Short story


“Oh, joy!” I muttered into the breeze, choked on some desert dust, then followed my onerously intrepid man up one thousand and eighty-eight and a half steps…

We went as far as the car would take us. It had been a hot, drowsy drive. I stretched, then stared up at the vertical cliff-face which housed the temple. To our left, a thin stream of spray gave away the waterfall pummeling at the sandstone crack.
“Can you see the stairs?” asked Alan as the taxi hastily pulled away.
“Too late to ask the driver,” I sighed. Wasn’t this always the case? Ill thought-out not-quite-spontaneous trip to go find some fabled temple. It had taken long enough to find a taxi-driver who understood our poor Chinese and who could read PinYin. It had taken even longer to find one who would bring us to The Temple of Heavenly Falsities. Why Alan would want to see such a temple, the gods alone knew. I, on the other hand, knew better than to argue with him when he got into such moods. So here we were: intrepid explorers of the rural Chinese desert and connoisseurs of almost deserted temples.
“It’s probably like The Hanging Gardens Temple. People must get up there someway.” said Alan, hand to his eyes searching for an access.
“Must they?” I knew there would be some impossibly steep worn stone staircase to ascend; and I really didn’t want to. It was already stinging hot even with the chill breeze.
“Look, Sharon! There it is!” enthused Alan, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Let’s go find the caretaker.”
“Oh, joy!” I muttered into the breeze, choked on some desert dust, then followed my onerously intrepid man up one thousand and eighty-eight and a half steps.
I bent over gasping for air beneath the overhang creating a natural cavern which marked the entrance of The Temple of Heavenly Falsities. Above, stretching for what would definitely be more than one thousand and eighty-eight and a half steps, the cliff towered towards the heavens turning sepia.
“Alan!” I gasped, “There’s a sandstorm coming!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Sharon. It’s not the time of year. We’ve had wonderful rains.”
“Six weeks ago!”
“Don’t be such an alarmist. I wonder where the caretaker is.”And Alan disappeared into the cold depths of The Temple of Heavenly Falsities. I took one lingering look at the lone bus, trundling like a beetle far below, before I sighed, choked on some desert dust and followed my intrepid man into falsity.
Up seemed down and down seemed up. Light was comfortable while the darkness dazzled my eyes. “Wha..?” I began, stumbling on a minor outer galaxy.
“It’s mind-bogglingly awesome! Words fail!” stated Alan, reverently squatting at the edge of the known universe.
Gingerly I hopped across the swirling Milky Way, resisted the pull of a black-hole then accidentally kicked some asteroids into new trajectories, before eventually perching precariously on the edge of the known universe with my man.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed, eyes straining as wide open as I could to take in the impenetrable dark of nothingness. I stood blinded by the utter beauty of the infinite and total potential of everything.

“See!” said Alan all smug, turning to follow our new guide.
Bewildered, I clung to my man’s shirt as we hopped across the galaxies back to terra firma – the worn stone of The Temple of Heavenly Falsities floor.

“Oh, there he is!” Alan had turned back to look at all of creation.
I almost stumbled into oblivion in shock. Hopping nimbly, across the universe despite emphatic, angry gesticulations and flying robes, the caretaker of the Temple of Heavenly Falsities advanced towards us.
“He looks a little angry, don’t you think?” murmured Alan, unperturbed. I knew he just saw it as a good opportunity to practice his Chinese. “Never mind. I’m sure he’ll be really happy to show us around.”
I wasn’t so sure. The caretaker’s expression boded otherwise.
I clung to Alan’s arm, flinching at the torrent of angry Chinese, as the caretaker reached us. I hated when this happened as it almost inevitably did.
Alan remained unfazed. Using his free hand to gesture grandly at all that lay beyond us – the great nothingness, Alan simply said reverently, “Shway.”
I looked at him in surprise. Why had he called the infinite handsome? Had Alan forgotten the word for beautiful again? Nevertheless he had gotten the caretaker’s attention. The caretaker’s mouth had clamped shut. His eyes widened, then crinkled as his mouth stretched into a broken-toothed grin.
“Aah! Shui! Shui! Hou! Hou!” He nodded emphasis, looking pleased. A wave of his grey robed arm indicated we should follow.
“See!” said Alan all smug, turning to follow our new guide.
Bewildered, I clung to my man’s shirt as we hopped across the galaxies back to terra firma – the worn stone of The Temple of Heavenly Falsities floor.
“Ah! Shui, shui!” nodded the caretaker enthusiastically through fabulous galleries of molecules, atoms and a sea of neutrinos. And then we were at the waterfall.

I felt the spray engulf me, moisture seeping into my tightly closed mouth while in my ears the sound of the thundering universe, like some subliminal bass drum, drowned out everything till there was nothing.

It was huge. Gigantic. Bigger than the biggest waterfall you’d ever seen! I frowned. How could a waterfall be bigger than Niagara Falls and not drown out the road we had driven to get here.
But the caretaker gave us no time to think. “Shui!” he declared in delight, then indicated we should drink.
Alan had gotten his intonation wrong! He had said water, not handsome, again! He took it in his stride and nodded.
“Alan, I don’t think – .” I began, but Alan had already leaned out across the thundering chasm to drink from the falls.
He stepped back ecstatic, mouth and chin glistening from the liquid, face blissful. “It’s…it’s…Words fail!”
“Shui! Shui!” went the caretaker, pushing me forward.
I felt the spray engulf me, moisture seeping into my tightly closed mouth while in my ears the sound of the thundering universe, like some subliminal bass drum, drowned out everything till there was nothing.
***
“Quick! Can you see the stairs?” Alan was almost frantic. “They must be somewhere!” He sounded like he was underwater.
I licked the water droplets off my lips, then stared up in bright daylight at the towering cliff housing The Temple of Heavenly Falsities.
“Alan?” My voice was faint.
“It was over there, wasn’t it?” Alan tried to rush off past me on the right.
“Alan, what…?” I turned around at the opening of the car door.
Our taxi-driver was advancing, waving his arms in agitation, going: “Bu shi! Bu shi! Kuai! Kuai!” He ran after Alan, overtook him and blocked his path. “Bu shi! (No!) Kuai! Kuai! (Quick! Quick!)” and he pointed towards the wall of dust rolling crazily towards us.
“Alan!’ I screamed.
My intrepid man shook off the taxi-driver. He turned to hurry me into the car. Our taxi-driver was only a second or two behind. We slammed the car doors and took off with a squeal of tires in an effort to outrun the wall of dust.
I got a brief glance of the waterfall. It ran down a deep chink in the cliff, just a thin line of frothy white. “Alan?”
He looked at me then said in his inimitable way, “I guess that’s why they call it The Temple of Falsities, eh?”
I looked through the back window of the car and saw the beautiful nothingness once more. I blinked. And it was replaced by a wall of desert sand. I sighed, then choked on some desert dust.

If you like this story, you might like Leenna’s novel Situation No Win or reading about Yulin in SeethroughIt Mag Issue 1.

Advertisements

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s