28 April, 2013

28 April 2013

Susan and Liz did not immediately know where to look when they returned to find Einar missing, had not even realized he was capable of getting up at that point, but then, he was always surprising them...  Susan wondered if, in some desperate last-ditch attempt to avoid the IV—he’d seemed only half aware during her last few attempts, might not realize that the whole operation had been, for the time, a failure—but Liz was sure he wouldn’t have gone back on his word to her, left the place in order to avoid the procedure.  Not if he was in reasonable possession of his faculties, at least, and she well knew there was no guarantee of this, under present circumstances. He might very have found himself in that little jungle hut, surrounded by guards and with only a minute’s respite before his interrogators returned to perform upon him who knew what fresh horrors…which would have left him little choice but to attempt escape while the possibility existed.

Another possibility, Liz had to admit to herself as she hurriedly checked the front door, finding it, to her relief, locked, was that sensing the end near and seeing no remedy to stay the progressing hand of death, he might have decided to find himself a secure little corner of the house in which to await alone its coming.  That would, she believed, be like him, a place with a view of the trees, most likely, of his beloved peaks, and though the picture was a pleasant one in its own way—who, after all, would not want such a thing?—she could not abide the thought of him perhaps even then lying in his chosen spot, breathing his last while she stood only feet from him.  The house was only so big; he had to be found.

Quite unaware of the frantic search being conducted at the other end of the house, Einar stood swaying in a corner by one of the front windows in Susan’s sunny little library room, braced almost comically between the wall and a bookshelf with one elbow and both knees, striving not to fall as he maintained an iron grip on that mug of tea.  Muninn perched on the back of the chair nearest him watching in silent, beady-eyed fascination as the man methodically raised the mug, got some of the liquid into his mouth and tipped his head backwards so it could trickle down his throat, much as a bird would have done. 

Numerous times Muninn had observed the operation, captured more by the strangeness of the man’s behavior than by the fact that it mimicked something birdlike—the raven was intelligent, but perhaps not so intelligent as to have made that connection—and now the mug was nearly empty.  The realization that he’d nearly finished the tea came with a great sense of relief for Einar, to whom the task had proven a major ordeal the completion of which had more than once nearly led to his drowning, but he’d kept at it, knowing and refusing to accept the only apparent alternative.

At the time, he’d been glad when Susan’s attempts at starting the IV had failed, his dread at being thus compromised and controlled by outside forces far outweighing any fear he might have harbored at the thought of his own imminent demise.  But in the quiet after the two women had left for their conference in the pantry, something in him had rebelled at the thought of going so quietly to the end, animated him to a resistance of which he had only a moment prior no longer thought himself capable, and he had risen, carried the tea to a concealed spot, and tried on thing and another until he had managed to drink.

Now, hearing them coming, calling, searching for him, Einar moved too quickly to polish off that last big gulp, upset the delicate balance by which he’d managed to down the rest of the stuff and ended in a fit of gagging and choking which brought both Susan and Liz running at full tilt to his rescue.

He held up a hand, triumphant as it bore the empty teacup, waving it about as he held them off.

“No, I’m Ok.  Just…little too fast on that last part.”

Liz had him in her arms, easing him out of his hiding place and into a sitting position on the floor.  “Last part?  You mean you drank all of this?”

A nod and a grin.  “Sure.  Sure I did.  Most of it.  Just got to…”  More coughing then, and by the time he managed to get it under control he was far too winded to attempt speech, exhausted, sitting with chin resting on his knees and a jubilant if weary radiance gracing the deeply etched lines of his face, did it, not gonna let this thing get me, not yet, and when Liz moved to help him to his feet he went willingly back to the kitchen with her, sat on the mat Susan had prepared for him there, but still would not lie down.

Already Susan was busy with something at the kitchen counter, chopping, mixing and warning of a loud noise as she briefly switched on the blender, coming away with a ceramic bowl full of something tan, bubbly and smelling of bananas.  She added a straw, sat down beside Einar on his mat.  The smell made him hungry.   “I’d like you to try this.  It’s got bananas, milk, a little peanut butter, and I think the texture might be easier to get down without accidentally inhaling.  Now that you’ve had some success with the tea, it’s time to try and go a little further.

To Liz’s surprise he nodded, took the bowl and laboriously consumed nearly a third of its contents before stopping, completely spent, and setting it aside.  Couldn’t keep his eyes open, made a quick check to see that weapons were close at hand and his little family safe for the moment before allowing himself to crumple onto the mat, already fast asleep.  It was, Liz could tell from his breathing, a true sleep, rather than the restless dark of unconsciousness which he always seemed to her to be fighting, deep, blessed sleep; she covered him with a quilt, laid a hand on his head and turned to Susan with tears in her eyes.

“What was that?”  She whispered.  “What just happened?”

Susan shrugged, smiled.  “He decided to fight.  To live, Lizzie.  He decided to live.”

“He needs more…”

“Oh, yes he needs more.  He’s still in mighty bad shape, could still benefit from having a lot more fluids on board, but it’s a start, and he did it himself.  Now, let’s do what we can to get him warm while he sleeps, maybe go ahead and start the IV if it will work now, maybe not, and keep a real close eye on how things are going for him.  In the meantime, the sleep is good.  I don’t think he’s really slept since you guys arrived here.”

Together they changed the dressings on those of his wounds that needed attention, set him up with an additional blanket and two hot water bottles and did their best to ease him into a position which it seemed would prove the least uncomfortable considering his injuries, which meant, in the end, settling him on one side with both arms stretched out before him.  All the remainder of that day Einar slept, Liz keeping watch as Susan entertained little Will and prepared an evening meal which Liz hoped might tempt him to wakefulness, but Susan advised her to leave him be, let him rest while he could.

Einar was up the next morning before the others, moving with halting to sit at the kitchen table, bandaged arms stretched out strange and stiff before him and a hollow, haunted look in his eyes, but when Liz joined him he greeted her with a big grin.

“What’s for breakfast?”

27 April, 2013

27 April 2013

The scene was a mess, masses of solidified, cement-like snow jumbled with smashed rock and ruined trees, none of it making a tremendous amount of sense to the agents as they began their investigation, but their greatest interest was not in the path of the avalanche, itself, but in the untouched slopes around it.  There, they hoped to find evidence that the young reporter had not been alone at the time of her death, that she had been accompanied, perhaps, by their fugitive.  What they did find interested them even more than the tracks they had sought, and was to prove a turning point in their investigation.

*    *    *

Liz did not think it was a particularly good idea, Einar’s trying another drink when the last one had so nearly ended in disaster, hated the idea of his inhaling the stuff and ending up in an emergency situation when it seemed help, and the potential for improvement, was really was so near, but she could not refuse him.  Knew he was making a tremendous sacrifice in consenting to allow Susan to help him with hydration, going against all of his instincts, so if he wanted to try again to have a drink before undergoing what in his mind must be a greater ordeal than she could imagine, the least she could do was to pour him some more tea, which she did.  

Animated by the knowledge that this was his last chance, last hope, only way to avoid the thing which was surely coming, otherwise, Einar went at that tea with a sincerity and determination which Liz could not help but admire, this time managing to get a little trickle down his throat before gagging and choking again, needing to cough but able only to put out a feeble effort which barely did the job.  Liz watched him with tears in her eyes, wished she could help but did not know how.  Determination could only go so far, could not always overcome stark physical realities, even for a fellow long accustomed to doing exactly that, and with fair success.  He wanted to try again, but she gently pushed the mug aside, laid her hand over his own.

“Wait a little while.  Let yourself rest, give Susan a chance.  She’ll be back soon.”

Shook his head, glanced around with wild eyes—little Will asleep on the couch, door cracked where Susan had gone down to the basement, and the windows…especially the windows.  But he made himself keep still.  “Know I agreed to…but if I let her…it’s all over.  Done.”

“What’s all over?”

An expansive gesture.  Everything.  Everything would apparently be over, or so he thought.  “No, it’s not so bad as that.  It’s just Ringer’s Lactate, water with a little sodium, calcium, potassium, you know that.  You read the label.  Nothing will be over.  Really.  Just try to see it for what it is, just the mechanics of it, cells needing hydration, and this is the most efficient way to do it right now.  We can talk about the other stuff later.  I know there’s other stuff, reasons why you don’t want to do this, but that all has to come later.”

