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.

30 June, 2015

30 June 2015

Morning, Einar up before the others, alarmed that he had somehow managed to fall asleep and stay that way for  a good while there in the bag with Liz; lately that hadn't been much of a problem, as his own shortness of breath would wake him after only a brief time of sleep, chest aching and a choking sensation gripping his throat until he'd concentrated for a while on getting more air.  Must be the extra oxygen that had allowed him a deeper sleep.  Not so good, not down here in this unfamiliar place which he'd given only a cursory inspection before settling down for the night, slipping, Einar, slipping, and this is how it's gonna end if you don't get a grip on things pretty quick here, somebody's going to come along and capture you all in your sleep, or see you and report it and the next day the choppers will come...  

Except that no one would have captured them that night, no one sneaked into camp unawares, for there was Bud standing guard just below a rock outcropping which overlooked the camp, and though still frustrated with himself for sleeping, Einar was glad of the man's presence, and his forethought.  Bud saw that he was awake, started down from his perch.

Quietly so as not to wake the rest of the camp, Einar joined Kilgore on the low ridge.  "Was there a plan here, Kilgore?  A destination?  Afraid I wasn't quite as present as I'd have liked to be, yesterday."

"You might say that.  Better now, down here where the air's a little thicker?"

"I get along fine with the thin air.  Always have."

"Yeah, you have, but no so much these last few days.  Hope you're kinda seeing that, now."

Einar growled something unintelligable, got back to his feet.  "Think we'd better be parting ways here pretty soon.  This would be a good place for you folks to start heading down to wherever you started from, go back to the canyon and collect the rest of your gear, let the three of us move on so we're not such a big group leaving a lot of sign."

"Speak for yourself, Asmundson.  Nobody ever accused me of leaving much sign."

"You know what I mean.  No matter how careful the individuals might be, the larger the group, the more sign left and the greater the risk of discovery.  We both learned that first hand in some pretty gnarly places around the world, you and I, on both sides of the tracking equation."

"Undeniable fact, that is.  We'll split off soon and leave you kids alone, but before we do that, I'd kinda like to see that you're in  some sort of state where you've got some chance of making it out here, pulling security, doing the hunting, traveling, all of that.  No skin off my teeth if you want to wander off into the timber and end things, but I'd hate to leave your bride and little one stuck out here by themselves, if that's the way it's gonna be."

"You know that has never been my intention."

"I do.  But it was almost a reality the other day, wasn't it, intention or not?  Intention is nice, but at some point, results are the only thing that really counts.  They're what's gonna count to that little boy of yours."

"Well, I'm still here, not going anywhere anytime soon, if I can help it."

"Right.  And I'm sticking around for a few more days to make sure you hold yourself to it."

Einar glared, but did not verbally object, too short of breath after the brief exchange to speak without giving away his difficulty; just one more thing for the tracker to hold against him.  So.  Looked like they would have company for another day or two.  Might as well make the best of it, and at the moment, that meant packing up camp and moving  on, so as not to be spending too much time in any one place, here in this unfamiliar country.  The others were beginning to stir, Roger crouching over the remains of the fire and Susan carrying Will on her hip as Liz prepared a cold breakfast.  Einar and Bud started down the ridge to join them.

After a breakfast insisted upon by Liz and Susan and enforced jovially but firmly upon Einar by Kilgore, the small party packed up camp and resumed traveling, Bud wanting to lose a bit more elevation before setting up a more permanent camp and Einar gladly going along with the plan, as the place where they had spent the previous night held for him a vague and not‐quite‐definable dread whose source he thought just as well not to stick around and discover.  Something about the terrain, the lack of a good lookout area, perhaps, or its proximity to some as‐yet undiscovered trail.  Good to be moving again.  He would find something better.

