31 May, 2012

31 May 2012

After returning from their backcountry honeymoon, newlyweds Bud and Susan Kilgore had briefly stopped by Susan’s house to check in with family and make sure everything was going alright with Susan’s greenhouses, which it had been, her son and his family doing a fine job of running things in her absence.  Bud then checked in at Mountain Task Force headquarters down in town to make sure there had been no major developments in the search in his absence, which there had not been, and he requested another week off to recover from the twisted leg he’d sustained while honeymooning--everyone speculated, some chuckled behind his back, but no one asked; dangerous business, that--which was granted.  Loose ends tied up there in the valley, the couple planned to take off for Bud’s house in Arizona.  Susan had never seen the place, and he wanted her to see it, as they would at some point have to make the decision to sell or not sell the hand-built cabin and its associated land.

Kilgore, rather fond of the place, himself, after having called it home for so many long, solitary years, hoped Susan might take enough of a liking that she would want to keep it in the family, at least for the time.  They had decided, after only a bit of discussion, to make their home at Susan’s so she could continue her greenhouse and nursery business and he his sometimes employment with the Task Force, but both were looking forward to the little diversion to Bud’s place.  Taking most of a day to sort and dry gear from their long sojourn in the backcountry, they set out the following morning in Susan’s pickup, planning to cover the distance in one day’s driving and--despite Bud’s naturally cautious and mistrusting nature--not quite suspecting the surprise that awaited them beyond the gate that sealed off the end of the long driveway.

    ·     ·     ·     ·

It came in low along the ridge, skimming cornices and further bending the twisted, wind-hardened tops of an island of low, scraggly sub alpine firs that had eked out a meager existence there just above treeline, Einar and Liz crouching close together in the cabin as they listened to the chopper bank, turn and circle once, surveying the scene below and presumably scouting for the best spot to land.  Found something that would work, apparently, tone changing as it descended, prepared to touch down on what Einar could only assume must be the smooth, level snow of the basin near the tarn, the only place really wide and tree-free enough for such a landing, depending on the skill and experience of the pilot.  Silence, then, as they dropped below the granite cliffs above the spring and powered down, Einar staring breathless and intent at the wall as if its great black, blank expanse might yield some clue to the actions of the team down in the basin, if only he could stare hard enough at it, bore through it with his eyes.

 Wish I was still over there where I could see.  This is the real critical part, right here.  Got to make sure they stick to their rescuing, without making any detours or showing interest in this area over here.  At least they only circled the basin, didn’t seem to be paying our area any particular mind.  And much as I  might wish to be over there where I could keep an eye on things and be ready to send some rounds--or darts, for the sake of stealth--downrange if they start in the wrong direction, better be glad I was in here under all this timber and the insulated cabin roof, instead.  If they were using infrared--still questionable, but a definite possibility--they’d have seen me over there, sure thing.  Unless I would have been so cold by then as to not show up as anything interesting, only problem being that I tend not to be such a great shot when I’m frozen halfway through like that.  Yep, best to be here in the cabin.   Which reasoned approach, true as he knew it to be, did little to settle his urge to be finding a way to get himself safely and secretly up to the spring from which he would be able to watch the goings-on.  Liz was stirring, beginning to move again after the reflexive crouch into which she’d settled at that sound, even protected as they were by the walls and roof of the cabin.

“I don’t think they saw us, do you?”

“No way to be sure, but they didn’t spend any extra time on us, that’s for certain.  Passed right over and circled the basin like they ought to have been doing, so that’s a pretty encouraging sign.  Sun’s out, our fire’s been dead for a while now, snow covered all our tracks…shouldn’t have been too much for them to see, really, even if they’d been casually looking.”

“And if their looking had not been so casual?”

“Would have seen our heat signature, most likely.  If they’d been looking, and not just scanning with slide-prone areas in mind.  This was kind of a close one.  Don’t like it.”

“You probably wish I hadn’t started the fire this morning…”

“Well, I didn’t tell you to put it out did I?  So I’m equally at fault.  But yeah,  I might have chosen to do without it, considering the situation in the basin.  Even with the storm howling the way it was, earlier.  Stuff just  takes too long to cool down.  Chances are, though, that I would have gone the entire winter without more than the occasional fire if I’d been all on my own, and probably would have miscalculated things one time or another and frozen myself clean through before I even realized I was starting to have a problem, so who knows where the proper balance might be?  Probably a lot closer to your way of doing things than to mine, if a person’s just talking about living through the winter, and such.  We’re gonna be fine.  Don’t believe they saw anything.”

“‘Just talking about living through the winter’…that’s really the way you look at this, isn’t it?  That living through the winter is secondary to some things…”

“Sure it is.   Thought you saw it that way, too.”

“I did.  Still do.  You know what happened last time they got ahold of me!  No way I want to go through any of that again, and this time, I know there wouldn’t be any chance of their letting me out again, either.  So I’m just as set on avoiding capture as you are, or as close to it as I can get, at least, but…well, now that little Will’s here, making it through the winter is looking awfully important, too.  It changes how you look at everything, how I do, having this little life here.”

Einar nodded, peered down at the sleeping child, who was beginning to squirm and wriggle and would soon be wide awake and seeking food.  “Oh, we’re making it through the winter just fine.  Why’d you think I’m so set on making sure this place doesn’t get discovered?  So long as we’re here, able to stay here, well, we’ve got food and shelter and an awful lot more security than we could have dreamed of, a couple years ago.  Actually…”  he chuckled, eyes softening a bit,  “if I remember correctly we did dream of it, the both of us, dreamt of a spot like this with sunlight slanting down through the aspens and a little buckskin-clad boy digging in the dirt outside, helping his mama dig roots and running to greet his father when he came back hauling half a deer up the mountain…yeah, good dreams those were, and now here we are.”

“Almost.  First, we’ve got to finish making it through the winter!”

30 May, 2012

30 May 2012

Snow had stopped and the sky, when he peered up at it through the timber, was rapidly clearing, a giant rift already revealing blue behind the clouds.  A quick end to what had been a rather quick storm, and Einar scrambled back in through the tunnel, shut down the damper on the stove.

“Assuming that guy made it out, they could be in here with a chopper anytime now.  Storm’s done.”

Liz wanted to object to the dying of the fire, as she could see that he had by no means finished thoroughly warming, and would in the absence of the stove’s heat almost certainly tend to start heading in the wrong direction again, but she knew the end of that storm meant the possibility that they would soon be seeing air traffic, and protecting the cabin from detection had to be their first priority.

“Well, I’m glad I got all this stew done!  Hopefully they’ll hurry in here, snatch the skiers out of the basin and be on their way, so we can get back to life as we know it around here.  Things were starting to work pretty well these last few days, you know?”

“Was a little busy to notice, I guess.”

“Yes, of course you were.  I mean before the skiers came!”

“Oh.  Then.  Sure, going pretty well I guess.”

“At least all of our tracks ought to be gone, after last night.  I think it’s been snowing pretty hard ever since you got back, and blowing, too.”

He nodded slowly.  “Pretty safe, I think.  Shouldn’t be a sign, unless they come pretty soon and the rock of the chimney’s still giving off enough heat to stand out like a beacon, which it might be…I’d figured that storm to stick around a little longer, maybe taper off more slowly so we’d have some time to cool everything down before they end up in here above us.”

“It’ll still take them a while, don’t you think?  And that’s assuming the third man even made it down to some sort of help…”

“We got to assume that.  If he didn’t, he didn’t and we’ll have more time, but chances are that he’s either met someone by now, reached someplace where he can use one sort of communications device or another, or by now he may have simply walked out, if all else failed, found the first house and called for help.  Or, he may have fallen in the storm and ended up dead at the base of a little cliff, body hidden until spring.  But we got to figure on his having made it out.”

“I’m sure the other skiers are hoping for that…  It must have been a pretty rough night for them.”

“Yep.  They will have made it though, I expect.  Had a fire when I left.  She should have had plenty of wood to keep that going, with a little work.  Don’t know about the guy.  He wasn’t looking too good, got his ribs mashed pretty good and seemed to be having a rough time breathing, but I’ve come through worse, and they ought to be just fine.”

“Well sure, if we’re going to start using you as the standard…but you’re a little unusual in that regard, my dear…”

“What, now?  Nothing unusual about me.  I’m just too dumb and hard-headed to know when to quit, that’s all.  Anybody could do it, if they really wanted to.”

“Not sure I entirely agree with you on the “nothing unusual” part…you’re plenty unusual, and there’s no denying it!  But yes, I am quite certain that everyone can do more than they realize, push themselves a lot further than they guessed was even remotely possible before ending up in a situation that demands it of them, and hopefully the pair in the basin were doing that last night, and came through alright.”

He nodded, limped over to the stove and felt its top with the back of his hand.  Still plenty hot, and so would be the chimney, and had it been the dark of night he would have thrown a good shovel-full of snow into the coals to create massive clouds of steam which would hasten the cooling of stove and chimney alike, but it wasn’t dark, and in the daylight, massive steam clouds were definitely not their friends!  Would simply have to allow things to cool down on their own, hope it would happen quickly enough to spare their being picked up on infrared when the inevitable chopper made its way over the ridges and to the basin.  Supposing they were even using infrared.  If the skier had either given them a very accurate description of the basin’s location or was riding with them--unlikely, that last one--then they might have no need of anything at all other than the naked eye to locate the stranded pair.  Certainly the slide path itself would provide ample visual clue as to their general location, so there seemed a fair chance he was overestimating the danger, when it came to detection of the cabin’s heat signature.  Which was the way it must be.  Better to overestimate the threat, even at the cost of potentially unnecessary loss of comfort and convenience during the day as they sat in a cold cabin, than to go ahead with life as usual, hoping to be overlooked.  Liz had made an enormous batch of stew, Will had numerous blankets and robes beneath which to keep quite warm and well-insulated, and they would all be fine.

