31 January, 2013

31 January 2013

Einar was silent for a moment, trying to make sense of it.  “Down where?”

“With Kilgore, when he goes.  I want to take Will and go down, and I want you to come with us.”

“We can’t go down.  The search…”

“We can find ways to do it safely.”

“Can’t talk about this in here, with everybody.  Come with me.”

On his feet then, leading her to the door, and Liz barely had time to grab her parka before he hustled them both out into the tunnel, where they stopped, as it was still not safe to venture outside.  He said nothing, waiting for her, giving her the chance to speak first, which she did not want to do.  But finally had to.  He, she was quite sure, could have waited all night.

“Will you come with us?”

“You’ve decided this for sure, then?”

“I want to talk it over with you.”


“The things Kilgore’s offering…they’re sensible.   A month or two hidden away where they don’t expect us to be, all that distance between us and the active search, and it would solve the problem of what to do with Juni.  Right now, if we let her go down we’ll never feel secure here again, will we?  Just knowing that someone else has been here and knows how to get here again, or lead people to us…  This way, only Kilgore knows where we’ve gone, and he’s known where we were for a long time, anyway.”

“Doesn’t solve the problem of Juni though, because in that situation, she knows that Kilgore knows, and could potentially pass that information along to someone, if things went really wrong…”

“Oh, Kilgore would never give us away!”

A moment of grim silence, and she could feel him stiffening, pulling away from her.  “You’d be surprised.”

“I still think it’s the best plan right now.”

“And just leave everything behind, everything we’ve built up here?”

“We were going to have to do that anyway, at some point.  You’ve said so yourself, more often than I have.  That we’d probably have to leave someday at a moment’s notice or even less, and that’s why we need so much of our stuff cached.  This would just be…planning ahead.  Doing it before we were forced to, and probably really increasing our chances of making it.”

“We’ve talked about this before.  You’ve always said there was no way you wanted to go down, never to take you down, even if something went really wrong…remember, we talked about it before Will was born, and you said you would rather take your chances with all of that, than risk capture?  What’s changed all of a sudden?”

“It hasn’t been sudden.”

“Then what’s changed over time?”

“Nothing.  That’s just the problem.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I know.”


“There’s a lot of winter left, up here.”

“We’ll get through it.  Got a lot of meat left.  You’ve got plenty to eat, Will is growing, thriving…”

“But you’re not.”

“This again?  We talked about this.   I agreed to…”

“I know.  And I can see that you’re trying so hard, but you keep getting trapped in this…this…trapped in your own head, and ending up right where you started from, only a little weaker, physically, a little closer to the edge each time, and it looks like if that’s ever going to change, we need to do something different.  Something big.”

“Prison would be real big.”

“I’m not talking about prison!”

“You might as well be…”

“Kilgore knows what he’s doing.  You’ve said so yourself.”

“Doesn’t mean he can’t mess up, or that we’re not dramatically increasing our risk just by going down where there are other people, chances for contact…that’s how it all ends, with these sorts of things.”

“Sometimes.  But not every time.  I seem to remember that you came down, a time or two.  Never would have met me if you hadn’t come down.  What made you decide it was worth the risk?”

“First time had no choice.  They were chasing me, dogs, choppers, it was just where I ended up.”

“And the second time, that winter?”

“Rough winter.  Hadn’t had any time to prepare for it, because of the search.  I was starving to death up there.  Had to try something.”

“You’re starving to death now.  That winter you took a risk, and it worked out.  Try it again.  Please.”

“That’s your reason for wanting to do this?  So I won’t starve?”

“That is my reason.”

“Lizzie, we’ve got plenty to eat.  Things wouldn’t be any different for me down at Susan’s, or wherever we ended up.  Really wouldn’t make any difference.”

It would have to.  Something has to…

30 January, 2013

30 January 2013

After a while, no one even bothered to pretend they were sleeping.  Kilgore’s ears had been on high alert even as he lay in his sleeping bag, Juni lying wide awake worrying that it was she who had brought this danger upon them all and Liz, though more used than some of the others to sleeping despite imminent danger and doom—sometimes, one must simply get some rest, especially when a situation goes on long enough—unable to relax so long as she knew Einar was out there in the icy cabin freezing himself to death as he sat immobile and almost certainly without adequate covering beside the water barrel.  It was Liz—she had not been to sleep that night, had been doing some very serious thinking of her own—who first broke the silence, leaving Will tucked cozily beneath the bear hide and feeling her way over to sit beside Einar, who based upon his reaction—nearly jumped out of his skin when she touched his shoulder—had indeed been wandering in faraway places as Kilgore had expected he might do through the night.  Didn’t take him long to come back, however, alert as he’d been striving to stay for the passage of planes, and when she draped the rabbitskin blanket over his shoulders before lowering herself down beside him, he did not resist.  Liz was glad.  She had some things to discuss with him, and a lot was hanging on the way he answered.  She did not like to test him, did not mean to do so, really, but the conversation to come—if indeed she could get him to converse, in his present state—was indeed a test of sorts, like it or not. 

“Not quieting down much, is it?”  She whispered, finding his hands and seeking to warm them between her own.  A shake of his head which despite his best efforts spread throughout his body and left him shivering uncontrollably for a long moment, no attempt at speech, for he did not want to wake the others, nor was he especially anxious for Liz to hear the tremor in his voice.  She did not need to hear in order to know, pressed closer to him and shivered, herself, at the bitter chill that seemed to come from inside of him, seeping through his clothing and her own.

“Might as well come to bed for a while, don’t you think?  You can listen just as well from there.”

“Not tonight.  Stay…right here where I can…”

“Freeze solid by morning?  That’s not such an amazing feat when it’s well below freezing in the house, you know.  Anyone could do it.  Now come on, before Will notices that I’m gone and wakes up.  It won’t hurt you to spend a few hours under the hides.  You can get right back to freezing again in the morning.”

“No.  Too many…planes.  Be alone.  Might fall…asleep if too warm.”

“Might fall asleep if you get too cold, too…   And then you might not be waking back up again.  What’s the problem, now?   You’re afraid you’ll get too warm and comfortable if you come to bed, fall asleep and not wake to hear planes when they come over?”

“No.  Afraid to…wake up near you…when planes come.  Got to be alone.”

He was shaking so hard by that time—talking seeming somehow to have made things worse in that regard as it robbed him of the concentration which had been necessary to control the shivering—that when Liz got her arms around him and tried to warm him a bit before leaving, she could barely hold him.

“Let me stay with you, then.  We can be awake together.  Make a night of it.  Maybe even light a candle for a little warmth, if you think it’s a safe thing to do.”

“Better if you leave.  Wish you…just leave.”

“Well, I’m every bit as stubborn as you, you know, and I won’t leave.  You’ll have to try and make me, if you really want that.”

Einar grinned into the darkness at the spark in her voice—had no intention of trying to make her do anything at all, though she had almost seemed to be daring him, hoping he might take her up on the challenge—shook his head, rested chin on knees, exhausted by the battle.  So, she could stay if she must.  Didn’t like it, not the way his night was likely to go, but he was too tired to fight her anymore.

Blanket around the two of them and Einar slowly beginning to warm, Liz retrieved a sack of jerky from its place hanging in the rafters and pressed a piece into his hands, urging him to eat.  It’ll help you get through the night, stay alert for planes…  But he was plenty alert already, and in no mood for food, though he did not want to tell her so, for then he would leave himself open to questions as to why.  Should have known better.  His very refusal, after several days of willingness to eat whenever she offered, spoke volumes, and she did not need to ask in order to have a pretty good idea what was going on in his head.  It was starting again, and she'd had enough.

“I know you didn’t want to talk about it with Kilgore, but maybe you’ll talk with me?  Just to help pass the time, if nothing else?”

“Lizzie, there’s no sense in it.”  He sounded frustrated.  Exasperated.  Exhausted, and she could hardly blame him, but did not intend to let the matter go.  “Same old story,” he continued.  “Talking about it…changes nothing.  Always…same old story.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be.  And what if I disagree?  About there not being any sense in it…”

She felt him shrug.  Wished, almost in tears, that his response might have been something else  Wondered for a brief moment if perhaps she was being unreasonable, attempting to discuss such serious matters with him when he was, by any reasonable measure, more than half dead from cold and the continuing effects of his self-imposed if lately somewhat relaxed regime of starvation and hardship, but shook her head, trying her best to maintain her resolve.  There was no way around it.  When, lately, was he not in that state?  Which was a large part of the whole problem…


He grunted.

