31 May, 2013

31 May 2013

Einar alone in the library as he heard Susan and Liz go about their day elsewhere in the house, muted sounds of conversation, plates clinking together as they were washed, the sing-song voice of Will trying out a few new sounds which, it seemed, would soon lead inevitably but no less amazingly to the miracle of speech, and in the quiet he seized hold of the two weights with which he had spent so much time earlier that morning, standing, staying, staring at arms which could not be made to raise them.  Might have got angry then, rage lending him a temporary ability to complete the task at hand, far as it might have been beyond his reasonable physical boundaries at the moment, but instead he sat, letting the weights thump to the floor and staring at his own withered hands, arms no bigger around than those of a child, turning them over and inspecting them as if they were foreign objects, wholly unknown to him.

The strength that had brought him through those days in the jungle...the same that had got him alive if not entirely unscathed from one end to the other of that terribly difficult first winter in the high country, the loss of his toes and the numerous other injuries and trials this life had brought him over the years…where was it now?  Where had it gone?  Why could he not call upon it again, to get him through the present difficulty—which, one had to admit, was nothing, really, in comparison to some of the others—so that he could once again be useful to his family, have some chance of making it through the coming month, let alone evading and, in his own way, defeating his enemies? 

Had he really lost his way so badly as that?  Yes, seemed he had, but surely he could make the choice to reclaim that strength, just as he had every day chosen to keep going a week, ten days into his jungle evasion, when he was so dehydrated and weak from fever, blood loss and the other results of his captors’ treatment that he couldn’t keep his legs beneath him half the time and was spending more of his hours lost in a world of hallucination and waking nightmare than he was in the real one…yet somehow he’d managed to keep himself going, win his way to freedom. 

Ought, he told himself, to be able to apply that resolve to the present situation, call on that strength—built and increased by a lifetime of deliberate challenge—to keep himself eating, gaining strength, weight, rebuilding his physical being and taking himself a bit further from the edge of the abyss on whose dark, precarious rim he seemed always to be dancing of late, balancing, black empty space yawning up from beneath him and a dizzying lightness in his head, movements, which told him without doubt that the fall could easily come at any time, claim him with the next step, and though something in him thrived on the possibility, on the challenge of going on despite its nearness, he did not want the end.  Not really.  Not with little Will growing and changing so, every day.  But instead of helping, the remnants of his old strength seemed always to be working against him.  Telling him that he must push himself farther, always a bit farther, that it was the only way.

Which it wasn’t.  Must not be, though after a lifetime of experience telling him so, it was difficult to bring himself to see that there might be other options.  To want to see them, even, for he knew that the sort of strength he needed this time would be the kind that allowed a man to be weak, to admit his weakness, both physical and otherwise, work on it, look—which perhaps he dreaded more than anything, though he denied the fact, even in the quiet of his own thoughts—at the things which had brought him to this point, and which would doubtlessly do so again in the future if he did not find some better way to address them…  Not the sort of thing he’d ever tried to do, before.  Or wanted to do.  And he did not know whether he was capable.  Or even willing.

*  *  *
Whiteout conditions on the mountain, and in the timber, the agents huddled ill-prepared and inadequately protected against the force of the wind, having been caught out on that inhospitable slope after the overzealous Shirley, unwilling to abandon the newfound and potentially very valuable evidence presented by the trail beneath the timber, had ordered everyone to stay and go on investigating as the storm swept down on them from the jagged white teeth of the peaks above.  This he had done against the advice of Bud Kilgore and the good judgment of all, any with even minimal experience in the mountains knowing that avalanche danger in the area, already high, would grow exponentially with the weight of the additional snow on already highly unstable slopes.  A major concern, but one which the party would only concern the party if they managed to live through the night…

Wind increasing, no dry wood for a fire and temperatures plummeting towards zero, not even taking the wind chill into account, Bud knew they needed a snow cave if they were to see morning.  Trouble was, the scouring force of the wind had left their little pocket of stunted timber nearly devoid of the fresh, soft snow that would have made such a task slightly easier, little remaining atop the hard, icy crust left after so many days of high-altitude sunlight. 

The very conditions which so greatly increased their chances of avalanche seemed to be conspiring to tremendously reduce their chances of sticking around long enough to find themselves in danger from a slide, and Kilgore, gritting his teeth against the wind, kicked at the slick, icy surface with the heel of his boot, making little headway.  Needed a shovel, an ice ax, something with which to dig, and he wished the agents had not abandoned all such devices back at the slide site when they’d begun following the fugitives’ trail up the slope.  Now the tools were drifted over or in the process of being so.  Bud couldn’t tell, the way the snow was blowing.  Couldn’t see much of anything, entire world beyond the nearest trees a maelstrom of icy whiteness.  Had to have one of those shovels, and in a hurry; darkness was coming.

Rising from the chilled huddle into which each of them had settled, he braced himself, started off in search of the abandoned tools.  Shirley stopped him with a shout, voice just bit too high, sounding near panic.

“Where’re you going, Kilgore?”

“Get a shovel.”  Bud had to shout his answer in order to be heard over the wind.  “Got to dig in, here.  Get out of the wind.  Wind’s gonna kill us.  Need a shovel.”

Shirley was on his feet, arm all wrapped up in the flexible twists of a fir branch as if to prevent himself being torn away by the wind and sent tumbling down the slope below; a real danger.  “You’ll stay with the group.  Not having the group split up.”

“Then you’re all coming with me, because we’ve got to have that shovel.  Snow’s all icy.  Too hard to dig by hand.”

“We don’t have to dig.  Can shelter under these emergency blankets until the wind slows.  Now sit back down.  Nobody is going anywhere.”

Shaking his head and turning his back on the shouting agent, Bud started off down the slope, bending his head into the wind.  A sudden metallic clanking stopped him in his tracks, and when he whirled around in search of its source, it was to find Shirley no more than two feet behind him, still clinging with one hand to his anchor-tree, service pistol in the other, and it was aimed directly at Bud’s head.

“Sit back down, Kilgore.  I don’t know what you’re up to, but don’t trust your intentions.  You’ll stay with us, until this storm clears.”

“You’ll all freeze in this wind and die…”

But Shirley clearly did not believe him, gesturing impatiently with the pistol.

29 May, 2013

29 May 2013

Snow beginning to fall outside the library window, big, lazy flakes that drifted to the ground to accumulate with a deceptive swiftness that soon had the deck entirely covered, obscuring bits of rock and tree which had after many sunny days been beginning to show, and Einar, pacing from window to window, felt trapped.  Knew they ought to be moving, taking advantage of the concealing effects of the storm to cover ground, get themselves to a safer spot where they wouldn’t have to be forever worrying about the next vehicle to come up the driveway, the potential raid which might one night descend on the house, should something arouse the suspicions of the authorities… 

Halting in his incessant pacing, he braced both arms on a windowsill, stared out at the increasingly heavy swirl of white that had by then all but obscured even the nearest trees.  Wished he had a way to contact Kilgore, get a sense for what was going on in the high country, where the search was currently focused and what sort of risk he would be taking leading his family into—or at least through—the search area. As things stood, he lacked a clear idea of the scope of the thing, the expected duration…he was, in fact, almost completely ignorant when it came to this latest scope and intention of the search.  Not good to head out from what so far at least had been a reasonably safe location, and into the unknown, without any current intelligence. 

Without much intelligence at all, Liz would probably say.  She seems to think the whole idea of leaving right now is a real bad one in the first place, not saying too much about it, but I can see from the look on her face that she tends to agree with Susan on this one.  What a mess.  Here lately I’ve started wondering if I ought to just go, myself, head for the hills and let them stay here where they’re among friends and can probably pass as folks other than themselves with Bud’s help.  Live a pretty normal sort of life, which they’ll never do with me.  Not that I want my boy to live a “normal” life by the standards of the world, really.  Was looking forward to raising him these mountains, seeing him grow and change and come to know them and to draw strength from them… 

But maybe Susan is right about me, about my probably keeling over and leaving them somewhere between here and the highway if we try to leave right now, and if she is, I got no business abandoning them partway into this thing, leaving Liz to bear the entire burden not only of completing the escape, but of starting a new life for the two of them in the still-winter high country.  Without any more supplies than she can carry on her back, while also carrying Will. 

