31 July, 2013

31 July 2013

Thank you all so very much for your reading of and participation in this story as it has unfolded.

Your comments, discussion and criticism have made my effort worth continuing, and I hope you have all found some benefit in the story from time to time, as well.

Knight_308 said... 

I haven't commented much since everything moved off of Frugal's, but I've read every chapter. The question is, is this a vision or reality? Usually when things get rushed and undetailed like this it's right around when Einar wakes up. Either way, Chris, thanks for the hard work. - Knight_308

No waking up, this time.  That was reality.

But, the story may not yet be entirely over...

Life goes on.

I will answer the rest of your comments very soon, and thanks again very much to each and every one of you who has been reading.


29 July, 2013

29 July 2013

There were three of them, flying low and in formation, appearing so suddenly over the ridge as to entirely disrupt Einar’s pondering and send all five adults diving for the ground despite the fact that they were already safely inside the tunnel, no hovering or circling, clearly hadn’t seen anything…yet.  That was enough for Einar.  With no sign of a coming storm, feds starting to take increased interest in the area and no solid plan for leaving the mines…he knew where it was leading. 

“When do you want to do this?”

“Now.  Soon as we can get back here with the snowmobiles, anyway.  No waiting.  This trail needs grooming, and we’re anxious to open up the new section, too.  Real anxious, aren’t we, Sue?  I’ve got the duffel bags at the house right now.  We’ll come load you up here in the tunnel, stick you on the pallets under the timber where no one can see, then we’ll all go together down to the highway.  Sue can bring Roger’s snowmobile back.”

Einar looked questioningly at Liz and she, shocked that he should be considering it at all, quickly nodded, yes, let’s do it! before he could talk himself out of the whole idea.  Wished, in fact, that they could do it right then so as not to give him the hours of wandering in the mine with the shadows she knew gathered around him when he went alone through the passages.  Already he was having his doubts.

“And when they see you coming back with empty duffels?”

“Oh, got that all taken care of.  Will have ‘em full of snow on the trip up here, full of snow again after we dump you down at the truck.  The look won’t change.”

Einar nodded.  Time to do it.  Staying would lead quickly and fairly inevitably to disaster; already they had been far too long in the mines, and far too long at the house before that.

“We’ll go.”

“Right.  Glad to hear it.  I’ve already packed your chutes, got them in the truck so you can take a look at them as we drive if you need to do that, and you’re gonna have to give your wife a quick lesson or two on the basics of jumping, because we’re not going to be sticking around the airstrip long enough to do any of that when we get there.  Sound good”

A nod from Einar, the two shook hands again and then Roger shook Liz’s as well, grinning at Will and getting a chortled laugh in response.

“Looks like it’s all set then,” Bud declared, rising.  “We’ll ski on down to the house, get the snowmobiles and be up her as quick as we can.  Don’t know what those boys are doing rumbling so low through here, but guess we’d better not stick around to find out, if we can help it…”

They were gone then, Einar, Liz and Will alone in the silence of the tunnel, no one speaking for some time.  Finally Liz, concerned where Einar’s mind might be straying as he stared into the shadows, broke the silence.

“I didn’t know you had jumped so many times…”

“Oh, yeah, we did a lot of jumps.  Some of them from real high up, best way to get in on the wrong side of a border without being detected…we went some pretty sketchy places, that’s for sure.”

“That’s how you ended up wherever you were when they captured you down in that tunnel, isn’t it?”

A long silence.  “Yeah.  Yeah, it is.  You know, first time I jumped after that…what was it?   Nearly three whole years later, it would have been.  Well, I was looking forward to it, was real confident in my skills and was ready to go, but once we got up in that plane, I just couldn’t quit shaking.  Rhodesian bush down there was all hazy with smoke from the wildfires they had so often, looked real distinctive, real different from anything I’d seen before but as we got ready to jump it turned to double canopy jungle right before my eyes, and I just about couldn’t go through with it.  Did, though.  Couldn’t let the other guys know anything was going on, and with time it got better.   I made it get better, made it work.”

“Yes, I have no doubt you did.  You always make it work.  Is that what you’re thinking about right now, though?  How it’s going to be to jump after so long, and whether it will…remind you of that other time, and what came after?”

He smiled, took her in his arms, resting his chin on Will’s head, which was blossoming of late with white-blond curls that inevitably reminded him of a dandelion going to seed.

“No.  No, I am not.  Just thinking about getting you guys home.”

The duffel bags were a bit damp inside even after being emptied of the snow with which they had been packed for the trip up from Bud and Susan’s, and Einar helped pad Liz’s with a blanket so she and Will could stay dry.  There beneath the heavy, sheltering timber he helped her into the bag, slid Will in beside her and took a last look around before climbing into the second bag where it sat lashed to the pallet, pistol tucked up under his chin where it would be handy, eyes big and white as Bud cinched down the top of the bag and closed its flap.

Long, cold and jarring was the ride through the timber, Liz a bit more comfortable with the blanket padding her and Will mostly sleeping at her side, but Einar found himself having to brace against every shift and bump in the trail which seemed to slam him against the pallet with enough force to break bone, leaving him bruised and thoroughly exhausted before they were halfway down the back of the mountain.  Nothing broke, however, and at last the movement ceased.  Clamping his jaw in the silence and fighting to still a tremor that had seized his hands somewhere along the way Einar inched the pistol into a better position, straining his ears to hear through the canvas and figure out what might be going on out there.  Hated not being able to see, to order and direct the situation to the best of his ability.  Nothing for it.  Had to allow Bud and Roger to be his eyes, for a short time.

Down at the highway Roger made a quick reconnaissance of the truck and the area where he’d hidden it beneath some heavy timber, all clear, it appeared, and skidding the pallet over beside the bed he took one end of Liz and Will’s duffel and Kilgore the other, the two of them carefully loading it.  “You Ok in there?” Kiesl checked, easing the bag over to one side to prepare room for Einar, loosening its drawstring so Liz could wriggle out and return the bag to Kilgore.

“Yes, fine.  Where’s Einar?”


The pilot laughed as he lifted Einar, not even stopping to wait for Kilgore’s help.  “Wow, I’ve tossed sacks of chicken feed that weighed more than you do, Asmundson.”

“Right,”  Einar’s voice coming muffled through the canvas as he struggled all cold-stiff and cramping to free himself and return the bag to the pair on the snowmobiles, “don’t amount to a hill of beans anymore, but that’s the way I like it.  Harder for them to spot me that way, and I can squeeze through cracks and passages where no one can follow!”

“Yeah, you look like you’re about to go where no one can follow, alright!  Never were a man to do a thing halfway.  Ok, we’re out of here Bud.  Can you and Sue handle loading the snow and finishing the grooming run, here?’

“We’ve got it, Rog.”  He slammed a fist into Einar’s shoulder, laid a gentler hand on Liz’s.  See you folks around.  Take care of that little one, ma’am, raise him up tough like his daddy.  He’s gonna need it.”

With which they were gone, Susan too choked up to speak, half glad she couldn’t see Liz or Will there at the last moment, holding herself together as she took Roger’s snowmobile and followed Bud back up the hill, knowing that there were too many trees in their path to safely allow her eyes to fill with the tears that wanted to come.

Roger was not waiting around, truck already bumping down the snowpacked track as Liz wriggled free from the blanket which concealed her, found Einar’s hand, and he gave hers a reassuring squeeze as the miles rolled away below them.

Some five hours later and with dusk approaching they finally reached the airstrip, Einar blinking in confusion at the sight that met his eyes when Roger lowered the tailgate, rolling brown winter grasslands spreading out in all directions, not a peak in sight.  Before he could ask questions Roger was gone, quickly inspecting his plane before herding his passengers inside and briefly leaving again to conceal the truck inside the other end of open hangar which sheltered the plane—the only structure on the place.  They were off, then, quickly airborne, Einar busy with final instructions for Liz, last inspection of the rigging and of Will’s hastily improvised but satisfactorily secure harness—Susan had even brought a little pair of infant-sized wrap-around sunglasses for the occasion—and before they knew it Roger was circling, telling them to get ready.

