29 January, 2016

29 January 2016

Indistinct, muffled by layers of cloth and his position pressed into the ground, Einar struggled to make out words, to be certain beyond doubt as to the owners of the voices , but he could not.  Could not see out, either, aside from a very small half moon shaped opening at the top of the bag, and though he very much wanted to see out, he hardly dared risk the movement necessary to facilitate it.  Legs were all cramped up from the flight, knees drawn up to his chest as they had been to allow him to fit in the bag, and it bothered him, for he knew quick movement, should it become necessary, would be a tremendously questionable thing just then.  Well.  He could, at the very least, create a distraction and hopefully cover Liz's escape with Will, if it came to that.  For which he would need his hands.  Flexed his fingers, tried to find a bit of warm flesh against which to press them, restore some mobility, but without much success.   Didn't seem to be a whole lot of warmth left anywhere, and though he was not shivering, he knew he probably ought to have been.

A stirring in the dirt near him, could not see its cause but knew he had earlier heard Liz's voice coming from that approximate spot as she quieted Will, and he twisted around in an attempt to get a look, finally spotted the other bag.  That was it, explained the sounds he'd been hearing.  Liz, it seemed, was very carefully attempting to wriggle over nearer him, difficult, he could only imagine, with Will crammed in there beside her and they still presumably having a need to appear as inert cargo, should anyone else be watching.  Having no sense that anyone was particularly nearby at that moment and wanting to know if she had been able to see anything he was about to speak to her when the sound of approaching boots cut short his efforts.  A few heavy footsteps, then silence.  Einar inched his hands downwards, finger resting beside the rifle's trigger, though not in a position anywhere near what would have been ideal, its stock braced hard against the tops of his feet.  Nothing ideal about the situation at all, but at least it was something, gave him some hope of being able to resist should the situation not be as it seemed.

More footsteps, some scuffing in the dirt and then a heavy boot made contact with Einar's ribs, not too hard, but hard enough that he had a difficult time restraining himself from making a physical response.  Succeeded, lay still, waiting.

"This the stuff I ordered, Kiesl?  Is it all here."

It was Kilgore; Einar relaxed slightly.

"Yep, it's all here.  Air mail.  Special delivery."

"Is it still...alive?"  He again poked Einar in the side, a bit harder this time.  "Don't seem too lively to me, and no way I'm payin' for deceased cargo."

The pilot laughed, took what sounded to Einar like a step to the side, placing himself between his cargo and the tracker.  "Hey, cut it out.  You break it, you buy it, alive or not.  Only I was under the distinct impression that I was doing this on a pro bono basis, no so no pay coming my direction, one way or the other..."

"Oh, you'll get paid, alright.  Show up at the house next Saturday whenever you get back into town, and we'll have some elk steaks on the grill.  How's that for pay?"

"More than adequate!  Ok, got to get back in the air.  Have to be in Flagstaff in less than an hour."

Receding footsteps, and Einar, finally assured that they had no unfriendly company, rolled to his stomach, bringing him a few inches closer to Liz.

"You guys doing...ok in there?  Will ok?"

Her voice came quickly, quietly.  She sounded more anxious than he felt, and he wondered why, wondered what he was missing.  "Yes, yes, fine.  He slept most of the way.  You?"

"I am ready."

"Ready?"

"Ready if...but Bud and Roger...I think they're alone so it's ok."

"You're really cold."

"What?"

"Hang on, we'll be there soon."

A strange conversation, Einar could not help but think, and there were other things he wanted to say, but words seemed rather difficult to come by, and besides, there were the footsteps again, and he braced himself as Bud and Roger each took an end of the bag and tossed it into what he presumed must be the bed of a truck.  Liz and Will were next, that transfer much more gentle, a slam of the tailgate, some strange rustling as the tracker fiddled with sheets of some crinkly substance above them, not quite plastic and not quite metal, from the sound of it, and they were moving.

Wriggling and squirming, Einar managed at last to work one of his hands up to the top of the bag and out the hole where he could work on opening the thing.  Took a long time but he got it at last, a rush of colder air meeting him.  The truck, as he had guessed, was equipped with  a camper shell, cover from above, so no reason to remain concealed in the bag.  Above them Einar found several layers of mylar bubble insulation, which accounted for the crinkling after Bud had loaded them and whose purpose, he could only surmise, must be more to help prevent detection of their thermal signature from the outside than to keep his passengers warm.  It was freezing in there, pressed as they were against the metal of the truckbed.   He was freezing, anyway, and he struggled to get up into a sort of crouch  in the hopes of having less of him in contact with the bed.  Did not work, limbs largely refusing to respond and he left flopping rather unceremoniously back to the ground.  Well, it was progress, anyway.  At least he was no longer confined in the bag, could watch through a small crack where tailgate met truck, hopefully see in time should things start going wrong.

16 January, 2016

16 January 2016

Roger had done what he needed to do to fully conceal his cargo, and to keep it that way even at the other end when the bags would be unloaded, had insisted that everyone needed to stay inside for the duration of the flight, but he had left things fairly loose at the tops, both for the purpose of air exchange  and, if need be, to accommodate the barrel of Einar's FAL.

As the flight went on Einar wished he could see out, wished he had a parachute, the idea of landing in an unfamiliar place with no foreknowledge of the terrain, cover and possible escape routes, and doing it with his family, beginning to seem a risk hardly worth taking.  Too late to do much  about it.  They were committed, now.  Liz was near him, speaking softly to Will, who clearly wanted out of the bag, and to be exploring—and in all likelihood flying—the plane.  Einar smiled, tried to reposition himself slightly to alleviate a growing pressure on his ribs where he had ended up lying on a raised ridge of metal.  Did not work too well, so he let things be as they were.

