‘Come back, Sally! You’re going to jeopardise the whole trip,’ yelled Luke.
I stomped away from him, clambering down the hill, biting the inside of my cheek.
Luke and his trip could go to hell, for all I cared.
He’d planned it for over a year. A trek across the unpopulated, breathtaking and varied landscape of Mongolia. As the seasons turned and the departure crept closer, I pushed down at the impending sense of doom I felt about it.
Not my idea of a holiday.
But Luke wouldn’t listen. He was overtly fascinated by the history of Genghis Khan and believed unequivocally that he was one of Khan’s direct descendants alive today. Luke felt that by being on the land Khan once travelled, he’d feel a deeper connection with the man. Or at least, Luke would better understand Khan’s methods of acquiring tribes and countries to build his empire. For his PhD. So he said.
I remained close-lipped about my concerns and we departed as Luke planned, only four days ago. We landed in Ulan Bator and settled into the hotel room for the night. Luke pulled out his map.
‘See Sal, from here we travel north-west to Moron.’
‘Mmm,’ I hoped my non-committal response would register something. Anything.
‘You right?’ He placed the map on the table, but his hands hovered above it, as if it was a rare gem that could never leave his possession.
‘Luke…’ my voice trembled with fear and concern. ‘I don’t think this is good idea.’
He frowned. Ever so slightly. Then let out a whoosh of breath. ‘Fuck, Sal, we’re here now. We can’t go back.’
Guilt washed over me. I knew how much his PhD meant to him. This trip, too. I pushed down my feelings and said, ‘No. No, let’s not go back. Just hop to somewhere else. Maybe Russia? Or Europe? That’d be much nicer.’
‘Sure. We can do that once the trek is done.’ He patted my hand before picking up the map again and plotting our course.
And now, we’re somewhere between the capital and Moron. The coldness bit into my skin as I continued my passive-aggressive hike away from Luke. I glanced up to the sky as if begging the sun to send down some warmth. At the base, I turned back to look up at him. The bastard waved.
‘Sally!’ His voice echoed over the dry arid grass. ‘Come up! It’s gorgeous!’
Freezing, with nothing else to do, I swallowed my misgivings and began to climb back to Luke. Twenty minutes passed before I reached him at the top. He slung his arm around me. Taking a breath took effort.
‘Look babe, isn’t it beautiful?’
He was right. The scene that lay beyond the mountain was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Another mountain range, in the far distance was covered in snow. The land between that range and us was littered with sections of nothing, a forest of gnarly trees, and I could just make out a patch sparkling blue. Water. A lake.
Still, my misgivings about this place bubbled. How could such a beautiful and rugged place be so scarcely populated? Why didn’t more tourists visit here?
‘Luke, do you know where we’re going? We’re not lost are we?’
‘No Sal. I’m good. We’ll be fine. It’s all laid out here on this map.’
He held it out in his hand for me me to see. I went to grasp it but the map slipped from my hand and danced away from us both. We watched in horror as the slight breeze carried our exit route far away from us.
‘Now what?’ I asked.
Luke couldn’t meet my gaze.