The following minutes passed in a blur, Liz stoic but clearly unsettled, Einar silently reassuring her and then the time had come and they were falling, plane arcing away above them.

When Einar got his bearings and looked up it was to see Liz and Will already drifting safely beneath their canopy as the cold air rushed up at him, thin, spruce-scented, the smell of freedom, high, timbered world growing rapidly larger ­and more defined beneath his feet, familiar, and Einar knew he was going home…

The End.

27 July, 2013

27 July 2013

For what seemed a good full minute they listened in strained silence as the footsteps drew nearer, Einar—remembering the first time he’d been surprised in a tunnel and not liking the way things had gone, after—wary of a trap and Liz and Susan knowing the danger that faced them all should he become convinced that this was the case.  Bud was the only one who appeared thoroughly relaxed as he stepped out away from the wall, switching on his headlamp and beckoning to the as-yet unseen presence that lurked somewhere out there beyond the circle of light.

“Asmundson, meet my good friend and partner in crime—ha!  By which I mean lots of federal felonies, here lately!—Roger Kiesl.  While you haven’t met since the search has been on, I do believe you two fellas will remember one another from the Bundu.”

A bit of the battle-ready harshness left Einar’s eyes at the memory of some long-past merriment, pistol still raised as he strained his ears for the sound of further movement in the tunnel behind the spot where Kiesl had emerged, but there was nothing.  Slightly lowering the weapon he crouched against the wall, appraising the interloper in the white halogen beam of Kilgore’s headlamp.

“Oh yeah, I remember.  You were a sanctions-buster, and a pretty doggone good one too, seems like.  Helped keep us supplied, down there.

Kiesl grinned.  “Was a specialty of mine for a while there.”

“You two know each other in the jungle?”  Kilgore inquired.  “Back before Africa, where ‘ol Roger came to be known as ‘The Ferret,’ and for good reason?”

“Never did.  But if I’m not mistaken, we’ve seen your plane come over here more than once since this search has been on, and it’s always improved things for us here on the ground.  Appreciate it.”

Roger stood, the two of them shaking hands, a gesture which Liz seldom ever remember seeing from Einar.  “It’s been an honor, sir.  Lots of fun, too.  Sometimes I really do miss the old days.”

Einar nodded, faraway look in his eyes for a moment, but he quickly brought himself back to the present.  “What’re you doing here, Kiesl?  Kilgore and his bride already managed to bust this embargo, brought us supplies yesterday…”

“Came to get you folks out of here, Asmundson.  Clean out of this country, before the feds can draw the noose any tighter around you.  Bud can explain.”

Kilgore crouched against the wall, arms crossed.  “Here’s how it’s gonna go, if you’re agreeable.  Sue and I have been taking the snowmobile out and putting in track for skiing, dragging a pallet behind to flatten and groom things, like a lot of folks do who don’t have access to fancy grooming equipment.  That’s how we ended up coming by your place here, without it looking odd.  Well, we need to put in some more track, a back loop down through the timber and almost to the highway on an old logging road that cuts down the back of the property, behind the area of this mine.  When you’re doing that sort of grooming you got to have some weight on the pallet, or the trail won’t be much good.  Figured we’d load you folks up in the duffel bags we’ve been using to hold sand and rocks and stuff to weigh down the pallet, take you down to the highway and load you into Roger’s truck.  A truck which Roger has borrowed, I should say.  No known connection either to him or to me, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“At which time,” Roger picked up, “you folks ride out with me to the airport, not this airport, of course, but another one, and little Will gets to make his first flight.”

Einar was quiet, thoughtful, knew he ought to dismiss the offer outright but knew also that they were stuck, currently, no good way out.  Kiesl, he trusted, as far as he could trust any man under present conditions.  The pilot had participated before in bringing Bud and Susan to see them, in creating diversions when the search had been hot, and had never betrayed them.  Still, it couldn’t work.

“They’d be waiting for us on landing, likely as not.  Wherever we might go…”

“Who said anything about you landing?  You’re not gonna be landing!  Think I’d risk having my plane shot all full of holes and then whatever remained of it seized and auctioned off, like that?”

Liz thought she saw a bit of a sparkle begin creeping into Einar’s eye at that, corner of his mouth twisting up.  “Ok then.  Tell me more.”

“Not a lot more to tell,” Roger shrugged.  Just meaning to deviate by a few hundred miles from my flight plan, toss you folks out of the plane and be done with it, really.”

Liz, who had been listening quietly and with a growing excitement, cut in at that point.  “What about Will, though?  I’d jump out of a plane, but he’s so little…”

“Aw, don’t worry about it ma’am,” Kiesl assured her.  “My little guy was just six months old when he made his first jump, strapped to my chest with a tiny pair of goggles and wearing his snowsuit for warmth. “

“His first jump?  You mean out of an airplane?”

“Well no, it was more like paragliding, but as far as the experience for the child, well…probably not a lot of difference.  We’re not talking HALO stuff, here.  He should do ok with the thin air, for the short time you’ll be up in it, especially since he’s a kid who’s lived his entire life up on the high ridges so far, and we’ll find ways to keep him warm.  Strap him to your chest, maybe even zip him in under your coat, and it’ll go just fine.”


“Sure, why not?”

“I’ve never done it before.  Never jumped out of anything.”  She turned to Einar.  “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?  In the Army?”

“Been a while, but yeah, between the Rangers and the RLI, I’ve done a few jumps…”

Kilgore laughed, clapped Einar so hard on the back that he would have bowled the lighter man over had he not braced himself.  “A few jumps?  Let me tell you ma’am, this boy sure can understate things when he’s got a mind to do it.  Why, by the time it was all over in Rhodesia, he had more jumps than most any of the troopies I knew over there, which is saying a lot.  And of course that’s not counting the ones he’d done before, in the jungle—both sides of several borders, though you probably can’t get him to talk about it.  Bet he’s never talked about any of that, has he?  Ha!  And what about the ones after those two little conflicts, in addition?  If you want someone who can jump, he’s your man.  He’s probably got more jumps than most of the jumpmasters at Benning, by now.”

Einar shrugged, looked away, and Kiesl stepped in.  “Brilliant record aside, he’s likely as not to break a leg landing, this time.  Literally.  Got to have some pretty brittle bones there Asmundson, the way you’re looking, and the long ones in your legs are liable to snap if you don’t come in real smooth and controlled.  Just a reality of the malnutrition or whatever it is you’ve got going on, there.  Surprised you haven’t been breaking bones already.  Something to keep in mind, when deciding who ought to carry the kid.”

Not the sort of thing Einar liked to hear, but he knew the pilot was right.  Sure didn’t want the little one to be riding on his chest if his legs gave out and he went for a good tumble upon hitting the ground, much less if he should be unconscious when he reached it, which he knew was a real possibility, the way things had been going of late.  Yet the idea of Liz carrying such cargo on her very first jump...

Enough, Einar.  Not particularly relevant, any of this.  You know you can’t do it.  Mustn’t do it.  Must find some other way out of here…

26 July, 2013

26 July 2013

Kilgore did not stop in Culver Falls that morning when he drove down, but kept right on traveling, arriving some six hours later at a diner just outside a large ranching community in the flatlands, where he stopped and made a call on one of only a few dozen payphones remaining in that half of the state.  Afterwards, taking a circuitous route and pausing frequently to make certain he was not being followed—which he was not—he drove out to a small, unattended airstrip to wait.

When Bud and Susan went for their morning ski the following day—earlier than usual, daylight barely beginning to creep over the ridge and darkness still lingering beneath the timber—they had company.

*   *   *
The previous day had been a quiet one for the little family in the mine, Will playing on the mattress of fir boughs and blankets, Liz sorting and organizing the things Susan had sent for them, preparing tasty meals from the included food and doing her best to keep Einar eating at regular intervals.

