31 March, 2011

31 March 2011

For a long time Einar lay in the spruce needles under the log where Kilgore had left him, face down, barely appearing to breathe, too exhausted to move. Shoulders hurt, ribs ached whenever he took a breath and the crust of partially dried blood that had run down from a deep gash above his left eyebrow was beginning to draw flies, but he hardly noticed. Wouldn’t much have cared, even if he had.

Rolled over, finally, so that he could see the sky, try and get some idea of where he was, which direction he needed to go if he wanted to get back to the cabin. Which he supposed he would, eventually. Because of Liz. And the baby. And all the work he had to do before the baby came. Not just yet, though. Didn’t want her to see him like…like this. Like he was just then. Like he could see himself. He was almost certain she’d be able to see it, too. Even after he got the blood washed off. Look right through him and see it. She had eyes like that. The kind that could, on occasion, look right through a person. He’d seen her do it. Had to get himself together before he went to her, get…that thing…that part of himself that he always worked so hard to keep concealed, back under wraps. Didn’t know how to do it. Not anymore. So he shut his eyes, pressed his hands--stiff and strange and difficult to move properly with their crusty coating of dried blood--to his face, rolled back over. Not yet. Not time to go home just yet. And, drifting once more into an exhausted haze--easy to do, too easy, for he truly had lost a significant amount of blood where he’d bled from his forehead and from his wrists, significant, at least, considering the condition he’d been in to start with--his mind went back over the events of the past few hours, puzzled them out. Or tried to…

Kilgore pushed him roughly up the path after taking their leave of Susan and the morning fire, all but holding him upright lest he collapse and trying with every step to get some response from him, to rile him up, get him talking, fighting, anything to jolt him out of his near-stupor, but all without success. Wouldn’t do, simply would not, and he took to kicking and jabbing at his prisoner as they walked, bruising his legs, nearly tripping him several times and once--succeeding, and it was about time; the man had an incredible sense of innate balance, even under the present conditions--sending him sprawling into a patch of currants. That did it. Got him angry, finally, and he came out of that briar patch and launched himself at Kilgore, but Bud dodged aside, sending Einar to crash into a small standing dead aspen, snapping it off near the ground and leaving him toppling along with it to end up in a tangled heap on the ground. Bud took full advantage of the situation, clubbed him hard in the head with a branch of the fallen tree, or tried to, but Einar saw him coming and rolled to the side, leaving Bud to catch him hard in the ribs, instead. Solid contact. Hoped he hadn’t broken any. The next blow found its mark, took him in the head and knocked him out, as Kilgore had intended, and knowing he probably didn’t have much time he acted quickly, snatched a large coil of paracord from his pocket and went to work, wrists tied to ankles, drawn up tight--he’d seen things over there, seen more than he’d ever really wanted and talked to folks who’d seen more than that, knew what he was doing--cord end going up and over a leaning aspen where it angled up several feet off the ground, roughly parallel to the ground, just high enough, sorry man, but time is short and I can’t think of any other way, already tried all the other ways I could think of, and we’ve got a lot of work to do, so I got to get your attention somehow

Which he definitely succeeded in doing, Einar waking shortly with a horrid bellowing injured-grizzly holler that echoed off the surrounding ridges and sent small animals all over the basin scurrying for cover, writhing and twisting and fighting the ties like a madman, like a wild thing, wolverine in a trap, ready and more than willing to chew off his own leg if it would have helped, but he couldn’t reach his leg, couldn’t get loose, couldn’t breathe--broken ribs were making it even more difficult, and he couldn’t remember having them broken, but clearly, they had been--tried to slow down and take stock of his situation, make some sense of it but he couldn’t; the spruces were gone, the good clear blue-purple high altitude sky that should have arched above him free and pure and nearly infinite…gone. He was sure. It was real this time, and he was about to pass out for lack of air. Couldn’t, mustn’t, must stay awake and try to gather more information, make a plan to…nothing. No. Couldn’t plan, couldn’t think, not like this, couldn’t do anything but struggle for the next breath, and it seemed they were determined not to let him take it, had placed something heavy on his back--chunk of cement or pile of rocks, he couldn’t tell and really, it didn’t matter, unless of course he could find a way to get ahold of one of the objects and use it as a weapon--to further distort his position and impede his increasingly feeble efforts to breathe, world gone dark, stinking, close around him, and the fact that Kilgore could still speak the language after all those years…intonation perfect--that was the tricky part--execution flawless as he shouted his demands…only added to the reality of it.

For a long time the man went on barking out his demands, emphasizing them from time to time by pressing on Einar’s back, adding weight to the heap of rocks it seemed he had already stacked there, but Einar was determined--he wouldn’t say anything, and didn’t, and finally the man left, left him all alone there with the hot white hiss and scream of the pain in his limbs, his head, his horrible and increasingly futile struggle to breathe, to remain conscious, but Einar didn’t care, face twisted up in grin of triumph, elation, he had done it, could do it again and would go right on doing it this time, endure to the end, but the next moment the grin was gone as the man returned, adding more weight to his back, more than he could bear, pretty nearly, and he hung there with mouth wide and eyes staring, sightless, as he fought to fill his lungs, to get any air in there at all, had to have some air, God…God help me, I can’t do it…give me the strength to…to hang on here and…blackness, then, it swept up and took him, blackness, and an answer, and when he woke again he could breathe just a bit, just the tiniest bit, not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord…the Lord is my strength, my fortress, I shall not be moved, but he was moving, slipping, the ties were slipping, he felt them loosening as he fell to the ground where he took a great breath, another, blessed, blessed relief, before finally passing out…

Stayed that way a long time, too long, as far as Kilgore was concerned, twitching and writhing and striking out with his hands after the tracker untangled them--somehow got his knife into one of them, after which Kilgore was careful to give him a good bit of space--clearly immersed in a rather intense sequence of dream, going somewhere, goal in mind, and finally Kilgore threw nearly the entire contents of his water bottle into Einar’s face, wanting to bring him back to the present. It worked, more or less, left Einar awake, spluttering and confused, propped rather painfully on both elbows, knife in hand, staring in wide-eyed bafflement and disbelief at the scene around him. His trees, his lovely, high, desolate ridges all around him, sheltering him. Home, but it was wrong, all wrong; he let his forehead rest on the ground, the good, free, living spruce-scented ground of his own beloved hills, and he wept.

“No…no! Let me go back, I have to go back for Andy!”

30 March, 2011

30 March 2011

Something wasn’t right. Kilgore could sense it from halfway across the clearing, could see it in Asmundson’s strange, slumped-over posture, his apparent lack of response to whatever Susan was telling him, and he kicked at a little clump of granite as he walked. So you’re still moping, are you? Well we’ll see how long that lasts. Time’s real short here Asmundson, and we got work to do. I ain’t looking forward to it any more than you are, but looks like it’s mine to do, doesn’t it? Reaching the small firepit he stepped into the circle formed by the sitting logs. “Morning Mrs. Goodland. Asmundson, on your feet. We’re going for a walk.”

Einar gave him a look of mild disinterest, a bit of vague confusion, perhaps, went right on sitting. This riled Kilgore some, led to his taking Einar rather roughly by the shoulder, grabbing his arm and attempting to pull him to his feet. An action which normally would have met with a rather sudden and definitive response on the fugitive’s part--exactly what Kilgore wanted--but Einar didn’t make a move. “Come on, man. Got no time for this. Now we’re going on this walk even if I have to drag you every step of the way, and with the terrain being pretty rough around here and the swamps real deep and murky, you really might fare a good bit better walking than wallowing, don’t you think?”

No answer. “Hey, what’s this? Asked you a question Asmundson, and I expect.…” Susan interrupted him, hand on his arm, voice low.

“Give him some time, Bud. He’s not really talking, this morning.”

“Not talking? What the heck do you mean, not talking?

Einar shrugged, shook his head, silent, went back to staring at the ground. “Oh! Good one. Good trick. This is some way to avoid things, man! You never go halfway with anything, do you? Well. You could talk yesterday, so I’m not buying it. Not for a minute. Not gonna work. I ought to clobber you, that’s what I ought to do, just pound some sense into ya until you don’t have any choice but to talk! Is that what you want? What you need? ‘Cause at this point, I’ll be more than happy to oblige if that’s it. More than happy. Now--on your feet!”

No response, and Kilgore pulled him to his feet, grabbed his arms and brought them around roughly behind his back, held on. Still trying to get a response from Einar and still failing, all but shoving him along in front as he took off up the trail to the spring. Susan wanted to stop them, would have found some way to do so, had she not come to trust Kilgore’s judgment somewhat over the course of the past several days, but still his actions scared her, left her worried that perhaps they’d both gone off the deep end and she could not help but wonder if one of them was about to die out there…probably Kilgore, if it came to that and he didn’t watch himself, but then, he was physically stronger than Einar at the moment, by all appearances, and might well prevail if it came to an all-out fight… She shook her head, went back to stirring the breakfast soup. It was nearly ready. If anyone was going to be around to eat it. She supposed she wouldn’t be surprised if Liz decided to go after the two men, once she heard what Kilgore was up to.

Liz had heard the growing discord in camp--she’d been half dozing again as Susan spoke, able to catch only the occasional word but knowing that Susan would surely be telling him things he needed to hear, helping prepare him for the arrival of the baby, and knowing he was in good hands--and left the cabin, dismayed to see Kilgore and Einar gone, hurried to the fire and took a seat beside Susan. “What’s the matter out here? What’s going on?”

