30 April, 2012

30 April 2012

Liz--frustrated at Einar’s apparent inability to recognize the seriousness of the situation, even with it clearly spelled out to his face--wouldn’t give him an answer right away about the trapping run, said she had to think about it so Einar just went ahead with his preparations, figuring he’d soon be making the trip, one way or another.  Normally, somewhat lost in his own little world as he tended to be and not particularly good at reading the expressions and intentions of others, Einar might have remained quite oblivious to the sort of silence that had settled over the place, but something was so obviously wrong that not even he could help but notice.  A shadow had come over everything, come between them, and when he glanced up in search of Liz, she was sitting on the bed with her face to the wall, crying.  He might have gone to her, asked what was wrong, but he already knew, though in general terms and certainly not with the clarity possessed by Liz in looking at the matter.

Einar went outside, stood there staring up at the sky, angry, not understanding, but he knew he wasn’t angry at her, his dear, good Lizzie, the mother of his son and the one living person he had come to admire above all others.  Not really.  Was simply furious at himself for having caused her such hurt.  His own occasional misery was a thing accepted if not actively embraced--sometimes a bit of both, he would have to admit; it was, he might even argue, the only thing that had kept him going at times, meeting that challenge on a daily basis--but to see her like that, and to know he was the direct cause of it…  Gritting his teeth he hit his head against the nearest spruce with as much force as he could muster, again and again until the blood ran down into his eyes and he all but lost consciousness, stood there for another minute raging at himself and his inability to figure things out, to do what apparently needed to be done and in that moment found himself wanting very badly not to exist at all, thought occurring to him that perhaps the best thing for all involved might be to find some way to make that happen, and without further delay, but almost immediately he was sorry for thinking that, too.

Wrong.  All wrong.  On his knees in the snow, then, and at first the words wouldn’t come, soul all in a turmoil as he reached out to the only One Who had any ability to aid him, forgive him, forgive me, I’ve done wrong by them, am doing wrong and I don’t know how to fix it.  Can’t fix it.  Can’t find my way.  Rough thing for an old pathfinder like me to admit, but I’m lost here, completely lost and got nowhere to turn.  Should have come to You a lot sooner with this one instead of muddling my way forward being so sure I was right, could make it right, but I can’t do it and I’m here now and I need Your direction, Lord.

Silence.  He sat there for a time in the silence, waiting, and then it was time to move.  Went in and sat down beside her, reached out a hand for her knee but pulled it back; he had no right, hung his head.

“Forgive me, Liz.  I’ve been letting that dim, dark old jungle get its claws into me lately, getting lost in my own…lostness and neglecting my duty to the two of you, and it isn’t right, and I’m sorry.”

She grabbed him, tears in her eyes but a smile radiant on her face, shining.  “I’ve been waiting for you!  I knew you would come back.”

His own tears wanted to come at that--grace, gift entirely undeserved, and he could hardly comprehend its existence--but he swallowed them, shrugged.  Was not finished.

“Yeah, I been keeping you away, keeping myself as separate as I could, and at first it was because I was afraid to let you get in here too close, afraid of what you’d think of me if you knew what I really was, what I’d done, and not done, all those years ago, figured you’d be ashamed of me if you really knew and I couldn’t face that…  Pride, I know, and I was wrong for seeing things that way.  And then even after I trusted you more and didn’t care anymore about your knowing all that, well, I was afraid because I didn’t want it to hurt you, all the hurt I got here inside of me but I see it’s been finding its way out and doing so anyway, and that was never what I wanted, Lizzie.  Not for you, and not for this little guy here…”

She laid the baby on the bed then and held him, arms crossed on his chest and chin resting on his shoulder, Einar wanting very badly to pull himself free and seek refuge in the timber outside, lose himself to the biting, scouring cold of the wind but instead allowing her to get her arms around him, sitting with head bowed, silent.

“It’s a difficult thing.  Oh, I can’t even imagine how difficult it’s been for you to carry this all these years and to have to be reminded of it now in the way you have been by the circumstances, by being on the run like this and you’re an incredibly strong person for having been able to do that, but Einar, we’re walking the path together now through life, we’ve got this child who depends on us both, and I want to help you carry this load, if it’s got to be carried.  I want to walk with you, beside you, rather than have you running away from me all the time, pushing me away.  Will you at least let me do that?”

“Don’t know if I can let you do that.  It’s mine to carry, not yours.”

“Why must you carry it like this?  Maybe it’s time to set it down.  Some part of it, at least?  It’ll never go away, I know, will always be a part of you and maybe that’s the way it ought to be, but right now it’s crushing you, and I can’t stand to see you disappearing under its weight like this.  There has to be some other way.”

“Don’t know any other way.”

“I know you don’t.  But let’s look for one.  Let me read those papers with you.  Please.   I think that might be the start of our finding a way through this.”

Reluctant, terrified, trapped and wanting to run…but he took a breath, set it all aside and allowed his eyes to meet hers.  Maybe she was correct, and regardless, she had a right to know what was in there, if that was what she wanted.  He would do it.


“Right now.”

29 April, 2012

29 April 2012

Einar had no idea how long he remained out there in the sure, steadying embrace of that spruce as he tried to regain his breath from the reading of the section of transcript, the solid, tangible memories--present as the snow and the trees around him and a good bit more powerful at the moment than those more real realities--welling up and gripping him, dragging him down so that he didn't know if he would ever be able to find the surface again and leaving him even less certain that he really wanted to.  At last he did move, arms flopping to the snow when he un-crossed them like the dead, numbed appendages he remembered dealing with just after being loosed from the horribly strained contortions they had forced his body into there in the bamboo cage, only this time it was because of the cold, and when he looked, the rope-marks on his wrists were nothing more than raised, white scars, lessened only slightly with time and gone quite purple in the chill of the morning.  Still barely able to move his hands he rubbed the scars, beating numbed arms against his sides in an attempt to restore some feeling and function.  Just like…  No.  Enough. Wouldn’t let himself go there.   Done.  He was done with it for the time, didn’t want to think about those things anymore, couldn’t, felt all hollow and used up inside, mind broken in a thousand pieces and scattered across the dry, barren remains of his soul where it stretched out bleak and empty to the horizon within him, a nothingness.  He was nothing.  

Liz was something, though, and so was the child, and it was little Will’s crying that finally brought Einar out of what might well have otherwise become a long and rather indefinite cold-aided stupor, the sort a fellow might not come out of in time if left to his own devices, not in the wind and snow and with his bones so near the surface as his were, at the moment.  But he did come out of it, recognizing in Will’s cry the call of duty and heeding, responding, heaving to his feet and heading all wide-eyed and stumble-gaited for the cabin, there to offer up what was left of his fractured and vanishing self for diaper-changing duty.  A simple thing, but a necessary one, and it was good.  Something to hang onto.

She refused his offer--you’ll only poke him with the pins, warm up a little first, and then you can hold him--brought him instead to the stove and pressed a pot of tea into his purple hands but he couldn’t hold it, set the thing between his feet before he could spill its contents all over himself and sat there with chin on his knees, breathing the steam and shivering himself warm again while Liz tended to the baby.

Better.  Could move again and was ready now to help with Will but Liz had it all under control, diaper changed and the little one sleeping warm and contented against her chest in the sling of soft buckskin, and he smiled at the sight of it, let them be and went on about his own work.  Need to get ready for that trapline.

Preparing the traps and snares, he laid them out one by one against the wall of the cabin, checking each to see that it was in good condition and applying a bit of bear grease here and there to the new conibears--unused, from what he could see of them; a most wonderful gift--and straightening each snare, testing it to make sure nothing was binding or catching, nothing needing attention.  Had his primary targets been creatures more sensitive to human scent he would have boiled the traps in a special solution, handled them only with gloves and stored them outside in a tree, but with beaver and muskrat it didn't too much matter either way, in his experience.  Looked like everything was ready to go, then, their departure waiting only on Liz's readiness and he supposed really he ought to sit down and have a talk with her to see exactly what might have been the reason for her great reluctance that day, get some idea of when he might expect her to be ready to go.  Or to let him go, for if need be he could certainly do the trapline himself, had simply included Liz in the plans because she had seemed anxious to do it when they talked in the past and he figured she would be ready to get away from the house for a while after those first weeks with the new baby, and her current reluctance puzzled him.  Well, no better time than the present.  A gentle hand on her arm where she stood doing something at the stove, and she turned to look at him.

“Need to plan this trapping run, so I got to know what you’re thinking.  Today had seemed like a fine time to me but I could see when I mentioned it this morning that you thought it was a pretty bad idea to head out today.  So, what is it?  You don’t want to go at all?  Need more time at home with the baby, think it would be too much trouble to do that hike with him?  I’ll certainly understand if that’s the way it needs to be, this time.”

