Susan did not use her back porch very much in the winter, might not have gone out there for days had it not been for the fresh snow she needed to shovel, and when she made her way out to begin on the task the next morning, she was almost certain that Einar was gone. He was purple, stiff, face obviously frostbitten, and she couldn’t find a pulse when she tried. Liz seemed in much better shape, warm and by all appearances asleep wrapped in the bear hide, and when Susan began moving Einar, rolling him as gently as she could to the side and preparing to haul him inside, Liz woke. Jumped to her feet, glanced from Einar to Susan and back again, and began crying. Stopped in a hurry, took Einar’s feet--what happened to your boot? And on your left foot, too. You’ll have frozen some more toes, it looks like--and helped Susan get him inside, both moving carefully and trying their best not to jar him, knowing any such rough treatment had the potential to send his heart into a dangerously irregular rhythm and possibly even stop it, cold as he must be. Which he was, core temperature down to eighty six degrees when Susan finally got around to checking, and realized the situation was somewhat beyond her ability to handle, beyond the scope of her experience, at least, but never let on to Liz, who didn’t look to be doing so well, herself. Susan recognized in her all the signs of advancing preeclampsia, a potentially very dangerous condition that could lead to serious consequences for both mother and baby--up to and including the death of them both--if not treated. Which Susan did know something of how to do, got Liz cleaned up and warm and gave her a rich bowl of beef stew, trying to talk her into lying down and only succeeding when she agreed to let her crawl into the bed next to Einar, whose body she was working slowly and carefully to bring back up to a temperature that could support life…
Liz helped for a time, changing hot water bottles and monitoring his heart rate--terribly slow and weak; it had been slow for a good while, a result, she had known, of his eating so little and remaining badly malnourished, but it was at the moment so slow she could barely detect it and then she couldn’t anymore, his face going a deeper purple than it had been from the cold and Susan was rushing in all hurried and businesslike, pushing her aside and doing CPR, trying to bring him back while Liz did the breaths, and it all seemed to go on for a very long time, too long, and then they stopped, exhausted, half an hour, Susan said, and no sign of a heartbeat; he’s gone, Lizzie, he’s gone… But she wouldn’t hear it, wouldn’t have it, started again, stopped after a few minutes, couldn’t go on and laid her head on his chest…only to hear a faint heartbeat, another; stay with us Einar--stay! And he did, but did not wake, for hours he did not wake as Susan and Liz worked carefully to finish the rewarming process, knowing they must but at the same time afraid to overdo it, further stress his heart. Warm. Finally he was warm, body temperature normal, or close to it--ninety five or ninety six degrees was a pretty good range for him, actually, Liz explained to her; he seldom got warmer than that, these days, just didn’t have the extra energy to spare on heat production, and Susan did not at all doubt it, seeing how little fat or…anything…he had on him--but still he did not wake. Despite the fact that Susan was pretty sure she’d accidentally broken a rib or two in the process of working to revive him--she’d felt a crunch, but had been unable to stop, as his heart still hadn’t been beating on its own yet at the time--and she wondered if part of his trouble might not be due to the extreme dehydration from which he appeared to be suffering, skin sunken and not the least bit elastic when she tested it, gently pinching and then smoothing down the “tent” of skin that stood up alarmingly dry and pale there on his arm. He needed hydration, needed it in a hurry and she went to the cabinet down in the basement where she kept most of her medical supplies, returned with all the supplies to start an IV.
Liz said no, insisted that Einar wouldn’t like it, would never agree to any such thing and Susan must not do it without his consent. Susan was insistent, firm with her, didn’t want to lose Einar but dreaded even more what such a loss would do to Liz at the moment, and to her baby…she’d have a difficult enough time going to term as it was, the way things were looking.
“It doesn’t matter, Liz! Doesn’t matter whether or not he’d like it. He’s going to die if he doesn’t get some serious hydration, soon, and I don’t know of any other way to do it.”
After which Liz lay there with him in the bed, propping up his head and dripping drops of her own rehydration drink--a solution of baking soda, salt, sugar and orange juice Susan had mixed up for her--into his mouth, and much to Susan’s amazement she saw him swallowing after a time despite being unconscious. Watching, she realized that Liz must have done it before, must have done something similar, or she wouldn’t have known such a thing was possible, and she shook her head at the fresh realization of the difficulty the two of them must have endured together, out there. Please don’t take him now, Lord. Not just yet, not after all that… Seeing that Liz’s method was working Susan brought her an eye dropper and later an irrigation syringe to make the task easier, and Liz kept at it until she’d slowly got two quarts of the solution into him, but still Einar did not wake. Susan, watching him, began to fear that perhaps he had sustained permanent injury from the lack of oxygen when his heart stopped, knew there was little they could do for him--short of medical intervention that was far beyond the scope of possibility considering the situation--other than to wait, watch, pray and keep him hydrated and nourished as well as they were able. Which they did, alternating shifts so that someone was always with him, Susan arranging things so that Liz got plenty of chance to sleep and keep off her feet as she so badly needed to do if the baby was to make it to term.