Drawing even nearer and lowering her voice so that only he could have any chance of hearing, she whispered, “I want to go down.”

29 January, 2013

29 January 2013

No chapter for tonight, but back with another tomorrow.  Thank you all for reading, and for your patience.

28 January, 2013

28 January 2013

Without a fire, supper that night consisted of elk jerky and a few dried serviceberries apiece from a supply which was, after lasting well all winter for stews, pemmican, pudding and snacking, finally beginning to run short.  A quantity of bear fat still remained in its hollowed log storage vessel had anyone wanted to supplement the somewhat meager meal, but no one was feeling particularly hungry, and the stuff went untouched.  Unfortunate, perhaps, considering the cold night ahead of them and the fact that already the cabin had cooled significantly without the help of the stove, but at least they were equipped with sleeping bags and furs to ward off the chill as they slept.  Not that anyone was likely to be getting too much sleep, with the specter of the search hanging over their heads and the occasional plane humming up the valley and over a nearby ridge to remind any who might have begun to relax, but some, Kilgore and Juni particularly, were determined at least to have some rest and stay as warm as possible under present circumstances, using the light of Liz’s single candle—the maximum allowed by wisdom and caution, she had been pretty sure—to prepare for bed and crawl into their respective sleeping bags.  Einar made no such move, even when Liz, having got little Will to sleep, urged him to join her, and Kilgore watched him suspiciously for a time, finally leaving the relative comfort of his sleeping bag to join the fugitive in his cold vigil beside the water barrel.  The man remained silent, never even looking his way, and though Kilgore might have been tempted to attribute the man’s ambivalence to the effects of the cold, which had gained a visible grip on him there in the unheated cabin and was presently doing its best to shake him to death in its iron jaws, he knew better.

“What’s going on in there, Asmundson?  Pretty plain to me you’re not thinking about planes and searches and such.  You’re a few thousand miles away, aren’t you?  At least…”


“Yeah.  Thought so.  Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“How about you do it anyway?  Seeing as we’re all stuck in here with you for the night, it’d probably be better if you let some things out in the air rather than let ‘em keep on stewing inside until you jump out of bed at three in the morning and start chasing all of us outside into the snow in our pajamas to freeze, or something.  How about it?  Where were you, just now?”

“You brought pajamas?”

“Beside the point, man, and you know it.  Now tell me where you were just now.”

Einar was getting angry—had tried to avert the thing, but the tracker just kept pushing—and he did not want to be angry.  Wanted to be quiet, and listen for planes, but he couldn’t.  Not pestering and prodding and refusing to allow him a moment's peace.  Not that it had been very peaceful.  In that, the tracker was correct.  His thoughts had been elsewhere, wandering, traveling, caught up in a maelstrom of hot, pressing memories that had been carrying him along so that he'd barely been able to hear the planes, anyway, but now with the added pressure of the tracker's insistence, the task was appearing entirely hopeless.  Again he shook his head, angrily turned away from the tracker and faced the wall.  Wanted very badly to be outside, but he couldn’t go outside because of the planes, couldn’t risk going far at all, anyway, or staying out in the open for long, lest he risk being spotted.  So he was stuck and he hate being stuck.

Sensing some part of Einar’s dismay and perhaps even some semblance of a muted but growing danger in the air, Muninn the raven hopped down from his perch, took a seat on the man’s shoulder and twisted a bit of his hair until Einar could hardly help but react to the assault.  Kept still though, face blank as he stared through the logs of the cabin and Muninn twisted harder, until at last he freed the clump of hair and hopped down to the floor, apparently satisfied or at least unsure how to proceed. Kilgore knew how, but what must be done he could not do in the cabin in the presence of Juni and the man’s wife, and a trip up to the spring and dropoff was entirely out of the question.  None of which precluded a friendly kick in the shins, which the tracker would have unhesitatingly carried out had he been wearing boots, but the man’s legs were so bony that he hardly wanted to risk broken toes delivering the blow.  Used a stick instead, Liz’s rabbit stick that he grabbed up from its position beside the bed, and before Einar could get his breath back from that first blow he had delivered a second and a third, one to the ribs and the other to the side of the head, leaving Einar quite thoroughly in the present, if a bit sore and more than a little cross.

“What was that for?  You started clobbering fellows just because they don’t want to engage in conversation, now?  Barbarian.”



“Yep.  Now how about it?”

“No way.  Go get some sleep, why don’t you?  I’ll be the ears for a while.”

“You gonna stay awake, then?  I just didn’t particularly relish the thought of sleeping if you were doing the same, way things are looking tonight.”

“Yeah, I’ll be awake.  No way I’m gonna risk going to sleep just to have you whack me with that stick again.  Might wake up in a real bad place, I’m thinking…  Like halfway down the mountain.  Or tied up in the bed of your truck.”

Very perceptive, Asmundson.  And knowing you’re thinking along them lines, I’m finding myself even less inclined to want to sleep than I was before.  Looks like the lot of us may be in for a pretty long night…

27 January, 2013

26 January, 2013

26 January 2013

Relentlessly, the search continued.  If a plane did not pass over the area every hour—not always directly over the basin or cabin, but near enough to cause alarm and make everyone glad they were inside and without a fire—those lying low inside could have quite easily been talked into believing that such was the frequency of the overflights.  No one quite understood it, Liz quiet and grim, speaking softly to Will as she tried to prevent him picking up on the tension in the room, Kilgore quieter still and quite unreadable and Juni wishing only that she could leave, lead this menace away from her new friends and make some sort of amends for the danger in which she had placed them all.

For his part Einar naturally supposed the entire thing really must be related to the ongoing manhunt, even going so far, as evening approached and the strain of the thing began to get to everyone just a bit more, as suspecting that Kilgore had somehow led the search to them, this time.  GPS transponders, probably, hidden in his pack or on his person perhaps even without his knowledge, but one never knew about people, even those one had come to trust.  Very few were above manipulation or blackmail of one sort or another, especially those who had family that they cared deeply about, as Bud Kilgore now had in Susan, her children, grandchildren…a lot of potential leverage, had the feds seen a purpose in exercising it.  Didn’t make a whole lot of sense though, that they would risk the virtual certainty of alerting all inside the cabin of their designs with repeated plane passes, if they were already sure of their target.  Place would have gone up by then in a roaring splinter of fire and impact, that, or an assault team, probably supported by a single helicopter which they might or might not have had the privilege of hearing at all before initial contact, would have been through the door and taken everyone, had they chosen to go the “live capture” route.

That was what logic told him, and as darkness fell outside and the flights continued Einar struggled to hold onto this assurance, hold back the growing conviction in his mind that they had been set up, that the guilty party was likely as not sitting right there amongst them, their betrayer, whatever dreadful pressures might have been applied to press him into that service.  Had to hold it back, keep reminding himself of the reasons why he’d initially dismissed that scenario as one of the less likely amongst many, and as time went on and he felt the darkness growing around him, logic fading, he wished somewhat desperately to be able to talk the matter over with Liz, get her good, solid perspective on it, she, who had so often proven a rock in the storm, even if he was most times quite unable to admit the fact.  In the presence of the two outsiders, however, and unable to safely venture far from the cabin due to the continued flights, he found himself quite thoroughly alone in his struggle.  Alone, and losing.  Pretty soon probably wouldn’t even remember what he’d believed logic had told him about Kilgore and his relation—or lack of it—to the appearance of the aircraft, and if he did, would be certain that the thoughts had been part of the plot of the enemy, a ploy meant to deceive him into letting his guard down while they were all surrounded and destroyed.  In fact, he was pretty sure of it already.

Scrunched his eyes shut, turned his head to the wall.  Getting lost here, Lord.  And I don’t want to be lost, because this is looking like a pretty important one.  Got to find some way to hold on, here, and could sure use your help…  To which an immediate answer was not forthcoming, they seldom are, at least in the form which we might be expecting them, but as the next plane came droning over at a height which sent all in the cabin a bit closer to the ground than they already were, Einar glanced over at the tracker and was able to see, for so brief a moment as to not be entirely certain, later, that he had seen anything at all, that the man was nearly as alarmed by the aircraft as he was, himself.  Not positive proof of his lack of involvement and certainly no protection against the possibility that transponder of some sort might have without his knowledge been placed on his person, but enough to allow Einar to relax just a bit, ease the necessity of immediate action against the man.