She gave him a sad little smile, shook her head and sat down beside the stove, pulling him along with her.  His hands were still cold, felt like ice, and no wonder, for he hadn’t touched his tea.  "No, it's not that at all.  It's just that...well, I don't know how to say this."

"With words.  Just say what you're thinking."

"Alright, I will.  I'm remembering how difficult it was for you on the way up from retrieving the cache a few days ago, and thinking about the incident you had since then--which if I didn't know better I might think you had forgotten--where your heart quite literally quit beating for a little bit, as near as any of us could tell, and I'm wondering what on earth you're thinking trying to take on this trapline right now.  It's like you aren't even able to see or recognize how things are going for you, or that you're probably going to fall over dead if you push it much farther.  That's what I'm thinking."

Einar didn't quite know what to say to that, was genuinely baffled at the forcefulness of her proclamation, as he thought things had been going pretty well in that regard over the past few days, and had hoped she'd entirely given up the idea of worrying about such things.

"Well, you wanted me to wait a couple days to do the trapline, and I have.  Doesn't that work?"

"I had hoped you would use those two days to eat and rest and get in better shape for the trip, but instead you're back to starving yourself and spending endless hours out in the cold with that rifle, trying to make your arms stronger while not giving your muscles any fuel at all to start rebuilding themselves.  And because of that, you're just going backwards.  Wasting away, losing weight I couldn't have imagined you had left to lose and leaving me wide awake sometimes in the night just listening to see if you're still breathing, and sometimes you barely are.  So no, it doesn't seem to me those two days were enough."

"Aw Lizzie, it's not nearly so bad as you make it out to be.  None of it.  Whatever challenge there may be in the way I’m living, well, I need it to be there.  Wouldn’t know how to get along without it.  And I'm making some progress with the rifle, holding it out there for longer and longer at a time so it's working, this thing that I'm doing, and now I'm ready to go run that trapline, and would sure like you to come with me.  If you're willing."

Liz was not certain she was willing, not the way things currently stood but neither did she want him going alone as she expected he probably would do, without her accompaniment.  A real dilemma.

28 April, 2012

28 April 2012

I took a night and a day off from writing after that last chapter, so don't have one for tonight but will again tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading!

Philip said... 
Chris, a few verses recently have left me realizing, that either I have forgotten that ranks of Bud & Einar, or that potentially you had not posted them...
What was I writing about? ;)
Oh, yeah! this one was a clue to above:
"...even if his methods tended to be anything but pleasant, at the moment. But not this time"
I wrote down the other, but can not remember what I named it!
But it seems Einar is under Bud, command wise, as some Vets never forget CO's and other ranking members....
Could you remind this old vet if he forgot this or....
What was I writing?????
today's was great BTW, reading his debriefing, and recalling What he Did NOT say!

Philip, I don’t think I ever did post ranks because today they’re just Bud and Einar, two wanderers in this world whose paths happened to cross once more…but you guessed right.  Bud was never Einar’s CO over there, but was indeed senior in rank.  Since you asked…

1SG Rufus G. “Bud” Kilgore

SSG Einar Asmundson (11F3S)

27 April, 2012

27 April 2012

It took Einar no more than halfway through the breakfast--a meal which he tried his best to eat but without much success--to realize that Liz did not want to go trapping that day.  Seemed to have no intention of leaving the cabin and though he couldn’t guess exactly why, figured he’d better respect her wishes, on that one.  Perhaps she was simply weary after having other people in the house for several days, and wanted a respite before heading out like that.  Seemed pretty reasonable.  Hopefully one day would be enough, and they could start out on the following one.  Would give him some time to make sure everything was in order, anyway, organize his snares and traps and make a plan for when they got down there.  And to do something else, too.

Waiting until Liz’s back was turned, he pulled the tan envelope down from its hiding place in the rafters.  If they weren’t going that morning, he had other things to do, and wanted to take care of that one thing, in particular, before working on the traps.  Just for a few minutes.  Just so he wouldn’t get too comfortable with having that thing hidden away out of sight, and decide to leave it that way for months.  Or years.  Could happen, and he wanted to get on with it.  But not in the house.  Went outside, picked a tree and sat.

Einar skipped the part about his capture.  Had already read that.  Would read it again someday, but not just then.  Scanned ahead--past the heading in which was listed his name, rank and unit, the date and location of the interview and the names of the two men who had done the questioning, to a part he had passed over the first time, in his quest to get to the end where they had interviewed him in more depth about Andy.  That was one of the reasons he’d skipped it the first time anyway, but not the only reason, and because of that second reason, the one alluded to by Kilgore, he must read it, now.  The details of his time in that camp…

Q:  Did you see any American equipment in the camp, weapons, uniforms, even small items?

EA:  No.  Most of them were just wearing “black pajamas” and sandals. I didn’t see any American uniforms or weapons there.  They had AK47s and some sort of Chinese pistols with little stars on the handles.

Q:  What about when they fed you, mess kits, canteen cups, anything like that that you could recognize as American?

EA: They did not give me anything to eat or drink.

Q:  Did you observe any US aircraft during your time there?

EA:  Yeah, the Cobras that nearly blew the tar out of me while I was E&Eing.  And a couple of LOHs that were with them.  That was all, though I did hear Cobras in the distance a couple times from camp.  

Q:  Which day was it that you had the close call with the cobras?  Which day after your escape, I mean.  Trying to establish dates, here.

EA:  The fourth day, I think.

Q:  You think?

EA: Yes, sir.  It wasn’t the first, because I was on the move all the first day.  So that puts it sometime late in the afternoon of the fourth, I think.  

Q:  What happened to the second and third days?  Are you sure it wasn’t the second or third?

EA:  The second and third it rained, and I couldn’t move all day because they were very close and had set up camp near where I was hiding.  They were all around me.

Q:  Were they the same group that had held you at the camp?

EA:  I never saw more than one or two of them, but no.  I don’t think they were the same.  They were looking for me, though.  I’m sure of that.  Mostly I just heard them, and could smell their food.  And sometimes, their breath.

Q:  You said you we there for two days in the rain before the Cobras showed up.  What were you doing during that time?

EA:  Just laying low.  They were only feet from stumbling across me at times.  I didn’t move.  Tried to drink rainwater from the plant leaves now and then when they were not as close, but it mostly didn’t work.  I was thirsty from running.

Einar paused, shook his head.  Ha!  Yeah, I was thirsty.  Was about dead from dehydration after seven or eight days with nothing at all but a quick gulp of that filthy water from under the cages when I escaped…  What I didn’t tell them was how I spent most of those two days delirious and hallucinating from thirst and the rest of it crammed under that tangle of brush just listening to the rain falling all around me, and once almost gave myself away when I stood up and started walking towards what I thought for certain was a slick landed there to take me home, only it wasn’t, it was just a big old wet rain-slick boulder with six or seven enemy crouching behind it out of the wind, enjoying their little cooking fire.  I remember that, and surely remembered it then, too, but apparently didn’t want them knowing at the time.  Probably figured it wouldn’t help my chances of being allowed out of that field hospital in a timely manner, and back into action.

Q:  We’ll get to the rest of the E&E later.  Back to your time in the camp, now.  You said previously that there were between eight and ten men at the camp at all times, and that some of them seemed to rotate in and out.  Did any who were not part of that rotating group pass through the camp during your time there?

EA:  Yes sir.  At one point some men came into camp, two of them, and I could hear a frantic conversation between them and The Russian and some of the others, couldn’t catch many of the words but it sounded like they were talking about moving camp soon, and in a hurry, because they were expecting a raid.  After that, their treatment of us changed.  More questioning.  Longer sessions.  Almost never giving us time to catch our breath in between.  They were getting desperate.

Q: With how many of the men in the camp did you at any time have direct contact?  How many of them questioned you?

EA:  Three different men questioned me at times, but most of the serious interrogation was done by only one of them.  The Russian.

Q:  He was Russian?

EA:  No, sir.  He was NVA, but his accent was Russian.  Like he learned his English from Russian-speakers.  His English was pretty good.

Q:  How many times did he speak to you?

EA:  Every day.  Once, sometimes twice each day.  He never came to the cages.  The others interrogated me, there.  They would take me to him in the “big hooch” when it was time for the serious stuff.  Tin shed with a table and a stool and a lot of papers.  They took Andy--SPC Andrew Allan Beught--there too when his turn came, and also the two ARVN they were also holding, who were already in camp when we arrived.

Q:  What did they know about our mission there?  Did they talk about your unit, or seem to know why you were there?

EA:  The Russian mostly asked questions rather than talking about anything like that, but based on some of the things he asked, they knew a fair amount about it.  He wanted details, how many more of us were in the area, where were we headed, and why.

Q:  Did you provide him with this information?

EA:  No, sir!

Q:  Did you provide him with any information?