Think of it, Einar.  What kind of an existence would you be consigning them to?  Lizzie is one strong mountain woman, but how long would they really make it out there, under those circumstances?  Especially considering that she wouldn’t be able to head back up to the cabin and all of our caches, since we wouldn’t have heard from Kilgore and would have no idea whether or not the place had been discovered by the enemy…   Yeah, pretty rough for a full grown adult in decent health to squeak by in times like those…winter conditions, no supplies, I should know, after my first fall and winter out there, and for a woman by herself with a child to care for…would be little short of a death sentence. 

Little as you like to face the fact of your own condition, this is one time when you can’t simply keep pushing forward and insisting that you’ll find a way, or make one…you might, seeing as so far you’ve mostly just proven too doggone stubborn to die, even when by all the laws of physiology, biology and common sense you really ought to have done so several times by now, but this time, the cost is simply too high should you prove to be wrong. 

Can’t risk leaving them all alone somewhere in the snowy woods between here and wherever it is you’re going, and to leave now is definitely to do that.  Half the time when you’re ready to go somewhere right now, even just across the room, there’s more than a few seconds’ delay between standing up and actually getting moving, even when you’re trying your hardest to just get up and go, and that time’s increasing.  Even when you do gain a little momentum your balance is no good, you really would benefit from a walking stick just to help stay on your feet, and how do you think that’s gonna translate to climbing snowy, timber-covered slopes?  Mighty slow work that’ll be, and one of those times when you try to start moving again after a little delay, the message just isn’t gonna get from brain to body, and there you’ll be, a solid block of ice before long, and leaving Liz with the dilemma of whether to try and stop long enough to thaw you out and get your sorry carcass moving again—and maybe risk her own capture by the delay—or go off and abandon you.  No way.  Not putting her in that position.  If you go out there, you go alone, and only after making sure she has a full understanding of what it is you’re doing, and why she’s not to follow. 

Which, shook his head, sat down heavily on the weight bench, snow falling too heavily now to allow any view but whiteness from the windows, she would never go for, and you know it.  Would have to leave without discussing it beforehand, or she’d find some way to stop you.  Which, considering Will and all, probably is her right, if it’s ever anyone’s.  Which left him right where he’d started from.  Trapped.  Pacing.  Wishing to take advantage of the weather, but unsure how best to do it.

*  *  *

Bud watched the advancing weather with a hopeful eye, praying that the storm would descend, and without too much delay.  Already the agents, led by Shirley, had begun forming opinions about the trail preserved there beneath the timber, and he knew that unchecked, the current direction of their investigation could well spell disaster not only for the fugitive family, but for their hosts in the valley, as well.  Shirley, though understandably not saying much about it, was quickly coming to the conclusion that the second man in the party which had accompanied the dead reporter left tracks which bore an uncanny resemblance to Kilgore’s own, even if his boots had been different ones.  Something in his walk, left toe turning out just a bit more than the right, combined with the boot size—certainly not conclusive, on its own, but perhaps part of the puzzle—strongly suggested to him that their tracker might not have been telling the whole truth in his rendition of finding and recovering the body of the avalanche victim.

With some of the men beginning to eye him suspiciously and give themselves a bit of separation from him, distance-wise, as they went about their search, Bud figured that the storm could not get there fast enough.

27 May, 2013

27 May 2013

Memorial Day, and I hope each of you will take a little time out of whatever you're doing today, and remember the price of our freedom.  And those over the years who have paid it.


Time to eat, little one still on his lap, and Einar struggled to manage both tasks at once, Will grabbing for his food and wanting tastes of everything.  Liz did not mind this, knowing Will could not take a significant portion of Einar’s breakfast even if he wanted to, and seeing that Einar seemed to find it easier to eat something, himself, while distracted by trying to feed the child and keep him from getting into too much trouble at the table.  Susan had joined them by that time, having finished a few phone calls she’d needed to make that morning.  Liz, for a change, was able to serve her breakfast also, an omelet of eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, green chilis and sausage, with generous portions of sour cream and Susan’s own home-canned salsa on top, and she was glad for the turn-about, after all Susan had been doing for them.

Though still finding it somewhat physically difficult to do much eating, swallowing reflexes not back to normal and the entire process somehow a good deal more exhausting than a person inexperienced in such matters might have guessed possible, Einar did a pretty good job on his breakfast, managing to keep up with Will’s rate of consumption and perhaps even to surpass him by a bite or two.

As they ate, Susan switched on the radio as she did every morning, tuning in to the local news and weather report out of Clear Springs.  It was with some apprehension that she did this on mornings when Bud was away doing his work with the feds—never for, always with, he would correct her, if she ever slipped up and said the former, never working for ‘em, but sometimes working on ‘em—and having been out of communication with him for going on three days at that point, there was an edge to her concern, that morning.  There was no news, however, about the search, no report of an avalanche wiping out an overly ambitious team of federal investigators, no arrest of a wayward tracker—obstruction of justice would be the least of the charges, she knew, should that day ever come.  They’d have him on material support of a terrorist, and worse.  Patriot Act stuff.  She’d probably never see him again—and she could only hope that in this case, no news was good news.

The biggest news of the morning came in the form of the weather report, which for the first time in nearly a week and a half was calling for a fair chance of snow, eight to ten inches to fall over the course of the following two days.  Studying Einar with some concern as the coming storm was announced, Liz saw him quietly lay down his fork and stare so hard at the curtained window that she wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d been seeing right through the blinds, through the spruces that overhung that side of the house and up into the sky beyond, scrutinizing, judging the likelihood of that offered storm.  She could see what he was thinking before he said a word, wanted to shake her head but instead just watched him.

For a moment, easing Will onto his mother’s lap, he stood up straight as a rail—he’d always managed to hold himself straight and tall like that, Liz noted, even at the worst of his exhaustion, when he’d barely had the strength to hold up his own head—no hint of the weariness that had dogged his every step for the last days and had earlier that morning halted his weight lifting endeavors, blue eyes flashing, and in that moment, he was once again the Einar Liz had come to know, the leader, the warrior.  Too bad, she thought, that the answer almost certainly had to be no…

“Sounds like it might be our chance, Lizzie.  Let the snow come in, make sure it’s wanting to stay around for a while, and head out.  Let it cover our tracks, conceal our passing, and we’re home!”

They were quiet for a minute, Einar paying them no heed as his mind wandered through the soon-to-be snowy corridors of spruce, pine and sub-alpine fir which would lead them up away from this house, from civilization, and back into the heard of their mountains, Will tucked snugly away in the fur-lined pouch on his mother’s back, what few possessions they had brought along on his own and their lives once more before them, free, gone without track or trace which the enemy could follow…

It was Susan who finally broke his reverie, Einar starting at her words and sitting down hard in his chair, suddenly dizzy and not entirely steady on his feet.  “What about Bud and the feds, though?  Don’t you need to wait for Bud to get back and tell us what’s been going on up there, what they’ve found, and where—and where they’re heading next with their search?  Hate for you to walk into the middle of something like that, snow or no snow…”

Einar nodded slowly, considering.  “Mighty big place up there.  We know they were heading for the area of the slide, and planned to go on from there.  So, we’ll go off in the opposite direction.  Across the highway, into the Wilderness Area over there where the Spires are, where I had my old cache and spent a couple months that fall…they don’t have any reason even to be looking over there.  We’ll go to the Spires, Liz.  Find one of those narrow, overhung cracks between the rock walls, put up a roof of sorts down inside to keep out any stray snow, and stay there until things really start melting out.  This looks like our opportunity.”

Silence from Liz, and he went on.  “You know we’ve got to get away from here.  You both got to realize that.  Before something happens, some curious neighbor or customer or maybe even the feds getting suspicious for some reason…one visit to the house under the wrong circumstances, and it’s over for all of us.  That’s got to be remedied, and the sooner the better.”

Well, he’d done it, Liz had to admit, nearly got her agreeing with him once again.  He was right, of course, about the dangers posed to them all by their little family continuing to stay on at Bud and Susan’s; every day the risk of discovery inevitably increased, and sooner or later, someone was bound to slip up, some set of circumstances beyond their control conspire to reveal their presence, and then, as Einar had said, it would all be over.  Perhaps it made sense to take advantage of the coming storm to make their escape, if they were going to make one…  But then she looked at him.  Really looked, not at the warrior who had stood before her a moment ago, fire in his eyes and a plan fully formed and ready for execution in his mind, but at Einar the man, who was despite what would surely have been vehement protests to the contrary on his part still severely emaciated and nearly dead.  But she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

Susan said it for her.  “Do you think you’d make it to the highway?”

