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AS HE STRUGGLED UP
HE PRAYED FOR HELP
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Kjgfr . By Spain Sire
Hy Illustrated hy Ben Stahl
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I wheel still spinning,
n His tnind tried to absorb what had happened
} •" that split second: the crashing jolt of the
guardrail the high, soaring, leaping sensa
tion when the wheels left the road the
violent battering fury of the impact. And
, now the sudden silence.
| What had been an evening ride to Mount
Wilson only a few moments ago was now a
nightmare and. as in a nightmare, John
Norton felt himself struggling through thick
layers of blackness to wake up.
He kept seeing the green convertible that
had come head-on, passing another car over
) the double line at the crest of the hill. There
had been only the soft shoulder of the high
way left to him.
» Then he had fought the wheel as his tires
1 hit the soft dirt, but his car had gone out of
control on the other side of the rise. And now
this the nightmare. Only this time, when
he opened his eyes, the horror was real.
The first clear thought Norton had was for
his wife. He reached out from his tangled posi
tion against the windshield and lifted her
head. There was blood in the short black hair
that had fallen across her forehead, and,
although she was still breathing, her face was
strangely white and still.
“Helen!” He shouted her name. She re
mained motionless and limp.
Then he saw more blood pulsing out of a
deep cut in her left forearm. It was a widen
ing red stain in the gray wool of her dress. He
jerked off the bandana she had on her head
and made a tourniquet on her arm. He twisted
the cloth until the flow of blood stopped, then
He did all of this automatically, as if some
one had been standing over him telling him
what to do. Finally, when it was done, he
looked out of the car window and everything
inside of him froze, and he could feel fear mak
ing a paralyzing weight of his body.
The car, he realized, was wedged into a cleft
in a rocky shelf, above a deep canyon, while
overhead there was an almost sheer embank
ment of loose earth and stone.
Sweat broke out all over his body, and he
felt suddenly very weak. Except for bruises,
he could find nothing the matter with himself.
So there was no reason for the weakness
except fear. He despised himself. He knew he
would never have the guts to climb that
THIS IS HELEN
embankment. Not even to save his wife from
bleeding to death.
He had always been terrified of heights.
Ever since he was a kid he’d stayed out of
trees, and nobody had ever been able to get
him on a ladder. Everything above ground
level, anything with a sense of height awak
ened a nameless terror in him that he’d never
be able to face.
All his life he’d tried to fight the senseless
anxiety. He’d tried to ignore it and just go
about his life in a normal way. But somehow
he always hung too tightly to stair railings.
He lived in a one-story house.
He’d paid money to distinguished psychi
atrists, trying to be scientific about it. But in
the end he was still seeing one psychiatrist in
particular because his offices were on a ground
Then, of course, there was Norton’s family
doctor, whose name was Gregory, who actu
ally seemed to know best of all about his spe
cial private agony. Gregory had once been an
alcoholic, and that might explain his very kind
but very tough recommendation for a cure.
‘Listen, John,” he had said. “Every man
has his special demon. He’s got to wrestle
with him and whip him. You’ve got to run at
him, not away from him. Go climb something
high. John, and then look down, and you’ll be
able to laugh at what you were afraid of.”
Gregory came over and put his hand on
John Norton’s shoulder. "If you let a thing
whip you once, it’ll whip you every day. For
your own sake, go climb something high.
Climb a mountain. There are no tricks to it,
no mirrors. You just do it.” He sighed. “I
“If that’s your cure, you can keep it,” Nor
“Then no one ean help you, if you don’t
want to help yourself.” Gregory had con
cluded. "Not your psychiatrist, not your
friends not even your wife.”
So now here it was. The recurrent dream.
The terror. The nightmare. The dread of a
There was an instant, then, when Norton
forgot his wife and wished that the car had
finished its plunge so that he would never have
had to come back from the blackness to face
his cowardice. He still hadn’t moved; even
his eyes were staring. Inside himself he was
saying a prayer for help not for himself but
for his wife, whom he was not man enough to
He listened for the sound of a siren, and that
was when he became aware of the absolute
Thin ff rck Magazine ~ March 27. 1955
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