“It’s Einar. Kilgore wants to talk with him, give him some parting words before we head out I guess, but Einar won’t. Wouldn’t talk to me, either, but I thought we were having a pretty good conversation despite that fact…”

“Well he isn’t talking to me, either, not since whatever Kilgore did to him yesterday up on the cliffs. He gets like that sometimes--won’t say much for a day or two, sometimes won’t say anything at all--but this seems different. Almost like he wants to, but can’t. I’m a little worried for him, really…”

“Oh, Bud’s going to fix him right up. You should have seen the way they took off out of here. I believe he’s got a plan.”

“Took off? Where are they going?

“I don’t know. Up towards the spring it looked like, where you had us get water.” Which Liz did not find terribly reassuring, would have found it even less so had Susan mentioned to her that Einar hadn’t exactly appeared willing to go along, but she saw no need to mention that part, lest Liz insist on following them.

The two men didn’t go terribly far; Liz and Susan presently heard what sounded like the crashing of a small tree as it fell--an aspen, Liz was pretty sure, standing dead, would have made good firewood, but she doubted they were out gathering firewood--followed several minutes later by the fall of heavy blows, grunting, groaning and once a horrid, animal noise, somewhere between a scream and a roar, incongruous conglomeration of rage and terror and then the words came, loud, angry, a torrent of them tripping over one another, hoarse, almost shouted, but they could not make out their meaning. Were too far away. Liz wanted to go closer, but Susan wouldn’t let her.

Silence, then, many minutes of silence as the two of them sat and tended the soup, added the violets that Susan had collected, the last of Einar’s nettles, some more bear fat, stirred, waited, and then Liz was on her feet, sure that she had heard something, sure someone was coming.

Kilgore, and he was alone. Walked into the clearing and sat down, eyes as unreadable as Einar's had been, earlier that morning. He glanced at the stew pot.

“What’s for breakfast?”

29 March, 2011

29 March 2011

What about the baby? He wondered. Is something wrong with the baby? How does she know? Is it not growing properly, too small for how far along she is, could it be that she’s not getting enough to eat? I’ve tried, have tried awful hard to make sure she gets enough, she seems to be doing well but it’s hard to tell, and I’d hate for anything to be wrong with the baby because she hasn’t been getting what she needs

Some of the worry must have been showing despite his lack of words, and she tried to reassure him. “No, nothing like that. The baby’s fine. Just fine. Seems to be doing very well, actually. He’s moving, growing, he’s just about the size he ought to be for this time in her pregnancy, by my measurements, and Liz seems to be doing great, too. This life agrees with her, the work, all the fresh air, being up high like this, but that’s one of the things I’m concerned about. I already talked with her about this, but wanted to make sure you hear it, too.”

He? She said “he.” Can she tell? Is there a way to tell? I don’t know of a way, but maybe she does

“Like I was saying, you’re up high here, somewhere around eleven thousand feet…”

But in Nepal…

“And while her body is certainly adapted to this altitude and to the amount of oxygen it has to work with up here, and the baby’s will be, too, there’s a real danger if the baby comes too early, because his lungs won’t be ready, and will have so much less to work with than if you were down lower. This would be a real challenge, but if it seems that the baby is coming early--more than a couple of weeks early--and there’s any way you can do it, you really should try to get down lower. Lose a thousand feet, two, whatever you can do--it would make a difference for the little one’s breathing. Since it will be winter, you might be wise to set up a spot ahead of time, just in case. Build a shelter down lower somewhere, stock it with firewood and food and furs for bedding, once you get some extras… It would still be a challenge to get a laboring woman down there, but she could do it. The two of you could do it.”

Einar nodded. Yes. They could do it. She was right, too, he had no doubt, about under-developed lungs needing all the advantage they could get, if it came to that, and he prayed it didn’t come to that, stay in there, little one, until you’re good and ready to come out, but he knew it could happen, was something they’d have to be prepared for. A second shelter. Very good idea. Better get to work. But Susan was far from done, beckoned for him to sit back down, and he did.

“My other concern is your food supply. Liz has told me that last winter you kept hunting and trapping all winter long to provide for your needs, and I just hope you realize that she may not be able to do her ‘share’ of that, for quite a while after the baby comes. She may not be out there to help you at all for the first few weeks, possibly many weeks depending on how the birth goes, may need to mostly stay inside with the baby just to keep it warm, out of the weather, to give herself time to heal up if it’s a difficult birth…”

To which he wanted to respond, But the Utes…what about the Utes and others, who would deliver their babies out on the trail, rest up for a day or a night and be back at it again, baby on the mama’s back all snuggled down in a nest of furs in its cradleboard, or in colder climates carried inside her clothing, against her skin like the Inuit always did…what about that? And what about the Montagnards? Different climate, for sure, but similar circumstances, otherwise. Mama back up on her feet and on the move with the little one real shortly after the birth, because she had to be and… It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Forget the Utes, he told himself. Utes don’t live here anymore. And you know what happens to Montagnard babies, you were there, you’ve seen the smoke over that village and that…that baby in her father’s arms and there wasn’t a thing he--or you--could do about it, because she was gone…gone, and so was her mother, all of them gone… And besides, none of it matters because you can’t tell her, because you don’t have the words. Wrong. Have the words, obviously have them, because you’re using them right now. In your head. I hear you. Just can’t seem to get them out, and it frustrated him, not being able to communicate, frustrated him so badly that he frightened Susan by slamming his fist into the side of the punky log that was serving as his seat, bloodying his knuckles and taking a chunk out of the wood, a splintery, fragmented, dry-rotted chunk that left two fat white grubs to topple out of the log and to the ground, and he promptly snatched them up, but did not eat them. Was too mad to eat. Wanted to tell her…to ask her…it didn’t matter what, he just wanted to be able to do it, and wasn’t, and it didn’t make any sense.

Susan had sat back down, still looking slightly wary after his outburst, but not too disturbed. “What is it? Did you have something to say? Please go ahead…”

But of course, he couldn’t. Which she was starting to realize, to suspect, at least, and wanting to help she rummaged around in her pack, came out with a pen and a small notebook, handed them to him. “Write it, then.”

Write it. Write! Now you write! He hadn’t thought about it for a very long time, hadn’t recalled those words but there they were all of a sudden fresh as the day it had happened some thirty eight years prior, that time, five or six days into the whole mess, as he recalled--which would have made it the day before he’d escaped--when they’d dragged him…literally, for his legs would not support him, not the way they’d been keeping him raised off the floor, like that… out of his little cage just after dark and into a cramped, stinking hut equipped with an oblong metal table, sat him on a stool, jammed a pen into his hand and demanded that he write. As if he’d be more willing to write the things they wanted to know than to speak them, which he hadn’t been, had let them know, and he’d paid for it…and Susan didn’t understand the quickening of his breath as he took the pen, the trembling of his hand. When he put pen to paper, the marks that resulted were chaotic, meaningless; he thrust the pad back in her direction, crossed his arms and sat there on the log, miserable, shaking. It was all he could do after that to keep himself still, to keep from fleeing into the darkness of the waiting timber where his only hope of escape seemed to lie, his only chance, and he couldn’t take it, couldn’t make that dash for freedom, because he had to sit and talk to her. Listen, anyway. Because the baby was coming. Felt like his head was going to explode, but it didn’t, so he went on sitting.

Susan could plainly tell that something was wrong, that Einar was having a major struggle of some sort, but seeing also that she still seemed to have his attention, she elected to continue. “About your food supply… I just wanted to say that even though Liz is a very independent person and I know she does a lot around here, in those weeks and months after the baby comes, she’ll be depending on you to some extent for those things--food, especially. And if she doesn’t get enough to eat, to drink…her milk won’t be good, won’t give the baby what it needs, and it will suffer, end up with deficiencies, and that’s no way to start a life, if there’s any choice. No way to end one, either, if you ask me…” And she gave him a pointed look that said a good deal more than her words had, irked him some, for he knew it was directed at him.

Well, I didn’t ask, now did I?

“So you’ll need to make sure she gets plenty, lots of fat and greens if possible, as well as the meat…you surely know more than I do about getting a balanced diet out here, but it’s going to be more important than ever, this first year of the little one’s life. Every bit as important as it has been during the pregnancy. Which means, I think, that you’ve really got your work cut out for you over the next couple of months, to make sure that supply is there, even if for some reason you’re not able to get out every day, yourself, and hunt and trap after the baby comes.”

Again he nodded, met her eyes to let her know he didn’t disagree with anything she was saying, understood, appreciated it and had thought about all of it before, though her words did impress upon him the growing urgency of the situation, the need to get out and work every day towards getting that stock put back, preparing them for the winter. Been working on it. Have a lot of jerky so far, the bear fat, lots of dried nettles but we need more, for sure. I got to get more serious about it, stop running around here and there and losing entire days to who knows what, because at this point we don’t have any days to lose, do we?

Bud Kilgore woke grumpy that morning, which was never good news, at least not for those who might have the misfortune of being in his proximity. Grumpier than usual, in fact, grumpier than he had been in a long time, and it was all Asmundson’s fault. Durn fool mule of a mountain critter just wouldn’t listen to sense, seemed determined to stop short of doing the one thing that might actually stand some chance of helping him get on with his life--as much as a person could, there were limits, as he knew quite well, himself--and spend some more of his time in the present, wasn’t willing or wasn’t able to really settle in and talk about it, and Bud didn’t really care which. Time was short, they had to head back by sometime that afternoon, and he was determined to do everything in his power to see that Asmundson’s kid would have a father, before he went. Was just about out of ideas, though. The man was wearing him down, but he hadn’t yet given up. Would try again. Press the issue just a bit more strongly than he had done before. Assuming Asmundson was still around, still himself, in any recognizable form. Which was a lot to assume. The matter had seemed just a bit in question, that past evening. Ha! No problem there, Kilgore saw, because Einar was indeed in camp, was sitting just over there talking with Susan--or so it appeared, he not yet having realized that it was rather a one-sided conversation--and seeing his opportunity, Bud hurried out of his sleeping bag to take advantage of it.

