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.

08 November, 2015

8 November 2015

Responding to a silent summons from Kilgore the little group assembled beneath a stand of junipers, some distance further back from the edge of the vegetation and just out of sight of the airfield.

"Here's the plan, guys.  Roger's got a vehicle stored down there, not on airport grounds but nearby.  He and I are gonna work our way down around to where it is, show up and check things out.  Then while Roger gets the plane ready I'll take the truck back off of grounds, since there's a fence and no cover and you kids don't need to be climbing it...come here."

Bud beckoned and the others followed, Einar lowering himself to his belly on the little rise indicated by the tracker and taking the binoculars, studying the fenceline, two spots where the timber crept down nearly to the fence, itself.
"We're supposed to meet you, and the truck, down at the edge of the timber?"

"Better.  In the timber.  There's a little access road that parallels the fence.  You can't see it from here, and it can't be seen from airport grounds, either, and that's where you're gonna meet me.  The three of you will hurry into the back of the truck, where Susan'll help get you all packed into your transport containers as I drive out to meet Roger at the plane."

Einar looked skeptical.  "Transport containers?"

"Sure.  You don't think you're just gonna be walking around out in the open out there, do you?  No!  We've got it all figured out, got a couple cargo crates for you guys. "

Cargo crates.  Sensible plan, really, he had to admit, good concealment, but the thought of being locked in a crate and shoved aboard a plane with no way to see out and no chance to resist should trouble come...he let out a slow breath, nodded.
"Let's do it."

Roger grinned, Susan let out a silent sigh of relief and Kilgore clapped the fugitive on the back, nearly bowling him over.  Liz just watched silently, knowing Einar was agreeing too easily, wishing she might know what was going on in his head.

"Now," Roger took over, "should something go a little funny down there and we fail to make contact with you for one reason or another, we've got a backup plan of sorts, a rally point so we can all have a second chance at this thing."  Roger spread a map on the ground, indicating the airport and plotting a course cross country, over a series of low hills and around a low, open basin, indicating a location near its northern edge.

"Can set the plane down here, if need be.  About a three hour walk from the airport, if you really hoof it.  So we'll give you six hours, to be safe.  Should we miss meeting one another then, we'll make a second attempt the following morning just after dawn.  After that,  I've got to clear out of here and you're on your own.  So we better make this work.  Understood?"

Einar nodded.  "This afternoon, then?"

"I was thinking morning.  Morning will give us more options if we have to go to plan 'b.'  We'll head down first thing in the morning, after a good night's sleep."

A slight smile from Einar, sleep, sure...  "Lot of daylight left, here.  Seems better to just get it done, minimize our time here near town."

"Sure, we could do it that way.  Morning means more time to watch the place though, make sure it all looks right before we head down there."

Sounded good to Einar, the extra time, almost outweighed the added risk which came of passing another night near the glow of the town.  He glanced up at Bud, but the tracker shrugged noncommitally.  Could see potential benefits and pitfalls either way—spooky as the man had been of late, he knew the fugitive might well change his mind about the entire operation, given another long night to stew over the thing, but might just as well back out should he decide he had not been given enough time to reconnoiter the airstrip and surroundings—and wanted Asmundson to make the decision.

Einar rose, studied the low folds of land that flowed away all sage‐and‐juniper dotted below their position, squinted down at the yellow‐grass basin which held the airport, and nodded to Roger.

"Yeah, sounds good.  Morning.  But we can't spend the night here.  Too exposed."

"No, no way, not here," Kilgore agreed, hoisting his pack up from the log on which he had been resting it, settling the load on his back and grabbing Einar's arm to help him to his feet, seeing that the man, despite his a tremendous effort, could not get his legs to cooperate.  "Already got us a spot picked out, back along this ridge by about a mile, mile and a half, still within bino range of the  planes, but far enough back so we won't be worrying about any townsfolk stumbling on us while they're walking their dogs in the evening, or anything like that."

Will, having grown restless on Liz's back since their stopping, squirmed and wriggled at the mention of "dogs," having seen pictures of them in a little book Susan had brought him.  After the first time reading that book to him, Susan had been begged, cajoled and finally commanded to re‐read it time after time, the boy's little hand clasping her finger and tugging insistently, making sure she understood his intentions by repeating, "ook.  Ook!" until she fetched the book and sat down to read.