Tired.  Had not noticed it until the plane had been airborne for some time and he, of necessity, lying still, but now it came over him as an inexorable force, heavy, all encompassing, so that after a time, nothing he could think of to do in that confined little space seemed to have the power to let him go on resisting it.  Wanted to talk with Liz, plan, as well as they could, how things would go on the other end, but the weariness was very strong, and though it went against all of his instincts he figured it might be best to go ahead and allow himself a bit of sleep.  Perhaps for half an hour, forty five minutes, no more.  So he would be alert and ready at the other end, when things could really get interesting.

Liz wanted to talk, too, tried, but could not get Einar to answer with any reliability.  His voice, when he did respond, was muddled, sleepy, and before long he stopped responding altogether.  It was cold up there, a lot colder than she had imagined or expected, and she was worried for him, wished the bags were sleeping bags, and that they had all been able to share one.   Will was unhappy at the confinement, wanted very badly to escape the bag and explore the unfamiliar wonders of the plane, so that she had quite a job keeping him still and reasonably content, and had little time to think about Einar for the last hour of the flight.

When finally Liz  got Will to settle down and  sleep and was able to wonder about Einar again, she found herself unable to rouse him through either speech or jabs to the spine with her elbow, but was reassured somewhat by the sound of his breathing, the occasional chatter of this teeth, until at last those things, too, were silent...  Finally she managed to wriggle around so that she could press her back against his—still, not shivering, and she knew he should have been, frigid as the high altitude air had become—enough warmth, she hoped, to make a difference.


Sagebrush, oak brush, alkali soil.  He could smell it, could feel its grit between his teeth as he lay where Roger had heaved him upon unloading the plane of its contraband cargo.  Arms cramped up at his sides, hands beneath his chin, clasped around the rifle, and its presence was reassuring, even though he found himself at the moment neither in the position nor the condition to use it, had such been necessary.  Couldn't feel his hands at all, face all stiff and strange, and he supposed he must have ended up a little chilly after the flight.  Liz was there beside him.  He could hear her speaking softly to Will, telling him to wait, to keep quiet, that they could get out very soon, but not quite yet, and then in the distance he picked up the grumble of an engine, vehicle creeping along in low gear, stopping.  He twisted his head sideways, fought to get an eye up to the little hole at the top of the bag where light was getting in, managed at last and could see out, if barely.

Kilgore.  It was Bud Kilgore who got out of the truck, boots stirring up white dust as he walked over to the plane.  Boots were just about all Einar could see of him, but the man's identity was in no doubt, and the coiled knot of readiness in Einar's middle eased just a bit. This part, at least, appeared to be going according to plan, but there were too many variables, too much he did not know and over which he had not the slightest modicum of control.  Well.  A little late to be worrying about it, so, according to plan, he kept still and waited, did nothing to reveal his presence in the bag should someone be watching from air, ground or space.

Silence for far too long, as far as Einar was concerned, then the muffled sound of voices at what seemed a great distance.

05 January, 2016

5 January 2016

They did not have to wait long.  Shortly after first light and before the sun came up Einar thought he could begin to hear a distant hum, faint, intermittent because of the terrain but then he was sure, pressing himself, and Liz and Will, up against the trunk of a dense, low‐branched fir so as to avoid detection until they could get a good look at whatever was skimming the treetops.

Roger—for it was indeed Roger, and he appeared to be alone—made one low pass of the meadow, banked, doubled back and set the little plane down neatly in its center, coming to rest safely but with little room to spare just before the trees, turning, positioned for takeoff before powering down.  Unmoving, Einar watched as the pilot exited his plane, walked once around it, scanning the treetops and settled in, leaning, facing their hiding place, looking as if he expected to be there for a while.  Not much else they could do, Einar realized, to assess the situation, and little purpose in further waiting; the point of decision had come.  He turned to Liz, who met him with such a mix of hope, excitement and pleading in her eyes that even he, who normally found himself all but oblivious to such visual cues from other humans, could not miss or misinterpret her desires.

"You really want to do this..."

"I want to do it.  Let's do it, Einar."

"What about the raven?"  Muninn, who sat silent and solemn on Einar's shoulder, cocked his head and chortled softly at the mention of his name.  

"Take him.  He could make the flight, couldn't he, if we kept him still and quiet?"

Einar nodded, and Liz pulled off her stocking cap, handed it to him.  "To put over his head and keep him still.  So he doesn't panic.  Do you need one, too?"

A slight hint of a crooked smile from Einar, though his eyes were very still when he looked at her, almost frighteningly distant.  He shrugged, shivered, shook his head.  "Been in plenty of planes.  I'll make it."

He left the timber then, rifle at the ready, approaching Roger from his blind side, behind the plane, Liz and Will waiting in concealment until he gave them the signal.

"You're alone."  He spoke not three feet from Roger's left shoulder, causing the pilot to crouch and whirl on his heels, simultaneously drawing a pistol whose presence Einar had suspected, but not been able to see, from the woods.

"Doggone it, man!  Why you son of a slub‐skegged, glabrous‐pated, midden munching GOAT!   Yeah.  Alone.   Hey, you almost got yourself shot right there.  What were you thinking?"

