2019 Ironology Challenge #5 – October 4, 2018

2019 Ironology

Challenge #5

October 4, 2018

Deadline is Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 00:01 AM MDT

1000 word limit

All submissions will be posted on the website, without the authors names.

Authors names will be added after voting is complete.

Send your submission to Brian via FB Messenger.

No email submissions will be accepted.

Only the first five submissions received are eligible for the anthology.

To vote, send the title to the story you liked best to Brian via FB Messenger.

Prompt:

Main character has a phobia of animals that fly.

How did the main character get this phobia.

 

Hanging By a Thread

Richard Russell

John squinted as he came out from the monkey cages into the bright afternoon sunlight. “Whoa,” he exclaimed to his co-worker, Dave, “You don’t realize how dark it is in there until you come outside.”  Dave stepped out with his sunglasses already on, “Yeah, well, that’s why they invented sunglasses, John.”  The two men walked over to the giraffe compound and went in the service entrance. John grabbed the tub of food from the kitchen and Dave went over to check the water level in the drinking pool. “Got a bit of algae in the pool, John.” “All right.”  John had worked for the zoo almost five years now.  Dave had been there about four months.  Dave finished filling the pool about the same time John had the food placed in the trough.  The two headed out to their next stop.  Dave looked over at John with a hint of concern.  “You all right today, John?”  “Yeah, fine. Why do you ask?” 

Dave played it cool. “Well, you seemed a bit off back there in the monkey cage. When they were swinging around on their vines, you were wringing your hands and you looked kinda sweaty.” 

“Oh, it’s nothing. I guess the swinging makes me sorta dizzy.  You know I stopped riding the rides at the carnival ’cause they made me dizzy.” 

Dave grimaced, “Oh yeah, I can’t do that stuff anymore, either.  I used to, but the last time I rode one of them, I almost threw up.” 

John’s smile had a slight tinge of nervousness to it, Dave noticed.  They were headed to the donkey barn when their supervisor snagged John. “Hey, John.  You know, Betty’s taking maternity leave from the aquarium.  We really need someone we know and trust over there.  Come see me in the morning.  We’ll transfer you, just until we can find someone else.”  John was about to protest, but he realized it was pointless.

By the end of the week, John was walking through the aquarium facility with Betty.  Betty was explaining basic information about temperature controllers and water pH adjustments. She finally paused and asked John plainly, “How are you feeling?  You look a little pale.” 

John laughed almost nervously and looked away. “It’s probably the job change; stressful, you know? Changes in responsibilities and routines.”  Betty retained her worried expression. “Come on in the break room, John. Let’s sit down a while and have some water.  We can keep talking.” 

John seemed relieved when they were settled in the small break room. 

After an hour of talking, Betty felt it was time to move on through the facility. 

John was looking better now, so they left the break room to go feed the fish.  Betty talked the whole time.  Carrying a couple of boxes of feed, they rounded a corner and came right out into a large room behind the tanks.  Betty and John climbed a staircase and John looked down into a tankful of fish slowly drifting through the water. They kinda looked as if they were flying.

He could feel his heart beating in his throat; his fingers turned blue and his hands began to tremble. John hoped Betty couldn’t see his angst lurking just below the surface of his appearance, but Betty was quite observant; she saw the change in John’s countenance. She realized John was gripping the box of fish food so hard he was crushing it.  She had to say something, “John?”

 John was non-responsive. 

“John?” 

John’s trembling turned to uncontrollable shaking.  The box burst and dried shrimp spilled everywhere as he blurted emphatically, “I gotta get outta here!  I gotta go, NOW!”  He swung around, slipped on the shrimp and fell backwards into the fish tank. 

Betty screamed as John thrashed violently in the water, and people from all around came running over.

*****

Management assumed John had a water phobia, arranged for professional counseling, and John was transferred to the aviary.  He had one session with the counselor before he was back to work.  The first day back, Jeannette, the aviary supervisor, took John on his orientation tour and the first place they visited was a large cage filled with hundreds of birds.  Everything was fine, as they stepped inside, with all the birds calmly perched in the trees; then one bird flew from one side of the cage to the other.  John suddenly doubled over and vomited.  He groped for the trash can and knocked it over. Startled by the sudden loud noise, every bird took flight at once. John went into a nightmarish frenzy. He ran wildly, crashing into one side and then the other of the large cage, screaming, “Let me out! Let me out!”

The birds went crazy. 

When security finally got John out, he had broken several fingers, ruptured his nose, and cut his cheek severely.

*****

On medical leave, John sat in the therapist’s office week after week as they tried to discover what was the root of his phobia.  They tried everything, but John had no memories of anything that might have caused this. After a few months, Betty came by to see how John was doing and to show off her baby.  As the therapist opened the door, Betty came in pushing her baby  in a stroller. John turned to look at the baby and froze.  He began to tremble; the urge to leave the room grew stronger and stronger until he finally leapt up, ran to the furthest corner of the room and crawled under a desk where he began to cry.  The therapist rushed to John’s side, “What’s going on, John?  Tell me what’s going on.”  John sobbed, “They left me there alone for so long! So Long!  It seemed like an eternity; alone with those horrible … I couldn’t make them go away!” “ What, John?  What wouldn’t go away?”  John pointed toward the stroller.  The therapist looked over.  There, hanging over the baby’s head, was a cute mobile with stylized animal figures dangling on strings.  The therapist motioned to Betty to take the stroller away and he put his arm around John.

“It’s okay, John. It’s going to be okay. Now we have something to work with.”

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