“Got to do it myself.  Drink.”

“Oh, you’ll have plenty to do yourself.  Lots of hard work.  This is just the start.  You’ve got to be able to swallow if you’re going to do it yourself.  Let Susan try this.  It will help.”

He said nothing more, eyes closed, head sagging, lips drawn back in a pained grimace and Liz, though not sure whether this was due to acceptance or to his simply having run out of the energy to speak, was glad.  He could be very convincing most times, and she did not want him talking her out of this, convincing her to release him from his word.  He would, she knew, otherwise abide by his agreement, allow the procedure, and that was the way it had to be.  She could see that.  He simply didn’t have anything left with which to fight.  No energy, no strength; she hated to see him like that, prayed everything might go smoothly so he could soon be himself again.

Susan was back then, Einar sitting with head bowed, resigned, as she sought again to find a vein she could use with the smaller cannula, used every trick she knew, tried for a long time but failed.  Einar, having allowed himself to let go and drift a bit—not at all difficult, under present circumstances—in the hopes that this might help prevent his reacting to Susan’s ministrations as an attack, as he had nearly done the first time around, was not immediately aware of the results.  Of the fact it was all now a moot point, all of his back and forth with Liz, with himself, the deciding.

Leaving him where he sat, nearly asleep with head resting on the table, Susan led Liz into the pantry.  Both were silent for a moment, knowing the implications.  Liz wouldn’t give up.

“How can we make it work?  Should I give it a try?”

“Have you ever done it before?”

“No…  What else can we try, then?”

“We can get someone who is more experienced.  Liz, I’ve taken classes, done this on Bud and on others in a classroom setting down at the firehouse, but never on someone in Einar’s situation.  This would be difficult even for a seasoned nurse, and it’s beyond my level of experience.”

“There is no one else.”

“I know.  I wish Bud were here, or that we could bring in my friend who works down at the hospital, but neither of those are options.  We’ve just got to get some water into him, warm him up a little more—he’s really cold still, and that’s part of the problem, the way everything slows down, blood gets drawn into the core—get his blood pressure up, and then I think we’d have a better chance.”

“I’ll work on it.”

“Even though he was willing, in the end, to let me do this, he’ll be happy that it didn’t work, won’t he?  I saw his eyes when I was getting things ready, and I don’t think what I saw there had anything to do with a fear of needles, did it?  Nothing like that.  Seemed he was really dreading it, for reasons of his own…”

“Yes, he has his reasons.  I don’t know when he’ll be happy.  Maybe when he’s dead, he’ll be happy.”

“Liz, don’t talk like that.  He’s going to get through this, we all are.  Now let’s get back out there and start trying again with the tea.  We haven’t tried a straw.  Maybe that will make a difference.  If not, I’ll try something thicker that might be easier to swallow without so much risk of inhaling it.  And we’ll get a blanket, and some more hot water bottles.  This isn’t over."

Only perhaps it was, for when they got back, Einar was gone…

25 April, 2013

25 April 2013

Somewhat reassured by the knowledge of Bill’s guard on the place—not many he would even remotely trust with such a thing, but this man seemed fit to be one of them—Einar might not under other circumstances have felt the need to fight so hard against the soft, enfolding heaviness which seemed to be creeping through his body, leaving limbs to feel like alien things and quite effectively dulling, as it advanced, the rather significant pain which had been left him from the night’s ordeal.  But something told him he must fight.  Maybe it was Will—busy little guy, so intent on discovering the world—or the look in Liz’s eyes when they met his own—not ready to let him go, and that was, after all, what was hanging in the balance, wasn’t it?—or perhaps simply the innate, senseless stubbornness which had carried him through so many of life’s trials, but fight he did, somehow getting himself to his feet and stumbling over to the window on his knees before it, staring up at spruces which rose straight, supple and wind-dancing into a sky of purple-blue; looked like home.  He wanted to go home, lead his family up those soaring, timbered slopes and take refuge once more in the vast solitude which had for so long shielded them, but he knew he could not.  Not with the search on, weather not cooperating. 

And not, he told himself, like this.  You’d only slow them down, get them caught, killed, wouldn’t be likely to make a thousand feet of elevation yourself, even if no one was immediately pursuing you, before you collapsed and didn’t wake again.  Which is likely as not to happen right here in Bud and Susan’s kitchen, for that matter.  For no good reason at all, no heroic struggle, no giving your life in striving to save your family or defeat a pursuer, no last battle, not even the satisfaction of that one final climb, like your friend Willis had.  Not the way this ought to end.  Only, he wasn’t entirely sure how to prevent it ending that way.  Figured he’d better try again with that tea, hydration seeming a pretty critical element just then.

Results were the same as before.  Maybe a little worse.  Just couldn’t get the stuff to go down, choked when he insisted on pressing the matter but couldn’t seem to cough strongly enough to get the stuff back out, sat there for a full thirty seconds gagging and struggling and starting to turn blue before Susan gave him a hard thump on the back and he could breathe again.  Not good.  Not what he’d been aiming for.  Thought maybe if he had plain honey instead of the tea, just got some under his tongue so he could absorb a bit of it and then tried to swallow, he might have more success because of the thicker texture, but when he rose to go get himself some from the kitchen—seemed a lot simpler than asking, seeing as he appeared incapable of meaningful communication just then—everything went black around him, legs cramped up then turned to jelly and he fell hard.  Liz was there, rolled him onto a foam pad that Susan had quickly brought upon seeing the need.  He was awake, trying to rise but Liz held his shoulders.

“Einar.  Let Susan help you get some hydration.  Let us help you.  I can see that you’re trying so hard right now to live, but you can’t keep going on like this.  You know the physiology of it, what’s happening with you right now, and why.  There’s nothing wrong with a little help.  It’s no different, in principle, than the things you did for me after Will was born, making all that chlorophyll drink and being sure I drank it to help after I lost so much blood…please let us do this.”

Shook his head, stared at the floor.  It was different.  Was a thing he could not do.  Could not allow.  Wished he could explain it, but words weren’t coming together very well for him.  Weren’t wanting to come out.  She seemed to understand, anyway.

“I know.  You see it as some sort of a compromise, a surrender.  And you don’t want to surrender, even in this little way, do you?   It probably seems worse to you than going on like you are, no matter the ultimate consequences…”

A nod.  That was the bulk of it. 

“Einar, I know.  I understand, at least somewhat.  But think.  We’ve willingly given our hearts and to some extent minds and bodies to one another, I’ve done it, you have too, so how about looking at this as an extension of that gift?  As an act of love.  You’ve been willing to give up your life for me and for Will on more than one occasion and without a second thought, put yourself in harm’s way, risked everything, so how about giving up a little control right now, just for a short while, so you can go on living for us?  Doesn’t that seem like a reasonable exchange, really?”

He guessed it did, when put that way.  Difficult to argue with that, to withhold from her this gift of himself that she was apparently so badly wanting.  She, who had lived and fought and strived beside him through so many difficulties, seldom even complaining.  Who had carried his son.  But Lizzie, you don’t know what you’re asking.  Asking me to give up just about the last thing I’ve got left.  Though every fiber of his being rebelled at the thought, he looked up at her, nodded.   If that was what she wanted, alright, he would give it.  She deserved that much.  “Ok.”

“Ok?  You’ll let Susan do the IV?”

“Yeah, but…not here.  Got to be…”  Struggled to rise, and she helped him.  “Got to be up there where I can…kinda keep an eye on things while…” 

“Yes, Ok, how about here at the table?”  He nodded and Susan, when Liz met her eye, nodded as well, yes, that would work.  She wished they could get him to lie down as it would have made everything easier and more immediately effective, but she had no intention of pressing the matter and perhaps spoiling everything, now that he’d agreed to let her help.  So he sat, arms stretched out before him on the table in a sign of surrender, head sagging.