Now, having heard Bud mention dogs, he wanted to see the book again, but wanted even more to see the dogs the big man seemed to be taking about, making his desires known with a series of well‐executed woofs and growls just like the ones Susan had demonstrated while reading to him.  Liz did her best to hush him, explaining that this was neither the time nor place for dogs, or books, or the sounds of dogs or demands for books, that one must be very, very quiet when within sight of towns and cars and all that mess down in the valley.  Will understood few of her words, but grasped very well their intention, watching the valley with huge eyes and keeping still.

Onward, then, to the spot where they had determined to pass the night, hours of daylight left and some final preparations to be made for the following day's journey once they got there.

27 October, 2015

27 October 2015

No one slept much that night, Einar relieved after his watch by Bud, but remaining near his post, listening.  The night was not quiet, but all of the sounds, so far as Einar could tell, were coming from some great distance off, from the area of Clear Springs.  Head nodding, sleep wanting to come, he fought it, struggled to stay alert.  Liz was sleeping, or appeared to be, Will with her over near Susan where the junipers were at their thickest, and he was glad to see her getting some rest.  Rose, stretching, holding himself rigid against a series of cramps which gripped the muscles of his lower legs, eased some by movement, and he moved.  A small sound in the darkness, a faint scraping of rock on rock, and he froze, listening.  Bud.  Recognized his pattern of movement, steps with a slight limp in them, probably remarkably similar, Einar realized, to his own.  Except that Bud was heavier, steps more solid, feet more firmly connected to the earth.  The tracker stopped, swiveled, froze, knew he had been heard

"What are you doing, Asmundson?  Supposed to be getting some sleep.  Your turn'll come again soon enough."

Einar said nothing, silently crouching on the rocks beside Kilgore, squinting into the darkness, past the trees and out across the sagebrush flats that lay between them and the murky glow of Clear Springs.  Bud got the message, words or not, and let Einar share the watch without further objection.  Roger, by common agreement, was to be allowed as much sleep as he might be able to manage, his being the duty to pilot the plane sometime the next day.

Morning, light barely beginning to show on the horizon when Einar rose stiff and shivering from his post and went to wake Liz, anxious to be on the move and gain, hopefully, a few extra hours during which to scout the area around the airport.

Four hours of walking, that's all it took.  Would have been less still, had they not needed to put so much time and energy into carefully choosing the most well concealed routes, sometimes necessitating an additional half mile here and there.

Einar's focus sharpening as they neared town, the world seemed to crackle around him, every detail alive, moving, imprinting itself on his consciousness without any deliberate effort at observation on his part.  Useful, this effortless alertness, but at the same time nearly unbearable as they neared town and the man‐made sights and noises increased.  Too much information, too much to sort out, and Einar wished rather desperately to be able to turn around and retreat into the quiet, concealing safety of his hills.  Could not do that, must not, paused and used his breath to slow everything down for a moment, give him some room to think.  Better.  Still nagged at him, but at least he was able to shove to the background the increasingly frantic feeling of the thing, concentrate once more only on the details that mattered.

Five minutes later they topped out on the ridge and saw through a screen of junipers the airport stretching out below them at the edge of the wide, flat basin which held Clear Springs, destination nearly reached, and Einar stopped in his tracks, wanting more than ever to turn back.  The thought of what he must do next, what they all must do...it took him right back to the moment when he had decided to walk out of the jungle after his escape from captivity, that morning three weeks into his escape when he had taken that leap of faith and stepped out into the open in front of the wire...only this time, there were no friendlies waiting for him, no hope of being reunited with the men beside whom he had fought...

It had been hard enough that first time, even though he had known logically that he was walking into the presence of friends.  He had still fully expected a bullet to rip into him the moment he was spotted, had almost been able to feel it as he took that first step out into the burnt clearing that surrounded the camp, and that bullet had been the best case scenario, because the other involved his being captured and returned over the border to that squalid swamp, to the bamboo cage for another round of interrogations...  He shuddered, hunched his shoulders against the sudden physical sensation, real and immediate as the rocks beneath his feet and the sage‐scented wind on his face, of the ropes about his upper arms, pulling them back into that impossible position, arms nearly jerked from their sockets.

He blinked, scrubbed the sweat from his face with a rough swipe of a hand, did his best to swallow the sense of rising dread.  Mostly succeeded, started moving again, but it left him queasy, unsettled, a situation not helped by the realization, as he took his turn with the binoculars before their final approach, that Roger's plane was well over on the far side of the airport near the hangars, nowhere at all near the trees or any other sort of cover...