Kilgore, seeming blissfully unaware of the danger though in reality rather acutely attuned to the fact that Einar had been about to make a move at him for one reason or another, and fully prepared to counter it without unduly endangering the other occupants of the rather small space or—hopefully—doing too much permanent damage to the fugitive, rose and helped himself to a fresh dipper of water from the barrel.

“Well, that was a low one wasn’t it?  Using infrared, would be my guess, trying to skim these valleys and basins after sundown in the hopes of picking up on a heat signature that don’t look quite like an elk, something they might want to come back for a second look at or even put folks on the ground to check out further…”

Juni, rising finally from her distressed crouch against the back wall, shook her head and joined the tracker at the water barrel.  “If they’re just out here looking for me, then why do you think they’re coming over so often?  It seems once or twice over the same area should be plenty, doesn’t it?  Especially when they have no more reason to think I’m right here than that I’m anywhere else in the state…”

“Sure they do.  And besides, this last one was the first to come through really low and slow, anyway.  Most of the rest were just traveling, taking enough time that they might have spotted something if it had been there, but coming and going between this and another search area, for the most part.”

“What do you mean, ‘sure they do?’  I never told anyone I was coming here!  Never told a soul.”

“No, but you been here before, haven’t you?  Not right here of course, but in the search area, hunting wildflowers and doing interviews with most wanted men and such?  So when you turn up missing and folks start to worry, why shouldn’t this be the first general area they’d think of?  Should have told someone, you know?  Told them you were going to Mississippi for a month, or something like that, just so they wouldn’t get to wondering…”

She nodded.  “Guess I should have.  I didn’t think anyone would ask questions…”

“Well.  We’ll get you back down there soon enough.  Just have to wait for the right weather.  Snow, wind, stuff to ground the aircraft and cover our tracks, and we’ll be out of here.  Maybe sooner than we think.  That could be one possible explanation for the intensity of this air search right now.  Could be they know stuff about the weather that we don’t know, see a limited window and want to make the best of it before it starts storming again.”

“I hope so…”

Liz and Einar, though, exchanged glances.  May not be so simple as just walking out of here, the two of you…

24 January, 2013

24 January 2013

The following two days—clear, sunny ones, not good for traveling when one is intent on avoiding the leaving of any tracks in newly-fallen snow—passed in relative tranquility, Einar and Kilgore avoiding any major conflicts, if only because the tracker had at some point determined not to start such.  He still believed—believed it all the more firmly, actually, having observed things at the cabin for several days—that the entire family needed to come down and spend some time at the house he now shared with Susan, that, or his hilltop log home in Arizona.  Either location would do fairly well to provide the security the little family, and especially its head, would need to find the arrangement an acceptable one, and not only would Einar’s closer proximity to the goings on in the valley allow the two of them to discuss plans and strategies for the months to come, it would probably save his life.  Not that he’d asked for it to be saved.  Probably didn’t even fully recognize the danger, or if he did, considered it a challenge which he must, alone and unaided, face and find a way to overcome.  Was the way the man operated, a real benefit most times, but now…well, they’d all be better off down there at the house with Susan for the remainder of the winter. 

Wished there was some way to convince him of that—and to convince Liz, for without both their consent, nothing was happening—but he could think of no argument which he had not yet tried, so let the subject go for the time, determined to find a time, and a way, to bring it up again before he had to leave.  Whenever that might be.  So far, they seemed quite thoroughly stuck in a pattern of crisp, blue skies, windless days and crackling cold nights, as temperatures plunged far below zero.  Something of a strange pattern for those mountains, which gave him hope of predicting when it might break.  Einar, when asked, had little more idea than the tracker about what they might expect of the weather, so Kilgore settled in for a long wait.  Not a bad place to be, not bad at all, and though he missed his bride, he knew Susan would be alright without him for a time, would worry some, as was her way, about how he might be faring up in the snow-locked high country, but as always, had plenty to keep her busy until his return.

On the morning of his third day with the little tribe in the basin, Kilgore’s tranquility—and that of everyone else in the cabin—was shattered by the distant but quickly approaching drone of a small plane.  Liz was sitting on the bed feeding Will, Kilgore and Juni working together on the elk bone atlatl darts Einar had previously demonstrated to the reporter—she had shown the tracker her technique and he, experienced with flint knapping but not with the working of bone, finding the process fascinating—and Einar out in the woodshed when the hum first became audible, he hearing it long before the others and rushing to get inside and close down the stove.

Liz stared at him as if he’d gone mad, scrambling in and closing the stove vent, pulling half burnt logs from its interior and rolling them on the dirt of the floor, but soon she heard it as well, all of them tilting heads and straining ears to gain as much information as possible about the intruder, while Einar involuntarily and quite without noticing pressed himself into the ground beside the water barrel.

While none of them could see the plane they could hear it clearly enough to be sure beyond a doubt that it was not the one belonging to Kilgore’s friend Roger Kiesl, which meant that its presence posed them all an immediate and rather severe danger.  Silent while the aircraft circled the area, listening, the little group stared at the ceiling or at the ground, no one daring so much as to speak until the faint remnants of its humming presence had thoroughly and completely faded into the distance, over the ridge.  Juni was the first to speak.

“It’s here for me, isn’t it?”

Einar said nothing, but Kilgore nodded.  “Probably.  Sounded like the search was really about to go active, starting in the air and then maybe on the ground if they got any leads.  Maybe that’ll be the extent of it, right here.  Maybe they’ll…”

He was interrupted by the drone of another motor, not the same plane but flying at a similar elevation, which lazily and with what seemed to all of them excruciating slowness passed over the basin, doubled back and disappeared much as the first had.

“I have to leave.  Go back, so they’ll quit looking for me.  You said you came for me.  Take me back.  Let’s go far from here and then step out into the open when the next plane comes over, get ‘rescued’ and you can say you found me.”

Kilgore shook his head, Einar grim and silent.  “Too risky, kid.  Might work, sure, but there’s also a chance they might fly out along our back trail just out of curiosity, see something they shouldn’t be seeing.  Some little glimpse of the cabin, you know, or a place where these folks have worn a trail out to the spot where they hang game in the trees, and the wind hasn’t entirely blown it over yet.  Funny thing about tracks in the snow.  Short sections of trails can sometimes be preserved when you wouldn’t at all expect it, and then there could be real trouble.  Not worth the risk.  We just got to wait.”

“But all the planes flying over…”

“I don’t like it any better than anybody does, but what can you do?  A storm will come, and then we make our move.  Sometimes, you just got to have patience.”

“Patience, sure,” Einar added, picking himself up off the floor and brushing bits of dirt from his clothes, “but no fire.  They come over here with infrared looking for her heat signature against the snow and see our chimney, a section of wall that the snow hasn’t totally drifted over yet…”

“Right indeed.  Better not have anything to do with fires, until either they give up and go away, or another storm grounds ‘em.  Be a bit of a rough few days, pretty chilly as low as the temperature has been getting out there at night, but we’ll all manage.  I’m sure it’s not the first time you folks have faced cold camp conditions up here, and at least you got the shelter of the cabin around you.  Hey, many folks as we got crammed in here, body heat alone ought to add at least a few degrees to the place, and maybe after a day or so when we see what they’re up to out there, a few candles wouldn’t be excessively unwise…”

Eianr gave his assent and Liz nodded her agreement, also—there was no other way; they just couldn’t take the risk—but looked worried.

23 January, 2013

23 January 2013

Nothing for today, but I will be back tomorrow with another chapter.

Thank you all for reading.

22 January, 2013

22 January 2013

Kilgore did not respond, had no desire to debate the man on his perception of the past, not just then in the presence of everyone and with night coming on, so he kept quiet, letting Einar think he’d won that round but knowing with a secret satisfaction that he’d made some headway.  Man wouldn’t be able to forget it now, the thing they’d talked about.  It would creep in around the edges of his consciousness in the day and haunt him during the wakeful hours of his nights, the knowledge that down there something serious was brewing, something real, and he—insufficient for the task as he claimed to be—was not doing his part in it.  He’d planted the seed, now let it grow, and perhaps next time…  Well, who knew if there would even be a next time. Would largely depend on events down below, how quickly they moved and what his own involvement might be as they progressed.  Would probably move more slowly than everyone was at the moment thinking.  That tended to be the way such things went, and though upon his leaving it had certainly appeared they were reaching crisis stage, a point at which action, in one form or another was all but certain to commence, he knew things might have cooled off considerably in his absence. They might have more time.  Or not.  Would simply have to wait and see.

