Einar made no objection when Liz went at the little fir with the axe, wanted to do it himself and spare her the work but in reality could hardly take a breath without having to clamp his jaw to keep from crying out, and he knew the motion of swinging that axe might well finish him for the day. Couldn’t have that, as he had decided they must one way or another get the bear hauled down to the cabin before nightfall, so he helped as well as he could, bending the fir as far down away from the bear as he could and holding it in place, hanging from its bowed trunk to create tension that would expedite Liz’s chopping efforts. She worked so quickly that the tree’s snapping came as a surprise, left him toppled over on the ground beneath the little tree, limbs entangled amongst its boughs and Liz scrambling to pull it off of him. He hadn’t been hurt--tree was too small for that--but did attempt a joke about how he knew Liz had intentionally dropped that tree on him so she could have the bear’s liver all to herself, and it might have struck her as somewhat funny had she not been so worried about having further injured him. Einar found the entire thing pretty funny, started laughing as she lifted and rolled the little fir off of him and might have kept it up for a good long while had it not hurt his ribs so badly, but it did, so he stopped, got to hands and knees and crawled over to the bear.
The tree, it seemed, had been the only thing preventing the creature from backing right on out of the crevice when he went in after it, and with its removal, the carcass had shifted some, flattened out a bit and bulged out the opening in the rock. Good. If they could reach a hind leg or two and manipulate it out through the opening, they’d have something to pull on, and some hope of hauling the bear whole and entire out into the wide open daylight--downhill, it was all downhill once the bear cleared those rocks, and gravity ought to help them if they could just get it started out--where the process of gutting and skinning would go much more smoothly. Down on hands and knees, reaching, he found one of the bear’s feet, began pulling and twisting in an attempt to get it out behind the creature but he wasn’t making much headway and then Liz was beside him with a loop of cordage, passed it to him, and he slipped it over the foot, pulled to tighten.
“Good idea. Now all we need is a stick to wrap this thing around for a handle, and we’ll…” He glanced up at the feeling of someone tugging at the cord, saw that Liz had already thought of the handle, attached it, and he joined her, the two of them pulling until the foot was out where they needed it to be. The second was more difficult as the bear had collapsed almost directly on top of it, but finally they got that one, also, lashed the two feet to a stout length of spruce branch and began braiding together three lengths of cordage into a the rope that they hoped to use to begin freeing the bear from his rocky grave. It was going to be heavy work--if it worked at all--and Einar used the rope--preparing time to rest as well as he could, pressing out the worst of the pain in his ribs with a firmly-placed elbow and doing his best to breathe, get some oxygen in him for the big effort. The bear, he estimated, probably weighed somewhere between three hundred and fifty and four hundred pounds, being a fairly large male and all fattened up for hibernation, and while they might be able to simply hook him up to a hauling handle of spruce branch, each take an end and pull him out by brute force, he wanted to give them the additional leverage of passing the rope around an aspen trunk before pulling. Turned out there was one quite nearby, mere feet from the remaining stump of the fir Liz had taken down, and Einar passed the rope around it, tying it securely to the branch Liz handed him, a good stout one that looked as though it ought to support a good bit of tugging and pushing. Positioning themselves slightly in front of the tree and facing the bear, Einar and Liz braced the two ends of the branch against their hips, starting forward at Einar’s signal. Nothing. Too heavy.
The creature showed no sign of being willing to move, and they tried again with the same result, resting afterwards, leaning forward in the traces. Three, four hundred pounds…they ought to be able to move that bear. He knew the source of their troubles. It’s you, Einar. May not be intentional, but you’re unwilling to put out the effort needed to get this thing done, aren’t you? Know what it’ll do to those ribs. Body’s saying “no,” and your mind’s going along with it. Well that’s not gonna do. Not now, not ever. You’re gonna die if you start letting yourself think that way, if you let yourself give in like that, gonna end up flat on your face on the ground one of these days without the will to get up again, and that just won’t do… Shook his head, took a breath and fought to stay on his feet, straining so hard against the rope that he nearly blacked out, but still making no progress. He was struggling for breath, panting. Lord, give me the strength for this…can’t leave Liz to do it all, and…hate to admit it, but I just don’t seem to have the means to pull this off, right now.
