Ajinkya Satish Dharane
Aryan was sweating from every inch of his body. He was only five minutes in his hike but was already partially regretting his decision. To be fair, he had received information that the distance would be only one and a half miles to his campsite. But the restrictions due to COVID-19 meant he had to park a mile away from the start of his trail. That unintentionally added more than a mile to his hike. He was carrying over ten pounds over his shoulders and walking relentlessly through empty campsites. There was no site of other humans in these dense woods. After walking for about half an hour, he reached the start of the trail. It was picturesque. The tall, thick oak trees bordered the vast mass of backwater from the George Lake. It was a sunny day. The rays of the sun touched the water gently, forming a delightful sight.
Aryan decided to make a quick stop and rest before embarking on the next leg of the hike. It was going to be more challenging than the mile of flat terrain he had just covered. As he opened his water filtration system, he heard a voice, which made him jump.
“Hi there, how are you holding up so far?” said someone in a thick, dense voice.
Aryan looked around, only to find no one. His first thought was he was going crazy from being tired. He had got up around six in the morning, drove for four hours, and right away started hiking. He was heading into the unknown. Aryan had taken on a big task on hiking alone after his wife and friends had denied accompanying him. Thinking he imagined the voice, he continued filling up the water bag.
“Your ignorance is giving me strength, Aryan. So do continue ignoring me,” said the voice, laughing maniacally. Aryan was frustrated at this voice. He was not a coward, or he thought so. Aryan scanned the area and saw no human presence. He decided to confront this voice.
“Who are you? And what do you want?” screamed Aryan. The scream returned with an echo, which gave Aryan some courage. The echoed voice sounded more energetic, more confident than it was.
“Oh, Aryan, you disappoint me. I thought you were an intelligent man. I was confident that with your above average IQ, you would recognize me. I am your FEAR,” said the voice sarcastically.
“But I am not afraid of anything,” said Aryan spontaneously. An expression of denial was very much evident on his face. Pausing for a moment, he said, “uh, well right now, I am not.”
Fear laughed hard. “Well, the pause you took proves my existence. I am always present inside you. My brothers and sisters live in every living thing possible.” Looking at Aryan’s stumped face, Fear said, “Anyway, I am not going to trouble you. I just wanted to say hello. Also, I want to let you know that you can quit the hike and turn back. There is a nice motel, about fifteen minutes into town. You can stay there. No one will know that you quit the hike and stayed in a motel.”
“I am not a quitter. I will not stay in a hotel like a loser. I knew the challenges before coming here. I am ready for them,” said Aryan in a leading but trembling voice.
“Well, if you say so. Good luck. I am sure we will meet soon,” said Fear, smirking at Aryan.
Aryan picked up his backpack, his camping tent, and sleeping bag. He hated himself for bringing an eight-person tent for a solo trip. Aryan was going to rent a single person tent from a local store, but the store could not promise him a clean tent. Aryan, not wanting to take the risk of any diseases, resorted to carrying a six-pound tent in his hand.
As he reached the starting point of the trail, he saw a sign with the information. The trail was rated moderate, was about five miles, had some steep sections. “You can easily do this. Remember when you used to climb Sinhagad Fort, back in India,” Aryan told himself and started towards the first climb.
After climbing two steep rocks and jumping back down into the wooded area, Aryan took his second break. He put down his backpack, tent, and opened his water bag. He took a few steps towards the cliff he was standing on. Aryan was mesmerized by the scenery. Aryan had never seen water so blue. The mountain range bordering the lake still had a hint of snow. Aryan just sat there, lost in the beauty of nature.
“Hi again, tired yet?” Fear said. Aryan was not startled this time. “What do you want? Can’t you see I am enjoying the view?” Aryan snapped at Fear.
“You called me. I never come uninvited,” said Fear casually.
“What nonsense. Why would I call you deliberately?” said Aryan, completely confused.
“Aryan, let me tell you how it works. I am a part of you. I only pop up when you feel me. You are sitting about a mile and a half from your car, where you last saw a human. Remember that security guard. There is no one around. You are worried that some wild animals might come. You have thought of black bears. I do not blame you. You are in bear county. You have thought of snakes. Funny enough, you are even worried about wild geese. I mean, come on. I had to come,” Fear said sincerely.
“Okay. I kind of understand. Now off you go. I want to reach the campsite and erect the mammoth of this tent before sunset,” Aryan said, dismissing Fear’s explanation.
Aryan continued through thick woods, some more steep sections, and finally reached the campsite he had booked. He opened up the map to confirm his location. Aryan realized that the nearest campsite was about a mile and a half away in the opposite direction. His heart sank. Fear popped up again. But before Fear could say anything, Aryan shouted, “Go away, I do not need you.”
As Aryan studied the campsite, he found an adjacent water body. The lake surrounded the site on three sides and thick woods on the fourth. Aryan immediately forgot the hardship he went through to reach here. He felt bliss as the cold wind blew past his face, taking away all the fatigue. Aryan boasted loudly, “In your face, Fear. I did it. You were wrong to suggest quitting.” As he turned back towards the site, where he was going to set up the tent, Fear popped up. “Congratulations. But you accomplished only half of it. Do not forget that you have to spend a night here alone,” Fear said with a big smile.
