31 August, 2013

31 August 2013

Liz was up first that following morning, leaving Will to sleep beside Einar, who showed no sign of rousing, even when she carefully exited the nest that had kept them warm through the night.  Must have been the midnight snack, she supposed, which had allowed him to rest a bit easier through the early morning hours, but after watching him for a time and seeing no movement at all, she had to check just to be sure he was still breathing.  Which he was, very slowly but steadily, and he even seemed reasonably warm.  Good enough, and making sure water and a bit of food were within his easy reach, she set off to climb a small rise just above their camp, from which she remembered their previously having good view of the canyonlands beyond.  A wild, broken country it appeared by the morning light, this land to which they were journeying, not an easy one through which to travel, but surely as good a place as any in which to lose a small tribe, to disappear.  She hoped.  Hoped there would be adequate shelter for the remainder of the winter, enough game to keep them going after the food supplies sent by Bud and Susan began wearing thin. 

Brief survey of the land complete and all appearing well with the morning—Einar had managed to successfully instill in her an almost constant need, heightened by circumstance, to keep watch, to check for danger; the habit had served her well—Liz returned to camp, surprised that she had not yet seen Einar up and about.  Almost without exception he was always the first to be up in the morning, sleep often an elusive thing and dawn—and the hours immediately preceding it—a time when extra care must always be taken—but when she eased her way into the little thicket which had sheltered them for the night, he showed no sign of having moved.  A situation which changed as soon as she spoke to him, but not with the speed she had come to expect. 

Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion for Einar that morning, limbs heavy and unwilling when he tried to move them, head not wanting to come up off the ground and mind, it seemed, even slow to respond, to tell him where they were, and how they’d come to be there.  The sight of his parachute where it sat lashed to the top of the bag jarred his memory some, sent him scrambling with some effort out of the sleeping bag and up to face the day.

“Slept too long.  Sorry.  You heard anything come over here?  Any…planes, choppers, anything like that?”

“No, nothing.”

He looked relieved.  “Good thing, us sleeping out in the open like this.  Be glad to find one of those caves where we can really hole up and be hidden.”

“Maybe we can get there before another night comes.  What do you think?”

Einar was standing, trying out his injured leg and not particularly liking how it reacted to the application of a bit of weight.  “Yep.  Think we can probably do that.  Real hard to say once you get into cliffs and canyons like these, hard to know when you hit an obstacle that’ll either send you eight miles out of your way while you look for the head of the canyon and go around the thing, or lowering your gear and then rappelling down an eight hundred foot limestone wall in several steps…but barring anything like that, we ought to be there by tonight, for sure!”

After which, fully meaning to finish securing the hauling harness before helping Liz get Will all tucked down cozily into the hood of her parka, he instead sank to his knees in the snow, eyes half closed and head sagging.  Liz was beside him, hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, you ready to get going?  How about a little food, and then we’ll go see how much ground we can cover.”

Einar shook himself, scrubbing hands across his face as if in the hopes of wiping away some of the weariness, got to his feet and finished hitching himself to the bag.  “Yep, ready.”  Ready for more sleep, really, the urge almost too strong to resist but he did resist it, kept on his feet and soon had Will tucked in, the camp all cleared and was leading the way down from the pass, heading out on a course which he believed ought to take them before too long to an area bordering the rim of the nearest canyon, from which perspective they could perhaps expect a better view of the surrounding landscape.
Liz hurried along behind, meaning to remind him that he had, in his haste, quite forgotten to have any breakfast, but was glad to see, upon finally drawing up beside him, that he’d just finished the jar of Nutella, eating as he walked.  The thing had lasted him three days when really, she knew he ought to have been taking in the contents of three or four of those containers for each day of travel and living in the cold, but at least he’d been doing it willingly and for the most part without her urging, which she took as progress.  The rest could come gradually, the addition of a more substantial quantity of food and hopefully some variety, as well.  For now, it would have to be enough.

Only it was not enough, things not going very well for Einar at all, and soon Liz returned to his side, stopping him beneath a grove of soaring, white-flanked aspens and wordlessly freeing him from the harness; her turn, and he made no objection, resting with bowed head until she’d put a few steps between them before rising, plodding along behind.