Liz had stopped trying to move the bear, was watching him, urging him to take a rest, sit down, but he shook his head. One more time, we’ll get it this time, and they did, Einar straining and pushing and digging his feet into the ground as the bear began to move, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, but it was moving, and he did not stop--dared not stop--until the animal’s hindquarters were out and gravity was beginning to do its job, bear slouching towards them with increasing ease, and then they were up even with its tail, saw its nose emerged and they stopped, Einar sinking to his knees, hands braced against the massive animal’s side. They’d done it. First step in what was looking to him at the moment to be a rather monumental task, but it was one he’d done before, and could do again. Ok. Best get started.
Together they worked to gut the bear, setting aside heart, liver, lungs and everything else that might prove useful in the near future, Einar propping the carcass open with the branch segment they had used as a handle to drag the animal free of the rocks, knowing that the quicker they could cool it down, the better. They had been working silently and with an intensity spurred on by Einar’s realization that if ever once he allowed himself to stop working, moving, he would likely be in for a terrible time getting himself to start again, and though it had been working, he could tell that he would not be able to maintain such a pace for a good deal longer. Not without some fuel. Wasn’t feeling hungry, not with the hurt of those ribs and the fresh bear-gouges on his back, but when Liz suggested stopping for a taste of liver, he had to admit it sounded like a pretty good idea, agreed to join her. She’d found a good clean slab of shale, was preparing to slice up a portion of the liver.
“Should I take the time to make a fire, or do you want to just go ahead and eat it as-is, this time? I was thinking that if I went ahead and got a place all prepared for a fire, that would save time tonight when we…”
“Whoa now, who said anything about our staying here tonight?”
“Well, with all the work we’ve still got to do, I expected that we’d…”
“Too much risk in staying away from the cabin for that long, right now. Could be another bear would come along, smell those berries and finish off the door, leave us with a terrible mess and a real strong wish that we hadn’t abandoned the place. Held off this bear for a while, but it took some pretty heavy damage, best as I could tell, and might not be up for another major assault like that.”
“Guess you’re saying we need to get the bear down there pretty quickly…”
“Yep. Tonight. I want him hanging in the trees out front of the cabin before we sleep tonight.”
“That is quickly. Wow. Alright. I guess I’ll get started skinning and then quartering, just as soon as we’ve had our snack.”
Einar nodded, accepted the slice of liver Liz was holding out to him. Good. The stuff was awfully good, and he closed his eyes as he chewed, giving thanks as only a man who has known true hunger--and more than once nearly lost his life to it--can give. Liz was hungry too after the long day of near-constant motion and the work of moving that bear, and they shared slice after slice of the liver, reclining there in the sun and gradually--Einar especially, for he had been wet and on the verge of hypothermia for hours--growing warm for the first time since they’d left the bed that morning to track the bear. As he grew full of liver and increasingly sleepy under the sun’s gentle warming Einar eased himself to the ground and leaned back against the fallen aspen that had served as their bench, head pillowed on it and the rest of him sprawled out looking so relaxed that it appeared he might have been sleeping there for hours, content and indeed very nearly asleep as his body worked to absorb the liver’s much-needed nutrients. Liz did not want to disturb him, left him to fall asleep there in the warm, dappled sunlight that was finding its way down through the spruces, not at all sure how he was managing to lie on his torn up back like that, but supposing the beneficial effects of having eaten the liver must be outweighing nearly everything for him else just then. After a time she lay down beside him, stretching out in the sun and watching the wind dance in the spruce tops overhead. It looked like they just might be spending the night there, after all…
Or not. Several minutes later Einar woke as an especially strong gust of wind caused a tree-shadow to pass across his face, held himself perfectly still for one full startled second, only his eyes moving as he took in the scene around him and then--no threat detected, aside from his own inexcusable laziness and Liz’s apparent decision not to wake him--he was on his feet, reeling a bit at the catch and burn of his ribs with that first big breath and heading over to the cooling carcass of the bear.