Liz sat with him as Susan set things up, bringing all the gear out from her bedroom where she’d been storing it since the three of them had come to the house, seeing a need and hoping to be allowed to use it.  Einar had to inspect all the components several times before he would allow her to proceed, had to make absolutely certain she wasn’t giving him anything other than the solution he had agreed upon, and when he was done he had Liz inspect things for him too, not entirely trusting his own reading comprehension.  Even after completing the inspection and nodding his final consent he was clearly terrified, shaking, put on a stolid, stoic face but Liz could see his consternation, eyes big and white and staring like those of a trapped animal, and she sat with him, offering silent reassurance while Susan hung the IV bag from a kitchen cabinet, took his blood pressure as a reference so she’d be able to chart his progress.  Frighteningly low; good thing, she could not help but think, that he’d agreed to the assistance when he had done, or it might well have proven too late.  Might be, regardless, for his blood pressure was so low and he was so severely dehydrated by that point that she has a lot of trouble finding a vein that would work, finding one at all, and had to go back to the basement to get her children’s kit in the hopes that it might make some difference…  Einar breathed a sigh of relief at the temporary reprieve, decided he’d better make one more attempt at drinking.

24 April, 2013

24 April 2013

Meant to have a chapter for tonight, but between yesterday and today didn't get a chance to properly finish it.  So, tomorrow.

Thank you all for your patience.

22 April, 2013

22 April 2013

Wasting no time, not wanting to allow the trail to go cold—or get covered with snow, considering the unpredictable nature of spring weather in the high country—the feds wasted no time getting Bud Kilgore and a team of twelve agents from three different agencies up to the spot where he had found Juni after the avalanche.  Setting a chopper down as near as they could come to the slide site itself, they unloaded the tents, duffels and crates of supplies needed to set up a base camp from which they would conduct their investigation and, they hoped, finally gain some useful new clues as to the whereabouts of their fugitive.  And perhaps even track him down.  Should that time come they fully intended to call in reinforcements, air support, round-the clock monitoring by satellite and drone, and any other resources they might find available but for the moment, twelve men on the ground were deemed to be enough.

The following few days would, Kilgore knew, prove critical to the sort of future Einar and his family might be able to have in the area, probability of those agents finding some sign of the trio fairly high, even with all the knowledge, trickery and persuasion he might be able to employ in the prevention of such progress.  It was to be quite a challenge

*  *  *  *  

True to his word Einar did drink, going at that mug of tea with a determination usually reserved for scaling nearly impossible slopes and pursuing enemies through the timber, keeping at it despite the fact that with nearly every try he would choke, splutter and end up inhaling enough of the stuff that he was thrown into a desperate, barely productive and rather exhausting fit of coughing so that before long Liz and Susan were begging him to stop, give it a break.  He did not stop, determined to down an amount sufficient to convince them to quit pestering him about other, less acceptable alternatives, but the coughing and choking just got worse until eventually he lost the entire contents of his stomach, apologizing to Susan as he dropped down to the tile floor and did his best to clean up.  Susan let him finish before lifting, helping him back into the chair where he stared into the mug for a long minute as if weighing his options before pushing it aside, eyes half closed.  Barely had the energy to hold up his head, let alone make another go at the tea.  EnoughEnough of that.  Not doing any good.  You had enough of it.  Trouble was he’d hardly got anything down, lost what he had and was no better off than he’d been at the beginning. 

Though really wanting to press the issue, neither Liz nor Susan wanted to be responsible for causing him to end up with a lung full of tea and drown, which seemed the likely outcome should he accidentally aspirate some of the stuff and not be able to cough strongly enough to get it back out.  Watching, wishing she could help but not knowing how Liz found herself angry with him, with the entire situation, but more than anything with the fact that he’d done this, allowed himself to get into such a state that his muscles were failing him and he could barely swallow anymore without choking and nearly dying.  It was ridiculous, and while she knew he now seemed to agree that things had gone too far and to want to do something about it, the reality was that it might well be too late for those efforts to save him. 

Will, tiring of the fun of exploring the couch and studying the varying colors and patterns of one of Susan’s patchwork quilts, had squirmed and wriggled his way to the floor, and she went to him, scooped him up and sat beside Einar.  She wanted him to hold his son, but he was cold, shaking pretty hard once again, and she didn’t think it would be safe so she just sat there, allowing the little one to hoist his front half up onto the table, balance on legs nearly strong enough to begin carrying him as he took steps, and babble on until finally Einar noticed him and looked up, gave him a tired grin.

“What...  What are you talking about?  You trying to…get up and go explore, or what?”

To which Will answered with a bevy of garbled but very enthusiastic sounds which seemed to Einar to make perfect sense as he nodded once more, wishing he could stay awake long enough to answer, but feeling the cold hand of unconsciousness—or something; wasn’t quite like anything he remembered feeling before—closing its iron grip around his middle, numbing face, hands and taking the color from the world.  He held his breath, eyes closed, straining against it.  Had to stay awake, because he had to tell them something.  Tell Liz something.  Only he couldn’t remember what it was.  She was there, and he reached for her, found her hand, staring, and no words would come.  Figured his mouth must be too dry, fumbled with the mug but only succeeded in tipping it, spilling most of the liquid before Liz righted it, held it for him so he could take a sip.  Better.  For some reason, it went down this time.  Probably because he wasn’t trying so hard.  Had forgotten to try, and the stuff had simply slid down his throat.  Could probably talk now if he was to try, only he still couldn’t remember the thing he’d been meaning to say.  Something about the ridge, and the feds, and…

Yeah.  Got to let them know it’s safe here.  Safer.  That guy around, watching…  Would give them some warning.  Better listen to him if he gives them warning.  Said he knew Susan, had met Liz that time...  Which all seemed an awful lot to communicate to them.  Awfully complicated.  But he had to try, before he got lost again.  Liz was watching him, so it seemed a good time to try.


“Bill?  The man you met last night?  That Bill?”

He nodded.  “Watching.  Safe.  Be careful here but…don’t worry.  He’ll warn you if..”  Darkness again, and then he was snapping back awake, shaking his head against a hollow roaring sound which seemed to be drowning out Will’s little chatterings and whatever it was trying to say to him.  Didn’t work, but at least they knew. 

Liz repeated it, even though he didn’t seem to be hearing.  “You’ll warn us, too.  I want you to warn us, to be here with us.  We need you…”

21 April, 2013

21 April 2013

No chapter today, back with another tomorrow, and will answer everyone's comments then.  Thank you all for reading!

In the meantime, here are some pictures from last week's big storm:

Lot of snow!

Daybreak, after the storm...

Wild turkeys...

19 April, 2013

19 April 2013

After much flapping and pounding at the door Muninn was admitted to the kitchen, the rather irate raven having to deliver himself of the object in his beak before he could let loose with the tirade of rasping dismay with which he expressed his outrage at having been left up in the dark woods and then shut out of the house.  “What have you got there, critter?”  Susan retrieved the strip of cloth, examining it as a slow smile of recognition spread across her face.  She knew that calling card.

While she had not seen the man, Bill Foreman, since his last visit to their house while her husband Bill had still been living—the two of them had served together, though she never knew the details—Susan well remembered his later leaving a photo of Liz there on her front porch while she had yet been unaware of the young woman’s whereabouts after going missing, the image confirming to her that she was safe, and with Einar. 

The last time she’d heard from him had been at the wedding, when he’d somehow managed to leave a faded boonie hat decorated with a white feather on the front porch during the height of the festivities, all without being noticed by any of their guests.  Bud still wore the hat.  Susan had, from time to time after that, got the sense that the shadowy character might be out there somewhere, watching, protecting, though she’d never until that day got confirmation of his presence.  Susan—and Liz, also, once the situation had been explained to her—felt a good deal more relaxed knowing Foreman was around, watching, presumably helping to guard the place in Bud’s absence—when he wasn’t busy capturing and rather forcefully interrogating folks who happened to wander up into the timber…

When the two of them got back to Einar he appeared to be asleep, head bowed so that his face was nearly in the basin of water and breaths coming at alarmingly great intervals, but when the raven sought to remedy this, landing on his shoulder and taking a clump of hair in his beak, the sleeping man’s response was instant and rather more forceful than either of the women might have expected.

