It all started with Cara.
She invited me to stay over her aunt’s house for last few weeks of summer vacation, while my parents were away on their so-called “expedition” of documenting fossils found on the coast of Australia.
“Come on,” she urged, “It will only be for a little while.”
As much as I was terrified of spending days in a town located the other end of the country, I agreed. Cara was my only best friend, and spending a month with her, without any annoying adult chaperones seemed like a golden deal. So on Sunday, I ate a steep amount of pancakes grabbed my suitcase, and stuffed all the possible candy and junk food I could to entertain myself for the plane ride.
Cara’s parents were both law attorneys. Much like my parents, they were far away for the summer, working on some case in another state. This meant that me and Cara were to fly all on our own.
So basically, two young sixteen-year-olds flying all alone across the entire country.
What could possibly go wrong?
“Do you have a dollar?” Cara asked, carefully counting her money, “Because this donut is begging me to buy it.” We were standing in line to a small pastry shop at the airport. Our flight boarding wouldn’t start for another hour, so we had all the time in the world to spare.
I sighed, fishing out a dollar bill from my wallet.
“Here,” I said, “But you’re giving me half of it.” Cara, overly-enthusiastic and happy of getting her treat, started bouncing up and down and singing some cheesy song from a kids’ show.
Note to self: Never give Cara caffeine before bringing her to a pastry shop, because it will end with her buying everything she lays her eyes on. And when Cara wants something she brings out her inner hyper chihuahua.
“So,” I say, pulling out my excited friend from the shop, “What’s our plan?”
I tried to keep my voice as steady as possible. Every time I thought about getting on a plane, speeding into nothing but air, knowing that we could fall —
“I told you like a million times already. We get on, the plane goes whoosh, we fly, we land in Sacramento. My aunt will meet us there.” She squinted as she scanned my face, “Oh, don’t make that face. I’ve done this like a hundred times before. You’ll be fine.”
She continued chewing her donut, making sure to give me my promised half. I, on the other hand, regretted everything I ever ate in my life, and the pink-frosted donut with sprinkles suddenly seemed very unappealing. Ironic as it is, this daughter of archaeologists never flew on a plane before. I just usually stayed with my grandma when they were away, who is probably the one to blame for planting in the element of constant worry in my brain.
The hour seemed to speed and slow every minute. I kept repeatedly checking my watch as we strolled for our gate, with Cara muttering something about overpriced chocolates. I meanwhile, tried to take my mind off imagining every possible scenario that could happen with us in within minutes — ranging from getting on the wrong plane to terrorist jets chasing us down. The windows on the walls of the John F. Kennedy airport were more than a story high, giving out an incredible view on gleaming airplanes with the most colorful tails. But even from where I was standing, I saw how huge this machine was. No wonder the Wright Brothers were some of the most recognized people in the world — somewhere in the past, in a world with barely any phones and electronics, people were introduced to a flying machine.
Applause to those brothers for being the first ones to fly their invention.
The booming voice of an airport employee thundered through the building, announcing the boarding of our gate. Cara, who was taking a nap against my shoulder, jolted awake right on cue, grabbed my hand and rushed to the front — she, unlike me, wanted to get onto that metal monstrosity willingly. Knees shaking, I sauntered toward the long hallway, feeling every vibrating step I took shake the world.
The smiling flight attendants, all dressed in navy blue, directed us to our seats. They probably greeted us with kind words, but I didn’t hear them — instead I was way too busy contemplating how I can escape from being suspended a thousand feet above ground in metal coffin.
“Okay, 22DE………19…20..21 — D and E — we’re here!” Cara said, re-adjusting her fawn, tangled braid. She plopped into the seat right next to the aisle, which means—
“I’m not sitting next to the window,” I said, feeling my face to numb.
“Oh c’mon — your first flight and you don’t want to sit next to a window? Don’t chicken out on me now, Reyna.” Cara pointedly looked at me, raising her dark eyebrow defiantly.
That was low. She knew I hated that look — the look that said I dare you. That’s the thing about best friends — they know you better than you know yourself, which unfortunately for me, included weaknesses.
So, raising my own eyebrow at her, I sat down into my seat and casually plugged one earbud into my ear, hoping to turn on some soothing Japanese melody, or any one of those meditating songs they turn on in yoga classes. Anything to spare me from listening to my anxious thoughts.
The plane, meanwhile started to move. Cara had told me before — it was driving out to the speeding line (where it would go whoosh!). The flight attendant started to demonstrate step-by-step instructions of what to do in case of an accident. I was tempted to take notes, but my hands were clenched onto the armrests and therefore were unable to move. The next several minutes of the plane driving towards the speeding line was me reading every prayer I’ve ever heard in my life.
“Ladies and gentlemen. The aircraft is ready for take off. Please make sure to buckle your seatbelts and turn all electronic devices off, or switch them to airplane mode. We wish you a pleasant flight.”
The speaker reminded me, for some reason, of a judge who is giving a death penalty to someone.
Not a good sign.
I shut my eyes as the plane started rumbling and shaking, as if it was a mini-earthquake. Then there was a loud hum as the propellers started moving, and the plane started to speed.