Einar stirred restlessly, watching Muninn as the bird sat with eyes half closed on his perch, studying him for any sign that he might hear some approaching rumble--if he heard anything, the raven wasn’t letting on--and wishing that chopper would go ahead and put in its appearance, if such was going to be the way of things.  Waiting was really getting to him, shouldn’t be, as it required nothing more than simply carrying on with life in the cabin--a far easier proposition than had been his long, bone-chilling wait out in the snow and wind at the edge of the dropoff over the course of the past day and a half--but the knowledge that he was at any moment likely to begin feeling the earth-rattling throb and rumble of an approaching beast of the air…well, it was really setting him on edge.  Needed to get out and walk, run, slog straight uphill through the deep snow until the breath caught in his lungs, his sides ached and his legs felt like electrified globs of white-hot, flaming jelly, or otherwise burn off some of his nervous energy and keep life reasonably livable.  But neither those nor his other usual measures were options just at the moment.  Had to keep still.  Or at least, had to keep inside.

Nothing said he couldn’t move around there in the cabin, and moving carefully in the dimness, he retrieved the FAL from its spot on the wall, began the series of exercises by which he had been seeking over the past days to begin returning some of the strength to his arms.  Normally he would have gone outside for such activities, but hoped Liz might forgive him just once for executing them indoors, which considering the circumstances and recognizing in him a growing restlessness which must be dealt with, she certainly did.  Only wished that he might be persuaded to stop and enjoy another bowl of stew before continuing with the exercises, but put that idea out of her head when a few minutes in he stopped, frozen in place, listening.  Nearly a full minute later, she heard it too.

29 May, 2012

29 May 2012

Morning came, a pale daylight filtering through the clouds, and it was still snowing.   Liz’s big batch of stew was by that time nearing doneness, Einar having helped by keeping the baby content as she worked over the pot.  Will was wide awake and had been for some time, occasionally content to simply lie there and study Einar’s face--made Einar slightly uncomfortable, but he allowed it, staring right back at those great grey mysterious eyes and wondering what they saw when they looked out at the world, how the child’s brain, without the context of language in which to frame everything, interpreted those sights, and he wished he could remember some of his own thoughts from that age, how things had appeared to him--but for the most part he wanted to move.  Einar did his best to keep the little one satisfied, pacing from bed to water barrel and back again as the raven looked on curiously and the good, warm odors of Liz’s bear stew filled the cabin, a sharp contrast to the continued blasting of the wind outside, sound of snow scouring the walls.

Einar shivered.  Still not warm yet after his long hours out in the snow, wouldn’t be thoroughly warm for a good while yet, but he did not mind.  Was quite used to spending the winter half frozen and struggling to keep himself warm enough to be mobile and useful, and so long as he could use his hands and expect a reasonable degree of steadiness on his feet--especially when carrying the baby--he was quite satisfied.  Liz seemed to have different standards, however, and though he had never  been able to figure them out, exactly, they seemed to involve his being offered bowl after bowl of her freshly-made stew,  He tried to keep up, though finding it somewhat difficult to eat while looking after the baby, as the hot stew would inevitably set him to shaking furiously again as it found its was down to his empty stomach and began further warming him from the inside out.  Made it hard to walk straight and left him less than trustful as to the steadiness of his hands, so after a few tries he set the bowl aside, supposing he’d better wait until Liz took Will again.  Then, he would finish the stuff, for his long sit in the snow and the struggle that had been finding his way home through the teeth of that blizzard had left him with an immense, hollow hurting hunger that he knew the bowl of stew would hardly begin to satisfy.  Yet, he dare not have more, not all at once anyway, lest he further aggravate his sore and swollen legs.  Couldn’t afford to risk that, not with the possibility that he might soon be called upon to cover more ground and in a hurry, depending upon the actions of the skiers and their potential rescuers.

The single bowl of stew would have to do for the moment, and it would, if not with quite the level of satisfaction he might have derived from sticking to a single bear.  Or a single elk.  The whole critter.  Devouring the entire thing and then crawling off bloated and bloody, belly dragging the ground, to curl up in his den for five or six days of solid sleep before creeping out to crack the bones for their marrow, like a long-starved wolf.  He sighed, shivered again.  Nope.  Didn’t have a whole bear or elk at which to throw himself and wouldn’t have dared make like a wolf even if he had, but it was a nice thought.  Fella could have nice thoughts now and then, couldn’t he?  No harm in nice thoughts, and at the moment, the five or six days of sleep he’d have after devouring the elk sounded quite nearly as tempting as the meal, itself.  Awful sleepy all of a sudden, and he knew sleepiness associated with the sort of cold he’d recently come though must be resisted at all costs, lest a man find himself rather quickly in a place from which self-retrieval wasn’t even an option, mind going dark as the cold crept in and took him, but he was no longer that cold, not quite, was dry and out of the wind in there by the fire and his current need for sleep was genuine, the real thing and not a trick of the cold.  Crouching, nodding, he tried to focus on Will’s face but it was jumping and swimming before his eyes, vision beginning to go all dark and fuzzy around the edges and he hurried to get Will to a safe place, nestling him gently on the bed before collapsing beside him, face down on the bear hide and fast asleep.

Liz just shook her head, draped a corner of the hide over Einar’s still rather thoroughly chilled form and let him be for the moment, knowing that he hadn’t slept in well over two days and must be dreadfully weary.  Not weary enough to sleep through the dream-visions that came crowding in on him as soon as his eyes had closed in slumber, though, and within seconds he was wide awake again, raising himself up off the bed with his hands in one fluid motion and glancing rather desperately around the cabin as if seeking a way out, unseeing--Liz had no doubt what it was he saw, its detail written with excruciating detail in the blank expanse of that wide, wild stare--before his eyes came to rest on little Will and he was stopped in his tracks.  Sight of the child helping him get his place in the world Einar sank back to his stomach with a sigh, relieved if only half believing, certainly not ready for more sleep but infinitely glad to find himself back in the cabin, his own familiar home and with no particular need to rush the walls and find a way--any way at all; window of opportunity would be incredibly small--to escape.

Liz was saying something, and he scrunched his eyes shut, opened them again in an attempt to get them to focus, thinking somehow this might help him to make more sense of her words, and it did, something did, for he could finally puzzle them out.  Something about stew.  More stew.  She wanted him to eat more stew, and that offer, coming in the midst of the departing dream-horror whose grip he was just then beginning to loose, struck him as immensely funny and he burst out laughing, burying his face in the bear hide to prevent disturbing Will but the baby was already awake, watching him.  Not quite understanding the situation and half afraid that Einar was going to smother himself in the hides Liz took him by the shoulders and got him turned over, Muninn by that time making quite a racket of his own where he perched beside the water barrel, and soon Liz was laughing along with the both of them, not understanding how a second bowl of stew could be so very humorous but glad Einar was getting some enjoyment out of the situation, after clearly waking up on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak.  Finally he was able to rein in his laughter, worn out and beginning to be aware of how cold he’d begun growing once again, lying there so far from the fire.

“Yeah, I’d like the stew now, if it’s still available.  Real good stew you’ve made.  It ought to hold us for days, as many days as it takes for this rescue to be over and done with so we can have a fire again.  Really excellent stuff.”

She got him the stew.  “Oh, I’m glad you think so.   I was beginning to wonder if maybe you were laughing at my offer because the stew was so awful, you couldn’t imagine why I’d ask you about having more!  Thought maybe I’d accidentally chopped an elk spleen or something, and thrown it in the stew.”

Which just set Einar to laughing all over again, and a few minutes passed before he was able to dig in and start on the stew.  There would be no laughter, however, when a few minutes later he poked his head out the door to check on the weather…

28 May, 2012

28 May 2012

Assured that Liz had been taking measures in his absence to prepare for their potential departure and proud of her for having done everything he would have done, and more, to make ready, Einar gave himself over for the time to the warming process, knowing he’d got to get it over with before he’d be good for much else, hands and feet stinging with the sharp bite of returning circulation and the trembling beginning to increase as stiff muscles loosened up a bit.  Appeared he had somehow managed to avoid any serious frostbite sitting out there in the storm and on his long returning wander that night, fingers and toes clearly red and painful as he began warming, but not the waxy white which would have spelled real trouble.  Einar was glad and a bit surprised, perhaps, that the damage had not been more significant considering the state of his legs, swollen to nearly twice their normal diameter after his recent attempts to increase his food intake, the trouble interfering somewhat with circulation to his feet as well as altering his gait and leaving walking a rather painful and difficult proposition, at times.  Well.  Appeared he’d come through it alright, could go on eating as he knew he must ultimately do if he wanted the swelling to go down and stay that way, though it was always tempting to simply quit eating again, knowing it would provide at least temporary relief.