28 March, 2011

28 March 2011

The falling of night with its sweet, almost-fall chill brought to the little plateau and its inhabitants a peace unprecedented in the recent past, deep, quiet, interrupted only by the softest soughing of the night breeze as it wound its way through the spruce-tops, brushed the leaves of the aspens and set them to whispering their soft water-song. Susan heard them from her little camp not far from the start of the path to the spring, stirring slightly in her sleep, waking just enough to re-position the rolled-up fleece top that was serving as her pillow, shifting in her sleeping bag and, all quiet aside from the trees, allowing herself to drift back off into a pleasant sleep. Bud, also, heard the wind-song, its voice waking him and leaving him to lie for the space of several seconds motionless, rigid, wondering just what had caught his attention and ready to spring to his feet in an instant--well, it wouldn’t have been as graceful as all that, motions perhaps a bit lumbering, but he’d have made it--and head for the cabin if there was any sign of trouble. Was none, though, and listening for another minute, seeking the sound of Susan’s breathing over the wind-breath but not finding it--woman had gone off somewhere, insisted on finding a concealed little spot for her bed and tucking it in where it couldn’t be seen, and he didn’t guess he could blame her, much--and finally allowing himself to drift back towards a somewhat elusive sleep. Better get some while it’s there for the taking. Figure things’re just about bound to get loud around here sometime in the night, when Asmundson finally comes out of them doldrums of his and remembers what we were talking about yesterday…hopefully he’ll wake up good and solid and knowing where he is, take off for the woods to think things through rather than hanging around here to clear the enemy out of camp, but one’s about as likely as another at this point, way I figure it, so got to be prepared for either. Or neither, or both… And with that he slept, long practiced in the discipline of doing so when the opportunity presented itself, regardless of the circumstances, singing of the trees easing him comfortably if somewhat warily back to his slumber.

Inside the cabin Einar and Liz heard nothing at all, its walls certainly not thick enough or well enough sealed--a situation which, Einar had found himself thinking that previous day while working on the stove with Kilgore, must be remedied before the serious cold began to set in--to bar the gentle tunes of the trees, but their dead-weary sleep did what the walls could not do, and for hours the lay entirely unaware of anything aside from the presence of one another, the warmth of the bear hide around them, and that the merest whisper of a dream. The only whisper of dream, fortunately for Einar, as his mind at last seemed to have reached the point of--willingly or otherwise--seeking solace in the darkness, giving itself over whole and entire to the rest that he had so long and so badly been needing, allowing him the merciful refuge of sleep without dream, a blackness and a blankness interrupted only by the occasional dim recognition, a faint glow around the edges, nothing more, of Liz close by, and at such times he smiled in his sleep. Marveled, in a still, wordless, thoughtless way, at the fact of her presence, the grace of her being, grace, gift undeserved, unearned, given freely, and in the darkness of his dreaming, the wonder of it was more than he could fathom.

When morning dawned clear and cool on that first day of September, fall of the year, dawn of the day, dusk of the aspens, a hint of yellow beginning to show in the topmost leaves of those that danced around the cabin-clearing, it was Susan who rose first watching the sun creep its way down from the opposite ridge, rock standing all stark and exposed in the unmitigated brilliance of its light, grey-white in places, slashed through with red where sandstone intruded on the wall of schist and granite, flowing, frozen, like blood, she thought, at thirty below. Which, in a few short months, was exactly the sort of temperature the basin and its inhabitants would be seeing, and as she watched the sun-glow find its way down across thousands of acres of straight-combed spruces and into the aspens, setting them alight in a brilliance of living green and moving, molten almost-yellow, she could only pray that they would be ready, that she might, Lord willing, be shown some way to help them become ready. Which would--Susan always practical-minded--have to take a back seat just then to her starting a fire in the little outdoor pit they had used that past night, and beginning to prepare some breakfast for everyone.

Waking, seeing the sun-glow through the as-yet unfilled gap above the cabin door and unable to shake a feeling that he must have slept a very, very long time, days even, perhaps, Einar rolled out of the bed, bracing himself, stretching like a just-wakened dog in an attempt to get his limbs to cooperate, coordinate, serve him as his mind intended, and when Liz woke and appeared about to rise, herself, he smiled, put a gentle hand to her cheek and urged her, silently, for he could not seem to find the words, to return to her rest. Sensing that he needed some quiet, a solitary start to his morning, and not being in any great hurry to leave the warmth of the bed, herself--nose cold-numb in the chill air but the rest of her immensely cozy--she let him go, curled back up for a few more minutes’ near sleep, hoping only that he might recall the presence of their guests in time to put on some clothes before venturing outside… She might have mentioned it to him, had not the idea of breaking the morning silence seemed to her such a bad one. Einar fortunately remembered to clothe himself, though only at the last minute and after having begun to open the door, and in doing so seen Susan, her back to him, stirring something over her breakfast fire.

Out into the clearing, then, across it, for he truly did hope to pass unnoticed and disappear like a shadow into the trees, but it was in the end his own shadow that gave him away as it fell long and distorted and, in the slanting light of the early morning sun, even leaner than he was, himself, though not by much, and when he raised his arms it was to discover sun meeting sun across the narrow breadth of their shadow, cutting his arms in half at several points, almost not there anymore, almost invisible, and the sight struck him for some reason as immensely funny, made him want to laugh, but he knew Liz would not see it that way, would not like it, and kept the laugh inside, for her sake. Saved thus from giving himself away through untimely laughter Einar was still discovered, his almost-not-there shadow throwing itself across the area where Susan was working, causing her to look up, see him, and in doing so she beckoned to him, invited him to sit across from her on one of the bench-logs, and when he appeared reluctant she thrust a bundle of greens into his hands, shepherd’s purse and violets and a few dusky, fall, wilting nettles, and he got the impression she wanted him to sort and prepare them for breakfast. Perhaps she’d said as much. He could not be sure, wasn’t entirely sure she had spoken, at all. Took a seat, began the task, nettles hurting his fingers but it was not a bad thing to feel the hurt, was not much, just enough to keep him focused, and did not slow his progress as he stripped leaf from stem--stems were way too tough to be easily chewed, that late in the season, even if you did boil them first, and apparently Susan must know this, too, or why would she have assigned him the task? No wonder Liz had been able to learn so much from her--and allowing them to fall from his hands into the waiting soup-water. The task finished he rose, stood staring at his nettle-reddened hands, gathering himself for movement, ready to take off into the woods as had been his original intent.

In addition to the soup, Susan had a pot of tea simmering, and she lifted it from the flames, quickly stirred in a bit of honey and held it out to him. “Will you have some tea, Einar? Sit for a while and have some tea?”

He didn’t want to do it, found himself mildly annoyed at Susan for interrupting the forward motion that he had worked so hard to initiate, but was, come to think, awfully thirsty after the travels and travails of the past day and his long night--two nights? Three? Time was feeling terribly slippery, uncertain just then, and he was just aware enough of the trouble to be mildly alarmed by it--of uninterrupted sleep, had forgotten to get a drink before leaving the cabin and thought it might help. Knew something wasn’t quite right, hoped it might be as simple as a lack of water. Sat back down, took the pot and promptly burned himself when its rather hot base came into contact with his knee, where the denim cloth was worn quite thin. Didn’t much matter; he kept his grip on the wire bale of the pot, face a passive mask--didn’t even take any effort, that morning, not a bit--successfully prevented Susan from realizing the extent of his injury. Good. That’s good. Got to be good. He tried the tea. Something very tasty. Raspberry leaf, he guessed, spiced up with an unknown ingredient or two, perhaps something from Susan’s pack, and sweetened with honey. Had probably been intended for Liz, and he felt a bit bad about consuming it, but Susan had been insistent, and he was terribly thirsty. Nearly drained the pot. Knew he ought to thank her, but the words just wouldn’t come that morning. No words. Susan was watching at him, staring at him, and it was beginning to make him a bit uncomfortable. Wanted to get away, but she was speaking, and as he had just accepted her hospitality and drunk the tea, and done so without thanks, he figured it would only be right to sit and listen to whatever she had to say, too. Seemed like something pretty serious, from the look on her face, and he returned her gaze, eyes clear and still and--to Susan, at least--just wild and strange enough to be very disconcerting.

“Einar, I need to talk to you about the baby.”

27 March, 2011

27 March 2011

Liz and Susan enjoyed a productive several hours of basin-touring, raspberry leaf harvesting and discussion of the intricacies of bringing a little one into the world when living way up on top of a mountain far from paved roads, human contact and hot, running water--Susan had twice done it, herself, and had attended and helped out at several more such births--and by the time they were finished, Liz found herself far more confident in her body’s ability to successfully birth the child but left at the same time with questions and concerns that hadn’t even been on her radar screen, previously. Still a good deal to talk about, questions she needed to ask of Susan, and all this with the knowledge that their time together was to be quite short. Susan had told her that she and Bud must, absolutely must be heading down by sometime the following afternoon, lest they risk raising too many questions on the part of friends, family and, in Bud’s case, employers with their extended absence.

When they returned, it was to find Bud sitting alone on the log-bench out front of the woodshed. Finished woodshed, and Liz surveyed the change with some amazement, the bark-shingled roof, several stacks of logs already nestled in the dry space beneath it, and thinking Einar must have worn himself out in the doing and gone inside to sleep--not like him, but then, it had been a terribly long time since he’d had more than a few hours’ sleep--she ducked into the cabin to check on him. Only to find it empty.