That’s why they call it a speeding line.
A warm hand from my right grabbed my own. I didn’t dare open my eyes, but I knew it was Cara. It was that moment that reminded me why she’s my best friend — no matter how energetic or lightheaded she is, Cara would always be there when I needed her. And that’s what I loved the most about her.
My ears started squealing as the plane gained speed. The last thought on my mind before it zoomed into the air was:
Oh my God. We’re gonna die.
So…..we didn’t die.
I was waiting for something terrifying to happen, like an explosion of some sort, but the airplane smoothly glided from side to side, eventually stopping and flying straight in midair. Cara sat there with me in silence, just caressing my hand, until they brought snacks, and she dove in, squealing when she saw the cookies. I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything at all, but my stomach growled at me and I reached for my food as well. After a while, me and Cara started randomly arguing over some book series. And like in most cases of traveling with your best friend, this conversation led to us remembering all the stupid things the other did.
And for a while or so, I forgot about my worries. I forgot that I was in a moving aircraft, that was a million feet up in the air. I forgot all my horrible scenarios of us getting hit by fighter jets…..
Until I heard those words.
“Ladies and gentlemen. The head pilot informed us that there has been a malfunction in the left wing. Please buckle your seatbelts as we take an emergency landing. Thank—-”
My heart became pounding uncontrollably as my eyes slid to Cara.
“What,” I asked, “is happening?”
Cara, always the one to say a hundred words per minute, was sitting with her face aslack, her mouth slightly ajar. It was like she was trying to say something, but didn’t know what.
For the first time since I’d known her, Cara was speechless.
The plane started rumbling, unevenly twisting. The metals flaps on the window were flying up and own and I saw all the wires and machinery underneath. Something in the pilot’s cabin was beeping, and my ears started clenching again.
“Cara,” I said, shaking her hand, “Cara. What’s happening?!”
She turned, and her face was white — completely white, and her blue eyes were wide with fear.
“I think….I think we’re going to crash.”
I felt my stomach plummet in rhythm with the plane as it went down to the ground.
That was the most terrifying dream I had.
Today Cara and I were flying to California. But now, there’s no way I’m getting on that plane. No, no and no. Because if we actually crashed, if that actually happened….
I shuddered and suddenly, I realized that it wasn’t my comfy bed that I was lying on. My head was aching, and there was no pillow underneath it.
I bolted up from the ground I was lying on, my head throbbing. The blinding light of the sky burned my eyes, so it took me a moment until everything came into focus.
Everything lay in shambles. Pieces of metal, fabric, and even suitcases were lying on the ground. Somewhere in the distance I saw smoke billowing, and the smell of fire and burning wood suffocated my lungs. I’ve heard shouting, somewhere far away, and my brain instantly scrolled back to the last thing I remembered.
“Plane….emergency…crash….oh my god, Cara!” My knees buckled as I stood up, but I ignored it and started running. “Cara!” I screamed, “Cara!”
Everywhere, trees had fallen, the remains of the aircraft scattered on the ground, the branches. I felt my eyes burn, and hot tears rained down my face.
Where is she where is she where is she where is she….
Cara’s arms wrapped me into an embrace, and I just fell. I fell on my knees, the relief of seeing my best friend alive knocking out all the strength I had.
“You’re okay,” I kept repeating, “You’re okay. You’re okay. You’re okay….”
We just sat there, on the ground, hugging each other for another several moments, until Cara looked up to me and inspected my face.
“Well, you look better than I do,” she said, “As always.”
“It’s okay. The plane made an emergency landing, but it was bumpy. Everyone got out, scattered, and they started to call for help, but then the airplane just went ka-pow! And everyone went swoosh in all different directions. But you passed out at some point, so I dragged you here,” Her eyes twinkled, “You do not want to know what kind of workout that was.¨
I frowned at her, “Yes, excuse me for passing out from an event that will scar me for life.”
Cara only laughed.
I looked around.
“Where is everyone else?”I asked.
Cara stopped laughing.
“Well, you see…” she said, her eyes full of…..guilt? “The flight attendants called everyone, and they set out to some clearing for camp…and to search for everyone else….and we kind of…..well, I fell asleep, and you were passed out, so….we might have stuck behind…a bit?¨ She seemed to be asking herself, trying to make sense of what she was saying.
I slowly stood, up, my brain coming alive.
“When did they leave?”
“…..three hours ago…”
“What?!” I yelled, following the yelp with a string of words I would probably get in trouble for using.
Cara sighed, and I just hugged her. Yes, we would’ve been as a group with the others if she were awake, but it wasn’t her fault. This struck her about as much as me. You can’t blame her for being tired.
“Let’s go,” I said, “They won’t be walking forever. At some point they’ll stop to make camp, so we’ll catch up then.”
“Okay, but first let’s scout around. Maybe we’ll find something useful.”
