31 March, 2013
29 March, 2013
With Einar seeming content to remain where he was so long as Will slept and Kilgore keeping silent guard over the situation from his post on a stool by the counter, Liz felt free to join Susan in the kitchen, where the two of them worked to put the finishing touches on a casserole she was preparing for supper.
Since his most recent waking, one had said anything about Einar’s missing weapons, including Einar himself, who was far too thoroughly occupied to go and look, nearly the entirety of his attention being devoted to keeping himself upright so as to avoid spilling the sleeping Will. He did not especially care for the situation, wanted instead to be watching out one window or another, if he could not be outside, but as he saw that both Kilgore and the raven were doing this, the situation proved to be at least marginally tolerable. As for weapons, he was certain a variety of knives were to be found in the kitchen, and both Susan and Liz had pistols. Would have greatly preferred to have something on his person, but at least it was a start, should things turn serious. Again. The rest, he would solve at the first opportunity, but so long as Will lay sleeping on his lap, he had no plans to go anywhere.
Bud, on the other hand, had places to go, and knew he must, despite a great reluctance, be leaving before too long. They were holding a memorial service for Juni down at the firehouse that evening, everyone who had been involved in the search, and as the one who had officially “found” and retrieved her, he could hardly skip the event without arousing a good deal of unwanted suspicion. And besides, the family wanted to talk with him. He’d talked to a lot of families over the years, been to a fair number of similar remembrances even after leaving active duty, guys who’d made it back from one conflict or another only to be taken far too soon—from the human perspective, at least—by one thing or another. Cancer, all too often, or guys perishing at their own hand, and though in both cases everyone more or less knew why, the matter was seldom spoken of, at least amongst Bud’s peers. Simply another life to be remembered, another flag, another name that really should, in the end, have been on the Wall.
Einar had not gone to many such memorials, had been traveling the world with one job or another for years as the men he’d served with left this life, and later he’d been living out in the hills without much human contact at all, where more often than not he’d never even known until years later that people were gone… A few times he had sat vigil with those who were leaving, including several months spent with a friend during the last stages of a long struggle with cancer, helping him when he wanted it and fading off into the hills when he wished instead to be alone, and when the end came, making sure his final wishes were carried out. Which included covertly burying him on a remote corner of his own land early one morning, facing east to watch the rising sun and, as the man had put it, to await the glorious return of his Savior. A difficult time, to be sure, but not a bad one, for either of them.
During combat, there had been no time to say goodbye, to stop and think about any of it, you just stopped the bleeding best as you could, loaded them up on choppers for the risky evac. and often as not never even knew if they’d made it, and those who you knew didn’t make it because you had been there to see it happen…well, you didn’t really have time to say goodbye to them, either, because most of the time you were still in the thick of things, or would be again the following night, or the day after, and could not afford to allow yourself to think about such things. To be distracted. Bogged down. It would have led to your destruction, and to that of those around you, which was the last thing you wanted… So they were gone, and you went on, and that was it. Might think about it later, years later, when the nights were unbearably quiet, still, and you were alone with your mind and your memories, or when something reminded you, took you back, body and soul, to some forsaken jungle hillside, the distant rumble of a helicopter, the boom and blast of fireworks as civilization celebrated one thing or another…but even then, it was probably better not to. Not if you could help it. So in most cases he hadn’t, but a person cannot always help it, and sometimes late at night those faces would come to him, those moments in time, lives that in many cases had really never even properly got their start before they’d been ended. These were the things that filled Einar’s mind as he watched Kilgore prepare to head down to the hill to Juni’s memorial.
Tracker heading for the door, Einar intercepted him, pressed into his hand a wolverine claw taken from the pouch around his neck, a perfect match, but for the missing loop of home-tanned buckskin, to the one worn around his own neck, Liz’s and the child’s. “She earned this. Leave it for her.”
Kilgore nodded. He’d find a way. Left, silent, not bothering to admonish Einar as to the necessity of proper behavior during his absence. Could see in the man’s eyes that he was at the moment wholly present, thinking, not likely to do anything too rash or irrevocable. Hoped things would stay that way, at least until he could make his return.
Bud gone and Will once more up exploring the house, Einar took the opportunity to once more make his way several times up and down the stairs, hoping the activity might help him burn off whatever remained of the dart-poison so he could be sure of his thinking once more, and hoping also to start seeing some improvement in his injured hip, which as the influence of the dart continued to decline, was making its presence ever more noticeably felt. Didn’t seem to be helping too much, in either regard. But he kept it up, repeating the circuit so many times that Liz eventually became concerned he might be about to fall down the stairs—not too far from the truth, though he hardly wanted to admit the fact to himself—took him by the arm and guided him to a seat on the couch. No way he’d stay there, she knew, not unless…
Will was happy to oblige in his mother’s plot to keep Einar seated for a time, but only when she’d provided him with a suitable incentive, which in this case took the form of a bowlful of thinly sliced strawberries. Knowing Will would make a dreadful mess if simply handed the bowl, she tasked Einar with feeding him, standing back and nearly laughing at the scene that ensued, Will delighted if impatient, and Einar’s brow furrowed in concentration at the effort required to get the berry slices into the little one’s mouth, instead of all over the furniture Perched above them and looming large as he watched with keen black eyes, the raven kept guard.
Liz’s plan worked for a while, kept Einar still so he could get a bit of rest and entertained Will, but eventually all the strawberries were gone, Will full—and full of energy—taking off to harass the cat and do a bit more exploring. Einar might have hauled himself up then to begin again his endless circuit of the stairs, but he’d stiffened up with the prolonged stillness, started, despite the reasonable warmth of the room, to grow terribly cold so that instead of immediately rising, he simply sat there staring out the window and shivering. Susan saw, tried to give him a blanket, but he shook his head.
“Fine like this. Best this way.”
“Why do you have to do this? Stay cold all the time?”
“Being warm makes me sleepy. And lazy. Got to be awake, ready. Never know what might be coming, down this close to…”
“To civilization? Yes, this must be very different for you, I can imagine. But there’s nothing lazy about being sleepy when you’re all worn out. You can sleep.”
That got a little half smile but no answer, and Susan could sense the futility of pressing the matter further.
“Getting some rest and a little more to eat, helping your body to be stronger and your mind quicker—won’t that do more to get you ready to defend your family than almost anything, when you really think about it?”
“Deprivation of various kinds does make my body stronger and my mind quicker. Works better than anything.”
“Not anymore, it doesn’t. You passed that point a good while back. That’s not what this is about anymore, is it, even if it once was…?”
26 March, 2013
Einar had heard it, all of it, though in strange, distorted snatches which left him filling in the blanks as he struggled to wake, sure that Kilgore was about to stick him with an IV full of poison that would paralyze him all over again and leave him unable to resist whatever was to come next. At least Liz, his own dear Liz had objected, refused to go along with whatever nefarious plot the tracker was now attempting to implement; he’d heard her do it, loved her for that, wished he could wake up and tell her so—and stay awake, too, lest while she wasn’t looking, Kilgore should sneak up and stick him with a needle of some sort. Gave it all his strength then, the effort to wake, to rise, succeeding only in partially swinging one leg off the couch and painfully wrenching his already injured hip. Good. Progress. Sure not going to sleep again with things hurting like that, and he didn’t, but had not counted on the effect brought upon him by the effort of raising his head. World went black, one fleeting glimpse all allowed him between first getting his eyes open and the darkness swallowing him once more. Fighting it all the way down he struggled to hang onto just one thing, the sound of Will babbling and playing in the background, hoping this might help keep him in the present, allow him a quicker return to wakefulness, but eventually it, too, faded, world silent as well as dark.
Waking, knowing something was wrong, not entirely remembering what, but he was pretty sure it had to do with the guards, and the fact that they would soon be returning. Had to keep still. Make sure they didn’t know he was awake, preserve the element of surprise, for in it lay his only hope, and a slight one at that. Would probably be more than one of them, and even if he succeeded at taking the first one out, the second would have him. Unless he could seize the first man’s pistol. That might give him a chance, though it would also attract unwanted and potentially unaffordable attention. Well. No good option, must take the one before him, wherever it led. And soon, too, for he heard the approach of footsteps, slow, measured, sounding strangely soft, muffled, and with them was no swish and splash of water, as he had grown accustomed to hearing. Nearing. Almost time. Silently, keeping still, he gathered himself. Ready to make his move….
