Welcome

Hi, my name is Alys Jackson and I'm a poet and writer

based in Adelaide, South Australia.

My work has been published in magazines,

anthologies and online.

A Fear Of Heights

Zac watched as an ant circled the honey jar then disappeared behind a jug of milk. He let out a long sigh. Two minutes later, the ant reappeared halfway up a carton of pineapple juice. Zac sighed again.

‘Is something wrong?’ asked his mother. She sounded more exasperated than concerned.

‘He’s scared,’ declared Bridget. Zac’s younger sister had a slice of toast wedged halfway into her mouth. Melted honey was abseiling down her chin.

Zac felt like yelling at her. ‘I don’t like heights,’ he said calmly. ‘That doesn’t mean I’m scared.’

Zac’s father poked his head around the kitchen door. ‘You’ll be fine,’ he said. Then. ‘Have any of you seen Max?’

‘Living room,’ offered Bridget with an airy wave.

‘Not everything involves heights,’ continued Mum. ‘There’s mini golf. And a boating pond.’

Dad reappeared. ‘He’s not there.’ He looked worried.

‘Try the bathroom,’ suggested Mum. She tutted. ‘If you don’t hurry up, Zac, you’re going to miss the bus and there won’t be a school excursion.

Suits me, thought Zac but he scooped up his backpack and headed for the car anyway. If he bailed now, his best friend would kill him.

‘Did you remember your jacket?’ asked Mum as they pulled out of the driveway.

Zac patted a small drawstring bag that lay beside him on the seat. Not that I’ll get to use it, he thought glumly. What he could see of the sky was a clear spring blue.

Mum dropped him off at the school gate, and he slouched onto the bus, stashing his bags under the seat.

‘I am so pumped,’ gushed Billy, plonking down beside him. He spotted the look on Zac’s face and stopped.

‘It’s alright for you,’ groaned Zac. ‘You like all that stuff.’ He glanced at the girls in the seats opposite.

The tallest, Auburney Temple, caught his eye. ‘My brother told me that the flying fox is 50 metres high,’ she said loudly. Her eyes were like tiny polished blueberries. ‘That’s like being on the top floor of a ten-storey skyscraper.’

Something inside Zac’s stomach shifted with an unpleasant gurgle.

‘What was that?’ smirked Auburney. ‘Did you say something, Zac?’

‘Ignore them,’ whispered Billy. He re-adjusted a pair of over-sized sunglasses, pushing them back up his nose. ‘That lot don’t have enough sense to be afraid of anything.’

‘I am ignoring them,’ said Zac. He watched a flock of corellas swing through the branches of a tall gum. Part of him was praying for rain.

‘They can’t make you do anything,’ continued Billy. ‘Not if you don’t want to.’

The odd feeling in Zac’s stomach got worse.

‘Just tell Ms Brian that you’re scared of heights. She’ll understand. I mean, loads of people are scared of heights.’

‘You’re not,’ pointed out Zac. ‘And stop saying I’m scared. I’d just rather not risk my life. What’s wrong with that?’

Billy, who was imagining all the fun he was about to have, couldn’t help the smile that followed. ‘Sorry,’ he said happily.

Brown Creek Adventure Park was even worse than Zac had been expecting. Everything seemed to have been built to cause him the maximum amount of terror. And the flying fox really did look as tall as a ten-storey building.

Amazing,’ cooed Auburney, striding past with an irritating swagger.

Zac headed for the portaloo.

When he returned five minutes later, the expression on Billy’s face made him feel dizzy.

‘’Fraid so,’ said Billy, confirming Zac’s worst fear. ‘We’re doing the flying fox first. Ms Brian thinks we might as well start with the scariest thing. That way everything else will seem easy.’

Auburney snorted out a laugh. Zac ignored it and looked up. And up. And up. The top of the flying fox was hidden amongst the tallest trees. To reach the upper platform, they would have to climb up a series of metal stairs. To Zac it looked about a million storeys high. It also looked very, very dangerous.

‘What if I don’t want to?’ he said.

Ms Brian shielded her eyes to gaze upwards. ‘You don’t have to,’ she said. ‘But think how wonderful it would be to face your fear and overcome it. To not let it stand in the way of …’

Certain death, thought Zac.