11 October, 2015

11 October 2015

Doubts, as they traveled, Einar remembering some of the more difficult times during their years in the high country, those first months when he'd been virtually unable to move from the dark, cold recesses of old mines due to the intensity of the air search, no food, no way to have a fire, nowhere to go, standing and stomping his feet all night just to keep from freezing—until he'd hurt his hip, and couldn't stand at all, and was left to huddle shivering over a single bearfat lamp all night, hoping he'd get to see one more morning.

Rough times, but here he was.  Had not given up, walked into town and surrendered, not then, not when they'd shot him in the leg during one of his near escapes and he'd faced weeks of serious  infection as he attempted to clean out and care for the wound, nor during the agonizing months after the frostbite injury which had ultimately cost him all the toes on his right foot.

That one had nearly meant the end, numerous times, yet not once had he seriously considered doing what they were about to do, putting themselves in the hands of another and venturing willingly down into the territory of the enemy.  Liz.  Maybe she had wanted to do it, wished they had done it long ago, had been waiting for him to agree to the thing...he looked back at her, watched for a moment as she walked, Will on her back.  No, didn't think so.  Even during her pregnancy, when things had looked uncertain and she had struggled at times until they had figured out just how much protein she needed.   He had asked her, then, had offered it, but she had refused.  Had even insisted that, no matter what happened, they needed to stay out where they were free and were safe.

Doubts, and he put them aside, kept moving.  Different times, different situation, and this time he had agreed to it.  Advantage, which he had always found in the familiarity of his chosen territory, in the certainty that he knew the area better than his enemy ever would—he knew it could be had in a dramatic, unexpected change, as well.

The course they had mapped out took them with an efficiency not common to previously untried routes down out of the high country and into a series of lower, timbered hills, subalpine fir giving way to endless acres of blue spruce interrupted here and there by patches of aspen, leaf‐buds swelling with spring sap.  The breeze that whispered up from the valleys as morning stretched into afternoon was a warm one, soft with spring, alive with scents of the awakening world, and Einar was hungry.  Wanted to hunt, to stop and make camp for a few days here where the timber still concealed their paths, seek out the deer whose tracks he was seeing with increasing frequency, feast on fresh meat and show Will how to tan a buckskin...

Dreaming, drifting.  Stumbled over a rotted stump, realized his eyes had been closed.  Later.  The opportunity would come, would have to come, but not that day.  That day, they must cover distance.

Knowing the press of time everyone moved quickly, Einar traveling beside them and sometimes taking the lead, not wanting to be an obstruction to progress, but after a few hours of this his legs began hurting so badly that it was at times all he could do to continue putting one foot in front of the other.  He tried stretching each out to its full length between steps, leaning more heavily on the stick he already carried for balance, even tried standing still for a moment here and there, but nothing seemed to have any impact.  Silly thing, and he told himself it would pass, gritted his teeth and kept moving.  When it did not pass, he allowed his mind to wander back to the jungle, to the ropes, and the pain became that of returning circulation, and his anger carried him onward.

Stopping only twice that day, once to eat a hasty lunch and obtain water from a little limestone seep and the second time because Bud could see that Einar was near falling over with exhaustion and would likely benefit from a few minutes' forced rest, the little group made good progress, a faint reflected glow creeping across the sky as darkness fell and telling them that the lights of Clear Springs were not too many miles off.  They camped that night on a low, juniper‐studded rise above a sagebrush flat, no human habitation in sight, but the faint, unsettling rumble and hum of distant civilization reaching them as the night quieted.  It was a thing barely noticed by Bud, Susan and Roger, accustomed as they were to such background noises even in the relatively rural environments which they called home, but Liz noticed, the distant bustle imposing on her subconscious, and was troubled.  To Einar the change was not nearly so subtle, he hearing it as a clamor, a chaos, as the roar of impeding destruction.

This is it, then, Einar told himself as he took up a position beneath the most densely needled of the juniper clusters just below the ridgecrest.  Here they were, and  in the morning, they would go down there, and they would prepare to leave.  Muninn settled on his shoulder, twisted a bit of hair and rasped softly, helping him keep watch.