Anxious to be moving in the cool morning air, warming up, they quickly covered the space of half a mile, Einar beginning to realize, then, the source of his unease at the previous night's camp.  The waterfall they had spotted in the distance, while barely audible from the place where they had spent the night, proved itself not only to be a roaring torrent as they neared, but also to be rumbling and resonating in the rock in such a manner as to make it felt in one's bones.  Though operating at a frequency all its own, and far deeper than any manmade flying machine, Einar now realized that its resonance had been without his awareness putting him in mind all night of distant helicopters.

Though relieved to discover the source of his disquiet, Einar was very cautious about approaching the falls, pulling ahead of the group and watching, waiting, wanting to be certain no others were about whose presence the roaring might mask.  Satisfied at last, he approached the frothing, foaming pool at the base of the falls, mist rising to meet and envelop him.  Losing sight of Einar in the spray and thinking he might have found some path by which they could circle around or even pass behind the falls, the others followed.

Quickly shedding all but his shorts, Einar stepped over the narrow rim of mineral‐encrusted rocks and driftwood at the edge of the pool and into the water, Liz shocked at how different he looked from the last time she had seen him visit a waterfall, some two years prior.  Emaciated, skeletal, spider limbs  with joints too large by proportion and appearing as though they ought to have been incapable of supporting even his slight weight, ribs and spine standing out like features on a topo map, hills, peaks and ridges with valleys of sunken flesh between, bruised, battered.  But happy.  Ecstatic, almost, as he approached and stepped calmly under the torrents of falling water, snowmelt, icy, not even flinching as they first hit him, a force fully capable of knocking him from his feet and pounding him into the rocks, arms upraised and a childlike joy transfiguring  his face so that she could not help but want to join him.  But for the icy bite of the water which she knew awaited.  Went anyhow, picking her way cautiously across calcite‐whitened rocks and logs which proved to be a good deal more slippery than Einar's sure‐footed movements would have led one to believe.

Susan held Will while Liz went to him, went to bring him out before he could freeze or fall or lose consciousness and drown beneath that pounding deluge...but when she reached him, he took her hand, held it, and instead of leading him out, she stayed, joined him, regretting that she'd kept most of her clothes but knowing they would dry.

Will had  wanted to follow his father into the water from the start, but when he saw Liz wading out towards the falls he could wait no longer, squirmed loose from Susan's grip and she let him go, taking off his little moccasins and setting him at the edge of the water, certain that he would stop as soon as he felt its bite.  Wrong, and she had to move quickly to snatch him back before he went in too deep.

07 June, 2015

7 June 2015

Einar woke in the darkness very cold despite Liz being close beside him, breath coming too fast, too shallow despite their drop in elevation, feeling too weary to move.  He tried to slow his breathing, take inventory of the scents around him; nothing untoward, lingering smoke, damp spruce needles, the foreign, plasticy smell of Bud and Susan's camouflage tarp...nothing wrong there.  He lay listening to the night, then, all quiet, only the sound of  a soft breeze in the soon‐to‐be leafing aspen tips and  somewhere far in the distance, falling water.   Inside him though, something was terribly wrong.

That feeling again, that dull, bottomless dread that he'd known only a few times in his life, the sense that nothing ever would or could be right again...he'd known it in the jungle more than once, when he'd finally given in and talked; even though he hadn't given the enemy anything real, anything they could use, it had still been crushing, an end to himself, and here he was again.  He'd given in.  Tried to ignore the thoughts, go back to sleep, but there was no sleeping now.  He'd done this.  He'd broken.  Left the path which he'd believed himself meant to walk, taken an easier one.  Just for the sake of making things easier.  For himself.  Unacceptable.  Had to fix it, couldn't fix it, couldn't wander off and do the things he needed to do, not with everyone in camp and expecting him to be there in the morning, and suddenly he couldn't breathe, couldn't get his breath at all, wanted to run, had to run, but made himself keep still.

