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.

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