08 September, 2015

Morning, everyone packed and Roger anxious to get moving lest time become short; Einar could sense the urgency, struggled to bring himself to wakefulness and get his limbs to coordinate usefully with one another.  Liz was off helping Susan with the breakfast, Roger and Bud conferring over maps, and Einar was glad, did not want an audience.  Had one anyway, he discovered, in little Will and the raven, child standing not two feet from his bed and bird perched on a branch not far from the little one's head, both staring, silent.  Einar gave the pair a wild grin in the hopes of scaring them off, failed, rolled quickly out of bed and hauled himself to his feet with the help of a nearby aspen.  Would not do to have them see him like this, particularly the boy.   They saw, anyway, Einar's body not nearly as well‐coordinated as his mind told him it would be, and in his enthusiasm to gain his feet he sent himself  way over past the balance point, toppling forward into a clump of currant shrubs.  Will found this enormously funny, laughing, squealing and attempting to imitate his father's movements, raven rasping, diving and settling on the boy's knee when he, too, took a tumble and ended up stuck in the shrubs.

By the time Einar had got to his feet again and extricated Will from the dense, thorny thicket of currants, the others were sitting down to breakfast and Liz had come in search of the wayward pair.

"You're two of a kind, aren't you?  What were you doing down there?"

"Just learning to walk.  Everybody's got to do it."  And he scooped the child up in his arms, brought him to the place where the others sat surrounding spread‐out map and deposited him at the circle's edge.

"You got a plan here, Kilgore, or do we just go charging down into the midst of civilization and hope we'll blend effortlessly in with the natives?"

Kilgore bellowed with laughter, but Roger shook his head.  "Do what you will, but if my plane is to be involved, there won't be any 'charging' or 'blending' going on.  We do have to make time, but once we're down there near the airstrip, everything's got to be deliberation and stealth.  Bud and  Susan and I will head out there first, make sure everything looks good with the plane, then we'll start loading our cargo.  Got three big duffel bags in there, though I think we'll only have to use two of them, and we can get you folks all loaded up with no one being the wiser.  Asmundson, you don't count for a lot more than a sack of potatoes, weight‐wise, I'm thinking, your wife here is pretty small and the little one..." he lifted Will off the ground, up and down, weighing him like cargo.  "Little one can't be much over twenty pounds I'm going to say, so we'll be just fine.  We'll just bring the bags into the brush near the edge of the airstrip, get you folks all loaded up and get out of there."

Einar wanted to grumble about being compared to a sack of potatoes—even if, as he would have to admit, the comparison was likely a reasonably factual one as far as cargo weights were concerned—but had bigger things on his mind.  "What about cameras?  Even a small airport like that probably has a couple of dome cameras on sticks, just to monitor things..."

"You bet they do.  Cameras almost everywhere, now.  But I'm real familiar with that place, know where they all are, what they cover and what they don't, and there are a couple real good big blind spots, one of which happens to be right where the oak brush comes all the way down to the flats, so we can load those bags, bring a vehicle over, shove the bags in the vehicle and drive to where I've got the plane."

Einar looked skeptical, but kept quiet.  Sounded as though the pilot had really thought the thing through, believed it could be done safely, and with decades of smuggling experience in a wide range of very hostile places, few men were more qualified than Roger to make such a call.

"Ok Kilgore, show me your route.  You got ideas on how we'll get down there without running into folks?"

"Was hoping for your input on that, Asmundson.  Lot of country between here and there, and I've never seen most of it."

Neither had Einar.  Over towards Clear Springs the country flattened out, mountains dropping off into a series of increasingly gentle hills and canyons widening, edges becoming less vertical, elevation falling and the vegetation tending towards sagebrush and juniper; too low, too open for hunted men to safely inhabit.  Forbidden territory.  Violating one of his own rules.  So he could go and violate another, and stick his family on a plane.   And go off to an unknown place, and...stop it.  Yeah, the rules have kept you all alive and free so far, but sometimes just barely.  Time to break a few.  Break the mold.  Leave the enemy in confusion, and make a clean break.

He took the map, squinted critically at it for a full minute, then handed it to Kilgore.  "Ok.  Picked us out a path.  Pretty direct but hopefully not too exposed, two or three days' travel if we keep moving and don't slow down for any sticks in the mud or sacks of potatoes, and that ought to give us time to check things out at the airport before committing to this thing.   Here."  He pointed the route out to Kilgore, who had flattened the map back on the ground, the others gathering around to see.

"Looks good," the tracker grunted.  "Lot like what I had in mind.  We may have to adjust some as we go, of course, depending on what it really looks like on the ground, whether we run across any signs of civilization before we're ready, stuff like that.  But ought to work."

