Home > Under the Alaskan Ice (Alaska Wild #2)

Under the Alaskan Ice (Alaska Wild #2)
Author: Karen Harper

CHAPTER ONE


   Thanksgiving Day

Falls Lake, Alaska


   “I’m getting really good walking in snowshoes, Mom!” Chip boasted as they plodded through the thick snow, heading toward the lake that gave the nearby town its name. His cheeks were already pink, and his freckles stood out. Their words made little white clouds. The crisp wind energized Meg, and their goggles and the massive Sitka spruce along the path muted the stark sun glare off the snow.

   “You sure are walking great in those snowshoes, but you don’t have to take steps that big, honey.”

   Since Chip was six, so many adventures were new to him. Meg had lost her husband, Chip’s father, Ryan, in a plane crash nearly three years ago, and she was still barely at the place she could cope. At least Chip was doing so much better accepting his father’s death. For months the boy had insisted his daddy was coming back as usual from a day of flying. At least now he didn’t insist each plane that went over was Daddy buzzing to them from heaven. In this cold, snowy season, fewer bush planes headed north, taking hunters or fishermen into the wilds, leaving them and picking them up later.

   “I just didn’t want us to fall asleep after that big turkey dinner,” she explained as they trudged along, heading out from the lodge where they lived with Meg’s twin sister, Suzanne. They had greatly renovated the old place they’d inherited from their grandmother and brought it into the modern world with online advertising to attract more guests. “There’s something in turkey called tryptophan that makes people sleepy,” she explained.

   “But the football games on TV wake them up, right?”

   “They wake some people. Besides, even in this chilly weather, exercise is good for us. This walk will help us digest that big meal Aunt Suze and I fixed.”

   Meg both loved and dreaded the holidays since they brought back memories of happier times—not that she wasn’t making a new life for herself and Chip at the Falls Lake Lodge, where she oversaw the kitchen and helped with their guests while Suze covered the business end of things. Meg had even begun to create homemade chocolate candies. She’d sold a lot of them this fall and winter to both guests at the lodge and townspeople in Falls Lake. The profits were going straight into the bank to provide for Chip’s future education—hopefully, not as a pilot. Anything but that.

   “Listen, Mom! I hear something—like a plane,” the boy shouted, clomping along as fast as he could to the open-sky shore of the frozen lake. He pulled off his sun goggles and shaded his eyes, craning his neck to look up.

   “It’s probably someone cutting firewood from trees,” she insisted, but she knew better. If their few and distant neighbors didn’t have their winter wood cut weeks ago, it was a bad time to do that with the burden of the snow.

   From the direction of the distant, snow-capped Talkeetna Mountains, beyond the frozen pillar of the waterfall that fed the lake in warmer weather, the buzzing whine came louder. Meg knew it sounded bad—rough, as though an engine were sputtering.

   Ripping off her goggles, which also snagged her knitted sock cap, she instinctively put a hand on Chip’s shoulder so he didn’t bolt, snowshoes or not. They squinted into the clear blue sky in the direction of the sporadic, choking sound.

   “There,” Chip shouted, pointing his leather mitten. His voice came back as an echo across the blinding white ice. There...there...there...

   She saw it too. At least the plane was clear of the mountains, unlike Ryan’s fatal flight.

   “It’s going to try to land on the lake,” she told Chip. “See, it’s a pontoon plane, and that will work. It might even have ski runners under there, given the lake is iced over.”

   “But it’s all wobbly,” the boy cried, his high voice breaking. “It’s not coming in real good.”

   He was right. She inhaled sharply, and the air stung clear down into her lungs. She bit her lower lip and blinked back tears so they wouldn’t fall and freeze on her cheeks. They stood together as she replayed what she knew about the day Ryan died.

   In the lovely month of August, he’d picked up tourists from the Anchorage airport to drop them off for frontier salmon fishing. He’d headed back in the mist and rain when he shouldn’t have because it was Chip’s birthday, and he wanted to be with them. God forgive her, as much as she had loved Ryan, she was still angry with his decision to fly home in that weather. How she wished Chip had a father and she had a husband... These long nights were so lonely, even as busy as she kept and—

   “Mom, it’s going to land too hard!”

   The plane was tilting, listing—the pilot had lost control. She’d seen enough landings, been in enough Cessnas and Piper Cubs, floatplanes and even ones with ice runners, to know what was coming. She prayed that—

   Even though the crash was at least thirty yards out on the ice, she grabbed Chip, threw him down and shielded him with her body as the plane slammed into the frozen lake, breaking the ice with a blast that sounded like dynamite. The loudest cracking she’d ever heard made her head hurt, a crunching nightmare.

   “Mom, we got to save the pilot!” came muffled from beneath her puffy, down-filled parka.

   Afraid to look, she did anyway. The unmarked small Piper Cherokee was tilted on its side, already being devoured by massive jaws of jagged ice into the belly of the lake. Its upward wing seemed to summon help as it sank. With the sun off the windows, she could not tell if more were onboard than a pilot.

   “We’ve got to help!” Chip shouted as they scrambled up, trying to get to their feet with the awkward snowshoes still strapped to their boots. He was trying to take his snowshoes off, no doubt to run out on the ice.

   She dove at him, pulled him back onto his knees and hugged him hard.

   “We cannot go out on broken ice, Chip! It might crack more, and we’d go in. I’ll call for help, get first responders here from the town or even Anchorage.”

   “They’re gonna die!”

   “We cannot run out on that ice! Maybe the plane will float or snag.”

   She kept one hand on her son’s wrist and dug her cell phone out of her deep pocket with the other. At least they were in range of the fairly new cell tower that had brought the outside world to Falls Lake.

   With her teeth, she yanked off one thermal glove and was instantly bitten by the cold as she awkwardly punched in 9-1-1. The plane was sinking fast and, as Chip feared, going under. Terrible to be helpless like this. At least Ryan’s death had been fast, into a rocky cliff in foul weather, not this sucking, freezing death under the ice.

   “What is your emergency?” The woman’s calm voice came so quietly that Meg could barely hear it over the crackling of the ice and the horrid gurgling noise.

   “A small plane has just crashed through the ice on Falls Lake—the other end from the falls. Its engine sounded bad. It’s sinking, pilot still on board, don’t know about passengers. There is no direct access road but the one that goes past the lodge. This is Megan Metzler. My son and I are here but we can’t go out on the shattered ice. Send help, maybe another plane! First responders on the road will have a hard time...”

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