Along with the frigid air being admitted to the cabin a beam of sunlight angled in through the open door and lit it for the first time since they’d blown out the candles, giving Liz light by which to work and she took full advantage of it, knowing that once the sun left they would once again be plunged into darkness as Einar closed the door to prevent the warmth of their bodies leaking out and being spotted from the air. Assuming we’re still radiating heat by that point! I’m a little concerned that Einar may not be, if he goes on taking off the parka and sitting in the cold every chance he gets. Goofy guy, he’s been freezing all morning, and now here he is sitting right in front of the door with the parka under him instead of on top where it might actually do some good. No point concealing our presence if we have to be dead and cold in order to do it…
Einar, quite oblivious to Liz’s silent musings, also used the brightness to his benefit, sitting in the stream of weak, heavily angled sunlight that poured in through the door, sorting atlatl darts and the arrows for Liz’s bow, checking each to see that their heads were firmly attached, feathers in place and adding here and there a bit of chewed, softened sinew when he thought one of them needed a bit of touching up. On to the spear then, which was in fine shape as always but still he inspected it, taking out his knife after that and sharpening it, moving on to Liz’s, thinking all the while that much as he’d come to rely on these primitive weapons, there were times when he really would prefer a grenade launcher and a big sack of C-4... Not that such weapons would be likely to do them too much good should the enemy come upon them unawares up there in the snowy fastness of the basin, but it’s always good to have options, and he simply wished for one or two which didn’t involve yet another way to throw a sharpened stick. He grinned through chattering teeth, shook his head and returned to the inspection. Nothing wrong with sharpened sticks, served us pretty well so far out here, and they’re an awful lot quieter than some of those more…energetic options, anyway.
Having been intently focused on the weapons before him Einar noticed how cold he’d become only when his hands finally quit working for the last time--sun was gone from the door, angle changed and a stiff breeze pushing its way past him into the cabin--fingers like claws and the meager heat absorbed by repeated pressings to his stomach no longer enough to warm them back to usefulness, and he rose, stumbling, catching himself and bracing his hands against both sides of the door jamb as he shuffled and stomped, attempting to generate some heat. Wasn’t working too well, legs all swollen and weak as they’d been the day before, threatening to give out on him and cramping so that he could barely raise them after a while, let alone move quickly enough to generate a useful amount of heat. Not good, and beginning to grow a bit more desperate than he would have liked to admit--couldn’t feel his feet anymore; things were getting away from him and he had to find a way to warm himself--he lay down on the floor and began doing sit-ups, and they worked to some extent, warmed him a bit but at the same time hurt his still-healing ribs so badly that he soon found himself struggling to breathe past the pain, teeth gritted, tears streaming down his face and arms crossed hard against his chest, and before he had time to really begin growing warm Liz--who had been busy preparing food to set aside for their meals that day--stopped him, helped him sit up and held him as he fought to catch his breath.
“What are you doing? You’re hurting yourself…”
“Need to…get moving. Sat still too long but my legs won’t.. .and I’m freezing.”
“Of course you are!” Something’s broken in your brain, Einar, something not working right if it’s any mystery to you why you’re freezing right now, or what needs to be done about it… “What do you think, can we shut the door now? I think the temperature’s about the same inside as out right now, and it would be really helpful if we could shut that wind out.”
Einar nodded, helped her with the door. Darkness. Not so bad once their eyes adjusted; bits of light coming in through the cracks--got to fix those cracks--and the absence of the wind was indeed helpful, left the place feeling instantly a bit warmer. A rustling in the dimness, Einar crawling over to the mostly finished back door, moving it aside and creeping into the tunnel, Liz following. His breathing was still ragged, irregular; she wanted to get him under a hide, and eating. Only way to get warm under their current circumstances, especially with his difficulty exercising enough to produce heat.
“You’re going to finish the tunnel?”
