Morning brought a clearing of the skies and its attendant drop in temperatures, coating everything with a frost that would have sweetened the chokecherries had not the snow already done so. Einar woke to the unexpected and--after the past few days--somewhat foreign sensation of warmth, the almost entire absence of pain, lay there with his eyes half open watching the light strengthen through the gap above the door and gathering himself to rise from the bed, knowing that everything would begin hurting again as soon as he moved, ribs, foot, legs that had been cramping so badly on those last several hundred feet of the climb; for the moment, everything was quiet, and, a great weariness on him, he found himself more content than he would have liked to lie still and allow it to remain so. He could see from the condition of the spruce boughs just outside the cabin clearing that several more inches of snow had fallen in the night, enough, he expected, to have thoroughly obscured any visible sign they had left in their return to the basin, and he was glad.
Made it out of that one, looks like. We get another chance to stay here, and had better not mess this one up, because it’s getting awfully late in the year. Well. This snow ought to have gone a long way towards driving the elk and such down out of the high country, and the hunters with them. Which is both good and bad news for us, gonna make it more of a struggle to get ahold of the meat we still need but I’d say that’ll be more than made up for by the fact that we’ll be mostly alone while we do it. May not get that second bear I was really hoping for, now that this snow has come. It’ll melt off real quick, probably be gone in a day or two if the sun stays out, but a lot of times the bruins take this kind of thing as a sign that it’s time to hole up for the winter. Awfully early right now, though. Bet they’ll take it as a sign that they need to do a couple weeks worth of frantic day-and-night eating, instead. Which means we’ll have to really watch the place here, so it doesn’t become too tempting a target.
Hmm. “Frantic day-and-night eating.” Sounds like something I really ought to be doing, too, because even though I don’t plan on hibernating, the winter sure would be easier if I had just a bit more meat on my bones, a little fat to insulate things, maybe. These past couple days got a little scary at times, or would have if I’d been willing to admit it. Which I wasn’t, ’cause I was too busy just keeping myself going and trying not to leave tracks, which is probably just as well… Just don’t have any energy reserves built up, can’t stay warm out there in this kind of weather unless you’re moving constantly, and you know you’re dangerously close to not having the strength to do that, a lot of times. Just a fact of life, and one you can’t keep dodging indefinitely, here, hard as you may try. Cold’s gonna end up taking you if I don’t watch it, winterkill, a fine way to go, maybe--sure can think of lots of worse ones--but not right now. Not this winter, with the little one on the way... Huh. You certainly are one cheerful critter this morning, aren’t you, Einar? Real hopeful outlook on life. How about getting up and having some breakfast, instead of lying here declaring yourself future winterkill like some sick rabbit or half starved, snowbound deer…yep, there’s an idea. Breakfast! Sheep stew with serviceberries, bear fat, honey, could be eating that within half an hour, once I get the fire going. Kinda hate to wake Liz, though, hate to…
He yawned, let his eyes drift closed again, still somewhat reluctant to move and disturb the unaccustomed peace and comfort of the morning, and he might have gone back to sleep then had it not been for a vague and growing sense of dread that prickled up his spine and set his scalp to tingling, fingers aching, twisted something up tight inside of him and left him wanting to jump up out of bed and take off running for the woods with his knife at the ready. Wanted to push it aside, all of it, tell himself to let it go, relax--it’s just the hunger, got you all on edge again, spooky, hearing things that aren’t really there--but he knew better, rolled away from Liz and got to his feet a good bit more nimbly than he would have thought himself able, paid for it the next moment in the cramping of his legs and a stabbing pain in his side--needed to wrap those ribs again--but hardly noticed, all of his attention on the thing that had got him up in the first place, unidentified threat given a name in the faint but growing hum of a small plane. Wanted to shove away the snow that held shut the door and flee into the trees but he restrained himself, no tracks out there right now and it needs to stay that way, hurried instead to the stove and pushed aside the granite slab they’d been using as a door and checked the coals, cold, good, won’t be making any smoke, sure glad we hadn’t already got a fire going for breakfast, real good thing, and then the plane was on top of them, Einar crouching at the door as it buzzed low and slow over the treetops from one end of the basin to the other, circling, seeming to pass directly over the cabin before dropping down into the valley and making its departure.
Liz had heard the plane too by that point, was by Einar’s side, wrapping the deer hide around his already cold-trembling shoulders and trying to talk him into returning to the warmth of the bed, but he wouldn’t hear of it, flung off the hide for emphasis and came very close to taking off barefoot into the new snow, restrained only by the knowledge that the plane could be back, and he must not leave tracks. Trapped. Couldn’t leave, mustn’t stay, his worst fear come to be, coming to be, he’d been right all along, should have had them up and out of there, fled while they still had the chance, and in that instant all the change that had seemed to take place in him since his last encounter with Bud Kilgore fell away, the wild creature returning, the man who knew that he must struggle for every moment of his existence, fight, that to trust was to die, or worse, the slightest relaxation in his vigilance leading to certain capture, and Liz saw, knew, feared for him in its presence. For them both. Had to try and reach him before he went too far down that path, down into the darkness where she could not follow. Especially important if that plane did prove to be a threat to them. She put a hand on his arm, got between him and the door where he couldn’t help but look at her, see her. See me. Stay with me. You must. But he wouldn’t meet her eye.
“Was it green and white?”
Einar jumped as if startled to hear her speak. “What?”
“The plane. Was it green and white?”
A moment of confusion, Einar shaking his head, and she repeated her question. That time he got it. “Didn’t see. Didn’t want to open the door, mess up the snow and make us more visible. Should have used the snow last night to cover our tracks, clear out of here while we had the chance and leave this place way behind us before they could…”
“Green and white. You know, like the one that belongs to Bud Kilgore’s pilot friend…it was probably either that--you know he’ll be wondering what’s happening with us , how we’re handling this early snow…Susan will wonder, anyway--or somebody checking on friends who were out hunting when the storm hit, and haven’t returned yet…”
“Yeah. Or the feds following up on what they saw on those cameras. And I don’t want anybody wondering what’s happening with us. Coming to check…I mean what kind of a doggone fool…that’s our business, and no one else’s. I told Kilgore to keep away from here.”
“And since when has he listened to you, or anyone else?”
Einar growled, pressed himself up against the door until he could see out through the crack above it--lot of cold air pouring in through that crack, he needed to do something about it, and soon--stood for several minutes watching the unchanging snowy landscape of the clearing, listening for the return of the plane, but hearing nothing. “Kilgore, huh? Did have the sound of one of those little DeHavillands, come to think of it. Could have been him.”
Liz’s sigh of relief was almost audible, but she did not yet trust it, the apparent change in his demeanor, was fairly certain that he would have still taken off into the timber in his bare feet without a second thought, had it not been for the inconvenient little matter of needing so badly not to leave tracks. And he didn’t seem willing to come away from the door or put on any clothes, either, steadfastly maintaining his observation of the clearing and appearing as though he was determined to go on doing so until he was frozen quite solid. Well. At least she could perhaps do something about that part of it. “Einar, come on, you’re turning purple, here. Come sit down for a while and get warm, while I make breakfast. We could both use some breakfast.”