Love of Survival

Sometimes when I visit a school, I’ll do a thirty-minute writing workshop with a small group of kids in which we create a story together. It’s impossible to write a story in a half an hour, of course. But the kids do learn how to create the framework for a story from scratch, everybody has a good time, and sometimes the stories turn out surprisingly good! Here are a few of my favorites…

(With help from students at North Georgetown School, Georgetown, Delaware)

Long Bear, the strong young Indian brave, runs swiftly through the woods of what would now be called western Montana. In 1677, when our story takes place, it is simply known as Cherokee country.

Suddenly an arrow slices through the sky and rips into Long Bear’s flesh, piercing his heart. He falls to the ground, instantly dead. He never saw or knew what hit him.

Long Bear’s funeral, like all funerals, was a sad affair. Dozens of Cherokee men and women came with flowers and gifts for Long Bear’s family. Many tears were shed. Sad songs were sung. Questions were raised. Who would do such a thing? Solemnly, the strongest braves dug a grave in a field and carefully lowered Long Bear’s body into it. A simple stone was placed to mark Long Bear’s gravesite.

“The Apaches did this,” declared the Cherokee chief. “I can tell by the arrow that killed Long Bear. It is the Apaches who will pay…with their blood.”

Preparations were already underway for war. Bows and arrows were quickly constructed. Food was gathered. Warriors practiced their fighting skills.

It was during this time that Long Bear’s young sister, Red Fern, was out in the fields. The thirteen-year-old had gathered flowers and was placing them next to her big brother’s grave. The two had been not only brother and sister, but also best friends for life. She didn’t know how she could go on now that Long Bear was gone. Tears of sorrow streamed down her face as she knelt over her brother’s grave.

Suddenly, looking up, Red Fern saw movement in the woods to her left. At first she thought it might be an animal, but then she saw it was a teenage boy. A very handsome teenager. An Apache. He smiled at Red Fern.

For a moment, Red Fern was mesmerized by the handsome young man. She had taken a liking to some of the boys in her own tribe. But this Apache was different. His smile was so warm, his muscles so taut. Red Fern stared with longing.

Suddenly, Red Fern noticed the Apache held a bow and arrow. He must be a hunter. But he might be hunting her, she realized, the same way her brother was mysteriously taken down like an animal.

Quickly, Red Fern started to run, but in her haste she tripped and fell, hitting her head against her brother’s gravestone. She was knocked unconscious.

The young Apache’s name was Eline. He had been looking at Red Fern for a long time from the woods. He had never seen such a beautiful young girl as this before.

Eline froze when he saw Red Fern stumble and fall. Should he run away? Should he help her? He didn’t know what to do.

Eline was a fine young man. Finally, he did the only thing he could rightfully do. He ran to the fallen form of Red Fern and scooped her up in his arms like she was a wounded bird. Risking his own life, he carried her to the Cherokee village.

When Eline entered the village with Red Fern in his arms, all the Cherokees stopped what they were doing and stared silently. They had never seen an Apache this close before. What Apache would be foolish enough to walk right into their village alone? They thought it must be some kind of a trick.

“Where is your chief?” Eline asked the startled Cherokees.

They led him to the chief, who came out of his teepee and glared at the young man as he gently lowered Red Fern to the ground.

“She fell,” Eline said softly. “I was afraid to leave her out in the fields all by herself.”

“You killed Long Bear!” the chief thundered at Eline. “And now you are responsible for what happened to Red Fern too!”

The chief pointed a finger at Eline and spoke just two words.

“Behead him!”

But Eline was swift. The fastest Cherokee warriors could not catch him. He ran away and did not stop running until he was safely in Apache territory. As he dashed through the woods, he repeated the name Red Fern so he would never forget it. For she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He did not know if he would ever see her again.

His chest heaving with exhaustion, Eline ran into the Apache village and told his own chief what had happened.

“They tried to cut off my head!” he yelled.

“This means war!” the Apache chief announced. The Apaches, like the Cherokees, prepared for battle.

Several days went by before Red Fern regained consciousness. When she woke up, she had been dreaming, dreaming of her poor mother who had died years earlier of hypothermia. As she opened her eyes, Red Fern remembered the handsome young Apache she had seen in the woods. She wanted desperately to see him again.

As she lay there clearing her head, Red Fern heard her tribe preparing for war. The men talked of killing every Apache they could find. Red Fern knew she had to stop the war. She had to save the life of Eline, the young brave whose name she did not even know.

The Cherokee and Apache tribes moved toward one another to do battle on a huge field. Bows and arrows were at the ready. Many young men were prepared to die. The two tribes advanced toward one another, waiting for their chiefs to issue the order to attack.

But suddenly, Red Fern ran out from the crowd and into the empty space between the two tribes.

“Stop!” she cried. “War is senseless!”

Instantly, Eline recognized this beautiful girl as Red Fern, the girl he had carried back to the Cherokees. Eline rushed from his tribe to embrace her.

“No war!” Eline cried as he held Red Fern to himself protectively. “No fighting!”

“Kill him!” ordered the Cherokee chief.

“Kill her!” ordered the Apache chief.

Arrows ripped through the air and tore into Red Fern and Eline. Gasps of horror were heard from both sides.

As their physical bodies collapsed to the ground, the spirit of Red Fern and Eline slowly rose up. They were still entwined, as they will be forever. The spirits rose to the sky above both tribes. Soon they had disappeared.

Together, warriors from the two tribes dug a grave for the bodies of Red Fern and Eline. They vowed to never go to war again. Instead, they agreed to merge into one larger tribe, a tribe dedicated to peace and harmony among all people.

And then the Americans came and wiped them all out.


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