“Yeah. Need a way to get outside without leaving tracks all over the clearing. Lots more trees back there. Plus want it functional in case we need to leave that way…”
“I’ll help.” She crawled up beside him, digging with her hands at the remaining layer of duff and old aspen leaves, shoving the freed material behind her in the tunnel until at last daylight began showing, Einar putting a hand on her arm, wait, let me finish. Carefully then he eased a hand out into the daylight, pulling insulation back into the tunnel so as to prevent its tumbling out onto the snow, bits of whiteness falling in after it.
“Well, here we are. Back door. May get a little snow drifting into the tunnel from time to time, but with the cliff right back here and all these trees, doesn’t look like it’ll be much. Not even very deep out here. Guess we might be smart to move the location of the outhouse to somewhere nearer this door for the winter, in case we get flyovers like this from time to time and have to end up using the back door more often than the front.”
“With the way the snow’s so sparse back here, I’m thinking this may be the door we end up using more often, regardless of air activity. Even though we do have to crawl in and out of it!”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Know it can’t be too easy with little Snorri making it more awkward for you to move, but we really needed the small entrance to help keep all our heat from leaking out. All we got to do now is finish the door, and I’ll eventually make another to put on the outside of the tunnel to create more of a stable air pocket in there, insulate us even better.”
“Yes. But speaking of all our heat leaking out, it looks like that’s just about happened to you by now in this cold, so how about we take a break now that the back door’s about done, have a little snack and see if we can get warm?”
Not necessary, Einar wanted to tell her, but already she was retreating back through the tunnel, crawling backwards, pulling him along and he didn’t want to resist, difficult as he knew movement must be for her in the first place, in that confined space. Back in the cabin Einar got the door in place and then sat silent for a full minute as Liz prepared their snack, listening, hoping not to hear anything in the sky and he didn’t, relieved, nearly falling asleep there with his head bowed and numbed hands tucked beneath his arms in search of a bit of warmth, but not finding it. Liz had to work hard to rouse him when she returned with the snack, rubbing his hands and speaking to him without response--finding, in the process, the better part of his breakfast all tucked away in his shirt pocket--and finally getting a reaction from him only when she grabbed him beneath the arms in an attempt to move him nearer the bed where she could get a bear hide over him. Ribs jolting him back to awareness Einar rolled away from Liz, got to hands and knees and crouched as well as he could with his back to the wall, blinking in the dimness and trying to figure out just what might be going on. Head felt all heavy and confused, balance uncertain and he wondered if he might have fallen asleep. Knew, in a dim, disconnected way, that he’d allowed himself to get into some trouble with the cold, figured he’d better find a way pretty quickly to do something about it or at least to let Liz know that he might need a reminder or two but he couldn’t seem to find the words, went on sitting there. Liz, well aware of the problem already, didn’t need words, was already working to drag the bear hide over where he crouched, as she couldn’t seem to get him to respond to her pleas to make his way to the bed.
The bear hide was heavy and Einar, sinking further into the hypothermic haze which had been very nearly inevitable for him that day given the conditions and his sometimes only half-rational stubbornness, turned into a moving target, scooting away whenever Liz got close with the wrap and refusing to allow her to drape it over him--didn’t want to be weighed down , slowed down, delayed should that chopper return and he need to act, at least that was what he told himself--and after a time she had to give up, herself wrapping up in the hide for a spell of warming and a snack. So the remainder of the day passed, Einar silent and unreachable, listening, dozing, dreaming and more glad than he could have expressed that they seemed to be getting away without further trouble after that flyover. Day was going well, very well indeed…
Liz did not agree. Things didn’t seem to her to be working too well at all despite the welcome silence in the skies, Einar in a constant and apparently worsening state of hypothermia as he consistently refused to stay in bed or even to wrap up in a bear hide, chilled and slow and for the most part too far gone to even realize it, insisting whenever she asked that he was just fine, wasn’t hungry, but she kept trying, pressing him to eat the strips of raw sheep, bearfat and soaked chokecherries mixed with cold globs of honey that were sustaining her and could him, too, if only he’d make more of an effort, realize that it was necessary…