The Precipice

by Jiksun Cheung

Every year, on the fifteenth night of the seventh lunar month, when the gates of the underworld are thrown open, he returns to the corner just off the main road in Kam Tin beside the entrance of a rundown amusement park, where he sets a bundle of joss papers alight in a rusty tin can and then takes a pinch of gravel and rooster blood between his fingers and rubs the vile mixture into his eyes until it burns.

The park is closed on the Festival of Ghosts, but this is what his daughter wants, so he hands over to the caretaker a wad of bills (and a carton of cigarettes for good measure) in exchange for the keys.

“What should we do first, Baba?” she says.

For the moment, they have the park to themselves. A whimsical jingle plays over the PA system. In the distance, roller coaster tracks arc silently over the tree line and then dip back into the shadows. On the corner by the ring toss stall is a feast for the dead: whole boiled chicken, white rice in blue china bowls, roasted suckling pig with eyes made of candied cherries, and rows of porcelain cups filled with rice wine.

“How about we try and win that fluffy pink bear?”

She squeals.

There’s no one inside the ring toss stall so he clambers over the counter and returns with two dozen plastic rings in a wicker basket. The first dozen bounce off the glass bottles and clatter to the ground to the sound of their shrieks and almost-got-its.

“Just warming up—” His grin freezes when he sees someone on the other side of the stall.

The woman is naked with long black hair and sharp feral teeth. She watches them intently. They’ve never had trouble with the spirits here, but then he sees the swishing of white bristling fur: the fox tails of a wuleijing.

His daughter tugs urgently on his belt loop. “What does she want, Baba?”

What he knows about fox spirits are scraps from old childhood stories. In life they were jilted lovers poisoned by jealousy, and so in death they return to seduce and destroy. He wonders why she’s drawn to the park, to this ring toss stall.

“Stay right here,” he says, and climbs to unhook two of the fluffy pink bears from the stall’s awning. He tucks one under his arm for his daughter and gently places the other one on the counter before backing away.


The moon is out and the park begins to fill with spirits and creatures that crawl and slither out of the shadows. Beneath a tree with heavy branches, a young man eyes the pair wearily as they pass. A long, forked tongue hangs from his mouth as he gnaws hungrily on a pork knuckle someone had laid out for him beside candles and incense. The tongue is a sign of those who had ended their lives with a noose, and he wants to ask the young man: who did you lose?

They ride the carousel; her on a blue seahorse, him a pink manta ray. There are other children too—faceless creatures riding silently beside them. He doesn’t mind. Perhaps they’re only looking for company on this one night, in a world that has forgotten them. The carousel spins. He holds her hand tight as they bob up and down and laugh until the moon is in the far corner of the sky.

“You wanna try the big one?”

She hesitates and he sees the anxiety on her face. She almost says no but something is different this time.

“Am I tall enough now?”

She isn’t, but he looks around and winks as if to say: “It’ll be our secret.”

“Aren’t you a little bit afraid?” she says.

“I’m terrified.”

She giggles at this. “Okay, Baba. We’ll be a little bit afraid together.”

They hop the turnstile. He unlocks the control booth and flips the switches. When the lights along the track flicker on, they climb into the first car. Behind them, the seats begin to fill.

The red light in the booth turns green and the roller coaster jerks forward.

She claps her hands but grows quiet when they begin clanking upward. The sky has turned the slightest shade of blue grey and the first rays of dawn linger just beyond the horizon.

“Baba,” she says, “will you be back next year?”

Below, he spies the figure at the entrance looking up and he imagines what the caretaker must see: a solitary old man who returns year after year, tossing rings at glass bottles, spinning on the carousel until his tail bone is black and blue. But this year there’s something new—he’s at the front of the roller coaster, alone, greying hair flapping in the wind.

He looks at his daughter’s pale white face, devoid of all features like the children at the carousel. It is the face of a child who disappeared and was never found. He tries to remember her almond eyes, her button nose, and recalls the final seconds from a lifetime ago, before he had stupidly turned away to pay for their ice cream cones. He remembers, too, the eternity it took him to realize that she was missing.

He thinks to tell his daughter that there have been talks of demolishing the park to make way for tenement buildings; of the highway that will run through the middle when all of this has been reduced to rubble.

But instead, he whispers how proud he is that she has become such a brave girl.

The roller coaster reaches the top of the hill and pauses at the precipice. In the moment before the drop, he wraps his arms around her and tries to hold on as she fades into oblivion with the rising of the sun.

Jiksun Cheung is a speculative fiction writer from Hong Kong who writes about parenthood and confronting the unknown. He and his wife share their home with two boisterous toddlers and enough play dough to last a lifetime. Find him on Twitter at @JiksunCheung and
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