EA:  Four or five times.  But none of it was the real deal, never.  Worse than useless.  I never gave them anything they could use.

Q:  You talked because of their treatment of you?

EA:  Yes, sir.  I broke.  Four or five times in eight days.  Sometimes just to get a breath of air.  One single, stinking breath.  Not proud of that, sir.

Q:  Did you go back to resisting, after that?

EA:  Immediately, sir.

Q:  Did SPC Beught  answer any of their questions, to your awareness?

EA:  No, sir.  I never heard him say anything to them, not in the cage, at least.  The big hooch was a little further away and I couldn’t hear everything that went on, there.  Only the louder noises.

Q:  Were there louder noises?

EA:  Yes, sir.  I would hear them shouting at him.  Sometimes he would scream or groan, and once I heard him singing.  I don’t think he ever talked to them.

Q:  Singing?

EA:  “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  It went on and on, them shouting and him singing…that kid could really sing…and then I could hear them striking him, shouting their questions but he wouldn’t stop.  The Russian was really angry.   I thought they were going to kill him.  Tried to shout and get their attention, rock my cage but the way they had me tied, there wasn’t much I could do.  Couldn’t even croak loud enough to get their attention.  Finally one of them knocked him out and he quit.

Q:  So he was really out of it most of the time?

EA:  He was hurt pretty badly during capture.  Worse than me.  I think there were a lot of times when he was not conscious, or was barely so. 

Q:  Did you receive most of your wounds during capture, or later?

EA:  Later.  

Q:  What caused these injuries to your wrists?

EA:  String.

Q:  Rope?

EA:  No sir, string.  About the diameter of parachute cord, but made of some very rough tan colored natural material, like sisal or hemp.

Q:  They kept you tied with this?

EA:  They hung us from the tops of the cages with it.  Ankles and wrists bound up behind us and pulled back so tight that we could hardly breathe when they raised us off the floor, and after a while that string really cuts into your wrists on the sides.  Day after day, down to the bone in places.  And the wounds fester.  That’s what caused it.

Q:  What happened to your leg?  Looks like you’ve got a pretty good chunk missing there, but it’s not a gunshot wound.  Did they do that, too?

EA:  I don’t remember.  That happened on the last day, second to last, maybe, and there’s a lot I don’t remember from those days.

Q:  Did it happen in the cage, or outside of it?

EA:  I don’t remember, sir.  Outside.  It happened outside.  I was…they were taking me to the big hooch for another session, and I saw them over at Andy’s enclosure and they were doing something to him and I knew he was pretty bad off so I hit the guy in the nose with my elbow, the guard, and made a break for it, guess I thought I was going to stop them and for some reason instead of shooting me the other guy went at me with this bamboo…spear thing he was carrying and ran my leg through.  Left that thing in me for the rest of the day, kept twisting it around as the Russian asked his questions again and again.  I didn’t give them anything that day, not a word.  Finally passed out sometime in the evening after The Russian had enough and pulled out that spear--through the side of my leg--and they took me back to the cage.  Yeah, I remember now.

Q:  Here, have some water.  Do you need a minute?

EA:  No sir.  I’m fine.

Q:  How did you come to escape?

EA:  Sometimes they would give me short breaks from being all tied up in that position, usually just before they were ready to take me to the big hooch for more questioning.  I think they did it because they knew how much it hurt when the blood started returning to your arms and legs after being suspended like that.  Worse than anything else they did, almost.  So they’d let me down and untie me for a few minutes to make sure I’d be in the middle of that when they took me to see The Russian.  It was something they seemed to have had a lot of practice at.  So I’d use those few minutes to crawl around the cage and look for a way out.  It was pretty tight, but down in one corner the bamboo wasn’t lashed as securely.  

At first I was just hoping to be able to eventually reach a hand through and get some water from below.  They never gave us water.  Five days is a long time to go without water.  For two days I tried, and during that time almost gave up on even getting any water through that corner, because my hands were so useless in those minutes just after they’d let me down, and as soon as I was brought back to the cage, it was right back into that pretzel again.  But then I figured out a way to press my hands together so I could get a little strength out of them, and saw that I would be able to enlarge the weak area, eventually push my way out.  So every chance I got, I worked on it.

Q:  On which day did you escape?

EA:  I don’t remember for sure.  Seven or eight days after our capture, I think.  They were going to move camp in the morning.  They had decided it was too much trouble to move us.  I got out while most of them were away collecting food.  Andy was…

Q:  We’ll get to SPC Beught later.  Just stick to the details of your own escape right now.  Did any of them see you escape?

EA:  One of the guards.  He was over by the big hooch and heard something, either that final crack when the corner of my cage gave way or me going down into the water, came to check and saw me.  There was a big sharp sliver of bamboo that broke loose when I pushed my way out, and I crouched down in the water with it until he was very close, and then stabbed him through the neck.

Q:  Was he dead when you left?

EA:  Yes, sir.  Quite.

Enough.  It was all he could do for the moment, longest days of his life compressed into minutes’ worth of reading and all spelled out in indisputable black and white type, and he set the papers aside, turned to face the tree, forehead resting on its rough bark as he fought to catch his breath.

26 April, 2012

26 April 2012

Bud and Susan were gone.  They’d left the cabin the previous afternoon, starting on the route Bud and Einar had planned to take them safely around the most avalanche-prone areas of the slope and up to the ridge without too much chance of being detected, and that morning, still curled up together beneath the bear hides, Einar and Liz had heard the plane come, circle, land and, only a few minutes later, take to the air again.  Kiesl wouldn’t have touched down, Einar was sure, unless he’d seen sure sign that they were down there and ready for pickup, which meant that they were now gone.  Relieved, trembling despite himself, after the nearness of that plane, Einar had reluctantly given in to Liz’s gentle persuasions as she held his arm to prevent him from rising, pulled the hides up snugly around their shoulders and moved little Will so that he was between them, their foreheads resting against each other as they watched in silent wonder the tiny movements of his breathing.  Now the sun was rising, Einar becoming increasingly restless at staying so long in bed and as soon as he was sure Liz was asleep, her slow, regular breaths coming somehow in cadence with the baby’s, though far fewer, he eased over to the edge of the bed and crept to the floor.

Time to be moving, doing, an almost electric energy in him that day--goading, prodding, making stillness a thing nearly unbearable, something coming; he could feel it--at whose origins he really could not guess, weary and dragging as he’d been all through the previous ones.  Something to do with their company leaving, he supposed, or with spring coming, which it definitely was, valley distinctly greening though the high ridges and basins which composed their kingdom would remain for some months still locked beneath their blanket of snow and ice.  Months, if it had been an average year but considering the way things were going perhaps only weeks, though certainly more than a few of them, and the realization left him anxious and antsy about getting out on the trapline, visiting the river with what he expected would be its ready supply of beaver, muskrat and a number of other, smaller fur-bearers, and to do this before the thaw could begin in earnest.  Though they had plenty to eat and a reasonably good situation, all things considered, there at the cabin, the thought that he had been allowing the winter to slip away from him was not at all a pleasant one and could, he supposed, probably account for at least part of the near-frenzy that drove him out of bed that morning.  But not all of it.

Maybe it was the plane.  Thing certainly had seemed to come out of nowhere, bursting onto the silence of the morning like a flock of startled turkeys and leaving him to grab for his atlatl--and the new rifle--before he realized what it was, and who, and lay back down beside Liz to listen to the whining, humming thing as it circled, lower and lower, landed, retrieving, they could only hope, the honeymooning and much delayed couple before taking flight once again and disappearing over the ridge, bound for Arizona.  Or Culver.  Kilgore hadn’t said where they were headed next, and Einar had not bothered to ask.  Hadn’t wanted to get into that discussion again, the one about their climbing the ridge, also, the entire little family and being scooped up by that swooping plane, carried out of the mountains and out of the state to finish out the winter in the remote confines of Bud Kilgore’s mountain retreat, caretakers, of sorts, while he and Susan passed the remainder of winter and began the spring work at her home and greenhouses.  Not a bad proposal, if one was to set aside the fact that they were wanted, he was wanted, and would almost certainly be had, too, should they begin allowing even such causal and distant contact with the outside world.  Not a risk he wanted to take, nor a discussion he had any interest in re-hashing, so he had kept himself at a distance from the specifics of their guests plans upon leaving the basin.