The moment of panic passing, Einar at last permitted himself movement, crawled out of the sleeping bag—wanting to stand but pretty sure that he didn't have the breath for it; no sense falling and waking everyone—past the still‐glowing coals of the fire, feeling their  warmth radiating upwards at him as he passed.  He shivered at the contrast, went on until he could feel the heat no more, back against an aspen and arms wrapped around his knees as he shook in the night chill.  It was better in the cold, to be cold, to have it seep down inside him.  Brought a certain quietness, a solace, an ability, perhaps, to refrain from taking his leave of the camp and seeking the harsher if far more effective refuge of the ropes.  Which he could not do that night, must not do.  They were traveling, and his absence—and his actions—would interfere with the course of their journey, perhaps put his family and their guests at more risk than that to which they were currently subject because of their lower elevation.

Liz found him some time later when she noticed his absence and searched the camp, felt the tension in his body when she touched him, knew he wanted to be up in the woods handling things his own way, as he had been when Bud had found him this last time...  She sat down beside him, tried to put her parka around his shoulders, but he didn't want it.

"What's going on?  Can't sleep?"

"Shouldn't have done this."

"What?  Left the bag and frozen yourself to an aspen tree...?"

"Come down here.   Agreed to come down here."

"You couldn't breathe."

"Doesn't matter.  I gave in.  Not ok."

"What's not ok is you getting yourself into situations where you can't get enough oxygen without losing elevation because you've been doing things that cause you to bleed so much."

"I know.  Ridiculous, isn't it?  But I don't know what else to do, sometimes.  You know, something was...taken from me back there in that cage, and doing the ropes, enduring through it...that's the only way I have of getting back what was taken, just a little of it, just for that moment, Makes me ...clean.  Justified.  Justified to go on existing for a while more. "

"But yesterday...the things you and Bud were talking about.  You know you don't need to stay in that cage anymore, and every time you go do the things you do with the ropes, you're putting yourself back there."

"It's how I go on living, though.  What allows me to go on living.   Even if I accept the things he said, and I do, intellectually...well I've got to do certain things if I'm to go on living. "

"But it doesn't have to be that way.  Does it?  Isn't there something else you can do instead?"

"I don't know anything else."

"You know Will, and you know me."

He was silent.  He did know them.  It ought to be enough.  But wasn't.

"Can you just let it be?  For a while.  I know you can't let it go entirely, but just try to set it aside, live here with us for a while and see what happens..."

Yes, he was willing.  Afraid, but willing.  Nodded in the darkness.  She took his arm, helped him up.

"Come get warm.  Come to bed."

He wasn't quite ready, got stiffly to his feet and stood for a minute, listening.  "I hear water.  A waterfall.  Do you hear that?"

She did.  "We'll go find it in the morning."

22 May, 2015

22 May 2015

A lot of things happened in fairly rapid succession, then, Einar wishing he could stop it all moving, have some time to think, trying, but everyone around him seemed to possess an urgency he could not quite understand, swept him along with their momentum and kept him going.  Roger and Bud soon had tarp tents and bedding packed up and ready to go, Susan working with Liz to gather up some essentials from the shelter and distribute recently‐finished jerky between various packs.  While Liz packed Will's things Susan sat down beside Einar and handed him a pot of lukewarm broth, kept reminding him to drink, giving him only short reprieves whenever he stopped, turning away, nauseated.  Difficult as it was he did manage to keep most of the stuff down, consciousness a slightly easier thing to maintain after he was finished. 

"Guess I must have been a little dehydrated," he told her, handing back the empty pot for the last time, and Susan looked at him strangely, one corner of her mouth turning down as if she might laugh, but she didn't, pressed another pot of broth into his hands, instead.

