Open Book Blog Hop – 26th July

Welcome to this week’s blog hop. Today the topic is:

Write a scene or story that includes a character who has a phobia. What do they fear? How does this phobia affect their life?

Here’s my effort:

JUMP! By Stevie Turner

Dave says it would be rude not to have a go, and he promises me five hundred pounds if I’ll do it, but I don’t know whether to take him up on his offer or not.  He says that once I’ve done it and conquered my fear, then I’ll be able to do anything.  It will probably use up the rest of his spending money if I agree, but hey, we’re coming to the end of our holiday, and the souvenir photo would be great to show the girls at work. I know I’ve inherited this insane phobia from Mum, and over the years I’ve come to realise that Philip Larkin was correct when he wrote that poem about how your parents fuck you up.

            I stay silent as Dave brings the hire car to a halt outside a low concrete building with glass doors bearing the inscription ‘The Kawarau Bungee Centre’, and try to slow the pounding of my heart as I stare at the wording. My boyfriend leaps out of the driver’s seat like some demented two-year old, and runs around to pull me out of the car.

            “Come on; you know you want to.”

            I don’t want to; I’m terrified, but something in my head is telling me he’s right.  A fear of heights is stupid at the grand old age of 25; it’s time I did something about it.

            All around the reception area are canvas posters of open-mouthed, harnessed and exhilarated twenty-somethings either in mid-flight, or swinging upside down from the bridge spanning rocky outcrops either side of the Kawarau Gorge, or with their heads skimming the turquoise waters of the river.  I stare at them as if in a dream, and suppress a shudder as I decide there and then to let him go by himself. 

            “All done; I’ve booked us a double jump, so I’ll be with you all the way.  Did you know, it’s the only Queenstown bungee that can be done as a tandem?”

            His excited words bring me back to earth with a terrifying start; he’s actually gone ahead and done it!  Now I’ve got to join the legions of twenty-somethings, only this time I know that my mouth will be flapping open in abject terror instead of delighting in the much-anticipated orgasmic rush of adrenaline.

                                    ***

            Dave motions me into an ante-room taken up with chairs surrounding a floor-to-ceiling projection screen.  My legs have turned to jelly, and I’m relieved to be able to sit down and take a look around at a few other brave souls who have volunteered of their own free will to complete the 140 foot drop from the Kawarau Suspension Bridge.  Over on the far side of the room are four guys together, each trying to outdo the other in displays of macho unconcernedness.  Nearby, one skinny girl about my age with her blonde hair in a ponytail sits erect and quietly sends a text to person or persons unknown.  Visions of death run through my mind, and I have a sudden panicky thought in case it’s the last message she is ever going to send.

              Our guide introduces himself as Nathan, and welcomes us to the centre, explaining that ‘Kawarau’ is a Maori name meaning many shrubs, and tells us that the original bridge was erected in 1880.  Apparently the founder of the centre, adventure-seeker A. J Hackett, tied a bungee around his ankles in 1988 and was the first one to throw himself off the bridge. The four guys stop posturing, eye up the lone girl and myself, and then as an afterthought turn their attention to Nathan.  I sit there in a kind of stupor of denial, listening to the health and safety briefing and watching a recent film depicting Daniel, a rather attractive young man, who continues to smile as the harness is secured around his waist and ankles.  I let my brain wander around the fact that Daniel could even be a contender for Smiler of the Year.  He grins from ear to ear as he edges towards the end of the platform, looks down, and then with arms outstretched suddenly leaps out horizontally before dropping headfirst into the abyss.  Upside down and oscillating to a standstill, Daniel is still wearing a smile on his face as he is lowered carefully into a small boat and then rowed to the start of a number of steps carved into the rocks leading up to a viewing platform and then I expect the traditional exit through an overpriced gift shop.  However, it is some time before Daniel can sit up in the rowing boat and raise his thumb, although I’m not quite sure whether his fixed smile is now actually a grimace or not.

            The four guys quieten down somewhat when the film comes to an end and Nathan enquires as to who would like to go first.  Dave looks at me and I liken the experience to being in a dentist’s waiting room; you hear the whirring of the drill in some poor sod’s mouth, and you just want to get it over with.  I raise my hand before anybody else has a chance to speak.

            “We will.”

            Dave stares at me in surprise, and then claps me on the back. 