Kilgore met her accusing glance with a nod and a chuckle, inclining his head in the direction of the back of the cabin and pointing at the sky. “Up in the rocks. Where else?”

Something in his tone, causal though it seemed, put a bit of urgency into Liz’s step, sent her hurrying around behind the cabin and onto the path that led to their climbing route--not so easy for her those days, the way her center of gravity was changing, but still passable--as Susan began laying out their significant harvest of raspberry leaves to begin drying.

She found him up there on the rocks just as Kilgore had said she would, spoke, awaited his response but none came. He didn’t even look up, gave her not so much as a glance of acknowledgement. Sitting down beside him she put a hand on his knee, tried to get him to kook her in the eye, if only for a moment, just so she might get some idea of what was happening with him, where he was, but still he would not look at her. Taking his hand she pressed it between her own, spoke again but without avail which left her briefly very angry with him, for she had wanted to tell him what she and Susan had talked about in their wanderings, to talk with him about the baby, but she couldn’t because he was absent, he wasn’t there, and she needed him to be there, to be with her. And with the child. But she did not stay angry long. Could not. Not just then. She took his hand, which had, when she’d released it from her grasp, remained just as she had left it, slightly elevated, open, waiting. For what, she could not guess, and gently she placed the hand back down on the rock where she’d found it.

“All right. I’ll give you your space. Come down when you get hungry. I’ll have some soup cooking.” It was all she could think of to say, to do, and she left, hoping the odor of the simmering food might rise and get his attention where nothing else seemed able. She’d seen it happen before, a time or two. Seemed the smell of a good stew simmering could overcome a load of troubles, and she could only hope it would be sufficient to pierce through whatever cloud Einar had gone and lost himself in, that afternoon. Wouldn’t do to have him spending the night up there, and he hadn’t seemed very inclined to allow himself to be talked down. She wasn’t even entirely certain that he had been able to hear her words.

Bud and Susan were somber, quiet when she returned to the cabin, Bud still sitting on his log and Susan working intently to get the remaining raspberry leaves spread on her improvised drying rack of willow and fir boughs, and it seemed to Liz as if they must have had words in her absence, and she wondered what they had been. What Bud had told her. What he knew. Whatever it was, neither of them appeared inclined to pass it on to her, which she found more than a little irksome, and then Bud, sensing, perhaps, the danger in her eyes, rose, gave her his full attention.

“I was thinking, Ma’am, that the two of you might want the cabin to yourselves tonight, figured it might be best that way, so Mrs. Goodland and I will be glad to find ourselves camping spots out here under the trees…”

She turned on him, still angry, still wondering what he had done to Einar, her Einar, who was up there in the rocks and yet not really there, at all. “I’ll bet you will! What did you do to him? He’s practically catatonic. I’ve never seen him like that.”

“Oh, he’ll be alright Ma’am. He’s just thinking.’ All we did was to have a little discussion on some points of ancient history, and it can take a fella a while to think through things like that. Especially when he won’t go ahead and talk about ’em, bring ’em all the way out in the open as I’d hoped--woulda done him some good, I know it would--chooses to just sit there and stew over them instead, stew in ‘em, drown in ‘em, and he’s too doggone proud to grab hold of the rope I was tryin’ to throw him, too, ‘cause I’m telling ya, I could see them bubbles starting to rise to the surface before we got through up there. That man of yours is about as stubborn as they come, Ma’am, and while I do mean that as a compliment of the highest order, well, sometimes the ornery old cuss is just too mule-headed for his own good.”

With which Liz could hardly disagree, but she wasn’t about to say so out loud in front of their guests. So she went on with the supper preparations--what else was there to do?-- hoping, praying, that the cooking-scents might somehow reach him, bring him down. Bring him back. But they did not, the three of them sharing a quiet meal on the bench-logs outside the cabin as they watched the sun’s gold fade from the sky-sweeping row of spruces on the ridge opposite that of the little plateau, watched the light fade, finally, until it was very nearly dark. It was then, sometime after sunset but before full dark that Liz finally went after him, worried that he’d be getting cold up there in the evening shadows, in the breeze, which he was, shivering and staring down into the growing darkness when she reached him, teeth rattling together unheeded, and when still he would not respond to her words or to her touch when she sat down beside him and wrapped the deer hide around his shoulders, she knew she had to act. She got behind him, hands beneath his arms, pulling, inching him back away from the dropoff and then, once something like a safe distance had been achieved, took his hands, lifting, raising him. He did not resist, but was not much help, either.

When finally she got him to stand on his own she led him down over the rocks, fearing that she might lose him still, that he would fall, knowing that there would be nothing she could do to prevent it but relieved when he came alive just a bit at the sight of the rock, dim in the fading light, fingers finding its cracks and crevices, feet seeking purchase, working his way down. Down to the ground where he crouched once more, absent, unseeing, until she made her own way down and again lifted him, led him home to the cabin. Susan had kept the fire going, kept it warm inside, and by the flickering orange of the aspen-flames Liz got him into the bed, tended to the injury on his foot and wrapped herself around him there beneath the bear hide, sleep, Einar, sleep and be warm and in the night perhaps you will find your way back to me, find your way home

26 March, 2011

26 March 2011

No chapter today; Einar needed a break, and went to sit in the river for a while. Good thing to do on a snowy day.

Back with another chapter tomorrow.

25 March, 2011

25 March 2011

When Einar scrambled up into the rocks behind the cabin Bud followed, knowing he was doing so at his own peril but hardly considering it a just thing to abandon the man to the thoughts he had himself stirred up by forcing certain matters into the conversation. The company irritated Einar, left him--not even entirely certain that it was Kilgore he heard ascending the scree behind him, though his logical mind told him it had to be--desperately wanting more space, wanting to respond with force as he watched the slouched form of the tracker’s faded boonie hat make its appearance above the last of the shielding slope-rocks, but he did not, remained still there where he sat, elbows on his knees and legs hanging down over the edge of the dropoff. Bud moved warily towards him, stopping at a respectful distance and sitting down. They were alone up there, just Einar, himself, the cliffs and that spear…not the most reassuring situation in the world when it came to ensuring his continued existence, but Bud Kilgore had been in worse, and it didn’t much bother him.

“Been runnin’ too long, Asmundson.”

No answer from Einar, so Bud went on. “That’s why you came to Rhodesia all those years ago, isn’t it? I mean besides the fact that it was a good cause and you really believed you could have an impact and all, have a clear objective and some chance of winning, just like we all did, maybe finally hand a good solid defeat to the Communist scum…but you were looking to get away from that other place, weren’t you? Hopin’ you’d never have to look back, but it followed ya, didn’t it? Followed you out into the bundu and stalked around the edges of your camp at night like a she-lion waiting for the kill, always out there, always ready to pounce if ya slowed down for more than a minute and let yourself think about it, so you just stayed busy, threw yourself into that fight for all you were worth--which was quite a lot, if I’m remembering correctly--and then you did the same with that job of yours once the war was over and you finally had to go home, that fast-paced intel job they gave ya--what were they thinking?--until you used that up, too, got yourself in trouble for doing what we all had to agree was the right thing, but of course they didn’t see it that way, and you were out… And now what? Now all these years later you’re still running, aren’t you? Through the jungle, or from it, or maybe a little of both, but the thing is you can’t stop. Courageous as you are about most everything in life--I’ve seen it, man, both over there and here with some of the conditions you’ve had to face, that foot, all of it, and couldn’t hope to match it, myself--this is the one thing you just can’t face, isn’t it? Can’t stop running ‘cause it’d catch up to you and then there you’d be, face to face and forced to look at it, and you’re just not sure you’d have the means to make it through that one, are you? Kinda worried that if all this stuff you’ve built up around yourself comes tumbling down, you won’t know how to get by anymore. How to be.”

Einar wouldn’t look at him, was, in fact, trying hard not to hear his words at all, to keep himself occupied by studying the intricacies of a thin granite flake that he was gripping so tightly it dug into the flesh of his hand, but it wasn’t working too well.

“You know, your lady sees more than you may think she does, I do believe, and even if she doesn’t know what this is all about, I do. This starvin’ yourself to within an inch of your life, over and over again…and don’t try to pretend that’s not what it is, because I know better, know you’ve got food around and this is about more than you just trying to make sure there’s plenty for her and the kid, or having trouble eating because the foot’s hurting…man, you’d be doing this if you were down there in civilization living right next door to the grocery store, wouldn’t you? Just to prove to yourself that you can. Just to make sure…you’re trying to make sure they can’t break ya, aren’t you? Make sure they can never do it again, and the only way you can see to manage that is to do worse to yourself than they could ever do, and learn to endure. Over and over, you got to keep going a little farther each time, proving it to yourself until…what? What’s the end game, here? When will it be enough? When you finally manage to hold out long enough that your body gives up on you and you die? ’Cause you don’t look all that far from it at the moment, let me tell you. Body can only take so much, and no matter how you’ve trained and hardened yourself--that training’s served you real well out here, hasn’t it? Lots to admire in what you’ve done, I’ll give you that--you’re gonna come up against that limit at some point, and find yourself just physically unable to go on. So is that it? Will that be enough for you? When you reach the point of not being able to go on anymore, and pass it, and are able to stand there--ha! Lie there, more like it--and say with certainty that you still haven’t given in? And then you get to die a happy man, cleansed, redeemed, absolved at last? I’m beginning to think maybe nothing less will be enough, and man let me tell you, that’s just not a choice you got any right to make, as a family man. Besides, I thought that’s what the Cross was for. Absolution. Redemption. Once and for all. Didn’t you tell me that, once? Thought you believed that. Those just aren’t things you can do for yourself, no matter how hard you try. You’ll never get there.”