Einar, for his part, spent a fair amount of time up near the mine entrance keeping watch, ears sharp for any unusual sound and Muninn always within his field of vision, every little tilt of the bird’s head or movement of a feather scrutinized for meaning, for the warning it might give, but all day the bird showed no alarm, and no one came.  Continuously as he kept watch, Einar’s mind strayed to the envelope in his vest pocket, wanting to read again a section of the transcripts there, try to puzzle through some of the things he’d remembered just before last talking with Liz about it, but he did not, knowing that his full attention must remain focused on the matter at hand.  On his family’s security, and on how he might lead them out of there.  Watching, shivering in the soft whispers of breeze that found their way into the tunnel mouth, he prayed for snow, for storm, for a way out.

Getting sleepy.  Stood, stretched, squatted with back braced against the rocky wall.  No way to doze like that, for he knew the moment he started, he’d fall over.  Happened twice.  Had to change position, after which he took off his sweater and set it aside.  Couldn’t afford to be comfortable, not even marginally.  Had to keep alert.  The cold helped with that, helped with the rest of it, too, so he took off his shirt as well, crouching there against the rock in his buckskin vest until, arms turning purple and his entire body trembling so that the rough stone of the tunnel wall began leaving ragged spots along his backbone, he knew he’d let it go far enough.  Had to be ready, should someone come.

Someone did come, but it was not the enemy.  Was his family.  As they approached, he heard Will babbling and talking to Liz in his strengthening voice which was sounding every day more like speech, Liz answering quietly, and then there they were, Liz sitting down beside him and handing him his son.  Einar was glad he’d allowed himself a bit of time to warm

“Brought you some supper.”

Einar rose, stretched, tucked cold hands beneath his arms for a moment before accepting the thick slices of cheddar cheese, bread and summer sausage Liz had prepared for him.  “Thanks.  Things’re…pretty quiet out there.  No sign of trouble.”

“No sign of Bud or Susan, either?”

“No.  No, they’d better not be coming around too often!  Big enough risk they took coming once.”

She watched him as he spoke, thinking that, despite showing some signs of difficulty after having begun to eat again, a bit of swelling at the ankles, perhaps, he seemed overall to be a good bit stronger.  Even thought she saw a bit of color in his cheeks.  It had been difficult to tell by candlelight, but now she was sure, and she found the change encouraging, even if it was obvious that he’d been sitting there freezing himself, again.

“You’re right.  Best not to establish a pattern, I guess.”

“Bud knows that.  Hopefully they’ll stay away now.  Either way, we won’t be here.  Have to get moving, Liz.  I want to take us up through the mine, like we did the other time, into the timber and away.  Before they find us here.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to wait for the next storm, so it can cover our tracks?”

“Sure would, but I don’t know ­about staying here that long.  Just don’t know.  Haven’t seen any sign of approaching weather, and every hour we spend here…”

“Can we give it until morning at least, look at the sky and make our decision then?”

Einar stared at the ground, pondering, nodding slowly.  “Guess we can do that.  Ok.  Let’s not stick around here, though.  Too risky to be spending a lot of time near the world, like this.  Too much chance they could see our heat signature, and I don’t want you and Will having to make yourself as cold as I am, just to avoid being seen…”

“I’d rather you not be as cold as you are, either!   Yes, let’s go.”

They went, Einar first tossing a bit of his bread to Muninn and nodding when the raven rasped his thanks.

“Keep your eye on things, you old vulture.”

With the coming of morning Einar had left the warm nest of blankets and sleeping bag where Liz and Will slept comfortably, hurrying topside to check on the state of the weather.  Clear and soon to be sunny, he could see even from a distance. 

Einar did not even have to stick his head out of the mine to know something was amiss outside.  Muninn was not in his tree, was nowhere to be seen, and made no response to Einar’s hushed rasping.  Something was different with the tree where the pack had previously been left, too, and as Einar squinted, tilted his head and struggled to get his eyes to focus, he soon realized that he wasn’t simply looking at the tree, but at a well-camouflaged man sitting against its trunk, almost entirely concealed by boughs and holding the raven with wings pinned against his body to prevent a struggle.  Seeing movement inside the man, who had by then been identified by Einar as Bud Kilgore, released the raven, rose and took a step towards the mine, hands empty and slightly raised.

“This place open for visitors?”

Warily glancing around, already aware of the presence of one other person because of the raven’s behavior—circling, scolding, but not focused wholly on Bud’s location—Einar motioned to the tracker, who hurried to the mine entrance and ducked inside, beckoning for Susan to follow.

Einar stopped them just inside the tunnel.  “You two alone?”

“What does it look like?”

Einar glanced at the raven, who now sat serenely in his tree.  Looked alright, but still he insisted on searching the pair before allowing them any further underground.  Pair cleared as well as he could reasonably do it under present circumstances, Einar hurried them along the passage, wanting to trust but anxious to get some rock between them and the outside world, should they be wearing any sort of transmitter or other device.

“Things at the house?  I saw the feds there, watched them leave…”

“You came back, did you?  Well, it went alright.  Couple of them came in, didn’t conduct a proper search and so didn’t see anything to get their suspicion up, but I know that’s why they were there.  Shirley put them up to it, no doubt.  You folks definitely need to stay away from the house.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that!  Hey.  You got some things to answer for, Kilgore.”

“Oh yeah?  Well I’m sure I do.  So do we all.  Time’ll come, Asmundson.  No sense rushing it.”

“I’m not speaking generally.  Think you know what I’m talking about.  Want to know how come I woke up tied to that doggone board…”

Liz had arrived by that time, a sleepy Will in tow, had begun greeting Susan but fell silent at the obvious tension between Bud and Einar.

“Sure,” Bud leaned back against the wall, crossed his arms. “ Look.  It was the only way I could think of to get you reliably up on your feet again and out of my house before the feds ended up finding you there.  Was running short on options.  Consider it an act of self-defense, on my part.”

“You should have just shot me.”

“I can do it now, if you’d like.”

Einar shrugged.

“Let it go, Asmundson.  Didn’t even happen.  Feds rushed in and saved you before I could get a drop of that stuff down your stubborn, stiff-necked gullet.  You can thank them, and may be getting the chance to do it real soon here up close and personal, if we don’t find a way to get you guys out of these mines.”

Einar was on his feet again, pistol in hand as he faced the entrance.  Kilgore chuckled.

“No, no, keep your hair on, man.  They don’t know you’re here.  Not yet.  But you know this place is too close to the house, and with the scrutiny I’m gonna be under, some distance would be a real good thing.  Now, about that distance.  Can I bring a friend of mine in here, real good friend, without you putting holes in him?”


“Of course.”  Kilgore let out a loud whistle between his teeth, and Einar whirled around at the sound of rock scraping on rock—from a position behind the little alcove; someone was already in the mine.

25 July, 2013

25 July 2013

Looks like Bud Kilgore needs just one more day to sort things out.

Back tomorrow with the next chapter.

Thank you all for reading!

23 July, 2013

23 July 2013

Einar and Liz had enjoyed a much warmer night with the benefit of the clothes, sleeping bag and food provided by Bud and Susan, even little Will seeming more content than he had so far been since their arrival at the mine.  Several time in the night Einar had found himself compelled to leave the warm little nest, creep out and check to make certain that all was well in the tunnels and outside, the vigil leaving him each time so thoroughly chilled that he dared not slip back into the sleeping bag lest he wake Liz with his shivering, but each time she was listening for his return, and pulled him back in to get warm. 

When morning arrived without any sign of trouble Einar was almost ready to let himself believe that the delivery of supplies had been without ulterior motive, but even should that prove the case, he knew the very act of their delivery greatly increased the risk of eventual discovery.  They couldn’t stay in the mine.  Crouching with his back against the rock wall as he watched Liz prepare breakfast—Will helping in his own way, which consisted mostly of snagging tastes whenever his little hands could dart in unnoticed—Einar weighed the options, knew what he wanted to do but figured it bore some discussion with Liz before the final decision was made.