"Maybe just a little. "

Time missing, moving, not sure how or when they had left camp, but they were moving, Roger walking beside him as if assigned to do so—which, in fact, he had been—closer than Einar might have wished, but the man wouldn't seem to go away, kept speaking to him in words which made no sense to Einar.  He tried to answer, anyway, as well as he could, eliciting a suppressed grin from the the man, who apparently found his answers humorous but didn't want to let on as much.  Didn't like it.  Why was everyone acting so strangely, refusing to talk to him?  And, where was Liz?  He looked for her, finally caught a glimpse of her walking beside Susan some distance ahead, Will on her back.  Wanting to catch up, he increased his speed, soon outdistanced Roger.

After a time, seeing that Einar had no intention of being left behind, Bud said something to Roger, and the pilot stopped shadowing him so closely, gave him some space.  Einar was glad.  Not feeling too steady, and didn't want to others to see.  Better to deal with it on his own.

World was weird around him, strange and shimmery and dim, which, he could only surmise, must be attributable to the late hour, far too late to be starting out in search of a new camp, which they did seem to be doing.  He tried point out the fact, suggested that they wait for morning, but no one seemed to be listening, and then they were moving again, heading down.  Too fast.  It was all happening too fast and he didn't like it, and because no one would listen and he seemed entirely ineffective, just then, at communicating with words, he did the only thing he could think to do, and sat down.  Fell down, more accurately, for once he reached a certain angle his knees folded and he was on the ground, same results, would have to do.  For a while no one but the raven noticed that he was lagging behind, kept moving and left him there, which suited Einar just fine.  

Night was coming; sleep seemed a good idea.  He could catch up in the morning.  Except that they were headed down, and down meant danger, which meant that he must be with them.  Back on his feet then, still wanting to call a halt to the descent and still unable to communicate the fact, all his breath going to keeping on his feet and moving his body forward.  Through a supreme effort he managed to catch up to Kilgore, pace him for a while, delivering, at last, a firm whack to the man's shoulder with his hiking stick by way of attempting to obtain his attention.  Bud stopped, whirled on Einar and grabbed the stick.

"Hey now, what's this?  What do you think you're doing?  You're not the only one who doesn't care for folks sneaking up behind you, you know."

"Want to...stop.  Too fast."

"Oh, we're going to fast for you, are we?  Can't keep up?  Well ain't that a shame?  Push harder, you doggone lazy slacker."

Einar grinned, shook his head and would have laughed, if he'd had the breath for it.  "No.  Not the pace, the...just need to stop and...talk about what we're..."

"We did talk.  All done talking.  Headed down a thousand feet or so, where there's more air and you can get more oxygen into your bloodstream overnight.  All done talking.  Can talk after we make camp.  Now, on your feet unless you want a quick boot to the ribs.  Move." 

He still didn't like it, knew the further they descended, the greater became their chances of encountering others, but unable to effectively communicate this and seeing that Liz wanted very much to continue, he allowed Bud to push him along.

Einar kept going down, falling every ten or twelve steps, coming close to losing consciousness and having an increasing struggle getting up again.  Bud pulled him to his feet the first time, kicked him the third; Einar barely seemed to notice any of it, and Liz wished he would stop, wished there might be another way, but words didn't seem to be reaching him, so she kept walking with Susan, let the tracker do his job.  After a time not even the kicks seemed to be registering, Bud resorting to lifting Einar by the shoulders and bodily setting him back on his feet, ordering him to go on marching.

The end.  Everyone had stopped; Roger was already busy setting up his shelter.  Einar, freeing himself from Liz's grasp as she tried to guide him to a seat on a fallen aspen, insisted on making a thorough reconnaissance of the place before settling down for the night, squinting hard against the dizziness and doing his best to assess their position. Not too bad, brush heavy and no sign of recent human presence, other than their own.  It would do. Would have to do.  Darkness inside and out, trees fading into night on the high horizon and the deeper blackness which had been stalking him all day finally asserting itself, consciousness fading as he finished his survey of the place.  With Bud's help Liz rolled him into a sleeping bag, slid in beside him, relieved; rest, whether he wanted it or not.