“I think we would.  Know this place pretty well, and under the cover of snowfall, and partial darkness…”

“You, though.  Do you think you could physically make it down there, right now?  When you can’t even quite make it from the library to the kitchen without stopping to lean on something and rest, and you start shivering the minute you sit still, even here in the warm kitchen.  Is there any reason to think you wouldn’t end up leaving this baby and his mother all alone down there by the highway, with big decisions to make?” 

Silence, an angry glare, but he couldn’t answer her, left the table and returned to the library to work on the problem.

24 May, 2013

24 May 2013

Einar did not know exactly what she meant, but figured sure, if she had even some slight inkling of knowing her way through this current quagmire, that was more than he’d got, and it seemed he might as well follow her.  His ideas were all either hopelessly impractical or downright dangerous to their continued freedom under present circumstances, or fairly certain to bring about the eventual end of his life in their successful execution.  So he agreed, nodding, allowing her to take his hands as she wanted to do, a cold knot of anxiety gripping him around the middle, but not showing on his face.

The first place she led him, having to help him up off the weight bench on legs that did not want to bear even his own meager weight, was to the table.  He’d been afraid of that.  Would have liked to be able to hang onto some of his own notions while following her, high on that list being the one that through a rigorous routine of self-discipline—including greatly limited amounts of food—he could not only continue to make himself more ready to leave the house and face again the hardships of the high country, but could manage at the same time to help himself maintain the tenuous grip which seemed all he was able to gain of late on reality, keep himself in this world and avoid slipping quite so readily into the dark, distant haze of the jungle.

Deprived of his usual tools, he didn’t know how he would do it.  Guessed that was where she was asking him to trust her…and for a moment, following, sitting down at the table when she pulled out a chair, he felt all the blind terror that must have been hers as she took his hand and followed him, snowblind and baffled, up the echoing, unseen heights of that vertical tunnel up out of the mine.

Lizzie, my love, I do believe you must be a good deal braver than I…

Somewhat to Einar’s surprise Liz did not immediately begin pushing food in his direction, instead retreating up the stairs to retrieve a thoroughly wakeful and somewhat indignant Will, who had managed to exit the bed without enough injury to set him to wailing, and crawl precariously close to the edge of the spiral staircase, where he stood rocking back and forth on hands and knees as if preparing for a launch.  Which he probably had been, and she scooped him up, softly scolding that “you really are just like your father, aren’t you?  Have to learn everything the hard way.  Well, it’s good to learn a lot of things like that, because the lessons stick, but some with some things you just don’t get a second chance, and this might be one of them.  We’ll have to see about some sort of a gate, won’t we?  If you’re going to be sleeping up there.  Only then you’d just find some way to climb the gate, and have farther to fall…  Maybe not so good!  But I’ll think of something.”

With which she eased the little one into Einar’s lap.  “Contain your son for a little while, won’t you, while I go fix breakfast?”

*  *  *
Clearly preserved beneath the timber, virtually untouched by the aging influences of wind or sun, Shirley and the other agents had come upon a windfall of new tracks unlike any they had previously discovered.  Crisp and undisturbed, they were quickly able to identify one set as belonging to Juniper Melton, the reporter who had perished in the avalanche, another set likely having been made by their fugitive, Asmundson.  While they had strongly suspected his presence with the party before, a final conclusion had been waiting on the DNA tests which would be made on fragments of clothing found amongst the slide debris, but now, they were all but certain.  The man’s walk had changed some over the years they’d been seeking him, a result, they’d concluded, of various injuries sustained and healed, or partially so, but it retained a certain set of characteristics which they had identified, and with which Shirley had made himself familiar before setting out on this latest escapade.  Kilgore, when confronted with the evidence, could not disagree that the tracks might belong to Asmundson, though he cautioned that it was difficult to be absolutely certain.  Shirley gave him a strange look, at that.

“Is it?  How difficult, then, is it to be absolutely certain about this other set of tracks?”  He asked Kilgore, pointing to a set of the tracker’s own size 11s. 

Kilgore shrugged.  “That fella’s unidentified as yet.  Friend of the reporter’s, most likely.”  Which seemed to satisfy the agent for the time, but Bud doubted he’d heard the last of the matter.  The man was shrewd, observant, and though not trained in the art of tracking to the degree that he, himself had been, the man’s eyes and brain worked just fine, and were appearing to present more and more of a threat.

“Excluding the unidentified male,” Shirley continued, “it looks like we can probably be safe in saying that the other set of female tracks ought to belong to Elizabeth Riddle, known at one point to be traveling with Asmundson.  Apparently she still is.  Last contact we had with her she was expecting a baby, and that baby ought to have come several months ago.  Looks like she survived the birth, but I guess there’s nothing here to indicate whether or not the child survived, is there?  What do you say, Kilgore?  Was this woman carrying a baby on her back when she made these tracks?”

Bud suppressed a glimmer that was wanting to creep into his eyes, survived?  Of course she survived, and so did the little one, and the pair area lot healthier and more robust than a lot of new mothers and their children who I’ve seen down in civilization, if you must know.  That’s gonna be one tough kid, and if you’re still around in ten, fifteen years, Shirley, he’s gonna be the bane of your existence same as his father is now, I’m guessing.  Yep, it’ll be the two of them against the world.  Three of them.  Maybe more, if Asmundson actually makes it through these next few days, weeks, and gets back out here where he belongs.  Poor old buzzard.  Mountain couldn’t kill him, but Sue’s comfortable house just may do it.  Huh.  That’s not what Shirley was asking about though, was it?  “Carrying a baby, you said?”

“Yeah.  On her back.  Can’t you tell from her tracks, how far they sink in on one side or the other, something like that?  I thought you were supposed to be that good.”

“Well, she was carrying something on her back.  Baby don’t carry a whole lot differently than a backpack full of venison or some such, I wouldn’t figure.  But she had something on there.”

“I guess that’ll have to be good enough for now.  I’d like to find some evidence of the child, if it survived.  Living out here on the run is one thing, doing it with an infant something else, entirely.  That would be useful intelligence for us, knowing if they were traveling with a child.  So.  Two questions to answer.  The matter of the child, and the identity of this second man.  Let’s get to work.”

22 May, 2013

22 May 2013

Somewhat amazingly to Bud, the slope held as Shirley and the others picked their way carefully across it, leaving the relative safety of the debris field and following a series of all-too-visible tracks up towards the waiting timber.  Should they make that timber where tracks would have been preserved from the destructive action of wind and sun by the density of the trees, he was concerned that individual footprints would begin showing a good deal more clearly than they had below the slide path, and perhaps giving agents more information than he wanted them to have.  Glancing about in search of a solution, the only possibility that clearly presented itself lay in a rifle shot into the massing, menacing bulge of snow that clung with tenuous grip to the rock of the ridge some three hundred yards above their current position, but that one, he told himself, would be way too obvious.  Especially if it didn’t work.  Or someone managed to live through the resulting chaos of thundering snow and rent, tumbling trees, and came through to tell the tale. 

Perhaps if the party had numbered only three or four, he might have risked it, counting on being able to deal appropriately with any survivors after the fact, but under current conditions, he found himself unwilling to thus show his hand.  Though a few of them might suspect his motives, none had voiced this suspicion and neither—as of yet—did they have any solid evidence to support it.  He wanted to keep things that way as long as possible.  Pretty bad deal should he fall under enough suspicion that agents back and Headquarters might decide that his house warranted searching, while he was still up on the mountain.  Or after he came back down.  A lot to lose there, and most of it was Susan’s.  Well, theirs together, but she had built the business, lived in the house for forty years, and certainly had the most to lose.  Not to mention their contraband houseguests, who very literally had everything at stake.  Nope.  No place for any fancy work with snow and shock waves, not that day.  If the slope was to slide, it would have to do so all on its own, and that wasn’t appearing terribly likely.  Already Shirley had made it across the slope, and was entering the timber.  No point in a slide coming now, with him already safe and the others following in speedy if nervous succession, and he picked up his own pace, eager to join them and see just what they’d managed to discover in the timber.