Asmundson, on the other hand, did not appear to have too much more time, and the tracker hated to think that his recruitment efforts might have been a success, only to lose, in the end, the man on whom they had been focused.  Looked more likely than not to happen at that point, even should the man from that time forward make his greatest effort to get things turned around.  He was making some effort.  That much was plain to the tracker, struggling, perhaps for Liz’s sake, perhaps for some reason of his own but more than likely some combination of the two, to eat when things were put before him, to do the things necessary to maintain life, but the whole thing was clearly a major struggle, and the man looked dead tired.  Had to be, really, considering the sort of work it took to maintain life in the high, harsh environment he had chosen for himself and his family, and there was no way he would have been slacking off on any of that work, even considering present circumstances.  It simply wasn’t in his character to do so. 

Well, Kilgore shrugged, stared into the fire, that’s exactly why we need him down there, why he has so much to teach them young fellas, and some of the older ones, too, but that ain’t gonna happen if the very stuff and substance I want him to pass on to those guys ends up killing him, first.  Which it appears real likely to do.  Would kinda like to strap him into a sleeping bag, haul him out of here and board him up in Sue’s spare bedroom until he comes round and sees the sense in all this, ‘till his brain stats working well enough to tell him how bad things have actually got, and at the same time he hopefully gets to a point where he has a fair chance of surviving the next month or two, physically… 

This’d be the time to do it, too, with both these ladies here to help me do the hauling.  Lot better than me trying to do it by myself, because that’d probably end up killing the both of us.  Wouldn’t take much to knock him out and keep him that way, state he’s in right now, so the only real trick to all of it would be keeping him from freezing to death on the way down.  Looks like he’s not far from that right now, probably never too far from it these days, and the danger’d be somewhat more if he was unconscious…but not a whole lot more, I do believe.  Might actually be less, sine he wouldn’t be able to spend so doggone much of his time deliberately freezing himself in one way or another.  Might actually do him some good.  And I think between a couple sleeping bags and one of them fur blankets, we’d have a fair chance of managing to get him down there without his temperature getting too much lower than it is right now.  Then all we got to do is make sure he don’t wake up until we’ve got him real securely stashed in the house, probably tied down for a little while just to make sure he don’t up and disappear the first day or two, which he’d almost certainly do, otherwise, and we’re well on our way to…  The tracker sighed, shook his head.

Well on our way to disaster.  No deal.  No way.  Even if we could manage to successfully get him down there in one piece, smuggled up to the house and get enough food stuffed down him that brain and body could start working a little more like they do for the rest of us, it’d destroy him, and probably the lot of us, with him.  No containing a fella like this, not if you’re wise, anyway, and not for long in any regard.  Never have his trust again after a thing like that, and the fella makes for one dangerous enemy, that’s for sure.  Not the sort you’d want to have in the house, unless he was a willing and happy guest, and there entirely on his own terms.  And that’s a steeper hill than I have the ability to climb, I’m pretty sure—talking him into showing up right now as a willing guest.  No way he’ll come around on that one, even if he don’t realize my primary reason for trying it.  Made some efforts in that direction in the past, and it only led to everyone parting ways mad.  No reason to think it’d be any different this time…but Sue’d probably never entirely forgive me if I didn’t at least try.  So.  Got to try.  But not tonight.  Enough for tonight.  Gave him plenty to think about.

Einar was thinking, alright, lost in thought as he watched the tracker, studying him almost as if though intense concentration he might able to read the man’s thoughts—which, though he could not exactly do at the moment, was not always a feat entirely beyond him, and if lacking the details, he was fairly certain that he had at least some inkling of the man’s intent, and he did not care for it one bit—and the stare made Kilgore uneasy.  He had, from past experience and second-hand knowledge of Einar’s background, little doubt but the man might well be able to glean some semblance of the half-formed plan he’d had bouncing around in his head, and he couldn’t help but think it would be an awful shame if he never made it back down the hill to his wife and the small but growing army that met every weekend in the quonset hut-workshop up the hill from the house, due to a simple misunderstanding.  Gave Asmundson a little shake of the head, turned his thoughts another way, and Einar seemed to get the message, quit glaring so hard at him.  Wasn’t done though, his natural suspicion and some extra sense for such things conspiring to prevent his being satisfied with the tracker’s feigned innocence, demanding an answer.

“I can hear you thinking, Kilgore.  You planning on letting me in on the matter?  Come on, out with it.  You really don’t want me to have to make you…”

“Like to see you try,” he growled, and for a tense moment both Liz and Juni were quite certain they were about to witness a series of events which would almost without doubt lead to the demise of one man, and perhaps both, but before the threat could come to fruition the entire thing dissolved into laughter, Kilgore starting it and Einar, though maintaining a straight face for a good deal longer, eventually joining him.

21 January, 2013

21 January 2013

Nothing for tonight, but will have a chapter for tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading!

20 January, 2013

20 January 2013

Meal done and Bud Kilgore, gruff and abrupt as he normally was, putting himself rather out of character as he sat holding Will and giving the little one a good natured and remarkably gentle talking-to, Einar shook himself from the near-trance into which he’d fallen after eating, and sat down beside the tracker.

"So, down there in the world.  Tell me what you really see happening.  How is this all going to go down?  What’s the timeframe?"

"Oh, your guess is just about as good as mine on that one.  Just before I left the President gave a big speech in which he announced a bunch of mostly-meaningless executive actions, mostly stuff about enforcing existing laws and such, but there's been legislation introduced in Congress that would not only reinstate prior 'assault weapons ban' provisions, but add to them tremendously, require the registration and taxation of anything semi-auto, make it so you couldn't pass them on to your children, a bunch of NFA stuff like that just designed to phase out private ownership of semi-autos altogether, and you know a lot of folks aren't going to go for that one!"

"Well, around the county several state legislatures have already passed legislation designed to prevent federal law enforcement m trying to put any of these laws into effect in their state, and it's been introduced in several others.  And the sheriffs!  Good, oath-keeping sheriffs all around the country have pledged not to allow any such new legislation to be enforced in their counties, promised to arrest any fed who might give it a try, and among them is our own Sheriff Watts."

"No surprise there.  He was always real fair with me.  Even when I was a rather unwilling guest of his for a day and a night, that first spring of the search…  Had that reputation with others, too.  A solid man."

"Yep, and there's a good group of folks down there planning to back him up if it comes to that, folks he intends to deputize when it all comes down, which is a good thing, because with the feds still occupying the county to some extent at the search headquarters…well, there’s already whispers that this area, and our Sheriff, may be picked out as a test case for enforcement, make an example of him, and of us, since the guys are already there on the ground to do the job.  So this isn't just idle talk, Asmundson.  It's looking like the real deal, and I really do hope you'll consider my invitation.  Might just be your destiny, man."

"My destiny," Einar ran a hand idly over the sharply protruding bones in his left shoulder, back of the neck, shivering in a slight draft that had found its way in through one crack or another in the front of the cabin, “is to end up in the ground with the worms, just like the rest of us.  Ashes to ashes."

"Yeah, and by the looks of things a lot sooner than later, but think about the way you're gonna get there!  May just have a bit of choice in the matter, which is more than a lot can say, and that's what I'm trying to get you to see, here.  Are you really trying to tell me you're satisfied with the idea you’re more likely than not to go out lying curled up in a ball under a tree, passed out from low blood sugar and the other effects of starvation as the gentle sleep of hypothermia sneaks in to take you?  Just lying there, no resistance, no struggle, just sleep?  Doesn't sound like you at all, no, not one bit."

"No.  Way too peaceful for me.  Never did plan on dying in my sleep, if I had any say in the matter."