12 May, 2015

12 May 2015

Einar sat where Bud had left him, knees on his elbows, staring into the remains of the fire and trying very hard not to lose the broth Liz had talked him into drinking. Sure wasn't setting well, but she had been so insistent. Wanted to be up and working, doing his best to catch up on the work he knew he'd missed out on while gone that day, but knew that to attempt such would mean to lose the soup, and probably to lose consciousness, as well. Was a mighty tenuous thing while simply sitting there, that blackness always at the edge of his vision, swirling, swarming like a flock of hungry black‐winged vultures, waiting, threatening to creep in and take over. The tracker stalked over and crouched beside him, stared at the side of his head until he startled at the feeling of another human presence, looked up, eyes taking too long to focus. Kilgore was offering him a knife, and Einar took it, puzzled, weighing the thing in his hand. A good blade, Kilgore's own.

"Why don't you just finish it, Asmundson?"


"Whatever it was you were doing up there."

"I did finish it. It's done."

"Yeah...for now. Until next time. You know where it's leading though, don't you? Can sense it, even if it isn't your conscious intention. You know that a fella can only lose so much blood on an ongoing and increasing basis before it sets up a lethal sort of pattern that he can't pull himself out of, especially when his system's already compromised the way yours is. You're there, man. Past it. So you might as well just finish the job, stop making your family watch this, day after day."

"It's not...I'm not..."

"Oh, don't go trying to make excuses and tell me how you're made of a different sort of stuff, strongest and most resilient fella you've ever met, and all, because I already know that, and I'm not here to dispute it. But you feel it, this time, don't ya? That solid brick wall limit, starin' you straight in the eyes. I can see it in there. See you staring back out at it and this time you're afraid, even if you don't want to admit it, 'cause you know it's gonna get you. Can tell."

Einar shrugged, handed the knife back to Bud. "Maybe. Not afraid, though. Not of death. Made my peace with that old foe decades ago, and there've been a bunch of times since where it should have got me, could have, but it just didn't want me. Took everybody I cared about, but it wouldn't take me."

"Been times when you wanted it too, haven't there? Plenty of times when you tempted it, set yourself up to dance on that edge, grinning into the abyss, just to see..."

A nod from Einar. "Sure. It's how I've lived. Only thing that's made me sure I really was alive, a lot of times."

"But now that it's looking like a sure thing, an easy thing and maybe inevitable...well, now you don't really want it anymore, do you?"

He looked away, eyes wandering up to the ridge where the new leaves of aspens reached for the sky in a riot of unbelievable yellow‐green brilliance, straining, bursting, exuberant with life, little boy with his own eyes and his mother's grace galavanting about with equal enthusiasm as he attempted to match the hopping course of the raven round the fire, and when he looked back at Bud, his eyes were misty, for he knew. Knew that for one of the first times in his life since returning from the jungle, he really didn't want it. Wanted to live. Wanted life.

Bud knew, too, but he wanted to hear Einar say it, knew it was a thing which must be spoken if it was to have any force, any staying power; waited.

"It's just...Will. I know it's out there waiting, and I'm not afraid. But if I've got any choice I really ought to stick around for Liz and the little one. Ought to make that choice."

"Yep. You ought to."

"Don't know if I have the choice. Anymore."

"I don't know either. Body's failing you pretty fast here. All you can do is try. You gonna try?"

"Not try. Going to do it."

"Ok. First thing you got to do, after getting about a gallon of water and broth down your gullet, is to lose some elevation."

"No, now I don't need to be doing anything that's going to put us at risk of being spotted, coming into contact with other people..."

"Now come on, Asmundson. No excuses here. You want to live, you need more oxygen. Breathing's not negotiable."

"I'm breathing, I'm..."

"Nah, take a look at yourself. Sweating, shaking, gasping for breath, skin somewhere between grey and blue after all that blood loss, and even if you can kinda hold your own during the day, what's gonna happen when you go to sleep and your heart rate falls by a dozen points or so? Might survive that, might not. Likely as not you just won't wake up."

