27 June, 2011

27 June 2011

One of Liz’s loads that evening had consisted almost entirely of the thick white layers of fat which were to have supported the bear through his long hibernation, and the forty or so pounds of the stuff that now lay piled neatly on clean rock slabs along one wall of the cabin represented arguably the most valuable portion of the entire animal, when it came to their survival that winter. The fat would provide their bodies a tremendous amount of warmth and energy when added to their otherwise lean and potentially meager winter fare of dried meat, berries and the occasional fresh rabbit or other small mammal, and could, in addition, be used to condition and waterproof buckskin garments and boots, protect their own skin from the ravages of the sub-zero winds that would be all too common at that elevation through the winter months and be burned for light and heat in the cabin, if need be. For the fat to last through the remaining warm weather of the fall without becoming rancid--would still make fine lamp fuel and utility oil at that point, but would be very difficult and not terribly healthy to eat--it would need to be rendered down, heated over the fire or in pans of warm water to stabilize it and poured off into vessels of one sort or another for storage. The job seemed to Liz an ideal one for Einar to tackle that following morning, as it would both keep him busy with a necessary and productive task, and keep him relatively still there in the cabin so his ribs could begin healing, or at least avoid further damage, and as she put the finishing touches on her modifications to the bed and helped him into it, she began working to convince him of the wisdom of her plan.

Einar did not take much convincing, nodding as he rolled over, got with some difficulty to his hands and knees--would have been able to move a good bit more freely if he’d let her wrap his ribs for the night, but he had insisted they be left free so he could concentrate on taking some deep breaths; he’d have little choice but to wrap them for the activities of the coming day, and knew his lungs needed all the opportunity they could get to fully inflate, during the stillness of the night--and joined Liz in the bed.

“Got to be done, so guess I’d might as well do it. The fat rendering. Want to…be able to help you flesh out that hide too, but as long as you won’t object to me coming out there to…do some scraping in the morning, I’ll spend…rest of the day taking care of the fat. Get it done.” With which, exhausted and out of breath, he checked one final time to make sure his spear and knife were where they belonged right beside the bed, lowered himself into it and closed his eyes. Through for the day. A good day. More tomorrow…

That night Liz lay watching him try to sleep, breaths shallow, face pinched white with pain and seemingly no relief in sight for him--every breath appeared to be agony, even though he seemed some time ago to have given up on taking deep ones and lapsed back into the pattern of rapid, shallow breaths that hurt him least--and after a while she could hardly stand seeing him like that anymore, just wished she could make it stop, give him some rest one way or another. Perhaps give him a solid blow in the head with the rabbit stick and knock him out for a while, and she might have tried it had she not been so afraid that he might stop breathing altogether if he lost consciousness that way. So she stuck to watching, occasionally dabbing away the sweat that stood out on his face and offering him water whenever he seemed awake enough to take it, but for the most part he looked to be off in his own world somewhere, not quite asleep--hurt too much to sleep--but definitely not existing in the present, either, eyes strange and distant as he stared up at the flickering firelight shadows on the ceiling. She just hoped the dream world that appeared to have such a firm hold on him would not prove the sort that had so often in the past sent him jumping to his feet in pursuit of some imaginary foe or other, as sudden movement of any type seemed a very bad idea for him that night.

Fortunately for Liz--and Einar too, though he certainly would not have thought so at the time--his dreams were such that he believed himself quite securely bound, might have fought it, struggled to get free, had not the entirety of his energy and focus been consumed by the struggle to go on breathing, but it was, and he kept still, staring at the ceiling and plotting his escape. Finally, believing there was little more she could do for him that night, Liz slept, one hand on Einar’s chest so she could feel his breathing as she slept, make sure nothing changed dramatically for him in the night. She would have liked to hold him, both for warmth--hard as he tried to hide it, she could tell that he had never quite warmed up from his long time of stillness guarding the meat while she ran back and forth to the cabin--and to give herself a better way to monitor his condition, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it without hurting his ribs further, and wasn’t sure it would have been safe, anyway, not with the dreams he appeared to be having. She could only imagine that they mustn’t be pleasant ones…

Too long. They’d left him too long hanging there, body contorted and tied into an impossible position that severely restricted respiration and left him feeling as though he was literally fighting for his life with every breath…had kept him that way for hours at a time in the past, he had no idea how many hours, time loses all meaning after a few minutes of that and becomes a very fluid, slippery thing, difficult to track even for a tracker such as himself, even if one is looking for signs, searching desperately for some way to measure and mark its passage in a last-ditch attempt to hang onto what is left of one’s sanity, give one’s self some hope--any hope--that the thing would come to an end…eventually…but he knew without doubt that never before had they left him through an entire night. Not until now. He could make out through the closely-placed slats of his enclosure the faint grey of approaching morning, and he strained his ears for any sign that people might be stirring in the camp outside, might be about to come and make some change in his situation--any change at all would have been welcome, then--but hearing nothing. Nothing but the wind in the trees. Nothing changing. Perhaps they intended to leave him like that all day. See how long it would take to finish him off. At what point he would finally stop breathing. He doubted it. Knew they weren’t through with him, yet. Wouldn’t be through until he gave them what they wanted. This will end. Just keep breathing

No relief in sight as the light strengthened outside--was dark there in his little cage, far darker than he remembered it being, as if the walls had somehow grown thicker, and he wondered if perhaps his keepers had thrown something over them in an attempt to deprive him of all contact with the outside world, bring him more quickly to the place of despair and brokenness that was surely their goal for him--he wanted to allow himself to pass out, had been very close to doing it a few times during the night, but sensing that he might not have the strength to go on breathing if he managed to detach his conscious mind from the process--not deeply enough to allow himself to wake again, anyway, which for some reason he did still very much want to do--he’d fought the blackness whenever it tried to well up and take him, managed to stay awake, and as he watched daylight brighten outside, he struggled once more to keep himself aware. Long night. Glad it was over. More than once during the dark hours he’d got to feeling as though he couldn’t take it anymore, not for another second, the white-hot, splintering hurt of it in his wrists, ankles, shoulders, in his lungs whenever he struggled to take in air, the near-panic at feeling himself growing too weak to be certain of his ability to force another such breath--it was all very nearly too much for him. He might have tried to bargain with them, offer them something, but they never did show up, left him there alone all night long, and though he wanted to call for them--wanted it so badly that morning that the words were right there at the tip of his tongue, ready to come out--he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Was able to resist taking that step, so knew that he must. And did. One more time. Closed his eyes again so as to devote his entire concentration once more to his breathing, and the next time he opened them, it was to the sight of Liz’s face.


  1. I really hope you get this published some day. thank you for the great chapter!

  2. Woooooh Kelli, can you imagain what a big job it would be to edit this story? Hooooooooo my. LOL

    Thanks FOTH

  3. Anonymous27 June, 2011

    Wonderful as usual FOTH.

  4. Anonymous28 June, 2011

    Sometimes 'wish' I was able to go out and just spend some time living in the hills like this...... but without the dreams.

  5. Kellie--thanks. It's probably too long to interest any publisher, at this point!

    Anonymous said... "Sometimes 'wish' I was able to go out and just spend some time living in the hills like this...... but without the dreams."

    Einar would prefer it without the dreams, too, but if a person's going to have them, better out there than in "civilization." Hope you can find some time to get out in the hills, soon.