“We need to get out of here.  Figure our best option is to go all the way through like we did before, and out the top.  Lots of timber up there, enough to hide our tracks if we’re real careful.  What do you think?”

“I think we should eat before we talk about it.”

“Ate last night!”

“Most people do it every day, you know…sometimes even more than once!”


“Here.  There’s part of a sandwich left from last night, which I’ve split between us, a banana and some Nutella.  How about that?”

How about it, indeed!  Einar’s eyes were huge and white in the semi-darkness as he inspected the feast Liz spread before him, banana sliced up and spread with Nutella and sandwich smelling every bit as good as it had the night before, mind tossing around a dozen reasons why he ought to refuse the food, why he must, but he managed to dismiss each of them hastily and without too much thought, and eat.

*  *  *
That morning, which dawned sunny, purple-skied and nearly perfect for some high-altitude recreation, Bud and Susan clipped into their skis and took off along the newly-groomed trail, enjoying a bit of somewhat more relaxed time together after the hectic happenings of recent weeks.

When their course took them by the mine and they saw the pack missing they were glad of it, but in accordance with a discussion before leaving home, they did not stop.  Susan had wanted to leave them a batch of the freshly baked cinnamon rolls she and Bud had enjoyed for breakfast, a few additional warm things for Will and some avocados for Einar, but she’d known Bud was right when he insisted that they must not linger too often outside that mine entrance.   Every time they went there, he said, they would be taking a risk, and eventually, that risk would cease to pay off, someone would see something, notice a pattern, and the situation would go terribly wrong… 

Stopping on a sunny ridge crest far from both the mine and the house, the couple clicked out of their skis and sat down on a fallen aspen to discuss the dilemma.  “Can’t stay there forever, those three,” Kilgore growled, poking at the snow with a ski pole.

“I know.  I wish we could bring them back to the house where they could be safe and warm for a little while more, but after that last visit by your employers, I know it’s too risky.  And Einar would probably never trust the place again, even if he still hopefully has some trust for us…”

“Nope.  Never get him through that door again, even if it was safe to try, which it isn’t right now.”

“Probably for the best.  He really was not doing very well there, even though we tried.  Just couldn’t settle in, and I doubt he was ever going to.”

“Critter like that tends to be a lot more at home in a damp, cold old tunnel than in a house.  Just isn’t any civilizing some of ‘em.  Which isn’t a terribly bad thing in his case, anyway, though maybe a little rough for his missus, at times.  Getting too soft and civilized can kill a man, you know.”

“Can it, now?”  She laughed.  “Well, no more pancakes and chokecherry jam for you then, mister.  Wouldn’t want to risk killing you.  And you’d better start sleeping outside, too.  In the snow.  Just to be safe.”

“Hey now, I’m no federal fugitive!  Not yet, anyway…  Little civilization’s not gonna do me any harm.  I meant folks in his situation, that’s all.  Folks who can’t afford to let their guard down at all, not the least little bit, or it’s all over for them.  Best for them not to get too comfortable or settled, that’s all, or they risk complacency.”

“I guess we’d better not let our guard down too far, either, with the sort of guests we’ve been having…”

“That’s for sure.  Now.  About these guests of ours.  How’re we going to get rid of them?  Can’t keep bringing them food all the time, and you know Asmundson’d sooner sit there and starve than he would venture out and risk leaving tracks in this snow to catch some game, unless a storm’s real clearly on the way.”

Susan shook her head, looking pensive.    “I wish there was some way to get them down to your house in Arizona for the rest of the winter.  Or out of the country.  Out of here, where they could start over.”

“Arizona’s out.  Close as them feds are watching me after this business with Shirley and the avalanche, all the evidence they may or may not have brought back from up there, including my footprints in some real compromising places, if they’re smart enough to realize it…no way.   They’ve probably already been there, and will be if they haven’t yet.  It’d be a trap.  But you know, you did give me an idea…  Let’s get back to the house.   I got business in town!”

20 July, 2013

20 July 2013

Liz was excited.  Had suspected as soon as she’d heard the approaching snowmobile that it very likely would be Bud and Susan come to check on them, to bring supplies or even to get them out of there, offer them transport, once again, to Bud’s house in Arizona or some other relatively safe location far from the center of the search, but she had known what Einar would surely think of such an idea.  Now here he was returning to her and, rather than insisting that they flee immediately to the darker recesses of the mine, never to return to Bud and Susan’s or the area in general, he wanted her to come have a look at the bag.  The one presumably left by Bud and Susan, though she knew they must still be careful.  Trying not to let her excitement show too much, she followed Einar, crouching with him in the mine entry and squinting at the bag.

“Yes, that’s one of Susan’s napkins sticking out of the top.  And I recognize the pack as hers, too.   It’s one of those hunting packs that’s made of soft, fleecy material so it won’t scrape and make noise as you move through the brush.  She uses it when she goes bow hunting.  Look where she put it, too!  Where we can go get it without venturing into the deep snow and leaving our own tracks…”

“She didn’t put it, Bud did.”

“He did?   How do you know?”

“Those’re his tracks.  For sure.”

She stood, the relief and almost-joy on her face having more to do with Einar’s recognition of the pack as a friendly gesture than her own realization that it wasn’t the feds who had paid them a visit.  “Well then, let’s go and…”

Einar was on his feet, suddenly looking eight feet tall as he stood to block her way, hands pressed against either side of the tunnel.  To prevent himself falling, as much as to stop her dash for the bag, but it didn’t appear that way to Liz, and she took a quick step back, Will pressed close against her.  “No.  Don’t go out there.  Let me do it.  You take Will back around the corner, and I’ll give you the all clear when you can come out again.  Just like before, if you don’t hear anything from me for half an hour or so, just head deeper into the mine and don’t look back.”

“But I thought you said they were Bud’s tracks?”

“They were.”  He sank to the ground, all knees and elbows and sharp angles trembling in the cold, chin on his knees, no longer looking particularly imposing.  “But that doesn’t mean we can go dashing out there.  There’s a lot we don’t know.  Best let me take a look at that thing.  If it looks good, I’ll bring it in and you can have a look.”

With a quick squeeze of Einar’s shoulder Liz turned and took Will in around the corner so his father would know he was safe and get on with inspecting the pack.

Everything checked out, Einar taking his time approaching, moving and opening the pack, carefully lifting and inspecting each item before setting it aside, and though he knew there could be things he was missing, tiny hidden transmitters in items of clothing, invisible poison sprinkled on the food…he had the definite sense that the bag had been packed by Bud and Susan, and the two of them alone.  Prayed he was right as he stood, Muninn scolding him for not sharing more than the few morsels of food he’d tossed the bird as he sorted, and headed back into the mine.

Back at their little shelter—not much going to transmit through all this rock, if there’s anything transmitting at all, Einar had reasoned—and basking in the comparatively brilliant light of one of the candles Susan had included near the top of the pack, the first thing Liz pulled out was a sizeable stuff sack filled with food.  Just below this sat the warm wool sweater Einar had left behind when he’d freed himself from Bud’s restraints just before their escape, and though he seemed uninterested in putting it on, Liz draped it around his shoulders before delving into the food bag.  For the moment, she got no farther than the two large turkey, avocado, clover sprout and cream cheese sandwiches that Susan had carefully wrapped and stowed at the top of the bag.  Time for their first good meal in nearly two days…

Einar soon found himself driven nearly mad by the smell of the stuff; his body had just begun growing used to taking in a bit more nutrition every day during his stay at Bud and Susan’s, but had not been at it long enough to even make a start at rebuilding from its extended periods of near starvation, let alone start putting away any sort of reserve, and he had been keenly affected by feelings of hunger since arriving in the damp chill of the mine.  Yet he would not so much as touch the food except to examine it again for hidden transmitters (which he did not find, but that proved nothing,) eyeing it suspiciously and staring with an odd mixture of apprehension and envy, shaking, arms crossed almost protectively on his stomach against the twisting, gnawing pain as Liz unwrapped one of the sandwiches, gave thanks and began devouring the meal.  Even Will was eating, delightedly gobbling the bits of avocado which Liz mashed up between her fingers and offered to him

Seeing that Einar’s half of the sandwich sat untouched where she had left it Liz stopped, handed it to him and insisted that he eat.  Could see that he desperately wanted the food, was trembling and holding it at arm’s length as if to avoid having to smell it, lead me not into temptation, and she was not about to let him miss the opportunity and end up freezing in the night for lack of energy.

