It’s no secret the older I’ve got, the more difficult it is for me to face heights. Whether a balcony, a motorway overpass or a mountain, my calf muscles will twitch, my stomach churn, my heart pulse in my throat. And that sensation of the gaping chasm sucking me up and over the edge. Down, down…
As a kid, I loved climbing trees; a typical trait of any young boy. Though I do wonder when it all changed. Maybe the catalyst for my growing phobia was when I was fifteen years old.
Allow me to tell you a true story:
Jon and I clambered up the tree, from branch to branch, agile as monkeys. We must’ve been at least fifteen feet up when we finally rested to peer out towards where his house was. Squinting through the woodland, I saw his conservatory with its white framework glaring in the afternoon sun.
If his mum knew we were there, tempting gravity beyond rusted barbed wire, she would've killed us. Feet balanced on a hefty limb, I stared up at Jon – he'd clearly climbed this tree many times. I had one arm wrapped around the trunk, the bark jagged and rough, while the other hand gripped what I assumed was a safe branch.
It wasn't. When it made a sharp crack, like an echoing rifle shot, my heart wriggled into my throat.
Gravity snatched my skinny arse.
Jon's pale face shrank into a blur of green and quivering daylight. His eyes grew wider. The stink of wet vegetation filled my lungs as I plunged into whipping branches. Twigs and leaves slapped the back of my head, clawed my flailing arms, and raked my kicking legs. Jon's face shrank away, now tiny. Why hadn't I hit the ground yet?
Still falling, and—
I slammed into the ground.
Dirt and sticks and dead leaves exploded around me. Arms and legs vertical, suspended almost... And the agony, the wind rushing from my lungs, the force much more than a punch to the stomach.
Help me! I silently yelled at my friend.
Why was he not helping? Didn't he care? Perhaps Jon laughed, perhaps he shouted something as he lowered himself from limb to limb. I had no idea. I could not see nor hear anything through the waves of pain, the roaring agony between my ears.
I writhed in a flurry of crispy leaves, my spine and shoulders and skull burning, throbbing. Heat spread into my legs and feet, into my toes, raging through my arms to numb my fingers. Colours and dark spots dotted my vision. I squirmed in the dirt like a dying snake.p I don’t remember Jon's first words, and I sure as hell cannot remember the return walk. Back at Jon's house, we somehow avoided his mum. My T-shirt was shredded from where twigs and sticks had stabbed my back. I'll give Jon some credit, he made a good effort in patching me up, pulling twigs and leaves from my skin. He swabbed the ragged gashes with cotton wool pads.
His mum never knew, but I told mine the morning after. I actually thought it was funny; I'd survived without a single broken bone.
Before breakfast with Mum standing behind me, I sat hunched over the table. Sunlight bled through the window, reaching across the tablecloth. With the occasional wince, I watched Mum's hand drop dirt and bits of leaves and wood onto a tissue. I even noticed the spiral curls of cotton wool Jon had left in my flesh.
Soon it was time for the disinfectant: its odour sharp and stinging my nostrils. I knew what was coming, my muscles tense.
Mum dabbed my wounds and I hissed, long and loud. Like a snake.
Whether this was the catalyst for my vertigo, I’ve no idea.
Many years later when I wrote my debut novel The Shadow Fabric, I did not include my fear. I intended to, but never had a suitable scene that would do it justice. So when it came to expanding the concept by writing short stories, my phobia featured in a story titled “Disturbed” and can be found in Sinister Stitches, a collection of stories in the Shadow Fabric mythos.
This particular tale doesn’t include a monkey, nor a snake, but there is a demon…p> So how about you? Do you have a phobia and can perhaps recall its inception?
HELL CAT OF THE HOLT - a novella in the Shadow Fabric mythos
Available from Amazon
UK : http://amzn.to/2ruB1ux
US : http://amzn.to/2rJvqO5
* Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK where he often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines. His best-selling debut novel THE SHADOW FABRIC is closely followed by the popular short story collection SINISTER STITCHES and are both only a fraction of an expanding mythos of demons, devices, and deceit.
Mark’s 2017 release HELL CAT OF THE HOLT further explores the Shadow Fabric mythos with ghosts and black cat legends.
The dystopian sci-fi short story collection CHAOS HALO 1.0: ALPHA BETA GAMMA KILL is in association with Future Chronicles Photography where he works closely with their models and cosplayers.
For one of Mark’s FREE stories go to: www.markcassell.com
Or visit the website: www.theshadowfabric.co.uk