*  *  *  *
That morning Einar, struggling to pick himself up off the floor where he had spent the entirety of the dark hours, found to his dismay that he was all but unable to move.  Head felt thick and confused, eyes not wanting to open all the way, but worst of all his arms and legs simply didn’t respond the way he expected them to.  Ached dreadfully, which he could have put up with, but at the same time they felt like lead, heavy, stiff and barely mobile.  Clearly, he told himself, a result of his own laziness, of having not worked hard enough the day before, but even as he insisted on that theory, he knew the opposite was likely true.  Had so thoroughly worn himself out with his efforts that now he’d nothing left with which to start the day, and had better be heading into the kitchen in search of some sort of meal, if he wanted to remedy the situation.

Nobody was around, Liz having returned to the bed, and Will, early in the morning in anticipation of his needing to eat, and Einar was glad to be alone with his struggle to rise.  Made it after some trying, fumbling about some in the darkness, sitting on the weight bench and bracing himself with both arms lest he topple over and bash his head on the wall.  Shifting his weight for better balance he experimentally reclaimed one of his arms and felt about until he came across the weights he’d been using that previous evening, taking hold of one and attempting to lift it.  No luck.  It wasn’t even a matter of pain.  He could and would have pushed through that, kept going, made the thing happen, but that wasn’t it.  Muscles simply wouldn’t respond, and instead of going out and finding something to eat as logic perhaps dictated, he stayed right where he was, struggling, determined, unwilling to move until he’d made it work.

Thus it was that Liz found him an hour later when she rose, light beginning to creep through the windows and Einar flat on his back on the floor still struggling to raise his arms above his head with the rifle, weights, the fierce determination in his eyes beginning to be mixed with a sort of despair.  She helped him sit up, took the weights from trembling hands and laid them aside.

“Come have some breakfast.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Can’t work, this morning.  Can’t get anything to work.  If I don’t work, I don’t eat.”

“If you don’t eat, you won’t be able to work.  You know that.  You just need fuel.  Still have a lot of catching up to do.”

Shook his head.  She didn’t understand.  Perhaps it ought not be so difficult, this continuing struggle which was convincing himself to go on eating, but it was, and without some way to counter everything that seemed to come along with the improved nutrition and the increased energy it had been starting to bring him—the dreams, memories, a tendency to slip quite unintentionally into that other world, and not always know the way back again—he could think of nothing he wanted less than breakfast.  His usual means of dealing with such times—solo forays into the high country, nights spent freezing in the rocks or testing himself in the shadow of that gnarly old dead pine—seemed quite out of his reach under present circumstances.  Hunger was the only thing left him.  The only means by which he could hope to maintain some sort of grasp on the whole situation.  He needed it, even though it was killing him.  But none of that, he could not help but think, would be likely to make an awful lot of sense to Liz, even if he’d been more able to put it into words.  So he just shook his head, struggled to get to his feet, becoming a bit frantic when it didn’t work.       

Liz watched him, sadness in her eyes, but with it an understanding, for had underestimated her.  Many of the things he was thinking, she knew without his having to speak them.  She sat down beside him on the floor where he had fallen, got hold of him, took his shoulders in her hands, not quite shaking him, but wanting to.  Her nearness quieted him some, and he was still.

“Einar.  Remember last year when I was snowblind, and you had to lead me…?  Through the woods, and then later, after the feds questioned me, out of Susan’s garage, through those tunnels and on the wild climb up out of that slippery, dripping vertical stope hole…and it was terrifying, but I followed because I trusted you, trusted not only that you could see things that I was incapable of seeing at the time, but that you meant nothing but good for me.  And it worked, and we both came through it.  Remember that?”

He nodded.

“Well, let me lead you now.  Just for a little while.”

“But I’m not…”

“I know.  I know you’re not snowblind, or blind at all, and it’s not exactly the same, but try to see the analogy.”  She held out her hands.  “Will you let me lead you?”

19 May, 2013

19 May 2013

Gingerly over snow that tended to sink suddenly underfoot in places with a muted thump and could only be described as wind slab, the little group of investigators retraced their steps to the site of the slide, stopping with increasing frequency to stare up-slope as they neared the area, consternation evident on the faces of all.  Except for Bud, who followed at a distance, slight gleam of something that might almost have been mistaken for mischief showing behind his goggles.  A majority of his temporary colleagues had wanted him to take the lead, insisting he knew the country better than they, and wanting, without saying it, to have someone not of their number out front should the ground prove anywhere near as unstable as it was feeling.  Bud, however, had very diplomatically deferred to the senior agent of the bunch, a gentleman by the name of Shirley who was fresh off the plane from San Francisco and not doing too well with the thin air of the mountains even after two nights spent up at altitude, a man far more adept at forensic analysis than the safe and successful navigation of rotten, avalanche-prone snow slopes. 

Picking his way across the ruined, cement-solid debris that lay jumbled about in the path of the slide, the lead agent would go no further upon reaching the relatively untouched snow on its far side.  Which presented a problem, as he—and all the rest—could clearly see the trail of three, perhaps even four people emerging from the timber seventy-five yards upslope, drifted some by the force of the wind but left largely untouched.  That trail, he was as determined to have the little group follow as he was not to be in the lead when it happened, and he turned with rather more anger than the situation might have required on Bud, summoning him to the front of the line.

“You’re the tracker, Kilgore, and I need you to track!”

Bud nodded, stalked his way stoically to the head of the column.  “What’s the matter, Shirley?  That thing stands out as plain as a white Persian cat in a sea of hot fudge sauce, at least from where I’m standing.  Not a hard one to follow.  Unless you’re all out of breath or something, you go on and break trail for a while, let me take over if it starts getting rough to find the next bit of sign.  Would hate to trample all over something of forensic value with my big clumsy boots, and spoil a potential clue for you fellas.  Yeah, best you stay in the lead as long as you can, here.

Which points Shirley could not reasonably dispute, besides which his pride was beginning to suffer slightly at the implication that he might be having some trouble pulling his own weight, so he said no more about it, resuming his slow, plodding ascent as the snow popped and cracked ominously beneath his feet.

*  *  *

When bedtime came and Einar did not want to quit his exercises to get some sleep, pausing only to say good night to a very sleepy little Will before returning to Bud’s weight bench, Liz knew she had a problem.  He had, it seemed, simply replaced one thing with another, using relentless exercise of a nature which might soon have tired the fittest of men to wear himself out and keep himself in line as he’d previously been doing with the starvation.  While it represented perhaps a less detrimental option in the long run, trouble was that for the time, the strenuous nature of the work would almost certainly prevent him from putting on any of the fat he so desperately needed or even the muscle he appeared determined to rebuild.  All the food he was managing to take in would be consumed almost instantly, simply to meet his body’s immediate energy needs.  Watching him in frustration from the doorway—arms trembling with the strain, eyes glazed and a look of fixed determination on his face—Liz finally shook her head, turned away.

Though wanting very badly to go physically pull Einar away from his endeavor, drag him to bed and hope to find some way to convince or compel him to stay there—several yards of two-inch webbing and some good strong Velcro seemed appropriate, and she was of half a mind to try it—Liz opted instead to give him a bit of space, let him wear himself out, if that was what he wanted.  He’d made so many concessions already, to his way of seeing things.  Simply being there at the house was the biggest concession, and one which most times she could tell he regretted to some degree, and then there had been his willingness to allow Susan to provide him intravenous hydration, his subsequent efforts to get himself hydrated and even to eat as she could not remember him doing for many months…if he needed to spend half the night wearing himself out in order to sustain such changes, then so be it.

The early part of the night was restless for Liz, listening, though she’d told herself not to, for any small sound which might give her a clue as to how Einar was doing down there, if he’d run into trouble or was nearing the end of his endurance for the night, about ready to call it quits and get some of the sleep that he needed nearly as bad as he did food and drink, if his body was to really begin repairing itself.  Finally, unable to sleep and prevented by the good stout interior log walls of the house from hearing anything that might be going on in the library room, she eased Will away from her side and crept down the winding contours of the spiral staircase, lingering warmth of the stove rising to meet her as she went. 

