“Wild Country”

 

The gang sat motionless. Then they heard it too, a kind of low growl that a predatory animal makes when it exhales. A moment later, another growl, but it was coming from a different direction. Ben jumped across the aisle to the other side of the cabin to get a look. He pointed his powerful camouflage military flashlight out the window toward the tree line and scanned the area.

“Can’t see any animals, but there’s a lot of tracks in the snow by the fire pit… Wait, there in the trees… Nope, it’s gone, guess the light scared off whatever was there. We can check it out in the morning, we’ll be okay in here.” he assured everyone.  

The Shirley Ann had another magical power. She made everyone in her cabin feel safe and secure; almost like being home in your own bed. They were all asleep within minutes.

The windows worked like a row of solar heat panels, warming the cabin as night gave way to the early morning rays of sunlight. The gang began to stir, the sound of zippers sliding down their tracks as they peeled out of their bags. Bandit was in Jold’s lap licking his face, as he did every morning.

“Yuk,” said Kate. “Does Bandit always wake you with dog slobbers? That’s gross.”

“Yeah, so what? Let’s eat.”

Willy was already at the back going through the food. He tossed a bottle of water and an energy bar to each of them. “Sorry, no eggs and bacon this morning, no cold cereal either.”

Ben was still asleep, snoring like an old man. He never had trouble sleeping, anywhere. It’s a gift, Tali liked to say. Tali moved in and slowly unzipped his sleeping bag from the bottom exposing his stocking feet. She didn’t hesitate. She grabbed one leg at the ankle and held it tight, then started tickling the bottom of his foot. It startled him so much that he exploded up like the release of a coiled spring and hit his head on the ceiling. Then he came crashing back down and rubbed his head.

“Really, I can’t believe you did that… again. I’m gonna get you for that,” he said. But Tali and the gang were laughing so loud by then they couldn’t hear his threat. Even Bandit joined in the fun with rapid fire barks. Ben couldn’t keep a straight face any longer, he cracked up laughing as he rolled up his sleeping bag and threw it at Tali. Secretly, he never minded being teased by her.

“Well, let’s see what’s going on outside,” said Willy.

Kate already had her boots and coat on. She opened the cabin door and jumped out, landing in a foot of fresh snow. “I guess the storm’s over, clear skies and not too cold. Bandit was already sniffing around the fire pit where all the tracks were.

“What do ya think made these tracks?” asked Jold.

“I’m thinking those are wolf tracks. They look like regular dogs, only bigger.” said Ben.

“Yeah, those are wolves alright, I’ve seen ones like that before. My dad told me when they’re that big, it’s a wolf.” said Willy.

Bandit stopped sniffing, looked up and let out a bark, then another.

“What’s he barking at?” asked Kate. Then they heard it, the sound of dogs or worse barking in the distance.

“Better get back in the Shirley Ann,” she said.

The barking got louder as they all scrambled into the cabin and slammed the door. Willy and Ben rushed to the cockpit for a better look. They couldn’t believe what they saw coming toward them.

“Everyone get up here, you aren’t going to believe this,” said Ben.

A dog sled was racing right for them pulled by eight black and white Alaskan Huskies in a full-on sprint. They recognized the breed, a lot of people in Buena Vista had them for pets. When they reached the Shirley Ann, they suddenly stopped.

“Look guys,” said Ben. “There’s no one in the sled.”

“What do you think happened to the driver?” asked Tali.

“Let’s check it out,” said Willy.

They opened the cabin door and eased their way out, one by one. Bandit was already nose to nose with the lead dog. No problem so far. The sled dogs seemed almost happy to see them. They started making little yelps and began pulling on the sled just a bit.

“I know this sounds crazy,” said Tali. “But I think they want us to go with them.”

“I do to,” said Kate.

The sled was huge, about eight feet long. More than enough room to seat four with one riding on the skids at the back where the musher usually stood. Ben took that place on the skids. Willy, Jold, Tali and Kate scrunched together on the sled sitting single file. Kate was in front, Bandit jumped in her lap. They were ready, but the dogs just stood there. Then Ben remembered what he had seen on YouTube.

“Ready, let’s go,” he said. The dogs took off, made a u-turn back in the direction they had come and settled into a steady trot. They seemed to know exactly where they were headed as they snaked through the forest on a narrow trail.

“Where do ya think they’re taking us?” asked Jold.

“No idea,” said Willy, “but this is awesome!”

The trees thinned out and the trail widened a little, so the dogs sped up to a lope, kind of like a horse in a gallop. They all grabbed the sides of the sled and hung on. Ben had a death grip on the handles attached to the seat at the back of the sled. If he lost his footing on the skids he would be left behind. They broke through the trees into a clearing and the dogs accelerated again, scary fast this time. How long could they keep this up?

In the distance they spotted a stream of smoke rising into the air. As they got closer, a small log cabin appeared near the tree line. The smoke was coming from the chimney. The dogs were running straight for it at full speed. At the last moment, they made a hard-left turn sending the sled sliding across the snow to a perfect stop right in front of the cabin door.

“Super awesome,” said Jold.

Ben released his grip and stepped on what looked to him like a snow break. “Anyone home?” he asked in the manliest voice he could muster.

The door slowly opened. A young woman stood in the doorway. Eyes the size of saucers, mouth wide open and hands pressed against her cheeks in total surprise.

“How are you?” asked Tali.

The woman stood quiet for another few moments before speaking, then said, “Please, please come in, all of you.”

They filed into the one room log cabin. In one corner a potbelly stove was heating a kettle of boiling water. The stove seemed to be the only source of heat. In front of the stove was a handmade rustic table and four chairs constructed from willow branches. There was a kitchen sink but no faucets. Shelves surrounding it were loaded with canned goods. Water was stored in open buckets along the wall. Clothes were hanging from wooden dowels on every wall. Above the door was a gun rack with three rifles. Hanging on the door handle was a belt with a holster and pistol. Next to the door were boots of several sizes. Snowshoes leaned against the wall next to the boots.

In the back of the cabin was a double bed piled high with blankets. Crowded next to it was a bunk bed where two little children were huddled next to each other on the bottom bunk. Tali walked over and sat next to the little kids. “My name is Tali,” she said, “what’s yours?”

The mom answered for them. “Their names are April and Autumn. And I’m Cheryl. Please, tell me who are you and what you’re doing here.”

Ben spoke up. “I’m Ben, this is Willy, that guy is Jold. The red head is Kate. The girl sitting with your kids is Tali.” We are all 6th graders from Buena Vista, Colorado. We aren’t sure why we’re here but the dogs outside pulled the sled up to our plane and waited for us to climb on. Then they brought us here.”

“I don’t understand what’s happening, but you’re an answer to my prayers.” Just then a pain filled groan came from the double bed and what they thought was a pile of blankets moved.

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