Angry. Trapped. Violated. The tracker had gone where no one had the right to go, had sought out the inner workings of his soul and in so doing had left him with little to cling to, little to call his own, and Einar did not know how to make it right again. Throwing the man over the cliff would have been a fine start. But he kept still. “That’s not…guess you’re right about some of it, but you’re talking about things you don’t know…can’t know, you weren’t there so you can’t possibly know…”

“Tell me.”

A shake of his head, silence, Einar staring blindly into the abyss below and wishing he could plunge into it, disappear, only he couldn’t, because Liz would be coming back, might find him down there in the rocks, what a mess, and he couldn’t do that to her. Kilgore wasn’t going away, and finally, feeling the man’s eyes boring into the side of his head as he awaited his answer, Einar spoke.

“They were in a hurry when they got me, they…didn’t have time to mess around like they did earlier in the war, wear us down over time, things were moving fast out there, they needed that intel right away, and…”

“And they got it?”

“Tried real hard, but no! Not from me. Nothing they could use. Stuff I told them was…well, I made most of it up right there on the spot, and only after four or five days of…their finest hospitality. Don’t believe I could have made much sense then, even if I’d wanted to. But I shouldn’t have said anything at all, should have been able to go on resisting until…the end.”

“There’s no dishonor in what you did, Asmundson. You’re human. We all are. And the fact that you went on and escaped after all that, just days after it, made that long trek through the jungle in the kind of shape you were in trying to get help for your friend, let the rest of us know where he was so we could go in after him--well, you clearly hadn’t given up. Were still resisting every step of the way.”

Sullen, silent, Einar studied the shard of granite in his hand, snapped it in half, tossed the fragments down over the dropoff. Andy. Andy was another matter, and not one he intended to discuss with the tracker just then. “No dishonor. I know. That’s what I…what they told me later and what I’ve told others since, back when I was running SERE courses for a few years, you know--those kids never did realize their instructor was speaking from experience on so many of those things, I guess--so I understand the principle but when it comes to me and what I did…and didn’t do…just can’t make myself believe that. Always have to wonder if I could’ve held out longer, if I really gave it my best at the time and how things might have turned out differently if I’d just been able to…” He stopped, head bowed, fists clenched white and trembling in front of his face, further words stifled in his throat.

Kilgore moved closer, put his hand on Einar’s shoulder and hung on with a solid grip intended as much to prevent him edging his way any closer to that dropoff as it was to provide a bit of friendly human contact. “Give it your best now, Asmundson.”

24 March, 2011

24 March 2011

With the woodshed roof finished--amazing how quickly and efficient a thing can get done when two people are working furiously at it and with tireless focus in a whole-hearted attempt to avoid having to bash in one another’s heads--and no sign of the womenfolk making their return, Bud and Einar stood staring at each other for a moment, Einar fighting to catch his breath and Kilgore, thirsty, wishing very much to go into the cabin and avail himself of the water barrel, but not being entirely sure where he stood with the wild man and thus reluctant to pass him and enter his house. Finally, thirst getting the better of him, he nodded to Einar, stepping into the cool shadows of the cabin. Einar followed, watched him drink before filling his own water carrier from the barrel. Had somehow managed to become badly dehydrated over the past several days of hiking and climbing, and still had a distance to go before he’d be caught up. Could feel it. Kilgore had crouched against the pile of stones that were destined one day to take form as cook stove and heat source for the cabin, was inspecting one of the larger, flatter pieces, turning it over and over in his hands, and Einar, not especially wanting him to begin asking questions again, held out a packet containing the remains of Liz’s last batch of traveling “pudding.”


“Getting there. First though, what do you say we slap this stove together real quick? Looks like you’ve got more than enough stones all gathered up here, and it sure would be good to have a finished stove to go with your woodshed.”

“Been meaning to get to it, but one thing or another keeps coming up to interfere, seems like. Guess this time’s as good as any. You ever done dry stone masonry before?”

“Can’t say as I have, but I’m sure you’ll tell me where to put things. Let’s have at it.”

Working with the slow deliberation characteristic of his way when at such tasks and taking solace in the details of the thing, the precision it demanded of him, Einar laid the first row of stove-stones, Kilgore, after a few minutes of observation, beginning to get a feel for what he had in mind and helping out by handing him prospective next stones, replacing them when Einar, more often than not, rejected them for not being precisely the correct fit. Stove had to be as nearly airtight as could be achieved in order to maximize its efficiency--a big deal when heating and cooking up near treeline in the dead of winter--and he knew from his previous work in the bear cave that they could come very close, given the proper attention to detail. An hour passed as they worked, another, and still Susan and Liz had not returned, the work continuing until the stove stood very nearly finished, lacking only its chimney and the large, flat stone that would comprise its top. The one Einar had previously set aside did not, when all was said and done, perform as he had hoped it would, being too thick and not quite wide enough, and he knew he could do better, given a thorough search of the scree pile up behind the cabin. Kilgore, having wanted very much to see the project brought to completion, was a bit disappointed, but did not let on. Knew he’d done a good thing in simply helping bring the stove into being, keeping Einar on task and easing his work a bit by handing him things. A good day.

Their work finished for the time, Einar--himself feeling famished despite having eaten earlier, along with everyone else--once again held the travel pudding out to Kilgore. Bud took the packet, pulled off a small lump of the sweet, soft stuff and chewed thoughtfully. “She surely does do some good cooking, don’t she? You, on the other hand…well, I tasted some of your bear-tummy kimchi, and let me tell ya, you’re probably not gonna be winning any prizes at the county fair with that one. Whew! Doubt they’d even let you in the door, actually, one they got a whiff of the stuff. But I kinda liked it, myself. Had seconds.”

“Want some now? Guess we could spare just a little bit… Liz doesn’t seem to find the stuff very much to her taste…”

“Sure! First experience didn’t kill me, so why not? To tell the truth, I find the stuff kinda pleasant, in an odd, highly fermented sort of way. The bite of it brings up some good memories, the tang...”

“Good ones, huh?”

“Well sure, mostly. Anytime you’d get a chance to sit down and eat, get time to do it…well, that’d be a good time, right?”


“Plus this stuff don’t have so much of that fishy smell, that salty, smoky stinkin’ stench of fish and garlic and rancid, un-evaporated human sweat and human dung, the taste of adrenalin like cold steel in the back of your throat because you know they’re coming, again, know what that means and if you could get out of there you would, wouldn’t you? But you can’t, not the way they’ve got you tied, can’t hardly even breathe, between the position you’re in, the heat and the stifling stench that’s coming up at you, up through the floor…you know which one I mean, don’t you Asmundson? Can probably smell it right now without even trying, can’t you?”

Blowing a great breath of air out through his nose, Einar made a conscious effort to slow his breathing, get ahold of himself and find something in the cabin he might grab onto as he could feel the world going all soft and strange and terrifyingly uncertain around him, something that might remind him of Liz, keep him connected in some way to the reality that he knew was out there, the high, clean air and spruces of his basin, but it wasn’t working. None of it was working. He needed more air, needed it real bad, but forced himself to remain still, voice rough and somewhat unsteady. “I know what you’re trying to do here. It’s not gonna work.”

“Isn’t it? Look at you, sweating, shaking, white as a sheet. Don’t tell me you don’t still think about it from time to time. Maybe lots more times than you’d like, at night sometimes when things get still and quiet and you’re all alone with your thoughts…look, man. You need to look at it. Look it in the eye. Don’t want to but you need to, need to deal with it so you can be here with her more of the time, most of the time, with them when the kid comes, rather than over there. Time to come home, man. Kinda owe them that much, don’t you think? Your family…”

Einar was on his feet, had to get out of the cabin pretty urgently and wanted Bud out, too, indicated as much by shaking his spear in the tracker’s direction and Kilgore got the message, complied. If he’d meant to start Einar reminiscing, talking about things, prod him into getting them out in the open, he had, at least for the moment, apparently failed.

23 March, 2011

23 March 2011

Their conversation finished for the time--Kilgore knew when to stop pushing, considered himself fortunate for having been able to go as far as he did without major consequence; he had taken a chance, for sure--the two men left their meeting-seats and wandered around for a bit, Einar hoping he might be able to slip away from Kilgore and spend some time sitting up in the rocks above the cabin, pondering, quiet, but seeing that there was little chance of any such coming to pass. Kilgore was right there with him, seemed disinclined to leave him in peace and was, in fact, suggesting that the two of them work on completing the woodshed. A necessary task; the structure’s half-done state had been troubling Einar for some time, but he did not especially wish to take on such a project just then, not in Kilgore’s presence, for he was, after his brief nap, feeling terribly stiff from the effects of his fall and of the past days’ travels, foot paining him a great deal and his balance not feeling like a thing that ought to be trusted too far. Parts of which he expected would, despite his best efforts be noticeable to the tracker should the two of them end up working together, and he did not want the man to know the extent of his difficulties. Might very well try and take advantage of them in some way, exploit his weaknesses in a further attempt to talk him down off the mountain, and Einar simply didn’t want to contend with such, just then. Didn’t want to hear it. Kilgore was being most persistent, though, had begun dragging timbers over, himself, and leaning them against the woodshed skeleton, so, figuring he had little choice, Einar joined him. Just have to work hard at not letting it show. Not letting anything show. Just focus on the work, and you’ll be fine.