Pain and hunger were not a problem for him most of the time; often he had welcomed or even sought them out, valued them for their ability to help keep things well ordered in his mind, life often times more liveable with these challenges than it would have been without them, but for some reason this was different, this weakness which had come over him since leaving Bud and Susan’s—went soft, didn’t you, staying in a house like that and having your every need at your fingertips?  That must have been what did it—and being dropped in this valley to make their new start. 

He had at first attributed the growing difficulty to the trouble given him by the leg, and indeed moving about did present something of a mechanical challenge most of the time, and would until the thing decided to finish healing up, but this seemed to be something more, an insidious force which crept up on him after a few hours or sometimes even a few minutes of being on his feet and threatened to leave him face-down in the snow, unable to move any further and uninterested in even trying. 

That was the worst part, the part which—if he was to be entirely honest—he feared just a bit.  The ambivalence.  The encroaching inertia of despair.  Could feel it out there stalking him, and in defiance of its presence he increased his pace, silently snarling as he hefted the sled up and over the final obstacle—a fallen, snow-covered aspen trunk—before reaching a raised area of windswept snow and exposed limestone.  He’d faced injury before, illness, the ravages of prolonged starvation, had met them and had kept going, so it made little sense to fear that this one, whatever its origin, would be able to stop him.  Yet, he feared.  Prayed for the strength and the desire to keep going, concentrating so hard that he almost jumped out of the harness when Liz approached from the side and laid a hand on his shoulder.

Ah, well. No need to trouble her with any of this.  Best try and put it aside, whatever the cause, push onward to the shelter of the cave or caves which were—hopefully—awaiting their discovery just over the next ridge or two.  Or three.  Or maybe not so far as that, even, for Liz was gesturing excitedly as she pointed to something in the distance, motioning for him to follow up onto a pitted and water-worn boulder of limestone from which she had apparently made an important sighting.  Dropping the harness, he went.

30 August, 2013

30 August 2013

I haven't got a chapter ready for tonight, but will for tomorrow.

Thank you all for your patience, and for reading.

28 August, 2013

28 August 2013

No way to retrieve the parachute from down on the ground, and Einar—my fault it’s up there in the first place, instead of down here on the ground with yours—wanted to be the one to make the climb, but Liz didn’t want to see him up there, effectively limited as he was to the use of a single leg.   “Let me do it.  Will needs you.  If I fall out of that tree…”  he shrugged.  “But if you do, he doesn’t eat.  Little guy still needs his mom.  Doing fine with the leg.  I can make the climb.”

“If you fall out of the tree, I have to drag or carry you all the way to wherever we’re going, and then we’re really in trouble!  We could just leave it…”

“Can’t leave it.  Some hunter stumbles across it next season, or even two seasons from now, if we’re still anywhere in the area, and there’s the potential for real trouble.  No, it’s got to come down, come with us.  Besides, the material is awfully useful, the cord.  We need that stuff.  Would take an awful lot of hours of work to begin replicating all that cordage and material, lot of nettles and elk hides.”

Liz saw that he did have a point, several points, actually, but still didn’t want him leaving the ground.  She had seen how he’d struggled simply to keep himself on his feet as they traveled, leaning into the traces so hard that they were at times nearly supporting him as he fought to pull that bag through the snow and standing with bad leg bent and hanging limp whenever they stopped.  Just didn’t seem a good candidate for tree climbing operations such as the one needed to retrieve that chute.  She, on the other hand, could be up that tree in no time and…

Einar was no longer beside her, already some six feet from the ground and climbing with a speed and agility which she would have thought quite beyond his reach just then, had she not seen such in the past.  Once, just halfway to the required branch and starting to see black spots before his vision at the effort of climbing, he lost his footing and nearly fell, catching himself hard on a branch and struggling to get an elbow up and over it, sensing that he would not be able to hang on for too long, the way he was.  Frustrated him, some.  Ought to have been able to hang from that branch for a long time with one hand behind his back, do a couple of complete pull-ups just for fun and then swing to the next branch, but as it was, he settled for awkwardly flopping himself up and over the bough which had saved him from the fall, his own limbs dangling straight down like those of some big, exhausted cat as he laughed silently but almost hysterically at the absurdity of his plight. 