Narrowly missing Einar’s wild grasp the raven took wing, heading for the wall as the water basin went the other way, overturning and splattering all over the kitchen.  It was quite a ruckus, Will laughing from his spot on the couch and Liz going to Einar as Susan hurried to clean up the spilled water and restore some semblance of order to the place.  Einar wasn’t laughing, leaning heavily back against the wall and wildly scanning the room for the source of the chaos, gaze settling at last on the bird.  Realization dawning, all the starch seemed to go out of his bones and he slid down limply to the floor, giving the still-laughing Will a weary grin before allowing forehead to rest on his knees, apparently ready for sleep.  Susan wanted to let him rest, but not just yet.

“We need to bandage your arms.  Will you come back to the table?”

“Oh, they’re alright.  Lot better than they were.”

“They’ll be even better if we can bandage them and keep them clean.  Come on, up you go.”

Einar went, sitting quietly aside from his shivering, which was still quite intense, as Susan applied a strong smelling green salve—comfrey, he was pretty sure, with something else added—and wrapped the worst areas of his arms in gauze, covering it with flexible camouflage wrapping to hold it in place.  Einar smiled at this detail, joking in broken sentences that by the time she got finished, he would be all set to go back out in the timber and move around unnoticed. 

Liz, meanwhile, lacking the usual hot rocks with which she would have surrounded Einar to help him warm after a night such as the one he’d just had, prepared two hot water bottles earlier given her by Susan as the next best alternative.  Over Einar’s half-hearted objections—gonna have me roasting here pretty soon, not used to this much heat—she wrapped them close to his torso where she knew they ought to help complete the warming process, gently securing them in place over bandages with wraps of soft flannel.  This task completed, she brought over a pot of tea to which she had added a generous amount of honey, pouring Einar a mug of it and offering to help him drink, considering the condition of his hands and the fact that he remained rather unsteady.

Shaking his head and grinning, Einar grabbed the mug himself, inhaling its steam and enjoying a quick sip before hurriedly setting it down lest he lose his grip.  “Got anything to…eat around here?  Long night, kind of hungry…”

Delighted at the request, Susan hurried to prepare a bowl of fruit—sliced bananas and strawberries—which seemed a good place for Einar to start, before trying the more substantial stuff that he really needed.  The fruit smelled good, and Einar tried, but nearly choked on the first bite, had to stop after the third.  Muscles just weren’t working right, body entirely out of energy.  This did not bother him too greatly; the fact that he was trying, it seemed to him, ought to be enough, plenty, really, and he was content.  Drifting.  Ready to sleep again.  Liz and Susan, though greatly encouraged at Einar’s change in attitude, were far more concerned just then with results.  Perhaps, Liz thought, if she could get him to drink more of the tea, the situation would improve, and she tried, but he gagged on the stuff, coughed, couldn’t seem to get it down and finally she had to give up trying for fear of drowning him.  Susan shook her head, sat down across from him.

“Einar, I need you to listen to me for a minute.  Look at me.  This is really important.  You need some fluids, and it doesn’t seem to be working for you to drink right now.  I’d like your permission to do an IV, just for a little while to help you get past the worst of the dehydration.  I think it would really help with your level of alertness, and make it easier for you to stay awake.  Is that alright with you?”

Susan thought she saw a moment’s wavering—he did want very badly to be able to stay awake, after all—but then he lowered his eyes, shook his head.  “I can drink.”

17 April, 2013

17 April 2013

Susan had gone out looking that past evening when, after nearly two hours, Einar had not returned, Liz wanting to do it instead but the older woman insisting that she must stay inside, concealed, had to be there for Will and must not be spotted about the place.  A less experienced tracker than her husband, Susan had found no sign of Einar on the crusty snow over which he had ascended, and near dark, she had given up the search and returned to the house.  She and Liz had spent a restless night, worrying somewhat that Einar might have met with a federal patrol and been captured or worse, but perhaps even more concerned that he could very well have simply run out of energy somewhere on the slopes above the house, and be lying there dying on the snow.  In either case, there was not much they could do other than to pray—and to increase their own watchfulness, should someone decide to raid the house—and this they did, keeping vigil through the night.

It did not take the women long, watchful as they had been, to hear Einar on the porch, Susan quickly checking to see that the guest was not an unwelcome one before easing open the door and letting him in.  Quite a sight in matted, partially frozen clothing with dried blood caked along one cheekbone and down his neck, he nearly fell with the support of the door taken away, caught himself, bracing gloved hands against the back of a chair until Liz could set Will safely on the floor and run to him, and then he was in her arms.

“Where were you all night?  What’s happened?”

Freeing himself from Liz’s embrace he took a step back, hesitated, words coming with difficulty.  “Captured me, and they tried…but I didn’t…”  With which he collapsed on the hard tile floor of the kitchen, triumphant smile stretching frost-cracked lips even as a tear rolled involuntarily down one cheek at the hurt, on top of everything else, of his hard landing, consciousness rapidly fading…

Liz was kneeling beside him then, raising his head and trying to get him to take some water while Susan brought a blanket, seeing that he was beginning to shake and look very cold as the warmth of the room crept in around him and began loosening chilled muscles.  Einar choked on the first sip of water, managed to get the next one down and then gently pushed Liz’s hand away, not wanting to try any more just then.  Took too much effort.  All he really wanted was to sleep, but the women wouldn’t let him, insisting that his wounds must have attention.  He wanted to tell them that everything was fine, that he’d had worse, but they didn’t really seem to be listening.  That, or he wasn’t actually speaking, which latter possibility he finally concluded to be the case, but could not seem to remedy the situation.  No matter.  Let them do their work, since they seemed so determined that it must be done.

Susan—determined, indeed, as Einar might also have been, had he been able to see himself at that moment as they were able to see him—filled a glass bowl with warm water and added a few drops of tea tree oil to act as a disinfectant as they began cleaning the dried blood from his face and working downward, trying to assess his injuries.  As they worked, they discussed the situation, agreeing that it made no sense at all, the notion that someone would have captured Einar only to release him.  They never would have taken that risk, not even in the hopes of capturing others to whom he might potentially lead them.  And certainly had Einar been accosted and somehow managed to escape, the house would have been the last place he’d ever think of going, no matter what his captors might have done to him, or threatened to do.  Of this, Liz was certain.  While neither spoke the notion aloud—communicating it instead with nods and whispers—the likelihood seemed to exist that Einar had inflicted the injuries on himself in some sort of dream-struggle during the night, a possibility which both considered fairly likely, until after much soaking and loosening they eased the bloody, badly torn and partially frozen shirt from him, and saw the rope wounds on his arms.

Susan shook her head.  “He couldn’t possibly have done this in some dream-induced state…”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.  Probably not during a dream, but if he woke…”

“But why?  And how?”

Liz shrugged.  “No telling, exactly.  But it wouldn’t be the first time.”

The burns however, when they found them, told a different story.  Liz knew he never would have done that, and needing to know the truth of the situation she pressed him some, who did this, who had you?  But all he could do was to mutter indistinct words about the VC, the dai ta behind his metal desk in the Big Hooch, and something about a tractor battery…  Seeing that such questions were fruitless at the moment, Liz soon abandoned trying, went back to helping Susan dress his wounds.

With his lower arms badly abraded and purple-black from the cold and extended lack of circulation, Susan decided soaking would be the best treatment for them, scrubbing a basin quite clean and filling it with water which Liz made certain was barely even lukewarm before lowering his arms in up to the elbows.  Einar made no sound, no objection, face remaining a mask, furrowed, still, unchanging, but Liz could see from his eyes how it hurt him, wished there was some other way.

Susan, too, saw his difficulty, saw other things also, taking his pulse at the neck, examining the membranes under one eye—white, rather than a healthy and typical pink—and looking worried, leading Liz away into the pantry.

“Looks like he’s lost a fair amount of blood, Liz.  He’s in shock, dehydrated, fairly seriously hypothermic and the pain can’t be helping, either.  We need to get him some energy real quick, a spoon of honey or something, and water.  Start him warming.  And I’d like to maybe crush up some pain tablets and get him to swallow that, too.  I think it would help him get through this.  Help stop him slipping downward so fast like he’s doing right now.  Things are really going to start crashing, if we can’t reverse the shock.”

Liz knew she was probably right, was pretty sure she could get him to drink some honey water, knew how to help him get warm, but wouldn’t allow the rest of it.  “He wouldn’t like it, being tricked into something like that.  Might never know the difference, but it just wouldn’t be right.”

