Step 6: Find a friend to support you as you go through the difficult process of overcoming your phobia.

Having gone through WikiHow’s first five steps it is time to move on to working through my de-conditioning regiment list. I have been dreading this moment, but my outgoing, blond friend Joy is happy to have an excuse to escape her husband and kids for a while.

The sun is falling beneath the snow crusted flat plain when we arrive to the solitary restaurant off the highway. Two rusted trucks are parked near the small eatery and hotel. Red, green, and white flickering Christmas lights clumsily line the shingled roof. The sight of a pair of deer horns visible through the horizontal blinds makes me shudder.

I can do this.

I take a deep breath.

I can’t do this.

“Let’s go, Maggie.” Joy commands as she penguin walks across the icy sidewalk.

I need to do this if I plan to continue living in a hunting state.

The clear door beckons me inside the house of horrors. All I need to do is open it to start confronting my fears. My heart beats in my ears, but gradually, my slender fingers reach for the metal handle, and I step into the overheated gift shop and museum.

The walls of the lobby are covered with dusty corpses that are meant to be entertaining and informative. The fake eyes of the deceased animals stare into an unseen world.

I am a little girl again surrounded by dead trophies. I can see every detail of my Daddy’s face as he yells inches away from my button nose. His pores are deep endless pits. His thick mustache is like black grains of wheat being tossed by the wind of his breath. The fallen orange juice covers a half stuffed pheasant.

“The next time you ruin one of my prized possessions I will rip out your insides and put you on the wall instead.” Dad threatens.

Joy puts her hand on my shoulder bringing back to reality. “It’s ok.” She says.

A chubby red haired hostess in a dirty blouse arrives.

“Just two?” she asks as she scratches her pierced nostril.

“Yep.” replies Joy.

We follow the short teenager as she leads us to a booth in the corner next to an old TV with its own antler antennas playing a colorless detective show.

My body trembles as I sit down on the cushioned booth. The smooth table is a glass grave filled with miniature stuffed creatures with their frozen faces pleading for a proper burial.

I place my sweaty palms on my lap as a curvy waitress saunters to our corner booth. A table of three men salivate as she slithers past.

“Can I get you something to drink?” her high pitched, perky voice asks as she holds a pencil between her full lips. Her name tag calls her Samantha.

“Alcohol please.” I demand.

“Sorry,” she pouts, “we don’t serve liquor here.”

“Fine, then water.”

“Is something wrong?” Miss cheery Samantha asks me.

“I’m o-.”

“We’re here to help her get rid of her fear.” Joy interrupts. “She terrified of taxidermy.” I place my head on my palm.

“Don’t feel bad. There is something wrong with everyone.” Samantha says as she doodles on her notepad.

“My best friend had a cousin who was terrified of ticks. She made someone put it on her hand to let it suck her blood, and then she wasn’t afraid anymore.” The waitress smiles showing tiny white teeth. “You need to touch one of the animals.” She suggests.

The idea of feeling one of the creatures decaying fur makes my skin crawl.

“Ha, no thanks. That’s last on my list.”

“Anyway,” says Joy while flicking open her menu, “I’ll have a diet coke and the cowboy salad.”

“And I will have a large rare steak.” I order and the server bounces to the kitchen.

Joy makes small talk as we wait for our dinner, but all I can think about is how the poor animals nailed to the walls were murdered. I imagine that the buck to my left was searching for a mate when a bullet pierced his thigh, bleeding him to death. In my mind the black bear in the glass display was eating berries with her cubs when a hunter shot her in the heart, orphaning her babies.

“Are you even paying attention?” Joy asks as she sips her bubbly brown liquid.

I chew on my straw and nod. She looks at me with doubt but continues blabbing.

I try to follow along, but I can’t. I am distracted by the smell of the dusty fur mixed with cooking food. My stomach turns.

“Maggie.” Someone whispers.

“I’m listening.” I tell her. Joy raises one plucked eyebrow in confusion.

“Okay.” she sings and returns to her story.

“Maggie.” The soft voice calls again, but Joys lips never mouth my name. I peek at a mounted ferret on the wall next to our booth. “Help us.” The rodent begs.

My eyes go wide. OMG. I am going crazy!

One by one each stuffed animal pleads for my help. I grip my straight brown hair and set my elbows on the table. The little creatures inside the glass blink.

“Bury us.” Their squeaky voices call to me.

“Are you OK Maggie?” A concerned Joy asks. The animals go silent.

“Yea.” I rub my arms to wipe away the goosebumps, and glance to my left. The spot where the buck was hanging is empty. Fear dives into my heart and splashes into my belly. Where did he go?

“Boo!” A voice squeaks. I search for the sounds source and see my reflection in the deer’s glass eyes. His blank face, and half open mouth are within reaching distance.

I scream, and try to scurry away to my right, but am blocked by the brown wall. The waitress, hostess and table of guys all laugh at me.

“You shouldn’t exploit a person’s fear.” Joy scolds server Samantha.

Her cheerful face drops, and her shoulders slouch. The room quiets as guests and staff return to their normal routine.

“I thought that touching one of the animals would help you get over your fear.” Samantha’s once high pitched, super girly voice has fallen to its natural, surprisingly low tone.

I wrap my arms around my legs and sit far as far away from the stuffed deer as I can.

“No.” I say through clenched teeth. “Get it away.”

The de-perked waitress holds the head in my direction. I backup some more.

“Please.” she says.

Joy shrugs. “Maybe you should. It might help.”

It’s on my list, but last. Could I do it so soon? The idea sickens me, but not as much as the thought of fear controlling my life. The future is fated to become the past, so I might as well put this experience behind me.

I sigh. “Ok.”

The waitress perks up again like a shot of espresso given to a toddler. Joy reassures me with a smile.

The buck grins. “You will take my place on the wall soon.” He chants. I gulp, and squeeze my eyes shut. A tear trickles down my face. Blind, I reach out and to touch my worst nightmare. My fingers connect with hard bony antlers and then prickly fur. I peel open my eyes to find the creature still and quiet once more, tamed by touch. I take a deep breath and remove my hand.

“See that wasn’t so bad.” Samantha says and leaves.

I did it. I actually felt the thing and nothing bad happened. Fear still corrupts my soul, but it has lessened.

Samantha returns carrying our dinner. Battling fear has increased my appetite, and my stomach growls at the idea of food.

“Enjoy your meal.” She says as she places a large bleeding steak in front of me.