‘Success,’ finished Ms Brian. She squinted down at Zac. ‘You don’t look convinced.’

‘He’s terrified of heights,’ whispered Billy a little too loudly.

Zac glared at him.

‘It’s OK,’ said Ms Brian hurriedly. ‘No-one has to do anything they don’t want to.’ She glanced around. ‘Why don’t you go and sit with Mr Thompson. You can help him prepare morning tea.’

Muffled sniggers followed him all the way to the picnic tables.

Billy was flushed red when he re-joined Zac over an hour later. ‘Awesome,’ he pronounced and flopped back into the long grass. He rolled onto his stomach. ‘How were the muffins?’

‘Fine.’ Zac tried not to catch Billy’s eye. The truth was his stomach had felt far too unsettled to try them.

Mr Thompson appeared with a platter of sandwiches. There was a concerned look on his face. ‘Thought you might be ready to try something,’ he began. ‘If you’re feeling better.’

Embarrassment burned red in Zac’s neck and cheeks. He snatched a sandwich and nibbled around the edges. A piece of cucumber got caught in the back of his throat and he began coughing uncontrollably.

Billy whacked him hard on the back. ‘We’re going boating next,’ he said. ‘On the lake.’

‘It’s deep,’ warned Auburney.

Ms Brian hushed her with a stern look. ‘Followed by a game of mini golf. After that we’ll have lunch then try out the assault course.’ She carefully avoided Zac’s eyes.

‘She’s going to roast me for the rest of the term,’ groaned Zac as he and Billy wobbled their way across the lake. Around their feet, the sunlight dimmed briefly and Zac looked up. A dark cloud was moving across the sky. Tiny raindrops burst against his arm.

‘You don’t have to look so happy,’ grumbled Billy as more raindrops followed.

Zac grinned. ‘Sorry. I know I’m being a pain.’ A gust of cool air lifted up the back of his shirt.

Billy smiled. ‘Actually, you are, a bit. No-one cares what Auburney thinks. I don’t. Why should you?’

Zac could think of a thousand reasons. Like; they could make his life miserable for the next five weeks. Or …

‘You’re not even listening,’ complained Billy. ‘I mean. Can’t you at least pretend you’re having fun?’

There was a sudden violent blast of wind and the clouds burst. Within minutes the boys were drenched. Back on land, Ms Brian gathered them all into a sodden group beneath a canvas shelter. The rain was now so loud it was hard to hear.

‘Put on your jackets,’ shouted Mr Thompson. ‘And use the towels to dry off a little. We’ll wait here until the rain stops.’

Behind Zac, Auburney bent down to pick up her bag, and screamed. The scream became a terrified shriek and she scrambled backwards in total panic.

Zac saw something move amongst the bags at Auburney’s feet.

A long, grey snake.

Auburney’s scream became a series of wails.

Children scattered in all directions, all of them screaming at the tops of their voices.

Zac, on the other hand, stayed absolutely still. Less than two metres away, the snake was slowly uncurling itself from a tangle of bags and belongings. It paused and raised its head to look around. Zac was mesmerized.

‘Do not move!’ warned Ms Brian. Her voice was shaky.

Very slowly, Zac crouched down and began watching the snake’s sinuous, graceful movements. He was vaguely aware of Ms Brian shouting at him, telling him, ordering him, to stop.

The snake was large; its grey black body smooth and slightly shiny. Zac held his breath as it slid closer. Somewhere to his left, Auburney Temple was becoming hysterical. For once, Zac completely ignored her. Then, just as the snake slid past his left foot, he reached out and gently grasped it behind the back of its head. He stood up with the snake dangling from his right hand.

‘It’s Max,’ he said and smiled.

Auburney screamed again.

Back on the bus, Zac couldn’t stop grinning.

‘And you’re sure it’s completely safe?’ repeated Ms Brian for the third time. ‘Non-venomous.’

Zac stroked the bag in which he’d stuffed his jacket the night before. The snake’s body felt smooth and muscly beneath his fingers. ‘Perfectly. Max is my pet. He must have fallen asleep in my bag this morning. Dad was looking for him when I left. He sometimes lets him out of the tank for a few hours.’ He smiled as children crowded around him. ‘He’s a herpetoculturalist.’

‘He breeds snakes,’ explained Billy.

