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.”
“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?”
“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?”