Already on his feet Einar nodded, hoisted his pack and stood waiting for the others to be ready.  No more holding things up; time to move.

11 August, 2015

11 August 2015

Liz never quite knew, looking back on that day,  just how it had come about, could not remember Einar verbally agreeing to Roger's offer, but then somehow that afternoon there it was, looking like a done deal, everyone just knowing it was going to happen that way, and if Einar did not give his explicit approval, neither did he loudly object.  Did not say much of anything, in fact, mostly silent and seeming increasingly distant since his time under the waterfall, one foot in front of the other as they traveled, remaining on his  feet during breaks as if knowing he might not be able to get himself going again, should he sit down.

Arizona.  He thought of it as he walked, brought to mind the things Bud had told him about his house there, did his best to create a mental picture of the place and puzzle out its potential hazards.  The greatest of which, as he saw it, came in the form of the intervening space.  Hundreds of miles, dozens of which lay between their current position and Clear Springs where Roger had his plane, and while he might have taken a week or more to carefully cover the distance by keeping to the backcountry and avoiding potential contact with others, he knew Bud and Roger likely meant to employ vehicle transport.  Fine by him, so long as he had a weapon in hand and the opportunity to make an escape—or at least a good end of things—should they run into trouble, but watching Will's little white‐blond head bobbing up and down in the sunlight like so much dandelion fuzz as Liz walked, he wanted nothing more than to keep those two as far as possible from any such potential action.

 Would have to see.  Would just have to get down there, and see.  Take his time.  Except that there would not be much time, because in less than a week, Roger had to be back at work and that was really pushing things, considering all the country they still had to cover in order to reach the nearest road, and the two or three days he would have liked to devote to reconniasance of both the vehicle in which they were to be transported to the airport, and the plane, itself.  Two or three days each.  But there would be no time to  do it his way, hardly time to do it Bud and Roger's, and he picked up his pace, closed the gap between himself and the others.  The faster he traveled, now, the more time he would have at the other end to make sure things were alright, before he committed.

 Already committed.  You committed to this whole thing the minute you didn't speak up and refuse the offer again, like you should have done.  But it's not  too late.  You can still stop it, turn around with Liz and Will and disappear again into the timber, head over that ridge and settle someplace where they won't be able to find you again, these people from outside.  Keep them safe.  Keep your family safe.  But he didn't do it, didn't stop them, because truth be told he simply wasn't sure anymore, and maybe Liz was right, and it was time to go.  Besides which, he had committed, had better keep moving, and make the best of it.  Make it work.

Smell of water.  Einar noticed it ahead of the others, noticed it and stopped because it smelled sizeable and often as not, where there was a large body of water, people could also be found.  Liz saw that he had stopped, turned towards him and he nodded in the direction of the smell, sunlight shimmering, glinting through green‐black ranks of spruce and fir when he turned his head at just the right angle.  By then they had all seen it, stopped to confer.  The lake, near as any of them could tell, was not terribly large, but certainly exceeded the size of the tiny tarns Einar and Liz were accustomed to seeing in the high country, large enough, perhaps, for the Forest Service to stock with fish and consequently to attract occasional backpackers and fisherman.  But not that time of year, not likely, when snowbanks still stood drifted deeply in the shadows and nights were peircigly cold.  Not yet.  Still, they must be cautious, and motioning for the others to follow at a distance, Einar pulled ahead, began a cautious descent, Bud going with him.

The lake, when they drew near enough to tell, proved not to be as large as Einar had initially judged by the smell of the place, a funny little lake with no obvious inlet but several slowly seeping outlets on the far side of it, a snowmelt lake, surrounded nearly entirely by swamp.  Which accounted for the richness of the smell.  No obvious human activity at or around the lake as Einar and Bud investigated, at least, nothing recent.  Behind the lake, on the swampiest side where the two of them had to balance carefully on grass hummocks in an attempt to keep boots from sinking in the black mud and ooze, they found plenty of human sign.  Back there, swamp brilliantly green with reeds and rushes, rimmed with the low, twisting forms of subalpine willow scrub and appearing the perfect setting in which to spot a moose, they found the series of three cabins.

