‘The Vertical Ladder’ by William Sansom

Thirty-five years spent chasing sheer dread: in 1981 my English teacher read to the class a story about a boy pressed into climbing the ladder on the side of a gasometer. He climbs, his friends kick away the first bit of the ladder, he climbs, they wander off, and he climbs… towards a truly oppressive ending. You could have heard a pin drop. I looked in vain for years, not knowing the title or author, until a Sansom anthology was recommended to me. The contents included “The Vertical Ladder”. Could this be it? It was, and immediately the horror was renewed. There’s no real plot: Sansom captures a feeling and then simply stays there. Why not?

(1944; now in The Stories of William Sansom, Faber. Online here

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