No.  Not this time.  His long vigil out in the snow watching the stranded skiers had only served to reinforce to him the necessity of his regaining his accustomed strength and resistance to the cold, and though his first inclination was, as always, to try and accomplish this through further deprivation and physical challenge, he knew the long-term solution ultimately had to include eating and actually beginning to repair his body, some.  Had pushed it just about as far as it could go, likely, and though possessed, as always, with an insatiable curiosity to see just how much farther he could push his boundaries, he was now a man with a family and had no business deliberately taking such things to their most likely conclusion simply to satisfy his curiosity about where the edge might lie, and just how long he could teeter on it, balancing precariously, before going over.  Nope.  Time to eat, and soon, for he must be ready should the rescue of the skiers bring unwanted company to the basin.

Much as he wanted to eat the meal Liz was preparing him, Einar could not do it just yet for there had come a time, as he knew there would come, when his entire attention was consumed by the intensity of warming, body trembling too hard to allow for much other activity and certainly precluding intelligible speech, Liz helping him through the whole thing with pot after pot of hot, sweetened nettle tea and not worrying too much aside from a brief period during which he seemed to be struggling for breath--feared briefly that his heart might not be taking too well to the warming, that the entire thing might be proceeding too quickly--for she had seen it all before.  He would come through alright, and did, shivering slacking off after a time to leave him weary and still rather thoroughly chilled, but able once more to move about and carry on something resembling a normal conversation with Liz.

“Skiers must be in a pretty bad way by now.  Quite a storm out there, and I didn’t see them eating anything.”

“They’ve got some shelter though, don’t they?  The lean-to that the woman built, and they’ve got their ski clothes…and a fire.  Why, they’re better off than you were!  I bet they’ll last.”

“Guy’s hurt pretty bad.  Broken ribs, coughing up blood, that can turn real nasty in a hurry, if it isn’t already.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do.”


“At least with this storm, we can have a fire for a little while, warm the place up and do some cooking before we’ve got to go cold again.”

“Got to do that just as soon as the storm shows signs of letting up, because if they haven’t already got somebody in here on foot to do the rescue, they’ll fly in just as soon as the weather breaks, and it’s not enough for us to simply not have smoke coming out of the chimney at that time.  Place has to be cold inside and out, so it doesn’t show on infrared.  Just for a couple days, until we’re sure they’ve come and gone.”

“I’m going to make a bunch of stew today then, right now this morning, so we’re not stuck eating jerky and pemmican for three days.  Not that I’ve got anything against either of them, they’re very good food and…”

A smile creased Einar’s cold-cracked lips.  “You don’t need to explain.  Variety is good. Go make your massive quantities of stew!”

With Liz busy over the stove Einar pulled down the orange envelope--left to sit for a time but not forgotten; he’d been thinking about it for days--from its place in the rafters, blew from it the accumulated dust and balanced it for a time in hands still unsteady from his long wait in the cold, considering, weighing the thing, and Liz came to him, put her hands over his.

“Do you have to?  Right now?”

He answered gently, freeing himself from her grip and pulling out the sheaf of papers.  “I do, today.  Don’t worry, I won’t let it…pull me away, this time.  Staying right here with you and the little one.”

“Thank you,” and she knew he was sincere in his intentions, but recognized also the difficulty he would likely have in keeping to them, once that thing started getting its claws into him.  The skiers ought to help, his knowledge that they were still out there, presence still a potential threat to the quiet and solitude of life in the basin, and she hoped that knowledge would provide him further motivation when it came to keeping himself more or less in the present, ready to act on any threat that might come along.

Einar read it, then, the parts about Andy, spelled out there on the page in the spare, stark language of a young man who’d just come through his own weeks-long ordeal in the jungle, so bent on surviving moment-to-moment over those long days that he’d not had time to stop and think about any of it or begin coming to some deeper understanding, simply spilling raw, unprocessed data in response to his interviewers’ questions--careful, though, in some areas; he could see that he’d been holding back, knew it had been intentional--not leaving out much of anything.  Best that way.  Time has a way of distorting things, filtering them a bit and easing the hard edges, some, and Einar wanted the edges just then, the whole story in all its unmitigated detail.  He wanted to remember Andy, the man’s life and his sacrifice.   Sacrifice.  You make it sound voluntary, Einar.  Might have been, on some level, you’ll never know…but he was a prisoner just like you and I’m sure all he really wanted was to get out of there and get home someday to see his family again.  And while he certainly conducted himself as a man--more of one than you’ll ever be--he was just a kid who never got to live his life, and no matter how you want to frame it or phrase it or twist it around, you can’t erase the fact that you had some part in making it so.  Or at the very, very least, failing to prevent it from being so.  Yeah.  Go ahead and remember him, if that’s what you want.  But don’t forget the circumstances.  Got no right to do your remembering without including those.  Best remember the whole thing.   And he did.

After a time, finished reading but just beginning his own remembrance, for there were things that had never been written, Einar set the papers aside--why did you do this?  She was right, maybe.  Now wasn’t the time--Liz unable to overlook the grief in his eyes and she sat down beside him with Will in her arms, smiling when he arched his neck and wrinkled his little forehead in an attempt to get a better look at his father’s face.  Einar saw, met his eyes and the hard lines of his face softened some; Liz almost thought she saw the beginnings of a smile.

26 May, 2012

26 May 2012

I’m heading out for a few days, so this will be the last chapter until Monday or Tuesday, or so.

Hope you all enjoy the weekend, but please don’t forget to also stop and take some time to remember all of those through the years who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

~ John 15:13

25 May, 2012

25 May 2012

Huddled in the bearskins with little Will and seriously contemplating a second visit to Einar despite what she knew would be his likely-strenuous objections--he wouldn’t want her leaving the tracks, deepening their trail, but if the wind was any indicator a major storm was on its way in, snow already scouring the cabin walls, and besides, none of those objections would matter too much if he froze out there in the night--Liz thought she heard something bump and scrape against the woodshed-side of the cabin.  Might have been the wind, bending and bowing a tree until it touched the cabin, or a load of lingering snow finally breaking loose and falling from an overhanging bough as the storm increased, but she was by that time quite familiar with all the little nuances of sound and movement common to the place, and this did not fit the pattern.  The sound, though, did not come again, and after a period of intent listening, she went back to feeding Will, wishing she had a light and finally deciding that the way the wind was raging outside, driving before it a constant swirl of new snow, she ought to be safe at least lighting one candle.  Could probably get away with the fire, too, for who would be flying in such weather?  But until she got back outside and did her best to study the sky and ascertain that the current squall was not likely to be merely a passing thing, it seemed safer to stick to the single candle.  Its light would be a tremendously welcome thing, would help her stay awake, for she was weary, and with the cabin cold and the bed wonderfully warm, she was at times having difficulty preventing herself from nodding off with Will.  Did not want to do that.  Had to go check on Einar, and soon.

She lit the candle, blinking after so many hours in the darkness, shielding Will’s face when he startled and squinted in his sleep.  “It’s Ok, little one.  I just wanted to be able to see, a little bit, maybe get myself a snack so I can keep having lots of energy to make food for you, because you’re sure not slowing down, are you?  You’re just growing and growing…”

Moving the candle to the little ledge-shelf above her side of the bed, Liz thought she heard something out in the tunnel as its light fell across the door, a slight shifting and scraping, and while she might have been inclined to dismiss it as yet another trick of the wind, she knew better.  Wind never found its way that far into the tunnel, had never happened, and this had been right up near the door.  Easing Will down into a warm little nest of hides she got into her parka, for it was cold in the cabin after so long without a fire, took the candle and eased open the door, Einar’s spear drawn back and ready in her right hand, should the scrapings be those of a wolverine or some other less-than-welcome animal wishing entry.  It was no wolverine that lay crumpled against the tunnel wall, and she dropped the spear, left the candle on the floor and hurried to him.   Einar!  Have you been out here all that time?  Why didn’t you say something, bang on the door, let me know you were here?   She already knew the answer, though, had it confirmed for her as soon as she got him rolled over and could have a look at his face; he’d apparently expended his last bit of energy reaching the cabin, had ceased at some point to have too much influence over what happened next and had, upon reaching his goal, had likely breathed a great sigh of relief and curled up to sleep there in the relative shelter of the tunnel.  It had nearly been the end of him, and Liz, knowing they would need a fire, hurried to check the state of the storm.  She found the tunnel mouth heavily drifted already, new snow piling up quickly and knew there was little danger in their having a fire that night.  Looked like the storm was there to stay, and if she wanted to be able to say the same about Einar, she’d better be getting him out of his snowy clothes and warming, in a hurry.

Turning, Liz was surprised to see Einar sitting up, watching her in the dim, flickering glow of the candle with a smile that told her he must have regained at least partial awareness of his surroundings, and then he began talking, voice all strange and strained and hollow with words missing here and there, but definitely his own.

“Skiers still there but…snow so heavy I wanted to make my tracks now, let the snow cover them.  Won’t find us now.  Think this one’s gonna…turn out Ok.”

“Yes, yes it sure is, and now why don’t you come on in and I’ll get the fire going?  I know you’ve got to be needing sleep pretty badly, but this isn’t the place to do it!”  Which indeed it was not, but Einar hadn’t heard her, having slumped over in sleep as she spoke, and she took him beneath the arms, started dragging, but didn’t get too far at all before Einar was awake again and struggling to get to his feet--wish you’d either stay awake or asleep, one or the other, until I can get you in there!  This is not easy--not quite making it but managing to keep to his hands and knees without falling flat on his face, again.