When the raven stretched out his wings and began sounding his rasping alarm, he tended to make quite an imposing figure, and this is exactly what he did as Susan approached the couch where Einar lay, the bird taking some objection to her sudden presence and making his voice heard quite clearly there in the confines of the house. Several things then happened simultaneously, Susan backing off so as to stop alarming the bird, Liz hurrying towards the source of the commotion and Einar surprising everyone by quite literally leaping to his feet, making a sudden and startlingly agile dive across the living room, rolling and ending up flat on his stomach behind a chair. After this nobody moved for a moment, Kilgore watching attentively as both women, one youngster and a raven stared at Einar, the latter blinking, shaking his head and quickly suppressing the incongruous hint of a grin that began creeping across his face at sight of the bird. Moving cautiously as if more than half expecting one or more of the other humans in the room to rush him at any moment, he slowly got to his feet, limping over and holding out an arm to the raven.
Chortling a soft greeting the bird hopped heavily onto Einar’s outstretched arm where he would have easily knocked the man over, had he not been ready.
Fighting to catch his breath after the sudden exertion of waking at a dead run as he had done, Einar grinned at the bird, shaking his head. “Where’ve you been, you old vulture? Could have used you here, you know? Stick around for a while, why don’t you?” The raven, sensing Einar’s unbalance and the fact that he was not far from falling even before the man recognized the trouble, took a quick hop back over onto the top of the couch, chortling happily as Einar sank down and sat. The family was whole and entire again, everything right with his world.
Einar sat silently, surveying the room, looking suspicious. Liz knew he had heard, feared for a moment what he might do should he be able to make his way over to the chair where Kilgore now sat over beside the kitchen island, but she need not have been terribly concerned, for the raven made his move before Einar could gather the strength to make one of his own, hopping onto his shoulder and chortling in his ear. Einar smiled, slouched a bit and leaned back, looking more relaxed than he had done since arriving at the house. Everyone—other, perhaps, than the tracker, who had never been particularly worried in the first place—breathed a sigh of relief, trouble averted at least for the moment, and when Susan brought Einar a cup of water, he took it and, after a brief but thorough inspection, drained it in one big gulp.
“Good stuff. Thanks.”
“Later. Right now need to…just need to get up and try to…”
On his feet again, moving a bit unsteadily about the room, Einar headed for the spiral staircase, climbing it as quickly as he was able before heading down to do it all over again. Five times he repeated this exercise, more determined than ever to work off whatever remained in his system of the dart-poison, wanting to eliminate it before Kilgore could hit him with anything else. Wanted to try for a sixth ascent, but at the bottom of number five found himself so dizzy and out of breath that it was very nearly more than he could manage to lower himself quickly and unceremoniously to the floor at the bottom of the stairs, narrowly avoiding a fall. Will, having given up for the moment his quest to remove one by one the tail feathers of the raven, hurriedly crawled over to his father, using him as a support as he pulled himself to his feet.
“Walking better than I am, aren’t you, little one? Funny thing this life is. What do you think? Lots to explore here in this new place, isn’t there? Especially for a fella like you, who’s never seem most of this stuff before. Long way from our basin, aren’t we? Not where I really want to be right now, but until it storms real good so we can move on without leaving too many tracks…well, you might as well settle in best as you can and enjoy it, because it looks like we’re gonna be here for a little while. Yep. Might as well try and be patient, you and me. And the bird. Got a deal?”
Will did not answer, having climbed onto his father’s lap and settled in for a nap, worn out by the excitement of so much exploration and discovery, and Einar watched him in wonder for a moment before laying a reluctant hand on the sleeping child’s head, his own eyes distant.
24 March, 2013
Muninn the raven had been watching the place for the better part of two days, having located it not long after Einar and Liz got settled in, but reluctant to approach, being, after all, a wild creature and not entirely used to human habitations. This day though, watching as Kilgore left the house and recognizing the man, something compelled him to go in for a closer look. This is how he came to be perched on the deck railing when Susan went out to collect a pot full of snow from the deck. Liz had wanted to do it, arguing that she could then truthfully tell Einar that she, and only she had been involved with the gathering and melting of the stuff, thus presumably making him a bit more likely to feel safe drinking it, but Susan had insisted that it would be unwise for Liz to show herself outside, for that reason or any other. She had no real reason to suspect that they were being kept under surveillance at all times, but with no way to prove the contrary and a history of the searchers keeping an eye on the place, it seemed far better that the matter of their having guests remain unknown to all.
The raven recognized Susan, tilting his head and letting out a soft rasping call which she could not help but take as a question.
“Yes, they’re in there, if that’s what you were asking. I was wondering when you were going to show up. Didn’t expect you’d have had any real trouble following them here, but it’s a different place, isn’t it? An unfamiliar one, especially to you who’ve spent your entire life up in the high country…”
The bird took a cautious hop closer, but did not answer. “Well, are you coming in? Don’t know if you’ll be able to put up with something so different as a house, but you know all of us. We’re not going to do you any harm. And just maybe your being there will in some way help your human to realize the same thing, because he’s having a little trouble with that, right now. What do you think?”
Muninn was thinking, alright, wanting into the house where he knew Einar, Liz and the little one must be—had heard the latter numerous times, and despite lack of recent audible confirmation of Einar’s presence and an inability to see inside due to drawn curtains on most of the windows, sensed that the man was in there as well—but remaining cautious, the entire thing looking rather like a potential trap to his ever-cautious raven brain. It was Will who finally convinced him, letting out a squeal of delight as he galloped past the door on hands and knees, chasing Susan’s big tortoiseshell cat. That voice he knew, and having come to consider himself a protector and guardian over the smallest Asmundson, it seemed only right that he ought to go inside when Susan opened the door.
After a cursory inspection of the place—big, strange, but it smelled of food and was basically to his liking—Muninn took wing and came to rest on the couch above Einar, chortling softly and reaching down to twist a bit of the unconscious man’s hair before settling in as sentry until he should wake. Susan allowed him to stay, only scooting him to the side long enough to slip a towel beneath him, unsure of the bird’s habits when in a house but not wanting to lose furniture to the creature, should he prove to be less well-mannered than she might hope.
Will, spotting the raven, gave up his chase of the cat—a large, mild-mannered beast who having gone through the toddler years of all five of Susan’s grandchildren, knew very well how to manage herself around grasping little hands—and made straight for the bird, fascinated as always with the ever-changing iridescence of his feathers. Before either Susan or Liz could move to stop him, the little one had hoisted himself up and was shuffling his way along the couch, trying for a closer position to those wonderfully tempting feathers and ending up behind the piece of furniture, in a spot very close to the one in which his father had previously hidden himself to sleep. The resulting chaos of squeals, rasps and finally a loud protest from the bird when Will came away with a prized tail feather ought surely to have wakened Einar, had he been capable of waking, but it did not.
While Liz and Susan had been concerned about the results should Einar wake before Bud’s return and go back to demanding his missing weapons, it soon became apparent that they might have more to fear in the opposite—his not waking at all. Certainly he was showing no sign of it, and when Bud returned, the tracker’s voice failing, like everything else, to get a response, they all began to worry just a bit. The main concern was that the dart might have had some unfortunate, long-lasting impact upon his ability to remain awake, interfered somehow with the functioning of his brain or with his breathing, perhaps, but he seemed to be breathing fairly regularly at the moment, if slowly and seldom. Which, according to Liz, was not at all out of the ordinary for recent weeks. Bud had his own ideas.
“He’s gonna be just fine, you know, once he’s slept this thing off. I didn’t give him enough of the dart to have done this. He’s already been awake after that, was starting to come out of it. This is just straight-up exhaustion, and the longer he can sleep, the better, I figure. Unless he’s out so long that he starts drying up and blowing away in the breeze, which wouldn’t take one heck of a long time just now, from the looks of him, and if that starts to happen we may have to try and remedy the situation, one way or another. We can do that, you know.” He turned his attention to Liz. “With your permission. Sue and I are all equipped to run IVs, the works, and we’ve both got the training, too. Might be a real good idea to go ahead and do that while he’s out, since we all know there’s not one chance in a million he’d let any of it happen while he’s awake… Could even put something in there to help make sure he wouldn’t be waking up too thoroughly before it’d had a chance to do him some real good.”