“Alright, let us make a deal. You do not come until I call you out. Even I feel you do not pop up. Agreed?” Aryan said, partly dictating, partly pleading.
“Agreed.” Fear said and vanished.
Celebrating a win over Fear, Aryan started setting up the tent and preparing for cooking his instant noodles. Spending about an hour by the lake, Aryan thought of lying down inside the tent. Aryan pulled up his book and laid down on a rocky surface. He knew the sleeping bag he had carried was cheap and was not going to provide any kind of comfort. As Aryan started reading, he heard a sound of leaves rustling and winded howling. Aryan ignored the noise and went back to his book. The sound continued for the next two minutes, and Aryan was now feeling restless. He started browsing the internet on his phone. His first search was “wild animals in Killarney Provincial Park,” and second was “animal attacks in Killarney Provincial Park.” After reading many positive articles, he found a couple of news articles reporting black bear attacks in a nearby park. Feeling lonely and scared, he decided to call Fear.
Fear popped up within a fraction of seconds, smiling from ear to ear. “Hello there. I was starting to miss you. Did you miss me?”
Aryan was irritated by Fear’s mocking. He snapped at Fear, “Shut it, please. Let’s talk some sense. I keep hearing these sounds. I know for sure; the sound is just a wind and leaves. Then why am I scared of these sounds? I mean, why do you exist?”
Fear paused for a moment, thinking of a fitting reply. It had been a long time since someone had asked an intriguing question—most people just succumber to Fear.
“Aryan, you are not worried about the leaves and the wind. You are worried about the things you do not know will happen when you are out here alone. You are scared of the unknown,” said Fear calmly. Fear was waiting for Aryan to react. He was just sitting still looking lost.
Fear continued, “Do you know what my food is? It is the lack of knowledge of my host. In most of the cases, our hosts do not know the consequences of their actions, and that is the source of our energy.”
Aryan quickly replied, “This is nonsense. I am a well-educated person. I have two engineering degrees and a business administration degree in my pocket. I have an above-average IQ.”
Fear smiled subtly. “Education is different than literacy. Let me try an experiment. Why don’t you step outside for a minute? Do you trust your instincts? You know it is just tree leaves and wind. Let us go outside.”
Aryan hesitated but stepped outside. Fear was watching Aryan and nudged him to go towards the lake. It was Aryan’s favourite spot so far, and Fear wanted him to be comfortable.
“So, I can feel my energy going down, you must be feeling less worried now,” said Fear with a weak smile.
“Yes. It is like magic. I should have felt safer inside my tent, but I feel safer outside. Why is that?” Aryan said, dumbfounded by his emotions.
Fear smiled, trying to conserve all the energy it could, “Let me tell you about my worst enemy. It is your sight. You knew the sounds were coming from the bushes, the wind. But because you had not sight of the source of these sounds, you called upon me. That is what I call the unknown. But when you stepped outside, your sight just confirmed the presence of the wind and the leaves, so you started parting ways with me. It is like being scared about the water, until your first swim.”
Aryan was impressed with Fear for the first time. He wanted to know more about its function. He stepped inside the tent again, giving more power to the Fear.
“Thank you. You are one of a kind. Usually, my hosts avoid me at any cost, which ironically makes me stronger. You are taking the right step. You are embracing me,” Fear said.
“So, if we, humans, know the trueness of something, if I know the advantages and disadvantages of something, and I take my actions, accordingly, would you completely disappear from the world?” asked Aryan.
Fear could see the arrogance rising in Aryan. Fear warning Aryan said, “Now be careful, Aryan. You have more than a few flaws to make the right decisions every time. And those who think they are making the right decisions, every time, always tend to misuse us and exploit someone or the other.”
Aryan was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Why do you think people in the west hate humans with darker skins? It is because of me, Fear, instilled by a small group of humans about people with dark skins. For centuries they have told everyone that a person with darker skin is dangerous. They instilled me, my brothers and sisters in the minds of masses. The same thing happens in the east, but we are used against some people with different religious beliefs,” said Fear, disgusted with itself.
Aryan was curiously pondering over Fear’s words. He innocently asked, “So what is the solution?”
“You indicated that you want to conquer me. Please do so. My siblings and I hate the way we currently exist. But when you conquer us, use that win to educate everyone else about the process of conquering us. Do not use this win to your sole advantage. We do have ways to pop up in you, even after you conquer us.”
“So, you mean, these powerful people, who use you against the masses, also feel you?”
Fear smiled, “They feel us the most. Like I said, you humans are scared of unknown things. So, when they use us against races or religions, they lie. And we pop up in their lives as a possibility to expose that lie.”
Aryan smiled at Fear. “That was helpful. I think we should part ways now. I will try my best not to call you again soon. And I am sure you will pop up in my life, I take the wrong steps.”
"You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right" - Rosa Parks
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