                                    ***

            The New Zealand sun is warm on our faces as we follow Nathan out of the centre, which is almost opposite two masonry towers heralding the start of the wooden bridge.  There is no climbing up to give me time to get my head around it; instead my senses are filled with the sight and sounds of the rushing river far below, the feel of the breeze rustling the trees and shrubs along the gorge, and the voices of encouragement from the four guys and the girl behind us who are next in line and will be watching from the viewing platform.  There is dread in my heart, but also only what I can only describe as a knowing feeling that everything will, must, turn out okay.

            We walk past a plaque on the right hand tower stating the fact that the bridge is recognised by Heritage New Zealand as a Category 1 historic place, and then begin treading along the decking towards the bungee platform.  I grab Dave’s hand as it finally comes home to me that yes, the jump will be going ahead, I will soon be £500 richer, but at long last I am also going to conquer my fear of heights.  I am terrified and try not to look down, but focus instead on the back of Nathan’s sweatshirt emblazoned with the centre’s motif.  My legs are two wobbling sticks of jelly, and I feel as though I am walking to the executioner’s chamber.

            At the middle of the bridge we stop at a purpose-built platform.  I want to sit down, but there are no chairs.  I lean close to Dave as we are harnessed together.  He gives my shoulder a squeeze.

            “Alright?  You look a bit pale.”

            “Is that so?”  I try to quip, but my voice comes out thin and reedy. “I wonder why?”

            “It’ll be over before you know it.”  Nathan makes final adjustments to the harness. “Would you like a little dip in the river?”

            “Yeah!”  Dave shouts.

            “No!”  I shake my head with venom.

            “Okay then, we’ll please the lady this time.”  Nathan grins at me. “Move closer to the edge, put your arms around each other, hold your other hand out in front of you, and then count to three and jump!

                                    ***

            I feel sick with fright, and am glad that my stomach is empty.  We shuffle forwards like two overgrown children in some sort of macabre sack race.  Dave puts one hand around my waist and kisses my forehead.

            “Don’t forget, I owe you five hundred quid.” He lifts my chin and looks into my eyes. “Love you.”

            I hold on to him tightly with one hand and try to smile as I look straight ahead and try to ignore the fact that we are 400 feet up in the air.

            “Love you too.” I whimper.

            I hear Dave taking a deep breath, and then shouting the words I dread.

            “One, two, three…..jump!”

            I’m on the ultimate rollercoaster ride as the ground falls away and my stomach lurches towards my mouth.  The noise of the river and raucous cheers of the crowd are muted as the breeze edges up a notch or two and whooshes past my ears.  For a few wonderful seconds I’m flying, at one with the Tui, Fantails and Kereru as they sail gracefully across the sky.  Dave whoops and hollers beside me, enjoying every moment.

            “S…h…i….t…!!!”     

            However, if God had wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings.  Blood rushes to my brain as we plummet headfirst towards the ground.  I cling to Dave like a limpet and hope against hope that I am not going to faint.  As the harness reaches its maximum length we are suddenly thrust upwards with a jolt a couple of times, before starting a gentle swing back and forth what seems like inches away from the water.  I can feel the ends of my long dark hair touching the foaming torrent below.  I hear the spectators’ applause, and realise with some elation that I have not died after all. Dave clasps both arms around my body and shouts above the river’s torrent.

            “Marry me!”

            What with the pounding of my heart, the dizziness from being upside down and the rush of adrenaline, I’m uncertain as to what I’ve just heard.  I try and rasp out a reply, but my mouth is as dry as the bottom of a parrot’s cage.

            “What?”

            “I SAID WILL YOU MARRY ME?!”

            Dave’s yelling for all he’s worth as a man in a yellow rowing boat makes his way towards us.  Suddenly I’m laughing like a maniac out of relief and the sheer joy of simply being alive to share this moment with the man I love.

            “Yes!  Yes I’ll marry you!”

            It’s not easy to kiss when you’re harnessed together upside down, but we manage a fair impression.  I don’t even know what day it is as we’re lowered flat into the boat, but at that particular moment I don’t really care.  I’ve finally conquered my fear of heights, and there’s some great news to tell Mum and Dad when we get back to the UK.  I don’t even mind paying 35 dollars for a souvenir photo, but I’ll tell Dave to put that £500 towards our wedding.

THE END


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