Einar decidedly did not think it was a good idea for him to remain virtually immobile in the cabin for the rest of the day while Liz stretched the hide and began the work of turning the massive quantity of bear meat that graced the trees in and around the clearing into the jerky that would help sustain them through the winter. He thought, in fact, that any such indulgence on his part would represent nothing less than a terrible negligence. Which was why Liz, though sorry to see him suffering so and still somewhat concerned about his ability to go on securing himself enough oxygen--wished, in fact, that she had some way to give him supplemental oxygen, keep him confined to a bed and feed him constantly for a few days, though she knew he’d never go for that, even if she’d had the means--could not help but regard his breathing difficulties as a bit of a blessing, at the same time. In effectively limiting his movements, they accomplished what she could not herself hope to do. Einar fought the limitations, alright, doggedly forcing himself to his feet every so often and tending to one thing or another outside as if simply to assure himself that he was still capable of doing it, helping Liz stretch the hide or lower another section of meat so she could begin slicing and drying jerky, but between the fights were long periods of stillness, enforced hypoxic respites during which Einar was doing well to be able to keep himself conscious, let alone mobile.
Coming out of his involuntary rest periods, and before venturing outside once more--had to wait a few minutes, longer each time, it seemed, or he’d simply find himself passed out on the floor once more, and what was the point to that?--he would work on the bear fat, rendering down a pot or two of it on the stove by floating lumps and globs of raw fat in the near-boiling water until they were liquefied and began to separate, impurities falling away and leaving a clean oil floating on the top which he skimmed off and poured into the baskets Liz had previously prepared for just such a purpose, tightly woven willow coated internally with spruce pitch. There weren’t nearly enough baskets to hold the entirety of the fat with which the creature had provided them, and as he knew Liz would hardly have time to make ten or twelve more of them while working full time to turn the meat into jerky before it could begin spoiling, Einar began sorting through the woodpile in search of a log he could turn into a large coal-burned vessel for holding a portion of the rendered fat. Nothing too promising, all of the logs understandably small in diameter, having been broken and carried by Liz during her forays up to the spring for water. Well. Just have to find one outside, trim it down to length with the axe and roll it in here so I can start working on something to hold what’s gonna be left of the fat when I get all of these baskets filled. Which it looks like I’ll be doing on the next batch, most likely. Going pretty quickly. Ha! Guess I am good for something, after all… But had better be good for more than ideas, he told himself as he tried but failed to rise, a great dizziness knocking him back to the floor at his first attempt, had better be good for some action, too, and pretty quick here, because you’re almost out of places to put this rendered fat.
Back on his feet then, using the wall for support and nearly placing a flat-palmed left hand on the stove to steady himself before realizing his mistake and allowing it to rest against the wall, as well. Close call. Would have been a bad burn, and in a rather unfortunate place. Got to pay more attention here, Einar. Which is difficult to do when one is having to fight so hard for each new infusion of oxygen, ribs catching and burning and turning the simple act of breathing into a major test of one’s endurance, but Einar knew he wouldn’t be getting far without a major accident of one sort or another if he didn’t find a way to keep himself a bit sharper, just a bit more fully in the present. He knew a way, knew but didn’t have to resort to it, not that time, as his full attention was presently commanded by a strong and growing sense of imminent doom that had been creeping up on him over the course of the past several minutes. He’d taken the feeling at first as another reaction to his ongoing shortage of oxygen, some unconscious mechanism by which his body was trying very hard to tell him that there was a problem, that he’d better quit ignoring the problem, but as he stood there braced against the walls, feeling the approaching vibrations through the logs, he knew it was more than that.
Quick. Had to act quickly, reached over and pounded on the sliding stone that stuck out from the chimney at shoulder height, his crude attempt at giving the stove a damper closing it with one good solid whack with the heel of his hand and at the same time pushing closed the stove’s sliding stone door. A start, it was a good start but wasn’t enough, and he was out the door, elbow pressed to his side against the pain of the ribs and his breath catching in his throat, gagging him, which didn’t even seem possible, so maybe it was just the hurt of the thing that was making him gag, but in any case he ignored it, had to ignore it as he scrambled up onto the roof and put in place the large flat stone he’d left sitting beside the chimney for just such a purpose. The chopper was close by then, by the time he’d stopped up the chimney and all but eliminated the danger of smoke escaping, and when Einar got to his feet there on the roof and quickly scanned the cabin clearing, the woods and basin beyond, he was greatly relieved at the discovery that he could not see a haze of smoke hanging over the area. The wood he’d been using to render down the fat had been very dry, would not betray them.