Susan nodded.  You two are a good match.  You’re every bit as stubborn as he is, in your own wayLucky guy…  “We’ve got to get some water into him, then.  A lot of water.  If you can get him to drink, that may work, but otherwise, we’re just going to have to set aside his objections—no tricking him; we’ll tell him exactly what’s going on—and do an IV, if you want him to recover from this.  If you want him to live.  That’s what we’re really talking about.  He was barely hanging on before, just trying to get through daily life, and whatever happened last night would have been awfully rough on the healthiest and most robust person, let alone someone…”

“Yes, I know.  I know.  I’d like to know what did happen.  Obviously it wasn’t the feds, or we never would have…well, he’d be gone.  Do you think Bud came back and did this?  Or sent one of his friends…”

Susan had been wondering the same thing, only Bud had called the house at nearly half past ten the previous night, to wish her a good night and let her know it was looking like he’d be gone for several days.  They had not, of course, been at liberty to discuss the situation at the house, but she highly doubted he would have left Task Force headquarters or wherever they had him staying, returned home to “visit” with Einar for the night, and gone back to work.  Would have been too risky, possibility of his employers following him to the house, and she did not believe for a moment that he would have done that.  Which left a lot of questions, and some potentially hostile force out there waiting to seize people who wandered into the woods, only to release them hours later.  Bud had friends, she knew, who might be called on to do such a thing, that pilot Roger, several of the others who had been at the wedding, but how Bud could have contacted one of them and got them there so quickly was quite a mystery to her.  Only when, several minutes after and in a great hurry to be allowed into the house, the raven returned, were they to get a definitive clue as to the identity of Einar’s captor.

15 April, 2013

15 April 2013

I've temporarily lost my internet connection here at home due to a heavy storm (snowy April!) so my apologies if postings are at random times for the next few days, while I get that resolved.

It was too dark for Einar to get much of a look at his captor, so dark, in fact, and so silent that he wondered at first if he might not be dreaming the entire thing, having fallen asleep in the snow and woken in the sort of nightmare that often plagued the passage of the dark hours, but he knew that were this the case, he almost certainly would not be capable of asking the question in the first place, but would find himself wholly lost in the thing.  Which made it real, and meant that he must escape.  Difficult to do, knowing so little about his situation, but it was plain that first he must free his arms, which upon a bit of cautious experimentation he found to be bound tightly behind him, lashed at wrist, elbow and above, entirely immobile save for his fingers and rapidly becoming a source of some rather significant pain.  That presented a challenge.  Not easy to fight when you can’t move, and at the memory of how he’d come to be in such a predicament a brief wave of panic passed over him, for he knew what came next.  The sudden and unexpected knock in the head, capture without any chance to resist, and then, the cage.  Well, they weren’t there yet, and weren’t going to get there, if he had anything to do with it.

First, he had to locate his captor.  Struggled to slow his respirations, still an involuntary trembling that had seized him in response to the pain and the cold, and when after some time he succeeded, he heard breathing.  Someone was over there.  And approaching.  Shifting position as much as his current situation would allow, Einar prepared to spring at the man, take him under the chin with his head and hopefully knock him out, but he was never allowed the chance. 

Apparently able, at least to some extent, to see in the dark, Einar’s unseen assailant knocked him onto his back in the snow and kicked great heaps of the crusty, re-frozen stuff over him, but instead of gasping and cringing as others might have done, Einar just lay there and grinned.

“Oh, so you like the cold, do you…?”  The voice came low and gravelly from somewhere very nearby, and Einar did not recognize it  “Like it even though it’s killing you right now, or is about to be.  Is that your deal?  Don’t care if you do die?  Thought you had a family down there.

Einar shrugged, shook his head.  Not falling for it.  Not being tricked into admitting his identity, no way.  Though of course, the man almost certainly already knew.

“So, you do like the cold.  Seems we’ve established that.  Though with proper time, I believe I could change your mind.  But we don’t have that kind of time.  What about heat, then?  Probably just the opposite, isn’t it?  Bet you can’t stand too much heat…­”  The man had a lighter.  Knew how to use it for things other than its intended purpose—and in places not yet beginning to be numbed by the cold—and Einar very decidedly did not like the heat, but managed to keep silent.  Would take more than that to get whatever it was this man might be wanting.

“Tell me.  Who’s been helping you?  Sheltering you?  We know somebody must have been, not just now, but earlier.  Names.  Give me two names.”

Nothing.  He made no response.  Question came again, and with it, a tightening of the ropes.  A twisting.  Cutting into his wrists, exposing bone, but no blood came.  He would have felt that, warm in contrast to the increasingly bitter chill of the night, but did not.  The tightening continued, and he was able to separate himself, for the moment.  Remain detached, observing the unfortunate man’s torments from a distance, regretting but not really feeling them, not as others might have done.  Knew it couldn’t last, and it did not, trance broken by a heavy boot on his back, bound arms pulled up nearly over his head from behind until he was sure they were about to come out of the sockets, only he knew they probably wouldn’t, because they hadn’t before…  Wished they would.  Might ease the strain of it.  Still he said nothing, and the man raised his arms higher.  He vomited—not much in there, probably a good thing—wanted to scream, but kept silent.  Could last longer than this, and intended to do it.

Just when Einar was certain he was about to pass out, the man gave him a hard shove with his boot, released his arms and sent him face-first into the snow.  Sprawling.  Relieved.  Able to breathe again.

That didn’t last, either.

“Don’t think I haven’t read your file.  Know all about you.  All of it.  Now talk.  Give me the names.”

It went on all night, stand up, sit down, a quick twist to the ropes on his arms if he did not comply with suitable speed, and then sometime many hours into it, when he no longer had the strength to stand, even had he wanted to do it, his captor unwound the ropes binding arms behind his back, allowing the blood to begin returning and bringing with it an excruciating hurt the force and presence of which Einar had quite forgotten could exist.

And in the midst of this, the only thought that would come to Einar’s addled brain was, yeah, good, nothing’s frozen, may not lose my arms…  But even the cold comfort of that thought was soon wrenched from him as the man—not even allowing time for the blood to make a full return, let alone a few blessed minutes of respite after the pain would have begun subsiding a bit—returned, barked a few questions whose words Einar could not begin to untangle or understand, and immediately set about trussing him up again, back bent, wrists bound to ankles behind him in a position all too familiar to him.  Didn’t think he could take it, not a moment of it, not after what he’d already experienced that night, but he did, silent and staring as he was raised off the ground, rocks heaped on his back for weight, unable to breathe.

How long this went on Einar could not begin to estimate.  After what seemed like hours of it he felt himself weakening, a tremendous sense of physical despair welling up and threatening to drag him under, body reaching the end of its endurance even though his mind was willing and able to stay the course, and gradually, that feeling of despair began creeping over from body to mind until he thought surely he could go on no longer, did not want to go on any longer, wanted it to end.  Wanted to talk.

But, he did not.  Even when the man gave him the opportunity, once more repeating his questions.  And then, after a time of silence, Einar lingering somewhere on the border of unconsciousness and knowing he had to stay awake lest he die in the snow, a strange thing happened.  Without a word, the man lowered him to the ground, loosed the bindings on his arms, ankles, rolled him over, hoisted him up into a sitting position, and draped a coat around his shoulders.  Shivering and dazed, Einar turned away when the man offered him a sip of water from his canteen.  His captor laughed, tone entirely changed, easy, relaxed.

“Aw, come off it.  You can trust this stuff.  I’m not really the feds.  Or those other guys, either.  Just having a little fun with you, here.  Testing you out.  Didn’t mean any harm.  Well, not too much.  You can call me the Watchman.”

Einar stared.

“Hey, you really think ol’ Bud Kilgore would leave this place entirely in your care while he was away, right now?  Not a chance in deepest, darkest Hades,my friend.  Nope, I’ve been watching.  Watching you, watching the watchers, making sure this place stays as safe as can be expected.  I’ve been around.  And will be.  Good thing, too, ‘cause you’ve gone way off course, here.  Ought to be able to bring a one-man army of doom and destruction to bear on any group of guys—feds or otherwise—who might threaten the place, really ought to, with your experience and all, but instead here you are barely able to walk ten paces without falling down all dizzy and useless.  I ought to be able to snap you in half with one hand, you know, skinny and scrawny as you’ve let yourself become. Must have some steel in them ragged bones of yours, that’s all I can say, or you’d never have survived tonight.  But steel or no steel, you’d be useless against an invading force or any size.  Yep, good thing I been around.  Better get it together, Asmundson.  Now.  On your feet, and let’s get you down to that house, before you really do freeze.”