Silence from the library, and for a moment her heart leapt into her throat at the thought that something might have happened to him in there, something final and irreversible, but she was reassured the next moment when, stepping into the room, she found him there curled up on the floor beneath the weight bench—he did have a way of getting himself into the strangest, tightest spots around, especially if wanting a bit of sleep in an unfamiliar place—clearly still breathing and by all appearances resting quite peacefully.  Sliding the ever-present rifle a bit further from his reach she moved carefully to ease him from beneath the bench, retrieving an afghan from the living room couch and curling up with him on the floor.  A compromise of sorts, even if not perhaps an entirely voluntary one on his part.  Perhaps such could be reached in the morning.

17 May, 2013

17 May 2013

That evening Einar, rifle still in hand but finding himself less needful of constantly patrolling the place with it, now that Susan was back, resumed the exercises he’d begun doing with the weapon up at the cabin, holding it over his head, straight out from his body, striving to strengthen arms seriously lacking in muscle and prepare himself for whatever might come.  A worthy goal, so far as Liz and Susan were concerned, but perhaps not the best use, at present, of what little strength and energy he was managing to obtain from the small but growing portions of food he’d begun taking in.  When sometime after supper he found and began using Bud’s weight bench in the library room, Susan half wanted to take the thing out to the garage and hide it, but decided against such measures, as it was plain that the activity, if perhaps somewhat ill-advised just then, was helping Einar get through his time at the house.  Not wise to take such a thing from a person in his position, she figured, not unless something existed with which to replace it.  As all the potential replacements which seemed likely to have a similar effect were either impossible to arrange or a good deal more detrimental to the fugitive’s continued existence, she left the weights alone and did not trouble him about their use.  Not until later that evening, at least.

Liz, finished helping out with the supper dishes and anxious to be of more assistance to their gracious hostess, if possible, had made her way at Susan’s suggestion out to the one heated greenhouse on the place, and started working to transplant a batch of rosemary and parsley seedlings that Susan had earlier started.  These potted herbs would, later in the spring, make up a substantial part of Susan’s business as individual customers showed up to purchase them for their own gardens, but especially in the fulfillment of contracts with the local farm supply and grocery stores.  Will—having been smuggled out beneath one of Susan’s shawls to prevent the possibility of his being spotted by any eyes, camera or otherwise, that might be watching the place—played happily in a pile of potting soil by his mother’s side as she worked, soon covered from head to toe in soil, but gurgling happily the entire time.

Meanwhile Susan, working in the kitchen, hadn’t heard anything from Einar in quite a while and finally went to check on him, finding him flat on his back on the library floor, rifle across his chest.  He wasn’t moving, did not appear to be awake and she thought at first that he might have overdone it with his exercises and passed out or even had some trouble with his heart, but when she knelt beside him it seemed that he was simply sleeping, a suspicion which was confirmed when, sensing her presence, he rolled suddenly away from her and came to his feet all in one swift if somewhat unsteady motion, wide awake and ready to meet whatever trouble might be lurking.  A moment’s confusion, Susan keeping very still in the hopes that Einar would figure things out before acting, which he did, giving her a sheepish grin and sinking back to an uneasy crouch on the floor.

“Sure didn’t mean to be sleeping on duty.  No excuse for that sort of thing.”

“Oh, you weren’t on duty.  It was my turn.”

A shrug, Einar clearly not buying the offer of absolution, but not interested in contesting it, either.  Laying aside the rifle he rose, hoisted two of Bud’s dumbbells and took them over to the weight bench, standing beside it.

Done with keeping silent on the matter, Susan sat down beside him.  “How about giving it a rest, coming to the kitchen for some more of that banana milkshake.  That seems like a good evening snack…”

Einar shook his head.  “Thanks, but not now.  If I’m going to be eating…”  lifted the dumbbells, straightening his arms and holding them directly out in front of him, entire upper body shaking with the effort,  “then I sure enough have to start putting out more effort than I have been doing, quit sitting around so much so I don’t end up all soft and fat and useless.”

Not a chance of anything like that, Susan knew, not for many months, but even less chance of convincing him of the fact, so she let him be, went back to her work.  He’d soon be getting hungry, she knew, dreadfully hungry after going so long without and then allowing himself to start having food again, and hopefully that hunger would, before too long, drive him into the kitchen in search of sustenance which she would willingly provide.

Einar went back to his work, as well, struggling to do the exercise which he hoped would strengthen arms, legs, prepare him for his coming return to the vertical world of peak and basin which had been his home, and that of his little family.  Knew he had to work to improve his speed, endurance, his strength, if he was to be the kind of protector and provider required of him by present circumstances.  Winded and beginning to lose his view of the world to a bevy of black, billowing shapes that assailed his vision, he stopped, sitting, wrapping arms around his knees against the chill he knew would be starting to creep in before too long a time of stillness.  Noticed that he could, when he tried, get one hand almost entirely around his leg, just above the knee.  Had to work on that, too.  Legs like that might carry him up over the ridge and down the other side, had done so, not too long ago, but sure couldn’t be counted on to carry him as swiftly or over as great a distance as he was used to expecting of himself.  A good and fitting challenge, perhaps, for a man on his own, alone, to see just what sort of performance he could demand—and receive—from a body thus driven so far beyond its normal limits but he was not alone, and with a wife wanting to walk beside him and a little boy looking to him for far more than that, he knew he had no business continuing on in that direction.  Had to turn, start making his way back.  Was going to hurt.  But—hint of a wry grin—when had he minded that?

*    *    * 
None too amused at their largely un-sheltered night out in the mountainside gale, the Task Force agents greeted the return of day in a sullen mood, cold, stiff and sleep-deprived, more than ready to be off the mountain.  But not—they were determined—until they’d returned to the site of the slide and scoured the place for the tracks of whoever it was they’d been following down from the place.  The descending trail might be lost to them, but if they could find and backtrack the small party’s approach to the place, perhaps they could make some additional and very valuable progress in their investigation.

15 May, 2013

15 May 2013

If anyone's reading...I'm heading out for a couple days of wandering, so won't have a chapter until Friday or so.

Thanks for sticking with Einar's story, for the comments, discussion and the patience.

Be back soon.

13 May, 2013

13 May 2013

With Susan gone well into the afternoon Einar found himself growing increasingly watchful and wary as the hours went by, ears continually alert for any sign of trouble outside, despite the knowledge that the shadowy and mysterious fellow with whom he’d had his own rather abrupt and attention-getting encounter surely remained on patrol.  Bill, vigilant and he clearly appeared to be, was only one man, and as such could end up surprised or overwhelmed by the chance federal patrol or—worse—lured away and then disposed of by a small team whose members had arrived to act on some evidence that their target might be hiding in Bud and Susan’s hilltop log house.  The man would in such a case surely do his best to notify them of the trouble, would have plans, backup plans and probably another layer beyond that designed to ensure that some warning would be given, but under the right circumstances, each of them could well end up failing.  Ultimately, responsibility for his family’s security, and his own, rested squarely on Einar’s shoulders, and he could not help but fret at a set of circumstances where so many of the variables necessarily remained thoroughly beyond his control.

Though restless, Einar managed with minimal coaxing from Liz to refrain from slipping out of the house to go have a look at the surrounding timber, himself, aware that his doing so could put them all in more danger by potentially revealing their presence at the house.  Liz was glad to see him listening to reason on this matter, but at the same time hated to see that he was spending so much energy in wandering about the house, wearing himself out with watching, listening, every sound apparently magnified for him, each wind-tossed movement of a spruce bough catching his eye.  She was relieved when finally Susan’s truck started up the drive, something real, at last, for him to focus upon and perhaps some lessening of the tension which had been slowly mounting since her departure.

When Susan returned from town, it was with several bags of groceries, included amongst them a jar of Nutella which she set aside on the counter as she unloaded.  Soon added to the little pile were several bottles of liquid vitamin and mineral supplements, iron, potassium, magnesium and few others, a variety of fruits and berries, and—not from the store, but filling a paper sack of Susan’s own provision—a sizeable cluster of young stinging nettle plants.  That last bit really got Einar’s interest, mainly because the plants’ presence did not make sense to him, did not add up.

“Where’d you find nettles, this time of year?”

“Ah, you noticed!  Expect you noticed the other things too, but you don’t want to talk about them yet, do you?”