Yes, must be the plane.  Shuddered at the memory of that sound so close over their heads, checked the rifle where it leaned it the corner opposite the water barrel, its new home, finding a bit of relief at the feel of the thing in his hands.  Had better get some breakfast going--Liz would be hungry, was always hungry these days, serving as she was as sole source of nutrition for a healthy and growing child--and then head outside with the rifle for the daily exercises which he had set for himself with the weapon.   Wasn’t sure they were helping, could not help at times but think they might be doing quite the opposite, actually, for now in addition to his arms cramping up during the training, they had begun over the past day to do so at random times, as well, lower arms, fingers and now even toes--what few he had left--locking up for no apparent reason whatsoever and leaving him all but crying out in pain until, sometimes as much as several minutes later, the tension would ease and he could once again move his extremities.  Not a good thing and he would have liked to be able to get it to stop, but was not entirely convinced of its direct relation to his exercises with the rifle.  Seemed more like dehydration or some related malady, but no matter how much water he drank--so much, in fact, that Liz wondered what had got into him, was glad to see him drinking more as it seemed he was always behind, but somehow mistrusted his motivations--the cramping persisted, so he did his best to ignore it, went on with his training.

That morning it didn’t even matter, the attendant difficulty, and he got through his exercises with relative speed, persisting almost effortlessly through cramps that really ought to have given him pause and left him, perhaps, questioning the wisdom of the entire thing, calling cheerfully to Muninn at the appointed time and watching as the bird--who had been waiting, knowing the routine--sailed down on wide, silent wings to land on the wrist of his outstretched hand, providing him yet another challenge as he sought to hold out as long as possible against letting his arm droop under the raven’s weight.  Managed to go for an awfully long time that morning, switching arms halfway through and barely even responding when the cramping began on that side, too, slow, measured breaths getting him though it.  Done, and instead of sitting for a few minutes afterward as he’d been doing in recent days, catching his breath and taking in the morning, he returned quickly to the tunnel, scurrying through it with his rifle, raven following close at his heels and giving a raucous greeting to Liz and Will where they stood, baby in his soft sling of buckskin, held close to her chest as she worked to complete the breakfast meal Einar had set to simmer before heading outside.  Her eyes looked sad when they met his, and he wondered if she was missing Susan.  Figured she must be; didn’t even guess at the real reason.  Well.  A trapping run would surely cheer her up.

“Smells like spring again out there this morning, breeze coming up from the valley and I’m thinking either today or tomorrow’s gonna be the day to head down to the river.  Got my old snares, the cable snares Bud brought us, the conibears, and it looks like we’re all ready to go!  What do you say?  You and the little one up for a thing like that?”

“Einar, sit down.”

He leaned the rifle in its corner, tossed a bit of food to the raven and sat, a bit of the animation leaving his face at something in her voice, a certain unaccustomed gravity, keeping silent, waiting for her to speak.

She clearly wanted to but did not, simply smiled, shook her head, scooped up a big bowlful of breakfast soup and pressed it in to his hands.  “Eat.”

25 April, 2012

25 April 2012

This time, Einar wasn’t going to let him do it.  The tracker always seemed to get the last word in these recent encounters of theirs, steer things the way he wanted them to go and for the most part Einar had allowed it, had been glad, in the end, for the man’s presence, even if his methods tended to be anything but pleasant, at the moment.  But not this time.  He wasn’t surrendering those documents, and neither did he have any intention of reading them with or in the presence of the tracker, knowing from recent experience the sort of thing which would likely  ensue when he finished that reading and not at all wanting witnesses.  Not even Kilgore, who had seen so much, knew so much…perhaps especially him.  Couldn’t bear, somehow, to have anyone see that.  Would make it more real, in some sense, leave him unable to push it all aside, leave it under a tree and go back to the cabin as he believed he could do if wading through it on his own.  Couldn’t take it back there with him, must not.  His son was in there, and Liz, and they had to be protected; he just couldn’t bring it all in there to them.  Would rather not go back in at all, rather not exist, if that were possible, than to further contaminate the place in that way.  All of which was were probably just excuses, and he knew it.   The tracker, too, knew all of these things, dimly perhaps and without their full detail but he could read in Einar’s face the outline of the thing, which only increased his certainty that Einar had got to be talked into retrieving those documents, and getting through them once and for all.  Now.  Bud Kilgore had no intention of leaving until he’d got his way on this one.  Time for a little provocation.

“This isn’t just about Andy anymore, is it?”  He asked, stacking his abandoned load of firewood one piece atop the other, balancing them.  “Now that you’ve had a peek at that transcript, its also about you being scared out of your head about really facing up to what happened to you out there, isn’t it?  Not much you wouldn’t do--and probably not much you haven’t done, either, over the years--just to keep yourself from really thinking about that.  Looking it straight in the eye, with nothing to soften the blow.  Because a lot of these things you do--keeping yourself so busy with work and climbing and trapping and all in your life before, and now the freezing, starving, all the stuff you put your body through--that’s their real purpose when it comes down to it.  So you’ll have something to stand between you and the thing you don’t want to look at.  Strikes me as pretty funny that you’re choosing as your distraction things so close in nature to the ones you’re trying to avoid, but seems like that’s the way it goes, a lot of times, and besides you’re one unusual sort of critter and have been from the start, haven’t you?”

No answer from Einar, and Kilgore shifted slightly where he sat in the snow, watching the man with a cautious, measuring gaze.  Danger, but he could handle it.  So far.

“Oh, I see what’s behind them dead-flat snake eyes of yours right now.  You’d like to kill me, wouldn’t you, for stepping where I got no cause to step?  Pound me until nothing’s left but some little smears of pink snow here and there, would feel mighty good I’m sure and I wouldn’t hardly blame you, but you’re not gonna do it, because you know I’m right.  And I know you value the truth, no matter what’s being talked about.  Hey, look at me, Asmundson.   I know you don’t see any of this the way I’ve just put it, aren’t consciously trying to get away from anything or make things easier on yourself.   You’d never do that, we don’t do that, and knowing you, you’d probably go stand out in the weather and wind for a week right now without moving, just attempting to make up for what you’d see as your own weakness for trying to do so, if you had any suspicion that such a thing was going on.  But I’m telling you, I can see it.  You’re scared.  Backed up against a wall with nowhere to turn and that old abyss just staring up at you out of the blackness with nothing left to block your view anymore, none of it’s working, and you’re probably pretty sure right now it’s gonna swallow you up.  And maybe it is, but I don’t think things have to go that way.  Now will you go on in there and get them papers from wherever you’ve got them stashed, so we can get on with this thing?  I only got a few hours left here before I got to climb that ridge.”

No, Einar would not.  Sat in half-stunned silence at Kilgore’s words, almost willing to consider the possibility that there might have been contained within them some shred of veracity, but he was in no way willing to back down on his stance regarding the papers.  They stayed, and when the time came for him to read the remainder of their contents, he would do it on his own terms, and alone.  It was the only way.  He rose, bracing failing knees against one another in an effort to prevent Kilgore seeing the extent of his struggle, got a hand up against the woodshed and steadied himself.

“Best be on your way then, because the way that leg’s looking, trip’s gonna take you some longer than you might think.  Wouldn’t want to miss your flight a second time.”

Kilgore shook his head, joined Einar in standing, not having the easiest time of it, himself.  Leg was better, but still sore with use.  Well.  Looked like this was one he really wasn’t winning, as he was flat out of ideas.  Asmundson was a real puzzle, just strong and stubborn enough, even still, to keep pushing back when he ought to have been able to recognize that he was at the end of his rope and really ought to consider any and every option presented him for getting to a better place, some more steady footing.  Not happening, the tracker could see.  The very thing that kept him going appeared to be working against him now, and with the time rapidly approaching when he and Susan must leave to begin their climb, it was looking like he would have to reluctantly leave Asmundson to his own devices when it came to picking his way around the yawning chasm of the abyss whose presence stood reflected in his eyes, in their emptiness.  Tough.  But, life sometimes is tough.

The tracker wouldn’t have regretted it so, his seeming inability to gain any purchase on the wily fugitive’s equally intractable soul, had it not been for the kid.  And his mother.  Half wished--treacherous though, and he supposed Asmundson might do him in right then and there was he able to read some hint of it, guess at its presence, and didn’t figure he’d blame him much if he did--they could persuade the two to come away with them, leave Einar to his solitary struggle for a time and return, perhaps, when he’d got things straightened out a bit with his spooks and was a bit more like himself once again, but he knew they’d never go for it.  Any of them.  So, there they were and unless struck with some sudden inspiration over the course of the following hour or so, it was looking like his part in the thing was pretty nearly done.  Done what he could.  Time to go back in and finish packing.

24 April, 2012

24 April 2012

The two men were out there so long that Liz and Susan, long finished with the breakfast cleanup, began wondering what might have happened but neither of them were particularly anxious to venture outside and check.  Best not to step into the middle of certain things, and whatever the two of them had going out there, both women agreed it was almost certain to be that sort of thing.  So Susan used the time to enjoy a final visit with little Will, who was, so far as she could tell, really thriving under Liz’s care, definitely growing and gaining a bit of the plumpness that she liked to see start to appear in a healthy infant after that first difficult week or so of adjusting to life outside the womb, and she had every confidence that he was going to do just fine up in his high mountain home.  Liz, also, seemed to have healed quite well from the birth, was adjusting well to motherhood, moving with a good deal more ease than she had been upon their initial arrival and had most of her energy back, after the blood loss.  Even her sleep seemed not terribly disturbed by the presence of the little one; having the baby right there with her in the bed where he could be fed with minimal disturbance to her position seemed to be suiting both of them quite well, and so far as Susan could see, Einar was causing her to lose more sleep--though certainly not intentionally, on his part--than was the infant.