Liz was quick to shake her head, suppressing the hasty voice that urged her to do it, go for it, may be his only chance… “No, I can’t give permission for that. He trusts me, and I know it isn’t what he would want, under these circumstances, or just about any others. He was drinking. He’ll be alright, so long as he keeps that up. And starts eating.”
“Right.” No more comment from Bud, but Liz could see what he was thinking.
“He was asking about his rifle and knife a while ago. Do you know what happened to them?”
“Yeah, I know what happened. He’s not getting them back, that’s what. Not in my house, he’s not. Not just now.”
“It’s our house…” Susan gently reminded him.
“Not in our house, then. No way. Up at the cabin it was different, his own territory, but with this place being unfamiliar and him eight thousand miles away most of the time…nope. I got you guys to think about, all of you, and until he’s been awake for a while, and himself, this is the way it’s got to be. Rough, I know, especially when the threat is real and he’s gonna have that on his mind, but I don’t see any way around it. Don’t worry. If there’s explaining to do, I’ll be the one to do it.”
Which appeared very soon to be necessary, Einar beginning to stir beneath his blankets, struggling to open his eyes
21 March, 2013
Bud, fairly confident that Einar would be all but incapacitated for a time yet and supposing he would be just about the last person the man would want to see after the little incident with the dart—two of them might come to physical conflict over that one, and if so, seemed only right to wait until the man had full grasp of his faculties—was out on one of his regular rounds of the property when Einar finally made his way down that incredibly long-seeming hallway and into the kitchen. Susan was there, carrying little Will on her hip and talking to him as she busied about adding things to a mixing bowl and checking something in the oven, a series of wonderful and enticing smells assailing Einar as he laboriously pulled himself up so that he could lean on the kitchen island and watch her.
Something about the way the woman carried his son, the soft words with which she narrated for him all of her actions and sought to explain what he was seeing—it reached Einar, reassured him, for a reason which he could not quite explain, that Susan meant no harm either to the little one or to any of them. For which reason, rather than devising a hasty plan to rescue Will, he remained content simply to stay still, and to observe. Which was probably a good thing for a number of reasons, not least amongst which was the rather inconvenient fact that had he attempted any quick motion just then, he almost certainly would have ended up flat on his face on the floor. Was having rather a hard time maintaining his current position, in fact, leaning hard on both elbows but beginning to lose strength in his legs so that he could barely remain standing, and when Liz took an arm and guided him to the floor so he could sit with back against the wall and a good view of the room, he made no objection. Hip wasn’t working right where the avalanche had twisted it, seemed to grate and creak when he moved, and he knew it ought to be hurting a great deal more than it was, at the moment. Certainly had been, before. Must be the dart again.
Scrutinizing the room as well as he could do from his position on the floor, Einar didn’t see his knife or rifle anywhere, and with Kilgore nowhere to be found at the moment, he supposed he’d have to wait if he was to get the weapons back into his hands. The prospect of which was a good deal less onerous than he knew it ought to have been, a lingering result, he expected, of the dart poison in his system. Dreadful stuff. Sapping a man’s energy like that, his very will. Wanted to be angry, compel himself to get up and do something about it, but nothing seemed to be working. So he sat. Waiting. Wished he had a quicker way of loosening the poison’s grip. Seemed to remember that water had helped, before. Plunging his head beneath the icy waters of the creek and watching the fish for a while—though it had nearly done him in, as well as helping, long as it had taken him to remember that he was not in fact an aquatic creature, and must eventually resume breathing—but he couldn’t do that here in this house where he lacked access to creeks, snowbanks and the like, and realizing it, he felt trapped. Would just have to wait for the stuff to run its course, keep as watchful as he was able under the circumstances and pray that no quick action would be required of him until he was once more a bit more able to come through.
Still wished he had his weapons. Wished it even more now that he had resigned himself to what was promising to be something of a lengthy wait, and with a great deal of effort and a hastily suppressed gasp of pain—could begin to feel the hip again, which had to be a good sign—he got himself to his feet, using walls and furniture to brace against as he searched the room. Susan, releasing Will onto the floor and sliding her tins of apple muffin batter into the oven, joined him, taking a seat on the chair towards which he appeared next headed. Einar stopped short, watching her warily.
“Is there something I can get for you? What do you need?”
“Seem…” He coughed, throat too dry to get the words out, tried again. “Seem to have misplaced my rifle and knife… Sure don’t like to…lose track of such things.”
“No, I would’t think so. Here, have a seat.” Einar sat. Had been about to fall, and didn’t particularly want to do that, much trouble as it was seeming just then to right himself again. Susan brought water, offered it but he shook his head. Liz was there, too, Will on her knee as she sat beside him, and she had an idea. Making sure Einar was watching, she took a steel measuring cup from the kitchen, opened the sliding glass door just far enough to reach an arm out, scooping snow from a drift that had accumulated against the house in the last storm, and not been entirely shoveled away. Einar still following her every move, she set the cup on the woodstove, where it was soon hissing and steaming as the snow began to melt. Reclaiming the cup before the resulting water had a chance to heat up—still contained drifting bits of slush, in fact—she handed it to Einar, who looked doubtful, but only for a moment. He drank, momentarily closing his eyes at the wonder of it, parched throat calling out for more, and when Liz prepared another cup, he drained that as well. Half expected to begin feeling worse, losing consciousness as the additional poison seeped into his system—how it was to have got into the snow, he didn’t know, but Kilgore was a clever one—but instead he found himself feeling more awake, alert and steady than he had at any time since waking. A good thing.
Now, back to the matter at hand. Susan had not answered his question. Well, he supposed in all fairness, he had not so much asked a question as he had made a statement, but still she had not answered, and seemed to be deliberately avoiding the matter. Wasn’t going to do. He fixed her with an incredibly intense gaze, meaning only to try and discern whether or not she might in reality know the answer, but succeeding in making her quite uncomfortable, at the same time. She did not lower her eyes as many would have done, met his gaze.
“I don’t know where he put them. Is that what you were going to ask?”
“Give him a few minutes. He should be back soon.”
“Don’t want to wait.”
“I won’t stop you.”
Which she did not, heading into the kitchen to check her baking as he raised himself laboriously from the chair and resumed prowling about the room in what he knew was likely a futile search for items which Kilgore would have concealed far from prying eyes and easy reach. Wouldn’t have had much choice. It was what he would have done. But irked him, nonetheless, both as a matter of principle and on a much more practical level, as a man in unfamiliar territory and surrounded by potential enemies. Had to find them. Or something which could serve the purpose, in the meantime. Kitchen seemed a good place to start. Nobody would think of hiding a rifle in the broom closet, which made that a likely place. And if not, kitchens always tended to come equipped with knives of various sorts…
Einar did not get very far, his loss of consciousness, Liz and Susan concluded, likely brought on not so much by the lingering effect of whatever was in that bear dart as from the simple exhaustion and lack of nourishment which had been affecting him upon his arrival and which, intentionally or otherwise, he seemed to have been working his hardest to avoid remedying while at the house. Together they lifted him onto the couch, covered him with a quilt and went back to their baking, each silently hoping he might remain asleep until after Bud’s return, so some resolution could be reached to the problem of the missing weapons.
20 March, 2013
18 March, 2013
Einar wanted to get up, was trying rather desperately to accomplish it and fearing lest he injure himself falling against a piece of furniture, Liz helped him out of the bed and got him standing. He needed to get outside, told her so in the broken snatches of speech which seemed all he could manage just then, couldn’t stand the thought of not heading up a ridge and working himself to exhaustion to burn off the poison of the dart and free himself from the dreadful, crushing fog it imposed on his brain, but Liz explained that he mustn’t do that, couldn’t do it just then, lest he leave tracks and get them all caught. Near despair at the realization that she was right, he didn’t know what to do. She suggested a rest beneath the warmth of the blankets and some broth, but that seemed all wrong. And besides, the stuff was sure to be poisoned. Everything there was sure to be poisoned, and he wished she wouldn’t eat any of it either, lest Will end up with some of that stuff in his system. Who knew what it might do to a little guy like him? That suggestion brought a swift response from Liz.