“Raven got me, came and got me, I…”  shook his head, weary, blinking in the light of the candle as Liz closed the door behind them, losing the thought.   Right.  That’s it.  Lost my way.   “Lost my way and couldn’t find the trail.”

Liz nodded, brushed more of the snow from his parka and busied herself with the fire, knowing she’d better have some warmth coming when they took his snowy things off.  “I thought ravens didn’t fly at night…”

“This one did.  Kept thinking it was just the wind, but then he…” put a hand to the side of his head, came away with blood and showed it to Liz.  “Critter flew in and took a seat on my shoulder, kept hitting me in the head until I paid him some mind, started following him.”

Einar was not being very cooperative, Liz, fire lit and flames beginning to climb up through the kindling, trying to remove his icy parka but he held it firmly in place with crossed arms, shaking his head.

“No, got to…”

“Got to nothing!   You can do it later.  Now let me get this thing off you, before all this ice and snow start melting and you get the floor all wet, not to mention finish freezing to death, which it looks like you’re about to do if we don’t change things pretty quickly, here…”

“Raven.  Got to let him in.”

“I didn’t see him out there.  He wasn’t in the tunnel.”

“I’ll go look.”

“You sit right here.  I’ll find Muninn and let him in, if he wants to be in here.”  Taking the candle Liz hurried back out into the tunnel, shaking her head at Einar’s stubbornness but realizing that in addition to being dangerously cold and not quite in his right mind--whatever that is supposed to mean--he was certain that the raven had just saved his life by leading him home, and considering his rather active sense of loyalty, she knew he would be unlikely to rest until he knew the bird had made it back alright, as well.

With Liz gone Einar-- doing surprisingly well at staying aware, all things considered--began struggling out of his snowy parka, fumbling with the thing for what seemed like a very long time before realizing that the rabbitskin blanket, sodden with melted snow and now mostly frozen, was impeding his progress, and once he got it out of the way things went much more easily.  Felt pretty good to be out of contact with the wet, squishy blanket, a relief even though he was too numb to feel much of anything at all, and as soon as he’d managed to scrape equally soaked and freezing boots from his feet he curled up in front of the stove, ready to sleep again.  Caught himself.  No, not right.  Might feel like sleeping, but must not, not yet, with Liz on her way back and sure to object to his idea of comfort and bliss, and besides, there was the little matter of his actually making it through the next hour or so.  Back up, then, crawl over to the bed and squint in the darkness until he located the baby.  Couldn’t do much with his hands, could not, in fact, seem to do much at all and felt himself constantly on the verge of drifting off, but managed to ease the bear hide off the bed, careful of the sleeping Will, and get himself more or less wrapped up in its warmth, slumped back against the wall to avoid getting too near the stove, waiting to begin feeling warmer, feeling anything at all.  No matter.  It would come, and at least he had not left Liz too much work, when she returned from finding the raven.

Speaking of which, he heard a rustle outside the door and then there she was, brushing the wind-blown snow from her parka and holding open the door as a somewhat sleepy-looking Muninn blinked in the firelight, hopping over to Einar and muttering something rather disagreeable about the weather before grabbing a bit of his hair and giving it a hard twist.  Einar smiled, and so did Liz, surprised to see the progress he’d made in beginning the warming process and knowing that just a few weeks ago, he would have all but insisted on allowing himself to sit there and go on freezing until she took matters into her own hands.  A small change, perhaps, but a tremendously welcome one, and she had little doubt that he was--despite the long night ahead of them--going to be alright, and so was she, and their entire little family.

A few quiet minutes passed, Liz building up the fire and making some tea to which she added a generous scoop of honey and some bear fat, Einar simply watching her and doing his best to stay awake, mostly managing it and knowing that the task would grow easier as he thawed some, muscles loosening up and starting to shiver him warm.  Before that happened--and communication became all but impossible for a time--he wanted to be sure and get something across to Liz, make sure she would help him remember it.

“Should get some…stuff packed up, go over our regular bags in case this thing ends up…going bad somehow and we have to get out of here in a hurry later.”

She wrapped the hide more tightly about his shoulders, made sure he took another sip of tea.  “Already did it.”


24 May, 2012

24 May 2012

Snow.  The storm did not begin with a few lazy flakes drifting down to settle gracefully on the boughs of the evergreens, a soft, silent thing, and marvelous to watch.  It came rather as a howling, swirling squall that quickly obscured all sight of the basin and the ridge beyond it, encapsulating Einar in a tiny world that consisted of himself, his boots and two trees.  Even his boots would have been difficult to see, had it not been for the shelter provided by his shield of closely-growing little firs.  No helicopters that evening, not flying in such a storm, and he was glad, slouched there smiling beneath the tree, staring up at the snow as it came down and thinking that there was something he really ought to be doing, but unable to quite put a finger on it.  Sleep.  He could definitely do that, now that it was safe and he needn’t keep such careful watch for aircraft, and the idea sounded to him like a very good one indeed; he’d been way too long without sleep.  Reclining in the soft snow as more howled in all around him and comfortable as only the man can be who, reaching the end of his rope and being forced beyond it, finds himself firmly in the grip of exhaustion and growing increasingly if obliviously hypothermic, Einar really might have gone to sleep then, had it not been for a nagging and persistent thought that there was something he must do, first.  Just one thing.  Right.  Cabin.  Got to get back to the cabin while the storm’s blowing, so it will cover my tracks and there’ll be nothing left for the choppers to follow.  Didn’t really want to do it, especially at the expense of the sleep he had somehow come so desperately to desire, but of course he had to; who knew when the storm might end, and with it his only opportunity to make that walk without leaving more tracks in the freshly fallen snow?

Got to his feet, checked around to make sure he wasn’t leaving anything, which he was not, rolled up the rabbitskin blanket and tucked it a bit awkwardly beneath his parka--had to protect it as well as possible from the storm--and he was ready to be off.  Only one problem, which was that in the fury of the storm, any landmarks that he might normally have used to guide him back home had been quite thoroughly obliterated, lost in that endless swirl of white, and he was having trouble getting his bearings.  Well, he ought to be able to figure it out.  Dropoff was, after all, behind him; he’d been watching it for days, ought to have a pretty good sense of its direction, and if he simply went in the opposite direction and stuck more or less to the ridgeline, that ought to take him right past the spring and along the trail to the cabin-clearing.  But, it did not.  Instead, he ended up very nearly walking right over the edge of the dropoff, brought up short at the last minute by the sensation of a vastness before him, a distance, and he knew it wasn’t right, dropped to hands and knees in the snow and inched his way forward until a jagged rim of limestone, scoured by the wind and protruding as it had not done before the storm, gave away his position.  Not good, and not only because he’d just very nearly plunged to his death on the granite crags below.  He had, in addition, just managed to leave further tracks, a wallowing, blundering monstrosity of them which, should the storm stop before thoroughly obscuring them, would stand out like a sore thumb to the rescuers when they did finally fly in.  Not much chance of that happening, though, not the way the wind ripped and howled over that dropoff; his tracks would soon be blown over, and he was glad

Now.  Back to the task at hand.  Find the trail.  Liz’s trail, where she came up here last night.  It won’t be gone yet, not down in the trees where the wind has a harder time reaching.  That will keep you on course and lead you home.  Searching for the trees, he found them when he ran headlong into a spruce, spat out the specks of bark--kept one of the needles he’d ended up with, its sharp tang seeming somehow to help in keeping him connected, prevent him from wanting so urgently to sleep--and picked himself up out of the snow, searching, finding at last some trace of the trail there in the heavier timber.  Not an easy thing to follow, Einar, whether due to the wind and snow, the dimming light of evening, his own exhaustion or some combination of the three, managing to lose the trace on a fairly regular basis, each time stumbling and searching until he’d located it again. 

At dark, this exhausting routine ended.  He lost the trail, and was no longer able to find it again.  Felt for the trench with his feet, crawled about on hands and knees searching with his hands for the place where the snow had been beaten down, but it was no use.  For all he knew—and it frightened him some to admit this—he might no longer even be on the crest of the gentle ridge, itself, the one that held their route from spring to cabin, and without which certainty he was completely lost.  Even the raven had apparently abandoned him, no answer when he howled the bird’s name out to the storm, so he simply kept moving, only thing he could do, trying his best to stay on course by being aware of the wind and from which side it struck him, praying he might be right. 

Time passed, Einar stumbling blindly through the pitch-black timber, and he kept hearing things, thinking he heard them, at least, the sounds snatched away on the wind before he could be certain they were anything at all, anything more than the wayward ramblings of his chilled and failing mind, but then, he was sure.  No wind in the trees could make such a sound, no long-dead spruce tops knocking together in the gale; he’d heard many strange things in the timber and seen stranger ones still, but the voice that now rasped and scolded so close to his ear could belong to one creature, and one creature alone.

