by Alex Womack
Theakston's Old Peculiar
“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” was Frank’s new mantra, thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he would. It was time to get over it. It had seemed feasible, with friends - well, friendly colleagues. They thought him a bit odd, the usual side effect of his phobia. They didn’t know about it of course. He couldn’t bring himself to explain how his claustrophobia dictated life.
He worked in the warehouse. That was o.k.. It was huge. He could handle being there.
He didn’t go to pubs or cinemas: too closed in. On the plus-side it saved money but made him seem a bit anti-social. He went fell-running. They groaned at that.
So he amazed them by joining in the plan for a Halloween party. He hadn’t mentioned Emerson, naturally, but that was how he came to be in a coffin propped in a corner of the Tan Hill Inn. Wearing white sheets and shreds of gauze to be ghostly. It was tough, he felt sick, desperate. He felt ghastly. He just had to wait until everyone was there, then the fun could begin, they said. They were the lads in the warehouse and the fun was when the girls were all there too. Then he could jump out, scare them and enjoy the party. Fears conquered.
To stop himself from leaping up and spoiling it all, he thought of work. Collating and packing orders, heavy things like granite mortar-and-pestle sets. Anxiety ground into his head and his throat. Routine easy plastic things. Panic squeezed his breath. He thought of sheep-dog trials with Granpa, so patient and determined.
The cue he was aching for came suddenly and he leapt out shrieking. He wasn’t kidding. Waving his arms, yelling ‘Aaararragh’, very near to tears, he howled his way to the door and dived out. And ran and ran. When he ran out of breath and began to stumble over lumps of wet grass he slowed to a halt, gasped air into his lungs.
He became aware of being in the dark, with cold sleet passing at an angle, on a wind guaranteed to give him hypothermia. Now he was afraid in a different way.
Told himself to get a grip, he couldn’t be far from the Inn, just needed to locate its lights and head back. His feet got him onto a smooth surface and he plodded along it, finding it easier going and hoping it was the road to the Inn.
A bright light dazzled him. He felt a surge of hope. He heard an engine. Then he was next to a tractor and a face under a woolly hat was mouthing something.
The door opened and the face yelled ‘Get in!’
He didn’t stop to assess the space, simply scrambled up into the cab.
The driver, a young woman, said ‘What d’you think you’re doing, up on the tops half-dressed?’ She seemed angry, in a jovial way. His teeth chattered. She shouted ‘Coffee’, and handed him a flask. It must be Heaven I’m in, he thought and almost laughed at such a daft idea. She drove while he drank the lukewarm coffee and he shivered less and managed to say ‘Thanks’ in almost his normal voice. When the tractor stopped, the woman got out and said, ‘Get out’. He followed her into a house. It was very quiet and warm. A couple of collies got off a sofa and sniffed him, wagging their tails. He liked dogs. This was clearly another part of Heaven.
About the author and the inn
The Tan Hill Inn, Swaledale, is the highest inn in Britain at 1,732’
Alex Womack is a a northern Briton living on the south coast.