2010 Totem Head Story Contest Honorable Mention: "Spirit Bear" By Kithara.
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Honorable Mention

Story Title: Spirit Bear

62º N latitude 145º W longitude
Just outside Gulkana, Alaska.

So there I was, clutching the sides of my seat and staring out the front window at the quickly approaching ground.  I couldn't take my eyes off it, so I didn't see my mother’s pale white face as she found my hand; or my little brother scrunching his eyes closed as if he were trying to wish it all away.  I didn't notice my uncle, trying and failing to bring the plane under control.  All I saw was the snow-covered earth beneath us growing larger every second.  No one spoke.  There was no screaming or yelling, just eerie silence.  My heart beat loudly in my ears, and my palms were sweaty.  I felt helpless--unable to stop what was just seconds away.  I prayed and held my breath, bracing myself for impact.  And then we hit.

The red and white Piper Cherokee crashed to the earth, slowed down only slightly by the forest of trees.  Since my uncle had tried his best to angle the plane for a smoother landing, we didn't crash head on.  Instead, it roughly glided over the tree tops for a second, making the ride extremely bumpy.  Then, as it slowed down, the nose dipped into the forest and smashed into a huge pine tree.  My seat belt held me in place, but my head jerked forward and hit the pilot’s seat.  The nose of the plane had been smashed way in, and the left wing was almost completely ripped away.  Glass was shattered all over.  My mind went black.

I could have been unconscious for a few seconds or an hour; I don't know.  When I woke up however, the first thing I noticed was that the plane was silent.  I found this odd.  In all the stories and plane crashes I have heard of, most ended in the explosion of the plane's engine or some other unfortunate disaster.  Here, though, there was just the silence and cold and hurt that enveloped me as I leaned against the pilot’s chair.  My neck felt sore, but when I tried moving it there was no sharp pain.  I slowly moved my hands and fingers, then my toes.

Next, I looked around for my family.  It was getting darker outside; I only saw an outline of my mother.  I softly called out to her.  She gave a vague response, her voice sounding strained.  She tried moving, but I realized her leg was pinned under the front passenger seat.

"Don't move, Mom," I told her.  The chair looked jammed, so there was no point in trying to move it myself.  I looked over at my brother and my uncle, both unconscious but not severely hurt.  "I'll be right back; I'm going to get help."  I didn't know whether my mom heard me or not, but I unbuckled my seat belt and picked my way to a jagged hole in the side of the plane.

The sky was a mix of reds, blues and purples.  It would be dark within a half hour.  The wind howled, and I saw with dismay the inches of snow that covered the ground.  I had boots on as well as a heavy parka, which would help.  I knew it would be an almost impossible task--finding help in the middle of nowhere.  It didn't help that I would be searching in the dark.  Reaching back into the plane, I tugged at the survival pack that was now stuck between the door and the back seat.  Once I got it loose, I climbed down from the plane and grabbed a flashlight and a box of matches.  I stuffed the matches into my coat pocket, tested the flashlight and started walking.

As I dug my feet into the thick snow, the bitter cold air stung my cheeks.  With each lagging step I took, I grew farther away from the plane.  I stumbled, and the wind knocked me back into the dense snow.  Grabbing a tree for support, I got up, brushed the snow off and kept walking.  My mind flashed back to the plane, crumpled and dead.  It didn't seem possible that I could still be alive when I remembered the seconds before the crash and the broken plane afterward.  A shiver ran through me as a gust of wind danced past.  I picked up my pace and concentrated on walking.  Step.  Step.  Step.

I had no clue where I was going.  All I knew was that we had crashed somewhere close to the border of Canada.  Aside from hitting my head and getting bruised and scratched, I hadn't suffered anything major.

My mom, my brother and I were going to see my dad in Montana.  Recently, he was told that his job was relocating to Montana, which meant we would be moving there.  I was disappointed about starting middle school in a different state, but it was an adventure I was looking forward to.  Dad had called last week to tell us we needed to see a house he found.  My mom asked Uncle Scott to fly us out in his small Piper Cherokee.  Everything was going according to plan until the engine sputtered, and we couldn't get through on the radio.  That's when my uncle prepared for a crash landing.

The landscape became increasingly obscured every minute as the sky grew darker.  I suppose that's why I didn't see the shadowed figure moving through the trees until it was too close to just quietly slip away unnoticed.  When I did see it, I stopped, frozen in my tracks.  There, not more than 50 feet away, stood a Spirit Bear.  His thick white fur was blanketed lightly with snow.  He had his nose pointed upward, sniffing the new change in the environment.  From what I could tell, he was more curious than aroused.  If I was cold before, my blood was now ice throughout my entire body.  But the bear only stared at me, and then slowly took a step forward.  I thought about lying down and playing dead, but I couldn't move a finger.

So, I stood there as the bear made its way leisurely toward me.  The animal carried itself with a strength and beauty I never knew existed.  With every step, his furry, matted paws eased to the ground with grace; oblivious to the hundreds of pounds they were carrying.  I was mesmerized by this rare and frightening encounter.  I learned from Animal Planet that Spirit Bears are brown bears that have a genetic mix-up.  Instead of brown, their fur is white. Until now, I had only seen pictures of them and never really gave them a second thought.

We were now face to face.  I saw the bear's breath puff out in little clouds and disappear. I closed my eyes, waiting for this nightmare to be over.  To my utter despair, when I opened my eyes, the Spirit Bear was still staring at me with his marble black eyes.  He surprised me by taking my coat sleeve carefully in his teeth and pulling.  I realized if he had any intention of hurting me, he would have already done so.  Instead, I had a weird sense that he was trying to lead me somewhere.  At first I pulled against the bear, but he reacted by giving a firm tug, and I knew that I had to follow.

Bright stars were scattered across the night sky as it stretched itself like a blanket across the tree tops overhead.  Over and over in my mind I wondered where we were going.  I had no idea how long we'd been walking, but it had been dark for some time now.  The bear still had my sleeve in his teeth but resigned to guiding instead of tugging.  I had been watching the bear's paws so when I looked up I was surprised to see smoke.  Then I saw the log cabin.  All I could do was stare straight ahead and try to register what the bear had done.  Before, I had all but given up hope of finding help.  Now, as the cabin lay in front of me with smoke pouring out its chimney, hope and comfort bubbled inside me.

The bear let go of my sleeve and turned to look at me.  His eyes stared into mine, and I cautiously reached a hand out towards him.  The white fur was soft as I stroked the bear's neck.

He turned around and walked silently into the dark woods.  I had no idea how he had found me or where he was going now, but I whispered a thank you.  I believe this bear was a much greater, untamed force that only existed in legends.  I thought of my family and wondered if they were OK, but something told me they would be fine.  I took a breath and started towards the log cabin.

Written By:   Kithara.

Link to Free Writing Contest for Kids

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