Light was just beginning to show when the man led him down the hill, arms freed but nearly useless, bloodless as Einar fought hard just to keep on his feet, his erstwhile captor from time to time supporting him when he seemed about to fall.  At the bottom, just before the timber began thinning and the house came into view, the man handed Einar back his knife and pistol—magazine was empty; he could tell by the weight—and helped him, when he seemed quite unable, to get the knife back onto his belt.

“This is as far as I go,” he growled, pulling a worn boonie hat down closer over his eyes, giving Einar a shove and watching as he paused at the clearing’s edge, cautious if still somewhat confused, listening, waiting for several long minutes before scraping together enough strength to go stumbling out into the open area before the house, heading for the back porch.  Reached it, fell on the stairs but got himself up again and continued until he stood at the door, hands braced against it, listening to the sounds within.

13 April, 2013

13 April 2013

Despite the urgency of his mission, Einar was glad and perhaps even a bit relieved to be outside by himself, able to breathe again and move without being under the constant watchful eye of others.   He had not gone far, however, in the blessed, quiet cold of that still winter evening, traveling cautiously beneath the brush until he was far from the house and in the timber, before he was rather forcefully reminded of the fact that it wasn’t simply the watchfulness of others which had been making it difficult for him to move freely.  He was, in reality, barely able to keep on his feet, knees threatening to buckle beneath him after a few steps and a rising dizziness assailing his every move, threatening to halt him.  Chest felt tight, breath coming with difficulty and had it not been for a gnawing anxiety which came with the lack of adequate oxygen, he would have felt rather like lying down to sleep.  Disgusted with himself—had really believed the majority of his trouble lately could be traced to the fact that he was closed up in the house without useful work to do, and so was becoming soft—he gritted his teeth, squinted against the vertigo and went on, heedless of the fact that he was already stiff and nearly shaking with cold, despite Bud’s borrowed winter clothing.  Didn’t matter, any of it.  All that mattered just then was the mission, the need to scour that ridge for any uninvited human presence, discern its purpose in the area and secure the safety of his family. 

All of which would be an awful lot easier to do if you could stand up straight and make it more than a few feet before the world started closing in on you, don’t you think?  Those women are right, you know.  This is absurd.  Can’t go on this way, or you’re gonna get yourself killed, and worst of all, probably your family with you.  Go on up that hill, finish scouting and then get in there and eat like they’ve been telling you.  Yeah, I know, it comes with its consequences, that sort of surrender, but do you think this doesn’t?  This stumbling around in a daze barely able to see straight while the feds potentially surround the place?  Talk about consequences…  Shaking his head, he continued up through the timber, Muninn flapping along beside him and occasionally going out ahead, scouting, sure, he believed, to warn him of danger should it be present.

Nothing on the ridgeline, at least not in area where Einar first met it, everything still save for a light but persistent wind which swept down from the higher peaks beyond, whispering in the spruces and setting their tops to swaying, all quiet when he paused for several minutes to listen.  Continuing then on towards the spot where the raven had seemed to be looking when he’d raised his alarm in the house, Einar kept below the ridge’s crest, slipping from one clump of heavy timber to the next as he kept as sharp as possible for any unexplained sound or movement.

Darkness.  It was coming quickly, especially there beneath the timber, and while Einar wanted to think it would be to his advantage, he knew he might well be seeking a foe armed with infrared scopes, night vision goggles and other technologies which would put him at a definite disadvantage.  Hoped he might find them—if there was anyone to be found—before that time.  

 The snow was helpful, ground still thoroughly covered and its white surface reflecting just enough light, even beneath the trees, to allow him some measure of vision still, but it presented a challenge as well, crunching softly in places beneath his feet so that he had to take great care to stick to the more solid areas where the action of freeze and thaw had created an icy surface through which he would be hard pressed to break, even should he rise and jump up and down.  Beneath some of the denser areas of timber where sun never reached, the snow was still soft and deep, trapping Einar temporarily as he crawled through these areas, and leaving him trying his best to avoid them.  Tracks, though he was leaving some, did not concern him, as he was not going anywhere.  Just up the ridge, and back, as Kilgore frequently did, so any tracks left ought not present much of a concern.

Pushing silently through a dense cluster of little spruces he felt open air ahead—nearly too dark to see the difference—and froze.

Something up there, he had a sense of it, couldn’t say why but was certain he was no longer alone on that ridgeline.  The raven, unfortunately, gave no clue, encroaching darkness greatly limiting both his ability and his will to be up and flying, searching; Einar was on his own.  Thought he detected movement over to his left, the sensation more feeling than sight, and he inched lower, dropping to a crouch behind the shelter of the nearest tree and working to slow his breathing so he could get a better sense of his opponent, how many they might be and whether or not his presence had yet been detected. 

For a long time he waited, still, listening, finally creeping forward only after no sign presented itself, meaning to complete a circuit of the ridge, sweeping the place before heading back down.  Wind coming up.  Good for him, as it covered his movements as he crept with meticulous caution though a slash of oak brush which cut the timber there near the ridges’s summit, making slow progress while it blew and freezing as it abated, waiting for another gust.

Freezing.  Was more than a figure of speech for him just then, chill of the night somehow having managed to work its way through his borrowed clothing and into his bones, stiffening muscles and leaving him always on the edge of shivering, the strain of resisting it only adding to an already pervasive exhaustion which threatened to leave him sprawled on the ground an entirely unaware of his surroundings before the mission could be completed.  Which must not happen, and in an effort to bring himself back to full alertness he rolled over onto his injured hip, resting his full weight on the bruised, swollen area which had been most troublesome.  Caught his breath, forehead pressed against the snow beneath him.  No danger of sleeping, now.  No chance of hearing much of anything, either, and for a time he lay still, waiting for a lessening of the hiss and sizzle in his ears, moving forward only after some measure of silence had been restored.

Perhaps it was because of the blood rushing in his head, the harsh struggle of his own breath in his throat and the blackness which rose increasingly to obscure what little vision he had left in the failing light, or perhaps it was simply due to the stealth of the other man—though upon later reflection he was to conclude it was almost certainly the former—but Einar never heard him coming, never had a chance to resist as he was knocked hard in the side of the head with some very solid object, laid out flat in the snow.

He awoke a short time later to a dim but quickly sharpening awareness of pain in his hip, arms—couldn’t move them when he tried—the realization that he was somehow missing most of his clothes, and the sensation of cold.

11 April, 2013

11 April 2013

If Bud Kilgore had hoped to guide a few agents on a fruitless day hike or two through the high country before returning fairly promptly to his contraband houseguests, he was in for a bit of a rude awakening at the scope of the apparent mobilization when he arrived at Mountain Task Force headquarters that evening.  Buoyed by an increasing conviction that the young reporter had met with their fugitive before her death in the avalanche—where else does a lone individual come into contact with not only several types of big game meat not usually available up so high that time of year, but the hair of said animals, as well?—agents were preparing to take full advantage of the fact before time and the weather could intervene to render their new bit of intelligence worthless.  Wishing very much that they could interrogate the young woman, they had done the next best thing in sending off all of her clothing and possessions for a full forensic analysis the likes of which no locally was equipped to conduct, and the results had been quite telling, if perhaps not as informative as they might have liked.

In addition to hairs from bear, deer, elk and wolverine, there had been found on her garments bits of bark from scrub oak, chokecherry and aspen, as well as a strange green substance which with some effort was identified as a lichen which grew in evergreen trees.  These things, they surmised, could have been picked up at just about any point along the way on her hike up into the area or her descent before the slide hit, but the fact that all had appeared on inner garments which would not likely be exposed while trekking through the snowy high country had seemed to further confirm her presence in some type of shelter where the hides of all those animals had been present.  Which shelter, it seemed to all involved, must surely represent the object of their search.  It was to this end that they called in Bud Kilgore, experienced tracker, backcountry guide and the man who had found and recovered the young reporter’s body, wishing him not only to lead them up to the place where last the woman had been alive, but hopefully to be able to puzzle out from that spot here back trail, leading the all the way to the fugitive’s lair. 