He shrugged, very deliberately keeping his eyes averted from the groceries.  Especially the Nutella.  Didn’t want to stare, to be caught wanting something.  Needing something.  Wouldn’t do.

“The nettles?”  

“Oh, there are none out yet, of course, with snow still on the ground a lot of places, but a couple at my church have a greenhouse similar to mine, and they apparently ended up bringing in a load of nettle seed with some soil they dug up from the creekbank near their house, last fall.  As things start warming up in there, the nettles all sprouted and when she told me about having to clean them out, I asked if I could come help her.  Told her I wanted them for a spring tonic I like to make, which I do, but this first batch is going to be part of your supper!”

Einar nodded.  “I like nettles.  Taste a lot like spinach, only with such an intense, lively ‘green’ flavor.  Not too many people use them around here, just never think about their being edible it seems, because of the sting…”

“Right, but a quick steaming takes care of that, and turns them into one of the best spring vegetables around.   Many are the times I’ve made ‘spinach’ lasagna for guest out of nettles from our creek, and they’ve never known the difference—unless I’ve gone ahead and told them!”

“We ate them sometimes, up on the mountain.  And I used them for Liz after Will was born.  Dried ones we’d saved, to make tea.  Lots of iron.”

“Yes, that’s why I brought them for you today.  You need lots of iron.”

“Didn’t lose that much blood, really.”

“Maybe not, but you certainly lost some, and that’s not a terribly infrequent occurrence, is it?”

A black stare, no words, but she had not expected any.

“So between that and your eating habits, you were really deficient in iron even before your little meeting with our friend Bill, I have no doubt.  Can see it in the way you look, your color, the way you have trouble getting enough air sometimes, enough oxygen.  That must have been mighty rough, up there in the really high country where you’ve been living.”

No answer from Einar, who was none too pleased with the entire subject, but knew better than to argue when the facts were so far from being on his side.  Susan went on, answer or no answer.

“Shouldn’t happen to a fellow whose diet consists primarily of wild-caught meat, you know…but he’s got to actually eat some of it, if it’s to do him any good!  You have these nettles when I make them into soup tonight, have some more tomorrow, eat some liver once you’re swallowing a little better, and I guarantee you’re going to start having more energy, less trouble with falling asleep when you don’t want to; lots of things will start improving for you.”

“I’ll eat them.”

“Good.  And about the rest of the things I brought home today…well, it can be a struggle to get enough minerals from food, alone, when you’re so far behind, especially now when eating is still a bit of a chore, so I hope you’ll take advantage of some of these supplements, too.  I can put them straight in your banana milkshakes or something, to make it easier to get them down.  Seemed we should make the most of the time you’re with us, since we don’t know exactly how long that’s going to be, and see just how much progress you can make.  Consider it a challenge.  How about it?”

Reluctance in his eyes, but remembering his struggle of several days past and not wanting to again find himself in that state—not, at least, so long as he was in the presence of others who might see it as their duty to find some remedy—no refusal.  He would do it.

10 May, 2013

10 May 2013

A reluctant guide, seeking, as he broke trail, some means by which he might throw the search off Einar and Liz’s tracks—and his own—Kilgore found his answer as the day drew to a close.  At some point in the little group’s descent—three quarters of the way down to the trailhead, Bud noted with nearly as much consternation as relief—the storm had apparently grown in its intensity, wiping out nearly every trace of the trail they had up until then been following only with difficulty.  Might have gone on following it anyway with Bud’s help, tracker that he was, piecing together little clues from beneath trees and guessing at the routes the little party had taken, only Bud seemed to lose the trail fairly quickly, leading them down a rough gully and into a nearly impassible section of steep, icy rock where he said all sign of the fugitives seemed to have vanished… 

The agents spent the following hour and half struggling to get themselves and the gear they were carrying back up out of that cliffy, dead end gully, two of them losing their footing in the attempt and nearly cascading down over the ice to what would have been certain death waiting below.  By the time they regained safe ground it was nearly dark and very windy, and with snow being whipped up from the ground and hurled sideways with a fury strong enough to entirely prevent anyone seeing where they were going in that steep, dangerous terrain, a hasty camp had to be made in the meager shelter of an island of stunted firs, only their tops protruding through the snow. 

Rolling up in his sleeping bag and bivy sack as the others huddled somewhat miserably behind the crinkly, wind-whipped cacophony of half a dozen metalized emergency blankets, the bulk of their supplies remaining up at the base camp, Bud had to suppress a chuckle at the ironic justice in these men having to spend a cold and fireless night away from their tents, when Einar and his family had spent so many that way.  Wished Asmundson could be there to see it in person, crouching behind a tree and grinning fiercely into the night at the misfortune of his pursuers, as surely he’d done more than once since the beginning of the search.  Just as well he wasn’t there, though, Bud told himself.  Scrawny old fool would like as not freeze himself solid in that wind, enjoying every moment of it, of course, but probably not waking in the morning.  And then he’d have a lot of explaining to do, both to Liz and to his own bride.  Be lucky to come out of that one alive, I would!

The way the wind was blowing, Kilgore knew that little ought to remain of the fugitive group’s trail come morning, and what signs might linger would not likely be noticeable to any but the most experienced tracker in the group, who happened to be none other than himself.  Helpful details, helpful weather, but he and those in his charge were still in one heck of a mess, now that the mystery tracks had been discovered, the mitten, cloth scrap, blood evidence…wouldn’t be too long before they had that back to the lab, tested and confirmed as Asmundson’s, and then the search would really go hot again.  

Good thing you’re not out here right now, fella.  Gonna be my job to try real hard and keep them up here looking, rather than focusing on their suspicion that you may have skipped the area in the car of some mystery guy who may have been up here with Juni…though that could have its advantages, too.  Send them off to California, stir things up and draw them away from here once and for all, and we’ll all more or less be in the clear.  Huh.  Not real likely, but there’s your assignment, Kilgore.  Supposing they don’t find one scrap of evidence too many, and shift the focus of this whole thing onto you, and the fact that it appears you were traveling with them disreputable characters.  At that point, things get real interesting, real fast…

*  *  *

Finally managing to talk Einar up out of the hard kitchen chair and onto the couch with her—seemed such a simple thing, and reasonable, too, when one is dealing with an injured hip and tending to get pressure sores just about anywhere he came into contact with a hard surface for more than a few minutes, with all his bones so near the surface, yet Einar seemed intent on resisting the more comfortable seating arrangement—Liz settled herself with Will on her lap, content for the moment to eat while she sat with his father.

Quiet for a while, pondering, Liz could not help but be glad Einar was finally eating, but she expected it would all start over again, the pattern that had got him into this trouble in the first place, wanted very badly to interrupt it, end it, and knew that the only way to do that likely lay in his past, in his allowing himself to let it go, as much as was possible…  She’d tried that before, tried talking it through with him and it hadn’t seemed to get them anywhere, had perhaps caused a temporary easing in whatever sequence of dreams and rememberings seemed most to be troubling him at the time, but always the difficulty returned. 

A fact of life for him, she supposed, something that would never really go away.  Some things are like that.  But somehow or other he’d got to make his peace with it, even if that peace consisted of nothing more than an uneasy truce.  Had to find ways to live with the thing, before it finished killing him.  She didn’t know how to help him with that.  Had tried patience, and though he seemed greatly to appreciate the patience, and sometimes was even able to let her know this was the case…well, here they were, just a day or two away from his very nearly having died as a direct result of the sort of life he’d resorted to living in an attempt—admirable, if perhaps misguided—to manage the memories, and the rest of it.  Just wasn’t working, but she was at a loss as to what else she could do about it.  Nothing, really, as he had to be the one to decide that something needed to be done, and so far as she could tell, he had yet to really make that decision.  Back to the patience, then, and with it the hope and prayer that for the time at least, he would continue on his present path, drinking, starting to eat again and allowing his body to grow a bit stronger for the next round.  Whenever it would come.  She sighed, glanced up to find him watching her curiously, as if wondering what could be on her mind.  A good opportunity, perhaps, to try and bring the subject up, see if they could make some sort of progress, but she stopped herself.  Not now.  He’s eating, trying to work his way through this difficult spot.  Better that we should keep it that way for a day or two if we can.