Einar shook his head, pushed the food back in her direction.

“Why not?  It was Bud and Susan who left this.  You know it was!  You know better than this.  Don’t let yourself start thinking that way again.  The food is not poisoned.  It’s perfectly good.”

“I know.   Trying to remind myself of that, but…there are things I don’t remember, Liz.  From Bud and Susan’s this last time.  I do remember waking up strapped to a board in the kitchen, feds on the way and a lot of chaos in the house…  What’s a lot less clear is what came before that.  I did see the things sitting on the counter, the tube and all that, know what the plan must have been.”

“Do we have to talk about this right now?  It didn’t happen.  Nothing happened.  I’m still hungry.  Let’s finish eating first.”

“It almost happened.  Would have, wouldn’t it?”

“I was opposed to it from the start.”

He looked at her, measuring, trying to discern the truth of her words and seeing in her no deception.  “Bud’s idea?”

“Yes.  And I told him ‘no.’  But…”

“But what?”

“But maybe it wasn’t a terrible idea.  I wouldn’t have done it.  But might have wanted to.”

“Shouldn’t be another person’s choice, that kind of thing.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.”

“I know you believe that, and that’s why I wouldn’t have done it.  But I was questioning it, for sure.  Questioning whether your choice really was your choice, just then.  Whether you were really yourself.”

“Of course I was.”

“You’d said you wanted to live though, to be here for Will.  I could see that you meant it.  Yet some of your actions…  Well, they were completely contrary to what you’d been consistently saying and intending.  And I’m not even sure you realized it.  You weren’t thinking clearly, didn’t seem to have the ability to start doing so again until you did the very thing you weren’t thinking clearly about—that is, eating and drinking again—and the situation was about to kill you.  Imminently.  Which is why it was hard to know what was the right thing, at the time.”

Einar shrugged.  “Not particularly relevant, any of that.  Doesn’t give another person the right to strap me to a board, stick a tube down my nose and impose their will.  Or even their version of what they think my will would have been, if I’d been thinking more clearly.  That’s just not for anyone else to say.  Forcibly taking away a person’s dignity, his freedom and nearly everything it means to him to be a human being, in order to sustain the physical functions of life—that’s just never a right thing to do.  Never justifiable.  And I find it outrageous that some people seem to think it may be.  Bud might very well have been justified in shooting me and burying me under the basement to prevent the feds from finding out I’d been there, if they were on their way up the driveway and there was no other option—might qualify as a form as self-defense—but he had absolutely no right to tie me to that board.”

Liz sighed.  “I know.  I think I may agree with you, in principle.  Just said I was struggling with it, at the time.  Wishing that all the justifiable options didn’t lead to you being dead.  Try to put yourself in my position, and maybe you can’t blame me too much for that.”

He smiled.  “Oh, I’m not mad at you.  Can’t blame you for anything at all.  Real sorry to have put you in a position where things like that even come up.  But from my way of looking at things, maybe you can see why I’m finding it a little rough right now to trust this food Bud and Susan have left us.  After what they almost did.”

“Sure I can.  Of course.  But it’s all we’ve got, and you’ll die without it.  Tonight, probably.”

“I know.”

“I can tell you do, and I’m so glad.  Now, eat.”

He ate, slow tastes and then, pausing to have a bit of melted snow, a bit faster, felt a lot better once he’d got a few bites of the stuff into him and let it sit there for a while, body relaxing just a bit as the cold ever so slightly eased its grip.  After a few minutes his mind eased a bit, too, entire situation seeming somehow less threatening than it had done at first.  Which he could very easily have taken as a sign that the food had, indeed, been contaminated with some nefarious mind-dulling poison designed to short-circuit his mental processes and leave him less able to resist the advancing plots of the enemy…but he didn’t.  Had another piece of sandwich, instead.

19 July, 2013

19 July 2013

Rather extensive “picnic” stowed in two oversized daypacks—along with some spare clothes and sleeping bags; one never knows how long a picnic may take, and ought to be prepared—Bud and Susan set out to put in their ski trail, Susan, as she had promised, riding on the pallet while Bud dragged it somewhat reluctantly behind the snowmobile.  Once he saw that she was neither going to fall off nor become irritated with him she happened to end up covered in snow now and then—“that’s what the goggles are for!” she’d reminded him—Bud began enjoying the task and things went a bit more quickly.  Figuring it would be unwise to head straight for the mine, or even to do that side of the loop first, the better part of two hours were taken up with laying a varied and well-packed trail through the timber East of the house. 

Only when the first section was finished did they begin on the back of the property, starting the loop which would take them within yards of one of the old mine entrances.  It was a place Einar knew, Susan was certain, from his previous study of her late husband Bill’s notes, and, though she did not know for sure, seemed likely to be the one through which he had led Liz on their previous escape.  A logical place for a return visit, especially by people who would be needing to keep warm while avoiding detection from the air. 

* * *
Having spent more than an hour lounging in the sunshine, Will sleeping, Liz dozing with him and Einar keeping himself awake only through the realization that they would otherwise be left entirely unguarded, the trio was rousted from its rest by the disappearance of the sun.  Sinking behind the nearby wall of spruces and ceasing to grace the mine entrance with its warming powers, it left the place dank and chilly, Einar beginning to shiver and Liz waking with the suggestion that they move back into the warmer, more thoroughly protected interior of the mine.

Which they were in the process of doing, when Einar heard a sound which stopped him in his tracks.  Dropping to the ground with pistol in hand he whispered for Liz to get behind him, and soon she, too, heard the unmistakable whine of an approaching snowmobile.  They were too far in to see anything more than a hint of fuzzy light where the entrance lay, enough, Einar knew, to tell him, if he watched closely, when and if a human form might approach, enter, but the vehicle did not stop.  Only when when the sound had faded to long silence did Einar dare move, finding Liz in the near darkness and speaking close to her ear.

“Looks like we may have to make another crawl through these passages, if this is what it appears to be.”

“You think they’re looking for us?  It could just be Bud and Susan…”

“No way to know that, is there?”

“Well, they left, whoever it was, so there’s really no reason to…”

She fell silent at Einar’s hand tight on her shoulder, sound soon echoing again from the mouth of the mine, and this time, it did stop.  For a full minute, maybe two, tense times, Liz at Einar’s insistence taking Will and waiting around a bend in the tunnel, where the bullets could not reach them…

But no bullets came, no form darkening the doorway, no intrusion into the mine, and soon the vehicle started up again, and was gone.  Liz came crawling back to Einar’s side, found him slowly advancing with the pistol, creeping on knees and one hand.

“Where are you going?”

“Have to know.  Risky business, taking Will through those passages and up out that vertical hole, and don’t want to do it if we don’t have to.  So I’m going to check.  Stay back.  Way back where you can’t be seen, but can hear what’s going on.  If there’s shooting, or if I don’t come back in fifteen minutes or so, things have gone wrong and you need to get Will out of here.  Way back in the mine.  Find the place we climbed out before, and don’t look back.  Understand?”

A silent nod, didn’t like it, but the child had to be protected, and what option did she have?  And then Einar was gone, fast crawl for the smear of light at the front of the mine.