Finally, in response to Liz’s shouted questions—sure, he was alright, just couldn’t immediately move, lest the blackness become complete and he really take a tumble—he raised his head and began looking for the best way up to his destination.  Not too far above him now, and he was moving again, reaching the branch and stretching himself out along it as far as he could go while still maintaining a hold on something solid, something he was sure would not break under his weight.  Not working, couldn’t reach, and moving slowly he inched out along the bare, dead bough on which the chute had snagged, almost within reach when he heard the thing begin to creak and snap, slow fall, more tired than it was brittle, and before it went all the way he was able to get one foot down onto something a bit more solid, balancing, falling back against the trunk when finally the weight of the parachute overcame the branch’s last resistance and sent it tumbling for the ground.

Einar was not far behind the chute and not moving with a good deal less speed or more grace than the falling object, either, when he reached the ground, fall fortunately broken somewhat by the spruce’s proliferation of somewhat springy, giving boughs and no immediately obvious harm done save a series of angry-looking scrapes across his left cheekbone.  Blinking hard he sat up, managed to pull himself to his feet before Liz, who had been waiting at a safe distance lest she put Will at risk from falling objects of various sizes, could reach him.

“Too bad there were so many branches in the way, or I might have actually been able to use this thing on the way down!”  With which they were both laughing, Liz shaking her head in relief, disbelief, Einar feeling a good deal more battered and bruised than he was willing to let on, but glad simply to be alive and breathing, present mission completed.

After securing the parachute to the bag they moved on, travel slow through the snowy timber as they headed for what Einar hoped would be a low pass or saddle, providing exit from the valley.  When sometime in the evening they reached just such a land feature, climbed it and saw from its aspen-covered summit an expanse of snowy hills, cliffs and canyons stretching out before them, it greatly increased in Einar’s mind the likelihood that Liz had been correct in placing them on the map.  A half hour of study confirmed this and, weary from their travels, they decided to make camp some distance below the saddle in a generous clustering of firs, continue on towards the caves in the morning.

Liz woke sometime in the night, sleepy and comfortably warm, herself, but aware that Einar, despite being right there with her in the sleeping bag, was not feeling particularly warm at all, struggling with the cold and increasingly losing ground, body feeling stiff and chilled against her own.  She could tell he was fighting to keep still.

"Einar, what's going on?  Are you really that cold?  Can't you stop shaking?"

He tried, managed it for a short time but then lost control and the shivering seized him again.  "No, guess...guess not.  Sorry.  I can get up so...not keeping you awake."

She tightened her grip, rubbed his shoulders, arms where they were crossed hard on his chest, attempting to bring him some warmth.  "No, no don't go anywhere.  You're just fine here.  Do we need to get up and make you a fire though?  You're freezing."

"Be ok.  Just so hungry all night.  Trying not to…let it get me, but just…hurts.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say something sooner?  You ought to be hungry.  I’m sure you used up all your energy climbing that tree, and you're still nothing but skin and bones.  Believe me, I can feel every one of them.  Let’s get up and find you something to eat.”

“No, need to get it…under control.  Do it myself.  Ought to go out in…snow until I…”

“No, you don’t.  That way of thinking doesn’t get you anywhere at all.  You just need to eat, that’s all.  Your body is just starting to get used to it again, and that’s why you’re feeling the hunger.  It’s been there all along.  You just got so good at ignoring it.  Try to see this change as a good thing.   Come on, I know you’ve got the Nutella tucked in with you over there somewhere.  You haven’t let that stuff out of your sight since we found it in the drop bag.  Just have some of that.”

A barely-audible groan from Einar, who wanted nothing more than to dig in and finish the jar, had wanted it all night, seen it in his dreams and awakened numerous times all cramped and twisted with hunger, but so far he’d done nothing about it aside from endlessly reminding himself that everything was off-limits until morning.  Had to be that way.  Had to keep some semblance of order.

Liz was not nearly as concerned with Einar’s idea of order as she was with his simply making it through the night and having the energy to go on in the morning, and feeling around until she found the Nutella jar, she opened it for him.  “Have some.  You’ve been doing pretty well with this.  Your body is asking for energy.  Just give it what it wants.”

