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.