31 October, 2012

31 October 2012

Things moved slowly that morning, Einar sleeping long and soundly as grey began to show above the high ridge to the east and light strengthened, Liz not at all inclined to disturb the first real rest he’d managed in days, but eventually not even the bear hide was enough to stave off the deepening chill of morning, and he began to shiver in his sleep.  Probably would have gone right on sleeping, anyway, such things little inclined to disturb him anymore, but his “escape” the previous night, followed by the mad rush up the mountain with a man on his back had taken its toll, and the trembling only served to accentuate the fiercely aching shoulders, bruised ribs and battered limbs which had resulted.  Half unwilling and from a great distance, he was brought back to an awareness of the world.

Eyes wide, wild at first as Einar raised himself on an elbow and glanced about camp but then came a slow, spreading smile as he regarded Liz where she lay tucked up close against him with Will sleeping in the crook of her arm, Muninn the raven keeping watch from his chosen boulder, and it seemed a very long time indeed since he’d been there in that place.  Home, with the people he loved and cradled in the very heart of his own dear, familiar mountains, and it was a very good place to be.  A brief shadow crossed his face as he saw Juni where she crouched bringing the fire to life, remembrance, the faint echo of a sorrow bitterly felt if already grown a bit more distant with the fading of the night, but it passed, a nod of recognition and she, too, was included in the smile with which he took in the camp.  Morning of a new day, and it was time to rise.

Easier said than done, and the look of glad contentment was temporarily struck from his face as legs buckled beneath him, breath catching in his throat at the hurt of movement.  He simply laughed at his own clumsiness and tried again, got it that time and walked stiffly over to the fire, Liz making Will warm and secure amongst the hides for another hour or two of sleep and joining him by the flames.  No words passed between them as Liz and Juni prepared a breakfast of stew, working together to crumble bits of jerky into the simmering broth and shave into it bits of bear fat with to fortify the meal.  Einar, busy feeding Muninn a strip of jerky broken into small bits, seemed little inclined to speak and neither of the women thought it best to break his quiet.  The silence was good.  Did not last though, as Einar was soon on his feet again and searching for his pack, not a problem except that four steps into the search he fell again, this time narrowly missing what would have been a hard strike to the head when he rolled at the last minute away from the trunk of a nearby spruce.

Not wanting to see a morning that had started so well end in disaster before breakfast was even eaten Liz hurried to his side, steadying him when he bounced with almost unnatural resilience right back to his feet, enthusiastic if not quite steady.

“Hey, hold on a minute.  Let’s go have some breakfast first.  The rest of it can wait, don’t you think?”

A grin from Einar.  “Sure, it can wait.  If we’ve got beaver and muskrat in the snares right now, they’re not gonna go anywhere before breakfast.  Let’s eat.”

Which they did, Will waking before they were halfway through and Einar, after Liz had given him a brief meal of his own, relieving her so that she could eat.  There beside the fire with Will in his shoulder and Muninn entertaining him by tilting his head and chortling on the boulder immediately behind--the child for the past weeks been increasingly fascinated with the raven’s shiny black eyes, iridescent feathers and complex vocabulary of chortles and rasps--Einar savored his own portion of the breakfast stew, still thoroughly overwhelmed at the gentle sigh of the wind through acres of spruce and fir, water gurgling beneath the ice, soft touch of his son’s cheek against his own, the wonder of being home.  So enamored was he in the little details all around that he nearly drifted off into sleep observing them, startling back to wakefulness at Will’s protest as the little one began sagging, slipping, sorry fella, don’t know what happened there.  Let’s get you back upright again where you can get a better look at that bird.  Will was no longer content with simply watching, however, wanted very badly to get a handful of sparkling black raven feathers and Einar, knowing he would lose his grip on the furiously squirming child if he didn’t give him some freedom, eased him to the ground.  And, child safely out of the way, promptly slumped back against Muninn’s boulder, out cold.

Woke smiling again, ready to get up and go but Liz was bending over him with more broth and insisting he drink, which he did, time to go check the snares, but she seemed to have other ideas.

“What do you think,” she started, pressing yet another pot into his hands, this time full of water, and it felt surprisingly good and cool as he drank,  “call this one good, take our furs and go back up to the cabin for a while?  It would give us time to tend to the furs we’ve already taken.”

Einar looked genuinely surprised, perhaps even a little baffled at the suggestion.  “Furs will be just fine, and we just got here.  Place is seeming safe enough, no human activity and nothing in the air, and so far our snares are yielding pretty well.  Let’s go see what this morning’s yield is like, but I’d say unless it’s just impossibly dismal, we might as well go ahead and stay a few more days.  Can’t see any reason why not.  Weather’s gonna be starting to warm soon, and the quality of the fur will only go downhill from here.”

The two women exchanged glances, Juni not quite rolling her eyes and Liz shrugging, both of them having some pretty good ideas of “why not,” but neither wanting to come right out and say, because last night just about killed you, that’s why not, and even if nothing like that happens again while we’re down here, you’re looking likely as not to wake up frozen solid one of these mornings…  So they said nothing, Liz determining to have that conversation sometime later in the day when she and Einar could be alone.  No sense bringing another person into it, further complicating the matter.

30 October, 2012

Comments from 29 October

I've got nothing for tonight, another chapter tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading, and for your comments.

Philip said…
So, lets recap this for a second.
Juni studies wild-crafting and survival, so as to live like Einar... and go find him... and she learns to hunt via primitive means, locates him, which is sort of Needle in the Hay Stack....
Only to be put on E's back and go for a ride in Bad Lands South East Asia....
I gotta ask, did she have her passport & get her (correct # of) shots????
And Liz meanwhile is tracking her spouse, with little Snorrie on her back...
I can see two directions the plot moves from here:
A. Juni breaks Einar's dream sequence, and he finally comes ~home~ with no more bad dreams...
B. they run over the hill into the newly built 7-11 that Bud & Susan are operating, as a Mom & Pop store, with one whole Aisle of Survival Foods & essentials.
OK, so I am Really in need of regular sleep patterns here ;-) ... how you doing? Another try for Elk soon?????
~~ philip the confused per-user of internet reading material.... Who just downloaded "Three Men in the Boat on the Thames River"... "not to mention the dog"! really!
but I ~really~ need some sleep in the Night Time... and not nap in the day... I'm almost scaring my cat with my wacky-ness.....

Hmm…a couple of interesting possibilities there!

No, I don’t believe Juni got any of her shots--or passport, either--as the trip was quite sudden and unexpected…but Einar will gladly let her have all the malaria pills she wants for the duration, as he would never willingly take the horrid things, himself!

As for elk, no, the season’s over for now.  But I may go out after pikas, or rabbits, or maybe Alpine Tree Frogs…just to have an excuse to spend another week or two wandering up in the hills.  Quieter up there.

Nancy1340 said…
So where was little Will during all this?

Along for the ride, in Liz’s parka hood.

Anonymous said…
Great Chapter, I hope he finds some peace.

Thank you.

Philip said…
.... "through the dark hours she held him, broken body but peaceful mind, and in the night there were no dreams" ....
Better now, a nap doe me good, then 2 hours of machine work... hearing the radio change to a new program, I knew it was time to stop... and read today's posting.
Powerful. Poetic in a sense, Bi-Directional Time.
Liz does that for him so nicely! And now there is Juni, with a style of wisdom that fits in nicely for the family of Asmundson.
Maybe she can apply for the position of ~Nanny~, I am sure I saw it advertised on a tree somewhere close by, written with a piece of charcol, on a potion of Deer Hide: "wanted, Nanny for a goofy fellow, so his Spouse can care for their Child...."

Oh, no!  Is it really so bad that she’s posting such advertisements?  I’m surprised she doesn’t just crack his skull with the rabbit stick once a day, whenever he gets to be too much trouble.  :D

Great writing, Chris.... you Always seem to amaze me where the story flows! 
philip, on Guard Mount, Bunker 3Alpha.... just me & Miss Cleo."When you see little people in Black Pajamas's running in your yard, it's really GOD's way of saying ~mow your lawn~".

The key, you see, is to sleep out in that long grass (if you’re not going to mow it, that is) and that way you can hear them coming before they know you’re there.  Bunkers are targets.  I always slept/sleep better out in the sticks.  :D

Hope you get more nighttime sleep tonight--it sure does make a difference.