"Oh, it's not all that bad, it's just..."

"Yeah, it is. It sure is, and if you want to live, you're gonna have to admit it, and you're gonna have to come with me."

"Can't leave here, Bud. Not for those reasons. It would be...selling out. Giving in. The physical stuff, I can resist that. Have always resisted it, and if things are getting a little harder, well, maybe that's just because I'm getting softer and need to make a greater effort."

"Hey!" Kilgore thumped Einar on the shoulder, nearly knocking him from his seat "You already forgotten our conversation? No, you can't go on resisting that way and expect it to work. You're dyin'. Body is dyin' and you need to make a different choice."

"It's all I've got. If I quit resisting, if I give in, even a little..."

"Then what? What's gonna happen?"

Einar couldn't answer, but his eyes belied the terror and anguish which came with the thought.

"See, that's the thing," Kilgore went on. "Of course you can stop 'resisting' in that particular way if you want to, just like you can descend to a lower elevation for more oxygen if you need it, and nothing particular is gonna happen. Least of all the end of your honor or integrity or any of the other things you fear. You're free, man. You can go anywhere on God's good, green earth you might want, for whatever reason you might choose, as you really ought to realize by now. You're not in that little bamboo hovel anymore, and you got to quit acting like you are. You need to get up, walk out of that cage and come on home."

Bud was offering his hand, but Einar wouldn't take it, looked away. "Can't. Can't do that. Andy's back there, I left him back there in that cage, and I can't leave him again..."

"Oh, but that's where you're so very wrong. Andy's not in that cage. He's been home and free with a perfect freedom for the last forty years, rejoicing before the throne of his Savior. I wouldn't presume to know what another man might be thinking, but can you really imagine Andy would want you stayin' in there, now? If he knew about any of this, I mean. It's time to come out. Time to come home. You're the only one still in that cage, Einar."

Einar did not immediately respond, face the same blank, hard‐lined shell which he always wore, but when the tracker again held out his hand, he took it. Bud pulled him to his feet, Einar shaking with cold and exhaustion and now with silent sobs that left tears tracing down his face; instead of trying to stop it he stood, unashamed, just letting it be.

03 May, 2015

3 May 2015

Einar looked confused at Bud’s suggestion, tried to rise, fell to his knees, gave it another go and this time succeeded, hoisting himself up and over one of the evergreen trunks.  Wasn’t sure how long he could stay on his feet, and movement seemed a rather unlikely thing with his body seizing up on him, all the major muscles cramping or on the verge of it, but he was willing to try.  Did seem about time to be getting back to camp.  He did not want Liz to worry, and besides—squinting up at the sun, which was close to disappearing behind the heavily timbered ridge— he’d lost nearly an entire day’s work to the jungle.

Movement hurt, result of the ropes and of the cramping brought on by electrolyte levels skewed by blood loss; his body did not want to move, but he took a certain satisfaction from pulling himself together and causing it to move, anyway.  Bud was surprised, though perhaps he shouldn’t have been, to find that Einar easily kept up with him when he set out for home.

By the time the two of them reached the ridge just above camp, however, Einar was really struggling for breath, not getting enough oxygen, gasping and panting, even travelling downhill.  Bud stopped, waited for him to catch up.

“How about we take a break for just a minute, let you catch your breath and maybe get cleaned up a little before we go down there.  You know, to keep the womenfolk from carrying on, the way they can do…”

A good idea, Einar thought, though he couldn’t really see too much wrong, a little blood on his hands, maybe, and he picked up a lump of crusty snow and did his best to scrub it away.  His shirt and jacket, set aside during the ordeal, had remained mostly clean, looked just fine where he carried them now, draped over one arm, and he rose to go, but Kilgore stopped him, suggested he might want to consider putting them on.  Seeing as it is still early in the spring, and cold and all, and that would be what most folks expect you to do…  Einar nodded, began struggling into the garments but couldn’t get too far, fumbling with fingers crusty with blood.  Another problem.  Thought he’d solved that one.  Got some more snow, tried again to clean his hands and then to manage the shirt, Kilgore finally buttoning it for him when his fingers proved unable.  Einar then wanted to check everything over again and make sure he’d got all the blood off so Liz would not be bothered, crouched, began again to scrub his hands with snow.  Kilgore, who could see that he was swaying and fading, starting to lose his balance and probably not too far from passing out, pulled him to his feet and continued down the slope.