Einar shrugged, leaned back against the plane.  "Just testing your responses, that's all."

"Right.  I'll thank you for it later, huh?"

"Right.  Now, what happened to the others?"

"Two of 'em took Bud's truck and headed for Arizona by highway, last night.  Wanted to get there ahead of us and check things out, make sure it was all as they had left it, and besides, this gives me more leeway with cargo."

Sounded ok to Einar, and he beckoned for Liz to join them.  Roger watched her walk, tilting his head and critically examining her pack.

"This is not gonna be the ideal sort of weight distribution, especially for up here in the mountains.  Better if one of you could ride up front with me, but that isn't a good idea, so we'll make it go.  Need to put both packs up front, though, and anything else heavy that you've got with you."

The pilot hefted Liz's pack, then Einar's, estimating weights.  "Good," he grunted, "good and heavy, help with balance.  The lot of you together probably weigh...what?  Twelve or thirteen for the little one, and maybe one‐seventy, one‐seventy‐five‐between the two of you?"

Einar gave a humorless chuckle, shook his head.  "Not even.  Knock off another twenty and you might be getting close."

"Yeah.  Good.  Helps a lot, today.  Got to fix that real soon here ya crazy heap of animated bones, but not before this flight, ok?  No eating before the flight."

"Got it."

"Now.  I'm staying low so you folks'll have plenty of oxygen, but it's gonna be cold.  You need to get anything else out of these packs before I load 'em, warm stuff for the flight?"

"Nah, I'll be...."

"Yes, we do."  Liz was already digging in her pack, pulled out Will's blanket and another hat for herself, tried to get Einar into another layer but he was too busy walking around the plane, crouching, inspecting.

"Hey, that's my job," Roger snarled in mock outrage.  "Get away from my plane."

Einar stood, stretched.  "I didn't touch anything.  Just looking for transponders."

"Transponders?  Find any?"

"No."

"Good."

"Speaking of transponders, your truck still out at the airport?"

"No, I took it to Bud and Susan's last night and left it.  Kinda seemed like some funny business going on there yesterday at the airport with the service trucks and all, but nobody had tampered with it.  Didn't seem like a good idea to leave it there indefinitely, especially after somebody supposedly heard reports on a police scanner about one of the airport trucks going missing yesterday...didn't want to arouse anyone's suspicion."

"Went missing, did it?"

"Yeah."

"Well, they'll find it...eventually."

"I bet they will."

"So if you moved your truck, I guess you got the crates..."

"Look for yourself."

Einar looked.  No crates.  Relieved.  Would have felt so trapped in one of those crates.  So confined.  Besides which they would have messed up the load even further made weight distribution more difficult.  Which must have been why Roger finally decided against their use.  The concept, though, had been a useful one.  Concealment.  Given the nature of the cargo, concealment of some sort was essential, and now they would be left to use the duffel bags which lay folded and ready.

Roger was ready to go, peering up at a few high streamers of cloud which had recently appeared from behind the horizon, and looking anxious.  "We doing this?"

One last glance at Liz, at little Will, entirely enthralled by the plane and striving his hardest to reach up and touch a wing, and Einar nodded, took a step towards the plane and nearly fell when he stumbled over some not‐quite‐visible irregularity in the soil.  Roger caught him, a firm hand on his wrist.

"You sure you're ok, man?  You kinda feel like ice.  Maybe you should eat before the flight."

"Huh?  No, I'm fine.  Let's get airborne, before your cargo changes its mind..."

Into the bags, then, they slithered with some difficulty in the close confines of the plane, Muninn secured somewhat unhappily in Liz's hat, Will going in with Liz and Einar taking the rifle with him, despite some degree of consternation from Roger, who really did not want holes in his aircraft should such be at all avoidable...  They were ready to go, then, roughness of the meadow beneath Roger's tundra tires, a bump as they left the ground and then the smooth nothingness of rapid ascent as the powerful little plane climbed, banked, headed south.

29 December, 2015

29 December 2015

On the ground, unmoving, Einar appeared at first to have passed out, Liz hurrying to try and rouse him so they could keep moving, but something was wrong, his limbs all stiff and back arched in an odd way, the situation becoming clearer to her the next moment when he began visibly seizing. Nothing she could do, nothing but watch, wanted to move him in further under the overhang where he would be even better concealed from the air, but the way he was flailing about, she feared getting too near him with Will on her back.

It had been some time since Einar last experienced a similar incident, a long time, at least, since she had last seen it happen; she was not at all sure that he would have told her about it, had it happened somewhere out of her view...and though she could not be sure of the cause, low blood sugar seemed a likely candidate, perhaps various electrolyte imbalances after their long trek to reach the airport, accompanied by his usual antipathy towards taking in anywhere near an adequate quantity of nutrients...but nothing she could do about any of that at the moment.

She wondered if she could give him a bit of honey, perhaps, in the hopes of at least raising his  blood sugar, without either hurting him or putting herself at too much risk, wanted to take Will off her back for his own safety but with their situation so uncertain and the little one both highly mobile under his own power and intensely curious about all aspects of the world around him, she did not dare.  Could not have him wandering away.  So, she waited. Surely the event would have to end soon, and Einar would be alright, and they would move on...  But, it did not, and Liz knew she must try to do something.

