Unusual events force a man to face his fears.
|Written for the "What a Character" challenge: Write a short story in which your protagonist must to do something he or she truly detests or fears for the benefit of the greater good.
Chester Jameson was afraid of a lot. Heights, depths, tight spaces, spiders, bees, snakes. Pretty much anything a person could fear, Chester did.
When he was six, Chester’s family visited a fire tower while hiking in the Appalachians. His father coaxed him ever so slowly up the ladder, shrouding him with protective arms all the way. But inside the ranger’s hut at the top, Chester was afraid to look out at the spectacular view. And returning to the ground was a terrifying experience, achievable only through continuous offerings from his father of “Don’t look down” and “I’ve got you.”
When he was seven, his best friend wedged Chester’s head under a sofa cushion as they wrestled. Chester’s immediate hysteria seemed to his mother as a bit overdone, but she sensed it was a sign of claustrophobia.
When he was still seven, and when he was eight, and when he was nine, Chester was stung by bees. As for his fear of spiders and snakes, the only explanation his parents could come up with was a fear of anything small that moves quickly. Which also would explain Chester’s fear of birds and butterflies.
When he was seventeen, Chester decided to pursue a career in some field whose daily routine would avoid all of his fears. But after studying the college options and meeting with his high school guidance counselor, he grudgingly accepted that such a future was not very likely.
When he was twenty-two, Chester took his liberal arts degree into the adult world, moving to the city and landing a job in a bookstore. He found the job satisfying, and relatively relaxing except for the occasional times when a customer would ask about a book on any of the wildlife he feared. The bookstore was located on the ground floor of an eight-story retail/office/apartment building, and one afternoon Chester’s manager asked him to deliver a book to a regular customer who lived on the top floor. “Sure,” he told her, happy for a break in the daily tedium. Seven floors was a hike, but Chester chose to use the stairs anyway, rather than fuel his claustrophobia in an elevator.
He was making his way up the steps when the door on the fourth-floor landing flew open and a man rushed out, screaming. “Bees,” he yelped, knocking Chester aside as he tore past. Chester’s gut reaction to flee overrode any sensible thought of the unlikelihood of bees inside an eight-story retail/office/apartment building in the city. He scrambled for the stairs, only to dive to the floor at the ear-splitting drone as a swarm of bees buzzed over him and into the stairwell. Or it might have been only two or three bees. Or maybe just one bee. Or a large fly.
But to Chester, any buzzing was frightful. He leapt to his feet and raced down the hall, stopping in front of the elevators. Whatever had flown past him was no doubt still in the stairwell, so he edged timidly to the elevator doors and pushed the UP button. Then he crossed his fingers that the car would be empty. He watched the numbers light up as the elevator car rose toward him. Two. Three. It stopped on the third floor for several excruciating seconds. Four. The door slid open to reveal a nearly packed car. “That’s okay,” he told the crowd as he backed away. “I’ll wait for the next one.”
“There might not be a next one for a while,” a man told him. “The other one broke down.”
Chester swallowed hard and edged just far enough inside to avoid being pinned between the doors when they closed. As soon as they slid shut, he turned to face them, and fought to keep his mind off the mass of humanity behind him. I can do this, he tried to convince himself. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself someplace far away. But the jerk of the elevator car starting to move snapped him back into reality. So he fixed his eyes on the floor numbers. Five. Still Five ... the car creaked and squealed to a halt.
“Why did we stop?” Someone asked, as if anyone else on board would know.
“Don’t panic,” cautioned another passenger, although Chester was about to do exactly that. Feeling beads of sweat well up on his forehead, he stared at the ceiling and murmured, “It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.” He dug deep into his mind to conjure up some kind of magic that would transport him from the crowded, disabled elevator car to the safety of his own bedroom.
“I have to get out now,” cried a pregnant woman behind Chester. “I can feel it coming.”
“Give her some room,” someone shouted.
“There isn’t any room,” yelled someone else.
“I don’t want to frighten anyone,” came a voice from the rear of the car, “but I’m afraid my pet snake just got loose.” Chester thought he heard himself scream along with several women and at least two other men.
Then the sprinkler came on. And a loud alarm split the air, ricocheting off the walls of the elevator car. More screaming ensued, and the din blasted through Chester’s head, drowning out all thoughts except one. I'm probably going to have a heart attack and die, so what do I have to lose by ignoring my fears and doing something heroic? “Somebody boost me up,” he shouted. He began pawing at the wall as though he could scale it like one of the spiders he’d always feared. But a nearby man quickly inched forward and gave Chester the boost he needed to reach the ceiling and push a panel aside.
As he struggled to heft himself through the opening, several helping hands below shoved him higher, and he found himself sprawled across the top of the elevator car. He surveyed his surroundings as thoroughly as possible without looking up. He could tell that crawling to one of the sides would allow him to see down, but for the life of him he could glean no reason to do that.
Staring horizontally yielded no solution, so he took a deep breath and tilted his head back, just enough to see the sixth floor elevator doors. But how to get to them. "Help," he shouted. He could see no easy way to get to those doors. "Help." But there was no response. So Chester, certain now that he was doomed, decided to go for broke. He grabbed one of the heavy cables, summoned up all the strength he could find, and hauled himself toward the sixth floor.
He’d proceeded no more than a foot or two when the elevator car launched into motion and resumed its journey upward. Chester let out a sharp screech and dropped onto the roof of the car. As soon as the car reached the sixth floor and stopped, he eased himself back through the opening and dropped to the floor.
Cheers greeted him as two men helped a wobbly-kneed Chester into the hallway. Several of his fellow passengers gathered around to thank him and shake his hand or slap him on the back. And Chester found himself surrounded. With no immediate way out. A quick wave of claustrophobia washed over him, but he caught himself. “I can do this,” he announced.
“Do what?” asked a man in the crowd.
Chester beamed and spread his arms in front of him. “Anything,” he said.
Word count = 1244