“So, don’t do it!  Eat, get strong, and then come on down there and help me get those boys in shape for what’s coming!  Already got a good solid core group, fellas who used to meet up at Sue’s way back before I knew her, lot of ‘em guys our age who’ve been living that life since their twenties or thirties, knowing this day would come sooner or later and determined they’d be ready to meet it, and some of them really are, more or less, but others…well, right intentions, but the details need some work.  A good number of young folks too, guys coming back from the Sandbox, local kids who were raised by fellas like us, by Sue and her friends, and who heeded the message and have no intention of rolling over on this one without a fight.  Think about it.  We need you, Asmundson.  Or will before too long here.”

“I’m not your man, Kilgore.  Just not.  Wish you well, all of you, and I’ll go on doing my part up here by keeping one step ahead of ‘em and providing you all with a little inspiration and maybe a missing fed chopper or search party now and then, if it helps, but I’m not your man.”

“Well now, that’s just exactly what George Washington thought, you know, what he told everybody at first, and it’s a large part of what made him just the man we needed.  Humility.  A good quality.”

“You know real well I’m no doggone George Washington, Kilgore.  I’m an ornery old mostly starved human critter who can’t even get through one night, a lot of times, without waking sweating and screaming all tied in a knot in a bamboo hut somewhere, and when that’s not going on, I’m out there doing my darndest to replicate the scenario any way I can just looking to prove to myself that I...”  he shrugged, felt the rage coming, letting it subside.  Had to be able to talk.  To finish this conversation.  “You know, I spend most of my time these days making war with myself, and on myself, just trying to find some way to stay alive.  Works, but more often than not it pretty nearly kills me, at the same time.  No sense dancing around the facts, not at a time like this, and there they are.  There you go.”

“You’re human, and you have a past.  So?  You’re a bold man, a brave man.  You are—though I know it don’t mean a lot to the likes of you and me, and we’ll always deny it if anyone should say it to our faces—a war hero of sorts.”

“No, I’m not.  I’m a man who couldn’t complete his mission, when it really counted.  I lived, he didn’t.  I’m a coward.”

“You’re a nut.”

“So you see, I’m not your man.”

19 January, 2013

19 January 2013

Busy, busy day, no chapter for tonight, but back with another tomorrow.

Hope everyone is having a productive weekend!

18 January, 2013

18 January 2013

Matters of great import, whether of immediate or more long-term concern, could wait, must wait, for Liz had been preparing a meal and now had it ready to eat, a fine combination of elk stew and stove-browned flatbread made from the starch of some of the last of the spring beauty roots they’d dug that past year, and Kilgore’s attention was entirely captured by the food.  A hot meal is going to look awfully good to anyone after several days of hard climbing through a raging storm while living on beef jerky and energy bars, and Bud had certainly never been one to refuse a good meal, under any circumstances.

Everyone was quiet for a while as they ate, Kilgore helping himself to seconds and thirds as the others satisfied themselves with one bowl and a patty of bread, no one grudging him the extra, after his long, cold journey.  Even Einar made a pretty good effort at eating, delighting Liz with the fact that he didn’t have to be subjected to repeated reminders just to keep him from setting aside and neglecting his stew after a bowl or two, and when after the main meal was finished and she began spreading Nutella on three pieces of bread she’d stashed aside, she was sure she saw the faintest hint of a smile in his eyes, some of the distance beginning to leave them. 

Liz, little Will sitting on her lap as he tasted with great fascination his first bit of Nutella, turned to Kilgore.  “Tell me about Susan.  How’s the business going?  What have the two of you been up to?”

Despite the remarkable level of control normally exerted by the tracker, its fa├žade so seamless as to mimic nonchalance and even, much of the time, a careless ease which often out others off their guard, a shadow seemed to pass across his face at the asking, and Liz could not help but wonder whether it was because of the prospect of Juni, an outsider, hearing of Susan and thus increasing her risk, or whether something else might be at work.  The next moment Bud was back to his usual blustery self, however, Liz’s concern all but forgotten.

“Oh, she’s busy with all the usual stuff, greenhouses, grandkids, her son had another one a few weeks back, you know.  A little girl, so she’s been spending a lot of time up there at the house helping out with the other kids, and we got a new greenhouse put up in between storms this winter, too.  Hasn’t snowed nearly so much down there as it has up here, so we’ve been able to do so some things like that.  And she’s started giving classes again up at the place, this time on medicinal wild plants, how to identify ‘em, gather and store them, and turn them into medicine.  They just did a bunch of batches of that cottonwood stuff that’s supposed to help with frostbite and infection and all.”

“Balm of Gilead?”

“Yep, that’s the stuff.  Says she wants everybody to know how to make that, and a bunch more things, and the classes are her way of seeing more folks become independent, if only in that one little way.”

Juni seemed to take a keen interest in the conversation at that point.  “Balm of Gilead—isn’t that the stuff you use up here for so many things?  You used to work for Susan, didn’t you?  Is that where you learned to make it?”

“Actually…” Liz responded slowly to a question clearly addressed to her, “I first learned it from Einar, a very long time ago when he’d ended up with some pretty serious frostbite and needed to be up on his feet again as soon as possible.  He told me how to find and collect the buds, and supervised the first batch as I made it.  That was the first time.”

Now it was Kilgore’s turn to chime in, laughing heartily.  “Einar, needing to get back on his feet?  No way!  How’d you manage that?  That implies he was off ‘em at some point, which I cannot for the life of me really picture, unless you’d rolled a boulder on top of him and pinned him to the ground for a week or two.  When was this?”

“Oh, he was off his feet alright,” Liz replied, “though not for very long.  Second time the two of us ever met, back when I was staying at my uncle’s house down by the river…  It was after the great snowmobile heist, and a trek up through two mountain passes in the dead of winter, without good boots or clothes, and without any food…”

“Sometime, I would like to hear the story,” said Juni.  “Cleary there’s a lot that all of us don’t know about the things that went on early in this search!”

“Best keep it that way,” Einar growled, effectively shutting down the entire thing.  He still hadn’t touched his Nutella-spread bread, and Liz grabbed for it, threatening to give it to Will if he didn’t start eating, soon.  Which left Einar to snatch the treat quickly out of her reach, reacting with mock horror and indignation.

“I’m saving it!  Stuff like this is so rare up here, a fella can’t just go eating it all up without proper consideration.”

“And how long is ‘proper consideration’ likely to take?”  Snorted Kilgore, making a swipe at the disputed bread, himself, but missing just as Liz had.  “An hour?  Several months, more likely.  You might as well just go ahead and frame the thing, put it up on the doggone wall so you can enjoy looking at it while you go ahead and finish starving.  That’s what you’d like to do, isn’t it?  Just keep it up there as a reminder of sorts.”

“What I’d like,” he tucked the bread up in the rafters behind where he was sitting, in danger only of the raven pilfering it, unless someone wanted to cross him to get at it, “is for all of you to back off and quit trying to steal my food.  Not good when somebody tries to steal your food.”  Which none of them had any real intention of doing, but the raven had other ideas, taking advantage of the momentary distraction on the part of everyone in the cabin to make a wild flight at the ceiling, grabbing Einar’s prized Nutella bread and making off with it to a spot behind the water barrel where he believed he had some chance of eating it in peace.  Not so, Einar having made a dive for him before he’d even quite settled on the ground, retrieved all but a small chunk of the bread and secured it once more in the rafters, this time sliding a large chip of granite in to shield it from further predation.

Despite their best efforts Liz, Juni and particularly Kilgore were laughing aloud at the scene which had just played itself out, all—aside from the tracker, who couldn’t care less who noticed—trying hard to stifle their laughter when they saw Einar glaring at them out of the corner of his eye.

“See happens when you don’t eat it promptly?  Raven jumps right in and takes his share, and it serves you right, too.”

“Yep, I know it does.  But still intend on trying to protect the stuff.  Gonna need it.”

17 January, 2013

17 January 2013

No chapter for tonight, but back with another tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading!