Approaching carefully, knee gently on Einar's chest more to monitor his movements and give herself an early warning should she need to jump back than to restrain him in any way and his right hand gripped firmly in hers, she worked to get a taste of honey into his mouth.  Hoped it might help cut short the seizure, which already seemed to have gone on far too long.  His mouth was clamped shut and she could not get it open, had to make do with smearing the honey on his gums and hoping some might find its way inside.  Not too likely, but there was nothing else she could think to do.  Other than to wait.  And wait.

Liz had no way of keeping track, no time keeping device, but it seemed to go on for a dreadfully long time, upwards of eight minutes, she was pretty sure, and when at last it was over and Einar lay still, she was not at all certain at first that he was still breathing. Hurrying to him she was prepared to start CPR, but he grimaced and twisted to the side when she touched him, half opened his eyes and then went limp again.

 She sat down beside him, dabbed at a smear of  blood where his cheekbone must have contacted rock in his thrashings and tried again to get some honey into his mouth, this time succeeding.  It seemed to help.  To her amazement he got right to his feet, unsure at first, stumbling, eyes not quite able to focus, but with one glance at Liz he drew in a sharp breath, situation returning to him and the urgency of the thing lending a straightness to his faltering limbs and a wideness to his eyes as he met Liz's.  Tried to speak but couldn't get the words to come together, brain could form them but could not seem to send them to his lips in an order which made any sense, and he soon gave up trying, resorted to hand motions.  Time to go.  Keep moving.  And, they moved.

Focusing intently on the ground ahead of him as he walked, Einar strove to avoid leaving sign, mostly succeeding despite limbs which felt as though they belonged to someone else and a head which would not quite clear up and allow him to reason with the precision to which he was accustomed.  Aware enough to recognize the deficit but frustratingly powerless to correct it just at the moment, he struggled to strike some sort of balance between the speed he knew they needed to maintain, and the stealth essential to their situation.

They traveled some distance, Einar walking strangely but maintaining a decent pace.  He was sick though, vomiting, didn't want to take the water she kept offering, and when finally she insisted, he choked on the stuff, only managed to get a little down, immediately took off walking again.  His walking was getting worse, left side weak, leg dragging, face grey and a dreadful exhaustion in his eyes when finally Liz persuaded him to stop and look at her, hands cold and mottled purple where he held the straps of his pack despite the day being fairly warm, and she knew she had to get him to Arizona.

They did not discuss it, did not discuss anything, really, Einar still struggling to put two words together, but when Liz took out the map during one of their infrequent breaks and asked him if they were on course to make the rally point set by Bud and Roger, he squinted hard at the twisting, blurring lines until they began making a bit of sense, nodded, showed her their present location on the map, and waved her into the lead.


Doing her best to pick out landmarks as she walked and keep them on the course which appeared likely to take them with the fewest obstacles in the direction of the assigned meeting place, Liz took them up the remainder of the increasingly narrow canyon. Having looked at the map, she was somewhat dubious about their ability to cover the required distance before that coming morning, when Roger said he would meet them at the designated meadow, should their first attempt fail. As it had done. Not only had it failed, but Einar's driving, necessary as it had probably been at the had put them many miles from the assigned meeting place. Those miles could be covered, though, and she did her best to make certain they would be, pushing ahead somewhat ruthlessly even when she saw that Einar was lagging, struggling, left leg clearly not functioning properly, grey faced and fighting for breath. He did the same and worse to himself all the time, she reasoned, and they absolutely had to make that meeting.

At the canyon's head, a little trickle of water tracing and dashing down orange sandstone cliffs stained white and purple with deposited minerals, she found an end to the easy walking, a series of narrow, rocky cuts offered a good chance of escape, and when she looked questioningly back at Einar he squinted, nodded and headed for the leftmost of the cuts. Though still visibly struggling with both balance and strength, Einar took on the task of leading his family up that rocky, treacherous draw with the vigor and enthusiasm required of him by once more being in evasion mode, speed surprising Liz, though perhaps it should not have, and they were soon topping out in a dense cluster of wind-stunted little aspens, some of their lithe trunks bent nearly into loops a foot or two from the ground by decades of heavy, gale-packed snow. Going no further for the moment, world spinning most inconsiderately around him, Einar grinned at Liz, lowered himself to his stomach on the damp, mossy ground, and promptly passed out.

Not a time for rest, not even the enforced rest of unconsciousness, and Liz, though desperately wanting to allow him to rest, scrubbed a handful of icy, spring‐hardened snow across Einar's face, all but poured a sip of water down his throat when he snapped awake and looked at her with confusion in his eyes, and dragged him to his feet. Liz led again after that, map in her hand and landmarks showing themselves in such a way that they were able to make good progress, and by the time Einar put a hand on her shoulder and insisted on taking the lead once more, they were less than a mile from the long, narrow, aspen‐lined meadow where Roger intended to land the plane. Sun low in the sky and nearly swallowed by a growing mass of cloud, but not yet set, they had made it in plenty of time.

"Is that it, you think? That meadow?"

Einar nodded. "Has to be."

"Do you think they'll really come?"

Exhausted, swaying, Einar half closed his eyes, caught himself against an aspen tree to avoid falling, nodded.

"Can always count on Roger. He will come."

"I'm glad. Will you get on the plane?"

"Have to see. Just wait and see how things look."

It was the best she could hope for. At least he had not refused. The rest would have to come in the morning. Walking the perimeter of the meadow, securing the place, Einar discovered a jutting outcrop of broken, tumbled‐down grey shale at a high point overlooking the meadow, just inside the trees and parallel to one of its long sides. A fine place, he figured, to spend the night, and Liz agreed.

