Sphere of Falling
It sat in my palm, small, round and shiny. The fluorescent lights of the shop reflected, curved, in its surface, as did the face of the shopkeeper. His nose, already a work of grotesque art, was hooked and crooked when viewed in the round surface, and the transparent green visor that shaded his eyes looked even sillier in reflection than in reality.
I had expected the sphere to be cool when he dropped it into my sweaty hand, but it was warm. And it didn’t really drop; it sort of settled into my hand, like a bird settling into a nest. I could barely feel its weight.
“And this will cure my ... phobia?” I asked the shopkeeper, one eyebrow raised.
“Yessir. Not only will it cure your fear of stairs and ladders, it will keep you from falling no matter what. The Sphere of Falling works for any kind of falling-related phobia. Once you buy a Fear Sphere of any kind, you’re protected from that fear completely, whether real or imagined. It’s guaranteed.”
My hand felt light, as if it were floating. I brought the sphere to my face and looked at my oversized nostrils in the reflection. The sphere smelled faintly acrid, like air after a lightning strike. I held it to my ear, but heard nothing. No whirring, no high-pitched electrical whine.
“What makes this work?” I asked the shopkeeper.
His lips pursed and quivered for a second before he answered. “I’m not allowed to say. Contractual obligations.” He motioned with his eyes to a crystal ball on the top of his desk. Grey smoke swirled inside the ball; I didn’t look too closely, simply nodded.
He squinted out from under his visor. “Let’s just say it’s not any new-fangled electronic device, hmm?” The visor shifted up on his forehead as he raised his bushy brows and winked once. He pulled the bill back down with his forefinger and thumb. I rolled the sphere around in my palm with my forefinger, looking for manufacturing marks. There were none.
“Why don’t you give it a try, eh? There’s a ladder just over there.” He angled his head toward the end of the counter, where a rollaway ladder leaned against the shelves.
I looked at the ladder, expecting my heart to start pounding, and was surprised when it didn’t. I closed my hand over the small silver sphere and placed it gently in my sport coat pocket. Glancing first at the shopkeeper, I walked slowly to the ladder, like a cowboy approaching a skittish horse. The ladder didn’t move, and the shopkeeper followed behind me. I licked my dry lips before I spoke.
“You know, I’ve never really had a problem with heights, but ladders are tricky for me because they aren’t too stable. Especially ladders with wheels,” I rambled, looking at the cast iron rails on which the ladder rested.
“This will be a good test,” the shopkeeper said. He sounded confident; I remained unconvinced, but took a deep breath and put my right foot on the first step.
The ladder didn’t move, and I didn’t slip and fall. Holding tight to the ladder’s edge, I carefully lifted my left foot up to the step, and again the ladder stayed put. I looked at the shopkeeper.
“Go on,” he said, grinning like a proud father.
The second step was as easy as the first, but I had no intention of going higher. I remembered what had happened the last time I climbed that high on a ladder. I still had the scar on my forehead to prove it.
“Okay, it seems to work. I think I’ll come down now.”
“No sir, you’ll keep going right on up to the top of those steps. We have to give the Sphere a good test to make sure it works for you, now don’t we?”
I thought about what he said, and realized how empty the space behind my fear was. Beyond that one fearful memory, nothing lurked to keep me from climbing higher up the ladder. “Okay,” I said.
I steeled myself for the inevitable unbalanced feeling as I brought first one foot, then the other, to the third step, and was pleased to find that the step was solid. The nagging trepidation that had been bothering me since I looked at the ladder began to change into a sense of thrill. I mentally latched onto that, grabbed the shelves for support, and climbed another step. Still no vertigo, no irresistible urge to jump. I moved up to the fifth step, and the ground did not reach up to grab me. I looked past my right foot at the old shopkeeper.
“Go on!” he said again, waving his hands upward. “Only one more to go!”
I placed my right foot gingerly on the final step, clinching the shelf brackets for balance. The step creaked a little, but took my weight. I slowly moved my other foot up beside it and applied weight until I was completely supported by the top step. My fingers relaxed their grip a little. I felt as if I were standing atop a brick wall, stationary and solid.
“See? There’s nothing to it!” the shopkeeper said, spreading his arms.
Then he kicked the ladder out from under me.
The ladder clattered down the rail to the back of the shop, banging into the rubber stopper at the end of the rail and rebounding a few inches. The shopkeeper’s grin changed from fatherly to maniacal. I screamed ... but I did not fall. Instead, I floated in mid-air, my fingers white against the surface of the dusty shelves.
“Wha – what the hell’d you do that for?” I shrieked.
The shopkeeper’s wild grin retreated into a smile again, comforting and apologetic. “Just helping you test the product. See? It works like a charm, if you’ll pardon the expression. You can come on down now, if you want.”
“How?” My voice trembled around the word.
“Just tell yourself you want down, and you’ll come down, gentle as a feather.
”I licked my lips and whispered, “Down, please, now.” The shelves seemed to rise in my hands at first, but then I realized I was slowly dropping — not falling — down to the floor. I relaxed my grip and let my hands slide down the worn woodwork. When my feet touched the floor, I took a deep breath. The orb still rested in my pocket, warm and comforting.
“S-Sold,” I said, fishing a credit card out of my wallet. He swiped the card and I signed the slip. A little brass bell above the door jingled as another customer came in.
“You want to carry that, or should I box it up for you?”
“I think I’ll just carry it, thanks.”
“I thought you might.” He smiled and winked out at me from under the visor, his face glowing green in the filtered fluorescent light.
As I made my way to the door, I heard the other customer saying, “I, um, my girlfriend wants to get married ....”
“Ah, I have just the thing for you: a Sphere of Commitment. Fix you right up!” The shopkeeper continued talking as I walked out. The doorbell chimed goodbye, and I floated down the steps to the sidewalk.