By Lisa Fox
We came to conquer our fears.
Agoraphobes staggered through the thick crowd with the blank determination of stone. Arachnophobes congregated together, clad in white as instructed to maximize visibility of their insect tormentors. Those with a fear of darkness—nyctophobia—huddled like a cluster of black widows, attired in the assigned night time camouflage…
We acrophobes clutched our comfort items, hearts thudding, awaiting the mountain chairlift that would lead to our liberation…or our doom.
“Face Your Fright, Inc.” had taken over a shuttered ski resort, and while dangling thirty feet above the ground was never a personal aspiration, I needed to overcome my terror of heights.
I had a promise to keep.
I reached inside my bag and squeezed the support object I’d chosen. My golden retriever wouldn’t fit on a chairlift, so his fluffy, plush likeness would have to do.
The arachnophobes screeched into the night, draped with artificial webs and real creeping, crawling spiders. With ninja-like stealth, the nyctophobic disappeared into the surrounding woods. Several agoraphobes, relieved from the diminishing crowds, sat rocking themselves under the pavilion’s flickering lights.
I shuddered as my queue advanced.
Gears squealed as the chairlift rotated at the station, and a glacial chill spread from my core to my extremities despite the warm spring night. I’d never understood how anyone could ride one of these death gondolas for fun.
Two by two, people boarded the lift—a perverse Noah’s Ark. The ride operator nudged the woman ahead of me. She froze, a statue melting into a puddle of anxiety.
“Liability sweep!” the operator shouted. A team of psychiatrists with the look—and hygiene—of carnival ride operators swooped in and whisked her away.
I staggered forward on leaden legs. The bench swung as I plopped down; it rocked more as my seatmate sat beside me. Handsome in a nerdy sort of way, he grasped a toy robot in his right hand.
The safety bar dropped; we gripped it tight. My gut fluttered up to my throat. With a whoosh, we began our ascent to hell.
“Is that…an emotional support robot?” I asked. Talking to this stranger was the only way I could keep my mind off the swiftly receding ground.
He glanced at me with a shy smile. “It’s weird, I know. But this little guy is programmed with every statistic I could find about the probability of death at various heights. Hard data…helps.”
“So, what are our chances? Right now?”
He pressed a button on the robot’s side. “Cesar, what are the odds of dying on a chairlift?”
“Cesar?” I giggled again. My seatmate blushed.
The robot replied: “13 fatalities in 38 years. 0.34 per year, 0.149 per million miles transported.”
“See? Not so bad,” the man said, more to himself than me. “Baby steps.”
“Baby steps.” I glanced at him, oddly comforted by this robot-carrying acrophobe. “I’m Abby.” I introduced myself with a nod, still gripping the bar.
“Brett.” He echoed my gesture. “So, what brings you to the skyway of nightmares?”
A cluster of arachnophobes squealed below us, writhing on the grass to rid themselves of their spider shawls.
“We had a bet. If the entire class completed their year-end assignments early, I’d ride the Megacoaster on their class trip. It’s the biggest coaster in the northeast and…”
“You can’t have a panic attack in front of those kids,” he said.
“You’ve met Cesar. What’s your comfort item?”
“Oh. My dog. He’s inside the bag. Stuffed.”
Brett raised his eyebrows. “Dead?”
“No! Charlie’s very much alive!” My cheeks flushed. “This is a toy.”
Brett chuckled. “Is Charlie afraid of heights, too?”
“No, just the groomer.” I smiled. “How about you? Why are you here?”
“Preparing for a business trip. I can’t exactly drive to Europe.”
I pictured Brett sitting at a café in Paris, Cesar the robot next to him spouting random facts in French.
“What do you do,” I asked, “outside of tackling fears with random strangers?”
“Don’t laugh…I’m in risk management.”
I laughed. “What a surprise.”
More blushing. “Predictable to a fault.”
At that moment, the lift jerked to a stop; the motors silenced.
Our bench swung and bounced. An old man on the seat ahead of us began singing loudly, performing The Macarena as he wiggled about. His seatmate screamed.
I gripped the bar tighter.
Brett let go of the bar and placed his hand on mine. “It’s going to be okay.”
Macarena Man flailed and bounced.
“Abby, we can do this. Together. It’s going to be okay!”
I shivered, and warmed, at Brett’s touch.
Seventy feet below us, an attendant pulled a large portable generator and several gasoline cans on a flatbed.
“Get you powered up in no time!” he shouted.
Brett squeezed my hand. “They’d better hurry up before that poor guy has a stroke.”
Presumably still alive, Macarena Man eventually quieted.
Brett and I hovered over the world, hand-in-hand. Our legs brushed as they swung in tandem, swimming in the night air. Together, we watched the arachnophobes cackling as they sprung like spiders, gleefully covered in the creepy crawlers that once plagued them. We saw the nyctophobia crew fade in and out of the darkness below us, flashing liberated smiles. We listened to Cesar’s statistics on the probability of plane crashes and coaster accidents, on the incidence of bungee cord breaks and parachute failures. Brett told “pretend Charlie” he was a good dog. When the chairlift finally started moving ninety-seven minutes later, I realized, for ninety-five of them, I had forgotten to be afraid.
Our feet touched earth with a thud, Brett still holding my hand as we exited the lift.
“We did it!” Brett’s eyes twinkled in the moonlight.
I was bold. Empowered.
“Cesar, what are the odds of a first kiss tonight?” I asked.
“That’s outside the scope of his programming.” Brett grinned. “He specializes in the probability of disasters.”
“Useless emotional support robot,” I whispered as I leaned in toward him.
What fun! Love this delightfully entertaining story. Kudos!
Wonderful story – love the sweet ending, picturing them both in Paris at a cafe.
Wonderful! And what a great business idea!
Delightful! And beautifully written.
I enjoyed this very much. I kept thinking about Kurt Vonagut characters. I loved the image of arachnophobes rolling in the grass! Well done.