Later, Will warm and asleep beneath the shelter of stone and everything as well set as it could be for morning they stood together in the rising wind and watched the light fade, streaks of orange and crimson through the clouds. Einar's head still hurt from its earlier encounter with the rock and his entire being felt odd and somewhat out of place from the lingering effects of that seizure, but it didn't seem to matter, relief so great, joy at having been able to evade the potential dangers of the past several days, the smell of sagebrush, broken rock, distant rain and immediate freedom sharp and joyful all around them. Einar turned to her, led her over beneath the aspens, and she might have been surprised at the taut energy in his emaciated and half frozen form, had she not known him so well... Later they fell asleep close together beneath the sheltering overhang of rock, and that night she dreamed of a brother for little Will, the two little buckskin‐clad boys playing together outside a sturdy, hand‐hewn log cabin hidden high in basin somewhere between the peaks, and the dream brought a smile to her sleep...

Einar's sleep was not nearly so peaceful, night quickly becoming cold and a thin, piercing rain starting sometime after midnight. Liz and Will were well sheltered by the overhang, but Einar, on the weatherward side of things and jammed as well as he could manage under the little outcropping as he sought to avoid the rain, had the worst of it. They had begun the night with Liz's jacket tucked around the three of them them as well as could be but as the hours had passed and with little Will's squirming, he found himself with less and less covering, hardly wanted to wake the others to try and do something about it, so he just lay there with various parts of him inevitably sticking out of the cramped little space into the wind no matter how he contorted his body, shivering through the night and any hope of further sleep soon evaporating as the dampness chilled him though.

Better that way anyhow, he told himself, as it kept him awake to listen for any potential danger, gave him time to think. He spent the remainder of the night running through various scenarios in his mind, plane showing up, plane not showing up, showing up but something being wrong, being off, so that they had to conceal themselves at the last moment and melt back into the timber, disappear... Towards morning the rain moved out, sky cleared and Einar dozed a little, exhausted by the intensity of the thoughts and by his own shivering. Daylight and Liz's insistent words woke him some time later.

Wake up, she was telling him, the plane will be here soon, and you have to wake up, but more immediate than her concern about missing the plane was the fact that Einar had become seriously chilled in the night, extremities purple, body nearly too hypothermic to shiver, and she tried to get him warmer, talk him into eating something. Einar, though, saw no problem, his singleminded focus being on that plane, on watching, waiting, making sure things were safe...


15 December, 2015

15 December 2015

Encouraged by Liz to travel within the confines of the law so as not to attract undue notice, Einar quickly put several miles behind them in the little truck, Liz silent, letting him think, watching the rearview mirror and tending to Will, trying to keep him still.

Einar did not know the place, did not know the road, but it was not long before he knew exactly where he was going, barely losing any speed before abruptly leaving the highway, taking off up a dirt track, Forest Service Road 322, according to a battered brown and white placard that hung half detached from a bent green fence post off to the left of the junction.

"Where does this go?"  Liz's words were clipped and breathless, struggling as she had been to keep Will upright and prevent their backpacks and assorted gear from falling on him during the sharp turn.

"Up.  Goes up.  Saw the road cut through the trees back there a little bit.  Looks steep.  We need that."  His attention was thereafter fully occupied with navigating the increasingly rocky contours of the track and preventing the truck either high centering or bogging down in the mud that lurked slick and greasy down in the ruts where rocks were more sparse, a balancing act, and one at which he found himself more than proficient, despite the several year gap in his driving experience.

Up out of the mud, then, road turning to shale, switching back and the grade increasing, aspens and the occasional Douglas fir beginning to replace the tangle of scrub oak and serviceberry which had prevailed down lower.  Four more switchbacks, shale slippery, road angled towards the outside where banks of the stuff, cut long ago during early coal mining days and largely neglected since, had partially sloughed off over the years and distributed fine rubble favoring uphill side of the track, and Einar eased the truck into four wheel drive, kept going.

"Einar, what...?"

"You'll see.  Almost there."  Which apparently they were, one last switchback and the vehicle rolled to a stop, nosed into a thicket of small firs so dense that she could not see more than a foot or two into its depths.  Einar motioned for her to wait, backing the truck out into the aspens and getting it turned around.  He exited the vehicle then, standing, one hand one the top of the door and eyes momentarily closed as he listened, drew in a long breath and finally nodded to Liz.

"Get your pack on, carry Will and follow me."  He shrugged into his own pack, but not before removing and unwrapping the FAL, hastily reassembling the rifle and slinging it on his shoulder.  Through the firs then, worming his way and then, timber thinning, aspens creeping in, dropping to hands and knees and motioning Liz to do the same.  Not easy when one is carrying a child, but Will was more than happy to walk beside her.  Reaching an abrupt clearing, trees ending entirely, Einar stopped, dropped to his belly in last year's dead‐brown leaves, snow having only recently left them, leaves matted, crisscrossed with telltale white fibers of snow mold.

Before them, the land dropped away sharply, shale cliffs plunging several hundred feet to the timbered lands below, highway clearly visible in the distance.  When she looked closely, Liz was almost certain she could see the place where the Forest Service road left the highway.

"That's the road we came up..."

"Yes."

"You knew, didn't you, that we would be able to see from here."

"I did.  Spotted the road cut from down on the highway. Want to watch for a little while, make sure no one is following."

"Then...?"

"Then we ditch the truck, break our trail and get out of here."

"Too bad we can't keep the truck for a while.  But I know that probably wouldn't be a good idea."