Despite their many challenges, she believed the little family ought to do just fine.  The next time she made it up to visit--couldn’t stand the thought of not making the journey again, someday--she expected to see the little one scooting around the clearing in buckskins and the tiny, perfectly-constructed moccasins his father would no doubt create for him, wolverine fur hat insulating his little head and eyes bright with wonder and curiosity at the big, wide wild world which was to be his for the discovering.  A good life it would be, and the thought nearly brought her to tears as she held the sleeping child, watching his little breaths and praying that it might be so, that they would find themselves able to remain stable and steady at the little cabin on the plateau rather than being forced on the run again, a life already made uncertain by circumstances becoming doubly so, and all of their continued existence thrown into grave doubt…

Yes, let them stay so this little one can live and grow and prosper as he ought to do, raised up here in this good clean air with the spruces and peaks soaring all around him and a raven for a playmate…it could be a great life for a child, but I know Bud would tell me the chances of their being able to stay here long-term without being discovered are slim to none, that they’re forever going to be wanderers, fugitives and that we’ll lose contact with them at some point, will have to, for their own protection, and probably never see them again.  I’ve heard him debate it with himself, the wisdom of our coming up here at all, the chance that it might bring unwanted attention and destroy everything for them but he’s decided it worth the risk…so far.  And then there’s the very good chance that his father will decide to move them at some point, will get the notion that they’ve been in one place too long and need to move before something draws the attention of the authorities and they get raided in the night with no warning, and the sad thing is that he’d probably be right to think that way, and right to do it…

I know this may be the last time I ever see you, little Snorri Willis, and if that’s how it needs to be so you can grow up free like your father--and with him--then so be it.  But I really want to watch you grow , even if we don’t see each other very often, so I hope there may be some way.  Kissing the sleeping child on the forehead she handed him back to Liz, embracing the two of them and speaking softly.

“Lord, bless this child and be with him as he grows, keep him healthy and strong and free, just like his parents.  You know their needs better than I ever could, and I know that You will provide.”

Simple words; more would have been excess, and Susan had never been one for excess.  Good-byes done, blessing given, it was time to move on to other things.  In a hurry, for she was finding it difficult to think about leaving, and did not want Liz to see.  Talk about the future.  Spring was coming.

“Have you thought about a garden up here?  We could drop in some seeds, if you’d like to give it a try.  Cold weather crops, things that would have a chance in the short season and give you some more variety besides what you’ve already got up here, broccoli, beets, cabbage, that sort of thing…”

“Einar and I talked about that at one point…right after his half-jokingly getting all excited about domesticating a small herd of mountain goats for meat, milk and wool, as I remember it…but we decided against both ideas because if we start getting too settled around here, and especially setting up gardens and significantly disturbing the ground, well, that’s almost sure to catch somebody’s eye someday, and then we’ll lose it all.  We decided that we’d really better keep to the hunter-gatherer sort of life, for now.  Traplines, maybe some fishing if we start getting down to the river a little more often, food-producing plants in season and harvest as much as we can of those, learn better ways to store and preserve them so we can have some variety through the winter, but I don’t think a garden had better be anywhere in the near future, for us.  Unfortunately.”

“I do think it could be done carefully and on a very small scale, everything dispersed so that nothing would show from the air, but you’re probably right about the wisdom of leaving things as undisturbed as possible.  Can’t be taking that risk.”

“Einar also prefers that we don’t come to rely on things that are more likely to fail, like introduced crops would be.  He says it’s risky enough living as large predators and scavengers up in a place like this, and that more famines have been caused by people coming to rely exclusively on agriculture for their sustenance rather than on a variety of things they can harvest from the world around them than by anything else in human history, and I guess he does have a point…though I don’t see why that should keep us from growing a few beets or some lavender and dill, really!  But that’s where the other thing comes in, about being seen from the air, and I’m back to digging roots and harvesting wild raspberry leaves for tea.   I don’t mind it.  There’s so much up here, all around us, and being basically in one place for a number of months has really allowed me to get an idea of how things come and go and change through the seasons.  We did well this past summer, and still have dried chokecherries and serviceberries to enjoy, spring beauty and lily roots when we want to add some starch to things, more meat than we’ll eat before the snow starts melting, not to mention the honey!  That’s been the biggest treat of them all, and has probably saved Einar’s life a couple of times, too…goofy guy.  Wish I could just get him to eat on a regular basis.  But he’ll do better once things start thawing… I hope.  Won’t be quite as likely to freeze solid in the night, at least, which will ease my mind a little.  But yes, the honey!  It’s been great, and we hope to be able to go back and harvest more this year, though this time maybe I’ll do the climbing, and we’ll figure out a better way to prevent getting so many stings.”

Susan smiled.  “You sound so excited when you talk about it.”

“I am!  I’m excited because finally we’re not on the run all the time and wondering how many days it’ll be before we get something to eat again, we have shelter and food and everything we need, right here, and I’m excited to start teaching this little guy about all of it.  Things would be just about perfect up here if…”  she motioned towards the woodshed, where they could now hear the two men carrying on what sounded like a rather heated discussion, and Susan nodded.

“Things can’t be perfect, though.  That was never my expectation, and we’re getting along pretty well, all things considered.”

23 April, 2012

23 April 2012

Breakfast served and everyone sitting around the stove Einar wanted to eat, knew after the way he’d felt negotiating the steep descent from the ledge--all shaky and distant, as if he hadn’t even known who he was and would have been just as well served by letting go his grip on the rock and launching himself into space in his effort to reach the bottom, and he still wasn’t sure what had prevented him from doing it--that he needed something and Susan’s creation smelled different than anything he’d had of late and awfully good, but the thought of doing anything more than enjoying the odor turned his stomach.  After the first tentative bite--looks like you let it go too far again, didn’t you Einar?  Couldn’t do this if you wanted to, couldn’t get that stuff down your throat, and that really ought to scare you a good deal more than it does--he knew this was going to be one meal he was going to have to enjoy from a distance, if he didn’t want to end up wasting it.  Which he did not, couldn’t bear the thought so he sat watching as everyone else enjoyed the feast and trying not to shiver, hoping they wouldn’t notice his lack of participation and then gently taking the sleeping Will from Liz’s arms after a while so she would have free hands with which to enjoy her own breakfast; a help to her, and besides, a good excuse.  Kept his hands occupied.  But didn’t work.

Liz took Will back just as soon as she’d finished her portion, saying something about needing to feed him and pushing Einar’s bowl closer just to let him know that he had not escaped her notice, and had better do something about it.  Which he did want to do, really did and tried again, needed that stuff awful badly at the moment but he gagged on that first bite, feeling terribly nauseated and unable to get it down, and he did not try again.  No sense spoiling everyone else’s breakfast, and he’d be fine in a minute, anyway.  Probably just needed some water.  Yeah, that was it, and when finally he managed to get a bit of the stuff into his mouth without spilling it all over himself as he did on the first two tries, the fluid did help some.   Good.  Got that settled.   Far as he was concerned, at least, and though the others didn’t seem to agree, neither did they press the matter further, Susan and Liz exchanging glances but leaving him be.

Meal finished and Liz helping Susan clean up while Bud did a final check of their packs and gear ahead of the coming departure, Einar silently excused himself to retrieve a load of wood from the shed, the thin breeze that rolled down from the snowy ridge high above a bracing, steadying force, and he welcomed it, felt that it would help keep him on his feet, and a good thing, too.  Just in time.  Made it around to the woodshed but then forgot what he’d come for, bracing himself between a spindly spruce and its outermost wall, watching with a bit of a smile as Muninn did his goofy raven-dance out in the clearing.  Maybe the bird knew.   Why’d I come out here, you big buzzard?  What am I doing here?  What am I?  But the bird did not answer, flapping and flopping and finally--tired of waiting for a response from the half-conscious human--returning to his perch high up in the dead tree across the clearing, watching, head tilted and beady black eyes curious, intelligent, waiting.