About thirty minutes later, we met up at the same place. There was no one we found amongst the debris — just belongings. Cara, amongst them, found my suitcase. It was torn, but all of things it had, including the snacks, was still there. I meanwhile, found a first aid-survival kit in a bright red box. The insides contained some ropes, a flashlight, a lighter, a large knife that you would see in an action movie, and a bunch of medical things I hoped I will never need to use.
We set out walking. The road was rocky, so I fell at least five times in a matter of an hour. The trees and roots definitely didn’t help. Far away, the trees stretched, so the forest was very large.
It was starting to get dark, and we hadn’t found anyone.
“We should start building some shack,” Cara said, looking for a place to set up her imaginary branch-house, “It might start raining, and the last thing we need is one of us getting sick.”
“We are in the middle of nowhere. My name is not Bob, and I am not a builder. How do you suppose we do that?”
But then something flashed in my mind. Some lame video of how to survive in a forest that we watched one time, back in sixth grade.
I had an idea.
“Do exactly as I say.”
About another hour later, when the sky was already streaked with orange and pink and and yellow, we looked at our invention. Long, curving branches were tied at the top and spread at the bottom, big enough to fit to people. We changed into a warmer, spare change of clothing from my backpack, and the rest was used to throw on our so-called “teepee”.
“You’re a genius!” Cara exclaimed, jumping up and down. “This is ama—”
She shut up.
But her ice-cold hand clapped my mouth as she pulled me behind a tree. I followed her gaze and felt my heart drop.
Up ahead, was a bear.
A furry, real, black bear.
It was fumbling around, poking its nose in our bags, where the snacks lay. It just kept looking around, sniffing, and then plopped next to it and dug in what seemed to be a pack of Doritos.
Me and Cara didn’t move.
Not for a long while.
We just stood there, glued to the tree, staring at the bear.
And there Cara sneezed…..
The bear looked, up, sniffed again, and started coming toward us. Step by step, its paws echoing the sound of my heart, were coming.
We couldn’t move. Couldn’t do anything.
“Reyna…..just so you know….you were the most amazing friend I’ve ever had….”
Oh, heck no.
My adrenaline awoke.
I ran from the tree, waving my hands around, clapping and screaming something like,
“Teddy Bear! Right here! Woo-hoo! Teddy!”
I looked like a psychopath.
I probably was.
The bear noticed me immediately, and began coming towards me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cara run and grab two sticks.
“Turn around! I’m behind you!” she yelled.
The bear turned to her, and roared.
But Cara just slammed her sticks together, doing some weird tribal Indian dance. Had I not been running to the backpack, I would’ve taken a video.
I fumbled through the backpack, the kit….. Where where where where…THERE!
The bear, sniffing and growling, came closer and closer to Cara, who was making as much noise as possible. But she was getting backed into tree….
My hands desperately started flicking the lighter.
The bear crept closer.
C’mon c’mon c’mon
A flame was there.
And as it burned, I flung it, with all my might, at our shack. As soon as it fell there, our teepee ignited in flames, lighting up everything around us. The bear roared, forgot all about Cara and ran to the other side.
Away from us.
Further and further.
After a few moments, Cara, who was paused mid-dance, started laughing. Having nothing to do, I laughed with her.
So many things had happened in just a few hours, and it was so stressing, that my core just wobbled and I started laughing. We survived. We got through it.
Buuuuuuut…..our shelter was still burning.
Along with all our spare clothes.
“What are we going to do?” Cara asked.
I gave her a look, “If we just survived a bear, then sleeping under the open shouldn’t be as tiring.”
“Wow, look who’s doing the positivity now!”
And with that, we lay on the grass, and fell asleep, not sure whether the fire was still burning.
“Miss, wake up. Miss,”
The voice that woke me up didn’t belong to Cara.
“She does that sometimes. Ignore it.”
Now that’s Cara.
A man in a dark green suit, with the logo that said Forest Patrol was standing over me. Three more men in the same weird uniforms were standing far away, gathering our things and calling someone on a radio.
“You came….to save us?” I asked, not believing my eyes.
“Why yes,” the man said, helping me get up, “We were strolling yesterday, and spotted your signal fire.”
That’s what they think it was.
We were able to burn a shack to scare away a bear, when we could’ve just lit a signal fire.
My lips wobbled and my body shook. But then I caught Cara, who was sitting and trying to contain herself, and I utterly lost it.
I howled with laughter, and Cara rolled over the grass. We were laughing so hard that I thought the world was spinning. And then we saw the way those men were looking at us, like
What is wrong with them….?
And we laughed harder.
An hour later, a helicopter came to pick us up. We told them who we were and why we were there, and they got us to the nearest airport in Colorado (since that’s where we crash landed).
We got candy, food, and even more clothing. And next morning, we were already walking across the airport in Sacramento, waving to Cara’s aunt.
“You know,” I said, “I think your aunt will never be able to tell us “no” after what we went through. If say we are too emotionally unstable to be denied any pleasures of summer vacation.”
“Of course,” Cara said, her eyes twinkling, “If we’re still alive after the pep talk we’ll receive in a few minutes.”
“Yeah, I’d rather face another bear. Or land crash in the middle of Colorado.”
We looked at each other, and laughed.