"Wasn't a good idea to take it in the first place, but we kind of had to.  Thought about hanging onto it for a while, heck, thought about going back for Roger's Jeep and seeing if he'd hidden a key, but we can't do either.  That thing may be watched, bugged, who knows what, and if they're not already looking for this truck, they will be soon.  Got to break contact, here."

Liz was about to answer when Will, who had been quiet, broke out in a series of jubilant shouts, "Moon!  Moon!"  and when Einar glanced over to see what might have caught the little one's attention, his face wrinkled up in a strained smile at the sight of Muninn the raven, perched only inches from the boy's face, tilting his head and making the soft, contented rasping sounds usually reserved for quiet evenings after good, full meals.

"That bird is some tracker, being able to follow us in a vehicle, like that.  Hope anyone else who may be on our trail isn't half that good..."

"How could he have done that?"

"Oh, ravens are awfully smart.  He would have watched us get into the truck, just followed it I guess.  Took some shortcuts no doubt, to be able to keep up with my driving..."

"No doubt!  Einar, where are we going?    I don't know exactly where we are, but if we look at the map...well, I'm pretty sure we could make it to that rendezvous place Roger and Bud were talking about in case something went wrong at the airport, meet the plane in the morning..."

Einar sighed, looked worried.  "We need to break our trail.  Just need to break our trail, first, and then we can think about it."

Seemed to Liz that they could do both at once, really ought to be doing both at once, if they were to have any hope of making the meeting place in the timeframe specified by Roger, but Einar seemed to have thought through whatever it was he wanted to do to break their trail, and for the moment, she let it be.

Not content to abandon the truck where it sat—the road appeared little used, but not entirely abandoned, and he did not want anyone coming across it soon—Einar motioned everyone back inside, satisfied that they were not at the moment being pursued and wanting to find just the right spot.  Not a quarter mile further up the track he found it, creeping across an exposed section of schist—they were, it seemed, largely leaving the shale behind—and into the dark, welcoming timber beyond.  Not a road or Jeep track, as such, but it appeared to him as though hunters had used it from time to time to park their rigs, and he figured hunting season would be just about the ideal time for the truck to be rediscovered.  Making one final sweep of the vehicle's interior to be certain they were leaving nothing behind—he and Liz had both been wearing gloves the entire time, having been prepared for the plane ride and not wanting to leave fingerprints in Roger's plane—Einar pulled out  spare quart of oil he'd found behind the seat, carefully pouring a portion of it down over the windshield, while Liz watched in puzzlement.  He then scooped up a handful of loose soil and needles from beneath one of the evergreens and tossed it in the air above the windshield, letting it settle and stick on the film of oil.  This operation he repeated anywhere glass or chrome might be showing, the resulting dull finish ensuring that no flash of sunlight on glass would bring the truck to be discovered before its time.

Moving, then, off across the exposed schist, raven gliding after them, no trace of their passing, Einar intending to stop and review maps with Liz, make their decision about attempting to meet the plane, but wanting to be well clear of the area, first.  He would, at least, lead them in the general direction of said rendezvous , whenever such proved compatible with his escape plan.  Over around the shoulder of the ridge he led them, and then down, far down a stony wash where their passing would leave little sign, back into the land of shale and aspens and then, still descending, into a narrow sandstone canyon whose rims bristled with scrub oak.  All this time Liz found herself struggling to keep up, amazed at the speed and agility with which Einar moved, exhausted and hungry as she knew he must be.  It was almost as though, through being forced once more into close contact with the possibility of discovery and capture, he had begun to regain something of his old self, of the Einar she had known, and she hoped it might continue, even if it had taken rather dire circumstances to bring the thing about.  Einar, she had observed, always seemed to be at his best under dire circumstances, anyway...

Down the canyon, walls creeping further overhead as they went and a series of sandstone shelves allowing them to make some distance quickly without leaving much sign, they soon reached a place where the canyon deepened dramatically, water‐worn rock soaring above their heads, overhanging in places so as to provide cover from the air.  Liz wanted to pause here, catch her breath for a moment and allow Einar to do the same, but he kept moving, swinging into a narrow, rocky side drainage that took off uphill, a quick glance over his shoulder to make certain she was still following, which she was, but he made it only ten more yards up the rocky gully before she caught up to him for good.


09 December, 2015

9 December 2015

A dusky dawn light as Einar rolled for the last time from his bed on the ground, stretched cramping limbs and hauled himself to his feet, sun still hours from rising, and the wind was picking up.  Had been increasing throughout the night, bringing with it, mingled with the familiar and somewhat comforting scents of sage and alkali soil, the occasional whiff of asphalt and exhaust, town smells, and they had troubled his sleep.

It was warmer down there, leaves beginning to come out on most of the trees and not a trace of snow anywhere, but Einar was not warm as he scrubbed numbed hands across his face and stirred about camp that morning, energy entirely exhausted by the long trek to reach the airport, head heavy and confused and the morning chill seeming to pass right through him, sharp, keen, body beginning to tremble with cold whenever he stopped moving for more than seconds at a time.  Liz could see it, wished they might find a sheltered place and stop for an hour, make a fire and some hot food before the final push to the plane, but it was not an option, not even a remote possibility, and she just had to hope everything would go smoothly, so they could be in Arizona and on their way up to Bud's house within a few hours.  She could only imagine how good it would be to put that kind of distance between themselves and their pursuers, real, theoretical or otherwise, and to be able to relax for a while.