Remains of cabins, more accurately, for the wood was so rotted and decomposed with moisture as to be almost unrecognizable at first as former structures, but Einar noticed, a certain squareness catching his eye, an unnatural regularity.  Timbers, hand‐hewn and carefully placed, mostly disappeared now beneath the swamp muck, and in one of the badly deteriorated cabin footprints he found the remains of an old wood cookstove, burner tops and a large iron plate, some two feet long and nearly half as wide, ornately‐edged and bearing the text, "Glenw...04."  A chunk of iron had fractured and fallen from the center of the plate, taking with it part of the text, but he expected "04" must have referred to a year, which seemed to confirm the place as an old mining settlement.  Must be a mine nearby, or the remains of one, and that possibility, combined with the wealth of salvageable metal debris at the site, led to Einar's wanting to stay, to settle, spend some time.

With which everyone agreed, wanting, at least, to spend the night, sun having sunk some time ago behind the evergreens for the evening.  Einar, satisfied that no other humans had recently ventured near the lake, watched Will as the others set up camp, the little one fascinated with the water, and in particular with a long dead fallen spruce whose bare trunk, nearly devoid of branches and entirely stripped of its bark, sat on the surface of the water and extended some ten feet out from shore.  Will wanted in the worst way to explore that tree, to scramble out along its length and no doubt at some point to slip off into the water, which seemed to Einar a fine idea.  He knew that Liz, though, might not approve, water frigid and in some places still bearing the remains of the winter's frozen cover, fractured and melting, but still ice.  Besides which, the water quickly became deep, far over Will's head, so in order to prevent possible disaster Einar went with him out onto the log, father and son balancing equally precariously on the slippery surface, staring down into the water.

Unruffled by wind, water acting as a mirror, Will stared for a time in puzzlement at the world turned upside down, peaks standing on their points and trees doing the same, but slowly he gained perspective, was able to look through the reflection at the lake's bottom, some three feet below.  Muddy down there, and dark, but enough daylight remained to clearly make out the slowly undulating form of a large mud puppy, brown with lighter blotches, gills waving in the water and head appearing much too large for its body.  Will wanted the creature, wanted it so badly that he lunged, launching himself off the log with his strong little feet, Einar barely catching him in time.

"Hold on there, fella.  That critter's down a lot deeper than it looks, and see?  You've moved too suddenly and scared it.  All gone.  No supper tonight.  Got to take your time with these things."

Frustrated, Will struggled for a moment and then was still, attention captured by yet another fantastic sight which was entirely new to him, water skipper insect treading its graceful way across the glassy surface of the lake, walking on water.  Will, of course, wanted to do the same, chase it down and learn more of the ways of his new companion, and this time Einar let him go, firm grip on his jacket but figuring the boy might as well begin learning the properties of water.  The lake, of course, did not support him, and Einar soon pulled a spluttering and spitting Will clear of the water, depositing him firmly back on shore and smiling when the boy very quickly got past his panic, settled down and stuck a tentative foot back into the lake.  He was learning.  And also very wet, and in need of dry clothes before either the evening cooled off much further or his mother discovered what the two of them had been about, and came after them both with her rabbit stick.  Situation remedied, he settled down some distance from the lake to keep an eye on Will while the others finished setting up camp.

Now that he had stopped moving for a while Einar found himself alarmingly weak, had trouble sitting back up again when he briefly lay down to watch Will and the raven play together with a bit of driftwood, and finally had to roll to his stomach and push with his arms before he could get himself up off the ground.  Even then, he almost didn't make it.  Frustrated, he allowed himself to sink back to the damp soil, try again.  No better, maybe even a little worse.  Well.  Had wanted to eat, get stronger, had committed to do it for Liz and for his family, and he was trying, or thought he was.  Maybe he was trying too hard, or doing too much too soon, but in any case, most things just wouldn't stay down, and those that did, seemed to go through so quickly that they came out the other end looking almost as they had when he'd eaten them, his body not seeming to gain much strength from the exchange, and no wonder, as dehydrated as the entire thing seemed to be leaving him.  Have to try something else.  But not that night.  That night, legs finally beneath him again where they belonged, he wanted to stay on his feet.

Even when bedtime came and the fire was put out Einar remained determined to stay on his feet, and Liz has to all but drag him to bed, aided by threats of swift action from Bud and Roger.  Sleep, she insisted, would help, would make things better.  Einar was not so sure.  He was tired, alright, a dense, intractable heaviness settling in his limbs and pressing on his chest until it almost seemed that breathing, itself, required a conscious effort and was likely enough to cease should he relax his control.  Sleep seemed out of the question, though.  Seemed like the end.  Like it would be the end, and must be fought.  Yet here it was, taking him, snarl of protest perishing on his lips and limbs going lax before Liz could finish struggling him into the sleeping bag, teeth bared, body limp as a rag.  Close enough, and she pulled the bag over the two of them, covering, curled herself around him, and together, they slept.

