Professor Marshall tugged the frozen lever on the gas bottle that fired the hot air balloon. Nothing happened. Panic flashed across his swarthy features.
Alex brushed snow flurries from her eyes.
“Is there gas in the other bottles?” she asked.
Marshall shook his head.
He tugged the valve, gasping, “I can’t free it.”
Dawson crouched in the bottom of the basket, knees drawn up, eyes darting from Marshall to Alex and back.
They had told him it would take just five hours to fly over the mountain range and land on the ice covered tundra.
Alex bent over Dawson, streamers of ice clinging to the fur around her face and rested a gloved hand on his shoulder. Her dark brown eyes squinted against the cold. “Remember the Professor said that if anything happened we could hike down the mountain.”
“He knows what he’s doing,” she added.
Dawson shrugged her off.
“What do you mean?” he muttered, not believing her naivety. “You’re a scientist. You know the odds.” He jerked a hand at the radio, eyes filled with despair. “It’s busted.”
The silence was troubled and frightened.
The Professor kept pulling on the lever. It held fast. Beads of sweat filled the lines on his forehead. They drifted over the silent land. The wind buffeted the basket. The Professor let the lever go and held his hands up, resigned.
“We have to hope we land on flat ground,” he said.
Alex looked at the mountainous terrain and, filled with doubt, shook her head.
He pointed. “There.”
It was practically on top of the mountain. Dawson pressed against the basket. The Professor gripped the side.
“We’ll be fine if we touch down there,” he said, peering through the flurry.
As it lost altitude, the wind pounded the balloon.
“Oh Christ!” screamed Dawson, pointing. “Look!”
Above them a craggy outcrop loomed through the falling snow. The balloon was perilously close. Caught in turbulence the basket rocked and twisted, the wicker creaking and cracking. Unable to steer away they rushed toward a rock face above a small plateau.
“Brace yourselves!” the Professor shouted, his voice snatched by the wind.
With a loud cracking and thumping of cane against rock the balloon pulled them along a thin ledge. Their screams echoed into the canyon. The deflating balloon wrapped around a rock and pulled them to a sudden stop, spilling the basket over onto its side and tossing the Professor and Alex out onto the rock. The sodden balloon draped in a mix of red, green and blue nylon over the ground. Dawson clung to the basket, white faced. Alex had landed in a mound of snow. She stood, brushing snow from her jacket.
She sent Dawson a derisory glare then turned to the Professor.
“Now what,’ she demanded, hands on hips.
“I never asked to go on this trip,” Dawson muttered.
“We build a snow cave,” the Professor announced. “I’ve done it before.”
Authors: Raymond Stone (USA), Annette Connor (USA), Gregg Mattson (USA)