The Vertical Ladder by William Sansom

This is one of the many stories I would never have come across without A Personal Anthology. It was Roland Bates‘ first pick and he introduced it with this:
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.
 What teacher wouldn’t be tempted to give it a go on a rainy Friday afternoon? I can’t say my pupils were quite as rapt as Bates’ mates in 1981, but they did listen, and they occasionally mention the story even months later. Why does Flegg agree to climb? Why does he keep climbing? Is this just a story about a gasholder, or might it have a deeper message?
1944; now in The Stories of William Sansom, Faber. Online here

‘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