Heights

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
November/December 2013

Jaida Johnson

“This is dangerous,” I say. The cold wind stings my cheeks and ruffles my hair. But I keep climbing up the old rusty ladder, trying to ignore my numb hands and my pounding heart and the fact I’m over twenty feet in the air.

“Well, yeah,” Addie says, snorting sarcastically. Isn’t she the perfect, ever-supporting best friend? No. She looks down at me, like she’s trying to guess what I’m thinking.

It probably isn’t too hard. I’m shaking, and my breath is ragged. My voice is probably higher than usual. I’ll admit it—I’m scared of heights.

“Who said climbing up an abandoned thirty-foot-high water tower—at night—would not be dangerous?” she adds. I look down. Bad idea.

“Can we please go down?” I beg. Climbing up a rickety ladder to an old water tower at night was not my idea. Why do I listen to Addie? I have no clue. Sue me.

“Scared, Conner?” she smirks. Her tone is victorious, like she caught me doing something naughty. Hypocrite.

“Of falling? Actually, yes!” I snap, annoyed. Just because Addie was fearless, didn’t mean I was, too. Not everyone is as perfect as Addie.

The look on her face softens. “Oh.” She looks up, avoiding my eyes. “Don’t worry, we only have ten rungs left,” she says.

I look down again. Our bikes, purple and orange, look small. “Hurry up, then.”

Finally, we’re both on a platform, staring at the quiet land around us. Iron bars that once might’ve been railing are strewn around the small platform. Trash—wrappers, glass bottles, plastic bags—are tangled amongst the large mass of metal. Addie crinkles her nose at the trash, and if I wasn’t her best friend, I’d almost say she is cute. But I am. Deal with it.

Addie’s hair is always a mess, looking like she’s just rolled out of bed. Even though it’s in a long braid down her back, I can still see random black hairs defying every law of gravity. She has bright green eyes and, as always, a smirk that immediately vanishes when adults walk by. Addie is short, but I learned the hard way not to say that to her face.

“Wow. Isn’t it brilliant?” she asks, nudging my shoulder. I nod in agreement. The view really is fantastic, but I can’t really enjoy it, thanks to my fear of heights.

The city, about four miles away, glitters. I can barely make out the tall forms of skyscrapers against the dark sky. The suburbs stretch outwards. To the left, a grove of trees dominates several acres of land. The moon glows white against the sky, while small stars twinkle.

Addie points to a bent ladder leaning against the water tower. I think, Oh God, no. “Coming?” she asks with a wolfish grin.

“For Pete’s sake, Addie…” I really, really don’t want to.

“I didn’t say you had to come.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I’m pretty sure bringing a girl to her door is polite. So, following her up a rickety ladder that may or may not be stable is definitely gentlemanly.

My mom would be so proud. Oh, wait—I snuck out of the house past curfew, climbed up an old water tower, and was now praying it didn’t fall down. I don’t think she’d be too proud. Win some, lose some.

I follow her up the ladder, praying it doesn’t twist the other way or something. Now we’re on the top of the roof, the closest to the sky I’ve ever been. It’s so darn big, and I feel so small and puny. I’m trying to breathe normally. Addie’s perfectly calm, though.

I close my eyes. “This doesn’t scare you at all?” I ask through gritted teeth.

She looks at me curiously. “The heights?”

“No,” I say, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “Of course the heights!” I’m slightly hysterical. She shakes her head.

“No. Heights… have never scared me. I love heights, in fact. Airplanes, roller coasters, cliffs.”

I stare at her in shock.

“Are you human, Adds? We’re up, about thirty feet, in the air, and you’re not scared?”

“No. It’s OK, though, because I’m scared of drowning.”

Addie, scared of drowning? Addie, the brave? Addie, the invincible? That didn’t seem possible, but the look on her face is sincere.

Heights friends up in the water tower

“Wow. Isn’t it brilliant?”

She shudders. “But, I learned how to face my fear. I don’t let it control me. So I swim as deep as I can go and hold my breath until I can’t hold it anymore.”

I bite my lip. Then stand up and look down at the ground. My legs are shaky but I refuse to give up. I see Addie smile and stand up with me.

“This isn’t so bad,” I say.

“No, it isn’t,” Addie grins.

And I mentally thank Addie for helping me face my fear. But I still have to get back at her for teasing me earlier…

“Hey, Adds, wanna go to the pool tomorrow?”

“Oh, shut up.”

Heights Jaida Johnson

Jaida Johnson, 12
Seaside, California

Heights Gordon Su

Gordon Su, 11
Milpitas, California

Related Posts

Stone Soup Annual 2018: Detail from “My Chinese Dream” by Li Lingfei, Shanghai, China (published...

S for sister and B for brother. M for mom, and D For dad. F for family, and W for wish. Hollis...

A note from William Rubel This week the newsletter coincides with the release of our new December...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: