Darkness. At first, no sound. Then a roaring, as the deafness caused by the massive explosion began to subside. Pain. Then nothing.
The blackness, the night, becoming a grey sunrise. He rolled over, first onto his side, then up onto hands and knees as he began crawling.
Slowly he crawled toward the edge of the gigantic crater. The grey dust was everywhere, in his eyes, his mouth. Siberia, pulverized.
With every last bit of his strength, he pulled himself up and over the edge of the crater; the pain was excruciating. Darkness came again.
He lay motionless in an apocalyptic landscape. He never knew how long he was there, drifting in and out of consciousness.
Was it memory or a nightmare? The meteor, the impact, the explosion. Better not to know; better to forget.
Gradually, there was a stirring at the edge of the destruction zone. Curious eyes looked across the blasted landscape, saw the human: Dead?
Slowly, cautiously, they moved forward into the clearing where the forest had been blasted away.
Thousands of trees lay flattened, the river fouled with mud. Every step raised grey dust; they blinked furiously to keep it from their eyes.
There were no sounds in the forest but their own grunting and snuffling as they half carried, half dragged the human to the Great Den.
Surely the human would make a fitting sacrifice, their tribute to Medved, the Great One, King of Bears.
It was summer, when night does not come to the northland. They struggled with their burden through the forest in the eerie twilight.
Finally they arrived at the mouth of the cave, the Great Den. They dropped the human and waited for their king to appear.
The Great One was not long in coming. Huge and powerful, he rolled forward from the cave into the little clearing, into the summer dusk.
The bears knelt before their king. The human, whom they had hoped would win them favor as a gift, looked small and insignificant now.
“What is this?” growled Medved, sniffing at the body on the ground before him. “What is this scent …? Aha! Food!” He snorted in pleasure.
“No!” came a voice from the cave behind him. A beautiful young she-bear stepped into the twilight. It was Ursa, daughter of the Bear King.
Even in the half-light of the long summer night, her heavy fur was glossy and sleek. Her deep brown eyes shown with beautiful intelligence.
“He is not food, Father,” said Ursa. “He is like us. And he is wounded; we must care for him. Give him to me.”
“How is he like us?” snorted one of the bears who had carried the stranger from the destruction zone. “He is small, and has no fur!”
“No doubt his fur came off in the explosion,” Ursa replied, eyes flashing angrily. Medved’s daughter, she was accustomed to having her way.