16 January, 2013

16 January 2013

Back in the cabin, Bud seemed almost unaware of Juni’s presence as he began delving into the midsized expedition pack he’d brought up with him, Liz wanting to stop him, take him aside and ask if he’d thought of the possible ramifications for Susan, as well as for himself, should the reporter come to know the extent of their prior association, but doing nothing of the sort.  Silly question, as he had certainly considered all possibilities and must, though she couldn’t see what it might be, have a plan all worked out.  She wondered idly, watching as he removed sleeping bag, stove and a gallon-sized steel snow-melting pot to get at whatever lay beneath them, whether his plan involved Juni making it down off the mountain alive, but knew matters were somewhat out of her hands, at that point.  Einar, however, was not entirely out of her hands and clearly needed a bit of attention at the moment, cold, pale and appearing not far at all from sleep, the morning’s two snowy ventures having taken all the energy he had to give.  Bringing him the rabbitskin blanket she draped it around his shoulders, tried to talk him into sipping at a pot of hot broth but as soon as she’d turned back to check on Will he set it down heavily beside him on the floor, increasingly dizzy in the radiant warmth of the stove.  Couldn’t seem to stay awake, finally conceded part of the struggle by closing his eyes, though still determined to remain aware enough to monitor the conversation and keep an eye—well, an ear more like—on that Kilgore…

Having commandeered an unused deer hide and spread it neatly before the stove, Kilgore worked busily at laying out the treasures he’d carried up with him, first amongst them a good warm pair of socks for each member of the little family, Will included—one can never have too many warm socks Susan had said, and the things do wear out—and Liz could see that his were somewhat too large for him at his present size, a thoughtful detail on Susan’s part, considering how fast little ones grow and change.  Next came a spare magazine for Einar’s rifle, and several boxes of loaded ammunition.  Einar, who had remained propped against the water barrel, cold, dizzy and half asleep since returning to the cabin, perked up some at that sight, got his eyes the rest of the way open and scooted over nearer the stove, and Kilgore.  Holding up one of boxes, the tracker addressed him.

“You know, I was all set to travel light and quick, and pretty much did, anyway, but Sue wouldn’t let me get away without bringing certain items, and seeing as your chances for resupply are somewhat limited up here, hope you may find this stuff useful.  I know you almost certainly won’t have even fired the FAL, considering present circumstances, but wanted to add to you stash in case the day should ever come.  Only brought you three boxes, but it’ll almost double what you’ve already got, so a good start I figured.”

“Good start.  Thanks!  Wish I could fire the thing now and then, get game, stay in practice, but the noise…”

“Yep.  Though you could just say you’re blasting for avalanches, should anybody ask.”

“Should anybody ask, it’s way too late for talking…”

“Don’t I know it!  So they’re for saving and storage only, against future need.  But here’s something Susan figured you could probably use right away, and from the looks of you, I don’t think she could have been more right.”  At which he pulled two jars of Nutella from his pack, setting them neatly on the hide beside the other gifts.  Einar eyed the jars with a keen interest, need for food suddenly presenting itself as an urgent, pressing thing which threatened to shut out all thought of other matters until it was met, and not liking this, he pried his eyes away and did his best to put such thoughts aside.  Kilgore noted the act, the deliberation and strength of will required to bring it about, acknowledged it with a nod but said nothing further on the matter.

In addition to the Nutella there were vitamins for Liz, Susan knowing that their diet was reasonably well balanced even in winter with all the greens and berries they’d been able to dry, combined with an ample supply of meat, but she’d wanted to be certain no deficiencies developed as the winter went along, so had sent the tablets, along with a bag of refill items for the medical kit knowing that such things do tend to get used up, living as the trio were with a daily schedule of hard outdoor work and no way to resupply, except from nature.

“Also brought you a radio this time,” Kilgore continued. “simple little thing, receiver only, solar powered and it also winds up to recharge the battery, and I knew you’d want to take it apart and check before you accept it, so I left it hanging in a tree up by where you met me, to be dealt with at your leisure.  Figured it’d help you keep up with the news from down there, not too helpful on search intel, but at night you ought to be able to pick up AM stations from half the country I’d think, get some useful stuff.”

“Radio hung in a tree, huh?”

“Yeah, it’s hung in a tree!  Don’t know just what you’d have done to me had I brought something electronic like that into the cabin without your prior notification and permission, but it sure wouldn’t have been pleasant, I can be pretty sure.  Taken enough risk just coming up here in the first place, would hate to push my luck one little step too far and end up spending the rest of the winter tied to an aspen tree out there in the clearing, or something.”

“Aw, we wouldn’t have done a thing like that.  Would have been unnecessarily unkind to the poor aspen…”

“Yeah.  You know, that’s real reassuring, Asmundson.  Just puts me completely at ease.”

“We do try to put our guests at ease, around here.”

“I’ve noticed…”

15 January, 2013

15 January 2013

Einar went and Bud followed, leaving Liz and Juni to stand staring at one another in the dim glow of the candles they’d lit upon waking, Juni full of questions that she was almost afraid to ask and Liz fearing for the future safety of her friends, now that Kilgore had been “discovered.”  Juni broke the silence.

“That’s my survival instructor.  Kilgore.  He ran the class I took down in Arizona.  They act like they know each other pretty well, but of course he’s the one who they hired to track Einar down a couple of years ago, who nearly got blown up in that rocket strike and testified before Congress about the whole situation....”

Liz nodded, unwilling to volunteer any information, wanting instead to hear what the reporter already knew, or had surmised.

“It sounds like they must have served together in one place, maybe both, which means they already knew each other when Kilgore was hired as part of the search…”

Just thinking out loud, didn’t require a response, and Liz did not give one.

“But how did he know where to find you?  Can’t have just stumbled upon the place.  He’s been here before, hasn’t he?  Has to have been, it’s looking like.  That’s where you got the rifle, some of the things that…”

The severity of Liz’s countenance stopped her in her tracks at that point, some speculation clearly much better done in silence, and she hoped she had not already gone too far…

The two men did not go to the woodshed, Einar instead leading Bud to a spot in the timber where they were out of easy earshot of the cabin but where a heavy screen of small, close-growing evergreens shielded them somewhat from the bitter wind of the early, still mostly dark morning.  Hard to talk out there, the cold almost enough to take a fellow’s breath away, but Einar hadn’t wanted any more of the conversation to take place in front of Juni.  Already she knew too much, and as he was not yet certain of her ultimate fate, he wanted to exercise at least some measure of caution.

“You really came up here to deliver that news?  Risked a trip to my basin for that?”

“Sure.  Thought you ought to know.  May have an impact on this thing with you, and pretty sure will have an impact on us all, long-term.  And I really want you to consider coming down there and doing your duty as a soldier and as a leader of men, if things really do head in that direction.  But mostly I came for that girl, Juniper.  Didn’t figure she’d actually be able to find you, so I guess I underestimated her a bit, there, but knew she’d be trouble and figured I’d better warn you.  Figured she had designs on coming up here to look for you, from the first the day I saw her in my class and recognized her as the writer of that previous article.  Clever and determined, that one is.”

“She didn’t exactly find us, and almost certainly wouldn’t have.  We found her, but she was already a little too close for comfort at that point, couldn’t be allowed to wander freely about until she saw something, and besides, we didn’t recognize her until we’d already made contact.”

“Real surprised she survived that initial contact.  Must be slipping, Asmundson.”

Einar glared and the tracker grinned.  “Don’t you try and deny it.  That won’t work with me.  Might work some with your Lizzie just because she cares so much for you and wants to believe in you—though I doubt it; she’s awful sharp—but I can see it, have seen it plain as day last couple times I’ve been up here.  Slowing down, losing strength on a curve so steep that you can’t begin to keep up, but this time—well, it’s amazing you’re still on your feet, really.  Never quite seen anything like it, and that’s no compliment.  Don’t have to be that way, you know.  All in your hands.  You can fix it, and probably should.”

“Not sure it’s that easy.”

“Did I say anything about easy?  Gonna be anything but easy, and it’s gonna hurt like heck, both body and brain and you may not get through it at all, but knowing you, that’s not something that ought to bother you too much, is it?  Any of that.”

A noncommittal shrug, eyes going distant and grey, and Kilgore knew what he was thinking, let him alone for a long minute to be with the thoughts.  Long enough.  Wind was a fearsome, killing thing, even broken by the considerable shelter of the trees.  He could feel the heat leaving his body at an alarming rate under its lashing, and, in the slowly strengthening light of morning, all but see it leaving Einar’s, as well.

“You’re freezing, man.  Why don’t we go back inside?  What’s your bride gonna do to me if she finds I’ve let you freeze solid out here while we were talking?  Wouldn’t be pretty, I can guarantee you that!  Contents of my brain pan splattered all over them nice clean cabin walls with her war club, and you folks left with a major cleanup job…though I’m pretty sure the raven would help, wouldn’t he?  Either way, I’d rather not find out, not today.”