23 July, 2015

23 July 2015

Einar reluctantly came out of the water some ten minutes later at Liz's rather persistent urging, stiff with cold and a shade of mottled purple which seemed frighteningly close to being incompatible with life, but cleansed, somehow, refreshed, ready to continue.  Liz, concerned about his ability to warm himself effectively, wished he was willing to stop and spend a few minutes beside a fire before going on, but Roger and Bud agreed with his assertion that they had already spent far too much time beside the roar of the waterfall, deafened to the potential approach of both aircraft and hikers.

Liz getting into her dry clothes, Einar crouched with his back to the rocks just outside the area of fine misty spray from the waterfall and studied a map, identifying, after some consideration, the spot where they stood.  This took some real doing, hard as he was trembling as his body began to warm in the sunlight, some real concentration, but the focus was a good thing, kept his mind from drifting too much.

Had there remained any danger of Einar drifting off into hypothermic oblivion while staring at the map, this was soon remedied by little Will, who remained out of sorts from Susan's refusal to allow him free access to the waterfall, and took out his frustration by toddling over and stomping all over the map with his little moccasins.  This resulted in swift but gentle correction from his father, who took the time, once he had the little one's attention, to seat him on his knee and explain in broken sentences all about the utility of maps and why one must never cause them damage.

Will listened in wide‐eyed silence before at last trotting off to harass the raven, who had remained well clear of the waterfall's mist and now at atop Roger's backpack, doing his best to free a locking carabiner to which he had taken a fancy.  the raven, lacking fingers, could not manage to free the device despite his best efforts, but it did not take little Will long, grabbing, prodding and experimenting, to puzzle out the mechanism and invent a way, bracing the back of the carabiner against the side of the pack to compensate for his tiny hands, to get it open.   Susan watched silently, shaking her head.  That boy was going to be trouble.

Finished after a time with his studying and not yet ready to attempt getting into the warm clothes with which Liz was rather insistently pressing him—would have simply got tangled up in the things had he tried, just yet—Einar motioned to Bud and Roger, who joined him in front of the map.

"Time for you folks to...head down pretty soon here.  Was looking at the map, and  if you see this deep draw heading down from the area of the falls..." braced forearm against shinbone  in an attempt to steady his hand so he could point with some accuracy, "well, looks like a good way out.  Lots of rock, not leave much sign if you're careful."

"Yeah, Asmundson, looks pretty good except that our stuff is all back in the canyon below your camp."

"Go back for it."


"Later. "

"Roger's got to be back on the job a week from yesterday, haven't you, Rog?"

"Yeah, I've got a gig down in Flagstaff starting next week.  Can't be late for that one.  Got all my stuff with me, though, aside from the tent.  Can come back for that another time.  It does seem a good idea to head out a different way than we came in, just to be sure."

"Flying right through from Clear Springs to Flagstaff, aren't you," Bud asked somewhat rhetorically.
"Yep, that's the plan.  Left the plane at Clear Springs because it's a bigger airport and I didn't want to attract any suspicion by flying into Culver like I've done a couple times before."

"And on your way to Flagstaff...well, your path takes you real near my old place, don't it?"

"That's a fact."

"And you got room in that little green‐and‐white of yours for a couple passengers, haven't you?  Two full‐sized and one‐pint sized?"

"Affirmative.  Though my official flight plan would in no way reflect that little detour, should I take it."

Fixing his gaze on Einar, Bud waited for an answer.  The fugitive said nothing, crouched silently over the map, eyes cloudy and body attempting with decreasing success to tremble itself warm from the chill of the water.  He was wearing out.  Liz could see it.  She moved closer, put a hand on his arm and spoke quietly.

"Maybe it's time."

A slow smile, a shake of his head, subtle, almost lost amidst the shivering.

Some hope, Liz thought, simply in his lack of vehemence.  Perhaps this time, something having shifted ever so slightly in his way of looking at things, she might find a way in, and she hurried to press the point.

"It would take us far from the last places they were searching, really let us start all over, fresh.  I think it may be time."

More silence; she could see him hesitating, wavering, uncharacteristically indecisive.  Tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn't look at her.