Alaskan Homecoming

By: Teri Wilson

Chapter One

Be still. Do not move a muscle. And whatever you do, don’t scream.

Posy Sutton bit her lip to prevent the forbidden scream from slipping out. She wanted very much to yell for help at the top of her lungs. Who wouldn’t, standing there with an awkward plaster cast on her foot and looking at what was a mere ten feet in front of her?

A bear.

From the looks of its wooly brown backside, a brown bear. Or possibly a grizzly, which, as bears went, was the very worst sort to bump into. Not that a brown bear would be a picnic.

Don’t do it. Don’t scream.

Posy might have been back in her hometown of Aurora, Alaska, for only a matter of hours, but she was no cheechako—Alaska’s common nickname for newcomers. She’d grown up here. Six years in San Francisco couldn’t erase the lessons she’d had drilled into her as a child. She knew how to behave around bears in the wilderness—avoid eye contact, do not scream or yell. If the bear doesn’t see you, walk away very slowly. If the bear does see you, play dead.

The problem was that she wasn’t exactly in the wilderness at the moment. In fact, she wasn’t outdoors at all. She was standing in the fellowship hall of Aurora Community Church. All alone. There wasn’t another soul in sight.

Unless the bear whose tail end was currently sticking out of the overturned trash can in the corner was to be counted. Bears had souls, didn’t they?

Posy rolled her eyes. Now wasn’t exactly the time to contemplate the eternal salvation of Smokey, Paddington and the like.

The bear grunted, its rumbling voice echoing from within the metal trash can. It sounded so...so...sinister. And hungry. Very hungry. Like every growling stomach in the universe all rolled into one. Posy’s heart thumped so hard, she thought it might beat right out of her chest. She’d never been so terrified in her life. Not even the first time she’d danced the role of Clara in The Nutcracker as a ten-year-old. Nor opening night of her debut as a soloist with the West Coast Arts Ballet Company, plucked from the corps de ballet and thrust directly into the spotlight.

She was standing in an enclosed space with a grizzly. And she was on crutches. Could it get any worse?

One sound, one telltale movement and the bear would realize she was there. And she’d be taken down like a weak zebra on the National Geographic Channel.

She tightened her grip on her crutches and took a deep, calming breath, much like the one she always took in the final seconds before the red velvet curtains parted on performance nights. Only this breath wasn’t all that calming. Her chest grew tighter. She thought she might be hyperventilating. She prayed for a paper bag. Or better yet, a can of bear repellent.

Bear repellent.

Posy hadn’t seen a can of bear spray in years. San Francisco wasn’t without its dangers, but bears didn’t exactly make the short list. Or the long list. Or any variation of the list whatsoever. Bear repellent was obviously no longer a staple in her handbag. But hair spray certainly was. Ballerina buns didn’t stay put on their own.

Without taking her eyes off the bear’s broad, furry hindquarters, she anchored her right crutch firmly under her arm and reached into her purse for the can of Aqua Net that she never went anywhere without. Okay, so it wasn’t exactly Mace for wild animals, but maybe it would do in a pinch. As carefully and quietly as she could manage, she pried off the lid. But her hands were shaking so badly that it fell to the ground before she could catch it.

To Posy’s ears, it sounded louder than a gunshot when it hit the tile floor and bounced what had to be at least a dozen times. The world came to an abrupt standstill. Save for the lid to the Aqua Net clattering around like a pinball, nothing moved. Not Posy. Not the dust in the air. Not even the bear. All rummaging had ceased. Not a muscle moved in that furry back end, until the bear slowly began walking backward, extricating itself from the trash can.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.

Posy took an instinctive step backward with her left foot. The injured one. Pain shot through her plaster cast, and she stumbled. One crutch clattered to the ground. She seized on to the other with both desperate hands and teetered sideways. The crutch wobbled. And the tile floor suddenly seemed to be rising up to meet her. Just as she realized she was going down, the bear shot the rest of the way out of the trash can in a fuzzy brown blur.

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