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Fiction Fantastic 2024 Winning Story: “Stranded” by Kane Lowell

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2024 Winners Anthology, Realm of Forgotten Dreams.

“Stranded” by Kane Lowell, Creslane Elementary School

Third Place, Elementary Level, 2024


Stranded

By Kane Lowell

Creslane Elementary School

“Those guys better be waiting for us,” my best friend, Glen, said. He’s about four foot eleven inches tall with dark brown hair. He has a good sense of humor and a face covered in freckles.

“Oh, relax,” I said. “They’re probably still making popcorn.” My name is Ted, and I’m ten years old, five foot three inches, and blonde with blue eyes. Everyone is having a sleepover at one of my friend’s houses. Glenn and I walked there through a neighborhood after school.

I had suggested the sleepover a few days ago, wanting one last chance to hang out before going on a camping trip for a few weeks. We would be driving, to my disappointment, as I get carsick easily. For the sleepover, we would watch a movie and eat popcorn and candy: a reliable recipe for a great time. The movie we selected was new, and we had been wanting to watch it for a while before it came out.

We approached the house. As soon as I turned the doorknob and cracked open the door, we were greeted by laughter and familiar sights: David sleeping on the couch, Robbie scrolling to find the movie, and Bill popping popcorn while concocting a mixture of junk food. I grinned.

A day later, after the sleepover, we put our bags in the car and my dog Carter got in his kennel. I fed him a treat before we hit the road. The ride started out smoothly but then, a few hours in, something bad happened: we got lost.

A single sign, blocked by a branch, unreadable, was the only thing signaling human civilization. Dad got out to read it, and Mom dropped her phone out the open window. She got out to grab it, leaving me inside.

I decided to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. But when I reached for the door handle, I saw the edge of the narrow road crumble, and was caught by surprise and jerked backwards.

As I was tossed out of my seat, I saw through the window that the car was rolling down the side of a cliff and gaining speed. I hit my ankle and shoulder on the side of the car. A huge branch whacked into it, breaking the door off. I fell out and hit the ground hard. The impact knocked the wind out of me.

The car’s tailgate flew open, and Carter, inside his kennel, fell out and landed in the mud. I watched as the car rolled into a river and floated away, getting torn apart in the rapids.

After the last of it disappeared under the raging rapids, I groaned in pain. I sat there for a minute, my shoulder throbbing, but my ankle was my main concern: it was purple, swollen, and as I reached down and touched it gingerly, felt like it was on fire.

I slowly got up and limped over to Carter, who whined and scratched at his cage, which was beaten up and bent. I unlatched it and watched as he got up, and came to me for attention and comfort. When I saw he didn’t have any injuries, I breathed a sigh of relief and gave him a scratch behind the ear and a pat on the head.

It was already getting dark, so I decided to find shelter for the night, as I was in no shape to walk. I looked around, surveying the scene. There was a large mountain close by with a big indent about four feet tall and around twenty feet long that faced the river. Perfect. I called for Carter to follow me and headed towards the small cave, limping.

As I approached it, I noticed that it had some small chunks of rock and dirt. The floor looked worn. I wondered if it belonged to an animal. But there were no signs of nearby wildlife, and I couldn’t really look for another place to spend the night; I was lucky enough to find one shelter.

When I lay down to go to sleep, though, I found that the floor was much too cold, hard and rocky to try to go to bed on. I endured it for a few minutes, but soon decided to create something to use as a cushion, as the current situation was not working. I could make it out of moss and dead leaves. It would help keep me and Carter stay warm and shouldn’t take too long.

So I told Carter to stay and I went outside. I started pulling lichens off trees and picking up only the driest leaves, which I checked for bugs. I also added handfuls of soft grass and dried those off the best I could on my shirt. I spent a few more minutes collecting, using a pocketknife that I found in my sweatshirt to help.

By then, the moon and the stars were coming out and, through their dim silver light, I saw rain clouds starting to gather. I looked at the bulges of mossy bedding in my pockets and my hand. I decided what I had was enough and started to walk back when I heard howling.

My eyes widened and my heart beat faster as the sound of multiple wolves filled my ears. Despite my ankle, I started running back to the shelter away from what sounded like an eerie song. Based on their howls, they sounded pretty close.

Through the trees, I caught a glimpse of one. It stared at me, and I swear I saw its gaze drop to my limping leg. It knew I was injured. I’ve heard before that some animals target wounded prey, but I didn’t know about wolves. I didn’t really know how dangerous they were, but I didn’t intend to find out. I ran faster.

When I reached the shelter, I still didn’t relax. I dropped the bedding on the floor, then went down on my knees and, breathing heavily, spread it out on the floor, making an even layer of soft cushion big enough for me and Carter to sleep on. But I didn’t feel safe enough to go to sleep, as their howls persisted.

