Jessi was starting to get irritated. The two girls had been climbing up through the forest for almost an hour. Evergreens, abundant and close-knit, groped at them as they wove their way upward along the edge of the ravine. Occasionally, they drew close enough to see the river bed falling away deeper and deeper beneath them. The climb wasn’t steep but it was tiresome, and Jessi was falling behind.
Annie stopped and looked back. “Come on, I think it’s just a little ways now.”
“What is?” Jessi asked again, exasperated. Her irritation showed in her tone.
“You’ll see.” Annie waited for Jessi to catch up before pushing on again at a slower pace.
“This better be fucking worth it or you’re carrying me back,” Jessi grumbled.
Annie giggled but she kept silent.
Finally, the trees gave way to a dirt trail leading toward the edge of the chasm. Annie turned onto it and Jessi followed. The trail continued upward a while, winding in and out among the trees, and then made a turn directly to the edge of the cliff. A long, narrow suspension bridge stretched out across to the other side of the canyon.
“Oh you gotta be kidding me,” Jessi said. “You’re fucking crazy, Flower! We are not crossing that thing.”
Annie grinned, nodding her head rapidly. “I read about it in the park guide,” she said.
Jessi walked up to the edge of the ravine and looked down into the abyss. Hundreds of feet below them now, the water churned angrily against moss-less boulders, winding its way down a path carved by centuries. The bridge swayed gently above it in the breeze, a trail of narrow slats spaced ridiculously far apart so you could see right through them as you crossed. The ground under her feet was suddenly liquid, an unsteady tower of dizzying height.
“Jesus, who builds shit like this?” she said, backing away again. “What fool thinks, ‘What should we do today? Oh wait I know, let’s go find the deepest part of a canyon and build a rickety-ass bridge over it?'”
Annie’s grin was now the grin of exactly such a fool.
“Freak,” Jessi squinted at her. “Jesus shit, look you at you!”
Jessi was right. Annie’s stupid grin stretched over a face so pale she looked like a Jack-in-the-Box clown. Her vision was a blur and her hands were dripping with sweat. Nausea made her thankful she’d skipped breakfast and her whole body was trembling in nervous fear.
“That’s your dumb ass telling us to turn around,” Jessi said, knowing there was no chance of that.
“No hands,” Annie chattered through her teeth.
Annie wrapped her hands across her chest, clenching her teeth to stop the chattering. Her eyes pinched shut for a moment in grim determination, then they shot open and she whirled and raced out onto the bridge, shrieking at the top of her lungs. She felt her stomach pour through the funnels that were once her legs as the wooden slats cushioned like dry sponge under her feet. The bridge rocked back and forth under her awkward gait, and the breeze blew through her veins in a gale of excitement.
Jessi watched, shaking her head. Annie looked truly comical, running screaming with her arms still wrapped around her as if the chain-net rails of the bridge were zombie hands pawing at her as she ran. Out across the gorge, and up the other side, screaming, screaming, until she collapsed safely on the trail again, laughing hysterically. The comedy was lost on Jessi. Annie expected her to follow.
“You’re fucking crazy, Flower!” her voice echoed on the canyon walls.
Annie got up, dusted herself off, and walked back to the bridge. Her shrug didn’t look very apologetic, miniaturized by the distance. Jessi stepped closer to the edge and the emptiness sank away beneath her, sucking her equilibrium down with it. She nervously placed one foot out onto the bridge and then transferred her weight onto it.
“No hands, Jess!” Annie yelled. “Don’t look down; just run. Just run! Run! Run! RUN!!!”
Jessi just ran. No wild terrified screams, just the rush of pure adrenaline as she saw the canyon floor appear beneath her feet. Concentrating on the slats was almost impossible. The seconds that it took to cross seemed to drag on forever and she realized she was holding her breath the whole way.
Annie was laughing again when she reached the other side.
“You’re such a freak,” Jessi’s lungs exploded. “That was the scariest thing ever. Why the hell do I ever go anywhere with you?”
“Cuz you love me,” Annie grinned.
Jessi’s eyes bugged. “Yeah, it’s kind of a love/hate thing,” she said, wagging her forefinger back and forth between them. “And right now…? Oh God!”
“What?” Annie wrinkled her brow.
“I just realized we still have to go back!”
© 2011 Anne Schilde