People say acrophobia is a fear of heights. It's not.
It's a fear of falling.
It wasn't the most comforting thought to have, but there it was, plunked down on the sofa with a whiskey bottle in hand and stubbornly refusing to leave his mind. A mind encased in a poly-carbonate bowl, with a body wrapped up like a takeaway burrito in materials too high-tech to be called simple names like plastic and cloth.
Diving from the Stratosphere had come a long way since Felix Baumgartner's pioneering jump back in 2012, but it was still very niche; the domain of only those with plenty of courage and coin to spare, and the few lucky lottery winners who hadn't yet lost their nerve.
Kevin's winning ticket was tucked inside the surprisingly wieldy spacesuit he was wearing. He had bought it on a carefree whim; like many of life's big changes, the win had snuck up on him with the predictability of a hail storm in Summer. Now he found himself trembling at the edge of the depressurized chamber of the low-orbit shuttle, his legs dangling over miles of thin air, his fingers clamped onto the hatch railings.
The view though. If his breath could escape its carbonate confines, it would have been snatched away in a flash.
Earth drifted below him like an inflatable raft in the vast ocean of space, predominantly brown with shades of green and rounded borders of blue. One half was bathed in a fuzzy bluish white glow by searing beams of sunlight. On the side shrouded in darkness, a patch near the North Pole was playing host to the Northern Lights, an unruly cluster of vibrant emerald lights dancing with magnetic grace.
Kevin wished he could sit up here forever, and let the serenity gently embrace him and overwhelm his senses like a dense musk. Up here, the petty quibbles of everyday life shriveled to dust under the infinite gaze of the universe...
"Beautiful, isn't it? Makes me misty-eyed every time."
The friendly voice on his headset startled him out of his reverie. Kevin turned around to face his instructor, her suit enveloped in an aura of calm.
"You ready to jump yet, Kevin?"
"I don't know, I don't think I can do it..."
"Just breath. Rest your hands on your lap, and relax your shoulders. Submerge yourself in the peace up here..."
It occurred to Kevin that her voice could be really soothing when it -
His heart stopped beating for an eternity. Then the blood pummelled the veins in his head and lungs.
The voice on the headset returned.
"Spread your arms and legs! Don't worry, I'm right behind you!"
"YOU PUSHED ME! YOU - "
"Don't panic, you'll use up your oxygen! Spread your arms and legs, and enjoy the ride!"
"I hate you SO MUCH right now!"
"You won't for long!"
She was right. When his fears were finally brushed away by the atmosphere he was hurtling through, the thrill of the fall took command over his senses. With his next scream, the panic had been replaced with ecstasy.
When his feet touched the muddy field minutes later, Kevin could die happy. He unbuckled his parachute, whipped off his helmet and inhaled deeply as his instructor landed a few seconds after. She was beaming as she walked over to him.
"So, what did you think?"
Kevin couldn't help his response.
"It was out of this world! Let's do it again!"
Their laughter fluttered in the stiff morning breeze as they trudged back to base, the light of dawn caressing their footsteps.