‘We have loads of them at home,’ added Zac. He glanced at Auburney. ‘I could bring some to school, if you like?’

The expression on Auburney’s face made him smile. It was unlikely she’d be roasting him about his fear of heights, he thought. Not now she’d been introduced to Max.

‘Fear’s a funny thing,’ said Ms Brian, mirroring Zac’s thoughts completely. Her eyes widened as Zac’s bag wriggled slightly. ‘And you’re absolutely sure it’s safe?’

‘He,’ corrected Zac. He wrapped his arms around the bag and felt Max squirm. ‘Absolutely.’ He grinned. ‘As safe as a ten-storey sky scraper.’

50 thoughts on “A Fear Of Heights

  1. Hi Alys,
    It was a great story but not very short. I enjoyed the way you described all the expressions that made me visualise every thing. It also reminded me when I went on year 3 camp and I had to sit out because they were showing a snake and I got scared of it. I liked the ending of your story too.

    • Wow, Ishrit, some great comments there. I’m glad the words I chose helped you to visualise the story. I was very interested to hear about your experience in the year 3 camp, too. My son didn’t like snakes when he was young, although my daughter loved them so much she wanted one as a pet!! Fear is a strange emotion, isn’t it?! Alys 🐍🐍🐍🐍🐍

  2. Hi Alys
    I liked the story.It reminded me of a time the year fours went to camp and we went on this thing called the giant swing.I was really scared of it but my friends were there to help me over become my fear of heights.

    • Hi Thinara. That happened to me once. Giant swings and giant flying foxes. They can be scary, can’t they? I’m glad your friends helped you overcome your fear of heights. Thank you for the comments and I’m glad you liked the story. Bye Alys

  3. I liked how Zac said his friend would kill him if he bailed & that was his reason for going.
    I liked the part about the snake, and how Zac got to show he was not scared of everything.
    I did not like Aubrany, she was annoying & rude.
    I would like the end to be he felt brave after picking up the snake & overcame his fear of height & tried the flying fox.

    • Thank you for so many great comments Ella. You have some lovely ideas. I think that everyone is afraid of something and we can’t always control or change our fears – I don’t really like heights although I try to overcome this. I have even tried a flying fox. With my eyes closed 🙂 Alys

  4. Dear Alys,
    Your story is great and it tells something that everyone should learn. The best short story I’ve ever read.

  5. I liked that the bully who was being mean was scared of snakes so she couldn’t be mean anymore. If I could change anything I would’ve liked to read about Zac trying the flying fox.
    Caleb Price, Aged 8
    New Zealand

    • Good comments Caleb. I think it would have been great to have Zac trying out the flying fox and facing down his fears! Alys 🙂

  6. Hi Alys
    That story was really funny at the end Alys. I really thought that you don’t judge a book by it’s cover because everyone was screaming and going in multiple directions but the snake was completely harmless to Zac though. it was great Alys

    • Thank you Dinith. Isn’t that a great saying! – don’t judge a book by its cover – and so true in this story. Everyone has a fear, I think. I myself love snakes and spiders but absolutely hate heights!! Alys 🙂

  7. Everyone fears something in their lives. We should never tease or ridicule someone because they fear certain things. What one can do someone else may not be able to do. Each to his own.

    • That’s so true Shyloh – each to their own! What a great way to put it. Thank you for your comments, and I completely agree that we should never make fun of someone for being afraid…that is when they need our sympathy and help most. Alys 🙂

  8. Hi Alys,

    This story was amazing. You had a lot of description and this made me realise that everyone has a fear. Also, Zac made me remind me of me as I used to be afraid of heights as well.

    • Thank you Ranulaka. Isn’t it true? Everyone has a fear and yet still we think some fears are more ‘important’ or valid than others…I think that every fear deserves the same sympathy and understanding. I hope you have got over your fear of heights! Alys 🙂

  9. HI Alys ,
    I really enjoyed this short story
    actually I am scared Heights!!!!
    because if I go to rock climbing I would be scared
    of the height if i have to climb!!!!!

    • Thank you Methuli. I am scared of heights too 🙂 I think everyone is frightened of something…

  10. Hi Alys! I really enjoyed this story. I am a little bit afraid of hights but only if it is really, really high. If I could change the ending of this story I would make Zac tell Auburney that it is okay to be afraid of things but it is not okay to tease people about their fears.