Reasonable enough, and simple, too, but she did not know the cost…  And does not need to know, he snarled at himself, because  not only is that what you need to do, it’s what you’ve been intending to do, and if it gets a little difficult now and then, well, when did you ever turn away from things when they started getting difficult?  Go for it.  Can deal with the consequences later.  After we’ve found some more permanent shelter, and got ourselves set up there.

He ate, and finally, though really not feeling much warmer, had the energy to go back to sleep.  Strange thing, that one, he thought to himself as he drifted off.  That sometimes it can require more energy to go to sleep than to stay awake, and he was pretty sure he was close to pondering out exactly why this might be—made sense, under present circumstances—but sleep, itself, interrupted the completion of his thought on the matter.

26 August, 2013

26 August 2013

Each taking only a few essentials on their back, most of their gear was packed back into the drop bag as they prepared to leave, Einar rigging a pulling harness from some of the parachute webbing and—Liz carrying Will—insisting on taking the first turn at the hauling. 

Having studied the map again as Liz packed the bedding, he’d settled more firmly on a course, allowing himself to suppose for the moment that he knew for certain their position on the map and base his calculations on that supposition, hoping its truth—or lack thereof—would become plain once they started moving.  First, they must traverse the long valley in which they’d landed, head for what appeared on the map to be a low saddle or pass at its upper end which ought to allow them fairly easy access to the series of low ridges and ill-defined draws which lay between their present position and the big canyon in which he hoped to find Liz’s caves.  If they were right, anywhere close to right, and if not…well, nothing terribly wrong with losing themselves in the vastness of an unknown land, now was there?  Would be better than staying so close to their last known location.  Had to finish breaking their ties with that last contact, with any possibility that it could be used at some point in the future as a start to a new search.  Einar trusted Kiesl and his intentions, but life is an uncertain thing, and without knowing what had happened when he’d landed that plane, wherever he’d landed it…well, there simply weren’t any guarantees.

Liz was ready, and he took one last look at their camp, making sure nothing was being left behind, checking Will where he snuggled down in his mother’s hood, snug, warm and appearing as anxious as anyone to be going, to see some new territory.  Gonna see lots of new territory in your life, little one.  No doubt about that…  And he would have started out, but Liz had him by the arm, was offering him some of the bread and cheese she’d had for breakfast.  He shook his head, pulled the jar of Nutella from his coat pocket with a grin, but she wasn’t satisfied, would not release him until he’d actually opened the lid and had a big bite of the stuff, possessed of the notion, it seemed, that simply looking was somehow not enough…

“It’s going to be a long walk.  I don’t want to end up having to roll you out of the trail and go on without you, about halfway through.”

“Don’t worry.”  That wild grin again, Einar in fine spirits despite the already-intensifying hurt of his wrenched leg, glad to be going, to have a goal.  “I’d find a way to drag myself over to the side and unhitch the harness, first roll over an embankment so I’d be out of the way…”

“Not funny.  Have some more.”

“It’s not a limitless supply, you know.  We’ve got to make it last.”

“You’ll set up a trapline when we get there, won’t you?  Wherever we’re going?  So we can look at this food as fuel to get us where we’re going, help us get set up so we can start producing out own.  And I’m not going anywhere until you have some more.”

“Hey, you should have seen how much I had earlier this morning, when I got up,” and he showed her the dent in the jar’s contents, Liz somewhat impressed but still insisting he take another scoop.  She could see the weariness in limb and feature, its lines not as effectively hidden as he might have hoped by the glee with which he was facing their departure.  She knew he’d not yet had time to begin building up any sort of reserve after his long hunger, on top of which his body was struggling to begin healing whatever damage he’d done to his leg in falling, along with the other injuries incurred in his bad landing.  Of those, none were as outwardly obvious as the leg, but they had traveled together too long for him to entirely conceal them from her, and she knew that the more energy he could take in just then, the better.

On the move then, Einar pulling and Liz out front, reasoning that being the more lightly burdened, the least she could do was to break trail, a theory which worked reasonably well until Einar decided that he simply must be out front in order to better choose their course around the valley.  Through the timber he led them, heading for the pass he hoped to find some two miles distant and keeping his eyes open all the while for his main chute, the finding of which had taken, over the past two day, second priority to their efforts to place themselves on the map.