Wood.  He remembered, now.  Had come to get firewood, replenish the indoor supply which had been depleted in the cooking of breakfast.  Must have taken him a while to reach the point of remembrance, for already he was very cold, knees numb where they rested in his half-crouch against the snow bank, and he shook himself, heaved creakily to his feet and used the wall to pull himself around and into the shed.  Still in there.  Must have been windy outside for him to observe the contrast, but he hadn’t noticed.  Pile it up, one stick after another, aspen, fir, a few pieces of spruce and he was done, but someone was coming, crunch, crunch through the snow, and he felt like hiding, concealing himself as well as possible amongst the broken, splintery piles of split wood so as to avoid being seen and spoken to by whoever it was, but instead he kept hold of his load of firewood--too much trouble to recover it later, should he let it fall to the ground--and pulled himself back out into the wind.  Kilgore.  Grabbed up some firewood of his own, three or four logs, stacked them in his arms and kept pace as Einar started back for the tunnel.

“Taking off out of her later, Asmundson, and to get right to the point, I’m offering to take that envelope with me, if you like.  Or if you need.  Not sure I did you any favors by bringing it here to you.  Figured it might do some good, but hard to tell sometimes with that sort of thing, until a fella tries it.  What do you say?”

Einar crouched with his back to the wall, sinking lower, not wanting Kilgore to see him fall.  “The envelope stays.”

“Figured.  Mule-headed numbskull like yourself, what else could you say?  But look, I didn’t bring that document up here just to give you one more thing to beat yourself up with.  Another club.  You got plenty of those already, and it shows.  So if that’s how you’re gonna use it, well, better I be carrying it on out of here with me.”

“Out of your hands now, Kilgore.”

The tracker nodded, set down his firewood and scrubbed a palm across two weeks’ worth of grey-mottled growth on his chin, rubbed thoughtful hands together.  “Does look that way, don’t it?  But you see, I got a bit of an obligation to you, and therefore to that woman and kid of yours, because they’re your family, which means that if I think by leaving them papers with you I’m doing them a bad turn, well, might be I just got to request ’em back from you.  Come on, we both know what I’m talking about, here.  You gonna be Ok, man, when you go to read the rest of that, or do we need to figure something else out?  Gonna be able to hold it together?”

Einar’s voice was flat, the entire conversation an intrusion, a thing best left un-discussed.  “Sure.”

“Yeah, sure.  Easy as can be, you say.  Easy as heck.  No problem.  Well then, let’s see you do it, if it’s so doggone easy.  Right now.  Go get that envelope, and let’s be settling this thing.  We’ll read it together.”

Einar had been working hard to prevent himself losing patience altogether, had no intention of allowing the tracker any idea of where he’d stashed the papers, let alone reading them in his presence, and the man’s persistence was really beginning to grate on him.  Wanted to get up and leave, but stood his ground.  Kilgore could see it, the trouble that was coming, but did not care.  He was running out of time.

22 April, 2012

22 April 2012

No chapter tonight, but back with another tomorrow.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend.  :)

21 April, 2012

21 April 2012

Sunrise, and Einar crouched on the ledge, largely snow-free after the scouring of the wind and two days of sunshine, staring out over the cabin, the timber surrounding it and letting his eyes wander all the way down to the river valley far below, where already patches of bare, brown ground were beginning to show amongst the oak scrub on the lower slopes of the ridge which rose opposite theirs.  Was looking as though they might be in for a bit of an early spring, and the prospect left him itching to get out and start trapping that river.  While the ice still held, and before the pelts of the beaver and muskrat he would be seeking began to lose quality with the warming weather.

Knew he might be fooling himself about the likelihood of an early thaw; the months which in a typical winter were the snowiest still lay ahead of them, three such months, to be exact, and he was well aware that it was not at all unusual to see serious snowfall right up through the end of May up as high as they were, on occasion, or even into June.  Yet something in the soft breeze that sighed up from the valley spoke to him of spring, and he was even sure, as the first rays of the sun spilled over some far-distant peak or ridgeline to begin flooding the valley with its golden brilliance, that he could smell the subtle, living scent of damp, warming soil carried to him over that great distance.

The smell made him hungry, so hollow and hungry inside all of a sudden that his mouth gaped open for a second at the force of the thing and he pressed an arm across his stomach to still its cramping, telling himself that it was somewhat ridiculous, this reaction of his, because he didn’t eat soil, never had and probably never would, unless you count the rich, black swamp muck that lurks at the bottoms of warm, shallow-water marshes, just teeming with life in both past and present tense, several stages of decay and the things which fed and grew and lived on it all bunched together there in remarkable abundance, black, gooey concentrated life, offering itself to help sustain a man for a time when all his other options had been exhausted and he was pinned down several days too many by heavy enemy presence in the area, all around him, searching, searching and soon to find…  But that was another matter, and he didn’t want to think about it just then, shook his head to clear it of the uninvited images and went back to his study of the valley.  Place didn’t look the same, sun having crept higher during his mental flight into swamp-land, erasing many of the shadows which had given the place definition only minutes before and creating others, revealing new things and nearly blinding him with its brilliance reflecting from all that snow.

He squinted, pulled out the binoculars and searched until once again he located the river where it peeked out ice-locked and snow-banked from the valley floor, following it for as long as the terrain would allow him, first up-valley and then down, searching for sign that the place had been visited by anything other than the busy little winter mammals he hoped to find inhabiting its snowy fastness, but seeing nothing, no telltale ski trail--amazing how visible those things could be, continuous snakes of snow-shadow clearly showing themselves over the course of miles; he’d seen them both from the ground and from the air--to give away the recent passage of anything human, no snowshoe track, and he was glad, knew the place was to be theirs.  They would have to be careful, very careful to keep open-ground trails to a minimum down there, as any such would of course show up as sharply to aerial observers as the anticipated ski or snowshoe trails would have to him from his high perch, and they could not risk thus being discovered, sparking the interest of someone who might get to wondering just who was back there in the middle of nowhere wearing in such a trail in the middle of winter, and take it upon themselves to investigate further, but he believed they could do it, mostly keeping their direct approaches to the river to those areas where the timber stretched down to its banks or nearly so, and the prospect excited him.  He was ready to get out and trapping!

Probably ready to get back to the cabin for the moment, too, for he was dreadfully cold and had been very nearly since he’d first sat down on that ledge, chill of snow and rock seeping into him so that he could no longer hold the binoculars steady enough to get anything close to a clear picture, and when he tried to rise, he all but toppled over forwards right over that ledge.  Would have been a quick way back to the cabin--he’d tried it before, accidentally; good thing the snow had been deep and soft beneath him--but not necessarily a good one, and relieved at having caught himself he sat back down, rubbing cold-stiff legs in an attempt to restore to them some circulation and a useful degree of mobility.  Shivering, laughing at himself even as he felt a slight twinge of something like fear at his near-complete inability to resist the advances of the cold--scrawny critter like you could just up and freeze solid on a morning such as this if you didn’t watch it--he finally got himself back to his feet, a bit more steady this time, legs supporting his weight, and started down.  Just in time, too--for reasons other than the fact that he was freezing and nearing the point of immobility if he didn’t get some blood flowing--for he could see smoke beginning to rise from the chimney as he negotiated the steep, slick descent, a sure sign that people were beginning to be up and stirring down there.

 Bud and Susan were set to leave later in the day, planning to camp one night on their way up to the ridge to make the journey easier on Bud’s leg, and Liz would want him around at least part of the day.  Something about being good hosts, and all of that.  Short distance from the base of the cliff to the cabin but he took it slowly, reluctant, somehow, to be around the other people and wishing he might have spent a bit more time up on the ledge, watching, pondering.  Later.

Breakfast was nearly ready by the time Einar made his way back to the tunnel and in, Susan's last big cooking experiment before taking her leave of the place, and this time she had outdone herself with a big batch of cornmeal pancakes, enhanced with powdered eggs and served up hot with thin slices of skillet fried elk steak seasoned with garlic, salt and sage.  Over everything was poured real maple syrup that she had carried up as a powder--several packets of it she had left with Einar and Liz to enjoy later--and everyone was gathered around, sniffing hungrily at the treat when Einar popped his head in through the tunnel.

"Just in time for our farewell breakfast,"  Kilgore boomed, pulling Einar to his feet and brushing some of the snow from his clothing.  "Figured maybe you couldn't stand one more minute of us and had taken off to the timber 'till we disappeared for good, but here you are, brought back by the smell of breakfast.  Smart fella.  Smarter than I had you figured for, let me tell you, because my bride's cooking is something to behold, even in less-than-civilized environs such as the wild and remote abode in which we now find ourselves...especially under such circumstances, I ought to say, for it is here that she really shines.  Come and feast!"

In response to which Susan landed him a playful swat with the back of the fork she was using to flip the pancakes, threatening more if he didn't watch his words.  "They're just corncakes, but hopefully ought to hold us all well into the day.  And to be fair, I think this particular abode is a good deal more civilized than some I've entered, down in civilization.  "Aw now, don't go accusing us of being civilized, or I might have to move us on out of here and go on the run again just to disprove the accusation.  Civilization is for the valleys."