It was Muninn, who by all that was right and just and ravenly, really ought to have been hunkered down on a sheltering branch hours ago considering the darkness and the weather, and miffed at receiving no audible response the bird landed heavily on Einar’s shoulder, delivering a hard blow to the side of his head.  The weight of the bird was nearly enough to send Einar sprawling in the snow, a development which, weary as he was, might have proven disastrous just then, end of the road, but he managed to keep to his feet, catching himself against a tree.  Crazy bird, what’re you doing out in this weather?  And at night.  You don’t fly at night.  What do you want?  Answering with another jarring peck to the side of the head, the raven was gone, rasping and carrying on and clearly wanting Einar to follow.  Lost and without direction, Einar saw no harm in doing so, even as he doubted the bird’s nighttime direction-finding skills.  Blind leading the blind, through a snowstorm in the dark of night…why not?

There were times, listening for the raven’s calls over the howl of the wind, that Einar became quite certain he’d imagined the entire encounter with the bird, tried to slow down and think, do his best to ignore what he was sure must be the conjurings of his own mind and think logically about what direction he must go, but there was no logic in that storm, no reasoning with the wind or with his own exhausted body, so he always fell back to following the calls of the raven; real or imagined, they were keeping him on his feet, moving, and without the movement, he was dead.  Might very well be, anyway;  despite trying his utmost not to dwell on the fact, he was wearing out, had very little strength left and knew the storm might well end up winning this one.

More time went by, and Einar, no longer even sure most of the time whether he was moving or not, stumbled into something solid and was brought up short against what he took at first to be a tree, for certainly it had bark and was solid, but its mass puzzled him, and its shape.  Only when he reached the corner and went around it did he realize that his wanderings had brought him up squarely against the cabin itself, the very thing he had been seeking, and even in his rather thoroughly chilled and exhausted state, he was aware enough to recognize that such things do not happen by accident, and he gave thanks.  Feel his way around in the darkness, then, go until he found the tunnel mouth, crawl inside, tremendous relief at finally being out of the wind, and he lay down, curled up against the wall, smiling.  He had done it, and now, at last--if not for too long, with those skiers still trapped in the basin and rescue in some form likely on the way or about to be--could sleep.  

Comments from 23 May

Kellie said...OH YEAH, have you SEEN my new "rabbit sticks"? I posted pictures on my blog!
You mean these?


Those are quite the rabbit sticks!  Anyone who makes the mistake of crossing you may find themselves missing arms, legs or other crucial parts of the anatomy!

Anonymous said…I hope that Liz will venture forth again with more food and one of the bear hides. It would mean more tracks, but if a front is coming in they might get covered, and regardless, if she has to make tracks to save Einar so be it. I’m really more worried that when rescue comes it will come painting FLIR all over the place! I wonder how much of a risk enough candlepower to provide a little light and warmth to Liz and Will would be. 

Tightly as they’ve got that cabin insulated, a single candle might be safe, but any increase in the air temperature in there (including the presence of the two humans) increases the risk that enough may leak out to give them away, so probably best to hold off on the heat production until the snow really starts falling!

Kellie said…have fun and stay safe! :)

RememberGoliad said…How do you do both at the same time, Kellie? ;)

Yeah, if there’s some secret to that, I guess I haven’t entirely figured it out, yet.  :D

23 May, 2012

23 May 2012

Sorry, on the road and don't have a chapter for tonight, but should have an extra long one for tomorrow!

Thank you all for reading!

22 May, 2012

22 May 2012

Knowing she must soon take her leave and return with Will to the cabin to finish out the remainder of the night, Liz was determined to do what she could to see that Einar would come as well as possible through the remainder of the dark, cold hours, sitting close to him with the rabbitskin blanket trapping their warmth and pressing upon him everything from a second serving of pemmican to a portion of the cold stew she had herself eaten for supper.  Einar tried at first to protest--food’ll just make me sleepy, and I can’t afford to be sleepy right now--but still wasn’t speaking too fluently and finding himself no match whatsoever for her determination, he soon accepted the meal, and ate with her.

Daylight, and no sign of a rescue.  Einar stirred, stiff with cold and moving slowly after his long night in the elements but--thanks in large part to Liz’s all but cramming that serving of cold stew down his throat and her insistence that he keep the rabbitskin blanket --alive, and after working for several minutes to restore some feeling and mobility to numbed hands, he pulled out the binoculars and took a look at the hastily improvised camp in the slide zone down below.  At first, he had his doubts that either of the skiers had survived the night.  They lay close together beneath the crinkly silver cover of an emergency blanket, and Einar knew that but for the stiff morning breeze which swept down from his position towards theirs, he would have been able to hear the thing rustling.  No movement.  Surely they had not both succumbed to the chill of the night?  It had been a cold one, to be sure, but certainly not the worst he’d seen in that regard, and despite their lack of an ongoing fire and of sleeping bags, he would have expected some signs of life from the camp that morning.  For which he had to wait only a few more minutes, the blanket flashing and flipping in the morning brightness and the woman emerging, moving slowly, appearing half in a daze, and Einar could only hope she had the wherewithal to rebuild the fire, for they would certainly be needing it.

Could have used a fire, himself, but that was of course entirely out of the question, as was having a fire at the cabin, until after their uninvited guests had left the basin, and he hoped Liz was doing alright with her second morning there absent a hot breakfast and warm cabin.  He knew she would be, was well equipped with bearskins and warm things, and as an extra advantage, she was out of the wind.  Which he could not entirely say for himself.  Had not been too bad in the night, as things had been relatively still, the surrounding firs serving to largely block what little breeze did whisper through in the night, but the morning was a different matter, and even between the parka and rabbitskin blanket--warm it was, but hardly windproof--he could not quit shaking, and it was dreadfully exhausting, after a long night spent teetering right on the edge of serious hypothermia.  He knew what to do, set aside the binoculars and searched his parka until he came up with the remainder of the pemmican Liz had left him, gnawed loose a chunk of the stuff and started working on it.

By the time he’d managed to choke down the mouthful of frozen fat and meat, Einar was feeling a good deal steadier if not noticeably any warmer, and he worked on a second bite as he squinted down into the basin, watching the morning activities of the stranded skiers.  He had not at first even been sure that the man had made it through the night, but could see that he was now stirring, slowly turning himself over and crawling painfully towards the spot where the woman crouched over a newly kindled fire, adding little sticks from a pile she’d apparently harvested from the nearby cluster of firs.  More wood.  She’d have to have more wood if she wanted that fire to go anywhere, and almost as if having heard him she was on her feet and dashing over to the stunted little gathering of trees once more, the sound of snapping sticks clear to Einar’s ears.  Not moving very well, stumbling when she tried to run; looked like the night had been a mighty difficult one, and he silently commended her for being able to get the fire going again, after such an ordeal.  Meanwhile, the injured man had made it to the vicinity of the small blaze and was huddling near its warmth, coughing, pressing his side where the broken ribs must be, and Einar thought he didn’t look too good, but at least he’d made it through the night, also. Perhaps now the worst was over for the pair; rescue would likely be on the way, soon.  Fire was doing well, growing and climbing up through the little pile of sticks hastily thrown atop it by the woman on her trips back and forth from the brush, and Einar shivered at the sight of it, sure that he could feel its warmth on his face across the distance. Was an illusion, of course, wind going the wrong way, and the next moment the sensation was gone, leaving him only the bitter breeze and his ongoing wait.  At least the pair in the basin would have an opportunity to warm a bit.  After the passage of that long, cold night, they would be needing it.

Nobody came.  The sun ascended, wallowing ceasing to reach the ground sometime just ahead of noon and dashing Einar’s hopes of being able to use it for warming throughout the day.  No matter.  He’d eaten in the night, had a little energy left and would be able to warm himself through exercise when need be.  Which need presented itself with increasing frequency as the day went on and temperatures fell steadily, sky leaden and Einar struggling once again to keep himself alert.  Down in the basin the woman worked to make an improvised shelter, pulling branches from nearby firs and coaxing the injured man up onto them--he seemed to be moving less and less as the day went on, and once after what appeared a particularly violent coughing fit, Einar saw blood beside him on the snow; not a good sign--before propping others to form a lean-to over him, its back to the prevailing wind and the fire before it, and before she sat down with him to rest, she gathered a substantial pile of the small dry branches with which she had been feeding the blaze.  Looked to have a pretty good head on her shoulders, ought to be able to keep them going until help arrived.  Einar was concerned, though, that the pair didn’t seem to have anything to eat.  At least, he had not seen them eating.  Seemed they must have either lost most of their supplies in the slide, or sent them with the man who’d gone to get help, and knowing how greatly the effects of the cold could be magnified by hunger, he wished there was some way to deliver to them, anonymously and without danger of being found out, a pound or two of jerky or some nice frozen elk steaks that could be roasted over the fire.  At least they were drinking, the woman suspending her plastic water bottle over the fire to melt snow, not an ideal situation, but it would keep them going, help prevent the dehydration whose advance would greatly exacerbate the effects of the cold as blood thickened, slowed, ceased reaching their extremities.

Late afternoon, and still no sign of rescuers, no tell-tale distant rumble that would have marked relief for the stranded pair and dread for the basin’s more permanent residents and Einar was beginning to grow weary with the waiting, and with the cold.  Needed to move, to really get up and cover some distance, had been needing it for well over a day at that point, but with the weather changing and a cold front rolling in on the increasingly gusty wind, his need was growing critical. Getting to his feet, he stomped up and down there beneath the tree.  Wasn’t enough.  Never had been enough.  Couldn’t leave, though.  Not yet, not until he either saw the skiers one way or another leave the basin, or the snow came in so heavily that he could be sure his tracks would be well and thoroughly obliterated before any aircraft might be able to come in and make the rescue.  Glancing up at the sky, it appeared he might not have long to wait before the latter became a real possibility.