No response, the other man lost in thought or, more likely, in an increasingly impenetrable haze brought on by his falling body temperature and soon to be quite unreachable if something wasn’t done, and Kilgore was on his feet, hands beneath Einar’s arms as he helped the much lighter but somewhat resistant man to stand, gave him a rough shove in the direction of the cabin.

“Got some stuff for you.  You’re getting lax about that, too.  Didn’t search my pack.”

14 January, 2013

14 January 2013

No chapter for tonight, but I will have one for tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you who are reading.

13 January, 2013

13 January 2013

The look on Bud Kilgore’s face when he emerged into the cabin and saw Juni standing there beside the stove with Liz, warm clothes halfway on as the two of them prepared to go out searching for Einar, was absolutely priceless.  The complete and utter bafflement that seized hold of his features as he glanced from Liz to Juni and back behind him at Einar nearly set the latter to laughing despite being a good deal more than half frozen after his long stalk through the snow, Liz appearing ready to join him, but Juni wasn’t laughing, having recognized Kilgore and appearing nearly as confused as he.

Quick to regain his composure though still quite baffled about the details, Bud stepped forward and laid a gloved hand on the young reporter’s shoulder.

“Asmundson, Ma’am, I’ve come to reclaim my student.  Young lady, you’ve created quite a stir down there.  Got folks out looking for you, and though they’re not headed this way yet, it may come to that.”

Juni just stared, half expecting Einar to do something sudden, restrain his prisoner, run the man through with an atlatl dart, something, but he just stood there, looking more relaxed than he’d done in days.

“Oh, yeah, we’re acquainted,”  Einar responded to her unspoken question. 

She nodded slowly.  “I see.  How did you know…you’re really here looking for me?”

“Found you, didn’t I?”

Juni could’t deny that, wisely kept quiet for the moment but Kilgore seemed to have moved on, his focus once more on Einar.

“What you got going here, anyway?  Never figured you for the sort, Asmundson…”

“What sort, Kilgore?”

“Sort as could make a thing like this work out.”

Einar just shook his head, gave another humorless grin and told the tracker he’d better watch himself before the lady of the house took offense and found him with her rabbit stick—a credible threat if Kilgore had ever heard one, and he was relieved when in the next moment, Einar saved him from having to further explain himself.

“What about this big news you said you had?”

“Right.  Looking like things are about to go hot down there.”

“With the search?  Right now in the middle of winter?”

“Oh, spring’s almost here, that’s for sure.  And no, not with the search.  Lot of rumors flying around down there right now about upcoming executive action by the President to go around Congress and dictate a bunch of gun control measures he’d never be able to get them to approve, just ram the stuff down everyone’s throats, and the consequences be hanged…I’m telling you, that’s not the only thing gonna end up getting hanged, if he’s bold enough—and stupid enough—to try anything like that.”

“Nope, I imagine not.  Who is the President down there these days, anyway?”

“You buzzard…”

“No, I mean it.  We don’t exactly get the daily news up here, other than superb up-to-the-minute weather and a vague idea of what next spring’s elk calving season might be like…”

“You lucky dog.  Yeah, guess it would be that way up here, wouldn’t it?  Well, as for the election, it’s the same clown as we got in there last time, all over again.  Guess we’ve finally reached a point in this country where there are more takers than producers, and they voted him in again thinking they’re gonna get more free stuff, is all I can figure.  Like that stuff just comes out of thin air, from the ‘government.’  That’s the tipping point, I’d have to say.  When the voting majority starts believing that.  Doggone point of no return, politically.  We’re through.  All gonna fall down, fall apart, and it’s got to, I’m afraid, before anything can really start to change.  Gonna be one heck of a mess, but it’s got to come, sooner or later.  And that imposter in the Big House seems pretty intent on seeing it come sooner.  Really pushing the issue, not waiting for the slow dominoes of the collapsing economy to finish doing their bit.  Seems bent on stirring up open conflict, sometime here in the next year or two.  Sounds like fun, don’t it?”

“Sounds like hell.  We’ve both been there.  We know how ugly this thing can get.  Will get.”

“Yep.  Can’t dispute that.  And most folks don’t know.  Had too many years of peace and stability here on the home front, and people forget.  Send a few guys from every community off to war in faraway places every decade or two, see some horrible images on TV, some flag-draped caskets coming home, lose a relative here or there, the others come back with stories most of ‘em will never tell except to other guys who were ‘over there,’ and, the average civilian—well, he’s got no idea what it’s like to be in the middle of it.  To have it come sweeping through your town, past your doorstep…you know, peace and stability and all are great things, they’re what we want for our country, for our neighbors and kids, part of why we fight, really, but too much of a good thing can be awful doggone corrosive, in this case.  Especially over time.  Leave people all soft and self-indulgent, whole generations of them just going about their neat, comfortable little lives and taking peace for granted!  It’s gonna be one incredible mess down there if this thing actually comes to the sort of open conflict it’s starting to appear we might be headed for.”

“You really think it’ll go that far?”

The tracker shrugged.  “Anybody’s guess, but mine is that there’s a good probability.  We got a whole class of ignorant, arrogant, manure-for-brains politicians down there right now who seem to have no clue what may come of their tinkering and tampering and trampling, no idea the level of commitment some folks have to seeing that their rights aren’t stomped into the ground and lost for future generations, and worst of all is this joker in the Big House who thinks he’s got a mandate to take unilateral action of some sort, should Congress not be able to muster the votes to pass his bill.  It comes to that—and they try to enforce it—I can tell you this thing’s on.  Gonna go hot.”

Einar nodded, not so sure, himself, of the prospects of any such thing—the complacency of the masses could not, in his experience, be underestimated, the desire to preserve the status quo almost always preventing talk from spilling over into action, even as the dominoes fell and one liberty after another was snuffed out, sometimes irreparably, at least so long as the present system remained in operation—but contemplating it, figuring that there really might be a tipping point out there, a conglomeration of circumstances under which a certain segment of the population really might be stirred to action, to resistance, and this—well, who was to say this might not be it?  Kilgore was talking again, and he shook himself, focused on the man’s words.

“So that’s the other part of it.  Of why I came up here this time.  Wanted to see if you’d consider coming down for a while should this thing really get started, maybe helping to train folks, boost morale on our side, lead folks…”

“I’m not a leader.”

“You were.”

“Never was.”

“Not how I remember it.  Not in the ‘Nam and certainly not out in the Bundu, a few years later.  And besides, people respect you.”

“For what?”

“For this.  What you done up here.  Defiance, escape victory.  It’s the stuff of legend, by now.  You’re the stuff of legend, and folks look up to you.  Would follow you.”

At that Einar laughed, a hollow, derisive sound.  Dismissive.  “You’re kidding.  Look at me.  Some legend…”

“Ugly as a mangy, hairless three-legged dog with half his face chewed off in a fight, that’s for doggone sure.  But this ain’t about looks, Asmundson.  It’s about guts, resolve, determination, and folks know you got ‘em.  You could bring that to them, all of it.  Inspire it in them, bring ‘em up a few levels and help turn this into something cohesive, something with a chance of…some sort of success.”

“Barely keeping myself alive right now, Kilgore.  Lousy example I’d be.”

“That could change.”

He shrugged.  “Best head outside.  Looks like we’re getting a little low on firewood…”

12 January, 2013

12 January 2013

Bill Priday said…
Am I the only one seeing the humor in all this? I sure hope not! Great story, Chris, and don't apologize for missing days, please! It makes me feel guilty, like you think you're obligated to do this. WE are the lucky ones, to be blessed with having access to your amazing talent WHENEVER and HOWEVER OFTEN you choose to give us the gift of another installment!

Thanks again,

Thanks, Bill.  No need to feel guilty about it, I enjoy writing.  When I miss too many days, it’s a bad thing for me, too.  Glad you’re enjoying the story.   I appreciate knowing that.

Elsa said...
Bill I am glad that you found this chapter humorous too. I started laughing out loud and had to read it to my husband. As I read it to him I realized that unless one "knows" Einar and Kilgore then the scene that was so funny was actually rather grim.