Carter whined and cowered, so I went over and petted him. He seemed to calm down a bit, but it was clear that I wasn’t the only one who was worried. I led him over to the bedding and told him to lie down. He listened. Then, I told him to stay, and I went out and lowered myself from the three-foot-tall ledge a couple of feet away from our shelter that led to the river.

There were quite a bit of round rocks that made up the shore. Their sizes ranged from the size of my hand to my head. I grabbed one after another and set it on the small ledge. I didn’t pause a second, no matter how loud it was.

Carter came over to me, head slightly tilted, curious what I was doing. After I had a large pile of round stones, I lifted myself back up to the shelter, where I stacked the biggest rocks to form a makeshift wall to help keep the wolves out, if they came. I made it three layers thick, and tall enough to touch the roof. I made it the same way on the other side, then on the edge of the small ledge down to the river. It seemed surprisingly strong and could be removed if you had human hands, but for paws, nothing they did would work. Carter seemed mostly reassured, and so was I. Plus, the wall muted all their howling. So, I told Carter to lie down again, and I lay down with him to help preserve body heat.

Carter drifted off fast, but I was kept from sleeping not just from the invading worry about the coyotes, but also the nagging worry of dying out there. What if I was never found? Even if I survived for a long time, I would become crazy, living far away from anyone else, no contact with anyone again. I steeped in my worry for a while, but it couldn’t compete with my tiredness from everything that had happened, and I drifted off to sleep.

It wasn’t long before I was jerked awake by the wolves. I sat up and listened, heart pumping. It sounded like they were right outside. They scratched at the rocks, trying to get in. I heard a few howls. By then, Carter was awake. He had his hair raised and was barking loudly. I heard a huge slam, then the sound of rocks tumbling. I didn’t know what they were doing, but it wasn’t good. They did it twice more, and I backed up to the wall, but Carter stayed slightly ahead of me. He growled at the wolves.

Then, with another crash, one burst through. Carter lunged at it, and they engaged in a snarling battle. He managed to get the wolf pinned, then slashed at its snout. It yelped and escaped from under him, then bolted away.

Carter ran back out with me close behind. He let out an even fiercer growl at the other wolves, but what appeared to be the alpha leapt forward and attacked him. I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure what I could do. Then I remembered the knife in my pocket. I pulled it out, gathered my courage, and, right as the wolf pined Carter, I threw the knife at it. I couldn’t see where it hit, but the wolf yelped loudly and ran off, its pack following.

Breathing heavily, I walked back into the shelter, rebuilt the broken wall, and got back on the makeshift bed. As I sat there in the dark, I wondered what my friends were doing. They were all probably fast asleep in their real beds with a cozy blanket. I shivered. I also wondered what my parents were doing, and if they were searching for me. I decided to get up as early as I could to go back up the hill. With that thought, I closed my eyes and drifted off.

I woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside. I yawned and got up. I had to tell Carter to get up off the bed so I could gather it all up and stuff it in my pockets. I looked around to make sure nothing got left behind, and with that, I removed a few rocks of the wall and headed out, Carter following behind.

The journey up the hill started out good but after a while, my feet got sore and Carter slowed down. I’d been on hikes before, but this was steep, rocky, and hot. Still, I pressed on. After a few hours, I decided to take a rest. I sat down on a rock. Carter started barking and, at first, I couldn’t tell what he was barking at, but then I heard the loud whir of a plane. I wasn’t sure if it was a search plane but if it wasn’t, it would still be another person who could help me. I yelled and waved at it, trying to get its attention, but it passed right by. I called after it until my throat was hoarse, but it kept going until it flew out of sight. I wanted to sit on that rock forever, but I knew I needed to get going. So, I got up and trudged on.

After another hour, I wanted to quit, but then I remembered the plane. It wasn’t flying too high, which meant that there was an airport close by. An airport means I was close to a town. So, I kept going and, after a while, I thought I could see a road through the trees. As I neared it, I saw that I was right. I ran towards it. As soon as I reached it I breathed a sigh of relief. I spotted the same sign from earlier, so I went over to read it. In big white letters, it said WELCOME TO GREEN VALLEY! POPULATION: 1,359. I walked towards it, finally back.

Epilogue

It didn’t take much longer after that to get home. Our reunion was emotional, and we were all happy. Apparently, my parents both scoured the forest for me and called the police. They sent someone to look right away, but never found me. They were worried sick the whole time, and they didn’t stop worrying until they found me. Carter still has scars from the fight with the wolves. We took him to the vet and he seems fine.

Back home, I realize how much I took for granted. A soft bed, shelter, food, everything. At school, my friends asked me questions about what happened at first, but then things just went back to normal. A few newspaper reporters have asked for the story, but I haven’t talked too much about it to them. For now, I’m just glad to be home.

The End