Silent out there, but if they were waiting for him, of course it would be silent.  Einar lay still, pressed flat as he could make himself—which, in his current condition, he had to admit with some satisfaction was pretty doggone flat—into the cold rock of the floor, waiting.  Did not have to wait long, which was fortunate, as he was not far at all from being immobilized by the cold, though he did not entirely realize the fact.  No one was out there.  He was sure of it.  Had they been, Munin the raven would not have been sitting calm and quiet on his chosen fir branch, tilting his head this way and that as he waited for the return of his human companions.  Something in Einar relaxed just a bit, though he remained painfully alert as he crept forward, wanting a better look outside.

Might be cameras.  Sensors.  He knew that.  But had to check, as the nature of the recent visit had a lot of bearing on their immediate course of action, and so much was at stake either way.  He’d see the tracks.  Know who it was, and what they’d been doing.

The tracks were Bud’s.  Unmistakably.   He’d been wearing snowshoes—smart fella, carrying snowshoes on the snowmobile; lots of folks don’t think about that, and end up stranded when the things get stuck or break down miles from home—but the gait was still unmistakably his, at least to a trained eye such as Einar’s.  Which didn’t settle anything for sure, but did somewhat help, after what he’d witnessed at the house.  Bud had not appeared to be in collusion with them at the time, and, one had to hope, still was not.  But if not, what was he doing there at the mine?  Putting them all in danger for one thing, and for another…Einar spotted the bag.  Great.  What a dilemma.  Could hardly leave the thing where it was, knowing that it could contain the cameras and sensors he had—despite having some measure of trust in Kilgore’s intentions—still somewhat suspected, yet if he was to tamper with the thing, it might well be to meet head-on a rather nasty explosive surprise that could have been concealed for him inside. 

Whatever he was to do, he knew it must be done without too much more delay, for the cold was finding its way in relentlessly through his thin clothing with the disappearance of the sun, and he was beginning to realize that his minutes of useful dexterity were to prove somewhat limited.  Relying on Muninn to alert him of any human movement in the area he quickly dropped once again to hands and knees, creeping forward until he could get a better look at the bag, a small camouflaged backpack which he could see, upon closer inspection, had a bit of brightly colored cloth protruding from its top. 

Strange, the things a person will remember, but Einar recognized the cloth as belonging to one of the napkins Susan kept on her kitchen table, cheerful things patterned all over with ripe fruit of seven different varieties, all spilling out of a centrally-located basket and dancing around the borders.  He’d counted them more than once, sitting there at her table trying not to look at the food.  Which still didn’t entirely clear things up about the present situation, but at least warranted a consultation with Liz before further action was taken, and he retreated, creeping back into the darkness of the mine and trying hard to convince himself that he was staying so low as a security measure, rather than because he could no longer do anything else… 

17 July, 2013

17 July 2013

Liz was all for it, Einar’s resolve to make things better in this life, but before that could start to happen, she knew, they had to find a way to sustain life in the first place, for all of them.  She and Will would be alright for a while even if forced to stay hidden in the depths of the mine without more than a regular supply of fairly fresh water to sustain them; Will would not be happy, might not be getting as much as he would like, but she was confident in her ability to go on making the milk needed to keep him going, at least for a while.  Einar, though, had been far too close to the edge for too long to have any reserves left, and without food, reality was that he would soon succumb to the cold, and would no longer be with them. 
Already the cold was taking its toll; Einar had never properly warmed from his trek through the snow, even after a night spent curled up with her in the blanket, and Liz knew that without the timely introduction of some significant source of energy, he was increasingly risking a hypothermic slumber that might well prove irreversible, under their present circumstances.  He had stopped shivering in the minutes that had passed since the end of their conversation, and she was pretty sure it wasn’t because the topic, however inflammatory, had provided him with a sustained source of warmth.  Suddenly very concerned at his stillness, she jabbed him with an elbow, letting out a silent sigh of relief when he stirred, reached for his knife and sat up a bit straighter.


“I think it’s time to go back up to the entrance for more snow to melt.  So we don’t run too low on water.  Want to come with me?”


Silence again, knife slipping to the floor, and she could feel him sagging, probably drifting back towards sleep.  “Einar?”

“Yeah, I’ll go.  Where’s the…the plastic stuff that we’re…”

“Let’s both go.  I’ve got it right here.  Why don’t you drink this little bit that’s left from the last batch, so we don’t spill it while we’re walking.”

Long way to the brilliant, snow-reflected daylight of the outside world, long walk, Einar insisting upon leading, checking the place as they went, fighting hard to stay on his feet, stay alert.  Only after a thorough if squintily-viewed survey of the wide world beyond the mine entrance—was mighty bright out there, sunlight hurting his eyes, but he knew he’d have an advantage if required to face anyone in the darkness—did he beckon to Liz, who quickly joined him in the patch of sunlight falling golden and deliciously warm some five feet into the tunnel.  Afternoon sunlight, and she soon had Will all stripped down to his diaper and sitting on her lap in that sheltered, wind-free spot, laughing delightedly at the feel of the sunlight on his skin.

Diligently gathering clean snow, wrapping it in the scrap of plastic and setting this in the sun to begin its melting Einar joined them, eyes soon closed, head leaned back against the rock, shivering again after a while, and Liz was glad, knew it meant the sun was doing its work, buying him some time.

*  *  * 
Susan had told Bud about the mines before, but now she got out the maps, spread them on the kitchen table and showed him, told him the details of Einar and Liz’s previous sojourn through the recesses of their long-forgotten tunnels.  A good place to lose one’s self and escape discovery, but with the ending of the storm, both she and Bud knew they had nowhere to go, no way to safely leave the darkness of that underground world and move to a place where they might be better able to provide for themselves the necessities of life.

“They’re going to be freezing in there, running out of food, if they managed to take any at all.  Which I’m not sure they did.  We’ve got to do something.”

“Aw, Asmundson’s a mighty resourceful fellow, you know.  He will have taken them in deep where it isn’t nearly so cold as out here, and he’ll be feeding them on blind cave fish, barbecued bats and crickets, likely as not.  Man’s practically a wild critter.  They’ll be alright.”

“For a while, but he’s dying.  Resourcefulness can only take a person so far when their physical resources are all used up like that, wild critter or not.”

“That old buzzard functions best when he’s all used up and backed into a corner with nowhere to go.  He don’t know any other way to live.  It does him good.  Keeps him going.”

“Bud, I want you to go find them.”

“Whoa now, you’re asking me to go track Asmundson through a series of tunnels, and not just any tunnels, but ones that he’s been in before and knows well…that’s pretty nearly tantamount to a death sentence!  You trying to get rid of me, or what?”

“Oh, you can handle him.  Just let him know you’re there.  And that it’s you, and not someone else.”

“Yeah, and if he don’t want to see me?  If he happens to have taken a notion that it was me who invited the feds up to the house in the first place, in some terribly misguided attempt to collect that big reward, or to ingratiate myself with my sometimes-employers?  He might be thinking that way, you know.  It would sort of be like him.”

“He’ll  be alright.  Liz is with him.”

“Right, that’s what I’m afraid of.   Dangerous as that fella is when he’s fighting for his own life, his freedom, he’s gonna be five times as bad when you’ve got him trapped in a tunnel with his family to defend.  I know how that goes.”

“I know how it goes, too, and I’m telling you that I think this will be alright.  You’ll be alright.  You’ll be able to talk with him.”

“And just how do you know that, my lady?”

She smiled, rose to begin preparing the food she intended to send with him.  “I’ve had my fair share of dealings with his kind.  Your kind.  You’re more like him than you might want to admit, after all...  So, I just know.”

A grumble from Kilgore, oh, so we have a “kind” now, do we?  Huh.  “Trouble is, I’ll leave tracks if I do that, just like they would if they were leaving.  Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of them hiding there.”