29 October, 2012

29 October 2012

Andy had to go.  Einar needed to be able to move quickly, could not do so with the injured man on his back so he eased him to the ground, quiet, don’t make a sound, you wait right here flat on your belly and I’ll be right back for you, risky, and he knew it, was terrified at the prospect of not being able to find him again in the darkness and if more enemy should come and overwhelm their position but there was little choice.  Their--at the moment still single--pursuer had to be stopped, or there would be no escape for either of them.  Silent, creeping, he slowly retraced his steps, crouching with a two foot length of sharply broken spruce branch--the only weapon he’d been able easily to find--in a spot which allowed him to overlook the only really reasonable approach to the area before the rock wall which had temporarily trapped them.  Crunching in the snow--snow!  Get hold of yourself, Asmundson.  No time for these silly illusions--the footsteps were approaching, cautious, seeking, and he held his breath, struggling to keep still and halt an increasingly violent trembling which seemed to have seized hold of him with the cessation of climbing, couldn’t possibly be cold but felt as though he was, cumulative toll of the past week catching up to him all at once from the feel of things.  Couldn’t seem to feel his hands or one side of his face, something squeezing his chest so terribly that he couldn’t get his breath and his leg was…quit it.  Later.  Could deal with it later, but for the moment he shoved it all aside, halted the shaking through an act of sheer will and held himself steady beside a rough, angular boulder just where the slope steepened, spruce spear poised for action as he heard the steps of the enemy ease their way nearer, nearer…

Movement behind him, must be Andy for he had hastily reconnoitered the entire little plateau on which they were trapped and found it free of other human presence, a quiet, subtle roll to one side and then the man was standing, shifting his weight, moving, bad deal, get back on the doggone ground or they’re gonna hear you, man!  Gonna ruin this for us.  Alert them.  I’ve got it.  Just give me a minute, here.  But behind him Andy was still moving, approaching, apparently intent on helping and though Einar was relieved to discover that the younger man could, indeed somehow walk under his own power despite his injuries he found himself in a dreadful quandary.  Couldn’t both ambush their pursuer and deal with Andy, press him back to the ground and insist he stay there so he forced himself to forget the second bit for the moment--hopefully the rest of them are too far away to hear anything, won’t take a notion to head up this way and hear him bumbling around over there--turned his whole attention to the little man who was making steady progress towards their position from below.  Smart, that one.  Seemed to know exactly where he was going and had taken pains to avoid doing anything that would have alerted the others back in camp; wanted all the glory for himself it seemed, the prestige of having re-captured two escapees and returned them to camp before anyone else even knew they were missing.  Yep, wanted all the glory, and Einar intended to let him have it.  Right in the back of the neck.  Come on.  I’m ready.

The impact was as violent as it was sudden, knocking Einar forward over the short drop which marked the edge of the little plateau, down into the rocks where he was brought up hard between two rather solid slabs of cold granite, head down, breath knocked out and body unwilling to respond right away when he tried to twist himself about and regain some semblance of equilibrium.  Ears ringing and world around him a chaos of splintered, falling fragments of light from the impact he scrabbled helplessly at his stony prison for a long moment, finally succeeding at raising himself by a few inches and drawing knees up to his chest, shoving, pushing and getting himself more or less upright.  Had lost his improvised spear in the fall but still had his hands and if he could only close with his shadowy opponent, they would be enough to…  Didn’t make sense.  The blow had come from behind, and so far as he knew only Andy had been behind, but he must have been mistaken and now…  Blackness.  Fought it desperately, remembering his capture, knowing what came next and determined to prevent its happening a second time, happening to both of them, but the blow to his head had been too hard, and he slumped back down amongst the rocks.

Voices in the blackness, terror gripping his throat as he forced unwilling hands to move, groping amongst granite slabs for a weapon, loose fragment of stone, anything but there was nothing and he didn’t need anything, had his hands and they’d be enough and then he was moving, launching himself upwards towards the threat, would have closed with it but his sense of direction was still off, a great dizziness nearly knocking him back to the ground and forcing himself to use both hands against the rock to steady himself...  A glow of light, diffused and uncertain at first through the impact-haze distorting his vision but then it began to clear a bit and there was a face in the light, and he knew it.  Safe.  Somehow they’d found him, come for him and he rose, staggering to his feet with a big grin as they took his arms, one on each side, and began helping him down through the rocks.

Water, gurgle of slowly-moving water beneath the ice and then they were in it, feet fumbling at the slick stones on the bottom and wishing his rescuers might let loose of him so he wouldn’t drag them all down when he fell, for surely he was going to fall…  But they wouldn’t leave him, and he kept trying to warn them in hushed tones about the enemy, how they’d been all around on the other side of that water but his companions didn’t seem concerned in the least, kept reassuring him that it had all been taken care of, no enemy in the area anymore and he didn’t have to worry about it.

Fire.  Must be back in friendly territory for sure if they could have a…  Dizziness, trees swirling around him as his companions prevented his fall, lifted him and kept still until he’d regained his feet and could move forward again, suddenly very weary and conscious of being cold, incredibly, painfully cold and grateful almost to tears at the prospect of collapsing for a time beside that fire.

Andy.  He was nowhere in sight.  Looked back, supposing perhaps they’d had to carry him and were lagging behind, but there was no one.  They’d reached the fire by that time, brought it roaring back to life with the addition of a few dry sticks, got him out of clothes as ice-encrusted as they were wet, wrapped him in dry hides and eased him down beside the flames, dead tired and wanting to curl up in a ball and not move for a month or two but he could not rest, not yet.  Untangled himself and sat up, back against a tree to stave off imminent collapse, voice a raspy croak, but they heard him.

“Andy.  What happened to…?”  Looked from one face to the other, but found no reassurance there; care, concern and a deep sadness in those eyes, but no answers.  The nearer one shook his head.  Her head.  Liz, and the world turned inside-out on him at the realization; no wonder he’d known that face, but now everything was crumbing out from under him, his place in the world suddenly as ephemeral and uncertain as the little tendrils of smoke which rose from the newly-stoked fire to hang silently in the bitter night air for a moment before vanishing into the darkness.  Lost.

Juni.  That was the name of the other one, and she was speaking.  “It was me that you were carrying.  All along.  I came to see what was happening with you and helped tear away the branches you’d used to trap yourself in the rocks, and when you got out…well, I couldn’t convince you I wasn’t him…”

Disbelief, the deep, acerbic bitterness of loss at the realization that she was speaking the truth, wanted to rise and run back into the darkness, not stop until he’d got back up there to the plateau where he’d left Andy but then Liz had him, pressing a warm rock from the fire between his numbed palms and holding him as she began working to return some warmth to his battered and half-frozen limbs.  Silence for a time as he wept silently before the fire, beginning to shiver himself warm, only Liz’s arms preventing his flight back out into the bitterness of the night, and then Juni spoke, her words barely reaching him through his haze of exhaustion and the distance that still remained, world unreal around him.

“You carried me, Einar.  All the way across the river and up the mountain past it, I kept trying to get loose and begging you to put me down but you wouldn’t quit, you were literally running up the rocks and you carried me all that way,” and he heard her, and had nothing to say…

After a time they went to bed, Liz and Juni dried out after their river crossings if not quite warm, piles of hot rocks stacked between hides and stuck in the bottom of Juni’s sleeping bag at Liz’s suggestion and Einar too cold and worn out to think of resisting Liz’s insistence that he join her beneath the bear hide; through the dark hours she held him, broken body but peaceful mind, and in the night there were no dreams.

28 October, 2012

28 October 2012

The water was icy, barely above freezing, Juni felt it if Einar did not, wanted to get loose and drag him back to the bank but hardly dared move lest she unsteady him and they both go down; he was slipping enough as it was, barely able to keep his feet beneath him on the slick rocks of the river bottom, and kept still, hoping desperately that she would be able to disentangle herself in time if they did fall and prevent them both from drowning, for surely he wouldn’t be able to regain his feet again with her on his back.  She must, she knew, weight a good deal more than he despite her own small stature, would pin him down and they’d both be lost.  To which end she strove to ease the tied loop of her arms up and over his head but he grabbed her hands and held them in place, whispered something about steady, steady, almost there, and then, momentarily distracted by the effort, he did go down, rounded rock shifting beneath his foot and spilling the two of them into the black, icy water.

A struggle, silent, strangling as Einar shoved at the rocky river bottom, could feel Andy fighting and thrashing on his back and knew the injured man must have gone under, too, would be drowning if he didn’t do something in a hurry and then, shoving hard at the rocks beneath him, inexplicably he was on his feet again through a strength definitely not his own, bent nearly double as he coughed and then vomited river water, terrified lest the enemy hear but elated to hear Andy coughing, too.  Which meant he was breathing.  Would be alright.  Now out of this water before they hear you, come and find you, get into the bush where you can hide…  And he was moving again, blackness looming before him with its promise of concealment but something was in his way, slippery fallen log of some sort, encrusted with…swamp slime of some sort that was crusty and bitingly cold to the touch and he couldn’t seem to lift his legs high enough to step over the thing, not with Andy on his back and his strength seriously taxed after the effort of raising the heavier man up out of the water.  Had better go around.

Went to his knees then when he tried to move, legs unwilling to respond when he tried to rise again and suddenly he was aware of a dreadful, pressing cold all around him, squeezing the breath from his lungs and leaving him to tremble uncontrollably; the change might have frightened him but he knew what it was; going into shock, aren’t you?  Not the first time over the past week or so and you can get through it, no significant blood loss this time, not today anyway, just breathe, man, and you’ll be Ok.  It’s all in your head this time.  A few deep breaths and he was struggling to his feet again, balance poor and legs trembling terribly but it didn’t matter, for he was already there, stumbling over rocks that now rose high and jutting above him, some strange feature of the land and he was scrambling, struggling for purchase with leaden feet and hands which for no good reason at all had lost all feeling, wedging elbows, knees between the rough slabs of granite as slowly, inexorably, gasping and straining he lifted the two of them up out of the water and onto dry land.  Trees.  Had to get to the trees and up that hill behind, over onto its back side where they’d be further from the enemy and he might have a chance to stop and let Andy catch his breath, see what he could do for the kid’s injuries, for surely they wouldn’t be making it too far on one set of legs, not if there was any other option.

