Cliffhanger | Ian Harrison



Ian Harrison

Hate and Coat Major Contest


“Smell that Eucalyptus! Worth getting out of your bedroom for the day, don’t you reckon?”

Kevin Gorman ignored his older sister and kept trudging the barely-there path, eyes fixed to his smart phone. He waved it, windmilling his arm and eye-line in all directions. He’d lost his bearings along with that last bar of phone reception an hour back, and Kayla ignored his complaints as he kept trying desperately to pick up a signal.

If anything, her determined pace increased, and she stopped her practice of holding sodden branches back from flicking him in the face and chest. She hadn’t realised the precise time. Kevin was born at thirty-six minutes past the hour – so if his phone signal did not return in the next sixty seconds, he would have to wait another fifty-nine minutes before trying again.

They no longer breathed steam, but after two hours of shrinking shadows, and meandering gradually uphill, both teenagers were keen to get to the summit and rest. Kayla had powered on ahead but whipped around in terror as she heard her brother shriek.

In a single moment, she’d torn off gloves with her teeth; grabbed a secure hold with her left hand. She fell face-down flat, peering tentatively over the edge. Rocks and smart phone were racing each other to the forest floor, far below.

“Help!” From Kevin’s perspective, the bare hand on offer represented greater danger than falling the rest of the way to the bottom.

“Urgh,” he gasped, risking his handhold to swat her away. “Skin on skin.”

“For goodness sake, I’m your sister, Kev. What will Mum and Dad say when I break it to them?”

“This… never… happens… at home,” wailed Kevin, tears glistening down a muddy grazed cheek.

“Tomb Raider? Prince of Persia? Minecraft? I’m sure they have their fair share of jungle terrain, rainforests and rocky cliffs,” she said.

Kayla tried again to grab a fistful of his parka with her free hand, but it was still slick from moisture, and pulling away from his shoulder.

“No mucking around now. I need your hand.”

Kevin was openly blubbing, sounding a decade less than his thirteen years, uncaring what his older sister may think of him. “Climb down… Help me, Kay. Please.”

“I swear to God, Kev. Stop fucking about.”

She released her hold of the rock and inched closer to the edge, spreadeagled, without letting go of his material.

“Um-ahh…” he taunted. “I’m telling Mum.”

“We’ve got to get you back home first, kiddo.” Kayla tried not to transfer any of her own vertigo to him.

The scene looked wrong, even upside-down. White knuckles clung to the rock-face, but as Kayla tentatively looked over the ledge, the truth slowly emerged.

“Kev. Stand up. I still have you.” She squeezed his arm through several layers of fabric.

“I can’t,” he wailed, eyes scrunched shut.

All the fear had gone from her voice. The ledge Kevin had landed on was wide and strong, and he hadn’t complained about his knees or legs so far; he couldn’t even have sprained an ankle, thank goodness.

Kayla used her teeth to stretch her sleeve over her left fist, whilst keeping a firm grip on him with her right.

“Kev, it’s me. Here, look.”

An eye opened, looking at the green arm dangling down to him. The other hand still held his left arm in place. In one movement, he let go of the rock-face with his right hand, grabbing her left wrist.

She sighed audibly.

“Kev, stand up,” she said again, repeating his name for reassurance – his, or hers, she couldn’t tell. “Otherwise, I’ll get your room and computer… your choice.”

This time, it registered.

“My computer? I can do this,” he said.

Kevin took a deep breath and allowed his sister to hold his arms as he pushed himself up. He’d fallen less than a metre, so by the time he was vertical, the solid ground Kayla was lying on came up to his ribcage.

“I can do this!”

“I can do this,” he lied.