Together they hauled the timbers that Bud and Susan had earlier retrieved, leaning each up against the woodshed frame with Einar stopping frequently to rearrange and adjust the structure as it took form, tightening it up against future leaks and making sure it remained sound. While the leaning timbers would go a long way towards keeping out the weather, Einar still hoped to find and apply a good many aspen bark slabs to the angled walls, knowing that it would be far more successful at shedding rain and later, melting snow. Though Einar worked silently and without giving much notice to his companion--the mere task of remaining on his feet and on the job was demanding all the focus he could muster--Kilgore soon realized his intention in hauling back the occasional slab of bark from one fallen aspen or another, and joined in the effort. By the time they finished leaning poles for the main structure of the roof-walls, the two of them had amassed a good pile of bark, also, and with Kilgore’s help Einar began placing the slabs, starting at the bottom and working his way up so as to keep them shedding water. Large and heavy as the slabs were, Einar doubted they would even need to be secured in place, but Kilgore wasn’t taking any chances, using the tip of his knife to drill pairs of small holes near the tops of some of the shingles and binding them to the frame with bits of cordage. A good plan, Einar had to admit, and one that would likely lead to a longer-lasting roof, especially once the snow began weighing it down.

Guess it’s not all bad having this fella here. Still wish he’d never shown up though. What good is it to have a great woodshed, after all, if you end up having to flee because your guests got themselves followed? Or have to make a planned and deliberate move because your location has been compromised… He shook his head, went at the work of shingling the woodshed roof with a fierce new energy. Had been running over and over the possibilities in his mind, the risks of staying and of going, the compromised security of the place, the lateness of the season, the coming birth, all of it, and nothing was looking too promising, really. Made him mad. Ought to be a better solution, better than either of those two, but if it was out there, he hadn’t yet found it. Which was clearly his fault, likely a function of his lack of sleep as much as anything, an explanation and not an excuse, for he ought to have been able to work through such difficulties, and do what needed to be done. Had always been able to, had often drawn both inspiration and a solid determination from the difficulty of the situation, and the fact that he seemed suddenly unable to summon up the strength and focus to do it yet again disturbed him greatly. Kilgore recognized his struggle, did not know the extent of it but could see that the fugitive was, if nothing else, having quite a time of it just staying on his feet and conscious, and he did his best to be helpful without getting too much in the way. Which helpfulness, Bud seeing Einar reeling and appearing about to fall, took the form just then of a question designed to get his attention, keep him engaged and in the present.

“This woodshed--you plan to fill it, and then what? You’re not thinking that’s gonna be enough, are you?”


“For the winter.”

“We’re surrounded by wood here, lots of leaning and fallen stuff that’s going to be made inaccessible by the snow, but plenty of standing dead, too. I can be cutting and hauling all winter if I have to, skidding trees over here on the snow for chopping and burning, but yeah, I hope to fill the woodshed ahead of time, give us a little reserve for hard times, for when the little one comes. That, and I’ve already got a bunch of stuff leaning up under the spruces and firs around the cabin here, mostly small dead aspen that I’ve found and hauled in, and I figure to leave it right where it is, most of it. May get a bit challenging to retrieve once the snow gets real deep and I have to be crawling down in all those tree wells and shoving it out and up onto the surface of the snow, but at least I’ll know where it is, and how to get at it. Not too worried about the wood situation.”

“Maybe you’d best get worried. Considering all the things you’ll have to keep up with this winter, you just may not have as much time as you think for felling and skidding trees whenever the firewood supply starts getting a little low. And that’s even if things go as smoothly as possible. Which it seems they don’t always, because wasn’t it just this last winter when you ended up losing a couple toes, then a couple more, over the course of more than two months? That couldn’t have been part of the plan, but I sure bet it changed the plan, lots of plans, slowed things down and looks like it’s still slowing them down, from the looks of you, the way you’re favoring that foot today. Think about it. Better fill this shed, stack more wood up under all the trees around here and then come up with a backup location somewhere real nearby to stack that much, again. If you want the two of you to have a good chance of making it, that is. The three of you… And then fill another shed--be better if it was a raised one, cache-style, to keep out the varmints--with dried meat, fat, berries, all sorts of stuff to help see you through the winter.”

Einar paused in his work, casting a slightly annoyed glance in Kilgore’s direction. “Yep, I know what a winter’s like out here. Done a few, myself.”

“Yeah, you look like it. Want the girl to end up all gaunt and hollow and starved like you are? And the kid? You somehow got her through the first one without too many ill effects it seems, and a healthy young woman like her might survive another winter like that, but the chances don’t seem real good for the kid, not good at all. And if you finish starving yourself trying to make sure they have plenty, well, honorable gesture I guess, but where does that leave them? Abandoned up here in the middle of winter to die, that’s where.”

“I thought we were through talking about this.” It was a statement, not a question, and again Kilgore let the matter drop for the time, returning to work and steering clear of Einar, who was slamming bark chips and slabs into place with a cold fury that told Bud his words had definitely not been wasted on the man, even if he wasn’t yet ready to come out and admit it.

22 March, 2011

22 March 2011

Einar didn’t want to hear it, any of it, did not want to be compelled to spend his reserve of energy--which he sensed was dangerously low at the moment--defending his position to Kilgore, especially seeing as the man had sought him out, had shown up without invitation on his doorstep. Ought to be defending his decision, if anything, explaining the audacity that led him to make that hike and intrude on this place--my place--in the first place. Ha! Einar chuckled silently, eyes remaining deadly still, unreadable. He’s got no need to explain about the audacity. Guess that’s the way he’s always been, just part of what makes him able to do the things he does. Sure don’t like when it’s directed at me and mine, though. Be better if he kept that daring and bluster and such aimed squarely at the enemy, yep, a lot better. But here he is, and seems determined to talk, so guess your only real choices are to take that spear and run him through--or run him off--or sit here and listen. Einar, fortunately for Bud Kilgore, chose the second option. It was a near thing.

Kilgore shifted position on the log that was serving as his seat, not altogether oblivious to the danger he’d been in, but not terribly perturbed by it, either. Such is life. “So, you given this thing any thought, Asmundson?”

“What thing?”

“Our proposals. Any of ’em. All of ’em.”

“Been giving things like that thought for the last couple years, off and on. Always come to the same conclusion.”

“Which is?”

“Can’t risk it. That’s how these things end, Kilgore, and you know it. One little slip-up like that, one contact too many with the outside world, and it’s over. You’ve hunted enough human critters in your time to know that it’s so. Our only safety, our only chance out here, long term…is in total isolation. And you’re spoiling it. You and the lady.”

“Aw hey now, don’t go lumping me in with ‘the outside world.’ I ain’t part of the outside world, I’m just me, and I’m telling ya, we came up here only with incredible care and caution. Nobody followed us.”

“I believe you. But just as a matter of statistical probability, the more frequently we have these contacts, the sooner one of them’s going to get us caught. I’d rather keep those chances down to a manageable level, which means that when I say I don’t want to see you up here again, I sure as heck mean it. Don’t do this again. I’ve got a family to protect now, and you know I’m gonna use whatever means are necessary to do that. Even if they involve you not making the return trip to the valley, one of these times. Be kind of a shame for it to come to that.”

“Well now, yes it would. I’ve come to be fairly fond of this going-on-living business, as it turns out. Wasn’t always that way, but I seem to have got round to a spot where it’s a bit of a priority for me. Ever been there, Asmundson? In that spot? You can be, you know. But that’s for a different conversation. Maybe one we can have before I head out. We were talking about your family for now though, and how you plan to do whatever it takes to defend them. Which I know you mean as sincerely as a thing can be meant, and know you’re qualified to understand just what it may entail, too…but you ever thought of this?

“Of what?”

“Of the fact that maybe you got to think outside the box a little when it comes to defending them. Got to realize that maybe the best way to do it might involve doing something that’s way outside your comfort zone, just because it makes the most sense--for them. You got to come down off this mountain, man. Got to at least consider it. Your bride’s about to give birth to her first kid here in a couple months, and looking around I don’t even have to tell you that you’re woefully under-equipped for such an occurrence. You got a house without a stove, woodshed without wood and though you do have a start in the area of food and fat, it’s not a real solid one, considering how late in the season it’s getting to be. As for clothes, it don’t appear you even got enough to keep your scrawny self from having to shiver all day long once the weather cools off some more--look at you, even now--unless you’re gonna stay in bed all the time wrapped up in that one bear hide. Got to have more than that, an awful lot more, if you want to make it up here. If you want your family to make it. I know you got antifreeze in your blood and can sit for a week in the snow without eating or drinking or freezing to death if you have to--pretty close, anyway--but bet neither the missus nor the little one have got that skill. At least not yet. Give you time, and you’ll teach ’em, I have no doubt. But if you want time, you got to get the both of them through this winter that’s comin’ up. This thing you’re trying to do here, this winter up near treeline…not even the Utes did this, man! Went down lower, all of ’em, down to sagebrush country where they only had to contend with maybe six, eight feet of snow instead of thirty, where the mountains gave some sort of shelter against the wind, you know that, right? Transitory folks, migratory. And it worked for them. That’s all I’m asking you think about doing--migrating! Nothing to say you can’t come back up here whenever you want, sometime after the little one comes, grows a little, maybe when the snow starts melting out…this place’ll still be here.”

“And look, you may not know it, but I’ve got the feds in my pocket, down there. They came to me, all but begged me to sign up for the search and are looking pretty desperately for ideas on where to turn, how to see some progress in this thing. For the moment at least, they’re tending to go where my reports direct them. I go fly around with Roger, get a feel for the land, look for tracks and sign that appears out of place--that’s what they think I’m doing, anyway--and away they go. Don’t you see the potential in that? Not only can we kinda steer them around your current location, but we could use those routine flights as a cover for a supply drop, drops, however we decide to run it, or could even pick the two of you up on one of the passes over this area. Get you out of here altogether, let them carry on with their wild goose chase until they run out of funding and have to cut down to a skeleton crew there in the valley, just to keep up the appearance of an active search. We could do that. Can do it. You just give the word.”

