18 November, 2012
18 November 2012
Darkness, confusion, Juni tumbling to the cold earth floor, sleeping bag gone, nowhere to be found, and she tried to scramble to her feet, get oriented, but nothing made any sense, and then she was out in the snow, hands sinking deep into its biting whiteness, and she supposed she must somehow have been herded out through the tunnel. Door slamming behind her, grabbing for her boots, grateful that she’d had the forethought to sleep in some of her warm clothes, for surely she wouldn’t have had the chance to dress, otherwise. Boots were nowhere to be found in the darkness and she whirled around, scrambling back through the tunnel and shoving at the door, had to have her boots or surely she’d lose toes, feet, but the door would not yield and then something grabbed her from behind, tossed her forcefully out again into the snow and beneath her were the boots, snow-filled and tangled but she quickly righted them, shoved them onto feet already growing numbed in the early morning cold.
“This way.” Harsh, rasping words and she half wanted to turn around and hide herself in the tunnel, in the timber, anywhere, but that surely would have been a dreadful mistake so she followed, newly-made tracks on the hard-crusty snow barely showing in the not-quite-predawn dimness--actually, it might just as well have been the middle of the night; starlight on snow, she’d learned during her time up there, could be surprisingly illuminating at that altitude--as she struggled to keep up. Twice she lost him in the more complete darkness beneath the timber but both times some little sound, the crunch of a footstep in the snow, cracking of a small twig somewhere up ahead, got her back on course. Cold. Wished her boots weren’t full of snow and that she’d been able to grab her hat and the ski suit which had served her well through so many frigid days that winter, and in their absence, wished there might be some way for her to move faster, for as it was, struggling to track a silent phantom through hard-frozen snow in near complete darkness, she was barely traveling fast enough to keep her hands and feet from freezing. Needed to get the blood circulating, and after what seemed like several hours of this--couldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty minutes, in reality, but reality can get itself mighty distorted under such circumstances--she was cold, hurting, frustrated almost to tears and ready to take off tearing up the slope ahead just to generate some heat.
Juni’s mistake, as she discovered very quickly, was in allowing herself to act on such an impulse, something hitting her hard from behind not twenty feet into her desperate scramble and sending her sprawling in the snow but it didn’t make sense, any of it, for over there in the timber some fifteen yards from the spot where she struggled to get her breath and rise was the very distinct sound of slow, deliberate footsteps, a man climbing, and how could he possibly have been in two places at once? Rising, freezing and frightened at the realization that the snow was beginning to melt through her clothing in places where she lay, she only fell again, the blow this time coming from the other side and she scrambled forward in terror, keeping low, wanting to avoid whatever invisible menace seemed to be stalking her, watching her every move, but this desperate flight soon ended in disaster as well, for she hurried herself headlong right into the clawing, tearing arms of what surely had to be the densest bramble patch she had ever encountered, raspberry or rose or maybe it was barbed wire, which didn’t make any sense but that was certainly how it felt, tearing her clothing as she struggled to get free, tearing skin and then she heard footsteps approaching, covered her head with an elbow, certain another blow must be on the way. Silence, holding her breath, shaking with cold and now with terror as well, for the entire night out there seemed alive with dread, unseen foes approaching from every quarter, quiet, creeping, unavoidable, and she was trapped….
Instead of delivering the expected blow he chopped away the brambles that seemed to be so badly entangling her, helped her roughly to her feet and was gone again before she had time to fully realize what had just happened. Seemed a dreadful mistake to risk speaking aloud, but she did it anyway.
“Wait. Give me a second. Please. I’m still stuck.”
He was back beside her then, movement as silent as ever but she knew he was there because she could hear his breathing; he didn’t sound any warmer than she felt, but it wasn’t bothering him in the least and somehow that fact only added to the unreality of the situation, to its terror.
“What is your purpose up here?” Voice low, controlled, demanding. “Why did you come?”
“I…I’m just…following you. Thought I was supposed to be…” Wrong answer, and he was gone again, plunging straight forward through the snow-matted tangle of rose cane and she tried to go around, avoid it but the patch was too wide, and she was before long obliged to either follow him through the middle or risk losing him again, so she followed, face terribly scratched and stung by brambles which she could not so much as hope to see in the darkness.
Darkness also in the cabin, and Liz lit a candle. Place was a mess, Juni’s bedding tossed over in the corner against the water barrel, her pack and gear strewn about as if from a desperate and probably unsuccessful search on her part for some item or other from amongst its contents and Einar’s parka lying on the ground where he had apparently tossed it after some brief consideration into the matter of whether or not to wear it as he headed out into the frigid night. He would, among other considerations, have been afraid of its slowing him down, she knew, but she shook her head in dismay, previous concerns about his making it through whatever he had planned for the coming week only growing.
Liz had been aware of Einar leaving the bed, quick, stealthy motions most unlike any he’d been able to accomplish of late, and she’d known his plan for the week--whatever it might be--had been put into effect. She’d wanted to stop him, insist that he stay for breakfast, at least, but that would have been interfering, and this was one thing in which she did not want to interfere. Well, really she did, wanted to put a stop to the entire thing before it could get off the ground and knew she probably could have got him to listen to her had she tried hard enough, reconsider whatever it was he planned to do out there, but that was exactly why she did not see her way clear to do it. She’d asked enough of him lately, and he had freely given despite the difficulty of his doing so. This one was his to run as he saw fit. She did wish though that he might have had the sense to wear his parka and other warm things, at least. If it was to be a test for Juni, his trial would by default be the greater, low as he’d been lately on energy and with the cold seeming to flow mercilessly through him and rattle his barely-covered bones even when he was making some effort to keep warm, which was seldom enough...
It was with this image in mind that Liz made the decision to follow the pair, feeding Will, rising, adding to a pack a few items that she was sure neither of them--whether by design, or by default--would have taken, slipping the little one into the warmth of her parka hood and setting out under skies just beginning to grey with morning.