“No, you don’t. That isn’t true, and I’m not going to let you believe it. Susan is our friend, and she is not trying to poison us. And neither is Bud.”
“He used the dart, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did, and I so wish he hadn’t done that, but it seems he genuinely didn’t know any other way, not that involved keeping you alive. He did it to protect us. You weren’t in your right mind, were back there in the jungle, and because of that he was afraid you might do something that would get us discovered by their guests.”
“Wish he’d gone ahead and used one of the other ways.”
You think that now, but you won’t once the stuff wears off.”
“I did last time. For weeks”
“I know, but you did get through it, if just barely, and this time I’m here, so it isn’t going to be as bad. Now, try some broth. You need the fluids, and besides, you’re freezing.”
“No, it isn’t. Remember last time? It wasn’t poisoned that time, either. Nothing was. It was just the dart making you think so, and you have to fight that. It isn’t true.”
Too complicated. Everything was too complicated just then, including the memory—just returned to him—of the initial event which had apparently precipitated this current trouble, and he glanced warily at the window, looking for his knife and not at all pleased when it was nowhere to be found.
“Truck…guys came? What happened?”
“They came, and then they went. Friends of Bud and Susan’s. Will and I were safe in the basement. They’ve been gone for some time, now.”
“Where’s my knife? Rifle? Gone.”
“I don’t know. I think Bud has them. Try some broth, and then I’ll help you look.”
Not happening. He still didn’t trust it, wanted some water but couldn’t be sure of that, either. Not there in the house, where he couldn’t see its source. Could eat some snow, if there was a way for him to get outside, but Liz was right about going outside. Couldn’t risk leaving tracks. But he wouldn’t leave tracks, simply reaching out a window or door for a handful of snow. If there was a place where he could do so without being seen by whoever might be out there watching the house, ground, air, cameras in the trees, maybe all three… Would have to figure that out, but it, like just about everything else, seemed way too complicated just then. But if he knew nothing else for sure, he did know that he needed his weapons, had to be ready should things take a turn and men end up rushing the door intent on taking his family into captivity, and if Liz was for some inexplicable reason unwilling to help him retrieve the knife and rifle, he would simply have to do it himself. Which presented a challenge, but he was ready to meet it, swinging unwilling legs out of the bed, having to assist them with his hands to get them down to the ground, doing his best to lock his knees and stand and rolling to the floor when they did not respond as expected. This time, Liz stood back and let him be.
“Where are you going?”
“Got to find…rifle and…need to get this stuff out of me but at least this time…not in the water.”
“Yeah. Last time after the darts…ended up in the river and woke halfway in the water. Couldn’t get out for a long time. At least now…moving a little, but…”
“It’s got to be frustrating. Please have some broth, or at least water. You know it’ll help flush the poison out a lot sooner.”
“Need exercise. Work faster.”
“How are you going to get exercise though, when you can’t even...”
“Sure I can,” and he was on his feet, swaying, knees trying to buckle as he clung desperately and almost comically to the windowsill, face white and fixed with effort. Made it two steps before he had to resort to crawling, still a major improvement over his last sojourn out of the bed, and Liz could see that Kilgore must have been telling the truth when he’d claimed to have used only a partial dart, pulled it out before its full paralyzing potential could be reached. A good thing in most respects, as she doubted he would have ever survived the full dose at present, but at the same time, she wouldn’t have minded his staying in bed a bit longer. Say, three or four days longer… Would have done him some good, but had to be done on his own terms, if at all. Which she knew would almost certainly never happen. So long as he was conscious and capable of any sort of movement at all, he would be moving, and was, having slowly but persistently reached the door and raised himself far enough to get it open, going in search, no doubt, of his missing weapons.
16 March, 2013
Guests finally gone, Susan retrieved Liz and Will from the basement, Bud going to check on the presumably still-sleeping Einar. Liz put a hand on his arm, stopped him.
“Better let me do it, don’t you think? He can wake up pretty hard after this sort of thing, and maybe if he hears my voice…”
“Oh, no ma’am don’t you worry about any of it, he’s perfectly harmless. No danger at all.”
Liz couldn’t tell whether he was joking, or serious. Hoped he was joking, for otherwise it must mean that Einar was still out after all that time, which seemed a rather bad sign for him, and she hurried after Kilgore, Susan following.
Footsteps drawing nearer, stopping outside the door to the hut, light seeping in and Einar lunged at the dark figure in the doorway, still weaponless but ready to make best use of his hands, knew how to do it…but nothing happened. Other than a quick fall back to the hard floor, where he lay scrambling and scrabbling to get his legs back beneath him so he could make a run for it, but without success. Meanwhile Bud opened the blind, flooding the room with a soft, spruce-filtered sunlight that left Einar blinking in wonderment and confusion. It was gone, the jungle, the stinking, steaming water beneath his cage, the ropes, vanished before that flood of dappled, dancing sunlight, and Einar’s relief was tempered only by a deep, persistent ache at the remembrance that he’d been so close to escape, to perhaps finding a way to do something for Andy…
But all that was gone now, and he smiled wistfully at the green-golden light streaming in the window, beautiful sight and he might have become entirely lost in it, but had to drop his eyes for he was growing terribly dizzy. Did not at all understand, in the absence of the cage with its dreaded ropes, what could be making his body so heavy, useless, unresponsive. Figured it might simply be the lingering effects of the dream—he’d experienced that before, the thing manifesting itself in a number of different ways—but really, that ought to be fading by then. And it wasn’t. Still couldn’t get anything to cooperate. He looked in confusion at the nearest person, who happened to be Susan.
“Can’t walk. Can’t… What happened here?”
Susan took his arm, helped him up but saw that he genuinely couldn’t stand; she was supporting nearly all of his weight, lowered him back to the floor, looking concerned. “I did it,” she confessed. Gave you a real solid whack to the spine with my .45. You were going after Bud. I had to protect him. I’m sorry…”
Faint hint of a smile from Einar as he allowed himself to slump over against the wall, thoroughly worn out from his efforts at standing. “He’s got…good woman. Don’t be sorry. But I ought to be able…”
Not able to do much at all just then it seemed, for again his legs collapsed under him when he tried to rise, rest of him following so that he lay flat on the floor on his stomach, and Liz watched, growing increasingly worried. She didn’t like the way his voice sounded, words indistinct, almost slurred, and wondered if Susan’s quick action with the pistol might have caused some graver injury than they had at the time realized. Bud knew better, and what was more, he had the answer. Didn’t want Einar to know it, but figured Liz and Susan might as well stop their worrying—especially his Sue, who was now needlessly concerned that she might have caused the man some permanent damage—so he pulled the thing from his pocket and showed them.
“A dart!” Susan was aghast. “You could have stopped his breathing, you know? Or his heart. The way he was already compromised and barely getting by…it’s a wonder he woke up at all!”
“Hey now, settle down there girls. It’s not as bad as all that. See, I figured it’d take six or seven of him to make up one decent-size bear, so I was real careful to only give him part of the thing this time, instead of two full darts, like I had to do that time out in the hills. He was already down this time, not going anywhere and not even moving around yet after that blow to the spine, so it didn’t take nearly as much. He’ll be alright, and should get over it a lot quicker than before. Just gonna be groggy for a while, and probably pretty weak and clumsy, but I figured hey, won’t do him any harm if he ends up lying around for a day or two, anyway…”
Einar, meanwhile, had remained silent and unmoving in his position against the wall, drifting again, near something like sleep, but taking in every word, and understanding more than the trio—Liz excepted—would have expected him to be capable of, given the circumstances. But most of all he was cold, the extent of the thing suddenly seeming to overwhelm him and add to the difficulty he'd been having getting his limbs to work, so that all he could do was to lean against the wall and shiver and glare at Bud, furious, but unable to do much about it. They tried to help him back into bed then, Susan and Liz, but he didn’t want to go, resisted, so they dragged him. Pulled the blankets up over him and held them down so he couldn't go anywhere. He fought it for a while, but nothing was happening except that the world was dimming as he felt himself close to losing consciousness, so after a time he stopped. Gathering his strength for the next attempt.
Susan went away and returned shortly with warm broth which she tried to talk him into drinking, but he adamantly refused. Which did not please any of them, but it was Bud who responded, leaning over him, face grim, threatening. “Still got some of those darts, you know. Want me to hit you with another one, and then we can stick a tube down your nose for this stuff and there won’t be anything you can do about it? Is that the way you want this to go?”