To which end she eased the sleeping Will down onto the end of the couch, rose and went into the kitchen, beckoning for Einar to follow, which he did, rising with some difficulty and moving quickly on the theory that he might thus sooner reach his destination and have less chance of falling on the way there.  Liz had taken eggs from the refrigerator, retrieved an onion, a sweet pepper and some ham that was left over from the making of one of Susan’s recent casseroles, wanting to make Einar feel useful and also hoping that he’d be more inclined to eat, if he’d helped prepare the meal.  “Help me fix some lunch?”

Einar shrugged, took the knife she was offering him, and began chopping onions.  “Sure.”

“It’s not exactly the half-thawed wolverine steak, bear fat and avalanche lily bulbs you’re used to, but it’s good stuff nonetheless!  And ought to make a fine lunch.”

A chuckle from Einar.

“You’d probably like to live this way, wouldn’t you?  All the time, I mean.”

“Oh, I won’t deny that I’m enjoying the change right now, but no, I like our little cabin, the life we’d made up there, even the wolverine steaks and bear fat.  Though I do definitely prefer elk to wolverine!  Yeah…I want to get back home!  When we can.”

A slow smile from Einar, who could tell she meant it, found himself once more amazed at her existence. 

09 May, 2013

9 May 2013

No chapter for tonight, back with another tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading.

08 May, 2013

8 May 2013

Tracks leading to the slide area the searchers had expected—though not yet discovered, some function, they could only conclude, of sun angle and snow conditions over on that slope leading to more rapid decay and/or concealment of whatever markings had existed—but the discovery of three sets of tracks leaving the slide and heading downhill…that was a major revelation.  It had snowed since the making of those tracks, been snowing, in fact, at the time of the slide itself, and but for the sheltering action of a few clusters of low-growing firs which had buffered the wind and caused most of the new snow to drift up behind them, there might have been nothing left of the trail upon which the searchers now found themselves. 

None of the indistinct tracks, obviously, were Juni’s, the reporter having been found dead in the middle of the debris field, and though somewhat obscured by the action of sun and blowing snow, it was clear to all involved that the tracks consisted of one smaller set and two larger.  Two males and a female, it appeared, one of the males walking with a pronounced limp and at times even dragging his foot on the injured side, leaving behind smears of blood wherever he stopped.  Under a spruce not far from the slide path they came upon a place where the injured man had clearly collapsed in the snow, more blood visible when they kicked away the wind-blown top layer of white, and with it another bit of torn, bloodstained cloth. 

All of this evidence the agents collected, labeling, organizing as Bud struggled to come up with an alternate story to the one that was making itself plain before his eyes and theirs, trying to find a way in which he might bring about the destruction of all that evidence before they could get it back to the lab and confirm the growing suspicion that their fugitive had been traveling with the reporter, and had emerged alive if injured from the avalanche which had claimed her life.

In light of their new discoveries and wanting to thoroughly investigate the area before moving on along the trail, agents returned to search and probe the slide area once more, this time coming up with part of a broken snowshoe and a mitten hand-sewn of what appeared to be bobcat fur.  Bits of encrusted blood on the inside of the mitten would, they were fairly confident, match that of their fugitive.  Slide debris reasonably exhausted and a fair amount of new and exciting evidence in hand, the party set off along the broken and indistinct trail of the mysterious trio who had walked away from the slide, Kilgore in the lead an wishing with every step that he might find a place to leave the trail, lead them astray, but knowing he could not do it without great caution and forethought, lest they realize what he was about. 

Already he’d had a near miss with their discovery of the marks made by the hauling of Juni’s travois.  He had previously told them that he carried her out on his back, a story which no one had been given reason to doubt.  The drag marks, he speculated, must have been caused by some arrangement the little group was using to carry their gear…  And as for the lack of his own trail leaving the slide scene, that was explained by his route, which, he pointed out, had taken him through the gully just to the side of the area—safe, since it had already slid—where the force of the wind had obscure all trace of his passage.  So far as he could tell no one was doubting his narrative, a fortunate thing indeed, with all the various troubles already demanding resolution on this trip.

When the trail led beneath trees, there were here and there more distinct impressions, Kilgore reading plainly the slightly peculiar walk of a man missing all the toes on one foot, seeing it even through the heavy limp an hoping the agents couldn’t do the same, though he could tell from some of their conversation that it was strongly suspected they were on the days-old trail of their fugitive.  And rather confused by the fact that he was heading down.  Just not something he did, they said amongst themselves, not very often and not for some time, at least, and as they walked, the wondered and speculated about his possible destination.  And about the third man in his party, the smaller tracks having been assigned to Liz, who was so far as anyone knew still traveling with him.  Perhaps he was, they reasoned, someone who had been with the reporter in her travels, the photographer who had previously met Einar while in her company, for example. 

Whoever it was, he had not reported her death.  Perhaps had not even left the high country, and might even then be traveling with the fugitive family.  Or might, the speculation went, have given them a ride out of the area.  That seemed as good a reason as any for Asmundson to have broken with long-established tradition, and started heading down towards the valley.  And if that had happened—the fugitive and his family spirited out of the area by a partner of the dead reporter and secreted away who knew where in a misguided quest for an exclusive story or some such—there was no telling how far wide they might need to cast their nets in order to get him back.  This line of thought brought a halt in the search as agents radioed headquarters with a request for more information on all known associates of the late Juniper Melton, with a special focus on any who might have recently been traveling.

Bud, unable to redirect the search away from such an obviously significant find as the scattered but continuing trail through the snow, could only breathe a sigh of relief that he had worn different boots that day than on his previous expedition, and hope ideas would come to him as things progressed.  Not looking good.

*  *  *
With the departure of Susan they were alone in the house, Einar, Will and Liz, and Einar was glad.  The constant presence of another person an exhausting thing for him, even if that other person had every right to be there, and was entirely friendly, as in the case of Susan.  In the quiet after she left, Liz feeding Will on the couch, he let his forehead rest on the table, and slept.  The nap did not last long, Einar—still boycotting the wearing of anything warmer than his buckskin vest—soon chilled and shivering despite Susan’s having added a log to the fire before leaving for town, injured hip hurting badly there on the hard kitchen chair, and when Liz tried to drape a blanket around his shoulders, he quickly woke.  She sat down beside him.

“How about you come and finish that little rest on the couch, where it’ll be more comfortable.  And we can try to come up with a plan for the next few days, maybe even the next few weeks…”

He took her hand, didn’t answer, but for the first time since coming down off the mountain she thought, when she looked into his eyes, that she almost recognized the man staring back at her.

06 May, 2013

6 May 2013

The remainder of the day passed fairly uneventfully, except for Little Will’s surprising everyone by standing on his own for fifteen or twenty seconds when he let go the couch and held himself in perilous-looking balance as he watched the raven.  Einar, who had silently drawn Liz’s attention to the happening, was sure the little guy was about to take off tottering across the room in pursuit of the iridescent black tail feathers of that bird, but instead he sat heavily on the floor a few seconds later, ready to stand, but not quite to walk.  That time would be coming, and then, Liz had to think, she had no idea how she would keep up with him.  Already he could crawl so quickly as he went from one fascinating sight to another that she hardly knew where he’d gone, half the time, and once he was up and walking, and running…well, she’d just have to assign Einar to watch him, sometimes.  That ought to keep the both of them busy, and out of trouble.  Or, more likely, in it together.  She smiled, shook her head.  Life was destined to be interesting, that was for sure. 

Only first…she glanced over at Einar, still staring in fascination at Will as the little one struggled to pull himself upright once more, we’ve got to make sure we’re all going to be there together to see it.

Through the day Liz and Susan kept urging food on Einar, who at least made an effort to try everything they put before him, though both he and they knew he must be cautious, take it slow, lest their efforts end up doing more harm than good.  While he continued struggling from time to time with a propensity for gagging an choking when he tried to swallow, this difficulty was far less pronounced than it had been the day before, leading Susan to suspect that his problem in that regard had related more to muscular dysfunction brought on by severe electrolyte imbalance than to advanced wasting of the muscles, themselves.  Good news, more or less, as it meant he’d probably begin to improve fairly rapidly, if he could be convinced to continue taking in nutrients at a reasonable pace.

