E.C. Fuller’s story “The Heebie-Jeebie Beam” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 29 July 2022.
When I wrote “The Heebie-Jeebie Beam”, I had no expectations for the story. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to stop spending so much time on a single short story. It wasn’t uncommon to spend tens of hours writing and rewriting one, so my main goal was to take a short story from concept to accepted publication in under 15 hours. I had been obsessed with the phrase, “the heebie-jeebies” and had been playing around with ideas that dealt with inventions. On top of this, I felt like I had been writing too many serious, heavy stories. I wanted to write something fun and not think too hard about the story.
However, when I got past the midpoint, I couldn’t help but think more seriously about the Beam itself. What kind of person makes a raygun that frightens people? Why do we feel fear, and how far would we go to stop ourselves from feeling afraid? At the time of writing, I was also interested in the theory of aspiration, or the philosophy of trying to become a certain person (especially the book by Agnes Callard). That made its way into the story as well.
As I revised, the story became more personal. A member of my family had suffered flare ups of mental illness throughout my life, starting when I was in middle school and continuing through post-college. The worst period was a year-long episode where they did many of the things the mother in the story did — the staring, the checking of the appliances and photograph frames, and persistent, strange questioning were regular occurrences. I felt that much of the responsibility for getting them help fell on my shoulders. I tried to reason with them, keep their spirits up, drove them to the local psychiatric hospital — sometimes at midnight — resenting other family for checking out, loathing myself for wishing I could do so myself, wishing someone would come and “fix” things, and spending hours researching their illness or trying to be a gentler, kinder, more understanding person (which I failed to be over and over again). But you can’t self-improve yourself into fixing someone else, and sometimes the only way out of a bad situation is to let it pass. Only time and a change of medication eased their condition.
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