“Yes, you will, but I’ve got a solution for that.  Some winters, I’ve set up a cross-country ski track all around this place in the less-steep areas, dragged an old pallet with several concrete blocks behind one of the snowmobiles to flatten and pack it a little, and gone out nearly every day on that for exercise.  My neighbors know it, and I’m sure the feds know it, too, from past satellite images.  So it shouldn’t be any surprise to them.  I know it’s almost spring, but the snow’s still good, and I think it’s time to do that track again.  It will go right past the mine.  Always used to go right past the mine, and the spruces will cover the fact that we occasionally leave the track for a few minutes to head over to it.”

“Mighty bold plan, my lady.  But it might work.  Might just provide the cover we need.  If Asmundson don’t hear the snowmobile, figure they’ve been found and take off, that is.  But deep down in there, they really shouldn’t hear a thing.  I’ll head out now and start grooming the trail.”

“I’ll come help!”

“How do you help?  I can run a snowmobile!”

“Sit on the pallet for some extra weight, that’s how.  It’ll be fun!  I’ll bring a picnic…”

15 July, 2013

15 July 2013

Einar wasn’t getting very far in telling her what he’d been thinking about, remembering, as he’d read the transcripts yet again, sat there silent, apparently lost in thought, so she tried to help, get a bit of conversation going.

“You told me last night that one of the reasons it’s been so hard for you to really make the decision to eat more and get stronger is that when you’re not having to struggle so hard, minute-by-minute, you thought you’d have a hard time facing who and what you are, some of the things you’d done over there, or the ones you hadn’t done…  I was just wondering, did you ever have the opportunity to talk to anyone else who’d been held prisoner over there?  Later, I mean, after you came back?”

“No.  There were a lot of guys, of course, pilots most of them, flyers, but most of them…well, they were over there for three, four, even five years.  My experience was nothing, compared to that.   Nothing at all.  Don’t suppose we would have had much to say to one another.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.   And it certainly wasn’t ‘nothing at all,’ your time over there.  It was different in some ways, sure.  Shorter.  But unlike some of them who had a reason to hope that they’d be freed someday, that their government might be trying to negotiate something like that or was at the very least aware of their existence and the fact that they’d been captured…”

“No, we didn’t have anything like that.  Not a chance.  Nobody was coming for us.  Nobody would even dare officially acknowledge our existence, because of where we were at the time.  Geographically, I mean.”

“And you knew that at the time, didn’t you?”

“Oh sure, we knew it.  Definitely on our own out there.  We knew that going in.”

“And your experience with the…interrogations.  It would have been very similar, or even worse in some ways to what they faced, at least for the time they had you, because like you said, they had no time to waste.  Needed all the information right away, unlike the situation in the actual prisons, where they might have had months or even years to wait somebody out.”

Einar shrugged.  It didn’t matter.  None of it mattered.  No sense attempting to compare the experience of one man to that of another.  In the end, all that really mattered was how a man had acquitted himself under the circumstances he, himself, had faced, and that was where the trouble came in, because fact of the matter was that he had broken.  Given in.  Talked to them, and in under a week, too.  Mere days.  After that—well, it changes who a person is.  Takes something away, and though in some sense he’d spent his entire life trying, there was no getting it back, that sense of one’s self, of integrity, of wholeness.  Always something missing.  He told her so, in simple terms.

She put a hand on his shoulder, glad the soft, enveloping darkness was there to conceal her tears.  No.  Why must you see it that way? But she didn’t try to argue.  Knew it would be senseless to argue.

“I thought you never gave them anything they could use, anything real.”

“I didn’t.  But I did talk.  I let them get to me, and eventually…well, I just know I would have let something slip.  Something real.  Some little detail.  If they’d kept me.  Kept at it.”

“So would anybody.  Einar, when the feds had me in that interrogation room…they didn’t even do anything, really, just some bright lights, handcuffs and…the threats they were making about Will, but I would have done it, too.  I know I would have.  Talked, tried to give them what they wanted, or made them think I was, anyway.  I had no doubt.  It was awful, and they never even touched me.  It was the threat of it.  So, what do you think of me?  Do you think I’m weak?  Unworthy?  Somehow less than I was before, as a human being?”

“Of course not.  Don’t even say that.  I would never think anything of the sort.  You’re the strongest lady I know, and I sure do admire you for that.  But this is not about you, or anybody else.”

“But you’re human, like everybody else.  Why can’t you allow yourself to be human?  Forgive yourself for being human?”


“Yes.  That’s what I said.  This standard you’re trying to hold yourself to…”

“It’s mine.  It’s always worked for me.”

“Don’t get angry, but this is important, because I think it goes back to what you were talking about last night.  About how you couldn’t forgive yourself for what you did, or didn’t do over there while you were in captivity, because your actions were the only thing you had control over.  Or something like that.  Isn’t that what you said?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“Well, I’m just trying to point out to you that while yes, each of us is in control of our actions and is responsible for our choices, you reacted the way any human—any strong, honorable man—would have reacted, under that particular set of circumstances.  And I just thought if you’d talked to some of the others, or even heard accounts of what they went through, it might help you in some way to see that.”

“Oh, you hear things, read things over the years, though I never did seek those out, the stories of others.  Several reasons for that.  One being that I’m not looking to excuse my behavior.  Wouldn’t even be right to try.”

“And I’m not talking about excuses.  You don’t need excuses.  Just a little understanding.  You need to let yourself understand”

Quiet then for a long time, Will whimpering for food and Liz doing her best to satisfy him, and when she turned her attention back to Einar it was to find him weeping, silent, even in that, not letting himself go, but she could feel the sobs…  After a time he was finished, gritting his teeth and staring into the darkness, trying to get his breath.

“You’re a real wise person, Liz.  You know that?  Don’t know how you ended up with a big fool like myself, but I’m gonna try to make it right for you.  Make it better, this life.”

14 July, 2013

14 July 2013

Back from spending the weekend in the high(er) country, where it rained and rained (we've sure been needing that!) and will have a chapter for tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading! 

12 July, 2013

12 July 2013

Faced with a situation which rendered any venture too far from the mine entrance a rather unwise endeavor, little remained to Einar and Liz that morning but to collect some snow so they could have a bit of drinking water which had not seeped its way through a hundred feet of rock, some of it previously disturbed by mining, before reaching them.  Einar was glad of the opportunity, not having been particularly happy with the need for Liz, and by default Will, to consume such potentially contaminated water.  Lacking anything in which to transport the snow back to their little alcove for melting—the above-freezing temperatures in the place, alone, would eventually do the job, even if they didn’t have a fire again that day—he made a quick return trip to the shelter and carefully tore off a corner of the plastic bag which had been their shelter from the continuous drip of meltwater from above.  

Liz watched him as he returned, plastic carefully folded and tucked beneath one arm, features sharp in the harsh, snow-reflected sunlight that illuminated the area around the entrance.  She could see that he had lost even more weight over those past several days, something which she had hardly even believed possible.  Eyes bright and staring, skin appearing nearly transparent in the sunlight, he had about him a hollow, desperate look that she did not at all like.  Such a dreadful shame, she could not help but think to herself, that he should be coming to such a point then, of all times, when he had really seemed to be making the decision to turn things around, to eat, had been telling her about his wish to get out and set up a little trapline, feed them all.  

Back at Bud and Susan's when the food had been there, had been all around them, he had not been willing, and now that he was willing...well, there was simply nothing to eat, and no obvious way to obtain such in the forseeable future.  Which perhaps had a lot to do with why he was suddenly so willing--nothing to lose, no  danger of actually being able to carry through on his willingness--but she had to hope not.  Had to hope, too, that they would be given the opportunity to find out, one way or the other.

Einar, too, was pondering their predicament, though his focus was, as always, a bit different.  He just wanted to find a way out of there, a path that might lead the three of them up into the high timber, and to safety, to a place far from the center of whatever search remained active.   The obstacles appeared enormous at present, but he hoped with enough applied dedication to see a way through them, a way clear.  Each looking up at the same time they met one another’s eyes, Einar grinning and looking away, carefully laying out the piece of salvaged plastic and packing it with as much fresh, clean snow as he could reasonably carry, heavy, wet snow, and he was glad, for he knew its moisture content would be high.  If they could not eat, they could at least do their best to remain hydrated.

