They’d been talking about Rhodesia--well, he had, and Susan had been listening; she was a good listener, seemed genuinely interested in some of his stories, engaged, asking questions, and truly she was interested, for her husband Bill had spoken little of such matters, and always she’d had questions that she never quite got around to asking, because she hadn’t known if he would have liked to give the answers--but Bud was quiet now, listening intently to the rain.
“Figure this’ll be snow up there?”
She nodded, forehead furrowing and a bit of a distant, wistful look coming into her eyes. “Possibly. If not, it’ll be real close. It’s early, but not terribly early. Not unheard of. Sometimes I wish we were still…”
“Yeah, me too, lot of times. But that’s not their way. Not his, anyhow. He’s got to do this alone, this business of facing the winter and living and dying and all. Been pretty good so far at keeping things on the ‘living’ side, especially considering…”
“But he’s not alone.”
“Oh, she’s a willing participant.”
“Yes. Very much so. But with the baby coming…I just wish I could be up there for them. And what if he’s still like he was when we left? Still not talking at all…that would be awfully hard on her, I would think.”
“He’s fine. Just needed a little time after our visit up in the woods, that’s all. I’m sure he’s talking again by now, though wouldn’t be too surprised if she had to knock him upside the head one day with that ‘rabbit stick’ of hers to get him to take up the habit, again. Kid’s been through a lot, but he’s gonna do just fine. They both are. I saw it in his eyes before we left. Saw the life there. He’ll have ’em ready for winter.”
“Well, I certainly hope so. And what about you, Mr. Kilgore? What are your plans for the winter Are you intending to stay on at the Task Force for a while, until…”
“Aw now, I’ve told you not to call me that. I’m not ‘Mr. Kilgore’ and I sure ain’t ‘sir,’ at least not to you, Ma’am, and I’m afraid until you get that straight, I just won’t be able to answer any more of your questions. Ok? None of ’em! Though I know you’re not gonna let me leave here until I do answer some of them questions…”
“Ok. I understand.” She nodded, turned away to prevent his seeing the irrepressible hint of a smile that was twisting up the corner of her mouth at his antics, hiding her silent laughter with the empty teapot. “I’ll go make us some more tea, Mr. Kilgore…”
· · · ·Sweeping down from the red ridge far above, the snow returned in full force as Einar and Liz lay discussing the best way to reach their cache without leaving too much sign, wind howling and blasting against the trees that shielded them and finding its way in beneath the shelter of the elk hide--stiffening, increasingly difficult to manage as it begun drying, or freezing; they weren’t entirely sure which, but the effect was the same--and reaching out with icy tendrils that left the two of them shivering and pressing more closely together in a half-successful attempt to avoid its fury. Though thoroughly buried beneath the hide, Einar sensed the change in the weather, smelled it, smelled the return of the snow and crept out for a look, snow stinging his face as he stood and looked over the top of their granite-wall wind break. Good. This is so good. Thank You! And he collapsed rather dizzily back to the ground, telling himself that it had been intentional, that he’d simply been ready to get out of the wind, but knowing better. Liz had seen him, was holding open the elk hide, and he crawled beneath it, lying flat on his face for a minute catching his breath before he could speak.
“Not trapped anymore, Liz. That snow’s blowing as hard as ever out there, and this is our chance to get to the cache. Hopefully can make it before night if we hurry, find the gully, follow it until we get to that big old twisted tree that marks the thing, pull down the food and all and hole up nearby somewhere for the night. Will be an easier night. At least we’ll have plenty to eat.” Liz nodded, almost as glad to see the snow again as she was afraid to venture back out in it, poorly equipped as they were and without another set of dry clothes to change into at the other end of the journey. At least they wouldn’t be spending another night hungry and freezing there backed up against that granite wall. Time to go find the cache.