2011 Totem Head Story Contest Honorable Mention: "Antarctic Mission" By Kristen Loughlin, 12 years old.
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Antarctic Mission
Written By:   Kristen Loughlin, 12 years old.

So there I was, bundled up in clothes so thick I could hardly breathe, facing imminent death.

"My father will find us," I said to Star, my Siberian husky, though my words were carried away by the whipping wind. "I know he will."

But I was more annoyed than anything else. I had finally gotten the chance to visit my father’s laboratory in Antarctica, where he was a scientist for the National Geological Foundation, and had it ruined by an oblivious tour guide. I mean, come on. Who doesn’t notice a girl and her dog falling through a crack in the ice during a blizzard? If I survived this, I was so going to get him fired.

I snapped out of my little reverie, listening for any sign of a rescue, though I was sure our tour group was long gone by now. I had screamed myself hoarse, praying someone would hear me, but no such luck. I would have to get out of this predicament myself.

"S-Star, let’s try and wriggle free again," I stuttered, trying at least to sound confident. But hypothermia was getting hard to fight. Star and I were wedged in the crack almost too tight to move, and we were sliding deeper every second. I tried to push myself up with my knees, but shrieked with pain at the attempt; my ankle was bent in an awkward position, and by the look of it, was probably broken. I tried taking another view on the problem.

"…uh… let’s see, Star, you’re on my shoulder so maybe if I try and push you up and out-" I reasoned, but that only made us sink more. "Okay, never mind then, uh- OW!!!" I exclaimed. My bad ankle had hit a rock sticking out from the icy wall. I shifted Star on my shoulder so it wouldn’t hurt as much; the rock made a nice foot hold.

"Wait, Star, that’s it!" I shook her gently. Clearly I wasn’t the only one battling hypothermia. "Footholds! I should have been making them the whole time!" I tried to keep her from going to sleep, in fear that she may not wake up again. "I’ll make holes in the ice and climb us out."

I stood on the rock with my good ankle, trying to make a dent in the ice. It wasn’t easy, but once the first one was done I could stand on it, using the rock to make more. Finally, we were standing on solid ground again. By now I was practically slapping myself to stay awake, limping in the direction of the station. Amazingly, I still had a compass in my pocket after all that. I followed our group’s trail east, though any footprints they may have left were long gone. They couldn’t have traveled more than two miles before they had to turn back, and before we fell through the ice. Surely they had noticed someone was missing. Or at least I hoped they had.

It was growing even harder to push against the wind; the gusts were so strong now I could hardly stand up. Star tried to stay strong, but I could tell that she too was fading.

"We’ll make it, Star," I tried to say, but my shout was too weak to be heard. "I promise."

But I couldn’t go on anymore, and I fell hard on the icy ground. Tears stung my eyes. I didn’t want to give up! I had to get Star and myself safely to the station. And I had to live to see my father again.

I lifted my head. I could just barely see the lights of the station through the snow; it couldn’t be more than half a mile away. I tried getting Star to go to the station by herself, but she wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t walk, so that was out of the question too. I lay my head down again.

This can’t be the end, I thought to myself. No.

Star got up from next to me silently. Maybe she had decided to go. But she came to me, yanking my jacket. "I-I can’t Star," I told her, feeling completely helpless. "I’m sorry. Please go, I need you to be safe." Warm tears streamed down my cheeks. "Please."

But she persisted. "Um…you want my jacket?" I took it off, slightly reluctant. The wind whistled around me, and the temperature went from cold to freezing. Star took the coat in her teeth and laid it down on the ground in front of me. What on earth was she doing?

"S-S-Star?" I shivered, shouting over the wind. She returned to my side and gently nudged me foreword with her snout. At first, I didn’t know what she was getting at, but I quickly caught on.

"A sled! Star, you’re a genius!" I exclaimed as I slid on to our new, make-shift sleigh and grabbed her collar. Star was a natural sled dog, even in such a storm. Fortunately, the station was even nearer now and I could see its glowing windows and doors. But I also wondered just how far Star could take us. We were wiped out to begin with, and with the cold and hypothermia, I wasn’t sure we’d make it. But we had to. We’d come this far, and I wasn’t ready to give up yet.

But Star had begun to slow down, panting and stumbling a little. I knew that this journey had weakened her, but it didn’t show until now. She tripped and fell. She didn’t get up.

"Star!" I shouted, rushing to her side. "Oh, Star, no! Please be okay, please!" I shook her anxiously, but her eyes stayed shut. "No! No…" And I cried. I cried until there were no tears left. This couldn’t be happening, and it was all my fault. I shouldn’t have let her pull me all this way. She was my hero.

I dried my eyes. Now I had no choice but to carry Star the rest of the way. She had done that for me, and I felt compelled to repay her. I stood up, wincing as I tried to put weight on my ankle. I steadied myself, and then slowly lifted Star. I reminded myself that I was doing this for her. We would make it.

Finally we reached the door of the lab and I collapsed there on my knees. I pounded on the door, shouting and doing anything that might make noise. Suddenly, it seemed colder. Black spots danced before my eyes and I blacked out, with Star still resting on my lap.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"I don’t know how long…"

"…We could give her something-"

"Wait, she’s stirring!"

I heard voices all around me and opened my eyes a crack. There were people here. But where was here? I opened my eyes more to see I was lying on a hospital cot in my father’s lab, and next to me stood my father himself!

"Dad!" I said, though my voice was raspy.

"Your okay, it’s all okay," he promised, though it sounded more like he was convincing himself rather than me. But an understanding passed between us. He didn’t say it, but his eyes told me he really had been worried about me. He held me in a tight embrace, and I began to cry softly.

"You made it." I felt calm in his arms. "You’re safe now."

He was right, we had made it, but it was my father who had taught me the skills in the first place, given me the heart to never give up. Without him, Star and I might have failed.

"Wait…! Star!" I shouted, suddenly alarmed. "Is she okay? Where is she? Please let her be alright, she saved my life!"

"Um…she was pretty weak, and we weren’t sure for a while…" He sighed, and my face fell. Not Star…

The door opened and in walked a tall woman in a lab coat. She must have seen my sullen expression and known what I was thinking, because she turned and whistled and into the room bounded Star!

"Star!" I held her tight as she jumped onto my cot. "My hero." I stroked her and recounted our adventure to my father. He gaped at me, but slowly his expression morphed into a smile. The three of us sat there, deep in thought. I rested my head on my father’s shoulder, stroking Star.

"You’re my hero," he whispered, and in an instant, I had fallen asleep.

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