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A Brief Memo From Your Amygdala, Re: the Horror Movie We Have Just Seen

Rachael Acks is a writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. In addition to a steampunk mystery novella series, she's had short stories in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and more. She's also written six episodes for Six to Start's Superhero Workout game. Rachael lives in Houston (where she bikes, drinks tea, and twirls her ever so dapper mustache) with her two furry little bastards. For more information, see her website (rachaelacks.com) or watch her tweet (@katsudonburi) way too often.

Look at the parking lot behind the movie theater. Just look at it. So deserted. Yours is quite literally the only car, and you've managed to park it under the only lamp that's dead. There are just those three employees left in the theater, and they've locked the doors behind you, and I think either they're torturing the popcorn machine to death or maybe that's supposed to be some sort of "techno" music. They won't hear you scream, and I doubt they'd care even if they could.
Who sees a midnight horror movie? In a deserted theater? On New Year's Eve? Honestly!
The car might look okay, but you'd better check the back seat. Like your mother warned you to do back in eighth grade because a friend of a friend of a friend knew a woman who was murdered by a psychopathic rapist clutching a butcher knife who crouched in her backseat. What was her name again? Don't laugh! That self-deprecating laugh, I've come to hate it.
C+ for effort for that glance in, by the way. What if it was a very short psychopathic rapist? What if he was wearing dark clothes and a balaclava and had his eyes hidden behind his hands? You didn't even turn on the flashlight function on your cell phone.
The roads are probably icy. What if your ex cut your brake lines? Yes, I know she's in Africa doing charity work, but didn't she seem a little unstable to you when you asked for your sweaters back? Honestly, who needs sweaters in Rwanda at this time of year? Don't you find that just a little suspicious?
Wait--why are you parking so far down the street? There's got to be a closer parking space to your door. Look how dark it is out there! And why won't that asshole manager just fix the exterior lighting on the building already, is he trying to get his tenants murdered?
Yes, very good, pick up the pace a little--watch out for the ice! But can't you hear the branches of the trees, bare as skeletons, rustling? What about the whisper of the breeze, cold against the back of your neck? This is just like that movie.
What was that?
The woman in that movie laughed too, and said it was just the cat, and fine, I see the marmalade tabby that keeps pissing on the side of the mailboxes, but you didn't witness the cat making the noise! Can't you hear those footsteps echoing yours?
Why are you laughing as you fumble at your keys? Why are you shaking your head? Dammit, woman, I'm just trying to do my job and keep us alive!
Good for you, you got into the apartment alive. Bravo. That doesn't mean I was wrong, you know. If you pull back the curtains and peep outside, you very well might see something dark and unspeakable with tentacles instead of eyes.
Okay, well look again. He's very clever.
At least we're going to bed now, so I can have an eight-hour break from you attempting to kill us both. Wait, don't turn out the light yet! Don't you see the closet door is ajar? Don't--
What is this smug satisfaction, as you turn down your covers and rest your hands on top of them, out there in the air where any passing horror could touch them? You and your fucking horror movies, teaching you to not be afraid because you can tell yourself that there aren't really computer-generated werewolves or serial killers with an affinity for the backseat of a car. Do you think every fear just generates spontaneously from thin air, that it's all imaginary and comes in safe doses that taste of popcorn? Nothing grows without a seed, a fragment of sand for successive layers of whispered rumors to coat like an oily black pearl. Don't you remember what I told you, every night at bedtime when you prayed the lord your soul to keep, as you pulled the sheets up over your head because it was the only shield you had?
And yet there you are, closing your eyes and breathing deep, so deep, the smile of the self-righteous on your lips because you don't see what I do. You don't see the long shadows unfold from the closet and scrabble silently along the wall in wicked, curving lines. You don't see the dents in your down comforter from invisible thin limbs and tendrils sliding ever closer. But maybe you feel it now, the sigh of hot breath, the leathery tongue that comes to a stiletto point sliding into your ear.
I told you so. Dammit, I tol--
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Author Comments

This story was prompted by a friend of mine who's suffered from anxiety in the past describing it as their "amygdala trying to kill me." I'm infamous for sprinting from the car to the door when it's dark out, and I still can't sleep without having my covers pulled up securely to at least my chin. And don't even get me started on the things horror movies do to me. I couldn't help but imagine the amygdala as an independent entity of sorts, maybe malevolent, or maybe just... paranoid. Maybe rightfully so.

- Alex Acks
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