“Bud!” Susan didn’t even leave time for Liz to express her outrage.
“Well, do you see a better way? You gals want him to live, don’t you?”
Liz was on her feet then, angry. “No! No, not like that, I don’t. Not if you have to… I think you should leave the room now, both of you. We need to be alone.”
Susan hurried to do it, holding out her arms for Will, and Liz—though with some misgivings—allowed him to go with her. Bud, a bit more reluctant, followed.
14 March, 2013
Seldom, in that winter season when Susan’s greenhouse business was only open two days each week, did guests arrive unannounced at the house during one of the other days, but that day happened to be one of those rare occasions. Both Bud and Susan knew the identity of the owners of the tan pickup—supposing that it was being driven by its owners, and not some federal contingent which had co-opted the vehicle for their own purposes—and knew that they were not to be feared, except for the possibility that they might accidentally discover the identity of the guests staying at the place. The couple, though friends and members of Susan’s church, were not part of the inner circle with which Bud and Susan might have trusted such knowledge. Which necessitated a delay, and Bud, after hauling the unconscious Einar to a back bedroom where any noise he might make could be masked—hopefully—by the running of the washing machine, hurried out to create said delay.
After whisking Liz and little Will down to the basement with strict instructions to stay there until she returned to them—Liz wanted very badly to stay with Einar, but Susan pointed out that should the little one take a notion to cry, there would be no explaining the sound to their guests, and the basement would prevent any such risk—she hurriedly neatened up the kitchen, hiding all evidence of their breakfast guests. That task accomplished, she and started a load of laundry before cautiously entering the room where Bud had deposited the fugitive.
Einar lay in a crumpled heap on the bed where Bud had dropped him, barely appearing to breathe but definitely alive, for even in unconsciousness he put up some resistance when she did her best to straighten his limbs and get him under the blankets. Gently inspecting the wound where the butt of her pistol had struck home—it had been a quick action, one she had the next moment realized might well have killed him, but it had seemed better at the time than two to the chest and one to the head, less likely to be final—she found that the bleeding had stopped, and was glad. No time now to do a proper job of dressing it, but she would see to that just as soon as their uninvited guests left. If he let her, for surely he would be waking by then, and would be none too pleased with the entire situation.
“Sorry fella, but I just wasn’t prepared to lose another husband. Not today,” she explained, securing Einar’s arms against the event of his premature wakening and pulling the quilt up to his chin for warmth. Already he was beginning to shiver in that room where little of the stove’s heat tended to reach, and she wanted, if at all possible, to prevent his slipping further into hypothermia while he was out. “And you’ll realize at some point,” she went on, “what a mistake it would have been for you to head out there today, you really will. Out into that snow where everybody can follow your tracks. You just can’t be doing that down here. Too risky. Now,” moving the quilt and adding a final wrap to the cords on each wrist, hating to do it but knowing it would take a lot to hold him, should he begin waking, “you sleep, get some of that rest you’ve been needing so badly, and we’ll work as fast as we can to get rid of this company, Ok?” No answer, and she left the room, drawing the blind and closing the door behind her.
Just in time. Bud had only been able to hold them off so long, and as she entered the kitchen they were at the door, a couple from church who had been out of town for several weeks and had wanted to catch up, for some reason not thinking to call ahead. Serving them peach cobbler and coffee at the supper table Susan did her best to make pleasant conversation, wracking her brain all the while for the best and most expedient way to empty the house. Finally settling on a planned appointment in Clear Springs that afternoon—wholly fictitious but not unconvincing—she impressed upon their guests the need to be moving on, only she made the mistake of naming a time several hours in the future, which the two of the, rather enjoying the telling of their travel adventures, took as permission to stick around for another hour or so. Susan, house always open to guests, could hardly hurry them too much without fear of arousing suspicion, so she retired to the kitchen to prepare some sandwiches, the noon hour having come. But excused himself, following her.
“What’d you do with Asmundson? He gonna come dashing in her any minute, or have you got him adequately contained?”
Susan saw the concern growing on his face as she described the situation in the bedroom. “Good try, but no way that’s gonna hold him if he wakes up in one of his states and is determined to get out of there! Which you can be pretty sure he will be.”
Bud left Susan to the lunch preparations, retrieved a small item out of his pack near the door, and went to make sure Einar would not be waking prematurely, at all… The fugitive, fortunately for Bud, was still out cold when he slipped into the room, allowing him to do his deed—nefarious thing, and one over which Einar would almost certainly have fought him to the death had he been awake to know what was happening, but Bud had a lot of people to protect, a great deal at stake, and had not quickly been able to come up with a better solution—and and hurry back out again undetected.
Thus it was that Einar came to be waking in that room after his rather long and sound sleep, but he knew nothing of this background, remembered, freeing himself, finally able to move his arms, none of the events leading up to it, from which he might have under other circumstances taken clues as to the meaning of his current plight, and being quite thoroughly convinced that he’d just managed to free himself from the ropes of his captors, he had little thought but to finish making good his escape.
First he had to be able to move, though, which little detail seemed to be presenting an almost insurmountable challenge just then. Had somehow managed to scrape together enough strength to break the ropes and free himself, but that frantic, adrenalin-fuelled series of actions had seemed to leave him entirely drained, muscles unwilling to respond when he did his best to press them into service and the world losing its shape around him whenever he tried to raise his head. Never mind such things, he would just roll. Could always do that, and he did, falling some distance and ending up face down and somewhat stunned on a hard, unyielding surface which did not at all seem to resemble the jungle floor, let alone the water he knew lay beneath his enclosure. Which was too bad. He could have used a drink water about then. Really could have used it. Might have helped clear the horrible, pervasive fog that seemed to be surrounding his brain and leaving him unsure of everything, world not quite real and his own place in it a matter of doubt. Maddening, it was, if not terribly surprising after his ordeal over the past…who knew how long? No water. A man needs water, even if he’s not to have food. Which is why he was sure water would have helped, had he been able to work his way through the bottom of that cage and fall into it. Or, more likely—he managed a bit of a smile—that water would have drowned him before ever he managed to benefit from drinking any of it, the way things were going. Still couldn’t really lift his head, much less stand as he would have needed to do in order to preserve himself from drowning in that stinking, thigh-deep swamp muck, so it was just as well he’d ended up here, on solid ground. But must not stay. Soon they would be back, discover what he had done and it would be too late.
Creeping, dragging himself. It was all he could seem to do. No strength in any of his limbs, and something way beyond dizziness knocking him back to the ground every time he pressed the matter and tried to rise. No wonder, he supposed—didn’t remember anything of what had happened there in the interrogation hut this time, which he figured must mean it had been pretty bad—but knew he must keep moving if there was to be any hope of escape. Surroundings were not making any sense. The place was too big. Couldn’t be the cage. In the cage, he could not even stretch out to quite his full length, and here he was crawling. Must have been left in the larger hut they used for interrogations, which was strange, but not an unwelcome discovery. Meant he was that much closer to Andy’s enclosure, to successfully getting the two of them out of there, and the thought of it lent him a fierce new energy, door had to be close, and he would find it. Only, someone was coming.
13 March, 2013
12 March, 2013
Next thing Einar knew he was waking in the darkness, total darkness and not a sound to be heard, or at least so he thought at first. Didn’t appear to be able to move. Even raising his head seemed far too much effort, and when, becoming a bit agitated at the situation and throwing all his rather questionable strength into the effort, he tried again, he was only able to clear the floor by an inch or two before his muscles betrayed him and sent his head flopping back to the ground. Not good. Hurt, a stab of pain between his eyes for his effort but he did not mind, for it seemed to be helping him to wake up. Wanted to do it again, but this time nothing would respond, so he lay motionless.
Needed information, needed to know where he was, where Liz was—Liz and the little one; the realization that he had no idea where they were filled him with a sudden, sickening dread which would have sent him immediately to his feet and out in search of them, had he been capable—and after trying very hard to move eyes that seemed somehow locked in their sockets, dry, grating and unwilling, he was able to get sight of a faint light over to his right side. A narrow, horizontal strip of blurry, wavering light that appeared to hang some distance from the ground, and it took quite a bit of squinting and figuring before he slowly came to realize that the light must be coming from a window, blind mostly drawn and the dancing shadows of densely-growing spruces likely accounting for the changing pattern of the light. Those shadows he would recognize anywhere, but the rest of it made little sense.