    • Great idea for an alternative ending Mihaela, it’s never OK to tease people 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the story and thank you for the comments. Bye Alys

  11. Hi Alys
    I love this poem. You have added a lot of description which makes the stories really interesting an exciting to read. What gave you the idea to write this story? Was the story based on a true event?

    Tharusha

    • I think you are right Tharusha, description is very important in a story – as is good dialogue and action. When I wrote this story I was thinking of my friend’s son who was scared of spiders and was sometimes teased – even though the people doing the teasing were afraid of heights!! It seemed so unfair.

  12. Hi Alys 🤗
    love your story
    where did you get your inspiration from and what things are you afraid of ?
    I’m afraid of venomous snakes bugs and insects well at least most of the venomous animals.

    • Great questions Tiaana. I’m not sure where my ideas come from, but I guess I like to write about things that interest me. Fear is an odd thing, isn’t it. I’m not afraid of any animals, big, small or venomous but I AM afraid of heights!! I think you are far more sensible. It makes sense to be a little bit afraid of things that can bite 🙂

  13. Hi Alys
    I really enjoyed this story because it taught that even though you might not be afraid of something others might.
    I am not afraid of heights I am afraid of sound thunder makes! My brother Tirath is scared of spiders and Snakes. When my brother was small he used to be afraid of dust.
    Are you afraid of anything other than heights?

    Bye Yenuli

    • Hi again Yenuli. I really believe that everyone is afraid of something – and I quite understand your fear of thunder. My cat Leo doesn’t like it either. I do hope your brother learns to like snakes and spiders – they are actually very beautiful. 🙂 Bye Alys

    • Hi again Deakin – it’s great to know that you like snakes. Actually I was born in the Chinese Year of the Snake so I love them too. 🙂 Bye Alys

  14. I used to be really afraid of heights but now I am not.
    I love this story and I think I will read more.
    I think your story is wonderful.
    P.S Are you afraid of heights?

    • Wow Chethya, I’m really impressed that you’re no longer afraid of heights. I have tried to control my fear, but I still don’t like heights!! I will keep trying… Bye Alys 🙂

    • Hi Menaka. I think there are many people who are afraid of heights!! I’m glad you liked the story. Bye Alys 🙂

  15. I thought you described fear really well. I love heights and I love rides! I want to go to Brown Creek Adventure Park. My nana has a pet snake, his name is Harry.

    • Hi Fleur. You write so many wonderful comments I don’t know where to begin. Your nana has a pet snake??? Wow! What a cool nana. You sound like my daughter. She loves heights and rides, too. Best of luck with your desire to go to Brown Creek Adventure Park. I bet it will be amazing. Bye Alys 🙂

  16. after reading this i list out what am i fear of and what i like most. I do scared with heights and snakes. But not trying new food or drink

    • Me too, Dinethri. I am afraid of heights although I actually, secretly, love snakes. And new foods. 🙂 Bye Alys

  17. I used to be afraid of heights and this story made me realise that everyone has a fear and it isn’t something to be ashamed of. There is so much description in this story and I especially liked the part when Auberney’s fear was revealed as the message of this story was exposed to the reader.

    • Hi again Chomilka, I think you are very right in saying that everyone has a fear. And we definitely shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Again you make very clever and insightful comments. I think that one day you will write your own stories…. Well done! Bye Alys 🙂

  18. This story had a great message that all of us need to learn. We all have different fears and you shouldn’t always be embarrassed for them. I loved the way that Zac’s anxiety from heights was described.

    • Thank you Thenumi. I think you have summed up my message wonderfully. We are all afraid of something, aren’t we? In my case, I am afraid of heights. But I really do love snakes. Bye Alys 🙂

    • Hi Zoe, I totally agree – I would never get on a flying fox that was so high up! I’m really glad you thought the story was amazing. Thank you for your comments. Bye, Alys 🙂

  19. The story was an awesome story to read and the story was all about Zac who had a fear of heights.
    My favourite part was when he watched the movie about heights.
    The story told me about different things that other people might be scared of, example snakes.
    I am also a bit scared of heights.

    • Hi Estelle, I am so glad that you enjoyed the story. I am also a little afraid of heights, but then I think that everyone is scared of something! Bye, Alys 🙂

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