"No offense intended, I was just referring to the fact that you've got this place well set up for cooking, a very practical and functional kitchen, and that's a good thing!  A very good thing, that has no doubt made your wife very happy."

Einar gave a conciliatory nod and Liz smiled, yes, indeed, she was quite happy with the kitchen, with the cabin and with life in general, for the most part.  Now if only Einar would share the morning feast, which, remembering how good the scent of sun-warmed soil had smelled to him earlier, leaving him all but ready to head down to the valley with a spoon and dig in, he was finding himself rather inclined to do.

Comments from 20 April

Anonymous said… 
Can anyone tell me why Einar won’t eat? I thought I at least kind of understood at one point. But now he seems to understand intellectually that his self imposed privations are way past the point of making him tougher and are in fact making him weak beyond the point of usefulness and threatening to kill him. He is enamored of his new main battle rifle but can barely hold it steady even for a moment. Even an occasional hunter knows that the better shape you are in the better you can shoot under physical stress, for Einar physical stress is walking a few steps! He knows intellectually that he has to get more nutrition in order to build the muscles he is trying to exercise so he can handle the rifle better. It seems he is able to put two and two together, but then something in his psyche makes it come out three? 
BTW: That 7.63 NATO is going to make a lot of noise. In Einar’s situation it is almost a last stand only option. Maybe good for holding until Liz can get little Will and herself out of harm’s way. The little .22 is much more useful.

Yes, that FN (7.62 x 51, or .308 Win) is going to be loud and would indeed be a weapon of last resort, perhaps even saved until after his taking out several of the attackers with his atlatl, bow, etc--but that doesn’t make him any less glad to have it!

As to your first question, no, I can’t tell you and doubt Einar could really do so himself, to a satisfactory degree.  I doubt he really knows, anymore.

20 April, 2012

20 April 2012

Storm moving out in the twilight hours and a deep chill settling over the little plateau, that night was a quiet and restful one for all occupants of the cabin as they lay bundled in sleeping bags and snuggled beneath bear hides, even Einar managing to sleep quietly for several long, uninterrupted stretches before being wakened after each by the cold or by his hunger.  At least there were no dreams.  Liz, too, enjoyed the quietness of the night, her feeding routine by then well established and Will hardly having to stir enough to wake her in order to get his still-frequent nighttime snacks, but several times she found herself wide awake nonetheless, holding her breath in the silence as she listened for any sign of Einar’s breathing, scared more than once than it might have ceased altogether in the night but each time reassured, after a fashion, when with the passage of several minutes she felt him shiver.  Still going, if with a bit of difficulty, and hopefully getting some good rest, too; she rejoined him in sleep.

The following morning they finally got around to opening the duffel, revealing the remainder of the gifts brought by the honeymooning couple, the little bolt action .22 rifle and several bricks of ammo which the tracker knew could provide them with a tremendous amount of game both small and large in Einar’s careful use, a significant quantity of ammo for the FN--partially explaining the duffel’s heaviness--as well as several magazines for the latter and cleaning supplies for both firearms.  To further augment the little family’s game-taking potential Kilgore had included a dozen well-made cable snares in three different sizes to allow for the taking of everything from rabbits to deer and even elk, and a few mid-sized conibear traps whose presence seemed to delight Einar nearly as much as the rifle.  But not quite.

Along with all the potential future meals represented by the firearms, traps and snares, Susan had insisted they include some which were more ready to eat, which meant several additional jars of Nutella and peanut butter, some wax-dipped cheese rounds which Einar could not help but eye hungrily as they were pulled out of the bag, powdered eggs and a sandbag half filled with split peas all divided out within the large container into smaller portions, each of which had been protected inside doubled-over zippered plastic bags.  Everything had made it in fine condition, the heavier items protected by packets of cloth goods, additional diapers and clothes for the baby, socks and underwear for Liz and Einar and a good warm wool shirt for each of them, too.

 Knowing that Liz would greatly appreciate such things, Susan had included two bars of soap, floss, several toothbrushes and a little container of mixed salt and baking powder with dried, powdered mint leaves from her greenhouse to serve as a substitute for the charcoal or ashes or goodness knew what they currently used to brush their teeth, and Liz was indeed most appreciative of the little luxuries.  That was it, the extent of the air drop, aside from a pair of little blank books with lined pages which Susan had thought one or both of them might like to use in recording their thoughts, details of daily life, the growth of little Will, weather conditions or other relevant details, and with them she had included several pens and pencils.

Over those next few days Einar continued training with the rifle, often just shouldering it and holding his position--sitting at first, elbow braced against his knee, and then standing, though never for terribly long, as he didn’t want to drop the rifle--dry firing and cycling the bolt several times, trying to strengthen his arms, still the trembling that tended to seize them after a few seconds and breathe through the cramps.  Mighty difficult at times, but he would just grit his teeth, turn to face the wall in order to hide the tears that occasionally traced their way unbidden down his cheeks at the hurt of the thing, and keep on.  He had learned long ago that one really can command the muscles to go on working despite their cramping up, a bit of knowledge that had more than once come in very handy on his various free climbs on the high, brittle rock of the Spires, and he put that knowledge to good use now, though forced to silently admit that there was a bit of difference between the two sets of circumstances, simply in the fact that he’d possessed a good bit more muscle to start with, during those climbs.

Sometimes, weary of being cooped up with everyone in the cabin and needing some quiet, he would head outside by himself without the rifle--no one bothered to follow him once Liz became assured that he did indeed intend on returning, but on occasion she would secretly watch him from just inside the tunnel, check on him--calling to Muninn and holding one arm or the other outstretched until the bird made an awkward landing, holding the arm out straight and straining against the creature’s weight for a few minutes finally it began trembling so that the bird, alarmed, took once more to the air.  After which he would do much the same thing with rocks or heavy pieces of firewood until at last, barely able to close his hands, let alone lift anything usefully heavy, he would sit silently in the snow for a few minutes before returning inside.

Despite his increased activity and a visible determination to get himself turned around, physically, Einar barely ate over the course of those days, taking in no more than he had to, it seemed to everyone else, in order to keep himself conscious and able after a fashion to move about the place, but when asked about it he always said he was getting plenty.  Though Liz did not want in any way to discourage the obvious efforts he was making at growing stronger, she worried for him in the absence of greater quantities of food, feared that he might quite lose himself in his focused effort, to the exclusion of the very things he needed to be doing in order to assure their success.  Feared that in his doing so she might lose him altogether, so did what she could to encourage him to go on eating, but more often than not he silently excused himself during mealtimes, heading out through the tunnel for another visit with the raven, or a walk with the new rifle.  Kilgore would just watch him go and shake his head, knowing his difficulty but not how to help him through it, as the customary stomping to which he had occasionally resorted seemed somewhat out of place, under the circumstances.

Kilgore’s leg benefited greatly from those days of rest and care by Susan, swelling going down significantly and the pain with it as he largely kept it elevated and frequently applied the improvised ice packs she made him from snow and clean cloth diapers--Einar suggested once that the tracker just come out and join him on one of his snow-sitting expeditions, take care of the thing once and for all, but Kilgore no-so-politely declined--and though as the end of their stay neared he was not necessarily looking forward to the trek up to the red ridge, neither was he dreading it to the degree that he might have been, several days prior.  The leg was not, they all now agreed, actually broken, and he ought to be able to walk on it with some care.

During those days Einar did not once take down the hidden packet of documents--wanting very badly to finish their reading, read them over and over as he’d planned to do but reluctant, perhaps, to go any further down that road in Kilgore’s presence--nor did anyone press him to do so, Liz alone knowing where they had been secretly stashed.  Kilgore, however, was not ready to leave without once more broaching the subject with Einar, and was simply biding his time.

19 April, 2012

19 April 2012

Laundry hung and the soup ready everyone sat down to a most welcome meal whose warmth and richness helped drive away some of the chill that lingered in the cabin after the storm, Bud describing the route they planned to take back up to the red ridge in some four days’ time for their next scheduled meeting with the plane and Einar nodding somewhat absently when the tracker asked whether he thought the plan would help them avoid areas where avalanche danger might be highest after the storm. Not satisfied with a casual nod when it came to matters of such import Bud pressed him, needing to know and not, himself, being nearly as familiar with either that territory or with avalanche danger and behavior as was Einar.

“Yes,” he finally replied, setting aside his mostly-empty soup bowl—he’d been hungry, had finished the soup in an attempt to chase away some of the hollow, hurting urgency that had seemed to be tightening its grip around his middle over that last hour or so, for he knew where it would lead if left unanswered—and looking up at the tracker, “you’ll definitely be better off avoiding those steep, open slopes you ran across on your first attempt, and especially some of the chutes and couloirs that I seem to remember seeing over in that area. Those can be real death traps after storms like this one.”

