Welcome to the second-last episode of Frightful Fiction Friday.
Last week was a common one, fear of spiders:
This week’s is another of mankind’s biggest fears of all time: the fear of heights.
Heights. With heights comes trust. We have to trust that we won’t fall, we won’t lose our step and trip, we won’t fall victim to a push. the idea of our fate being out of our control is unacceptable. The idea of making a mistake or a misstep that ends in more than a scraped knee is overwhelming. One of our greatest comforts in life is knowing there’s a way to get back up after a fall.
He grew up in England’s capital. His parents had taken him up for rides in the big ferris wheel, The London Eye, as a child and from that first ride up and overlooking all of London he had been afraid. He was afraid of falling, of somehow being dropped from an insane height and splattering on the ground far below.
This never happened of course, but once he was old enough to make his own decisions he decided not to put himself through the torture. He hated the feeling of his heart racing and his palms growing slick with sweat. Why in the world would he do that to himself?
So then what was he doing up here? He was visiting the city of Toronto for the first time and when some friends heard he was going they dared him to try the CN Tower’s Edge Walk Experience they had seen on the BBC. They were very much familiar with his fear of heights and they predicted he would never have the guts to try something so crazy. After all, they themselves weren’t sure they could do it when it came down to it.
“Now then,” said the tour guide. “I want you to know you are all safe up here, in my hands.”
He looked around at the guide who was speaking and the others in the group, all looking some modicum of nervous, but they seemed to be working through it. He, on the other hand, had grown steadily more terrified as they had gone up in the gliding elevator and stepped out into the little room before making their way outside and out on the edge.
“You can take a few steps toward the edge,” said the guide. “You are perfectly safe.”
HE stared out and into a white, empty, blankness. The day was foggy and there was no grand view of the city below. This made the experience both better and worse. There was no expanse of buildings and streets that he knew were out there, stories and stories down, but the unknown of the foggy air was disconcerting. He hugged the wall of the tower and vowed not to yield to the pressure from guide or from the brave actions of the other group members.
Brave or stupid?
“I think I will just stay right here,” he said, trembling.
“Well if you change your mind,” the guide said reassuringly. “To the rest of you…feel free to take a few more steps toward the edge. That’s right. Now turn around and take a few steps and you’re at the edge. Now, I have been doing this for a year. I have taken many groups up here and haven’t lost anyone yet.”
The group all looked at one another and laughed nervously in response to this.
“Have you ever stood at the edge of a subway platform with someone and wondered, what if I pushed them?”
The tour guide did not just say that. He couldn’t believe she had just spoken those words. Was this a part of the experience, to push people’s thoughts to the brink? This was definitely not making him want to come away from the relative safety of the building.
“No,” a few of them said in reply.
“Well, I think it’s really only human to think such thoughts,” the guide added. As she said this the others had all done what she had recommended. They were each in separate stages of approaching the drop off the side of the tower with their feet, spread apart and their backs to the fall.
He saw it in his mind even before it happened and he saw it play out in slow motion, in a strange sequence of events.
The guide reached up above the heads of the harnessed tourists and pressed a button, releasing the seatbelt-like apparatus holding everyone safely together.
He saw the looks on the faces of each of them as their straps holding them secure loosened and they fell backward, over the edge.
For what seemed like only seconds they dangled precariously in the open air, their faces frozen in horror, until they disappeared from his sight and into the white nothingness.
In the final week I will end this series and the month on Halloween. Young and Twenty’s list of common fears,
5 Fears and What They Say About Us,
has been a wonderful exercise for me in writing spooky stories.
I shall end on a dark note next Friday with a story of fear in facing the darkness.
Acrophobia seems to be the most common of the phobias. I think it is probably less so in the visually impaired community, but I can only speak for myself.
For further reading in exploration of this, check out this post on my ultimate test of this hypothesis:
Walking On The Edge.
How about you? Are you one of the many who are terrified of heights or have you had any interesting experiences of conquering this fear?