Comments from 21 May

Kellie said…
I don't know... Einar was less than 30 minutes from the cabin if I'm remembering right, even with the snow. Einar knows that even if they got a signal five minutes later, it still would have taken at least an hour for any rescue to mount up and get there. I may be wrong, but never heard of any rescue in the mountains being any quicker. And it would have paid off in the long if they DID have to leave because Liz could be preparing for it now. I simply view this as more brain damage done by Einar starving himself. This is some of what happens to anorexia's, they make poor decisions. Just my humble opinion of course. It attests to your great writing skill because Einar is really beginning to depress me with his self abuse. I find myself yelling at him and at Liz for not being flat out blunt more often. And cheering her when she is. lol.

I guess it is possible that Einar may not be thinking as clearly as he is capable of doing, because of the circumstances.  Yes, it would have been reasonable for him to expect that he probably had plenty of time to make it to the cabin and back before there was any chance of people responding to help the injured skier.

As for the part about your yelling at Einar…guess I’d just better be glad I’m way over here on the other side of the mountains, well out of rabbit stick range!  :D

Anonymous said…
 Great chapter:
There are in fact things in the wilderness that sound like the cry of a baby. There are also things that sound like the scream of a woman. I learned about that last one the hard way at about 13yo. Went charging to the rescue as most any boy of my generation would have done, into the brush with the only weapons at hand; a single shot .22RF and a hand ax. Not a tomahawk or one of those little sheet metal boy scout jobs, but a very robust full fledged single bit short handled ax, that you could split wood with. The rifle was in my hands and the ax was in my belt. After fifty years of reflection, training, and experience, and the knowledge that if I had actually had to engage in combat that day it would not have been with a human (I actually did see the cougar) I should have rather had the ax in my left hand. But then, had I known it was a puma I heard, I would not have perused.  
A porcupine can make a sound like a baby crying. This I know from experience. I am told that other animals can make sounds that can be mistaken for a baby’s cry or a toddlers whimpering.
My point is that even if the woman skier had reported hearing a baby cry, the probable reaction of rescue workers would have been; now, now, dear; you were under a great deal of stress, you were suffering from the early stages of hypothermia, you were alone in a vast, dark, cold wilderness, it was probably just a porcupine, or maybe the wind.
Of course, this is all from a Sierra Nevada, Cascade, and California coastal range, point of view. YMMV.
As I recall, Liz was once a member of the local mountain rescue organization, and probably has a lot of friends still in it. Even if they smelled something, they would probably just keep their mouths shut. In fact none of the locals probably want to encourage the feds to stay a second longer.
But then Einar is a master of the doctrine of an abundance of caution. It has served him well in the past. I just hope it does not serve him poorly now.
Thanks FOTH.

Mike, glad your heroism when you went charging in to save that damsel in distress did not end badly!  Got to say I would prefer the ax, as well, over the .22 in that circumstance.  Yep, cougars can certainly sound eerily human sometimes, and I would have to agree about the porcupines, too.  Once I had a mother and three young ones come through my place at night, and one of the babies had got separated from the group.  It made such a racket calling for her that it sounded like someone was being murdered right there outside the house, and even though I was pretty sure what I was hearing, I went out the back door and came around to the front where I’d heard them, prepared to deal with the situation…

You’re probably right that even if Will were to let out a cry or two and be heard by the skiers, no harm would come of it.  But Einar simply can’t take that chance.

Yes, Liz volunteered for a while with Mountain Rescue and most folks who would end up responding to help the skiers would almost certainly look the other way if they saw any sign of human habitation up there in the basin, but again, they’ve been away for a good while, don’t know the current situation with the rescue organization and its members, and can’t risk the possibility of detection, and having to run again in the middle of winter.

21 May, 2012

21 May 2012

Softly, almost beyond hearing the footsteps approached through the snow, and Einar, fighting sleep, thought at first that he must be hearing things, brain playing tricks on him, but the footsteps were definitely real.  Which left the possibility perhaps the woman had left her lonely vigil beside the injured skier, climbed up around the dropoff and found him.  He did not want to be found, must not allow himself to be found, not by her or anyone else, and he pressed himself down into the snow, flattening out on his stomach with his knife grasped in both hands beneath him, hoping not to be spotted, but ready…  It was dark.  No way she ought to see him, yet something had brought her up there, if indeed it was the woman he heard crunching softly through the snow, hesitantly, and not some large animal, cougar or bear or…no, had to be human.  No bears out that time of year, and this creature only had two feet, not four; that much, he could hear.  So he waited, hoping the person would pass him by and trying not to let his teeth chatter, clamping his jaw, hardly daring to breathe.

Footsteps stopped.  Person was very near, and it was all Einar could do to keep himself still and suppress his urge to flip over and go at the invisible threat with his knife before it should have the chance to spot him, form a plan of its own but he kept still, knowing there was some chance he had not yet been seen, might still avoid a direct confrontation like that.  Too cold.  Losing control, shaking so hard now that he was sure the human presence standing there so nearby would be able to hear the snow shifting and crunching beneath him; he could certainly hear it, the sound terribly loud and obvious to him over the electrical echoing of his own shivers in his head, and he tried to keep still, breathe away the shaking, but could not do it.  Had gone too far.  Too far gone, and as the minutes slid past, he began to doubt his ability to use the knife if need be, doubted he could even hold onto it, if he was to rise just then.  Wished she would move on, return to the basin, for surely she must know the injured man needed her.  What was she doing up here, seeking him, stalking him, freezing him to death in the snow as he tried his best to avoid her detection?  Had he done something to give himself away, to reveal his position to the little camp down there beside the mass of slid, solidified snow?  Had the woman perhaps seen something when, responding to his silent shout, she had glanced up his way and almost appeared to make eye contact before hurrying on to find the avalanche-trapped man?  He figured it was a possibility, and perhaps now, desperate to find a way to make it through what was shaping up to be a rather doubtful night, she had come in search of him.

Shivering, he repositioned himself, tried to think, and, failing, tried his best to get numbed hands up inside his parka and press them to his stomach without moving enough to give himself way, managed it, only to find his stomach just as numb and icy as the rest of him.  Doubted it was the woman from the basin.  Didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  If she was going to venture away from camp, surely her first action would be to feel around amongst the nearby trees, find fuel and rekindle that fire, so as not to leave the injured man alone and freezing while she searched the dark mountainside for…what?  The ghost of a shadow that she thought she might have spotted, earlier in the day?  No way she’d come all that way in the dark looking for him, or for anything.  Which left the mystery of the presence he had heard approaching through the snow.  He was getting awfully cold, had been that way ever since before sunset; perhaps he had imagined the entire thing, chilled brain conjuring up some company for him, an imaginary threat for the purpose of keeping him focused, awake, and ultimately, alive.  Sure.  Could happen.  But in that case, why could he hear it breathing, this useful apparition that his mind had created for itself?  Surely he was not imagining that, was he?

Shook his head.   Who knows?  He knew one thing, though, which was that he could not stay there indefinitely as he was, face down and freezing in the snow, not if he wanted to see morning, which he not only wanted to do, but must do, as in the morning, that valley would likely be filling up with rescuers on whom he must keep a close eye to insure none of them headed up his way or spotted a suspicious track.  So, he had to move.  Slowly--not that he was capable of doing it any other way, at the moment--cautiously, pausing frequently to listen, he got himself up to hands and knees, and once, weight shifting and the snow beneath him giving out a soft little groan as it compacted, he thought he heard the breathing over there beyond the nearest tree stop, as if its owner had heard, also, and stopped to listen.  No way he was going to be able to exit the area without being heard, not if the intruder’s ears were so sharp as they seemed.  His only hope was to keep still and wait, hope his adversary would tire of standing there, and move on to seek him elsewhere.  That, or try his best to close with the man, or woman, or whoever it might be, and hope enough strength might remain in his half frozen limbs to finish the job.  Risky business.  Both options were risky, but he chose the first, hoping the intruder lacked a solid fix on his location and might still move on so he could make his escape.

Wasn’t working.  Instead of moving on, the person seemed to have turned towards him, perhaps even taken a step in his direction for the breathing had grown slightly louder, and he froze in place, elbows pressed to his sides in another failed attempt to still his shaking, but at least this time less of him was in contact with the snow, minimizing the scrunching, squeaking sounds that he had previously feared might give him away.  Still, the person was moving closer.  Then she spoke, barely a whisper, mere feet from his position, and it took Einar a minute to sort out what he was hearing.

“Einar, is that you?  What are you doing?

Liz.  Trembling nearly as much now with relief as from the cold he reached for her, fumbled with the knife until he got it put away, found her well concealed beneath a small fir and grabbed her, clinging, glad but at the same time apprehensive, not knowing why she was there, wishing she had not left additional tracks by coming and hoping desperately that she wouldn’t speak aloud and give them both away before he could convey to her the seriousness of the situation.

What are you doing up here, Lizzie?  I left you a note, said I’d be back, didn’t you believe me…?  Quiet.  We’ve got to be quiet, or they’ll hear us down there.