“Figured as much. Wasn’t real comfortable out on that stuff the first time, neither of us were, and this time it may have even less time to slide before we get up on it, so I think we’ll definitely try and stick to the spines and ridgelines as we go up this time, see if we can’t avoid most of that open country. Be better for not leaving tracks that way, too. No need to get it all hashed out right this minute though, is there? Got a few days to work out the details, and right now, we got stew to eat!”

Extra hungry from the storm and from their recent treks through the snow everyone enjoyed several good, hot helpings of stew as they sat together around the stove, but Einar wouldn’t take more than one, saying something about not wanting his legs to start swelling up as they’d done in the past and his need to be careful about how much he ate at once, with that in mind. Liz knew he was right about that, but knew also that it wasn’t the entire story. Despite saying he intended to eat more and probably even despite meaning it, he really hadn’t been taking in enough to cause him any significant problems as far as swelling in his legs, had not, in fact, been allowing himself enough to even begin replacing what he’d been expending in slogging up and down the mountain, hauling men and materials up from the basin through the deep snow and cold, and so had managed to lose a good deal more weight over the past week or so, a thing which Liz would hardly have regarded as possible, had she not seen it in the increased sharpness of his features, the alarming degree to which the upper portion of his spine stuck out when she lay close to him at night, shoulders sharp and unprotected, the way he could shiver endlessly and not seem to grow any warmer, often sitting all drawn in on himself in what she knew must be his body’s unconscious efforts to conserve some warmth, unconscious, for he never would have made the intentional decision to do so.

Liz wasn’t having it. Einar had expressed his intention to try and eat more, to make every effort to go on living, and if in the fog of his weariness and whatever state of mind had been brought on by reading that transcript he was abandoning the effort…well, that was just too bad, because she had no intention of doing so, and could be every bit as hard-headed and determined as he, when circumstances called for it. Which they certainly did at the moment. Not even bothering to ask again she took his bowl and refilled it, sat down beside him, set on not leaving until he’d finished. Which might have worked out alright—Einar truly not at the moment being intentionally mule-headed—had he not fallen asleep. Hot soup will do that to a fellow, especially when he’s so weary as Einar had become and rather unused to either food or warmth, the combination leaving him so sleepy that he found it all but impossible to keep his eyes open, soon giving up the effort after a quick glance up at the rafters to make certain his hidden documents remained secure in their stash and slumping over against the wall, head on his knees.

Thinking at first that perhaps Einar’s lapse into sleep might simply represent an attempt on his part to avoid being told that he must have more stew, Liz considered doing something to wake him back up again, even thought about having Kilgore do it, as his methods tended to lead to rather a good bit more wakefulness than hers, but she soon thought better of the idea, and let him be. Tired as he’d been of late it was no wonder that he might need a little nap, and spotty and uncertain as sleep had been for him in recent days, she figured he might as well get the rest while he was able. Which he was not, for very long, Will seeing to it that his father was soon wide awake again and staring somewhat confusedly about the cabin in search of the source of the racket. Not even waiting to finish quieting the baby Liz hurried to refill Einar’s bowl, sitting down beside him, and it, feeding Will, who seemed to be hungry every time he was awake and must, she supposed, be growing pretty quickly to need so very many meals.

Einar looked at the soup as if it was some foreign substance, wanted to offer it to Kilgore, who was always hungry, it seemed, even when he’d just finished a meal, but the way Liz was staring at him, he knew there existed little chance of his getting away with that. Better just eat as much as he could, and deal with the swollen legs later. And with the rest of it. He ate, and Liz was happy, and so was Will, who had by that time finished with his repast and gone back to sleep.

After that he retreated again to his corner, taking the new rifle and crouching with it as before, aiming this time at the front door instead of the tunnel, only this time his eyes were clear and present, Kilgore seeing, when he checked--had been somewhat concerned there for a moment, even with the weapon still unloaded--that there was about him none of the earlier strangeness which had nearly led to a dangerous misunderstanding upon his and Susan's return to the cabin. The man was all there, was simply, Kilgore could only assume, relishing having his hands on a firearm once again, getting used to the feel of it. In which assumption he was only partially correct, Einar indeed liking to be armed with something more than the quite adequate but hardly rapid-fire weapons he'd constructed for himself during his years on the run, liking the memories contained in the thing, seeming to reach him through its metal, ground him, somehow, but there was something more at work, something apparent in the iron in his eyes and the resolution with which he flexed what was left of the cramping, trembling muscles of his arms, wasted sinews straining against the weight of the thing, but holding. Einar was working his way back, determined, after his earlier difficulty so much as shouldering the weapon for a few seconds and nearly as alarmed by the experience as he had been humbled, to begin building back up his strength, returning himself to his full ability and usefulness. How he was to do that without the intake of anywhere near an adequate amount of nutrients was still an unknown; the thought process had not yet got that far.

Comments from 16 April

Philip said…

a ~very~ happy member of AA once answered the question, "What is Normal"....



by saying, "Silly, normal is a setting on a washing machine"

For the post yesterday, Liz did more good to Einar, handing him Snorri, than 40 Psych-Therapists could do in 40 months....

Just my opinion on most Psych's, but I have had Two GREAT ONES, Dr. Peter Mist, who helped me (finally) fill out my VA Appeal for PTSD, it seemes that the VA did not think I could be a Combat VET, because I fixed Helicopter radios....

I told one shrink: "do you know another name for Helicopter????"

"No" he replied....

I smiled and said Target. My base was located in the Fish Hook, Tay Ninh, called the Fish Hook, due to the Country boundary lines, we were surrounded by Cambodia, by the North, the West, and the South...

and we caught Rockets & Mortars from each of those directions, plus Nui Ba Dinh, the Black Virgin Mountain (volcano really)where the Cu Chi Tunnel system began.....

but today I am better, not normal, but better.... and I will enjoy this days Post....

187th AHC, The Crusaders
Trouble Shooter 1 5
Tay Ninh RVN 1969-70

Thanks as always, Philip, for your words. Hope things are going well for you today.

You’d mentioned a while back all the rain you had been having, and needing to do roof repairs on Small Beginning…well, the months-long dry spell ended here with torrential downpours last night sometime after midnight, which led to my discovery of a major leak in my roof that hadn’t been there before. This presented itself as water pouring in at one corner of the house, not dripping but pouring, so I spent about an hour up there on the roof in the rain and wind early this morning trying to get it patched up sufficiently to reduce the pouring to a drip…got it done, finally. I was actually having fun up there prowling around in the dark and the rain on the slick, windy roof by the end of it, and didn’t want to come in! :D

Anonymous said…

Sometimes I feel too .... well, too young, to get involved in the discussions. Kinda like my input would be out of place, gratuitous, if you will.

That said, I have to throw down my eleventeen cents (two, adjusted for the inflation that there is none of) regarding "normal".

It's none of my business to define normal for anyone but me. Look, each of us has a "normal" that we decide if we are at, or not. So long as that 'normal' doesn't impact negatively on another person, then it's nobody's business precisely what constitutes normal for another person.

It's normal for Einar to embrace the cold and sit naked up to his neck in dry ice for months on end, but that is decidedly ABnormal for a Wild Horse Desert critter like me. Same token, Einar would probably find what I consider normal, to be repulsive to him. BUT it's not my place to pass that judgement on him or anyone else, nor to demand that he conform to MY perception of normal, just the same as it's not anyone else's place to tell me what I should do.

The ONLY proper way to impose your "normal" onto someone else is by quiet demonstration. By quiet I don't mean silent, but without being overbearing or oppressive. Walk the walk, and when someone asks, only THEN should you talk the talk.

It really does take all kinds. That's why we're called INDIVIDUALS. There is no such thing as a "normal individual" :)


Thanks for your words, Bill. I don’t think your input is out of place here in the least, and am glad to get your perspective on things.

Yes, I’m sure your version of normal, temperature-wise, would be very different from Einar's, since you’re a desert critter. I don’t know about that dry ice thing, though! That’s one I’m pretty sure Einar hasn’t tried yet, but new ideas are always welcome…

Anonymous said…

Thanks for the story , finally caught up , was reading all week end to do so . As I mentioned to FOH on anther site that I thought he knew a little about ptsd , some of us didn't find out what the problem was till after 30 yrs. There all a lot of things that people will do to try to stay normal it was drinking at first until the good lord took it away and the va still wanted me to say ,my name is Dave and I'm a acholic but I refused I told them that I couldn't say that as I am not one anymore. So that was one way to be normal in my mind at the time, Next was working until I could work anymore . Finally work so many hours and no sleep that I finally had a siezure just like Einar and ran into a bridge , so if you want to keep your drivers lisenes you take meds. the rest of your life Some of what normal does for you.
To Philip
I too was station at Tay Ninh From jan. 1967 until apr. 1969 probly chewed some of the same dust.

Welcome to the site--do I recognize SE209 from the other site, there? Good to have you here!