While he did not want to track up the open snow of the long valley floor, neither did he wish to have some hiker stumble across that still-packed main chute someday in the following months and, likely as not trying to do the right thing and return it to its rightful owner, rouse the curiosity of the unknown party from whom Roger Kiesl had seen fit to borrow the rig.  Finding it, he had known from the beginning, was likely to pose some difficulty, everything having been white, drop bag, chutes, the ski suits with which Kilgore had so kindly equipped the two of them, and though he had searched some that first morning after the jump and scanned the valley on his descent from the ridge, he had seen no sign of it.  Now as they traversed the valley he searched, scanning the open, snowy landscape near the center and seeking for any sign amongst the trees, a streak of white where none should have been, damage that appeared caused by a falling object, but he saw nothing. 

Startled out of a trancelike focus intense enough both to keep him on his feet and facilitate the constant scanning of their surroundings for danger and for the chute—no small feat, under present circumstances—Einar whirled about at the touch of Liz’s hand on his shoulder, accepting the water she was offering him and sinking quite without any volition on his part to the snow beneath him.  Head bowed, fighting for breath, he said nothing as Liz loosed the harness and fastened it around her own waist

“My turn for a while.  You can still go out front if you need to pick our path, but Will’s asleep, and it would be a good time for me to pull for a while.”

Shook his head, pressed the knuckles of both hands briefly into his forehead in an attempt to ease a pounding which seemed increasingly to be settling there as they traveled, and looked up at her.  “You can have the lead for a while.  Just don’t forget to keep an eye out for…”

“Your chute?”

“Yeah.  Haven’t seen it, and would rather not have to come back to this valley at all, after we leave.  But if we don’t find it, we may have to.”

“What would it look like?  Possibly a white backpack-thing with lots of straps, hanging in a tree?”  She was doing her best to suppress a smile.

“Yeah.  What…”

“Look up!”

Einar did, and though relieved and rather surprised to see the chute hanging there above their heads, his heart sank some at the realization that the thing had come to rest some thirty five feet above the ground, hanging by a strap far out from the trunk of a massive spruce.

24 August, 2013

24 August 2013

Shivering against a large, overhanging boulder in the dim half-light of early morning Einar studied what he could see of the surrounding horizon, close, heavily timbered and not terribly distinct in the way one might hope for when attempting to orient one’s self in several million acres of ridge, valley and peak, and he breathed slowly, pressing the map to the rock and attempting to still his trembling so he could get a better look.

Really wanted to be up on the ridge from whose crest Liz had seen her river, get a look for himself and hopefully settle the matter, but a great heaviness lay upon him after his climb of the previous day, a weariness on which sleep seemed to have little mitigating effect, and he knew he’d better make it count, this next attempt, if he really intended to do it.  It was then that things began appearing a good deal plainer to Einar, plan already half-formed in his mind as he folded the map, stowed it in a pocket and headed back for camp

If, he now realized, he was once more to use up all the energy remaining to him as he had done on the climb, he might as well use it getting somewhere.  Already they had lingered far too many days in the area of the drop zone, a practice which he knew from both experience and common sense was surely setting them up for discovery and disaster, and while they might wait around for several days more, seeking to solve the puzzle of exactly where they might be on the map, better by far was to get moving.

Even if Liz was wrong about their current location, and therefore the existence of that cave system, they would be moving, putting some distance between themselves and their last known location, and that could only be a good thing—if approached with caution and care.  The possibility still remained that they might be walking right into a worse situation, civilization of some sort, for example, but if they took it slow and stopped frequently to re-assess things, it ought to work out.  Ha!  Slow is the only way you’re likely to be taking it here for a while Einar, like it or not.  This leg hasn’t seemed to take too kindly so far to your attempts at overcoming its trouble through sheer willpower, has it?  Thing’s determined to slow you to a crawl.  Well.  All the more reason to get out of here without too much more delay.  Better to find a safe place unknown to anyone at all, where you can all hole up for a while.

