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We all have fears. Mine usually involve small spaces and high places.
So I scrupulously avoid those two things.
But one night it all went wrong.
Back in college, my boyfriend Tom* and his best friend Vince* cajoled me into attending a DC house party. I didn’t know the guy throwing the party, but DC is pretty well known for it’s low-lying buildings.
Probability was on my side.
We show up at a nice three-story townhouse. Except the party isn’t downstairs and it isn’t upstairs. It’s on the roof.
But it gets better. To get to the roof, you have to go out a window (small space) onto a metal fire escape and then climb a metal ladder to the roof (high place).
Tom tries to persuade me. My fear builds. The trembling begins.
Somehow they get me over to the window to look at the next steps. The fire escape has wide gaps between the slats. I can see down to the pavement below. My heart double-dutches in my chest.
Even if I manage to stand on that fire escape, the ladder to the roof is welded to the side of the building.
I’ll pass out. And no one will catch me and I’ll drop to my death. I’m certain of it.
I back away from the window. Lies pour from my mouth. “You go ahead. I’ll be up in a little bit.” No way in hell I’m ever going up there.
They stay with me a while trying to get me to go up. “Just give me some time,” I say. Like eternity and back.
The second they go up, I contemplate leaving. Because every time I think about following them, the fear grows. My heart jackhammers against my chest. Sweat pours from my eyebrows.
I go downstairs to catch my breath. It’s just a window. Just a fire escape. Just a ladder. Just a roof.
In my mind, it’s the equivalent of taking on Darth Vader, Freddy Kreuger, Pinhead, and Michael Myers.
I don’t have a cell phone on me. No way to call a cab. No idea where we are. I don’t know the area. Visions of Lifetime Movies dance before my eyes. Something far worse will happen if I step outside into the night. Something I’ll have to face all alone.
I turn around trudge back upstairs.
The window and I are in a stand-off when Tom and Vince come back down.
“It’s no fun up there without you,” Vince says.
“We won’t let you fall,” Tom promises.
I swallow. “I can’t look down.”
“I will go out first and pull you out after me. You won’t have to look at anything.” Tom smiles. His smile makes everything seem possible.
“What about the ladder?” I ask.
Vince says, “I’ll go first.”
Tom swears, “We’ll sandwich around you. You won’t fall.”
They are so certain. I want to believe them. So I let Tom pull me out the window and get me up on that rooftop.
Sometimes the only way to fight fear is with a bigger, badder fear.
*Names changed because I can.
Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination.
She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide.
Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.
One Sentence Summary of Novel:
When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.
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