“You’re an awful persuasive man, Kilgore. Should’ve been a doggone politician. You would have gone far.”

“Nah, I rub most folks the wrong way. Or so I’ve been told. Wouldn’t get many votes.”

“Nope, don’t guess so. Like to be able to give you mine, but in this case, just can’t do it. What I said before still stands. Ask me again someday when you’re running for Senate, and I may be able to reconsider my vote.

“Have it your way then, ya mangy old coyote. Never did lack for stubbornness, did you? But I had to try.” Gonna have to keep on trying just as long as I’m up here

21 March, 2011

21 March 2011

Bud could hear the irritation in Einar’s voice, the barely-concealed rage behind his calm assertion that they would keep on as they had been, and he sensed that it was time to back off, to give the man a little room to think about things, stop pushing so hard for a time--his rest in the cabin had done him a lot of good, but could not, after all, really have begun to erase the effects of the past week of sleeplessness and strain, and Bud knew it--but Susan hadn’t got the message, apparently, and wasn’t giving up.

“This thing you’re talking about doing--bringing a little one into the world up here in the middle of winter--it has been done before, I’m sure, and you can do it…if anyone can do it, it’s you two, but think about it…you know what this place is going to be like in the winter, the feet upon feet of snow that will cover it, the wind and the cold, and if anything goes wrong and you have to move… Einar, I know you don’t want to come out, and there’s really nothing I can say to you to try and change your mind on that I haven’t. already said. I understand that you need to be here. But I want you to know that if it needs to be…Liz, if it needs to be just you and the baby, just come down and stay with me--or in another location, we can find someplace very safe, someplace they’d never dream of looking--until the little one’s born and old enough to hold her own a little better up here, we could do that, and then fly you back up to the basin, the two of you…”

Bud could feel Einar bristle at the suggestion, could feel it from four feet away, though the fugitive was doing an admirable job of maintaining the outward illusion of calm and quiet, and he sincerely hoped Susan would not attempt to expound too much further on the proposal--Einar, he had little doubt, would have responded physically by that point if it had been his suggestion rather than Susan’s; the only thing saving her, far as he could see, was the fact that she was a woman, and was Liz’s friend--and he scrambled to try and think of something he might say to turn the conversation in a different direction before things deteriorated any further, but Liz saved him the trouble.

“No. Oh, no. I’m staying with my husband, and if that means staying up here, then so be it. We’ve lost and found each other way too many times for me to want to volunteer for another one! Either we both stay, or we both go.” She moved closer to Einar on the log, tried to put an arm around his waist but felt that he was incredibly tense, coiled like a spring and not wanting to be touched, so she gave him his space. Figured his foot must be hurting him a great deal that afternoon, in addition to all the other things that were demanding his attention, and she half wished their meeting with Bud and Susan might be at an end so she could talk him back into the cabin for more sleep, but knew they had as of yet resolved little, weren’t finished. Not to mention that sleep appeared to be the furthest thing from Einar’s mind at the moment, eyes wide and staring as he studied the woods behind Bud and Susan, looking like he fully expected someone to appear out there amongst the trees and being--she had no doubt--fully prepared to deal with such an incursion, should it happen. Didn’t happen, though, and after a brief bur rather expectant-seeming pause Susan nodded, rose.

“That’s up to the two of you, or course. We’re just trying to make sure you see all the options, give them some thought--please give them some thought--and see if one of them might be made to work for you. Now. Wasn’t I supposed to be carrying jerky baskets over to the cabin? Better get back to work.” Liz, trying to catch Einar’s eye but seeing him deep in thought, went with her.

For some time Liz and Susan worked together in silence, ferrying baskets from their resting spot beneath the hanging trees to the cabin, where Liz worked with a careful deliberation to hang them from the rafters, placing each one exactly as she had arranged it before their recent departure for the valley and wishing desperately that the silence from outside, where Einar and Bud still sat facing each other, had not been so resounding. Somebody ought to say something, ought break that silence but it went on, Kilgore knowing better than to interrupt the thoughts that no doubt roiled and simmered in there just behind Einar’s very deliberately blank eyes. The man would come out of it when he was ready, would talk, and until then Bud was perfectly content to sit, and to wait. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d done such for one man or another who he considered to be a friend. Passing not far from them on each jerky-ferrying trip, Liz and Susan did their best to ignore the two men, soon finishing with their task. While in transit between the hanging trees and cabin, Liz had pointed out to Susan several of the plants that they had come to rely on up there to supplement their diet of rabbit, bear and sheep, and Susan listened with pleasure to Liz’s descriptions of the many benefits of the nettles, violets, shepherd’s purse and others that made their homes in the dappled sunlight beneath the scrawny aspens just outside the clearing. Several of those same plants Susan had introduced to Liz during her time up at the house, though the knowledge she had passed along represented only a tiny fraction of what Liz had since acquired through using the plants in her everyday life, and from Einar. Raspberries were one thing that Susan did not see sign of up there, though the terrain certainly seemed conducive to their growth.

“In all your wanderings up here, have you happened upon a little patch or two of wild raspberries?”

“Oh, yes! There’s an entire gully full of then down in the basin. Earlier in the summer I dried what I thought was a huge quantity of the leaves--Einar even helped me harvest them and spread them out for drying--but I’ve been surprised at how quickly they’ve got used up. Getting a little low. I really ought to put up another bundle or two of them before the leaves start turning and falling off…”

“I’m glad you’ve been using the leaves up quickly. You ought to be drinking a good quart or so of that stuff every day when you can. It’ll help when the time comes.”

“Oh, I have been. Been making a whole cook pot full of it most mornings, and Einar occasionally has a little, but I’m drinking most of it. Only now I’m almost out of the dried leaves, so had better be thinking about…”

“Well, no time’s better than the present. I think these guys could use some space, anyway. Let’s go get it done!”

While Liz went into the cabin for a pair of leaf-harvesting baskets (jerky baskets, berry picking baskets, everything had many and multiple uses, around there) Susan stopped briefly by to tell Bud and Einar where they were headed. Neither responded with more than a grunt or a nod, but Susan knew they had heard, and would have spoken up had there been any reason for objection. Leaving together for the basin--Liz was, despite the tension in camp r maybe even partially because if it, actually somewhat looking forward to showing Susan a few of the sights there in the area, the tarn with its impossibly still, sky-reflecting waters, the little patches of stunted shepherd’s purse where she had been gathering and drying leaves for use after the birth…must remember to ask her more about how and when they’re to be used, I know she has the details…and the rock-strewn little gully whose partially shaded steeps had proven such a fruitful refuge for raspberry thickets--they looked back just before entering the timber, saw the two men still sitting across from one another on the meeting-logs, involved in what appeared to be a rather intense and possibly even angry conversation.

20 March, 2011

20 March 2011

No chapter today, but I'll be back with another tomorrow.

Glad you all have found the story here--thanks so much for reading!

19 March, 2011

19 March 2011

Though Einar was reasonably certain he did not want to hear what Susan had to say, didn’t especially want Liz hearing it either, lest she find the proposal--whatever it was--greatly tempting and herself disappointed if they weren’t able to take advantage of it, he supposed they might as well listen. Appreciated the fact that Susan had, it seemed, waited to talk to the two of them together about it, rather than plying her influence on Liz in his absence and attempting to convince her one way or another on the matter, knew he could be misinterpreting that aspect of things--was pretty adept at misinterpreting most people’s intentions, really, and had been all his life; puzzling critters, those humans--but believed from Susan’s words that she had indeed waited until that moment to bring the matter up for discussion. Taking his leave of Susan, he returned to the cabin.

“Looks like you better come on out here, when you’re done with the water. Susan’s got something in mind she wants to talk with us about, both of us, and it looks like she’s kinda anxious to get started.”

Liz gave him a strange look--wasn’t like him to be so cooperative, especially in arranging a meeting whose purpose she could only guess he would not find to his approval--smiled and rose from the spot where she had been sopping up a bit of spilled water from the barrel-filling. Guessed perhaps he might still be a bit strange and sleepy after his brief time of sleep--a good possibility, as far behind as he had by his own admission been--and though such circumstances would normally have left him more reticent, reserved and bull-headed, she could only be thankful if this particular time they had somehow allowed for the opposite. By the time they got back outside Kilgore was there also, he and Susan having taken seats on logs that were destined to become part of the woodshed, having left spots opposite them for Einar and Liz to sit. Way too formal-looking as far as Einar was concerned, and he wanted to bolt, get out of there and take Liz with him, but he’d agreed to listen, and listen he would.

Hobbling over to one of the remaining logs and taking a seat, he stared blankly at a spot somewhere between their two guests--that gap contained the trunk and near branches of an almost perfectly-framed little fir tree, as things happened, and the image was quite pleasing to him, seemed better than wondering which of the two of them he was supposed to look at, and for how long, as he knew he tended either to not look at people, which they seemed to interpret as either disinterest or dishonesty, while it was certainly neither, or to stare at them so intently that they mistakenly read a threat in his eyes, and looked away, themselves, so he kept his focus on the tree--waiting for someone to speak. Susan, it seemed, was to be the designated spokeswoman. Made sense. Einar had a strong suspicion that the thing they were about to propose, or one much like it, had already been offered them by Kilgore on a previous visit, and refused, and he shuddered almost imperceptibly at the memory-shadow of that visit. Had been terribly sick with the infection in his foot, then, had feared his ability to refuse unwise offers of help might thus be somewhat compromised, and, the night after Kilgore had set forth his proposal to meet the two of them down at the highway with a van and transport them out of the area, he’d endured a terrifying and amazingly realistic dream about just how very wrong such an endeavor could go, and he shook his head to clear it of those images, didn’t particularly want them coloring his understanding of what he was about to hear. Yet, they inevitably would. Susan seemed to be waiting until she was sure she had his attention, so he looked up, briefly met her eye.