Time to get under cover. The thing was almost on top of him, and Einar rolled off the roof, throwing himself down behind the cabin where he lay panting in the deep, springy accumulation of spruce needles and aspen leaves that he’d earlier heaped there in an attempt to begin insulating the place, uninjured but in so much pain that he could have easily been convinced otherwise. Breathing too fast. He was breathing way too fast at the sound of the thing, the thought of it hovering there above him, the necessarily unanswered animal instinct to take off running for the timber, to crouch there until the thing came into sight and then to do his best to bring it down, and he struggled to slow his breaths a bit lest he pass out from the hurt of it and fail to fully observe the actions of the thundering intruder, a full knowledge of which might later prove crucial. Success, more or less; he stayed awake as the Blackhawk thundered over the cabin, certain that he was concealed from view by the heavy timber overhead and catching only a glimpse of the great beast through the aspens as it dropped down into the basin. Liz, he could only hope and pray, was equally well concealed.
The Blackhawk did not circle back, continuing instead up along the far wall of the basin, skimming the exposed bulwarks of red sandstone that stood out just above the spot where the last scrawny island of sub alpine firs dwindled to ground mats and then to nothing, no more than fifty feet off the ground as it banked sharply, climbing up the ridge to the higher one above, where in time it disappeared into the vast bowl of fractured red rock down on the far side, its sound suddenly vanishing as it dropped below the ridgeline. Einar waited a count of twenty, then one more, still struggling to slow his breaths and still the pounding of his heart so he might be able to hear the first indication that the chopper was returning, but it never did, and after a time he got to his feet and climbed stiffly over the spruce stake and woven willow barrier that held the two and a half feet of insulating material which had broken his fall from the roof.
Liz. He had to find her, make sure she hadn’t been seen, and it seemed she must have had the same thought--similar, but not exactly the same, as her concern revolved far more around what Einar’s reaction might be to the presence of the chopper; she knew he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be spotted--because just as he rounded the corner of the cabin there she was, skirting around the clearing in the timber, steps away from him. She looked somewhat alarmed, and Einar hurried to her, suddenly fearful that she might have believed herself seen, had, perhaps, left a jerky rack or a rock with some partially sliced meat out in the open, visible to any who might be on the lookout for signs of human presence. Which was not at all her concern; she had been diligent, quickly moving the jerky racks beneath their assigned trees and herself crouching against one of their trunks until the menace had passed. Einar himself was the source of her alarm, that wild look in his eyes and the faint blue tinge around his mouth speaking to a potentially dangerous lack of oxygen, and she hoped very much that he hadn’t further injured himself trying to get away from that chopper… Not that he would be likely at all to answer her questions on the matter or let her examine him, not until they’d talked out the possible meaning of the aircraft’s sudden appearance, and she crouched beside him, steadying hand on his arm when he appeared ready to topple to the side after a moment of stillness.
“You…keep out of sight? Meat and racks and all out of sight?”
“I was fine. Got everything under the trees just like we’d talked about. They won’t have seen a thing.”
He nodded, stared blankly at the sky for a minute and scrubbed a hand across his eyes, struggling to his feet. “Need to find a log to…store some of that fat. No more room in the baskets. Have to…wait for dark now to render any more, wait till then to burn out the log, too, but need to have it ready. Maybe you can…help me find a log, haul it back here?”
Liz was of course more than willing to help Einar find and move the log, but something was wrong, something very much unlike him in his minimal response to the helicopter--he seemed to have dismissed it already, gone on with his day--and she hesitated to bring the matter up at all when he seemed to have moved on to other things, but knew she had better get to the bottom of it before they went wandering off together in search of the perfect bearfat-holding log.
A basin very much like Einar and Liz's. Picture their cabin on one of those little rock shelves over on the left, about halfway up, hidden in the timber.
And a few photos from my wanderings over the last several days:
Edge of the world...
Sunrise in the high country...
Surrounded by peaks...