She wasn’t answering.  Didn’t seem to have heard him, which was no wonder at all when he realized that he hadn’t been speaking aloud, had not even made the effort, and when he tried, couldn’t seem to get his mouth to form the words.  Liz was not waiting for words, pressing him close and getting the rabbitskin blanket around the two of them, hurrying to rub some warmth back into him and searching her pocket for the little container of honey she carried, similar to the one he had earlier consumed, and she gave it to him, making sure he was working on getting its entire contents down, but he was having trouble, couldn’t feel his mouth or reliably keep hold of the little container, and she helped him.

“Einar, what have you done?  Have you been lying out here in the snow all day?  You’re frozen.  Come on, finish the honey.  You need it.”

Finished the stuff, wanted to tell her a number of things, and in a hurry, but communication was still coming with a great deal of difficulty for him, so he stuck to the basics.  “S-skiers…came.  Slide.  Guy…injured.  Chopper coming...rescue.  Quiet.  Right  down there.  Can’t leave tracks.”

“Chopper coming?  How do you know?”

“Skied out.  Third man…skied out.  Get help.  Thought you…woman from slide.  Climbed up.  Didn’t know how you found me.”

“What?  Oh, you thought I was one of the skiers, climbed up here to find you?  No, it’s only me.  I found your note, waited all day for you to come back but when it got dark with no sign of you…well, little Will and I got tired of sitting there in the dark without a fire wondering what had happened, and we tracked you by starlight.  Let’s go home, Einar.  The injured skiers aren’t here to bother us.”

“Can’t.  Got to…wait here and make sure they don’t see our tracks.  Chopper, when they come.  You go.  Be warm for the night.  Don’t want Will out here.  Might cry.  Skiers hear.”

Liz shook her head in the darkness, tightened her grip on him and slid a hand beneath his parka, trying to return some warmth to the rigid, frigid lines of his shoulders, bones sharp and shivering beneath her fingers.  She could tell that he was determined to stay the night in his current position, make sure the intruders wandered no further into their territory and she could see the need for such a watch to be kept, but wished he might let her take a turn at it.  He’d been right about the possibility of Will crying, though.  Even with food always ready and quickly available to the little one, there was certainly no guarantee that he might not let out a squall or two before she could quiet him; there were definitely still times in the cabin where it took her a while to figure out just what it was he needed, and there was no way they could risk him giving away their position with two strangers in the basin, and possibly more on the way.  Best thing, then, seemed to be to send Einar back to the cabin with Will, where both of them could keep warm while she stood watch for a while, but seeing Einar’s condition she had some doubt about his ability to keep himself on his feet long enough to make it back to the cabin without some significant warming and refueling, first, and she certainly didn’t trust him, in that state, to get the little one safely back there, despite the effort that he would surely put into such an endeavor.  Not much choice then, and she was all quiet and scared inside as she rose, prepared to start back before Will woke and started using his voice.  Not just yet, though.  Had to try one thing, first.

Comments from 18-20 May

Anonymous said... 
I enjoyed my week end! 
I made four roof vents, from nice #2&Btr DF, and Masonite tops.
I installed them all today... It is supposed to rain tonight, so I needed to finish that roof project. 
I also used up the last of a very nice epoxy 2 four ounce jars about $12.00 it is made by Eclectic Products headquartered here in Eugene Oregon. It is a great all around thick epoxy, for mending, and building up areas. ~small beginnings~ had a small oops from a former owner, which crunched the corner in above the passenger area, it is now, "un-crunched" using Aluminum flashing as the final layer!
Hey, Spring in Colorado photo's were awesome!

Glad you liked the pictures.  Sounds like you’re making good progress on the leak prevention project on Small Beginnings…it will be great to sit in there listening to the rain fall, and not having to wonder when and where the next leak will appear!

Kellie said… 
Einar has plenty of time to go tell Liz what is going on, no matter what. even if the person has some type of radio. It will only take him less than what an hour? to get back to the cabin. Even if someone already has left to go help the three skiers, they won't be there in that span of time.  
Einar is going to be very irresponsible towards Liz and Will if he does NOT go and let Liz know what is going on.

He doesn’t know for sure how long it will take that skier to reach a place where he can summon help, but knows that a rescue response could come pretty quickly by air, and can’t risk being away and having to wonder where people may have gone or what they may have seen.  Ideal would be if he had a way to let Liz know while also doing that, but Muninn hasn’t been trained as a homing raven…maybe they ought to find a way to do that!

Thank you all for reading.

20 May, 2012

20 May 2012

No chapter today, but back with another tomorrow.

Hope you are all enjoying your weekend!

19 May, 2012

19 May 2012

The remainder of Einar's day passed in relative quiet as he kept watch on the valley below and did his best to conserve what little warmth and energy he had left, exercising to generate more heat whenever he felt himself slipping dangerously near no longer caring; that was always a clue.  It was a difficult balance, and he knew that despite having many years' practice at maintaining it under conditions often worse than the ones on the plateau that day, there was a fair chance that he would in his starved and weary condition make a fatal miscalculation, one of those times.  But it must not be this time.  Not this day.  Not with Liz and little Will back at the cabin depending on me to keep these people, and the ones who may eventually come to aid them, far from the home place.  Sure, they don’t know they’re depending on me for any such thing, have no idea where I’ve gone and Liz is probably starting to really wonder, but that doesn’t make it any less so. 

Evening coming and Einar having progressively more trouble with the cold as the sun left his slope entirely, he thought of going back, taking a break from the whole thing and going to Liz, letting her know what was going on and perhaps gulping down some hot tea or broth before returning to the dropoff for his night and morning of watching, but it did not take him too long to dismiss the idea.  While there seemed little chance to him that the man who had begun skiing out could have got anywhere that afternoon where he would be likely to come into contact with others and summon help, there was a fair chance that his intention had simply been to try and reach a spot from where he could make phone contact with potential rescuers--though in that case, perhaps he would have begun climbing, instead of descending--and Einar had no solid idea of where such a place might be.  Which, not knowing how soon they might be having additional, potentially airborne company, made it a very bad idea for him to leave his post.  That, and the fact that Liz, once she saw him, would almost certainly make some objection to his returning, might want to come with him, even, and he couldn’t have the two of them so near the potential action.  Best that he stay where he was, keeping his lonely vigil, and he did, sun setting and darkness sweeping down over the basin

Einar’s vigil was not to prove so lonesome as he had expected, for the woman, crouched beside her injured companion as she kept the fire going, kept him company as the dark hours dragged on.  She sang.  She cried.  For long periods of time, she sat silent, firelight flickering on her bowed face as he watched it through the binoculars, and then she ran out of fuel, and did not get up in the darkness to go look for more.  It was a mistake.  She should have kept that fire going.  Einar wanted to go down there, gather a load of wood and leave it beside the little camp before quietly retreating up to his position, but he could not.  Tracks would give him away when morning came.  Wanted also to invite the pair up to the cabin, give them refuge for the night where the stove would keep them warm and he and Liz could perhaps do something for the injured man, give him a better chance of making it through the frigid night, but of course he could not do that, either.  So he watched, staring into the darkness and sleeping here and there in little snatches, waking each time after a few cold minutes to turn numbed face up to the sky, hoping to find there the promise of snow, but seeing only stars.  Billions upon billions of the things, stark, still points of light that did not even twinkle in the thin, clear atmosphere up there above eleven thousand feet, and he stared off into infinity, marveling at the sheer vastness of creation and wondering if the woman down below, quiet now, might be doing the same thing.  Hoped so.  Winter nights spent half frozen out in the snow could be mighty lonely things, and the stars were, he had learned over the years, pretty good company at such times.  Still, glad as he was for the companionship of the heavens, Einar wished very much that it would snow.  A good, solid snowfall would allow him to forget worrying about his tracks and the possibility that they might be spotted, and return to the cabin.  Trip would be no easy thing, even if that snowstorm came pretty soon.  His legs, whenever he tried them, were not much caring to support him, but he knew he could do it.  Not that he would be getting the opportunity, from the looks of things.  Not a cloud showed itself to obscure the shimmering, star-silvered night sky, and he had no reason to think snow might be on the way.  Too bad.

The parka wasn’t enough.  Cold had long ago seeped in, surrounded him, and he could feel his body weakening in its efforts to resist the onslaught, feel himself slowing down, and he knew he would be hard pressed to see morning, at that rate.  Which simply would not do, as his entire purpose in being there was to watch the situation in the valley, take whatever action became necessary to defend Liz and the little one against detection and capture.  Needed to move, yet found himself half afraid to rise and exercise as he had done before, seeing as it had landed him flat on his face in the snow, the last couple tries he’d made.  So far he had always come out of those little episodes in time to save himself from serious consequences, but he had no guarantee that it would always be so, and seemed to remember waking one time at the cabin with Liz trying to pry his mouth open so she could give him some honey, and best as he’d ever been able to determine, she had been doing this out of concern that one of those incidents might be going on too long, might not resolve on its own.  Hated that he had ever put her through such a thing, certainly never would have done it intentionally but he’d been out there in the tunnel, and Susan had found him…  Right.  Back to the honey.  Seems it helped, that time.

