Kilgore couldn’t smell any storm coming in and neither could Susan, but Liz knew exactly what Einar was talking about--more a feeling than a smell, to her, but unmistakable nonetheless--and agreed. The prospect of a fresh storm moving into the area with all of them crammed together in the small space of the cabin seemed a bit daunting to her just then, but Einar and Bud appeared, for the moment at least, to have settled whatever it was that had very nearly brought them to blows moments before, and she hoped the quiet might prevail at least until the storm had passed and they could take the dispute outside. Meanwhile, Einar was on his feet again, staring a bit absently at his parka and working to get feet into boots for a trip out to the woodshed. Wanted to be sure they had plenty in the cabin before the winds and snow hit, and though he supposed their guests might have been willingly enlisted to carry out the task, it really was his job, and he intended to do it. Kilgore, much to Liz’s relief, let him go, remaining seated as he crawled out through the tunnel.
“Fella can smell storms coming in, can he?” The tracker asked, once Einar had disappeared out into the tunnel. “Like the wild critter he is.”’
“Yes, and he can hear through walls, too,” Liz retorted, “so you’d better watch what you say! I don’t know what you two had going a minute ago, but I’d hope it might not come up again for a while…”
“Oh, that was just him remembering some of the things I said this morning when I was trying to bring him up out of that half conscious slump he’d fallen into, had to be done but truth is I’d really hoped he wouldn’t remember a word of it, after it had its effect and brought him round. Didn’t, for most of the day, but looks like it did come back to him and now he’s wondering--and rightfully so--how I happened to know some of them things. That knowledge puts me in a place he didn’t know I was in, at a time when I shouldn’t have been there, and now it’s no doubt got him wondering whether I’m friend or foe. Whether I was, anyway, at a real critical time. And whether I ought to be trusted, or run through with an atlatl dart. Which I will admit to wondering myself a time or two over the years, but I got over it.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, not the details, but it sounds like a dangerous game to be playing and I really wish you wouldn’t.”
“Yeah? Well so’s slipping into a starvation-induced coma up at eleven thousand feet in the middle of a snow-choked basin with a wife and a brand new kid and no way for anyone to get you out of there or get any nutrition into ya before you wither up and die, so I was just aiming for the least worst of two pretty doggone bad options, as I saw it. Sorry if it rocked the boat.”
Liz shook her head, quieted little Will, who had awakened and begun whimpering softly, seeking food. “No. I’m sorry. I’ll try and keep out of it. You know what you’re doing.” And believe me, I know how hard it can be to reach him, at times. That’s why I’ve got the rabbit stick…I just don’t like to see people hurting him, making things worse. But that isn’t your intention, and you’re right--he couldn’t just be left to slip further away, earlier. I was so wrapped up with the baby that I didn’t realize just how far things had gone, I think. It’s good that you’re here.
The energy that had come over Einar during the confrontation in the cabin was all gone by the time he reached the woodshed, dizziness returning with a vengeance and the cold seeming to pierce him through as if he had no clothing at all, no substance, whistling through his bones as it might through the boughs of a bare, dead tree with its leaves all gone standing out there in the wind, and it put him in mind of the twisted old evergreen that stood up near the edge of the dropoff there above the spring, stolid, blackened, unmoving, strong, but the thought of it reminded him of other things, of the time he’d spent with his back to that tree, hands behind him and the wind seeming to lash him from all sides until he could hardly remain standing--a good thing it had been, and necessary, a cleansing of body and soul, a strengthening, and he remembered that other time too, with Kilgore up near the spring, when the man had with the help of a dead, leaning aspen and fifteen feet of parachute cord led him rather forcefully through the darkest passages of his innermost being and out again to a place of strength from which he could look that darkness square in the eye and tell it, I’m still here, you don’t have me, but now all he could think was yeah, no wonder he knew what to do. What they would have done. Why did I never wonder how he knew? And as he stood there braced against the far wall of the woodshed with the storm rising around him, wind beginning its furious descent on the little plateau, Einar tried to find a way to reconcile the discrepancies, to make sense of the thing and sort out what might be fact, and what the contrivance of his own occasionally rather ill-behaved mind.
The words. They had been real. He knew it. Words one of his interrogators had used, phrases, word for word, for there are some things a man never forgets, things he had not forgotten, though they had not occurred to him for years, and the realization that those words--mix of languages, quite unique in its execution--had come from Kilgore, and not from the dark turmoil of his own half-conscious dreaming was proving a greatly unsettling thing. Didn’t understand it, and wasn’t sure he wanted to. He shivered, scooped up a great handful of snow and scrubbed it into his face, feeling himself slipping into that dream-darkness once again and wanting very badly to avoid it if at all possible, seeing as he had to turn around in a few minutes and go back in there with his family and their guests, and couldn’t very well do so if he was in the grips of that thing. Snow helped, but not too much, left him keenly aware of the wind and scrambling to fill his arms with firewood before his fingers became too insensible to grasp the stuff.
There. Done. Back in to deal with Kilgore, now. He was tired. Wanted to forget about the whole thing, leave the firewood in the tunnel and turn back to the dimming light of evening in the evergreens, throw himself into the teeth of that oncoming storm and push his way up the slope until his body could be forced to move no longer, which likely wouldn’t be long at all, if the past couple of days were any indication, but of course he couldn’t do it, not really, not with Liz and little Will waiting for him in there and winter not even half over. Not, that was, unless thoroughly convinced that they really would be better off heading down the mountain with Bud and Susan as they would almost certainly do in his absence. Permanent absence. It was a thought, not a very good one but it grew in his mind as he stood there, took form and substance and began looking pretty doggone reasonable, all things considered. Let them go, let them spend the winter down there at Bud’s house where life would be a good deal easier and its continuation a more certain thing for them both, down where they would be out from under the shadow of the search and could make a life for themselves. Perhaps that really was the better solution, and he might have done it, too, headed right up the slope to sleep in the snow--it was calling him--had not the thought entered his mind that in so doing he would be taking the easy way out--mustn’t do that, not ever; he had no right--turning his back on a duty to whose faithful execution he had willingly agreed, and leaving Liz alone to figure the entire thing out. Which he could not do, even if she truly would be better off under such circumstances--and what was to say that the journey would go well, that they would not fall, somehow, into the hands of the enemy on the way or be discovered later at Kilgore’s house with him not there to protect them, and taken? Shook his head and rested it on the woodshed wall, asking for strength to go back in there and do the things he needed to do--really didn’t have it at the moment, doubted he had the strength to make it back to the tunnel on his feet, and from that perspective the winter was looking mighty long as it stretched out before him--forgiveness for allowing his mind to wander off in the direction of that snowy slope.
Now. Time to be getting back inside. The strangeness, at least, seemed to have passed to some degree, that flood of impending memory and image pushed aside by the raw, immediate reality of the thing he’d been so seriously contemplating, and in dismissing them both, he supposed he was ready to rejoin the liveliness inside. The living. Could hear them, Kilgore’s booming voice and Susan’s soft one as they described to Liz the excitement of their jump into the basin. Still had to settle the matter of Kilgore’s words, but no longer found himself compelled to do it immediately. Snow was beginning to fall--and so was darkness--as he worked his way back around the cabin, heavy, large flakes, and Einar was glad. Would cover the tracks of their guests, about which he had been somewhat nervous since their arrival, lest they be spotted by the aircraft which would inevitably come over at some point, and he liked the security of the storm.