Already Liz thought she saw a bit of color returning to his face, cheeks perhaps slightly less sunken, hands not quite so hollow and skeletal—a result, she knew, primarily of his having finally managed to take in a bit of water—and the silent desperation she had seen staring back out of his eyes whenever they met hers fading just a bit, beginning to lose its intensity.  Though cheered by the improvements, she knew he had rather a long way to go still, weeks before he was out of danger and a month or two before he might begin resembling, either physically or in slightly less tangible areas, the robust and spirited mountain man she had first come to know.  For the moment, though she did not like to admit the fact, he remained on the brink of physical dissolution and might still very well succumb to the damage which had already been done.

Though eating, Einar went on refusing to take other steps which would have allowed him to be warmer, and after a time Susan gave up pressing him on the matter, seeing its futility and knowing that the nutrients he continued taking in were more important than just about anything else, at the moment.  No sense aggravating him too greatly with continued arguments over whether a person was better off shivering all day, or not.  If he wanted to freeze, let him.  So long as he went on making an effort to eat and drink.

The following day was Sunday, and Susan, though reluctant to leave her guests, thought it wisest to go to church as usual, followed by her usual weekly meal at the house of her son and daughter-in-law.  Considering what was at stake, it seemed unwise to change her routine in any way which might make those around her ask questions, so Liz, Einar and Will were left alone for the morning.

*   *   *
Meanwhile, Bud was having a fairly eventful day up on the mountain with members of the Task Force, who were busy searching the slide path, probing for any additional evidence and, to Bud’s dismay, finding a fair amount.  In his violent tumble down the mountain he had inevitably managed to lose a thing or two which had been on his person for the descent, and though the three of them had searched the slide path before heading down that fateful day, they had not found everything.  Thus it was that searchers discovered an atlatl dart—broken, but well enough intact to clearly show its workmanship and origin—and below it by some fifteen feet, a section of torn wolverine hide with stitching that appeared to all involved to be some sort of natural sinew.

All fascinating discoveries which indicated—though the final proof would come only with the DNA and other tests planned when they returned to the lab—that the dead reporter had at some point in her wanderings had contact with the fugitive, had been carrying things that he made and which had belonged to him

Their biggest discovery though, and the one which really turned the focus of the investigation, involved a scrap of fairly freshly blood-stained green plaid cloth picked up by one of the searchers…on the far side of the slide.  The downhill side.  Since Juni had been found in the middle of the conglomerated mess and had not been wearing anything of that description, it seemed highly unlikely to everyone that the bit of cloth had been hers, and though not equipped to do the tests there in the field, the general consensus was that the blood would prove to be the fugitive’s.  Which meant, of course, that not only had the reporter managed to contact Asmundson, but had in all probability been traveling with him at the time of her death.  The recent closeness of their target—and the possibility that he might still be out there somewhere in the immediate area, lurking, watching, likely as not planning another slide or some other nasty surprise with the intention of taking out as many as possible—made the hair stand up on the back of more than one neck that morning as they went on with the search.

Bud, wanting very badly for another slide to come, in fact, and save him the trouble of having to try and reclaim that cloth before the agents could reach Task Force Headquarters, and their lab, watched the search with a face expressionless, revealing nothing as he went from group to group, offering advice here, doing a bit of digging there and generally gathering information as he worked on an already half-formed damage control plan.  Not the best of situations, to be sure, but he was fairly confident he could handle it, steer the interpretation of the newly-discovered bits of evidence, and thus the future course of to search, in a direction which would be favorable to the fugitive family

But then they found the tracks.

04 May, 2013

4 May 2013

While it didn’t help much with the remembering, past day or two remaining something of a blur in his mind, Einar’s breakfast of banana, peanut butter and milk did help a great deal with his present ability to remain awake and sitting upright, so he tried some more, struggling a bit to get it down but more or less managing the task without inhaling too much of the stuff.  As Susan had predicted, the thicker texture really was easier to swallow without accidentally ending up in a choking fit

Liz sat with him feeding Will, who was then awake and wanting to be part of the action—really wished to be chasing and harassing the raven, but for the moment his hunger was winning out—and making sure Einar’s mug stayed reasonably full, replacing what he drank.  She knew his arms would be needing attention, ankles, back, the various places where Bill’s “hospitality” had left its marks, but of more immediate concern seemed to be his need to have some additional hydration and a bit of the nutrition that he so badly needed if the situation was to begin turning around for him.  So long as he was busy at eating and drinking, she had no intention whatsoever of disturbing him with other matters.

Einar, however, needed no help being disturbed with other matters, proving more than capable of doing the job himself.  Mug not even halfway empty he rose, fighting a wave of dizziness, winning, going with as much speed as he could muster over to the nearest window and scanning the encircling dimness of the timber.  Susan was beside him.

“What do you see?”

“Just checking.  Don’t know how long I’ve been…seems a while since I’ve been out to check on things.”

“Things are Ok out there.  Bill’s keeping an eye on them for us, remember?”

Einar looked at her strangely, did remember, running a hand over the bandages on one arm and finding himself for a moment slipping back into the strangeness that had claimed him after that night.  Fought it, blinking hard and focusing on little Will.  Had to stay in the present.  The entire situation had already spun too far out of any semblance of control; the last thing he needed was to lose what remained of his connection to the immediate events around him.

“Bill.  Yeah, fine fellow, that one.  Doubt he’ll miss much, when it comes to watching the place.”

“But you’d still like to be out there making sure, wouldn’t you?”

“Sure.  Never did care too much for being cooped up in a house.  Always preferred half-collapsed old mine tunnels myself, if I had to be cooped up somewhere.”

“I know, I know.  You’ll be back out there soon, no doubt.  The more you can eat now, rest and start to get back to your usual self, the sooner you’ll be ready for all that.”

“I’m ready for it now!”

Susan quite disagreed, wished, actually, that he might still let her do the IV to help him catch up on fluids lest he end up very soon in a desperate situation once again, but saw no benefit in saying so.  “Well, the world’s not ready for it, not the way the search is going.  Give it a few days, see what Bud says when he comes back, and maybe then it will be time.”

Einar nodded, dizzy, sat heavily back down at the table, suddenly feeling all of his injuries, feeling immensely weary and a little desperate.  Seemed he really did have no more than two or three good minutes in him just then before he had to sit down again, or risk falling.  Not a particularly reassuring set of circumstances, especially when one is down in unfamiliar territory and all but surrounded by those bent on one’s capture…  Up in his own territory, in the high country, it wouldn’t have been so bad.  Not as long as there was plenty of food for Liz and Will, and he didn’t urgently need to go out on the trapline.   A fellow could just hunker down and wait it out, under such conditions, and he’d done so more than once.  But here…well, he figured he’d better be having some more of that breakfast.  Had to get his strength back.  And prevent too much more of it leaving him while he was living the easy life stuck in this house, too.  Could imagine that happening, and then where would he be once they were able to leave and head up into the hills, again?  Wouldn’t be ready for it.  Had to keep working on that, be on his guard against the complacency and softness he felt sure could easily overtake a man living an existence such as this.

To which end he got up and moved to another chair, further from the stove.  He was still pretty chilly, seemed to have managed to get himself into a state where he was perpetually cold, of late, but it couldn’t hurt to give himself a bit more of a challenge in that regard.  Worked quickly, as he was wearing a t-shirt Susan had given him, his elkskin vest but no sweater, left him soon shivering and clearly freezing even there in the warm kitchen, as he worked to finish up his mug of banana concoction.  Susan brought him the sweater he’d been wearing before.

“How about you go ahead and put this on?  You’re not going to be able to heal and get stronger very fast if your body is having to put all its energy into simply producing enough heat to keep you alive.  And hypothermia isn’t going to do anything good for your blood pressure, either, or your ability to stay awake...”

“Thanks.  Fine like I am.  Plenty warm.  Wide awake.”

“You’re turning purple.”

“If I was up in the basin…would be normal, all of this.  Nothing to do about it.  Be good if we could apply the same standard down here.”

“You’d prefer we just leave well enough alone and let you freeze to death right here in the kitchen, then?”

“Not going to happen, but yeah.  That’s it.”

“Not in my kitchen, we won’t!”

Which created somewhat of an impasse, a potential problem had Einar’s adversary been a person less calm and steady than Susan, but as it was, the dispute appeared likely to remain good-natured, if somewhat serious.