“I’m absolutely amazed at what the two of you have accomplished up here. You’ve really turned this basin into home, taken the things available and made a life up here in a way that very few would be able to do. I just can’t get over it, and I’m so proud of you, Liz, seeing how you’ve adapted to this life and learned the skills you need to get along out here, and Einar, you’re clearly a very good teacher. It shows. With the baby coming, though, and winter coming even sooner…well, have you--both of you--thought through all the additional challenges that are coming your way? I know you can meet them if anyone can, but Mr. Kilgore and I have been talking, and we’d like to make you an offer.”

“Right,” Kilgore took over, looking square at Einar though meaning his words for both of them. “You know my friend Roger Kiesl, the one who was flying over here in the little green and white plane a week or so ago? Well, he’s got a good bit of experience flying tough missions in out of the way places, busting embargoes and running blockades--ha! Those were the days! Though he was flying a bigger plane in those days, too…only so much hardware you can fit into one of them little DeHavillands, after all--and sneaking in under the radar with loads of weapons and all that, flying back out with loads of sugar and corned beef and such for export…what I’m trying to say is that Roger’s good. Real good at what he does. If he can get weapons shipments past the Russians and the Portuguese and the doggone United Nations, well, I do believe he can get some stuff in here to you kids undetected.”

“What Mr. Kilgore is saying is that we want to get a list from you of what you most need, so it can be delivered to the basin now, and throughout the winter, if the two of you find the idea agreeable. What do you say?”

No! That’s what Einar had to say, no, we do not find the idea agreeable, not at all, this being a totally different situation from the ones you described, in that we are the sole targets of the enemy’s entire operation, and they’ve got an awful lot of resources to devote to finding us and us alone, no way, terrible idea, if a bold one, and something I’d sure be signing up to participate in, was I in Bud or Roger’s position, and not my own… But he kept quiet for a minute, contemplating the best way to say it.

“Sounds like you folks have put a good deal of thought into this, and I thank you, but any plan that involves repeated outside contacts with us or our location seems like a sure way for us--he folks aiding us--to end up getting caught, and it simply isn’t worth it, worth the risk, we’ve been managing like this and will go on doing it. I just can’t trade my family’s security--and freedom, and lives most likely, if you carry things through to their likely conclusion--for the promise of food and supplies. Just can’t do that. Appreciate the offer, but gonna have to say no.”

“Aw now Asmundson, you know many a small foreign country has been supplied this way when the entire world said it could not, must not be done, and…”

“We’re not a small foreign country, Kilgore.”

“If I had my way, you would be. Asmundsonland. Huh. Nope, don’t have much of a ring to it, have to come up with a different name, but you get the idea. Small sovereign mountain kingdom. Can I come live here, if it ever comes to pass?”

“You can live here now, so long as you don’t get anywhere within a thirty mile radius of us. Or fly any more planes over our heads. Ever. Our country, our airspace.”

Kilgore nodded. Alright. Yep, we figured you’d say that, and you’re right, no matter how good a fella is, there’s some risk in the repeated contacts that kind of a system would entail. So we got another proposal for ya. No--hey!--don’t be giving me that look, just sit right back down there and hear me out. Not gonna hurt you to listen. There you go. Good. Now here it is. Kiesl’s landed that little plane in a lot of tight spots, and this basin you’ve got down there would be far from the tightest landing he’s ever made. Plenty of open grassy area for him to use. So my thought is, how about we give you folks some time, week or two if you need it, and then Roger and I’ll fly up here and you can hitch a ride. Right from the basin. We can take you…heck, there’s pretty much no place we can’t take you, given a little time and ingenuity. With my connections, I could arrange transport and get you pretty nearly anyplace in the world, or if you want to keep it a little simpler, and more local, Roger can just fly you to the next county. Or Idaho. Or maybe Canada, Alaska, anywhere you’d like, let you get a fresh start at things”

Jumping in before Einar could refuse, Susan continued the argument. “Wouldn’t you like to be able to relax a little, to slow down and enjoy this change in your life--the baby--without having to worry so much where the next meal is going to come from, whether you’ll have enough warm clothes to make it through the winter, watching every plane that passes over and wondering if it’s the one that’s going to see some sign of you and get the search back on your trail again…wouldn’t you like to have a little break from all that? Just focus on each other and your new family member?”

“Yeah, think about it. You been out in the field for a long time, Asmundson. Everybody needs some down time, a few days of R&R once every…let’s see, what has it been now? Three years? Four? Even if you don’t want it, I bet your lady wants it for you, for both of you, especially with the little one coming--don’t you want to be able to give that to her?”

Einar shrugged. “Sure. But that’s not life. Not our life, not out here. Life we’re living comes with its costs alright, but if you don’t pay them…well, you just don’t last long. We’re getting by. Will keep at it.”

18 March, 2011

18 March 2011

The two hours of sleep that he managed--quiet, exhausted, troubled at times by dream but not interrupted--did wonders for Einar, left him far more steady, mind clearer than it had been in a day or two, and when he woke to the sound of Liz pouring water into the barrel, he was on his feet in an instant, scrambling out from beneath the bear hide. Regretted it in the same instant as his injured foot took some of his weight and sent shock waves through him, but he remained standing, hobbled over to Liz.

“What…how long was I asleep. Sure didn’t mean to sleep this long.”

“It’s alright. It’s good. I’m glad you were able to do it.”


“He’s still here. He and Susan went up to the spring and brought us this water. I thought it would be a good project for them, keep them away from here while you slept.”

“You told them how to find the spring?”

“Yes…should I not have done that?”

Einar started to respond, stopped himself and shook his head. They’re not gonna poison your water source, just like they didn’t poison the Nutella you all shared after the meal, and you’d better not let her know that’s what you were thinking just now, either. Or she’s liable to come at you with that rabbit stick, and you’ve still not quite got your head on straight again from the last whack you gave it in that fall… “Nope, it’s fine. Good for everyone to know where their water’s coming from, so as long as they’re here, guess they might as well be aware of the spring. Where are they now?”

“They’re hauling in timbers for the woodshed. I told them they didn’t need to do anything like that, but Susan kept insisting the might as well help out as long as they’re here, so that seemed like a good thing for them to do. Since it has to be done at some point.”

Einar nodded, took a step towards the door, trying not altogether successfully to spare the injured foot. “I better get busy too. That was a long time to be away, and the year’s not getting any younger, is it? Thought I saw a bit of yellow in the aspens I was passing through yesterday, just a few little clusters of leaves here and there, but before we know it, fall will be here. Better check to make sure everything’s like we left it, then get working on a plan to raid that bee tree. Be good to have the honey set aside before the cold weather really gets serious about putting in an appearance. Good quick source of energy.”

“Yes, it sure is. I’ll come with you.” She followed him, not daring to let on how very, tremendously glad she was that he seemed so much more himself after the short nap, that he--despite being himself, and it being something he would definitely be expected to do--had not yet again mentioned his pervious determination to leave the place with all haste, instead seeming to plan for their winter preparations as if nothing had ever happened. She could only pray that he might remain on that course, not become convinced once again that they must abandon all that they had worked so hard for, and at such a late hour. Please, if there’s any way at all, may it stay like this

Einar, virtually bounding out the door as he rejoiced at his newfound energy, came very close to running headlong into Susan, who was at that moment busy propping yet another small dead aspen against the woodshed frame, working to complete the leaning wall that Einar had previously begun. Rather than the incident turning ugly as it likely would have earlier in the day Einar simply laughed, apologized for his clumsiness and went to work on another of the timbers in the pile Bud and Susan had hauled in.

“You folks sure didn’t have to go to all this trouble. Got to leave yourselves some time to enjoy the scenery while you’re up here…”

“Oh, we enjoyed it thoroughly on the way up,” Susan jumped into the conversation, carefully leaning her own aspen against the largely-completed wall, filling a gap. “We’re here to work! Or at least, we might as well work, since we are here! Can’t stay much longer. I’ve got to get back to the greenhouses. So. What else would you like us to do? What would be most helpful to you?”

Einar just grinned at her, shrugged and glanced around for Liz. Felt strange being talked to by another person after all that time, and he didn’t exactly know what to say. Liz was nowhere to be seen, though, having taken the second water container from the creek and gone inside to add it to the amount in the water barrel, so he contemplated the matter for a minute, finally came up with an idea that he hoped would suit everyone. “Not asking you to do any work here, but if you’re set on it, how about bringing some of those jerky baskets over here, so Liz can stash them inside? That be alright?”

“Yes, of course! We helped her bring them all down out of the trees earlier, but I’m pretty sure they’re still over there where we set them. That’s a lot of jerky. Must have been a big bear you two trapped! We saw the place where you camped while you took care of the meat, up by the spring.”

“Liz told you about that, huh? Yep, was a pretty big one. That’s his hide in there on the bed. Was a pretty big job getting him all sliced up and dried and that hide processed, but the results were real good. Need more though. Winter’s coming. I got to get out there and find us a few elk, a sheep, another bear, if possible. Real soon.”

“I hope you won’t think me out of place for bringing it up, but I have been wanting to talk to the two of you about that, to offer…”

“Oh, no. No you don’t. Don’t be making us any offers that you know we’re just gonna have to refuse. We can’t just…”

“I know. Know there’s a lot you can’t do, but Mr. Kilgore--Bud--and I…we’ve been talking, and there area couple of different ideas we had for the two of you. Will you at least listen? Please?”

Einar shook his head, looked away from her and worked hard to restrain himself from making a hasty and angry response. “Yeah, I’ll listen. Better go get Lizzie., so we only have to hear this once.”