The Great Fall of China

We didn’t know that it was illegal.

Kat and I set up our tent on top of The Great Wall of China. It was late fall and the air was chilly. There were scraggly orange bushes surrounding the wall on all sides, and the fog rolled in just as we finished setting up camp.

I shivered, but not because of the cold. The Great Wall of China had a dark past. The wall had been built over the dead bodies of the workers who had died there. As a result, we were sleeping on top of millions of human bones.

“Do you think we’ll see a ghost tonight?” I asked Kat. I was only half joking.

Kat rolled her eyes. “Let’s play cards,” was all she replied.

We’d been traveling through China together for a week and I had come to love her no-nonsense attitude. We were with a large tour group, but we were camping separately. It felt nice to be alone.

The two of us sat outside our tent on our sleeping mats as Kat dealt out the deck. I cracked open a bottle of something called “Fire Water” that we’d purchased from a small stand at the bottom of the wall. “You first.” I offered it to Kat with an evil grin. She took a chug and coughed.

“Uhg, that’s awful.”

I reached for the bottle and took a swig. The burn of the alcohol made me happy. It felt like adventure.

The night grew darker and Kat won three games in a row. I looked up from my cards to take in the view. It was hard to believe that I was actually here. I squinted up at a tower in the distance. “Did someone light a fire?” I pointed.

Just then, four tourists came sprinting down the wall. “Run, the police!” one of them shouted to us.

I looked at Kat in terror. Both of us jumped up and grabbed our tent. We started running down the wall with the awkward structure between us. We didn’t know what was happening, but we weren’t going to risk getting thrown into a Chinese prison.

We ran down the wall for a mile before reaching a parking lot. A few other members from our tour were also there. Kat and I ended up cramming five people into our tent to help those with nowhere to sleep. The night was confusing and uncomfortable.

In the morning, I woke with a nasty headache. I could hear angry voices outside. Three members of our group had been arrested for lighting the fire. I felt betrayed by the stupidity of my fellow Americans.  Our guide was trying to free them, so the rest of us spent the day in our lame, makeshift camp. The sun was unbearable and all we had to eat was junk food from the same stand where we had purchased the Fire Water. After the first couple hours of waiting we were all silent.

Twelve uncomfortable hours passed before the guide returned with our three missing members. They looked tired and upset. Each of them had bribed the officials a thousand dollars for their freedom.  I didn’t care much. All I wanted was a hotel, a shower, and real food.

“What a majestic night.” Kat joked.

I turned back to gaze at the wall before I climbed into the van. It stood impervious to us, winding endlessly through the Beijing mountains–beautiful.

Kelly M. Welsh is the Managing Editor at Flatirons Literary Review. She has a BA in creative writing from the University of Colorado. Her two biggest passions are writing and travel; lucky for her, the two work well together. Kelly has traveled to eighteen different countries and has been published in Eunoia Review, the poetry anthology Forever Spoken and more. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado with her cute and cranky hedgehog.