He was, in addition to finding himself understandably worn out from climbing through deep snow with a badly wrenched leg, undeniably showing the signs of the insidious sickness which had stalked him previously when he’d come out of long periods of eating next to nothing, body struggling to adjust to the change.  The temptation at such times had always been to return in a hurry to past habits—his natural inclination, anyway; starvation had always worked for him—in search of some relief, but he knew he must not do so in this case, knew he must instead work at getting strong for his family, for the life they must lead together out there in the hills.  Which meant sticking with it and struggling through the inevitable difficulties of the following weeks, and he wanted a safe where he could secure and protect his family while doing that.  The caves would perhaps be ideal, and if they were there, he meant to find them.

Liz was awake, had fed Will, stowed him warmly in the hood of her parka and had been about to come looking for him.  She rose with a smile when he stepped out of the timber, hurried to him and was about to gently chide him for going wandering before she’d had a chance to prepare his breakfast, but was stopped by something she saw in his eyes.

“What is it?”

“You ready to go?  Leave here?”

“Where are we going?”

“Going to your caves.  So about six miles, probably eight by the time we climb up and down all the little draws and gulleys between here and there, but I figure a good solid day’s travel, and we ought to be there.”

“I don’t even know for sure that the caves exist, though.  Or that we’re anywhere near them, I guess I mean.  I thought you weren’t even sure about which river I’d been looking at…”

“Let’s go to the caves, Liz.  Will you come with me to the caves?”

“I’ll come with you.”

“We need to be out of here, one way or the other.  Been here way too long.  Surprised they haven’t come and dropped stuff on us already.”

She took hold of his shoulders, tried to get a look at his eyes, but he just stared at the ground, not particularly wanting her to see the depth of his weariness.  “Dropped stuff on us…?  Are you Ok this morning?  Did you get any sleep?”

He looked at her then, resting his forehead against hers.  “Just fine, Lizzie.  Ready to get moving, find us a place to settle down.”

“Should we cache some things, whatever won’t go on our backs?”

“Don’t want to have to come back here.  Let’s drag it, what we can’t carry.  Rig up a harness like we did before, and drag it like a sled.”

“It looked like some pretty steep terrain between here and the canyon that might hold those caves…

“Yeah, it did!  We’ll lower the bag when we have to, lower it over the side and go down after it.  Might take a while, this trip, but if we have to camp somewhere between here and there, well, we’re equipped to do that, too.”

“You’re really excited about this, aren’t you?”

“I’m ready to be moving.  Way past time to be moving.”

And, retrieving the bag from its spot in the spruce, she helped him pack.

23 August, 2013

23 August 2013

I do not have a chapter for tonight, but will be back tomorrow with another.

Thank you all for reading!

21 August, 2013

21 August 2013

Dark and early Einar was awake, daylight still hours away as he lay staring up at the stars as he silently oriented himself, not moving a muscle until he was sure of his position, of the world around him, Liz and Will breathing quietly in sleep, wind soughing almost inaudibly in the treetops and no other sound to disturb the quiet of the night.  Thinking back, he could find no memory of creeping over to their fir-branch bed beneath the spruce, wondered exactly how he had come to be there and supposed Liz might be able to provide him with answers.  When she woke, which, night still heavy on the land, ought not be for some time.  Though his sleep had been brief it had been sound, warmer than any he’d had in some time, despite the cold of the night, and before even trying to move he could sense that some of his earlier weakness seemed abated, if not entirely gone.  The Nutella jar remained securely grasped in one hand where it had apparently been all through the night—goofy critter, no better than a squirrel with its stash of acorns, are you?—and, somewhat surprised that he was even able to use his fingers after so many hours of stillness, he retrieved himself a generous helping of the stuff, having to pry with his knife because of its texture in the early morning chill. 

Liz stirred in her sleep, half-turned and put a gentle hand on his face, feeling, without entirely waking, down where neck met shoulder, checking to see that he was warm and sinking back into sounder sleep upon apparently finding his temperature satisfactory.   Einar waited until her breathing became once again deeper, more regular, before easing his way out of the bed and creeping over beneath a nearby tree to spend some more time with the map.  Hadn’t been as aware as he would have liked upon their return to camp that previous evening, effects of the cold and of a long day spent dragging his injured leg up and down near-vertical slopes of snow and timber having taken their toll, and now with a few hours of warm, decent sleep behind him, he needed another look.

