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?”