Only then did he think to eat.  He had not packed food that morning, had not packed much of anything, actually, simply grabbing atlatl and darts and tucking them into his parka, but there were certain things which he always carried on his person, flint rod, striker and waterproofed tinder in the pouch about his neck, knife on his belt and, he remembered, a little pouch of wax-treated rawhide in the interior pocket of his parka, containing a pemmican and, at Liz’s insistence, a little container of honey.  Should have thought of it sooner, but food had been the furthest thing from his mind.  Fumbling with cold hands--had to stop and beat them on his knees, press them to his stomach and then repeat, before they would do the task--he got into that inner pocket, fished out the food packet and broke off the wax seal by which Liz had secured the two ounces or so of honey she’d insisted he carry.  Stuff made an immediate difference, Einar almost at once feeling a great deal more awake and alert, and he finished the portion, grateful to Liz for once again saving him from what had become a rather difficult situation.  Not saved yet, though, for while the honey had given his brain and body the immediate boost of energy they had needed to keep him awake and possibly allow for a bit of the exercise he so badly needed without bringing on dire consequences, he was still greatly lacking in energy, and knew there was some question about his being able to keep it up long enough to really do him much good.

On to the pemmican, then, partially frozen despite having been stored within his parka--not a good sign, he could not help but think-- and for a time he crouched there gnawing on the stuff, using bits of snow, melted in his mouth, to help get it down.  Better.  He could move again, and did, swinging his arms and stomping up and down there in the snow until he was breathing hard and a bit of warmth had begun returning to his dead-cold limbs, disaster for the moment averted, but he would have to plan it well, the coming night, if he was to stretch his meager resources through the long, dark expanse of its hours until the coming of daylight would help him keep awake and alert.

Little did he know, Einar would not have to wait nearly so long for an event which would leave him quite wakeful and without any doubt of staying that way.

Comments from 18 May

Anonymous said…
Not sure of the time frames involved here, but if I was Einar, and it was doable, I'd be lighting out for the cabin right about now. Reason being, he's studying three people: Two healthy ones and an injured one. Now, one of the two healthies leaves, presumably to go get help. That leaves, if they're rational, the woman with the injured skier. Extremely doubtful she is gonna leave his immediate vicinity, NO MATTER WHAT she might see or even imagine. If 'civilization' is twice as far of a hike as the cabin, E has time to haul ass to the cabin, take over care of Willie, even if he has to let Liz come back to keep an eye out. 
This has so MANY benefits. First and foremost, it gets him moving NOW, and warming up. Second, he'll be using energy to get to where there is more energy to replace what he's using. Third, he can recover a bit while Liz watches. Fourth, soon as he's full of honey and jerky, and stuffs a pocket full for later, he can head back with Will in his parka, and send Liz back to the cabin.
This all doesn't even TOUCH on the fact that the two of them can set up some sort of communications, so he can get word to her without hollering or running back, to head out... if such an exodus is necessary.

It isn’t too much of a walk to the cabin from where Einar is, except that he’s fairly slow right now.  A lot of what you’re saying does make sense, except that he has no way to know for sure how quickly help might be arriving for the injured man.  Though it is quite a walk/ski out of there to civilization, there is the possibility that the man who left may be equipped with a radio, cell phone or other communications device that didn’t work from the basin, but might from a spot nearby.  So, Einar will probably find himself needing to stay where he is, to watch and wait.

Certainly would be good for Liz to know what’s happening, though, so she can be planning accordingly.

Thanks for reading!

(Springtime in the Rocky Mountains...)

18 May, 2012

18 May 2012

Einar wanted to get back to Liz, knew she’d be worrying and wanted to let her know what was going on but  he knew he must not let those skiers out of his sight until it was clear what their next steps were to be.  Liz would have to wait, and so would he.  Easier said than done, for the cold, which he had entirely failed to notice while watching the unfolding drama in the basin, had gained such a hold on him during those long minutes that suddenly he found himself unable to stop shaking, hands a shade of purple beneath his gloves and feet nearly without feeling.  Wouldn’t do, and he shifted position slightly so that he was no longer leaning against the tree where the movement of its branches might dislodge snow and give away his position to anyone who might happen to be glancing up that way.  Good start, but that still left the matter of his numbed and freezing feet, and while a few days prior he might well have left matters as they were, let himself freeze and dealt with the consequences later when they became so pressing that he could no longer ignore them, he was that morning greatly concerned about his future ability to move quickly on his feet.  Which was never helped by having frostbitten and infected toes, so one by one he removed his boots, pressing white and bloodless feet to the only slightly warmer skin of his stomach--good thing I’m still flexible enough to do this, helps when you got no meat on your bones, but then that’s a big part of why I’m getting so doggone cold in the first place--in an attempt to restore circulation and keeping each there until he was assured by an intense, prickling pain that the blood was coming back, and the limb would be alright.  For the moment, at least.  He would need to get moving, and soon, if he wanted to keep it that way.  Couldn’t move yet though, for the skiers, on whom he had been keeping a close eye during the long and rather uncomfortable warming process, had so far shown no sign of moving on, helping the formerly buried member of their party over to a tiny island of stunted firs whose top thirds poked up out of the snow just to the side of the avalanche path, and parking themselves there.

Bringing the binoculars once more to bear--could manage several seconds of looking uninterrupted by a major shivering fit if he held his breath and concentrated with all his might, but no longer, and it was frustrating--he tried to figure out what might be delaying them, finding to his dismay that they appeared to be all but setting up camp.  While the man pulled boughs from the firs--didn’t appear he had a knife, and Einar wondered if he might have lost his pack in the slide--the woman knelt by the third member of the party, who despite his initial movement after being freed from the snow, appeared not to be doing particularly well.  Stretched out on the snow and holding his side, the man appeared to have broken ribs, or worse.  Did not appear the little group would be going anywhere, at least not in the immediate future.  Not good.  He wanted them out of there, had hoped after a brief time to brush themselves off and regroup after the slide, they would take off for the valley.  Instead, it looked as though they might be digging in to spend the day, or the night even, and he wondered what their plan might be.  Camp out and wait for the injured man to recover sufficiently to be able to walk out?  His skis were gone, as were those of the second man, which would make walking out a bit more of a challenge than they had likely planned for.  Or had they already summoned help, and were simply keeping him as comfortable as possible as they waited for it to arrive?  In those days of satellite communications and emergency locator beacons, he knew nothing could be ruled out, and listened apprehensively over the sound of his own chattering teeth for the approach of the helicopter that would signal the start of the real trouble.

After a while, he had to put the binoculars away and stop watching.  Was shaking too hard to see anything at all, beginning to grow concerned that he’d drop them in the snow.   No matter, he’d try again in a little while.  Sun had shifted, leaving him entirely in the cold shadow of the firs, and he moved himself a bit, sliding a few inches to one side so that the sun once more fell at least on his lower extremities; could make a big difference.  But it didn’t, and the fact did not bother him, nothing was bothering him too much anymore, not even the impending arrival of the helicopter which he was becoming increasingly certain the skiers had summoned, and he knew that meant he was in some serious trouble, and would soon cease even to recognize that particularly relevant fact.  Had got to get warm, or the skiers would be on their own, and so would be the helicopter crew when they radioed in about the mysterious set of tracks seen near the avalanche site, and the feds would come, find his stiff-frozen body there in the snow and follow his back trail to the cabin.  Couldn’t have it, wouldn’t, and he got himself to his feet right there beneath the firs, and began stomping.  It wasn’t easy, badly as his legs and feet had swollen overnight and during the activities of the day, had become, in fact, difficult for him to stand at all after but he managed it, moving about until he’d got a bit of blood flowing, and was beginning to feel slightly warmer.  Or maybe it was just the pain.  He couldn’t tell, didn’t figure it mattered too much one way or the other.  Had himself moving again, connected to the world around him and seeming as though he might be able to stay that way for a while, and that was what counted.

Now, back to the skiers.  Nobody appeared to have moved, except that the injured man was in a different position, all scrunched up into a huddle rather than sprawled on the snow, and Einar found himself wondering whether he was doing it more to conserve heat, or to minimize the hurt of his injuries.  He suspected the second, rubbing a hand over his own mostly-healed ribs and remembering the countless hours he’d spent hunched in similar positions in the weeks after his injury.  Was appearing less and less likely that the man would be doing much walking anytime soon.  Which meant that he’d better be getting himself up to move again, for the slight hint of warmth generated in his first attempt had worn off, and already he could feel himself drifting near the danger zone again, an iron hand tightening its grip around his middle.  Rising, he was dizzy, couldn’t quite seem to get his bearings, world going all soft and fuzzy and confusing around him in a way which he remembered and did not at all like--not now, not while I have to be watching--and of course his solution was to exercise again harder.

World going out from under him, flat on his face with limbs all stretched out at odd angles that he couldn’t seem to amend no matter how he urged them to move, and he lay there for a good minute or two after the strangeness passed, the immobility, just enjoying the incredibly good soft embrace of the snow--wanted to sleep, to breathe a huge sigh of relief and simply drift off--before once more forcing himself up.  Find the binoculars.  There they were, hanging on the little protrusion of a broken branch in the nearest fir, and he could not at all remember putting them there, but was glad he had, or they might have ended up lost in the snow, and he needed them.  Found the group again, only to realize that he was only seeing two people, and not three.  Scanning the nearby snow-encrusted trees, he searched for the missing man, but could not find him.  And then he saw the tracks.  Curving down through the snow were a single set of ski tracks weaving their way towards the edge of the basin, heading for the valley.  Einar sat back down, chin on his knees, casting a rueful glance up at Muninn, who had been roosting quietly in a tree, watching.  It was going to be a long night.