Thank you so much Chris for the great story. We are willing to wait (rather impatiently), but still wait for the great continuing saga of Einar.


Thanks for reading, Elsa!  I’m glad the exchange between Einar and Kilgore had you laughing—guys like that know you’ve got to find humor in the grim stuff, and tend to get pretty good at it…but I never know if my/their sense of humor will come across as humorous to others, or simply as weird.  : )

I haven't got a chapter for today, but do have one almost finished for tomorrow…

Thank you all for reading, and for the comments/discussion.  They make it all worthwhile.   

11 January, 2013

11 January 2013

Nothing happened, no further motion, no dark patch presenting itself a target against the faintly starlit snow, and Einar, waiting, quickly beginning to grow cold and lose feeling in fingers, hands, knew he must act soon or risk finding himself incapable when the time came.  Not a good situation.  Ought to have been able to lie there all night if need be, waiting out the enemy until at last some untimely movement or sound gave away their position, but at the moment he could not do that, and had to look at things realistically.  The only chance, it appeared, lay in his moving again, working his way in behind the spot where he was pretty sure he’d got a fleeting glimpse of someone, and hoping to take the man by surprise and with enough silence that the action did not attract the attention of any others who might be stationed nearby.  Stretching, flexing already-numbed fingers, he started out crawling low through the snow, knife in hand and dragging the rifle as he eased his way through the tangle of trees, pausing frequently to listen to the night.  Several times he thought he heard stirring in the timber just the other side of the cliffs, the faintest rustle as if someone were shifting position before settling in again, and guided by these tiny clues he made his way over across the base of the cliff band, nearing at last the spot where he believed he’d originally seen the that faint, tenuous flash of movement.

There!  Another rustle, and with it this time came an exhalation of breath, soft but distinct, and not ten feet from his present position.  Keeping his gaze to the timber and allowing eyes to adjust, as well as they were able, to the darker darkness of the shadows there he was able to slowly begin making out a form, human, well-camouflaged in white coveralls as it sat hunched over on what appeared to be a foam camping pad, watching the cabin.  Easy enough to deal with this one; though knowing he was no longer as strong as he was used to being, Einar knew also that his reflexes remained sharp, motions quick and sure enough to take the man silently and definitively.  But it would only work if he was alone, or supposing he had no companions near enough to hear the inevitable crunch and scrape in the dry, cold snow which would mark the struggle, short as it would hopefully be.  Had to be.  Well, he had to risk it.  Sure couldn’t use either of the firearms and risk drawing the attention—and the fire—of what might well be a dozen or more men; better to seek them out one by one and thus improve his chances if and when it did come to an all-out fight.

Good, cold logic, a plan of action, and it might have served him well had not his intended target just then shifted position again—getting cold, it seemed, needing to move—slipping off the edge of his mat, tipping backwards into the new snow and swearing softly as he did so in a voice Einar could not possibly have mistaken for any but that of its owner. 

“Doggone you, Kilgore.  What’re you doing up here right now?”

The greeting, suddenly as it had come and from so close a quarter, proved to thoroughly startle the tracker, who came up with a pistol in his hand but already Einar’s was jammed against the back of his neck.

“Whoa there, Asmundson.  Take it easy man.  Had just been planning to watch the place through the night, make sure everything looked Ok, then come in closer and ‘haloo’ at you guys come daylight, but you beat me to it.  How’d you know I was out here, anyway?  Some kinda early warning system, or what?”

Einar relaxed a bit but did not put away the pistol, gave a humorless grin and thumped himself in the side of the head.  “Yeah, in here.  Early Warning System Version 4.0—it automatically upgrades for every decade it’s in operation, seems like—set to ‘super fine, continuous operation,’ and the off switch went missing somewhere years back, haven’t found it again since.  Heard you crunching through the snow.”

“Crunching!  I’ll have you know I was doing nothing of the sort.  Barely making a noise at all.  Man, you got it bad, don’t you?”

“Keeps me alive, Kilgore.”

“Yep.  If it don’t kill you, first.”

Einar glanced at the surrounding timber, letting his eyes cover the area nearest the clearing before sweeping out into the darker recesses, lingering here and there as he sought anything that might be out of place.  “You alone up here?  Where’s your bride?”

“Yep, all by my lonesome.  Sue stayed down behind this time, had to keep things under control with the business and make excuses for why I’m not down there.  Supposed to be out on a three week long desert course down in New Mexico, that’s where I’m supposed to be, teaching, but looks like I must’ve took an awfully wrong turn, somewhere between here and there.  Never seen this much snow in the desert, before.”

“High desert.  You can just say it’s high desert.   Almost might as well be, this time of year.”

In the beam of his headlamp, Kilgore cast a critical glance over Einar’s features, face more hollow and pinched than ever, eyes sunken, wide, white and staring with a hint of desperation which could not be entirely concealed even when the man gave it some effort, hands like the claws of some great bird and all the veins and tendons standing out in sharp relief on the near-fleshless bit of lower arm that protruded from his sleeve.   A man, Kilgore thought to himself, clearly in the last stages of starvation, and though it was not the first time he’d seen the fugitive in a similar condition, the obvious deterioration since his last visit was a bit shocking.  “Game getting scarce as the winter goes on?  You folks finding enough to eat?”

“No, we’re fine.  Had a lot put away from the fall, frozen and hung in trees, and there’ve been occasional rabbits, squirrels…stew pot is never empty.  Might as well come in for a bowl, since you’re up here anyway.”

“Sure.  But first, I got news.  Some that concerns you immediately, some not so immediate but probably a lot more concerning—for all of us—in the long run.”

“Yeah?  Let’s have the immediate stuff.”

“Girl’s gone missing, and it’s the talk of the town down below there.  Young reporter, name of Melton.  You’ll remember her, as one of the very few folks who’ve met you and lived, since this whole thing began…”

“I know her.”

“Well, she apparently took off on a solo snowshoeing trip here a few weeks back, didn’t leave a timeline with anyone far as when she was to be expected back and apparently has a pretty solid history of taking off on her own like this, at least over the last couple years, but finally a few of her acquaintances managed to get themselves all worked up about it, anyway.  And now a search is on, so I wanted to warn you that you may start to see searcher-types in the air soon, maybe on the ground even, but probably not this time of year, unless they get a solid lead.  You’ll start to see ‘em, but best not go shooting too many of them down or anything, because they’re not out here for you, but sure enough would be, if they started losing aircraft to steel-tipped crossbow bolts and the like!  So just wanted to caution you to behave yourself, soldier, and to watch where you leave tracks and trails, too, ‘cause they’ll be on the lookout for things like that.”

The slight smile that had softened his features at mention of the crossbow now faded. “What about your trail, coming here?”

“Storm covered it.  That’s why I had to travel in the storm.  Was real careful.  Gonna have to wait for the next one before I leave out of here, though.”

Einar gritted his teeth, grimacing slightly at the thought of another guest, but figured if it had to happen, Kilgore was more or less alright. 

“My suspicion,” the tracker continued, “is that she’s out here looking for you, this missing girl.”


“Probably wants to do another story or something, though I wouldn’t put it past her to want to come out here solely for the sake of living a month or so in your territory, getting a feel for what it’s really like stuff like that.  Back six months or so ago she attended one of my survival courses when I was still running them, after she’d got that interview with you published, the one with the wild-looking photo of you as a mountain man all scrawny and sinewy and wrapped in tattered furs carrying the bloody haunch of a young mountain goat…yeah, she came to one of my week-long courses and I got to say was one of the more serious-minded and dedicated civilian students I’ve ever had go through there, seemed hell-bent on pushing herself just as far as she could and getting as much as possible out of that week, and she did it, too.  Heard later from other guys on the circuit that mine wasn’t the only course she attended.  So if she’s out here somewhere, I’d say she actually has a fair chance of still being alive and maybe even just fine.  Good a chance as anyone who isn’t you, I’d have to say.”

“Sounds like it.  Now.  Let’s get inside.  I got news for you, too, and a real big mess to sort out unless you want to turn around right now and head back down the hill.”

“Can’t.  The tracks.”


“And besides, you haven’t heard the half of what I came up here to tell you, either.  The big news.”

Which big news ended up all but forgotten for the moment when Einar led Kilgore in through the tunnel to a startled reception by the two women, who had just recently wakened wondering where Einar had gone…