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.”