Rocks kept on going, didn’t want to end, and  that wasn’t right.  Shouldn’t be so steep; he’d been studying that slope for days through the slats of his cage and it just hadn’t appeared that steep.  Neither did he remember open, exposed rock at all but perhaps the canopy had been concealing it; hoped so, for that meant the two of them would now likely be concealed to some extent as they struggled up away from the water…  Footsteps behind them again and this time there were voices, too, shouting, and he picked up the pace, scrambling up through those rocks with a speed which would have quite surprised him, had he taken the time to think about it but it wasn’t enough, enemy gaining on them as the breath rasped hard in his throat and before him all the world was a haze of red.  Andy.  He was saying something, softly, trying not to be heard by the enemy but insistent, leave me, you’ve got to leave me here and Einar wanted to do it, wanted so badly to be rid of the crushing weight on his back but he shook his head, tightened his grip on the younger man’s hands to prevent him slipping them over his neck and falling to the ground as he seemed determined to do, hang on, just a little further and I’m gonna get us out of this

Andy was struggling now, trying to free his legs, get them down to the ground and Einar might have let him but he knew it was little use; they’d broken one of his legs during capture, compound fracture from what he’d seen of it and without treatment it had only grown worse from there, the entire limb horribly swollen and infected those past several days…   No way he’d be able to walk, not without a serious splint and a crutch of some sort and there certainly wasn’t time to arrange any of that just then.

Had to keep moving, and they did, Einar quelling Andy’s pleadings with a harsh, guttural grunt and taking a course straight up the hillside, which instead of rising two or three hundred feet and then beginning to level off as it had appeared from back in the camp seemed to go on endlessly, increasingly rocky as he climbed but he knew this might simply be a matter of perspective, the doing of the thing an awful lot harder than the thinking had been, especially considering his own injuries which while nowhere near as severe as Andy’s certainly couldn’t be dismissed entirely…  But he did dismiss them, body an alien thing which, though responding somewhat to his demands and reminding him with frequent sharper stabs through a by-then constant and oppressive haze of hurt that it was still there, and was not happy, seemed not entirely attached to the rest of him and he kept going, even managing to increase his speed as he sensed a slight leveling in the ground, a decrease in the angle of ascent, allowing him to hope that perhaps they were nearing the top.  A hope which was dashed seconds later when he came up square against what felt to be a wall of solid rock, gritty and loose beneath his hands like sandstone, not quite vertical but certainly too steep for him to successfully scramble up with another man on his back.  Andy must have understood the situation as well, for again he was struggling, managed actually to free his legs from Einar’s weakening grasp and get them onto the ground but with a surge of strength born of sheer desperation Einar got him under control again, hoisted painfully back up onto his back and started moving along the wall of rock, simply to discourage the injured man from trying again to get away.

“Let me down!  You’ve got to let me down or you’re going to kill yourself.  Wake up!  Don’t you see what’s going on?  You’re taking it way too far.  That’s enough!”

The voice was loud, unfamiliar, didn’t sound like Andy at all and his words didn’t make an awful lot of sense but Einar simply shook his head in the hopes of clearing it--been having weird hallucinations for days, voices, critters, choppers, even a full Thanksgiving dinner that one time; you know better than to start putting any store in them now--and tightened his grip, speaking in a whisper on the chance that Andy really had been saying something to him.

“We’re Ok.  Gonna be Ok, but you got to keep quiet or they’ll hear us.  Now settle down and let me move.  Have to find a way around this doggone wall.”

Had to do something else, and he did it, stopping for a moment and breathing slowly in an attempt to slow the frantic pounding of his heart and give him some chance of hearing something of the world around him.  Were they still being followed?

Yes, they were, but unlike before, it seemed their pursuer was only one, a lone individual moving quickly and Einar knew there was no way they were going to be able to continue to outrun him, especially up against a dead end as they seemed to be and needing time to pick their way around it to safety.  And he knew what to do.

Comments from 27 October

Nancy1340 said…
Just thinking about going in that river makes me hurt all over. Burrrrrr
Thanks FOH

Yep, that’s going to be some mighty cold water…

Something in which Einar might choose to take a deliberate dip under other circumstances, but certainly not the sort of water one would expect to run across in the middle of the swamp…guess he’s in for a surprise.

Thanks for reading!

27 October, 2012

27 October 2012

He hesitated, but only for a moment. Might be a trick, an evil trick of the enemy designed to get his hopes up and then break him once and for all when he fell for it, but it wasn’t.  He knew that somehow, and as he knew he acted, springing to his feet and through that broken wall without a backwards glance, hitting the ground on his shoulder at a roll beside Juni’s feet and seizing her hand as he regained his own stance, low, running, dragging her away into the timber before she could make any objection.  Not that she would have tried.  Way too dangerous.  Enemies all around, and she knew she could very easily become one of them, if she wasn’t careful.  Maybe even if she was, but it was a risk she’d been willing to take, and now she must see it through.  They ran then, the two of them, Einar keeping their weaving, zigzagging course to the heaviest, darkest timber he could find in the darkness, keeping low, branches whipping against their faces as they crouch-ran from one clump of cover to the next so that by the time they stopped the rocky alcove and indeed the cliff face itself were left far behind.

Despite near-complete darkness and the hushed rasping of breath which told her Einar was asking an awful lot of his body in maintaining that pace he seemed to be possessed of an uncanny ability to avoid running into the more solid objects, rocks, tree trunks and other land features which surely blocked their path at times, dodging, ducking and weaving like a bat in the darkness as he led them to safety.  Or destruction.  Or somewhere.  Either way, they were going there in quite a hurry and there seemed no stopping him.

Ahead through the willows Juni heard the river gurgling menacingly beneath its intermittently thinning and rotten covering of winter ice, and to her dismay this was the direction in which Einar led them.  Picking his way along the rotten, creaking shelf of ice Einar maintained his iron grip on Juni’s arm, no intention of leaving anyone behind, not this time, and perhaps if they could make their way across that body of water they would have some chance of making good their escape.  Had to hope so, for somewhere along the way he’d managed to lose the long, strong splinter of fractured bamboo with which he’d dispatched the guard who would have set up the alarm, warned the others of their leaving, and he was woefully unarmed.  No matter.  Could easily remedy the situation, and would, but not until they’d put a bit more distance behind them, for Andy couldn’t move fast, could hardly stand at all from what he’d seen and heard through the bars for the past several days, and should the enemy end up on their trail there would be nothing for it but to make a final, fatal stand together, take as many with them as they were able and thus prevent re-capture.  Had to prevent that.  Could not go back, either of them, but especially not Andy, must not at any cost go back and Einar once more took him by the arm--he seemed slow, unwilling, holding back a bit; must be hurting him to move, but there was no other option just then, not unless he intended to carry the somewhat heavier man, which he would do if and when he must, but for the moment it would only slow them further--and plowed forward towards the river.

Would have gone right over the ledge of ice--ice!  Must be going mad, Einar.  No ice around here, none at all, you just been without water for too long and now you’re starting to see things--and into the water except the stuff was too loud, creaking and groaning beneath their feet and the enemy would surely hear, mustn’t let them hear so he backed off by a few steps until on solid ground once more, felt his way resolutely forward along the bank until he found a spot where the way was clear to the water without crackling over the ice or whatever it was, dragging an increasingly unwilling Juni behind him.

Andy fought it, their progress towards the river, protested aloud and Einar knew he must be exhausted, unable to carry on at the pace he’d been demanding of them, but it just wouldn’t do, the vocal protesting; nothing for it but to render his companion unconscious to prevent further ramblings which would surely give them away, and carry him.  Gonna be an awful lot of work though, especially through that swamp, lot easier and faster if he was at least awake and able to hang on, and he stopped, pulled his companion to the ground beside him and spoke in a voice somewhere below a whisper.

“Look, it’s rough but you got to quit talking or they’re gonna hear us.  I know you’re hurting but it’s gonna go a lot worse if they get hold of us again.  You know that.  You don’t want to go back there.  Just…yeah, I know, but you got to be quiet.  Hang on, man, gonna get you out of this but you got to be quiet for a while, just until we get across the water and over on the other side of that hill where there aren’t so many of them and then we’ll see what we can do for you, Ok?”

More objections from Juni, quieter this time, something about a river--must mean the swamp for there was no river, not where they were, wished there was a river for it would be certainly advantageous to their escape--but Einar didn’t have time to listen to it for he heard footsteps over to the left behind them, slow, seeking, must not have got a fix on their position yet, clapped a hand over the younger man’s mouth until he got the message and quit trying to speak and hoisted him over silent objections up onto his back, hastily lashing his wrists together and slipping the resulting loop over his neck so that even should he lose consciousness, he wouldn’t lose his position.  Grabbing Andy’s legs then Einar was off, stepping remarkably lithely over the ice-encrusted rocks at the shore, crunching through a bit of ice and starting out into the open water.

Not exactly what Juni had intended.