Early on the morning of the fourth day Susan was sitting with Einar to give Liz a break and a night’s sleep when he began showing some signs of possibly being near waking, writhing and twisting so in his dreams that he nearly fell off the bed, hit Susan in the face when she went to help him and wanting to prevent him from further hurting himself--or her, or Liz; especially Liz, who would certainly insist upon staying there with him in the bed as soon as she heard of his attempts at wakefulness--she tied his arms at the sides of the bed, gently, wrapping his wrists several times with wide flannel cloth strips so as to avoid injuring him when he flailed. Daylight would be coming in a few hours; time to mix up another batch of the broth with which they’d been feeding him every three hours, and Susan left the room, certain that the ties would prevent Einar’s falling from the bed…
Scared. Didn’t know where he was, hardly knew what he was but knew he needed out of there, and then he remembered, it all came flooding back to him, the fetid stench of that water, lapping, lapping at the stilts beneath the cramped confines of his little cage, ribs hard-pressed and hurting terribly against the ridges of bamboo beneath him and his wrists…they were tied, and he knew why, knew they’d be back soon and had no doubt what they’d be doing to him…only this time they wouldn’t, because he was leaving, breaking out and taking the guard and leaving and before he knew it he had torn himself free, smashing the back wall out of the cage--strange; he didn’t remember the bamboo of the walls being painted white like that, and what were those strange carvings, knobs and twists and such…no time to think about it, no time to wonder--and slipping down behind it, grabbing up one of its ruined pieces, an improvised weapon…
Susan, climbing the stairs with her freshly brewed batch of broth, heard the commotion, hurried in to find Einar crouched in the corner beside the window, which he’d somehow managed to open, unclothed, shivering and clearly terrified, wooden spoke from the largely demolished headboard of the bed in one hand, a weapon of opportunity, and she wanted to go to him but was warned away by the terrible glazed look in his eyes as he glanced from her to the dormer window and back again, shaking the spoke in her direction and leaving her with no doubt as to what would happen should she attempt to move any nearer, and she didn’t, instead hurrying downstairs to Liz. Turning on a light in her room. Waking her.
“I hate to disturb you, but I think you need to come…”
Liz was out of bed in an instant. “Is he awake?”
“Yes, he’s awake, he’s on his feet and clearly pretty confused, frightened, and I think part of it may be my fault…he wouldn’t quit flailing earlier tonight, almost fell off the bed and then hit me when I went to help him--it was an accident, he wasn’t awake, but after that I tied his arms at the sides of the bed…”
“Oh no, no…you shouldn’t have!” Liz cried, starting up the stairs. “Einar was…he was captured a long time ago, held for a week tied in a little cage in the jungle and he still has terrible nightmares about it, so when he woke like that…”
“Liz, I didn’t know.”
“Neither did I, until a few months ago.”
“I’m so sorry. We’d better get back up there pretty fast, because the way he was staring at that window I think he had it in his mind as a way to escape, and it’s a long way down…”
They returned to the bedroom, Susan waiting just outside and Liz entering, cautiously, speaking, not wanting to alarm him, but there was no answer, and when she eased her way further into the room, it was to discover Einar standing wild-eyed and barefoot out on the snowy roof, clinging with a white-knuckled grasp to the window frame as he struggled to keep his footing on the steep, slick metal. He didn’t appear to recognize her, wouldn’t respond to her voice, glanced quickly behind him as she took a cautious step closer, pushed off from the window frame, a very deliberate, controlled act, slid a few feet and in an instant disappeared into the blackness below. One glance out the window and Liz was running, pushing her way past Susan in the hall and dashing down the stairs, out through the front door and around the greenhouse, flashlight in hand and Susan close behind her, reaching the spot badly out of breath. He was gone.
There was blood on the snow where Einar had landed, a heavy smear of red fading to pink where he had broken through the icy crust several inches beneath the night’s fresh snowfall but he wasn’t there, had somehow managed to get up and take off running into the woods out behind the greenhouse, bloody, barefoot tracks already beginning to disappear beneath the wind-driven swirl of the storm. Liz, rising, could not ignore the tightness in her belly, the pressing ache at her back and she knew it was the baby, told it to wait, would have to wait, it was too soon, and they had to find Einar…but the baby wasn’t waiting, and Susan led her unwillingly back into the house…