Reviewing maps with the searchers and listening as they solidified their plans to increase surveillance of the entire area—drones, not helicopters, were to be used for the most part; no sense unnecessarily spooking the fugitive and sending him out on the run again—Kilgore silently bemoaned the implications of this latest development in the search.  Though he could more likely than not keep the men from locating Einar’s cabin, what he could not change was fact that with the entire area suddenly crawling with searchers, both land and air, he and Susan could expect to have houseguests for some time to come.  No way would it be safe for the little family to venture out again until things began settling down some, storm or no storm, and he knew Einar wouldn’t like it.  Would feel—and with some justification—even more trapped than he already did.  Bud just hoped the man would be able to find the patience to wait it out, rather than obliging him, for the safety of them all, to employ another bear dart and close him up in the basement for a while with no avenue of escape.  Could come to that, and Kilgore dreaded the day he might be called on to take such action, knowing it would probably be the end for Einar, try as he might to do it the right way.  Just hang in there, fella.  This will pass, and meanwhile, you’re pretty safe there at the house so long as you don’t do anything foolish.

Foolish actions of the sort feared by Kilgore were the last thing on Einar’s mind just then, besieged as he was by both Liz and Susan, one leading him to the table while the other brought food, and in keeping with the concessions he’d just made to Liz, he sat with them, prepared to eat.  Much as he would have preferred to go his own way, watch at the windows or, even better, disguise himself in some way and head outside to patrol the place while the women enjoyed their meal, he knew it was time.  Was accustomed to ignoring the signs and pushing onward, but knew that there were limits even to this familiar endeavor, and he’d been running up against them for days.  Admitting this, as he’d learned in the past, always led to a feeling of exhaustion as he ceased struggling with his usual intensity, a sensation which this time brought with it an almost irresistible urge to sleep.  Which he must not do, not now with Kilgore so recently departed and their danger growing, and he blinked hard, sat up straight in the chair and focused his attention on the rather humorous interaction between Will and the raven, who were contending over a piece of buttered toast.  Will, never having owned such a treasure before and liking the way it felt on gums itching from the imminent emergence of his first tooth, had no intention of giving it up to the raven, but Muninn had other ideas.  Not quite bold enough to brazenly hop in and seize the toast while being watched by three mature humans—including Susan, who held Will on her lap—who he knew to be rather protective of the little one, the raven edged closer inch by inch, tilting his head and watching with shining black eyes as the little one gnawed and drooled all over his prize.

Muninn was making headway and might have seized the toast before anyone could move to stop him, had he not been distracted just as he approached his target, stopping, tilting his head the other way and flying to a side window, where he set up a cry of alarm.  Echoing far more loudly in the enclosed space of the house than it had ever done in the somewhat more poorly sealed and insulated cabin, the raven’s sharp rasping got the attention of all, Einar rising in sudden alarm and motioning for Susan and Liz to get down.  Hurrying to the window at a low crawl, Einar carefully peered through the curtains, letting his field of vision go wide, focus loose, looking for movement but detecting nothing.  By that time the raven had calmed down, flapping over to perch on the back of a dining room chair and stare critically at Will’s toast, dropped and abandoned in the hurry.  Slowly Einar stood, back to the wall, breathing hard from the effort.

“Something’s got that bird riled up.  He can hear things way before we can a lot of times, sense things…you know how he would sometimes warn us up at the cabin?  Figure I’d better get out there and have a look at things.”

Liz nodded.  The raven had indeed warned them more than once of the threatening presence of both animal and human, and she knew it would be foolishness to dismiss his cry of alarm, under present circumstances.  “Yes, I know there’s probably something to all of this, but wouldn’t it be better to stay in here where no one can see you, in case there really is someone out there?”

“Hard to say.  Not if they’re out there quietly surrounding the place.  In that case, I’d much rather make first contact when they’re not expecting it!  Not let them get things fully in place, maybe give us a chance to escape.  If I’m careful and go out through the back door on the garage where that brush kind of shields it, hopefully I’ll get to spot them before they spot me.”

“We have the driveway alarm,” Susan reminded him, “so I don’t think anyone’s driven up here…”

“Don’t figure they’d come by the road, if they were really wanting to keep an eye on the place.  Wouldn’t want to tip us off.  You’re right though Liz, can’t have them seeing me out there.  But they could see someone else, someone who looks more like Bud, or one of his friends who might be staying up here...”

“You’re going to have to wear an awful lot of layers to come close to looking like Bud, or anyone who isn’t yourself, really!”  Susan laughed.   “How about you let me do it.  They’d expect to see me here, because it’s my house.”

“This is one I need to do.  Just got more experience in certain areas, and need to get my eyes and ears out there on that ridge.  You stay here and watch the place from inside, Ok?”

Neither of them liked it, but had to admit that Einar was, for once, at least making some sense and seeming to be realistically assessing the situation—except, perhaps, for his physical capacity to meet potential invaders in any sort of hand-to-hand contact…  But with there seeming little chance of dissuading him, both women began helping prepare Einar for the expedition. 

Ten minutes later, clad in one of Bud’s Stetson hats, a bulky canvas jacket and two pairs of ski pants, Einar wrapped a scarf around his neck to further conceal face and beard, and headed out through the garage, armed with pistol and knife and accompanied by the raven.

09 April, 2013

9 April 2013

While Einar’s main concerns focused around a potential raid in Kilgore’s absence—his thought being that the tracker might have been called away precisely to clear the way for such an occurrence—Liz was increasingly concerned that he might not be around long enough to find out.  Though keeping diligently to his duties that day, patrolling the house and doing what he could to keep an eye on the outside without actually exposing himself to potential detection—must work on a disguise, he told himself, something which would allow him to leave the house without too much worry—he did not look right to Liz, even in comparison to his condition since their arrival at the house, and she wondered whether the trouble might be due to lingering remains of the bear dart, or to something more worrisome. 

Either way, she could not help but notice that his eyes seemed unnaturally bright, staring, skin appearing nearly transparent and the expression on his face one of muted desperation, as if some part of him must be quite well aware of the direness of his situation, even though she was well aware that he never would have admitted to it, had he been questioned.  She’d only seen him like that a few times in the past, always when things were going quite badly and needed an immediate change.  But with Kilgore gone and Einar, for all practical purposes, left in charge of the place during his absence, she did not know exactly how to go about precipitating that change.  With the rabbit stick stowed away in her pack in the bedroom, she figured it might be best to try talking.  Not that he normally listened, but she was short on other ideas.

“Up there after that ‘class’ you did with Juni…you’d agreed to eat, remember?  To get stronger.  It was your idea, not mine, and you were really committed to doing it.  What happened to make you change your mind?  Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to get things on the right track?  The perfect opportunity, really…”

He shifted position, looked uncomfortable, which she was sure he must be, sitting there on the hard floor with his back to the wall and all his bones sticking out the way they were, but she knew it wasn’t the physical discomfort which was bothering him.

“Might have worked out there, that plan I had, but here in this place where I’m stuck and can’t leave because the weather won’t cooperate and making tracks might be a disaster…well, sometimes it seems like the only thing I’ve really got left.  Only way to kind of keep things in order and maintain some sort of discipline.”

“What does?  The starving?  The almost dying every few days, only to bring yourself yourself back just enough so you can do it all over again?”

“If that’s how you want to put it.”

“That’s how it is.”

He shrugged.

“It’s not true, you know.  Not all you’ve got left.  You’ve got me, and you’ve got Will, and two good friends in Bud and Susan, two people who are willing to risk so much to make sure we’re safe, here…  And as far as discipline, aren’t there other things you could do, instead?”

A faint spark of something in his eyes at that.  Humor, almost, she could not help but think, a suspicion which was confirmed by a slight twisting at one corner of his mouth, as if he might be trying not to smile.  “Here?  No, I don’t really think so.  This is not the place for other things.”

“I didn’t mean those sorts of things!  I was hoping you might be able to be disciplined about eating, letting yourself get some rest, to consider that your challenge, maybe gaining a little weight even.   Goodness knows it would be challenging enough.  Probably a lot more difficult than going on the way you’ve been going, in some ways.”