26 October, 2012

26 October 2012

Cold.  Before too long nothing, not even the glory of the stars or the effort required of him to ward off further sleep, could keep his mind from the increasing bite of the night air, hands hurting and body so wracked by shivers that he was soon exhausted if not noticeably any warmer, too weary to maintain the squat by which he had been striving to keep himself out of contact with the icy ground and the rock that enclosed him, without having to stand constantly.  Not going well, and he wished desperately for fire, for a blanket, a hide, a bit of protection from the wind that whispered and swirled in through the open front of his cage.  Right.  Cage.  He wasn’t going anywhere, no fire waiting for him, no bear hide, nothing but the long, dark hours of struggle that lay before him, and determined to see them through, he hunkered down against one wall, chest on his knees and hands clasped under them, fighting for warmth, for a continuation of life.

Though managing to keep himself from falling again into sleep, Einar spent a good while drifting in a hazy state somewhere between dream and wakefulness, brush bars before him, stars overhead and rock at his back, everything taking on strange and terrifying new meaning so that the task of keeping reality separated from dream-image soon became impossible, and all he wanted was to be out of the cramped confines of that little rock alcove.  Wanted it awfully bad, and he struggled, fighting the screen of boughs before him and then when they seemed unwilling to yield turning his attention to the rock itself, bashing with knees, elbows, clawing with his fingers until they were raw and bloody but making no progress.  He tried to climb then, wedging himself between the walls and seeking with counter-pressure of hands, feet, knees against opposing surfaces of rock to make some upward progress and at first he thought he might be getting somewhere but then he hit an impasse—of course, doggone cage has a top—and, limbs shaking with the strain, fell back to earth.  Hard.  Tasted blood, tried again but again he came up against the “roof” and this time hung on as long as he possibly could, heart pounding in his ears at the effort of it but limbs finally betraying him as before, dumping him rather unceremoniously back to the ground.  They had him then, had heard his struggles and come to the cage, pushing their way in through the door and seizing him, binding him up so tightly that he was sure his arms would come out of the sockets but they did not, the pain growing as they lifted him until soon he could stand it no longer, but he must, had no choice and then they were raising him again, rocks on his back as the breath was crushed out of him, world going black, blacker than it had already been, stars blotted out by the smothering, billowing darkness before his eyes, a blackness split by splinters of white-hot, shattered light.  That was all for a while, a sudden unconsciousness leaving him to slump mercifully unaware to the cold ground, rest, in the only way it could come…

Woke with a cry, a strangled, animal sound as he remembered where he was and flung his full force against the bars of the cage, futility, all of it, but he tried again, gave the walls another go but made it no further than the first time, ending up in a bloody heap on the ground…

Back at camp Liz and Juni heard Einar’s howls of anguish and rage, strange, unearthly sounds that made the hair stand up on the backs of their necks and sent Juni scrambling to her feet, glancing back at Liz as she prepared to make a run for the sounds, see what had happened and if anything could be done to help.  Liz remained seated, silent, face buried against Will’s hat where he slept in her lap.

“Don’t we need to go see…?”

“He’s Ok.  Dreaming.  It happens sometimes when his mind is on those things.  Gets so real for him…”

“You just let him go on like that?  Isn’t he going to hurt himself?”

“Probably, but there’s not a lot I can do.  Sometimes if it’s especially bad I have to get out the rabbit stick…” she struck a spruce with the stick by way of demonstration, “but I try not to resort to that too often.  He just has to get through it the best he can.”

“Is that really how it has to be though?  Can’t we help him, interrupt the…episode?”


“What if I just go and talk to him for a minute, see if…I don’t know.  Talk him into coming back to the fire, maybe.  It’s a cold night.”

“Probably not a good idea.  He’s got his reasons for being over where he is, and even though I don’t like it at all, and can’t stand the thought of him freezing all night in that little hole in the rock…well, sometimes we just have to let him be.”

“I’m sure.  But maybe not this time.  I caused this, and I think I can make it right.  Better.  A little less awful, anyway.  Let me go try.  Just try to talk with him.”

“It’ll probably wind up with one or both of you getting hurt, and I hate to think what it would do to him if he wakes up out of that to find that he’d done you some harm, without meaning to.  Best to let him be.”

Determined, thinking she had some understanding of his situation and an ability to affect, if nothing else, the course of the night for him--perhaps, Liz thought, she was correct, or perhaps simply not as experienced as she in dealing with such situations--Juni took the flashlight from her pack and left camp, light off, feeling her way carefully forward in the darkness in search of the place where Einar had sequestered himself for the night.  Unwilling to leave Einar and the young reporter entirely to their fate Liz eased the sleeping Will into her parka hood and followed at a distance, hoping to be able to step in somehow, should things go especially badly…

By the pale light of the stars Juni found the place, Einar sprawled awkwardly on the cold dirt floor of his “cage,” hands stretched out before him as if in a last attempt to find his way through the self-imposed bars before he’d lost consciousness again.  At the sound of Juni’s footsteps through the crunchy-frozen snow he stirred, scrambled to hands and knees, eyes wide and wild in the beam of light with which she explored his enclosure.  Dangerous, empty eyes, and she was sure he didn’t see her but she stayed, still certain that she could find some way to free him, at least for the night.  Right.  Free him.  Let’s give that a try.  With which she attacked the branches holding him in, kicking and clawing, half sure that he would throw himself at her and that would be the end, just as soon as an opening was made in that wall of branches.  Had to time it just right, that, and hope he saw the entire thing the way she was intending him to see it, and then there was no more time to hope, for the last of the branches were broken, ragged hole in the wall standing wide open to the world.

Einar did not move, crouched there at the back of the rocky alcove like a trapped animal, ready to go, to spring, eyes glowing as he gathered his strength for the attempt and she seized the moment, glancing back over her shoulder and motioning to him.  “Hurry.  We have to hurry and get out of here, before they come back…”

Comments from 23 October

Anonymous said… 
Thanks for the new chapter. But don't miss taking the winter's Elk just because of us. 
Bad business this. If Einar, in dream state, breaks through the aspin/bamboo barrier and makes good his escape any he may encounter will be enemies. I would prefer an arraignment where he and Liz slept in shifts. The trapping is not critical at this point and need not be perused in a desperate fashion. 

No Elk this time, haven't had enough snow to drive them down into grassy areas yet and the critters are so scattered because of the long, dry summer.  Came close, but never just the right situation.  Sure did enjoy being up in the high country for a while though!  Thank you all for your patience with the story.

Mike, yes, a dangerous situation with Einar.  He'd like to be a lot further away from all of them for the night, but it didn't work out that way.

23 October, 2012

23 October 2012

Liz’s pots of broth and tea ready they ate, drank, Einar, even, taking some broth, though he would greatly have liked to refuse.  Couldn’t bring himself to do that, not with Liz urging him so to take some, she who had forgiven him the gash on her cheek, and finishing with his broth he rose, stepped back from the fire and stared into the darkness.

Certainly could not stay in camp for the night, not after his recent performance, but neither did he want Liz to have to spend the rest of her night wondering where he’d gone and perhaps even attempting to track him—no need for her to do this, but he knew that his telling her so would do little to reassure her or improve her prospects for a decent sleep—so he searched about in the darkness, seeking a spot where he might pass the remainder of the dark hours in some seclusion and far enough removed from the others that his mere existence might not prove too dreadful a plague.  Had no intention of sleeping further, but knew he could not wholly trust himself to keep to that resolve, for despite the resolve of his mind, his body was tremendously weary, trying to shut down and near forcing the issue, bringing him to sleep, willing or not.  Which meant that some distance was essential. 

Searching, stumbling in the dark he felt his way along the rock wall, coming finally to a spot where there existed a gap, a shallow depression in the otherwise solid wall of granite large enough to allow him admittance and into this he backed, sitting down heavily with face out to the stars, darkness of the rock all around him on three sides.  Good.  It would do, would be just fine once he…  Never finished the thought, fast asleep with head on his knees almost before he’d done positioning himself in the little alcove but as before the sleep did not last long at all, first dream-images mercifully jarring him back to complete wakefulness.  Shaking his head and scrubbing hands across his face he was on his feet again, leaning for balance with hands against both walls of rock as the stars outside swam dizzily before him.  Ok.  Found my spot.  Now to let Liz know, or she will come after me at some point and if she saw this place…well, best for both of us that she not see it, exactly.  Because it’s got to work.  Too wore out to keep on searching, like this.

Back to camp then, feeling his way along the wall as the fire-glow which otherwise would have guided his steps dancing and leaping so strangely as not to be much help at all, and upon reaching the spot at last he nearly walked right past the fire and kept going, and might have done so, if not for Liz’s voice.

“What did you find out there?  Find what you were looking for?”

Stopping, blinking, he turned at the sound of her voice, attempted to make some sense of her question.  “Found a spot to spend the night.  Not gonna stick around camp, tonight.  Best if I stay over there.”

“Over where?”

“Found a little spot, little sheltered spot in the cliffs not too far from here, gonna stay there for the night.”

Liz wanted to object, knew he wouldn’t have an easy time staying warm, to say the least, but lacking a better idea, she could hardly dispute his decision.  Was well aware that he was right in wanting to separate himself from the camp for the remainder of the night; alone, she would have gladly risked staying with him, would have all but insisted upon it but she could not ask Will to do the same; the little one must be protected.  Trouble was, in attempting to minimize the weight of the load they were hauling and leave plenty of room to carry back the hoped-for results of their trapping expedition, they had brought the hides and furs Liz deemed necessary to keep them warm at night, and no more.  Should they divide the lot, neither of them would have sufficient insulation to get through the night without either a fire, or near-constant movement.  Einar, of course, insisted that he didn’t need anything, anyway, would be just fine in his parka and would probably be awake and moving to some degree all night, and Liz had to settle for hoping he was correct, and letting him go.  Not too many other options as she saw it, so she simply pulled his hat down snugly to his eyes, squeezed his shoulder and sat back down by the fire.

