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!”