Later, back in the alcove with Liz, Einar sat shivering against the damp rock of the wall and debating with himself their future course of action.  Will was too quiet, not his lively, curious self that day, seemingly content to remain in Liz’s lap, eating voraciously and whimpering irritably when the milk inevitably ran out before he was satisfied.  Einar could not help but be somewhat surprised that the effect of their current situation was showing so quickly in a lessening of Liz’s milk supply, strong and healthy as she had seemed and well as she’d been eating, both at Susan’s and back up in the basin.  The trouble could, he supposed, stem partly from the distress brought on by having to run as they had done, in which case…well, he could hope things might start to improve again, but realistically, he knew that without a steady food supply, they would only worsen.  He ran over all the options in his head.  Thought about the possibility of taking them back, Liz and Will, leaving them in the woods and going to reconnoiter, see if it appeared safe for them to approach the house…but the risks associated with such a move were too many and too great, the possibility that the house was under surveillance, that their tracks would be spotted, trail followed, even if they chose not to approach the place, and it would all be over.

Yet he could not leave them there in the mine indefinitely to starve and eventually freeze, which they were going to do, sooner or later, without some change in the situation.   Which, as he saw it, left a third option, the very thought of which gave him a grim, humorless chuckle.  He could turn himself in.  Walk down to the highway and end it all so that the search would be called off and the threat to Liz and the little one ended, or perhaps, if he could think of a way to arrange it, negotiate by telephone a scheme by which he would surrender in return for a guarantee of their safety and freedom.  Another hollow chuckle, this one loud enough for Liz to hear, and she looked at him strangely in the faint and flickering light of a the bit of spruce sap and bark she was burning in an attempt to melt the snow he had retrieved.

No, any such thought was madness, and little else.  The enemy, though they had been known to make such bargains, had never to his knowledge kept one.  They were seen as tactical tools only, say anything, promise anything in order to manipulate the target into a favorable position for capture…it was the rule, not the exception.  He knew how these things worked.  So here they were, stuck in the mine for a time, and would simply have to he make the best of it.  Decision made—need to make an immediate decision eliminated, more accurately—and mind allowed to wander just a bit for the first time that morning, the weight of his own weariness returned with full force, bending him low to the earth and sending Liz to his side in concern.

“What’s going on, Einar?  Besides the fact that you’re freezing again.  Come share the blanket with us.  It’s big enough for everyone.”

Slowly he rose, moving like a man in a dream, and went to her little nest beneath the plastic sheeting.  “Nothing going on.  Just…used up all my energy thinking, I guess.”

“What are you thinking?”

“We need another storm.  Cover our tracks.”

“Doesn’t look like we’ll have one, today.”

“No.”   And he was sagging again, heading for the ground, but Liz got him the rest of the way up onto the pad of fir branches, blanket tucked around his shoulders, as well as hers.  Will was quiet, apparently asleep.  Einar wished for sleep, too, but Liz seemed unwilling to let him.

“So these new things you’re remembering as you read the transcripts again this time.  Tell me.”

“I’ve told you everything before…”

“I don’t think so.  Let’s give it a try.”

10 July, 2013

10 July 2013

Where I spent last night:

No other humans up there, but I did see these elk mothers and their very young calves...


Waking slowly, chilled, despite their closeness and the relative warmth of the mine in comparison to the stormy world outside, by the dampness of the mine, Liz had to reach over and search for a pulse on Einar, finding his skin cold to the touch.  No sooner had she laid a hand on him, however, than her fears about his continued presence in this life were rather rapidly dispelled, Einar reaching up and grabbing her wrist with a force which took her somewhat by surprise.

“Ok, it’s Ok.  I was just seeing if you were keeping warm enough, over there.”

“What did you hear?”

“Nothing.  Hey, settle down.  Didn’t hear anything, just woke up.  I think it’s morning.”

Einar stretched in the darkness, limbs stiff and not particularly willing to assume positions different to those in which they had passed the night, but he kept at it, eventually managing to gain his knees.  One hip felt pretty badly bruised, the result, he supposed, of a number of hours spent immobile on his side on the fir bough bed, but he ignored the hurt, pulled himself to his feet.

“Didn’t mean to sleep so long.  Better go have a look outside.”

“I’ll come with you.  Just give me a minute to feed Will, because he doesn’t seem to want to wait.”

Einar grunted his assent, but did not sit back down.  Too much effort to get up again, and his head felt heavy, limbs dragging, not much there with which to put out such an effort.  Wished they had some food.  Liz needed it in order to be able to go on producing adequate milk for Will, and he sure would have eaten some himself, had it been available.  Which struck him as somewhat strange, little as he’d cared about such things over the past months.  For himself, at least.  He’d always been diligent to see that there was enough for Liz and Will.  Didn’t know what had precipitated the change, and was too hungry to do a lot of contemplating on the matter, just then.  Something about their conversation before sleeping, he supposed, though he felt strange now thinking about that conversation, at all.  Not a subject he would have chosen, but what was done was done.  Only, it probably wasn’t done.  She had not seemed done.  The two of them had just fallen asleep, cutting short the discussion.  Well.  He shivered.  Maybe the rest could go unsaid.

Though unable immediately to procure food, Einar could do something about their lack of water, and he did it, taking a long drink from the growing puddle of drip water accumulated atop the tarp and offering some of the same to Liz, who drank thirstily. 

“Ready to head up to the world and check things out?” 

“Yes.  Will’s all done.”  Which, though she tried to conceal the fact, Einar knew was not due to the little one’s having had enough to be satisfied.  Bad news.  Maybe, he thought to himself, with the storm to cover his movements against any ongoing federal surveillance of the place, he could slip out of the mine and snare them a rabbit or squirrel, find a grouse bedded down in the heavy timber and spear it, take it with a hastily improvised bola made from some of the cordage around his waist, and three or four rocks…   Mouth watering at the thought of such a feast—even if eaten raw and cold while huddled beneath a garbage sack in a leaky mine alcove—he moved along a bit more quickly towards a dim but growing light that seeped in from outside.

A hope which was quickly dashed as they neared the entrance.  Both Einar and Liz knew they were in trouble even before they were near enough to see out, brightness of the light outside announcing without question the passing of the storm, nothing to cover their tracks; they were, for the time, trapped.

*  *  *
Alone again in the big house with the departure of their federal visitors, Bud and Susan were quiet for some time, ticking of the big grandfather clock, crackling of a log in the fire and the gusting of the wind outside the only sounds, neither wanting to be the first to speak.  Only two men had entered the house and Bud had kept a sharp eye on them the entire time, so he knew it was safe to speak, house not bugged, but still, neither of them had any words.  Bud finally broke the silence. 

“Guess they’re probably way up the hill by now.  And with nobody looking…ought to make it.”

Susan didn’t answer.  They both knew why.  Bud threw up his hands, sat down heavily on one of the dining room chairs.  “Well, what do you want me to do about it?  Go after them?  What about the tracks?   If I should happen to be able to find them in this storm, I mean, and then it quits before I start back for home.  Looks like it’s really tapering off right now, and by morning when I could start tracking, it may be done altogether.  And what if Shirley’s buddies come back, and you got no good answer for why I’m not around?”

“You know he isn’t going to make it very far.”

“I know nothing of the kind.  Fella ought to have been dead months ago, but he just keeps going.   Don’t see why this ought to be any different, really.”


“Ok, ok, but it’s all a matter of degree, and he never did pay much mind to degree.   Old buzzard’s either breathing or he’s not, and so long as he’s breathing, he don’t know the meaning of giving up.”

“Giving up and giving out can be two different things.”

“Yeah.  But look, Sue, not even I can track folks after a storm like this.  Not much chance of it at all.”

“I don’t think you’ll need to.  I think I know where they’ve gone.”