This story was written by Chong Mei-sze, 17, a student from Carmel Secondary School.
She is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2018 Summer Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish a story from one of the finalists of our 2018 Summer Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, and each finalist will receive a copy of. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 25
Please, can someone tell me what I’m doing here? Because there seems to be no earthly reason why I’d be here, at the foot of a hill, if I was in my right mind. I blame Alisha, who is the reason I joined this hike in the first place. She’s the one who asked me to accompany her, even though I am afraid of heights, and I hate sports. That’s an even better question … where IS Alisha?
As I’m thinking, my phone buzzes. It’s Alisha, and I see torrents of apologies, support, and reassurance that I will be okay without her.
She is SO dead.
Does she remember how she bombarded me with lots of texts last night, begging me to come along? She should know better than to try to excuse herself by claiming she has overslept – I know it’s really because she’s changed her mind. She’s lazy.
At the very least, I fume, she should have called me to apologise instead of texting. The words don’t help me get out of this – nor do the emoji she sends.
I try to call her, but it doesn’t go through. She probably doesn’t have the guts to speak to me – and if she was afraid of that, then she shouldn’t have invited me in the first place.
There’s almost no time to get angry, though, because the hike organiser is already running through the safety rules, and the details of our route. He goes on for about 10 minutes, but all I pick up is three things: that we have to finish the route (which is eight kilometres long!) in teams of eight in six hours or we’ll fail; that we have to be careful; and that we have to finish the last kilometre by ourselves.
I stare at him like he’s speaking nonsense – which he might as well be. I look at the faces around me. They look confident and happy. Am I am honestly the only person here who feels queasy about this? I guess there’s no turning back now, though – it would be way too embarrassing to back out now.
My teammates seem nice, even though I don’t know any of them. They take care of one another, at least. This might not be so bad, I decide – and then we set off.
Oh my god. How am I supposed to keep up with them when they’re running uphill? The sun is beating down on my back, and I’m sweating already. I feel like an egg that’s sizzling in a frying pan, and every time I stop to wipe away the sweat on my forehead, my legs scream in protest at what I’m putting them through.
This is why I’ve never liked doing sports. Why would I do something that gets me horribly out of breath, to the point where I honestly feel like I’m dying? This isn’t fun at all. This is torture. I have better things to do with my time.
Before long, though, my teammates have realised that I’m struggling to keep up, and they slow down so I can catch up with them. I’m finally able to catch my breath, and I look around …
I hadn’t noticed before, because I had been running after my team for what felt like hours. I had been staring at their backs as they ran off into the distance, and I had been concentrating on the slope ahead of me. Now I have the time to look around and to take note of my surroundings. I can see trees in the distance, the sparkling dew on the grass in front of my feet, and the bright blue sky … that’s all around me.
I can’t do this – I’m so high up. I regret everything. I regret taking a rest, looking around, taking part in the hike … am I stupid? Why would I look DOWN when we are so high UP?
The world starts to spin, and my vision blurs. I can feel myself shaking. I can’t tell if it’s sweat or tears that’s rolling down my cheeks, but does it matter? My heart is pounding, and I can’t breathe. This is it, I’m probably going to die up here.
I’m about to crumble to the floor, when someone from my team catches me and holds me up. She’s talking to me, but I can’t make out any of the words. All I can think about is how much I want this to end. I want to black out, but she won’t let me.
Well, they won’t let me, because when I look around, I can see my teammates around me, staring at me with concern. Someone pushes earphones into my ears, and I can hear soothing music over my panic. They must realise it’s the height I’m afraid of, because they surround me, and stop me from seeing how high up we are. They don’t look as if they’re mad, and they ask me if I think I’ll be okay to continue.
“It’s all right if you have to rest, or even stop here and head back. Just tell us and we’ll go with you,” one of them assures me. I’m still scared, but I take comfort in their words. I don’t want them to lose out on completing this hike because of me. Besides, now I feel like I can go on, because I know they won’t leave me behind.
The hike doesn’t get any easier, but my teammates are around me, taking turns to walk with me on the narrow roads and talk about all sorts of random topics. Every so often, I have to grab someone’s hands and hold on for dear life, sometimes to the point where they’ll yelp in pain, but we carry on regardless.
We reach the highest point, and we take a moment to look at the world below us. There is a placid, mirror-like lake along our hiking route and, under the dazzling sunlight, its sparkles like a thousand diamonds under the sun. The trees sway with the breeze that blows past them. If it wasn’t for the trees, and the birds that chirp in the distance, the scene could have doubled as a photo.
This was worth it, I decide. This is the reward for experiencing the fear, the exhaustion, the aches to get to this point. This view is like being reminded by nature that there’s always a reward at the end of any journey, as long as you never give up.
It seems like the breathtaking views have given us a renewed sense of purpose because, as we begin our descent, we’re all full of energy and feeling relaxed.
Our journey down is easier, and on a gentler slope than our trek up, which is why it’s safe enough to be on your own. Moments before my teammates and I split up, they take it in turns to pat my back, and tell me that I can do it. I smile back at them a little nervously. They have been there with me for most of the journey, and I know I would have given up long ago without their company. Will I be able to do the rest on my own? I don’t know, but I suppose there’s no harm in giving it a go. I watch as my companions leave, standing still as they disappear once more into the distance.
I take a deep breath, and I start walking … and before long, I fall over my own feet.
Ouch! That hurt – I had fallen with a pretty heavy thud. I’ve got bruises and scratches everywhere, and my wrist feels really sore.
I sigh but get back up on my feet. There’s still a long way to go, and I can’t give up – not when I’m so close to completing this hike. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, silently counting each step I take in my head. I’m on my own, and I can’t afford to suffer another panic attack. The last thing I need is to be overwhelmed by fear when there is nothing to distract me from it, or to talk me out of it.
My wrist continues to throb. I must have landed on it badly when I fell over. I look at my watch – I have 10 minutes left. The slope is gentle, but I’m still panting and soaked in sweat. My clothes are sticking uncomfortably to my skin, and I can feel my energy drain away from me with every moment that passes. My muscles are screaming in agony, and I want to do the same thing. I could give up, collapse to the ground, and scream out my defeat, call the organiser, and get him to pick me up in a car. But … it would be such a waste. I’ve already come this far, and I can’t stop now.
I tighten my shoelaces and straighten my back and start walking once again. In no time at all, I’ll see my teammates. In no time at all, I’ll be going home. In no time at all, I’ll finally get to rest for real. I set myself goals to reach – the tall tree, the lamp post, the rubbish bin, and the pavilion. I can make it if I just think about making it to the next landmark … and the next … and the next … until the finish line.
And I make it! I finally reach the finish line … where the clock tells me I’m 32 minutes over the time limit. My watch must have stopped when I fell over.
My teammates run up to me, beaming with pride. They’re all wearing medals around their necks so they must have completed the hike within the time limit. I couldn’t have finished without them and I’m happy for them, but most of all, I’m proud of myself.
I’m proud of myself for pushing past my pain. For pressing on. For not giving up when it would have been the easiest thing for me to do. For overcoming my fears. I might have failed to complete the hike but I feel like I’ve passed a test anyway. I probably deserve a prize, too, right?
Yes, I decide. And, whatever it is, it’ll be on Alisha.