“It wouldn’t be the same.”

“It might if you would let it.  If you would be willing.  Give it a try?”

“Maybe when Kilgore gets back.  Right now, I need to be able to focus.  Keep things in order.  When he gets back, we’ll see.”

“You don’t have that long.”

Frustrated, he wanted to get up and walk away, but did not.  “Sure I have.  Got this far, haven’t I?  It’s not good being here where life is so easy.  The daily things we have to do, I mean.  Gives folks way too much time to worry about things with no cause.  No cause at all.”

“No cause?  I’ll show you the cause.  Come with me.” 

Not much choice with her dragging him by the arm like that, not unless he wanted to forcefully resist, which he did not especially want to do, so he went, Liz brushing right past the startled raven where he sat guarding the place from his post on the couch and leaving Will to gallop along behind on hands and knees as she hurried him to Susan’s bathroom, and the mirror.  “Here’s your cause.  See that guy in there?  Look at him.  Now what do you suppose your reaction would be if you saw him walking down the street one day, or in the woods?  Honestly, what would you think?”

“Oh, don’t know that I’d pay him much mind, really.  Just looks like a regular guy going about his life.  Guess he is kinda scrawny and ugly, but never cared too much about such things, myself.”

“Kind of scrawny?  Is that really how you see him?  Here, take off this sweater.  Have a better look.”

He did.  Easy enough for him to ignore such things when by himself, even when his bones were digging into the bed at night and hurting him, or when he bruised a knobby elbow against his own ribs doing nothing more than walking across the clearing, but here with Liz standing beside him, the true situation was a big more difficult to dismiss.  He shrugged.  “Yeah, guess I see it.  Kind of looks like something you’d find in a prison camp, doesn’t it?  Looks like one of the ones who probably isn’t gonna make it.”

“Right.  That’s right.  So that’s what I see when I look at you now.  A little worse every day, a little closer to not making it.  That’s why I need you to make the decision to do things differently for a while, quit relying on the hunger as a form of discipline and put that effort into eating.  Do you see it?”

“Guess so.  But I’m not even doing anything now that we’re here.  No getting firewood, no climbing the cliffs, just sitting around all day.  So things will start to get better on their own.  Probably already have.”

“I don’t think so.  Will you step on the scale for a second?”

He pulled back.  “No, no…that bothered you last time.  Rather not do that.”

“I need to know.  We both need to, so we can know when you’re making progress.  Come on, step up.” 

He did.  Three pounds fewer than when they had arrived several days prior.  Liz didn’t even know how that could be possible, turned to him with tears in her eyes as she handed him his sweater.  To Einar, the number meant nothing.  Except that he did not like to see her cry.  Hated to be the cause of that.  Figured he’d give it a try, eat her food, at least for a day or two, and figure the rest out as it came.  Which it would be doing without too much delay…

08 April, 2013

8 April 2013

Pretty chaotic day here, and I don't have a chapter ready, but am working on it and will post tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you for reading.

06 April, 2013

6 April 2013

Juni’s memorial had been heavily attended by men from the several agencies assigned to the Mountain Task Force.  They had, in fact, been keeping her under fairly close surveillance ever since the time nearly two years prior when she had become the only one ever known to secure an interview with the fugitive Einar Asmundson, and live to tell—and write about—the tale.  If she could find him once, they had reasoned, perhaps she might be able to do so again, might have some clue as to where he was staying. 

Their watchfulness had grown as winter approached, the general consensus being that—especially if the woman Elizabeth Riddle, known at one time to have been staying with him and known also to be expecting his child, had given birth to a living baby—he would not have been spending the winter in the high country wandering about and practically living as an animal as he had done before.  One thing to do that as an individual on the run, but if he now had a family, they expected he surely would have fallen back on the local resources they suspected must have aided him in the past, hiding his family, if not also himself, with one of them for the harsh winter months.  Which had provided a unique opportunity for those still hoping to secure his capture, and they’d redoubled their efforts at local surveillance.  And in doing so, had lost track of Juni, who had seemed to simply drop off the face of the earth.  No credit card purchases, no cell phone use—the device had, in fact, been found out behind a motel in Clear Springs, offering no clear leads as to her whereabouts—and no sign of her for nearly two months. 

Now, with spring coming and the opportunity to use the winter to their advantage quickly slipping through their fingers, Juni’s reappearance seemed to offer something of a last chance.  Even if she was rather past a state in which she could be brought in and questioned.  Despite the fact that she had already left this world, they knew there were ways in which she could still speak to them, and the advantage, in this case, was that she was not equipped to refuse, as a living person might have been.

To this end, they had, before releasing it for burial, sent her body over the objection of the county coroner to the FBI Crime lab in Virginia, where every advantage of modern technology had been applied in an effort to discover where she had spent the past several weeks, and with whom.  Results had been somewhat inconclusive—no human DNA present except her own—but one thing had been certain: her diet over the past weeks had in no way resembled that of either a lost and semi-starved backcountry skier, or a young woman living in close proximity to human civilization.  There had been none of the usual processed packpacking foods, nor any sign of the sorts of things a person might be expected to eat had they been staying in even a remote cabin or house where one of the locals might have Asmundson stashed for the winter.  Her diet had, in fact, apparently consisted almost entirely of berries which were not in season, a few starchy roots whose source had for months been covered by numerous feet of snow, and a baffling variety of big game meat.

While there were things they could not be sure of, it was clear that the young reporter had been eating the meat of elk, bighorn sheep and at least one other variety of large, hoofed mammal over the last twenty-four hours of her life, and they knew it was nowhere near reasonable to think that a young woman traveling alone in the snowbound high country would have been able to locate, kill and carry meat from all of those animals, over the course of the several weeks for which she had been missing.  She had not been alone up there, and in addition to the mystery of her stomach contents, they had found on her clothing and sleeping bag animal hairs ranging from bear to elk to wolverine, which suggested that not only she had contact with the fugitive family, but had stayed some time with them wherever they were staying.  Which was appearing more and more to be some remote location nowhere in proximity to civilization, rather than the cabin of some local sympathizer. 

A change in their theory, but as their local investigation had been going nowhere at all, it was welcomed.  Was the clue they had been looking for, and breathed new life into an investigation which had for some months been stalled.  He was up there, their fugitive, was alive and doing well enough to have taken and preserved all manner of big game, and this young reporter had apparently been in contact with him not too long before her untimely death.  The first thing to do, they reasoned, would be to make a trip to the site of the avalanche and see if they could find her backtrail, and the man to take them there was Bud Kilgore, who had recovered the body.

The call came late that morning, Bud being summoned to Mountain Task Force for a meeting and perhaps, they’d said, a job which might keep him for a week or so, and though they had refused to give further details over the phone, he had strongly suspected it must be related to Juni’s death and the pursuing of some lead they believed it gave them.  Silent as he packed his kit, Kilgore ran through the possibilities in his mind.  Most things, he could handle, could lead them astray in ways which they wouldn’t even expect, throw them onto false trails and protect his guests and their future, but one major concern revolved around the possibility that perhaps this “job” was simply a ruse designed to get him away from the house so they could search it without his objection or presence.  This, he doubted.  Had they suspected him of harboring the fugitives, the likely response would have been a midnight raid with all the force they could bring down.  Knowing him and his capabilities—and those of the fugitive they sought—they never would have risked tipping him off to their possible actions, and spoiling the entire thing.

That was the scenario he quickly spelled out to Einar as he packed to leave, doing his best to reassure the man that the place would be safe in his absence, that Susan knew where everything was kept, and how things worked, and would show him as needed.  “Should be back in a week or so, it’s looking like, and I want you to stick around until then if you would.  Even if it snows.  With things all uncertain and the feds likely out in the backcountry trying to recreate Juni’s last days, I’d hate for your family to end up crossing paths with any of them, understand?”

Einar nodded.  Had no liking for the situation, but understood.

“Good deal.  You watch over this place then, take care of your family and mine until I get back, and take care of yourself too, man.  I mean that.”

With which the tracker was gone, an embrace and a quick kiss for his bride on his way out the door, and they all watched as he crept down the driveway in the old pickup truck, each alone with his or her own apprehensions about the coming days.