James Hilton’s Shangrila as described in his book, Lost Horizon

Water was still dripping from the shiny black sheet that hung from her head. It was not completely black, chunks of grey speckled through sporadically. She pulled her orange wide toothed comb through and stared at the mirror. Wilt and die, that is what she should do. But she shan’t do it here, no. Not in the gutter. Her last breath should not be drawn in a place that was barely a room. She was born a princess, and she would die a princess.

So she would do it in a room at the Shang-ri-La.

Shang-ri-La. She mouthed it while looking in the mirror. That place she had once heard about, spent her whole life searching and yet never found. That place where people fall in love for real, and as long as you were good, you lived good. The place where princes rescue damsels, where horses run steady carrying maidens on backs into the horizon. Where it smelt fresh, like trees, and the sky was a sort of blue that grabbed.

Where she could roll in the grass and feast on apples from the tree above.


The longer she lived, the further away she felt from this place. She remembered it being so close when she was a child, cuddled warmly on bosoms with stories whispered gently at bedtime and sturdy hands of a father securing her in swings. Those hands made her feel she could fly, so high. And then there were loud bangings and it was all gone. Rampaging men came to steal this life from her, and she was left a wounded child crying on the dusty grounds. A life of searching began then, for that place they say she would see them again.

They have gone to heaven, they say.

She wanted to go there too, but did not know how. So she went to school and did good, just like they say. And she worked hard, just like they taught her. But the longer she travelled into life, the older she got, the further she felt away from them. From heaven.

She got a room at the Shang-ri-La once. A creature called a man, suave and charming picked her up from the streets. Promised her heaven, so she followed. She always followed the promise of heaven. He came close, the leather seats of his automobile, his luxurious cashmere coat. And how he called her Honey and Sweetie all the time. That was the first time she came face to face with her beauty. No one had told her she was beautiful before.

Then he bought her clothes and took her to restaurants. And then one day he told her he wanted to give her heaven, and he took her to the Shang-ri-La. He promised heaven, and love and she looked deep into his eyes, too young to see past the glittery glamour and brown eyes. But in the glitzy hotel looking out at the Bund she realised for the first time that her heaven was a different one and she may not ever find it here. So a part of her heart turned over and got cold for it did not find heaven here. But she felt much like a princess anyhow, and tasted luxury, and what he called, heaven on earth.

That man was of the material world. And he broke her heart.

But another found her, and promised her the world.

And he broke her heart too.

Many promises were made, over and over.

And she believed them again and again.

Until she grew old.

Then she began to promise them heaven, and then the world.

But no one believed her enough to pick her up.

It was time, she thought. So she got up.

She shaved her skin smooth and applied that rose-scented lotion. She slipped on her black dress and skillfully coloured her face and eyes. Her red lipstick slid easily across her lips leaving a trail of red. She did not need to bring much, and no letter was necessary. She had no friends, no family, they were in heaven waiting for her.

It never occurred to her she may end up someplace else.

Or did it.

She telephoned for a taxi.

And was driven to the Shang-ri-La.

In her glitzy suite she ran a hot water bath, got room service and poured herself a whisky.

Everything tastes so sweet when it is the last time you would taste it. She ate the food so fine, and drank the whisky and wine.

She crushed the last of her pills, all of them, and poured them into her whisky. It clouded. She slipped her dress off and closed her eyes as her feet touched the comforting hot water that would wash all her disappointments away. She smiled.

Before it all faded away memories came a-flooding. First of him, and them them. She remembered the bang, and the dusty grounds, and then she felt her father’s sturdy hands, and heard her own laughter. She heard her mother’s whisperings, and tasted the sweetness of her milk. Then she felt her mother’s bosom pressed on her forehead.

Lights out.

The world before her fell away.

Before her the blue blue sky.

Where she could fly.

Heaven’s familiar warmth came upon her.

Finally, again.

And hopefully, forever.

On the bed lay her beautiful red dress. And a note.

When the last of my breath has been drawn I will be in heaven. 

The prim and proper maids attended to the dishes, and someone else came about her body.

Shriveled and grey.