He was coming to think, now that the ability to do so was somewhat returning to him, that the most likely explanation for his current plight must lie with the pickup truck that had been grinding its way up the driveway last he knew, that he must somehow have been captured, whether through treachery on the part of his hosts or the failure of some ill-fated escape plan which he did not quite remember putting into effect, but not even that made complete sense. Because of the trees. Had he been captured, he wouldn’t expect to be seeing trees. Would probably never be allowed the sight of trees again in his life, yet there they were, shadows dancing in that strip of light, good, unquestionable and real, if at the same time rather ephemeral and unreachable.
Too dark to learn much of his surroundings through visual inspection, so he tried feeling about with his hands, but could not find them. Which was rather unfortunate, as he was beginning to think a weapon of some sort would be a very good idea indeed, but how was he to locate one, much less be prepared for its use, if he could not even find his own hands? Silly idea. They had to be on the ends of his arms where he had left them, and he tried again, this time got some sort of response, but still lacked the dexterity to make much use of the appendages. Perhaps, he thought, he was simply cold, and could remedy the entire situation by warming his hands to restore some flexibility. Who knew how long he might have been lying wherever it was he found himself, and certainly, now that he thought about it, he did seem to be pretty thoroughly chilled. Wanted to get his hands in closer to his body, into contact with stomach or sides or perhaps even tucked under his arms for some warmth, but they wouldn’t seem to go that far—couldn’t figure out the reason, everything still seeming oddly disconnected—and after a while he gave it up. Felt like sleeping again, felt as though he couldn’t resist it, actually, and though for a time he did so, fighting, sleep eventually claimed him.
No trees this time when he woke. Trees had been a dream. Wishful, fever-induced memory of home, of his old life. Before this. Before it all ended down there in that tunnel, pistol butt to the side of his head, blackness, and then the cage. The ropes. That explained it. Explained why he hadn’t been able to use his hands, earlier. Were never much use after they freed him from the ropes. Took a long time for much circulation to return. Surprising, now that he thought about it, that they had left him so long alone, long enough to begin feeling his hands, to dream into existence his trees, the dear, sheltering spruces beneath whose cover he had so often in the past taken refuge. Even if the dream had not lasted, it was a strange, singular thing to have been allowed so much time in the first place, and he wondered what his captors might be thinking. What had made the difference. Regardless, he was sure they would soon be back to start all over again. With the questions. And with the rest of it.
Thirsty. Could hear the endless lapping, lapping of the water beneath his enclosure, so close but always out of reach, as if they’d designed things that way, meant it to be part of the torture. Doubted it. But an effective means, nonetheless.
He’d lost track of the days. Five, six, perhaps more since he’d last tasted water. No wonder he felt so dry, eyes gritty and tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth with thirst. Beyond thirst. He didn’t even feel it as thirst anymore, not the way a person is used to feeling. But would, once he started moving about. Or trying. Body just wouldn’t respond, and he figured they must have finally taken things just a little too far. Past his limits, unable to come back, and it didn’t bother him nearly as much as he knew it ought to have. Beneath him, the bamboo floor felt strangely soft, welcoming, pain almost non-existent for the first time in what seemed half a lifetime. Closed his eyes. Felt so near to accepting, acquiescing, lying quietly as he waited for whatever they next had planned for him. Close to not caring anymore what that might be, nothing they could do any longer holding terror for him. Or hope. Finished. Would surely be finished, if he allowed himself to let go like that. Wouldn’t last long at all. He’d seen it happen. Knew, but let it come over him anyway.
Drifting. Breath barely coming. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Head back, mouth open, Einar lay unmoving for a time, an unaccustomed peace beginning to steal across the sunken features of his face, but before it could get too far the start of a snarl took its place, eyes coming open in the darkness and he was fighting his bonds, the wraps of cord with which they had him secured, struggling until blood came and he could feel it trickling down his arms, but he did not stop, dared not cease until he’d made some headway. Couldn’t be finished. Not yet. Had to fight. Die fighting if it came to that, sure, but don’t willingly die lying in your own filth in a cage suspended over the swamp just because you’re too tired to raise your head anymore. Don’t acquiesce. That’s no way to do it, and he wouldn’t, but neither did he seem to be making much progress at freeing himself, and he could feel the strength leaving him, efforts growing more feeble and heart doing the strange, unsettling things it tended to do when faced with the combination of heavy exertion and not a drop of water for who knew how many days... Rest for a moment—but only a moment, lest he again start slipping towards sleep—try again.
If he could free himself, free his hands, at least, he might be able to retrieve the substantial fragment of broken bamboo with which he had at every opportunity been working away at a weak spot in his cage, begin that work again or, if finding himself incapable, use that sharp-ended fragment to go after the next guard to open the door to his enclosure, make an attempt at escape while he still had the strength to do it. There. Snapped one of the cords. One hand free. It was quick work to free the other. Now all he must do was wait. Couldn’t find the bamboo sliver. Would just have to use his hands.
10 March, 2013
Einar guessed at the meaning of the tone even before Bud could react and he was on his feet, leaving the table and crouching at a front window with rifle at the ready, watching. Far below the vehicle, a tan pickup truck which upon Kilgore’s quick inspection with binoculars looked to have two occupants, appeared tiny amongst the trees at the bottom of the half mile drive, vulnerable, at that distance, to everything from long range rifle fire to the pre-arranged snow and rock slides which could be touched off from the ridge above by anyone knowing the location of the charges…
Einar did not find any of this particularly reassuring, not even when Bud quickly spelled it all out for him, all these safety measures, and was not in the least placated when the tracker assured him that he recognized the truck, that it belonged to friends. That was the worst part, the thing that confirmed to him the sure existence of a plot whose details he knew he ought to have previously guessed, willing collusion on the part of the tracker, apparently, in their upcoming capture, and with that knowledge came a fierce determination to see things go another way, to keep them all free.
“Shouldn’t be coming up here unannounced, that’s for doggone sure,” the tracker allowed. “but they don’t mean any harm at all, have no idea you’re here, and aren’t gonna find out, either, if you just slow down and use some sense. Now. Remember the time you folks stayed in Sue’s basement, a good while back?”
Einar wavering, unsure. Maybe the man wasn’t in on it, after all. Perhaps he’d been fooled, also, kept in the dark as to the details and allowed to believe that he was simply helping his friends, even as he signed their death warrant. “No basement. Not going down there. Trap us down there like rats in a barrel, that’s what they’d do. Have to get up into the timber.”
“You’re not making any sense, man! How’re you gonna get up into that timber without leaving tracks a blind fella could follow, in all this new snow? They’re friends, I’m telling you, and the only thing we got to do is to hide you folks until they leave, and everything’ll be just fine again. Stop and think about it for a minute, it’ll start to make sense. You’re just real short on sleep, that’s all. And food. And probably a lot of other stuff, too, and you know how strange the world can get to looking at times like that. Come on, down the stairs. They won’t be here long, and you folks’ll be safe down there.”
Liz was staring at him, pleading with her eyes, seemed to have bought Kilgore’s line, but Einar did not answer. Wanted to leave, had his boots on already, having spent the better part of the night in them, and was busily urging Liz into hers, helping her on with her parka and sliding Will down into the protective warmth of its hood. Had to hurry, had to get something of a head start on these invaders, these would-be captors, for with fresh snow on the ground and a calm, clear day, pursuers would be at a definite advantage. Almost an unbeatable advantage, if looked at realistically. Probably the best he could hope for would be to get Liz and the little one up onto the ridge and then do his best to hold off their pursuers long enough to allow his little family to escape. Deal with the two in the truck, create a diversion, lay, if he was allowed the time and managed not to get himself shot too soon, a false trail or two which might mislead whoever would be coming to back them up and cause enough confusion to give Liz a chance, maybe get away himself and hope to meet them later, but more than likely not.
Real dim prospects, slight chance of success but sometimes you’ve got to take what’s handed to you, and in almost every case, if backed up to the wall, it was better to go down fighting than to… Yeah, not sitting there and waiting for their capture to be secured, and with Liz dressed and ready—she’d been quick about it, though appearing very reluctant and inexplicably sad at the same time—he took her by the hand and made his dash for the door. Only to find it blocked by Bud Kilgore, who could make quite an imposing obstruction of himself, when he chose.