Einar, scouring camp for any trace they might be leaving behind and donning his pack, had no thought of relaxing, mission underway and everything coming into sharp focus as his thoughts turned to the details of their upcoming actions.  In his mind he could picture the site, both as it appeared on the map and through binoculars from their vantage point the previous day, access road running along the low ridge just above the wide basin which held the runway, high chain link fence beyond that but in one spot, brush coming down to the access road and beyond it, enveloping the fence and continuing, though hacked off yearly to maintain some semblance of order, nearly onto the runway itself.

It was here that they planned to wait, He and Liz, as Roger, Bud and Susan went to the waiting plane and prepared for the journey, here that they would meet it and board—or, more accurately, be loaded, concealed in duffel bags that Kilgore would carry into the brush and stuffed into the two black plastic crates which Roger had brought for the purpose.  Cargo.  Could work.  Would have to work.  They were committed now.  This being a small and somewhat rural airport—no tower, no flight plan and no clearance required for a small plane like Roger's, so long as he took the proper route out of the valley—there were no cameras covering the perimeter.  Of this, Roger was certain, having conducted a thorough reconnaissance of the area on several previous occasions, their plan thus posing little risk.  Theoretically.

On the move, hour still early and Roger wanting to keep it that way, especially with the wind continuing to become more blustery and now clouds moving in, they made their way down the slope and along a draw which concealed their movements while allowing them to approach within a quarter mile of their final destination.  That final push involved climbing the backside of the ridge along which ran the access road above the airport, seeking out the most heavily concealed path down its opposite side, and hastily crossing the dirt track.  They would then hurry along the fence in the timber to the spot where, just off of airport grounds,  Roger had concealed the vehicle in which they would all ride out to the plane.  No sooner had they got a closeup look at the access road than they realized there was a problem.

The truck, a small white pickup with some sort of logo on the door, was parked at the end of the dirt track, not ten yards from the spot where Roger had left his Jeep, window rolled down, engine not running and a head clearly visible on the driver's side.  Not an unmanageable situation, perhaps, had Roger been alone, but with no way to know the purpose or intentions of the vehicle's occupant, Einar certainly did not want to risk taking his family down to meet Roger's vehicle.  Had to come up with another option, and by the time Bud looked questioningly in his direction, he had already done so.

"Got to cut the fence, crawl through and wait for you guys in the oaks there on the other side.  You bring the plane to us.  You've got those duffels in the plane, right?"

"Right.  But not the crates."

"So we skip the crates."

"Just load you folks in duffels?  Gonna be a mighty rough ride."

"Got a better idea?"

"Let's go for it."

Safely on the far side of the road, having crossed on a curve so as not to be visible from the area where the truck was parked and having seen no other sign of human activity up there, other than their own, they began worming their way through the oak brush, Einar walking point and Bud just behind him.

There it was, the fence, Einar motioning for everyone to wait some distance back while he crept forward and inspected the thing, looking for sensors, trip wires, anything which might necessitate a re‐thinking of their plan.  Finding nothing he gave Bud a nod, set to work severing the minimum number of links so as to allow their passage.  The cut, narrow and well ‐concealed in the surrounding brush, might not be discovered for weeks or even months.

Striding confidently over to the little green and white plane as soon as he'd exited the brush, Roger began his walk around while Bud and Susan loaded their packs and Susan climbed in.  Liz, meanwhile, was thoroughly occupied with keeping little Will from crying out in fascination at the sight of so many unfamiliar things, the planes, especially, catching his eye.  She succeeded, the boy, like most creatures who grow up in the wild and under some degree of daily threat, possessing an innate sense of danger, and he sensed it now in his mother's hushed words.   Watching carefully for any sign that the plane was being watched, Einar saw no sign of it, scrutinizing a truck which stood between their position and the plane, and determining it to be unoccupied, some sort of airport service truck.

Roger was finished, got in, Bud looking very deliberately in Einar's direction before joining him.  It was time.  Or would be, as soon as Roger got the plane a little closer.  Einar was ready.  But, it was not to be, plan interrupted by the appearance of a white pickup over between the hangars but heading their direction, no way to know the driver's intentions but Roger was powering up, ready to begin taxiing, and Einar caught his eye, gave the pilot an emphatic depart! signal, a hasty salute and a big grin, disappearing into the brush as the little plane began to move.  Right past them.  Gone.  Good.  Go.  While you can.

Quickly scanning the ridge from which they had come, Einar was dismayed to see their escape cut off, the first white pickup having left its parking spot and begun inching its way slowly along the access road that ran the length of the ridge's summit, window down, driver appearing to search for something.  Not good, not a place he wanted to go, unsure as they were of the driver's intentions and well aware that they would likely be seen now should they attempt to cross that opening, but they couldn't stay where they were, either, first truck still heading roughly in their direction, and he did the only thing he could see to do, taking Liz's hand and striding out of the brush, straight to the service truck which sat parked only yards from their hiding place.  The vehicle was concealed from the ridge by the close proximity of the scrub oak thicket and they, themselves, concealed from the first pickup by the bulk of the second as they approached.  Rising from his low crouch by a few inches  and peering in the passenger's side window Einar saw the key in the ignition, eased open the door, motioned to Liz and prayed the thing would start.  It did, no visible reaction from the other truck as he started it up and slammed the seat back to allow for legs apparently rather longer than those of the previous driver.

