Writer - Laurence Sullivan
My knuckles turn ghostly white as I grip tighter around the iron chain. This single section of swaying metal – casually bolted into the mountainside – is all that secures me from a two thousand metre drop to certain death. Beneath my feet is a haphazard collection of planks – seemingly stapled together – that creak and groan with every fresh step I take. I was told Mount Huashan was a spiritual place, but now that I’m here, I’m guessing it’s because it’s haunted with the spirits of all of those who simply slipped off the mountainside and straight into eternal slumber. I’m praying I don’t become one of them.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around achingly slowly to see the face of my Chinese guide. “It is not much further,” she says curtly whilst gesturing aggressively into the distance. “The journey is always worth it.”
I find this sentiment hard to believe, especially as her finger’s rapid movement and close proximity to my face makes me feel even less stable than before. I find myself holding even tighter onto the chain – until it starts to physically hurt.
“I said to go!” my guide yells at me.
I suddenly freeze like I’m back at school in P.E class. Though my guide’s shouting is far worse than any gym teacher I’ve ever had, at least Mrs. Pritchard’s orders had a genuine hint of encouragement in them…
“You need to move,” she starts up again. “Now!”
“Stop shouting at me, Shui!” I scream back at her and almost lose my footing as I do.
“Be more careful.” Shui holds onto me with her free arm and smiles at me softly. “You might fall.”
Great. So I’m stuck on the side of Death Mountain with Doctor Jekyll and Ms. Hyde!
“I can’t do this,” I just about manage to blurt out through broken sobs. “Please can we just turn back?”
“No!” Shui furrows her brow and puffs her cheeks out like a hamster; I think in an attempt to show me how serious and stubborn she’s going to be about this.
“Fine,” I blubber, and I inch forward a little as I do.
Unsurprisingly, the boards beneath me unleash a sound akin to demons moaning in hell and I find myself frozen with fear again.
“Very good,” Shui says sarcastically. “We will be there by the next century!”
“I’m sorry, it’s just very far down!”
“No, it is okay.” Shui gently pats my shoulder. “I just wish I had brought my granddaughter with us, it is her birthday next month and now I am going to miss it.”
“Did…” I try to speak, but the words initially escape me. “Did you just sass me, Shui?”
Shui stares back at me with a look of confusion plastered across her face. “What?”
I get a sudden burst of courage and edge forward a few more steps, I think mainly in a subconscious attempt to end this completely awkward, utterly harrowing trip as soon as humanly possible. That’s when one of the boards splits in two and I feel my entire body jerk downwards. Panicked, I desperately try to lift my foot out of the void and back onto the path, whilst Shui reaches out and struggles to hold me upright. We battle with the air for a moment – the pair of us flailing like cats trying to swim – until Shui is able to pull me safely onto her board which immediately creeks like a sinking ship.
“They are not made for two!” Shui shouts as she stumbles backwards onto the board directly behind her.
So there we are, the pair of us staring at each other like a couple startled raccoons just caught stealing.
“Can we go back now, Shui?” I whisper.
Shui nods sullenly and gently holds my hand before leading me back to terra firma. As it happens, ‘terra firma’ is still a mountaintop that soars over the terrain below, but right now it feels as comforting as my bed after a long, long journey.
“It really is beautiful,” I say, gazing out at the misty vista beneath us.
“Better after you almost die,” Shui whispers as a smirk spreads across her face.
“That’s happened to you before?!”
“Yes, many times before.”
“You told me it was safe…and spiritual!”
“Almost dying is a spiritual experience!” Shui laughs heartily before eyeing up my backpack and suddenly holding out her hand to me. “Now, that will be four hundred Yuan…”
Raised by domestic cats amidst the wild tundra of the English Midlands, Laurence Sullivan was told by his feline overlords to write. They didn’t actually specify *what* he should write, in fact he was fairly certain they couldn’t even read – so he could have been penning anti-cat propaganda for all they knew – but they insisted all the same. Being British, and therefore unable to either say ‘no’ or do anything without apologising profusely, he acquiesced to their demands. The results of his mission so far can be found on Facebook.