“Hang on, Asmundson. There’s a carpet of fresh, untouched white all over everything out there. Where do you think you’re going that they won’t see and follow, if they were the sort to want to be following? Much as you may dislike it, you folks are here for the present. Here to stay. Not going anywhere, not until we either get another storm to cover you, or arrange a trip by vehicle…”
Rifle coming up just a bit, Einar’s grip tightening. “Out of the way, Kilgore. Wasting my time. Have to get up the ridge, make a go of it.”
“You wouldn’t go very far. For a number of reasons. Now give me that rifle, Sergeant Asmundson. You taken this one plenty far enough.”
Truck reaching the halfway point, Einar getting desperate. They were running out of time. Glanced around for another way out, but Susan was standing in front of the basement door, right hand resting down perilously close to the .45 that she always wore around the place, and besides, he wanted to leave by way of the porch, take advantage of what little concealment it offered, should someone already be watching from the air. A trap, all of it, as he had suspected from the beginning, and he cursed his complacency in allowing them to be led into such a bind.
Might still be a chance, and not wanting to shoot the tracker—sound would give them away—he let the rifle hang on its sling, made a lunge with his knife, handily knocking the big man from his feet and landing astride him, blade darting for his throat and nearly striking home before a sickening blow to the base of his neck halted all immediate ambitions and sent him cascading into a fractured, splintering maelstrom of blackness, world falling away around him...
08 March, 2013
When Bud Kilgore wanted to make things clear, he was not a man to waste words, and sitting across from Einar at the kitchen table, he used only a very few of them to impress upon his guest that while at his house, certain rules must be adhered to. Like no sleeping behind the sofa and scaring the womenfolk. And always letting someone know when he was headed outside, because really, anything less was likely as not to get him shot as an intruder, and that would be a real shame. Bud wanted to add something about firearms and knives and how really they perhaps ought to spend the night in a location at least slightly separate from wherever a person might choose to fall asleep, just to ease the waking time and reduce the probability of a mistake, but he kept that one to himself. Not too practical under the circumstances, and he knew how he would have reacted if such a suggestion had been made to him, at a similar time in his life. Well, at any time, really. He’d been a guest at Asmundson’s house more than once, under Asmundson’s roof and his rules, and had survived the experience, so was pretty sure he could manage to do so once again. But doggone it, the man did seem out of place in a house. The old wolverine. Be a lot better off when he could be turned loose again in the wild, where he belonged. Well. The tracker appraised him critically, shaking his head at what he saw. If anything, the fella looks worse than he did yesterday, which is no mean feat. Looks like he’ll be here with us for a while. If he knows what’s good for him, anyhow, which is highly unlikey…
“You got all that, Asmundson? Are we clear?”
Suppressing the beginnings of a grin—would have been a mistake, he was pretty sure, and the way his hip was hurting that morning, he really didn’t need any further bumps or bruises—Einar nodded. Understood.
“Yeah, I got it. No sleeping in odd places and jumping out to scare folks, and no wandering around outside acting like the enemy unless I inform somebody first. Good enough?”
“It’ll do. For now.”
“We’ve got some other things to discuss, Kilgore. Got through last night, but you know it’s not safe for us to be here, long term…”
“Yeah, we’ll get that all worked out. But not before we eat breakfast, because there’s no sense at all in letting it get cold, and not before Sue has a look at you, it seems, because here she is with her thermometer and all.”
To which Einar wanted to make strenuous objection—she’d done all that the day before, and really, how often could a person get curious about such things?—but saw the look on Liz’s face, pleading, almost, the little shake of her head, he didn’t feel so much like resisting, and kept still.
Sitting down beside him Susan took one of his hands, taking his pulse and examining his fingers. It hurt, with the frostbite he’d managed to sustain in working to dig himself out of the avalanche, but he did not pull away, let her continue.
“Your nails are pretty blue this morning. So’s the rest of you, actually. Looks like you may be a little low on oxygen…”
“No problem. I’m just cold.”
“Yes, you sure are, but that’s not the whole cause of it. Your heart rate is 26. That’s pretty low. Very low. You need some energy real badly.”
“Not so low, for me. I’m an athlete. I run a lot. Climb things.”
“Sure. But now you’re a fellow whose body is consuming its own muscles just to survive, including the heart muscle. It’s shrinking, can’t work as hard. That’s probably why your heart rate’s so low, more than anything.”
“Maybe a little of both.”
“You’re not making sense. The two are not compatible.”
“I make it work.”
“Breakfast would work better…”
Liz was already sitting, so he sat beside her, suddenly very tired, word swimming around him. Maybe Susan had a point. But he intended on sticking to his story. Will was awake, had already enjoyed his morning repast of milk and was looking curiously about for the next course, wanting to try Susan’s buckwheat pancakes and starting with especial interest at the pint jar of home-canned raspberries which she was pouring out into a bowl for the enjoyment of all. Making a sudden lunge as he reached for the berries, Will nearly escaped Liz’s grasp before she got a better hold on him.
“Slow down there, little one. You’ll get some, but not the whole bowl, and not head first across the table!” With which she handed the indignant little fellow to his father, Einar quickly fighting to get a better grasp on the by-then rather indignant Will. Before either father or son could do anything drastic—one wanting to move towards the food, the other, for his own reasons, away from it—Susan served them with a big plate of steaming hotcakes, smothered in butter and dolloped with enough raspberries to satisfy even the rather enthusiastic Will.
Eyes wide, the youngest Asmundson made an immediate dive for the raspberries, coming away with a sizeable fistful of the red, gooey stuff and promptly jamming as much of it as possible into his mouth, only to be startled into even wider-eyed amazement at the berries’ tartness. Einar, silently grinning as he helped clean up the mess, tried some of the berries himself and appeared only slightly less amazed than Will at their flavor, and at the instant energy they gave him. So, sharing with Will, he had some more, cutting one of the cakes into little pieces so that the child could experimentally mush one around in his mouth, and trying a few of those, too. This pleased both Susan and Liz immensely, and they could only hope the trend might continue.
Which it might have, for the remainder of that meal, at least, had not an insistent electronic tone in the next room told them that someone had just started up the driveway…
06 March, 2013
Finally, morning nearly come, Einar did sleep, though not where Liz or his hostess might have wished, and not entirely as a matter of choice on his part, either. Through the long night hours he kept watch, having returned to the house with Bud and drank the tea Susan reheated for him, maintaining, though some supreme effort of will, his wakefulness even as the warm liquid seemed to seep into every corner of his body and push him almost inexorably towards sleep, remaining upright against the log wall, rifle propped on his knees and eyes staring off into a distance which was for him alive with dangers that at times had nothing at all to do with his present location surrounded by timber in the secure log house on the mountainside. This position he maintained even after Susan went back to bed and Bud rolled up in a blanket on the couch, silent vigil through the night. Towards dawn though, Bud up again to make his rounds in that, the most likely time for an attack if one was to come, Einar’s exhausted body finally took charge and he fell into an unconscious slumber in a rather awkward position halfway behind the living room sofa, against which he had been bracing himself in a last-ditch attempt to prevent just such an occurrence. Kilgore, getting into his boots for a trip outside, let him lie. He would wake, given time. Or the women would find him, leading to one tremendous ruckus, no doubt, but everyone would survive it. He hoped.
Maybe better hurry a little with the outside chores, try and be in here when he wakes. No telling where he’ll think he is at first, and I’d hate for Sue to get her nice tidy house trashed by some wild critter trying to make his escape through one of the walls or windows or some such. Yep, best if I’m around for that. He ought to sleep a while though, now that he’s out. Could be a very long while even, though I sure won’t count on that, not with him. As an afterthought, Kilgore carefully approached Einar, set the rifle aside—not an easy task, tightly as the unconscious man still gripped the thing—, freed his knife and laid it on the table, and pushed him further behind the sofa so as to delay his being seen when Susan and Liz got up, before slipping out the door, quickly climbing the ridge adjacent to the driveway to begin his morning’s surveillance of the property.
