running among the branches and shouting in its broken little language. She had heard squirrel vocalize before, but this one seemed to be genuinely bothered by something. What’s more, it almost looked like it was following her. She shook of that thought and quickened her steps. Squirrels don’t follow people, Cavanaugh…right?
As she passed Eppler Complex and strode between the Business and Education buildings, Karina tried to hold onto the thought of where she was going — the thought of being surrounded by friends and safety. It’s okay, she told herself, you’ll be back with them soon. Besides, it’s just the dark. But that squirrel kept its pace behind her, and a bird suddenly shrilled from atop the Business building. Karina paused and turned to look, and that’s when it happened. That’s when the air shifted.
The little robin seemed to fly overhead in slow motion as Karina’s adrenaline started to creep across the back of her neck. She swore out loud. This was the first sign of an oncoming panic attack. Her hands in her pockets wrenched and writhed as she tried to fight back, tried to push the adrenaline back to wherever it came from. But something was different; something about her surroundings had changed. The gentle spring breezes had stopped altogether, leaving the air still and silent. The little black squirrel was still there, its chatters echoing loudly off the buildings. Karina looked up at it, and it seemed to be looking right at her, screaming in warning. But again, that was ridiculous. Squirrels don’t warn. So then why was she feeling so anxious?
Karina had to force herself to move her feet, but with each step, she felt as if she was actually slowing down. Though there was no wind, she felt as if she was fighting through a cloud of thick air, her legs numb and heavy. Then the adrenaline in her neck turned white-hot and began to trickle its way down her neck and across her shoulders. If she let it, the panic would begin to surge through her veins, and the pain would start. If she let that happen, she would be immobilized and vulnerable.
“No…no, not now…” she begged.
But her legs were getting shaky, and her hands were clenched so tightly that her nails were nearly breaking through her palms. The adrenaline made it down her arms, and she began to whine as it intensified. She knew she only had a matter of time before the pain started — body-wide, systemic pain that would stop her dead and crumple her into the fetal position right there on the sidewalk. If that happened, she would be completely helpless until it passed.
Karina had no choice. If she was going to fight this, she had to stop so she could concentrate. She leaned against one of the columns just outside East Hall, where the English professors had their offices, and let her head fall back onto her shoulders. She tried to level out her breathing and quickening heart, tried to slow her blood that pumped the adrenaline into her muscles. It hurt — it always hurt — but she had to breathe past it and try to calm down.
The squirrel’s chattering had turned to out-and-out shrieking. It had followed her all the way from the Administrative Circle and was now perched above her head in a nearby tree. It leapt from branch to branch in a panic, all the while keeping its beady little eyes on Karina. It was strange behavior, for sure, but Karina didn’t have time to think about it. As she tried to fight against the panic attack, she tried to push the chattering into the back of her mind and treat it like background noise. Nothing else matters, she thought. Just keep breathing.
All the wanted was to be back with her friends where she felt safe. Why did this have to happen on a Friday night, with the entire weekend ahead of her? Stupid anxiety…it was ruining her life. How was she supposed to function in the real world, with a real job, when she couldn’t even walk home without having a panic attack? And stupid Dr. Jericho, telling her she was “special.” Bullshit…he was probably some kind of perv…
Then, all at once, a vision interrupted her concentration. Karina could see Dr. Jericho in the black behind her eyelids, as if he was standing right in front of her. He was dressed the same way as he was last week, and he was telling her again, “Next time, just let it happen. See what unfolds…”
Karina opened her eyes. The squirrel was still going insane above her head. She pushed off the brick column and stood up straight, wondering…
She took her hands out of her pockets and let them hang at her sides. She looked up at the crazy squirrel and closed her eyes, letting the dark envelop her. She took a deep breath in, filling her lungs, and as she let it out, she let the adrenaline in.
It was the best decision of her life.
In the back of Karina’s mind, something gave way. Karina started as she felt a strange pinprick on her mind, as if something was taking a dull toothpick to her brain. Everything seemed to slow down as she let the prodding thing through.
No one had spoken, certainly not Karina. Her eyes flew open again, and she was looking the little black squirrel dead in its eyes. Confused, she was just about to step closer to the tree when she suddenly felt a strong arm hook around her neck from behind.
“Keep your mouth shut, bitch,” said a deep voice in her ear.
“No, no! Go away! Bad, bad man!” the little prodding voice in her head sounded again.
The world continued in slow motion as Karina wrenched free of the stranger’s grasp and turned to face him. He was tall — about six feet — with a muscular build. He was clothed entirely in black, with sunglasses over his eyes and a hood pulled up over his head. She couldn’t tell how old he was, but her racing mind concluded that he was probably a student, prowling around campus for a victim. In her heightened state of awareness, she could see the bright-white Under Armor logo on his hoodie and the black lines of a tattoo peeking out from his neck.
Karina didn’t scream. She couldn’t wrap her head around the situation fast enough. Instead the two charged at each other. The man brought up his fists and aimed one at her face, but Karina ducked and they traded placed. He charged at her again, and Karina planted the heel of her hand into his nose. She felt the soft bones break under the blow, and heard them crack as the man staggered backward, holding onto his face. All the while, the little squirrel shrieked in its tree, yelling little rodent obscenities at the man.
“UUGGHH! You little bitch!” the assailant grumbled through his hands. She had hurt him, but Karina knew it wasn’t over.
Sure enough, he recovered enough to come at her with fists clenched in rage. Karina dodged under his punch and laid into him—stomach, solar plexus, chin, eyes, groin. She watched the scene from the back of her mind, as if someone else was fighting for her. How on earth am I doing this?
Finally, with one last blow to his left eye, Karina’s attacker staggered backwards again. He fell back into one of the columns and held his head in his hands. He grumbled and whined in pain, keeping a hand on the brick wall for balance. Karina kept her guard up, preparing for another onslaught, but he was too broken and battered to continue. With a glance at his would-be victim, the man righted himself and began to stagger away from her. She let him — something she cursed herself for later — and watched as he turned behind East Hall and vanished.
Karina was left standing alone, breathing hard but steady in the wake of the attack. Her head swam with questions. How had she fought him off? She had no martial arts training whatsoever. What was that voice in her head? And why had she been able to thwart a panic attack by letting it happen?
The squirrel, who had stopped its incessant shrieking, chattered once behind Karina. She turned to look at it again, and met its eyes once more. As she stared at it, two pieces of the puzzle seemed to come together, but in a way that Karina couldn’t believe was true. No, she thought. It’s not impossible…
Yet she found herself looking up at the little black rodent, saying, “I-I…thank you…”