"Get Will on the floor between your feet and keep him there," he spoke to Liz, voice low, well controlled, but with a hard edge to it that she had heard only a few times in the past.  "No matter what happens, you keep him there."  He checked his pistol and handed it to her then, wishing the rifle were available but not having time to retrieve it from his pack and reassemble it.

Einar  took off, creeping at first, still hoping to avoid provoking alarm on the part of whoever occupied those other trucks, a plan which seemed to be working, as the first had veered away and headed back towards the hangars at a leisurely pace, the second continuing its slow circuit of the access road.

A few dozen more yards and then there they were, pulling out onto the highway, after which, concealed from airport grounds by a low, juniper‐covered rise, Einar, behind the wheel for the first time in several years, took off with such enthusiasm that Liz had to put her hand on his knee and remind him that down here in the world, there are such things as speed limits...

29 November, 2015

29 November 2015

Though not much distance remained between their current location and the one chosen as the best place to pass the night, Bud was anxious to close the gap and get the little party established there, wanting to have time to thoroughly inspect the place for escape routes, give Einar time to become as comfortable with the arrangement as he might be capable, and allow everyone time to once again go over maps and discuss procedures for the following morning.

That last quarter mile of approach involved  a lot of climbing, up and over several low ridges in a landscape that appeared to have been picked up and folded with some precision by giant hands while it was still malleable, resulting crenellations standing out like ribs  on a bamboo fan.   A fine sort of terrain, providing as it did many opportunities for concealment, just the sort of place Einar might feel at home, but his legs were giving out as they approached, simply refusing to support him, leaving him to cling grimly to his two walking sticks, grit his teeth and hope no one would notice.  Despite this difficulty Einar was able through sheer determination to more or less maintain the pace Bud was setting, but if he thought he was concealing the struggle, he was convincing only himself.

Finally, nearing the top but with several hundred feet of elevation gain still to go, Bud halted the party beneath a sheltering overhang of yellow sandstone, spreading the map on a dry stretch of ground and holding it flat against a rising wind.  Einar doggedly remaining on his feet even as the others crouched around the map, knowing he would be hard pressed to rise again should he allow himself to sink to the earth.    Into the earth.  Stillness, and the sweet, damp smell of soil.  He wished.  Tired.  Trembling, beads of perspiration standing out on his face with the effort of maintaining his stance, he swiped a hand across his eyes, shook his head and squinted out at the world below, keeping watch.  All across  the jumbled sweep of land below them, the country through which they had just traveled, the sound of the wind singing between the ancient, twisted branches of several score of junipers was interrupted only by the occasional rasping call of a scrub jay.  He could not see the airport, ridgetop above them concealing its basin, but last he had seen of it, the place had appeared quiet, also, no sign of trouble.

Swaying, sick, he wanted to tell Liz to go, take Will,  get on that plane and make a break for it, start a new life in Arizona where no one would be looking for them, leave him there where he stood, where he would fall, soon to become a part of the landscape, scant meal for the vultures, bones  carried away by coyotes.  As it stood he was only slowing them down, increasing the danger of their already‐risky plan.  But, he could not bring himself to say it.  Could not abandon them, could not banish from his mind the images of what could happen down there, hidden teams rushing out to capture them as soon as they stepped onto that runway, succeeding, he watching from a distance, too far away to have any impact...  He would not do that.  Must at least go along to see them safely onto the plane, provide cover, if needed, as they took off, and then...but that wasn't right, either, for the flight would have a landing as well as a takeoff, and he must be present for that, too, see them safely all the way through.

Except, he told himself, arguing, debating the thing, except that Bud and Roger were two of the most capable and competent men he had ever known when it came to such missions, not to mention his own Lizzie, who had more than once proven her own strengths.  They would be fine without him.  Better.  So.   Make it happen.  Let this be the end of it, let them go.  Swaying again, and this time he let go his grip on the sticks would have fallen and in all probability found himself beyond the ability to rise by the time the others took notice.  Did not fall though, standing straighter after a moment's uncertainty, smelled the sage, spicy, damp, springtime down there in the valley, drawing himself together and starting up the last rise, heading for the ridge crest.

Less than an hour later they had reached the spot where all had agreed to spend the night, preliminary reconnaissance carried out and shelters beginning to take shape beneath the trees, nestled up against a series of low rock outcroppings which slashed their way incongruously across an otherwise‐unremarkable landscape of low pinyon and juniper.  While Liz and Susan set up camp and prepared a cold supper and Roger—well aware of his duties the following day—slept with hat pulled down over his eyes beneath a jutting shelf of sandstone, Bud and Einar made a final going‐through of their own packs, and everyone else's.

Carefully emptying Liz's pack and his own, Einar went over each item, careful to make certain that nothing put back into Liz's would, if somehow seen by others, provide any particular clue as to her way of life over the past years, keeping it to the essentials, and mostly those that had been brought in from outside by Bud and Susan.  His own gear he did not similarly sanitize, no point, if they get hold of me there won't be any shred of plausible deniability, no doubt who they're looking at, so instead he focused on weapons, FAL brought to him so many months ago by Kilgore disassembled and stashed in the pack so as not to be obvious from the outside, wouldn't do to be seen crossing the runway with such a thing, though he would have been far happier had he been able to have it at the ready...  Pistol and knife, though, he kept on his belt as always, concealed beneath his vest, bone spear and dart heads carefully wrapped and stowed in an outer pocket of his pack.
 
Dusk, then, air growing sharper with the setting of the sun, and Einar was as ready as he figured he was ever going to find himself.