Einar went, feeling his way once again in the darkness until he’d found his rocky alcove, backing into the space and lowering himself to the ground, safe, confined, but it wasn’t enough, and he knew it.  Nothing to keep him from bolting from the spot in the night should sleep, and the dreams overtake him again, and knowing he must prevent this, both because he had told Liz he’d stay in one spot and because if he went wandering in that state, he really had no idea where he might find himself come morning.  Not a terribly big concern to him, but the uncertainty might be somewhat hard on Liz.  Needing a solution and lacking anything to which to secure himself with his ever-present length of nettle cordage, he left the shelter of the alcove and again began groping about in the dark, seeking sticks, branches, anything with which he might secure himself through the night.

Returning with an armload of branches, Einar again stowed himself in his little alcove, leaning, back braced against the cool rock, until a wave of dizziness passed and he could once again stand upright.  Then, working slowly in the darkness and fumbling somewhat with hands numbed with evening chill he boxed himself in, leaning and weaving his load of sticks until before him stood a semi-solid wall of wood, not enough to stop a man should he be determined to exit but enough, he could only hope, to wake him and make him think twice about his course of action.

As the stars wheeled slowly overhead and the evening chill deepened to a biting, bone-penetrating cold, Einar’s wall of brush became a cage, bamboo, not aspen and fir, straight, regimented segments boxing him in and adding to the terror of the night so that after sleeping and waking the third time he found himself so determined to remain wakeful that he stood, hands braced against the bars of his cage and forehead resting upon it, hoping that through remaining upright he might also manage to refrain from sleep.

A long night, to be sure, but without long nights, one would never have opportunity to appreciate the wonder of the stars…

Sorry for the un-announced absence, and thank you, Philip, for your offers of Nutella, etc.  :)

Not necessary though, as I've just been out wandering the high country after elk for the past few days--a very good place to be, right now!--going out again in the morning but thought I'd go ahead and post a short chapter for tonight.  Thank you all for your patience.

Here's some of the country I've been hiking...

19 October, 2012

19 October 2012

Einar got pretty quiet after that, thoughts turned inward, and while Juni expected she might be able to keep the conversation going a bit longer if she really tried, that seemed a good time to end it, at least for the night.  Liz agreed, heating a final pot of broth over the coals of their dying fire so everyone might have a chance to start the night warm, if not to finish it that way, and when it was ready she laid the by-then soundly sleeping Will in his nest of furs and crept in behind Einar, chin on his shoulder, holding him close as he worked on the broth.  The stuff was warm, good, and felt to Einar like life itself after the his long time sitting alone in the chill of the evening, fire’s warmth reaching him, but its strength not nearly enough to keep the cold from his bones.  He was just now realizing this, the oppressive heat and humidity of the jungle having kept him quite warm through the bulk of their conversation.  After a time Juni took her leave, retreating to her sleeping bag and leaving the two of them alone before the fading coals, stars glimmering with a cold, still light in the valley-path of sky above their heads, barely even blinking as the cold of the night deepened. 

Silent, warming, with Liz’s living warmth pressed close all around him, Einar watched the stars, losing himself in wonder at their distance, their numbers, the sheer glorious vastness of the universe out there, and for a moment, fleeting but very real, he felt himself entirely safe in that world, tiny, lost, securely concealed in its limitless enormity but held at the same time in the hand of the Creator, the very palm of He Who numbers the stars, the hairs on our heads, the innumerable grains of sand, and from that spot Einar saw the world, and it was a very good place. 

Didn’t last long, unfortunately, Einar’s truce with the world, as he fell asleep there staring out at the stars, and with sleep came the dreams, and a violent shattering of his peace.  Liz, sensing the trouble, was anxious to free him from her grasp lest he find himself confined, trapped, and begin struggling, but she dared not move too quickly in doing so, knowing that such suddenness had in the past led to trouble of its own.  Didn’t want any trouble at all, moving slowly and steadily to disentangle herself and rise, but it was not quick enough, Einar suddenly startling more fully awake and rolling swiftly to the side, coming up short against the trunk of the tree which was to shelter them for the night and nearly knocking out his breath, in the process. 

Which only reinforced his already rather firm idea that he was in their hands again, forest and stars only a dream, brief if beautiful respite from the terror of his present circumstances but he realized something else, too, which was that he did not seem to be bound in any way, movement, now that he’d struggled free of the human arms which had been grasping at him, fairly free, and he took full advantage of the situation, scrambling away from the solid object with which he’d had such firm contact and gaining the shelter of some densely-growing vegetation, even as he struggled to regain his ability to take in oxygen.  Hands on his ankle, and with them a voice, stop!  They were shouting at him in English to stop but he did not, struggling fiercely against the hand that held him and finally getting in a successful kick at his assailant, successful, for he was free again but then he hit another obstacle, wall of solid rock or cement or some other dreadfully unyielding substance, and when he tried in desperation to climb, claw his way up and away from his soon-to-be captor , he found no purchase on the steep, slick surface of the rock.  Somehow managed to launch himself, anyway, a few feet off the ground, hitting the solid surface of the wall and clinging with fingers jammed into the impossibly small fissures which ran across its surface, inching upwards, limbs trembling with the strain of it and then, reaching, one hand breaking contact with the rock, he fell, landing hard on something solid, shoulder first, rolling, rising, and he was gone. 

Freedom, and the night swallowed him, stars standing sentry overhead, still, silver, but it was wrong, the scent of the place, spruce-sharp air and the sweeping smell of snow from unseen heights, even the look of the stars was wrong, unfiltered, unblinking, high, he had to be up very high for things to look the way they did, higher than the highlands which were, in any case, nowhere near his present position, higher, in fact, than he could possibly have gone.  Stopped, thin air tearing at his lungs and a sudden certainty welling up around him, speaking to him in the voice of the river—very near now, for he had been heading towards its sound, wanting to avoid being trapped again up against the cliffs and hoping it might provide a clear avenue of escape—an icy, wintry voice, telling him that he was home.  Could stop running, and he did, sinking to the crunchy, icy snow there in the willows—dear, good willows; one is always safe in the company of willows--beside the ice-encrusted river, life once again far too good, too sweet to be fathomed.

Footsteps in the snow behind him, and almost he nearly took off running again before he could remind himself that he was home, safe enough, no need to flee or…yeah, or to use this…and he put away his knife, not even knowing how it might have come to be in his hand but immensely thankful that he hadn’t known to look for it earlier, when the unseen hand had grasped his ankle; he’d been sure, then, that he was unarmed, and a good thing, too.  Waiting, silent, the footsteps drew nearer, their owner slowing some, casting about as if for his trail and he knew he ought to have spoken then, helped out, but couldn’t bring himself to do it, and kept quiet until he saw her silhouette showing black against a patch of snow beyond, but before he saw her he heard, and she was breathing hard, seemed almost to be sobbing.  Liz.  He knew her, rose, took a reeling step back and nearly ended up in the water, ice crunching and cracking beneath his boots as she darted forward, “no, don’t go in there, Einar, it’s me…come back!”

He had her hand then, or she his, and she was pulling, urgently leading him away from the river’s edge, ice-edge, place where he’d nearly gone through, and she did not stop until the two of them were safe together on the snow beside the cliff once again, both panting for breath and too worn out for words.  Together, then, they returned to camp, guided by the glow of a fire brought back to life by Juni as she waited anxiously for their return—keeping, as she did so, an eye on Will, as Liz had hastily instructed her in leaving to go after Einar—listening, hoping somewhat desperately to hear two pairs of feet crunching back through the snow and tremendously relieved when they appeared together, Einar appearing a bit crooked as he unknowingly favored the side on which he had fallen, but otherwise unharmed.

Liz, though, was bleeding, a long, ugly gash in her cheek appearing a good deal worse than it felt at the moment, and when Einar saw he put a hand to her face, realization slowly coming into his eyes and with it an immense sorrow and a shame, and he bowed his head, pressed a bit of usnea to the wound.

“I did this…”

But before Liz could answer Juni was there beside them, offering more usnea and presenting Liz with a cloth soaked in cold water.  “No, I did this, and I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Liz asserted, speaking first to Einar, who was genuinely horrified at the discovery that he had unwittingly made contact with Liz in his earlier struggle to escape what he had been absolutely convinced was the enemy, “I shouldn’t have grabbed you, not then…  And no, Juni, you didn’t do it, he’s like this half the time anyway, and I just should have known better.  Now why don’t the two of you quit moping and we’ll get some tea going, and maybe even a little soup.  It’s a cold night, and certainly doesn’t seem anyone’s in the mood for sleep, not yet!  So we might as well eat, and be warm.”

Comments from 18 October

Anonymous said…
Thanks FOTH.

Thank you!

Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing this story, I believe it really needs to be told. Mike -- you are exactly correct, I wonder if I ever would have measured up! This has bothered me for many a year now, to this day, even though I spent 25 years in uniform, I never had to go through the hardships other did. My 2 brothers did, one still does, the other died of cancer a few yrs ago they say was from agent orange. So thank you both. Prayer is still key for me.

Thank you, and your brothers, for your service and your sacrifice.

And yes, without prayer, and God's mercy, we would be lost.

18 October, 2012

18 October 2012

Liz had sat quietly through the entire thing, hurting for Einar and at times wanting to be angry with Juni for causing him to focus on such things to an extent which he otherwise might not have been doing, but knowing it was probably for the best.  Things always seemed to get a bit calmer for him, quieter, for a time at least, after he’d been able to share such memories with her, as if by giving voice to the things their power was lessened somewhat, daylight in a dark room dispelling the shadows, though the improvement had always proven temporary so far, and she had come to believe--and, to some degree, to accept--that it might always be so.  Yet Einar was still remembering things, putting into words memories he’d never previously been able to speak to her or, she suspected, even to allow himself to examine too closely, and if Juni--with her different perspective and the boldness of speech which was imperative to her erstwhile career--could bring him to find his way through these things and perhaps ease somewhat their grip on him, then Liz could see no pressing reason to interfere.  Except that she still doubted Juni’s motives, but that was another matter, and one which could wait.

Muninn, likewise, hung back, having left Einar’s shoulder when he’d gone on his little sojourn along the cliff--had followed him, short hops from tree to tree in the darkness until Einar had settled in one spot, waiting, ready to keep a night-long vigil if required--watching now with silent, black-glinting eyes and tilted head from his boulder-perch as Einar spoke and appearing ready to hop his way into the middle of the conversation at any moment, should his services be required, but they weren’t just then, and the raven seemed to know it. Wise creature, if only a bird, and Liz was glad to have him there as an ally.

Juni did not know exactly where to go from there, her previous certainty fading at the unexpected frankness in Einar’s tone, the raw memories spilling out when he spoke, yet for all that, she could tell he was holding quite a bit back, the long silences when he stared off into the shadows nearly as meaningful to her as the words he did say, and without knowing the content of those thoughts, she was having difficulty rightly formulating her next question.  That’s your problem, you know.  “Formulating questions”…what’s that all about?  Quit thinking so much like a journalist.  Just talk with the guy.   Talk with him, one human to another.

“You would have liked to find out, you say?  Find out what would have happened if you’d have been trying to carry your friend Andy when you escaped from that camp, even though you know you were barely able to get yourself out of there.  You know they would have caught you pretty quickly if you’d tried that, and taken you back there, and eventually killed you both…  Eventually.”


“Yes, what?

“Yes, of course I realize all of that, and yes, I still want to do it.”

“Want?  Present tense?”

Why must she do this?  Entrap him with his own words.  Tangle him up.  He hated it.  Wanted it to be over.  Yet, though he could leave anytime he wished, was in no way being compelled to speak to her, he did not leave.  “Wanted.  And…”

“Say it.”

“Yes, still want.  Not possible I know, but…”

“But you’ve been trying to get back there ever since, haven’t you?  Back to that camp, back to do it all again, to make things turn out differently for Andy.  And if not for him, then at least for you…”

“Didn’t say that.”

“No, but it’s true.  Your arms.  Let me…no, don’t jump back like that, you know I’m not going to do anything to you.  I’d have my skull caved in by that rabbit stick before I ever knew what hit me if I tried anything, so just relax and let me see your arm.”  Einar kept still, squinting hard into the darkness and inwardly bristling as she pushed his sleeve up out of the way but knowing that it was without purpose, at that point, to resist her inquiry.  She had already seen, the other day down at the river.

“Yeah,” Juni sat back, releasing Einar’s arm, giving him the space he so desperately needed,  “just like I thought.  And you’ve probably got scars on your ankles to match, haven’t you?  And other places.  Recent ones, I mean.  Not the old ones.”

He shrugged.  Sure.  Didn’t even care to dispute it.  No shame there, no need for apology but it was none of her doggone business, any of it, and he fiercely resented the intrusion, gritted his teeth to keep from snarling at her and hoped she wouldn’t try to touch him again.

Going nowhere good, this line of questioning, and Juni, though not finished with the matter, had sense enough to realize it and back off for a while.

“Did you ever try to contact his family, after you came back?  Andy’s family?”

A nod.  “I had their address for years.  Wrote the letter four or five times early on, but never sent it.  Then had the thought for a while that maybe I’d leave the letter at the Wall, but never made it to the wall, either, though I was in DC a bunch of times over the years…  His mother died a decade ago, cancer, but his father and three brothers are still out there and…yeah, I think about that sometimes.”

“About contacting them?”

“Sometimes I’ve thought about going up there and finding them, getting them all together and telling them, ‘hey, it didn’t happen the way you were told it happened, and here I am, the guy who killed your son, your brother, it was me, and here’s the story…’ and then just let them deal with me how they will.  Can stand up pretty well for myself, even now being…a bit scrawny, and all, but I wouldn’t try.  Just let it come.  I wouldn’t last too long at all I figure, if they decided to stomp me some, crack some ribs, snap my neck, maybe.”

Liz had to bite her lip and look away at that point to keep him from seeing her tears, no, Einar, that’s not how it would go, I wish you could see that it wouldn’t go that way at all, wish you might have had the chance to do it, just to hear what they would have had to say…

“Why didn’t you ever do it?”  Juni continued.

“Never was much for contacting people.”

Oh hey, I wonder why not…?  “That’s the only reason?”

“No.  Wouldn’t want to…maybe they don’t want…  It was all a long time ago, now.  They have their lives.  Maybe wouldn’t want to be reminded of all that.  Never was sure it would be the right thing to do.”

But aside from that, you would have done it?”


“The way you said that a minute ago, about hoping his brothers would go after you, which I don’t think they would, but…  You want to die?”

“I…”  Looked over at Liz--she didn’t at all like what she saw in his eyes--and caught sight of Will sleeping there in her lap, hint of a smile playing across the little one’s face in the firelight.  “I don’t know.  But…” voice growing firmer, more resolute, a bit of life returning to his eyes,  “it doesn’t matter, because I’ve got a duty here now, and I’m here to stay.”

Comments from 17 October

I'm taking off for a few days, will probably be able to post a chapter tomorrow but they will be out in the hills so it will be a few days until the next one.  Thank you all so much for reading and for your comments.

Anonymous said…
Thanks FOTH:
I cannot imagine how hard it must be to write this. It is gut wrenching to read. I don’t know if I envy or pity those men who have never been to see the varmint. Those who have not will always wonder if they would measure up. Those who have, no matter what they did, will still question if they did measure up. No matter what it looks like to the rest of the world, you know what you felt, some of it you know but do not understand, and you question weather it was right. I hope the dead find understanding and peace.

Some things are difficult to find in this life, aren’t they?

Yeah, hard to write and I imagine hard to read also, sometimes I have not been sure whether it should be written at all, but here it is.

Thanks for reading.  I appreciate the things you have to say.

Anonymous said…
We had a man captured off of 290m scraper one day as we were returning back to a special forces camp we were building,drug him off into the jungle. About a year later he escaped, the vc had kept him in the same area all the time used him as a slave. He died a few years ago, A really bad thing about it he had to fight the VA till the day he died.
Bob SE209

Some battles may not be worth fighting.  I am sorry that your friend had that additional struggle to face, on top of everything else life gave him.

17 October, 2012

17 October 2012

Much as she had been hoping that her conversation with Einar wasn’t over for good, Juni found herself uncharacteristically squeamish about the idea of continuing to question him, just then.  Figured he could probably use some sleep first, a bit of distance from the events of the evening.  But it seemed he didn’t want that, for reasons of his own.  She was pretty sure she knew why.  “You just want me to tell you so you’ll have a reason to go back out there and beat your head against the wall again in a little while, don’t you?”

“I don’t need you for that.  Pretty good at finding reasons, all by myself.  Just wanted to try and answer your question if I could.”

“You really want to do this now?”

A shrug.  “Sure.  Why not?”

“I don’t know, maybe you’ve had enough.  You kind of look like you’ve had enough.”

“You have no idea what that looks like.”

“No.”  But neither, she added silently, do you.  Obviously.

“On with it, then.”

“Andy.  My last question was about what Andy thought about your escape.  How do you think he saw it?”

“He was…” not going to do it, not going to tell her about his earlier vision, younger man with face pressed up against the side of his enclosure, bidding him go, smiling…  “He was glad to see me go.  Wanted one of us to…get out of there.”

“And you think it should have been him?”

“Should have been both.”

“But it wasn’t.”


“You tried everything.  I read the report.  You charged the guards that time when they were taking you for interrogation, attacked them with your elbows when they had your hands tied and ran at Andy’s cage, trying to get them to stop hurting him, hoping, I guess, to be able to get over there and free him...  Even though you knew they’d probably kill you for it.  They almost did, didn’t they?”