For a long time Einar did not wake, struggling, in the dreams that came after an initial period of blessed, silent blackness, to return fully to the world and to rise—hip hurting terribly, the cold seeming to have sunk in and replaced his bones with ice and a knowledge of their precarious situation on the edge of civilization gnawing at him, prodding him to be up and doing—but meeting with no success, and then the blackness swallowed him again, and there was nothing.
Nothing, and then sunlight, a golden, shimmering shaft of sunlight falling across him, touching his face, loosening cold-stiff muscles so that he trembled and shook and the hip pained him worse than before but he did not care, for it was a wonderful dream, the kind that came so seldom, those days, and he meant to do nothing to disturb it. Gradually inexorably, time creeping, the sunlight moved, and as through a great muffling wall he began to hear sounds, the soft speech of his Lizzie, a happy chortling and prattling of the little one learning to use his voice, the sizzle—and eventually also the smell, glorious, but how it twisted his insides; must be hungry—of frying bacon, and he smiled, drifting, would have slept again but then he remembered, and the remembering left him wide awake and in a cold sweat as he stared wild-eyed at the back of Susan’s brown plaid sofa.
Daylight. Not good. How long had he been out? No way to tell for sure, but one thing was for sure, which was that he must be up and having a look at things. The sun had shifted again, golden dreams of the past minutes vanishing as it left his little hiding place, left him cold to the bone and very nearly too stiff to collect himself for movement, but he managed it, rolling to one side and lifting himself with his arms. No luck. Soon as he raised his head it took him again, a sudden coldness at the base of his neck, and then the blackness. This time, not entirely disconnected from the world as he had been before, Einar fought, and thus it was that he managed to get himself into a state of near wakefulness by the time the others became aware of his absence and came looking.
Hurrying and out of breath, Kilgore burst into the house, arriving just ahead of the breakfast being prepared by Liz and Susan, the two of them joking that he must have smelled it and come running, but they exchanged worried looks when Einar did not follow him into the kitchen. Their concern was not allayed by the puzzlement on his own face when he glanced around and saw that they were alone.
“Where’s Asmundson? He give you any trouble? You have to run him out of here with that rabbit stick? Meant to be in sooner, decided at the last minute to go check along the high ridge, make sure nobody had been there. Which they haven’t.”
Liz was on her feet, distress showing in her eyes. “We thought he was out there with you. His boots are gone, and…”
“Doggone fool’s wearing his boots. Never took ‘em off after we came in. Had to be ready, he said, and there was no talking him out of it. Look behind the couch. But let me be the one to wake him, why don’t you?”
Not a good way to wake, especially out of the sort of dream which had occupied the last few minutes of Einar’s restless sleep, and he froze at froze at the sound of the voice, eyes open just enough to give him a fuzzy view of the world—dim and confined, near as he could tell, which didn’t surprise him, and he felt around for his rifle, knife, anything, but nothing was there—but not so far, he hoped, as to alert his adversary, and then he was moving, somehow managing to shoot nearly straight up from the confinement of his little sleeping area and getting a deadly serious arm around the tracker’s neck before the man threw him off, taking a quick step back in the hopes of giving Einar time to recognize him before he made his next move. It worked, more or less, Liz’s voice doing more than anything to bring Einar back to the present, where he stood swaying and dizzy, arms braced on the sofa, wishing to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. They were all staring at him, and he couldn’t stand it, so he moved, hurrying over to the table where rifle and knife stood awaiting his waking, reclaiming them.
Kilgore agreed, nodding, sitting and motioning for Einar to do the same.
“Yeah, it was a long night, and now before we go and have another one like that, let’s get some things real clear.”
05 March, 2013
04 March, 2013
It did not take Bud long to find Einar, tracks in the snow—barely visible in the as-yet moonless darkness—and a pretty good sense of where the man would go to keep watch on the place leading him up the ridge that paralleled the driveway, where he slowed his pace considerably, wanting to give the man some time to see him, realize who he was and refrain from taking any violent action. The strategy worked, Einar recognizing him in plenty of time and lowering his rifle as the tracker approached, crouching in the snow beside him.
“Everything good out here?”
“Near as I can tell. Quiet, no movement, unless they had guys in place before we got here and they’re lying real low, there’s nobody here now.”
“Aw, we’ve got provisions against that. Lots of provisions, and I checked everything out after you guys went to bed. Nothing going on. They got no reason to suspect. I think we’re in the clear, on this one.”
Einar nodded, not entirely convinced but knowing how seriously Kilgore would have been taking the security of the place, both before their arrival and certainly after. He’d done a good job.
“Back on down to the house then, how about?” Kilgore suggested, rising. “Spend too much time out here and somebody might end up spotting you, realizing you’re not one of us and wondering who we’ve got around the place… Could lead to trouble.”
“I’ll stay low. Not really ready to come in yet.”
“Got something on your mind?”
A low chuckle, and Kilgore joined him. How could he not have things on his mind? A great number of things. But Bud figured this was bound to be something more specific.
A long silence. “Yeah.”
“You got to let it go, man. This one isn’t on you. That fool kid was up there entirely on her own initiative, taking chances at every turn and knowing full well that one of ‘em might turn out to be the last she ever took. Was worth it to her. You saw that. Livin’ the life she wanted to live, and loving every bit of it.”
“I should have been out front.”
“You’d had your turn out front. Each of us had, Liz and the little one excepted, and you know as well as I do things like that have to be done on a rotating basis. Any one of us would have worn himself—or herself—to a frazzle trying to break trail constantly through deep snow like that, and cut out travel speed in half before too long. Just common sense. And besides, close as you were traveling and the way you jumped after her when that hillside let go, you pretty nearly were out front. Just a couple feet from it. Still limping mighty bad from the looks of things, and hardly an inch of you not banged up and bruised. Likely as not she’d be gone too, even if she had been behind you. Not many could come through what you did up there. You’re just too doggone stubborn to die.”
Einar shook his head, kicked at a clump of snow that had fallen from a nearby spruce during the warmer sunlit hours. “Should have been out front. For that section at least.”
“Would have been a mighty big problem for us all, had she made it down and gone back to her life with full knowledge of your little hiding place, the habits you and your family had developed, the kinds of caches you had out there, all those things you know the intel guys would be just chomping at the bit to get ahold of, in their search for you. You’d have always had to wonder, was this the day she might decide to spill the beans, the day they picked her up and…yeah, you know how it can go. Would have always been out there, hanging over you. So yeah, a tragedy, vibrant young girl like that, and coming to be a real good hand in the wilderness, too, but sometimes these things are just beyond us to quite understand, and we got to take a break where we can get it. You been spared just a little in this thing, you and your family. You’re just a little safer again, little more secure, can go home if you want to. In a while. Got to stick it out a while down here, for everyone’s sake. Look at it that way.”
“Not buying it, are you?”
“Didn’t figure. Forget about it, then. All of that. Never did hold too much weight with me, either, not when I’d been in a position where the guys were under my command, or otherwise in my charge, and I wasn’t able to bring them home safe. So forget about if it you got to, carry that load for a while but you just keep in mind the folks inside that house waiting for you, Ok? Because they’re in your charge, too. In fact they’re the only ones who are just now, and they’re counting on you to be here to make decisions and lead them to your next home, whether that means back to the old one in a while, or on to a new spot, and you let yourself get lost in this thing and all the stuff it brings to mind—don’t tell me that’s not going on, I can see it in them dead-flat eyes of yours, even in this darkness—well, you’re not gonna be good for much when it comes to making such decisions.”
“Get out of my head, Kilgore. You’re the bane of my existence.”
“Why, thanks very much. That’s a real compliment coming from the likes of you. Now on your feet if you can---hip’s bothering you some, isn’t it?—and come on with me to the house. It’s time sensible folk had a break from this cold, since such is available. Now you know Sue’s gonna pester you some, gonna keep throwing them numbers at you and maybe your lady is gonna do the same, but don’t take it personal. I ain’t into that kind of thing especially, but will tell you she’s right, and what’s more, you know she’s right, just like your Liz has been right in telling you them same things, so you’d better listen to the lot of ‘em, eat their food and get yourself ready for whatever it is comes next.”
Einar was on his feet then with a growl—whether because of his injured hip or by way of protest at Kilgore’s words, the tracker could not tell—and following the man as he headed down the ridge, taking the roundabout route back to the house.