Artist Penelope had been looking forward to going with her husband, sister and brother-in-law to see the Grand Canyon…even though she was terrified of heights and, when she got there, couldn’t bear to get too close to the edge. She watched people balancing on one foot, acting foolish, taking photos, oblivious of the death waiting below them at their feet. Their careless antics made her dizzy, took her breath away. Scared her.
Especially when the woman beside her relates the story of a small child that fell into the Canyon to her death the day before. Many people died that way. Over the edge. Many also died down inside the Canyon. Hikers. Lost people. People on the river going through the rapids.
Then she sees a young girl go over the edge and no one will believe her.
For there was no child that had died–that day anyway.
Was she seeing things that weren’t there…or was there another explanation?
“No, Jeff, I can’t. I can’t come any closer. Please, don’t make me.” I was cringing back, trembling, about ten feet from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, clinging to a scrawny tree as if it were my best friend. There was a June sun blazing down on me from a pure blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. No shade. About ninety degrees but it felt like a hundred.
“Ah, Penelope, you gotta see this! It’s breathtaking. Like one of those 3D images, but so much better.” My husband was snapping picture after picture poised at the edge in front of the rock ledge that snaked along the rim. A ledge no more than three feet high. It’d never stop anyone from falling a mile to their death into the Canyon.
“Nah, you go ahead and look all you want, honey. I’ll just stay here,” I let my voice fall to a whisper, “where it’s safe.”
My eyes glanced here and there at the people–there must have been hundreds–milling around us, taking pictures like crazed paparazzi, oohing and aahing…sidling way too close to the brink. There was a young man to my right who’d climbed over the small rock ledge and was posing not two feet from the drop off for a photograph some girl was taking. He laughed and jumped straight up. “Get me now! Look at me! Woohoo!”
I shut my eyes for a moment. I couldn’t bear to look. He was going to fall. I didn’t want that burnt into my retinas, his last death screams branded into my psyche, for the rest of my life, as he plummeted over the edge.
There was a family passing in front of me. A smiling mother, father, two kids. The smallest, a dark haired girl of around six or so, was dawdling behind. Now she was leaning over the rock rim, stomach balanced on it, legs straight up behind her, giggling and playing. No one was watching over her.
Oh, my God.
Shuddering, I couldn’t bear to look. I had to fight not to scream at her, Get away from the edge, child! What the heck was wrong with her parents anyway? They should be keeping an eye on her. She could fall so easily.
There were so many of the visitors doing much the same thing. Dangerously prancing around the rock ledges beyond the stone divider or sitting nonchalantly, legs crossed, on the ledge as if, Oh, no, I won’t fall. Never lose my balance. Not me. Were they all nuts?
Turning, I stomped across the asphalt walking path away from the offending sights into the stunted trees and dried up scrubs, wanting to be as far away from the rim as I could get. Between the heat and the tension of seeing people behave so recklessly, I was a nervous wreck.
“Hey, honey, don’t leave the path,” my husband yelled at me, his voice tinged with mild annoyance. “There are scorpions and snakes out there!”
Yikes. This whole place was a death trap.
I reluctantly crossed over to the outside of the path. I wasn’t as frightened of scorpions and snakes as I was of falling into the Canyon but I did as he asked anyway. He was worried about me. So sweet of him. “Hurry up, Jeff. The train leaves in about seventy minutes and if we miss it we’ll be stranded here for the night. Haven’t you taken enough pictures?” I’d lost count at about two hundred.
“Give me a few more minutes. There’s a view over there I got to get a photo of.”
Someone cried out in the distance and my stomach clenched. A cold sweat had broken out over my body. My shirt was soaked.
I waited by the tree trying to calm my nerves. What was wrong with me?
Truth was, I never knew I was afraid–terrified really–of heights until that trip to Yellowstone about twelve years ago. But I am. Terrified, that is. Driving up through the narrow winding roads to Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces all those years ago I got what could only be described as a full-fledged panic attack. I couldn’t even look over to where the road dropped off (as far as I was concerned) into eternity. My husband had been driving and we were slowly going up and up and up. I felt as if I were going to dwindle to nothing and blow away. Since then I’ve discovered I can’t go anywhere near the edge of a steep hill, an arroyo or a canyon. No matter how high a barrier it had around it. Anything higher than a ten foot drop off and I freak.
My husband makes fun of me. Good naturedly, of course. He loves me. Always has, always will. Just doesn’t understand my fear.
“What’s the matter,” he asked over his shoulder as he lined up another spectacular image in his camera’s viewfinder, “you afraid of falling or what? You won’t, you know. Just walk up to the rail and hold on, look down. I won’t push you over, I promise. You’re safe. I swear it.”
If he only knew.
It isn’t that I think I’m going to fall, it’s that something, primal and hungry, gnaws at the pit of my stomach, the minute I get near a cliff. I can’t move forward. Can’t move at all. I can’t even force myself to step up to the rail or fence or whatever is there between me and the chasm and glance down. And, oh, I’ve tried. I’ve never been a fraidy-cat and am usually fearless in most other aspects of my life. I hate it that I’m afraid of something. Anything. Especially when it makes no sense. I’m not going to fall if I don’t step over the edge.
For a second I wondered why I’d agreed to this trip.
Since childhood Kathryn Meyer Griffith has been an artist and worked as a graphic designer in the corporate world and for newspapers for twenty-three years before quitting to write full time. She began writing novels at 21, over forty years ago now, and have had sixteen (nine romantic horror, two romantic SF horror, one romantic suspense, one romantic time travel and two murder mysteries) previous novels and eight short stories published from Zebra Books, Leisure Books, Avalon Books, The Wild Rose Press, Damnation Books and Eternal Press.
Kathryn has been married to Russell for thirty-four years; has a son, James, and two grandchildren, Joshua and Caitlyn, and lives in a small quaint town in Illinois called Columbia, which is right across the JB Bridge from St. Louis, Mo.
All Kathryn Meyer Griffith’s Books available at Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Kathryn+Meyer+Griffith