A shrug, Einar rubbing the outside of his lower leg where it still frequently ached despite having been more or less healed for nearly forty years, chunk of muscle missing where they’d ripped that spear out of him; the wound, despite his best attempts at treating it, had festered during his weeks in the jungle after escaping, and they’d had to take more, once he made it back.  The surgeon had told him he almost certainly would have lost the entire leg, had it not been for the aggressive scrubbings he’d given the wound as he struggled to evade his pursuers in those initial days after leaving the camp.  Though unable to even contemplate having fire to sterilize water for cleansing the wound, he had scrupulously kept to using rainwater gathered from the big leaves around him, constant rain of those days providing ample opportunity and his efforts, if not entirely effective, managing to stave off the worst of the infection which otherwise would have surely done him in before ever he managed to reach friendly territory again.

Yeah, they’d almost killed him that day for his rash attempt at putting himself between Andy and his tormentors, had, besides the spear through the leg, taken him back to his cage after an especially fruitless interrogation session--who, after all, tends to be in the mood for talking when he’s got three feet of bamboo sticking through his leg, constantly being kicked, twisted and pulled by his kind and considerate hosts as they bark their questions at him?--and bound him up so tightly that he really could hardly get a breath after a while no matter how hard he tried, rocks stacked on the small of his back for extra weight as he hung there, muscles worn out, exhaustion taking over, and had they left him that way too much longer he really wouldn’t have seen the end of that particular day, though he’d been too out of it at the time to recognize the fact; a good thing, probably, as it had spared him for the time the temptation of giving in to their demands.

Juni.  She was waiting for his answer, and he swiped a hand quickly across his eyes, drew knees up to his chest tried to dry some of the sweat that was slickening his hands, despite the evening being cold enough to make him shiver.  “Yeah, they almost killed me for that one.  Still don’t know why they didn’t just shoot me when I broke away from them like that.  They didn’t tolerate any sort of…non-compliance, around there.  Still needed me alive for a while I guess, so they used the spear instead of a rifle…  Doesn’t matter though.  None of it matters.  I didn’t get him out.”

“I read about how you got pinned down later after you’d escaped, surrounded so that you had to try and wait them out, but I bet you had to be moving pretty quickly when you got away from there, didn’t you?  To put some distance between you and the camp before they discovered what you’d done, and started searching?”

“Yeah, had to move quick.  Hardly quit running until sometime that next night, through the swamp and finally out of it, up this one hill and down the back side, almost ran right into a patrol back there but they weren’t out there for me, not yet, and I flattened myself out until they’d passed by, went on again.  Didn’t feel the leg, didn’t feel much of anything that day but it wasn’t working too well, kept giving out on me after that hill and that slowed me down some, but not too much…”

“And if you’d been trying to carry Andy?”

A brief flash of something that might have resembled despair crossing his face, so brief in the flickering firelight that Juni couldn’t be sure what she’d seen and then he looked away, into the darkness.  When again he turned to her after a long moment his eyes were glowing weirdly in the light, voice fierce and terrible with resolve.

“I would have liked to find out.”

Comments from 16 October

Philip said...
Well tarn'Nation! I just tried to finish a reply and the computer burped me back to a blank page!
I'll say what I wrote, again! :) great posts these last two days, and do not worry for the need to spend two days writing one Post, they are MORE than worth the wait!

It's very aggravating when the computer takes over and erases all your work...  Glad it worked better the second time, and thanks for your patience with the story--and the author.  :)

I won't be around later today, so thought I'd go ahead and post this, now.

16 October, 2012

16 October 2012

Juni had no more questions just then, or if she had, she kept them carefully to herself, tending the fire and keeping out of Liz’s way when she brought Einar back within the circle of its light, a halting, stumbling creature who blinked for a moment all hollow-eyed and confused at the flames as if he’d never seen such things before, squinted, turned his head away.  Juni, though silent, was watching, observing with keen eyes the results of her earlier prodding and prying, and she saw that her work was not yet done.  Besides which, he had never really answered her last question, had seemed willing, more or less, to converse up to that point but then had apparently got all mired down in his own memories after the asking of it--what about Andy?; that seemed to be the key question--and things had gone no farther.  Must go farther though, at some point, for if his reaction was any indicator as to how the past months had gone, she was surprised that he’d made it through the winter, even by the small margin that his condition seemed strongly to suggest.  Had to find some way to get past it, as much as ever a person could, ease the grip with which these memories held him so that he could live again.

Juni sighed, added another stick to the fire and hovered close over its flames, warming chilled hands.  Maybe, she thought to herself, watching as Liz worked to clean matted, dried blood from Einar’s hair--he appeared entirely indifferent, perhaps even unaware, staring vacantly at the ground--and began heating water for a more thorough cleansing of the wound, she was doing more harm than good, bringing these things up.  Perhaps, but she did not think so.  He had been willing to talk, had seemed to know that he needed it, and if things had gone a bit badly in the end…well, perhaps the next time would be a bit better.  If there was a next time.  Liz, she suspected, might not allow it, and despite the woman’s gentle demeanor and the tolerance with which she had been treating their uninvited guest, Juni knew there was a steel hidden behind her kind, longsuffering exterior--had to be, considering the life she had chosen, the man she’d chosen to live it with and the lengths to which she’d gone in pursuing it--which might prove dangerous or even deadly to anyone who made themselves even an unintentional threat to her family and way of life.  Einar might have his preferences when it came to whether or not they were to carry their conversation any further, but Liz, she suspected, would have the final say.

Will was waking, whimpering, wanting to be free of his confinement in the parka and Liz had to pause in her work with Einar to give him some attention.  Juni, wanting in some way to help remedy the distress she had brought on the camp, reached for the little one as Liz eased him from her parka hood.  It was the least she could do.  And probably, under the circumstances, also the most.

“Let me take him for a minute.  Maybe I can keep him happy for a little while…”

Not necessarily Liz’s idea of a suitable babysitter, but she saw little harm in the offer, not with all of them sitting so close around the fire as they were, well able to keep an eye on her, and with a bit of reluctance she handed the suddenly very wide awake and squirming Will to the young reporter.  “I think he may be hungry, but if you move a little, and let him move, he should be content for a little while.”

At which she went back to dressing Einar’s wound--wounds, Juni saw; what had he done to himself?  Looked like a real mess--pressing usnea to the areas where blood now oozed freely in the warmth of the fire and finally binding everything in place with a strip of buckskin from her pack before easing his hat back in place overtop.  Einar had shown no reaction as she worked, sitting stone-still even as she dug spruce needles and lichen from his forehead and staring, for the most part, straight into the fire but Liz saw that he was now watching Will, hard lines of his face easing some at the sight of the little guy standing with Juni’s help, looking almost as if he was ready to take off walking.  Just a few more months, maybe.  “Hey,”  Liz put a hand on Einar’s shoulder, wanting to take advantage of his momentary connection with the world, good job Will, should it soon fade again.  “You need that skull intact.  It has a function.  Take it a little easier next time, huh?”

“I did.  Take it easier.”

“Oh really?”

“Sure.”  He blinked, pressed a hand to closed eyes as if just realizing that his head hurt.  “Lot easier than I wanted to take it…”

“You’re impossible.”


“Can you stand up now?  Let’s give it a try.”

“Yeah, I can…”  He couldn’t though, not as quickly as he’d been attempting to do it, and after a narrow miss with the fire as he dropped dizzily to the ground and a hasty scramble out of the danger zone and back into the cold shadows against the cliff he made another attempt, finally stood dizzy and swaying with one hand braced on the rock, but Liz was satisfied, figured he’d be more or less alright, after some time.  She hadn’t been so sure, at first.

Now that Einar had gained the high ground and managed to haul himself his feet he hardly wanted to abandon the advantage by sitting near the fire as Liz began urging him to do; might not be able to make it to his feet again anytime soon and besides, he felt safe here holding up the wall, palm pressed hard into the solidness of granite and eyes averted somewhat from the glare of the flames; no better place to be, if indeed he had conceded, as he seemed to have done, that a night spent in camp was inevitable, if not desirable.  Liz left him, satisfied also, for the moment, and began heating a pot of broth over the coals, jerky rubbed and powdered finely and fortified with a bit of honey, a badly needed refreshment for Einar and for the rest of them, a pleasant bedtime beverage to help chase away the night chill.

Sometime later Einar eased himself down by the fire, cradling his portion of Liz’s pot of broth and looking as though he were having to struggle very hard to prevent his eyes drifting shut as the rising steam warmed him, silent for a full minute and then, much to Juni’s surprise, he addressed her.  “What was your last question, again?”

15 October, 2012

15 October 2012

Einar was done.  No more talking, no more questions, wanted away from all of it, from what this stranger was doing to him and he stumbled to his feet, narrowly missed falling into the fire before he wheeled around and found the rock wall behind the camp, felt his way along it like a sightless man until he’d moved well beyond the fire’s glow, into the darkness.  Only then, safe, secluded, did he allow the tears to come, had not wanted to do that, not in front of his adversary, but she was behind him in that circle of light and alone now with his memories on his knees in the snow he silently wept, forehead pressed against the solid, icy stone of the wall, a real thing, and a good one, in a world suddenly gone so terribly uncertain around him.  Vague, shadowy, all of it; he did not know if it was real, what he had just seen, could not at the moment reliably distinguish memory from delusion and for this he wanted to blame Juni, was sure she had been sent up there to entrap him, discover the one thing which could effectively be wielded as a weapon against him and then use it, destroy him before the feds ever made it up there to finish the job…  But some part of him knew this was not so.  Juni had not caused the trouble, she had merely reminded him of it, and would not have been able to do even that much, had he not willingly allowed her to lead him down that path.  Which still left him with the question: had the memory been real, or had he imagined that scene in the jungle, blood in the water, guards soon to discover his absence and Andy bidding him go, get out of there while there was time.

