The Less Trod Path
The planks had creaked under his weight as he’d walked across them, gingerly, but they’d held. He’d been pressed flat against the rough rock of the mountain, calloused fingers searching desperately for solid holds in the abrasive rock. The clean, cold wind plucked at his hair and hems. Below the sheer rock face, hundreds of metres below, the mountain began to slope, and cypress and firs began to crowd the rock. It was beautiful, but he was immobile, too terrified to pay it any mind.
‘Don’t go by yourself,’ McTierney had said. ‘It won’t be like the plank walk at Huashan. No one’s been there for six hundred years, according to this,’ and he tapped the scroll covered in ancient Chinese characters. ‘If it’s there at all, it’ll be rotten and unmaintained. There won’t be a safety rope pinioned to the wall. You’ll be lucky if there are still the holes where the stone post had been!’
He’d ignored him. The draw of being the first was too strong. McTierney had thought that refusing to go with him would be enough to stop him going, but he’d underestimated the draw of being the first. He’d underestimated his foolishness.
The planks had held, surprisingly sturdy, their six hundred year old stone posts holding, too. Then he’d rounded the corner. He hadn’t gone more than a few metres and there was a rumble. He pressed himself to the rock, cowering, praying to avoid the stones falling from above, but they hadn’t been falling on him. He crept back to the corner. The planks were gone; only snapped stone posts remained.
‘Onward, then!’ he’d thought. There was no other option. The air was cold, that was what was giving him the shakes, he told himself, as he shimmied along the ancient, creaking planks. The sun began to set, and cast gold across his shoulders. He watched his shadow gingerly move along the rock face.
At the edge of the next corner, he peered around.
Nothing. A few holes, and a single stone peg that had once held a series of narrow planks. He shifted his weight uneasily and the wood beneath his feet squeaked in protest. Palms sweaty, heart thundering, he crept back to the middle of his planks, finding a stone peg to ‘rest’ above.
There didn’t seem to be hand-holds forwards or backwards. Above, the sheer face of the mountain was worn smooth by the wind. He rest his forehead on the rough rock face, and sighed. Only McTierney knew where he was; he didn’t want to spread the word to competitors. How long would he wait before he came to look for him?
He hadn’t moved, but the plank beneath him creaked ominously, and the stone peg ground in its socket.
It didn’t matter how long McTierney waited. Even if he was already on his way, he thought, as the planks gave another, more urgent, cracking noise, he probably didn’t have much time left.
Word Count: 494
Day Four of Short Shocktober! Kind of an oblique interpretation of the prompt, but I think it works, nonetheless!