Nearing dusk by the time they finished the descent, Susan stirring stew over the fire, Roger out collecting wood and Liz in the shelter feeding Will after his most recent nap.  Susan took one look at Einar, steered him over to a fallen aspen and pressed a cup of water into his hands, taking Bud aside while Liz hurried out and sat down beside him.

“This man looks like he needs a blood transfusion, Bud.  He’s white as a sheet.”

Einar heard despite Susan’s hushed tone, grinned, eyes flashing with a brief fire that told Liz he had a fair chance of being alright, appearances notwithstanding.  “Nah, I’m ok.  This is nothing that hasn’t happened before.  It’s normal.  Works itself out.  Just kinda takes a while, sometimes.”  Out of breath after those few words he sat with head down and elbows braced on his knees, hoping to drive away the gathering blackness.  Muninn, who had been watching the entire scene rather skeptically from a nearby tree—too many people for him, too many strangers, or semi-strangers, for him to be comfortable on the ground in camp—glided down to perch on his shoulder, rasping quietly and twisting a bit of hair above his ear.

“Well,” Susan gently scolded, “things might work out a lot better if you didn’t let this happen so often.  It shouldn’t be ‘normal.’  Liz, better see if you can get some soup in him.”

Soup did not sound very good to Einar, he finding himself nauseated at the smell of it and suddenly wishing very much to curl up on the crusty snow of the nearest remaining bank and sleep, but Liz was insistent, and he gave it his best effort.

Susan motioned Bud over behind their tent, lowered her voice further to prevent Einar's sharp ears from again picking up her words.  “Seriously, Bud, how much did he lose up there?  Do you know?”

“Not really.  Pint or three, I’d say, though it’s always a little tough to say when it’s all over the rocks and leaves and all, like that.  Always looks like more than it is.”

“He can’t afford that much even, I’m afraid.  I really think if we can’t talk him going lower where there’s a little more oxygen for a while, he may not pull through this.”

“Aw, you heard him.  Nothing too much out of the ordinary, bad as it looks.  Ornery old critter knows what he’s doing.  More or less.”

“You don’t sound terribly confident.”

“Yeah, this time I’m not.  He didn’t look so good up there.  Was really out of it, all grey and dazed and didn’t even realize what he’d done to himself.  Seemed surprised when I pointed out he was bleeding.”

“It’s the dreams, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I figure.  Fella can get trapped in that stuff sometimes.”

“I know.  I remember.  With Bill.  We had a few really rough years there, after he got back.  But then somehow it seemed to fade, go into the background and only come up from time to time, for the rest of his life.  I wish it could fade like that for Einar.”

Bud shrugged, felt strange, somehow, speaking of the matter, but Susan wanted him to speak, and it wasn’t as if he usually had any trouble whatsoever finding plenty of words…  “Thing is with Asmundson, you know, I’m not sure he ever let himself have any of those ‘tough years’ after he came back.  Old buzzard never quit moving long enough to let any of it catch up to him.  But now it has, with the search, and being on the run, and his having to face some of these memories finally.  Maybe it will fade some, with time, maybe it won’t.  For some guys it never does.  Just got to give him time.”

“I’m not sure how much more of it he can survive, Bud.  Not like this.  Not with it getting worse every time, or seeming to.”

“Yeah, I know it.  Don’t know that he’s going to have to do that, though.  I’ve got an idea.”