Would have been a convenient thing to imagine, he supposed, a way for him to make peace with himself and let the entire thing sink, perhaps, into the background of life just a bit, but it seemed very much to ring true, details too sharp, too vivid to have been imagined.  Really though, it didn’t matter, did it, whether this new vision was history or merely the product of  a brain desperate to cease, if only for a moment, being always at war with itself?  Wasn’t relevant.  What mattered, the only thing that really mattered, was the duty he’d had, and the fact that he’d walked out on it.  Andy’s feelings on the matter…well, much as he would have liked to think he might have been forgiven by the young man sometime in his last moments as his recent vision-memory had indicated, the fact wouldn’t have changed anything, even had he been able to convince himself it was in fact real.  As the ranking officer in the camp, he should have…

Ranking officer, heck.  You were just a kid, starved, half crazed with thirst and out of your mind with hurt after the way they’d been handling you for that past week, pretty near death, even if you didn’t recognize it at the time, and you couldn’t reasonably have been expected to--

No, I wasn’t.  No kid.  Had a lot more experience than he did, had been on the ground there for several years and he looked up to me, was counting on me to find the way out of that place.  If I was a kid, it was a kid who’d held life and death and hellfire and thunder in his hands more times than a person could count, had risked life and taken it; chronology means nothing, it’s all about experience.  Nothing innocent about me.  Knew exactly what I was doing, and I did not do enough.

Nothing could change that, nothing at all, not Andy’s feelings on the matter, not even his…forgiveness, which might have been a reality though the word hurt him even to say, to imagine in this context, nor the things anyone else might have said to him since, none of it had any relevance.  None of it changed what he had done.  Not done.  Not even the things Kilgore had told him over the years…Kilgore, adversary, nemesis and just about the closest thing to a friend he’d ever really had, and he wished the tracker was there at the moment to slam his head into the rock and pound some sense into him like he really needed, but then he realized that he didn’t necessarily need Kilgore in order to accomplish that particular goal, bashed his head into the granite wall before him, and it seemed to help some, so he did it again.  Yeah.  That was what he needed.  Maybe not so much with the rock wall, though, as it would be preferable that his brain still remain functioned to some degree when he got through.  Needed some serious time with that old dead pine on the dropoff, training, atonement, whatever he wanted to call it; couldn’t remedy the situation, nothing could, but it was the closest he could come, and there was a rightness to it, a justice, a purpose, and he must go.

Could not go.  They were in the middle of several days of trapping, an endeavor which having been previously abandoned on his last trip to the valley he must diligently see through to the end, this time, and besides, there was Liz.  And Will.  Could not simply walk off and leave them to wonder where he had gone--and with a fair chance of his not returning, were he to look at the thing honestly--especially considering the presence of the intruder whose motives, if seeming so far to prove themselves honest, must of necessity always and forever remain suspect.  Must stay nearby, which meant that the most he could reasonably manage would be a solo night up in the rocks, and he went through all the steps in his mind, finding, by starlight, a spot in the good solid face of the wall which would allow him passage, crack in the rock which would admit a knee here, clenched fist there as he pulled himself up, up until the fissure widened some, allowed him to wedge his body into the rock.  There he would hang, parka, boots, everything cast away down into the snowy blackness below and his flesh, what little was left of it, offered up as a sacrifice, living, striving, as he contended through the night with the elements and with the weakness which he knew must lurk still somewhere within him, hidden in his body, his very soul, perhaps, hated, feared, ready always to betray him, an enemy more vile and deadly than any who could assail him from without.  He would contend, and would prevail, and by the first light of the coming dawn he would creep back down as well as numbed limbs would allow him from his hidden crevice in the stone, drop more or less unharmed into the snow below and somehow beat a workable degree of warmth back into limbs by then grown quite insensible, ready to rejoin the trapping party and do his duty to Liz, to his family.

Time to go, to do it, and he went feeling his way along, searching, wanting to make that climb but needing somewhere to start, some feature in the rock which would allow the beginning of his climb.  Could not find it, kept going, searching almost desperately with hands growing increasingly numbed at the continued contact with the cold rock, feeling, searching and then there it was, an angled, ascending crack offering the bit of purchase he had been seeking.  Ready to climb, then, but as he stood, squinted up at the wall in an attempt to gain a better understanding of its features and begin the ascent he found that the world was moving most alarmingly beneath him, swaying, heaving, and he could not keep his footing…

Quite some time later Liz found him, fire burning low and Will sleeping in her parka as she went searching in the faint starlight, following the rock wall, as she had some sense that he would have done so, himself.  A time of searching as she wanted to call for him but held her silence and then there he was, black hulk against the lighter rock, on his knees in the snow, spear stuck in the ground beside him, hands pressed against the wall as if he’d been trying to pull himself up, head resting on the stone and eyes closed against the dizziness which still assailed him every time he tried to move.  By the glow of a single candle which she lit and nestled up against the granite to prevent the wind extinguishing its light Liz did her best to clean the crusted blood from his face, pressed icy hands between her own and pulled him somewhat unwillingly to his feet, come back, the night is cold, come be with us, and he was going, following her back towards the distant glow of the fire, back there where Juni waited, no doubt, with more of her questions…

14 October, 2012

14 October 2012

No chapter for tonight.  I’m sorry, working on it, but sometimes this stuff just doesn’t come quickly or easily, and I'm not going to have it ready until tomorrow.

Thank  you all for reading, and for your patience.

13 October, 2012

13 October 2012

Now that Einar had consented to talk, it was Juni’s turn to find herself  bit lost, doubtful as to how to proceed, for she had never really expected him to come around, had figured that if he spoke at all, it would be a fight the whole way.  She had thought--if she could get him to talk at all--that she would dive right in, start asking him questions about the transcripts, his experiences over there, but now it was seeming all wrong, and she decided to come at it another way, start in the present…

“Tell me about the hunger, then.  Why do you do it?  Deprive yourself of everything, when clearly the two of you have proven very successful hunter-gatherers, and have a cabin full of food…”

“It’s how I get through my days.  Always has been.  It works.”

“Doesn’t seem to be working very well right now.  Seems it’s putting you in danger, actually, and your family.”

“It keeps me sharp, the hunger.”

“To a certain point, maybe.  But after that, it just makes your brain malfunction.  Slows you down.  And you’re way past that point, and you know it.”

“I’m quick enough.”

“You could be quicker.”

“Want to test it?’

“No.  Are you kidding?  I don’t want an atlatl dart through my neck.”

Einar shrugged, relaxed his grip on the weapon.  Would have been alright with him, either way.  She continued.

“So.  The hunger.  It was useful, and you used it when you needed to.  But it’s not anymore, is it?  It’s got you, just like those guards had you, and it’s going to kill you if you don’t find some way to free yourself.  It’s almost like you never got away, at all.  Why do you let them keep hold of you like this?”

“That isn’t it at all.  They don’t have me.  This is my deal.  My choice, all of it.”

“Is it?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that it doesn’t look to me as if you have much of a choice.  Have you ever tried another way?  A different way to ‘get through your days,’ as you put it?”

“This one works.  Has always worked.”

“You sure do have a funny definition of ‘working!’  I guess this works to the extent that it lets you feel like you have some control over your life, maybe.  Over what happens to you.  I know about that.  It’s important.  But it isn’t true.  Look at yourself!  Who would really choose to live like that, given a choice?  You’re doing to yourself exactly what your captors were doing, except maybe a little more slowly, which is probably worse, really, isn’t it?  But the eventual results are going to be the same if you keep it up, and you’re going to die that way if you don’t decide you want things to turn around.  The way they would have had you die.  Is that really how you want to go?”

“Andy did.”

“Wanted it?”

“Got it.”

“Ah, so that’s the thing.  What this is all really about.”


“I don’t know the whole story with Andy.  Just what I read.  But I do know that the day you escaped…you really should see it as your birthday, you know, a day when you were reborn, given a second chance…”

One corner of his mouth twisting up in a slight smile, yeah, guess maybe I should, and sometimes I can almost…  “But I don’t.”

“Because of Andy.”

A nod.

“How do you think he saw it?’

“My escape?”


His brain shut down.  Didn’t want to think about that one, because really, it didn’t matter.  What mattered was his duty and the fact that he hadn’t done it and now couldn’t go back and…  Andy.  He would have been happy.  Elated.  Einar was sure, and for a moment, staring into the fire, he caught a glimpse of that hated bamboo cage, but it was not his own, and Andy, staring through a sizable tear in the screens that had kept them from visual contact with the outside world, was smiling, his eyes resting on the broken corner of the cage which had held Einar, blood in the water where the guard had gone down, and then he was in the scene, himself, in the jungle, keeping low in the water as he glanced back frantically trying to get a look at Andy, see exactly where he was and how he might be reached, but Andy, lying on the floor of his enclosure with face pressed up against the spot where the screen was missing, just smiled at him--a weird, incongruous thing, jubilant, joyful and wholly out of place in their present surroundings--shook his head, mouth forming the word, “go!”  And he had gone…