He planted his feet on the slats, withdrew to the opening, passed through, and began to descend. Isabel and I strolled toward the bottom of the ladder, our chatter marking our relief, when I heard a grinding pop and then a clank of metal. It wasn’t loud, but it was distinct. I looked up to see my cousin dangling on rungs come loose from their connection to the tower, maybe twenty feet above us. He’d not swung far, but clearly, the ladder was no longer anchored below him. Eli had come unmoored.
I opened my mouth involuntarily to scream, but what came out was a dry, hollow gag. Isabel screamed with as much might as I’ve ever heard in a human being before or since.
“Stop,” I croaked at her. “Please stop.” But she continued. “You’ve got to stop. You’re making it worse,” I said, but she couldn’t help it. Her instincts had taken over. I don’t think she heard me. I ran from her, spanning the few remaining yards to the ladder.
“Don’t touch it,” Eli yelled down, his voice trembling, and I knew he, too, feared the loose section would break off. I shielded my eyes with my hand and looked up again into the sun’s glare. The white soles of his tennis shoes quivered on the swaying ladder.
“Listen to me, Eli. You’ve gotta get off the ladder, now. I can see from here what you have to do.” Before it falls all the way, I thought. My throat clogged tight. I coughed hard and spoke again. “Put your left foot on the cross-support beside you and then your right. Hold on above and inch both feet into the corner at the steel column.”
“I’m going to jump,” he called.
“It’s too far!” I warned, my voice suddenly returned.
Isabel arrived beside me, no longer screaming, but breathing hard in spasms.
“I’ve got to jump. I can’t stay up here,” he said, leaning out, making the ladder shudder. Herculean as he was in aspect, he believed he could leap safely to the ground. I knew he’d kill himself.
“No, Eli, don’t you dare,” Isabel called to him, panting, but clear. “Be still.”
“He’s got to get off the ladder,” I told her. She looked at me dumbfounded.
“I’ve got to jump,” Eli called again.
“No, no, no, you’ll break your neck.” I remember trying to make my voice calm, knowing it was close to hysterical.
Writing Prompt: Fear is an emotion that has physical responses as exemplified in the passage when Eli descends the rescue tower and nearly falls when the ladder breaks loose. Think of a time when you felt great fear and make a list of the physical responses you experienced. Think about a repetitive thought you had, a key smell or taste or image that dominated your thoughts, and perhaps how you felt just prior to feeling afraid. Create a one-page scene using the physical responses and thoughts you had in the situation to show your fear.