Not that the look could be terribly informative, without the ability to independently orient the map and have a look at some landmarks.   All he had to go on just then was Liz’s description of what she’d seen, and so, for the sake of argument and not wanting to entirely waste the opportunity to learn more of their (potential) surroundings, he decided to accept not only that the river she had seen was the one she believed it to be, but that she had accurately recognized a particular bend in said river as lying somewhere almost directly below their position.  An awful lot of assuming, there, but he had to start somewhere, and without taking off and climbing the ridge, it seemed the best he could do, just then.

So.  Bend in the river.  Switching on the small headlamp Kilgore had sent them, he studied the map.  That would place them in a long, narrow valley which ran parallel to a ridge that looked as though it could be the one they had climbed, river on its far side and another ridge, steep, rocky and cut with numerous gulleys that probably ran with snowmelt in certain seasons, directly opposite their camp, on the other side of the valley.  Too dark to see anything of this ridge at the moment, but the image did fit with what he remembered seeing on the descent, and later, as they had left the meadow and headed for shelter in the timber.  As he remembered, little was visible from the valley other than those two ridges and a bunch of timber, little more from the spot to which he’d climbed that past evening, the ridge on the opposite valley being several hundred feet higher than the one they’d climbed, and blocking any view of the land beyond.  This elevation difference, too, was reflected by the map in the area where Liz had decided they must be.  So, plausible, all of it, but nothing more, not until he’d seen for himself. 

If Liz was right, there did indeed appear to be a cluster of caves in what must be a band of limestone near the top of the wall of a very steep canyon not far at all from their present position, this canyon splitting off from the one which contained the “big river.”  He’d seen such places in the past, had scaled similar walls in search of entry to the caves they concealed, or, failing at this, had rappelled down from above, once having to set up a swinging motion when down near the right elevation, just to get himself over to a place where he could grab hold of a cluster of currant shrubs making a tenuous life for themselves in a crevice in the rock, and pull himself over to the narrow ledge by which he finally gained entrance to the cave.  Leaving had been a bit more difficult, would have been a real challenge, indeed, had he not remembered to secure the rope to those little bushes, so it would be waiting for him when he exited…  Such a place, if they could locate one, might provide them the shelter they needed to live out the remainder of the cold, snowy weeks in relative safety and even comfort, concealed from the outside world as they worked to become established in this new place.

Thinking about it, Einar was tempted to stash the heavier portions of their gear when daylight came and set out on an expedition to see if they could find this canyon with its limestone band and caves, as—if Liz was correct about their location—it ought only be a few miles distant.  The risks in this were many, including the possibility that they might in so exploring run across some trail or other place where people could be, and chance being seen, but he was sure that with the proper level of caution this danger could be minimized, and besides, if such areas existed nearby, better that they come to know of them sooner, and while proactively exploring, rather than later and perhaps under far less favorable circumstances.  The other risk—one of them—was, though he did not like to admit it, that he might find himself unable to complete several miles’ reconnaissance, let alone manage to return to their current camp at the end of it to help Liz haul the remainder of their gear.  Had barely made it back down that ridge, and realistically, did not know how many miles he had left in him, until the leg had seen a bit of healing.

And what if you do run into somebody over there, some trail, a couple of backcountry skiers, folks on snowshoes, and you have to move quickly to get out of the area?  What then?  You’re a hazard, that’s what.  Hazard to your family, the way you’ll be slowing them down.  He rubbed the leg, once again twisting, probing and trying to figure out just what might be the matter, but things were so swollen up after the previous day’s climb that such investigations proved all but useless.  Would simply have to give it time.

Time.  He’d spent enough of it crouching still against the trunk of the spruce, that was for sure, and he rose, catching himself against the tree before heading out for a short walk around the area of the shelter.  No moonlight, but with the sky beginning to go grey, he would be able to get a look at the shape of the horizon, if nothing more, perhaps compare it to the things he’d been seeing on the map, begin to settle the question of whether or not Liz was correct in her estimation.

19 August, 2013

19 August 2013

Liz knew he would never sleep without knowing what she had learned of their surroundings, and so, supper heating over the fire, she spread out the map, trying to angle it to better take advantage of the unsteady glow of the flames.  Einar was cold, clearly hurting after dragging that injured leg up and down miles of steep, snowy terrain, but he had little interest in doing anything about either of these facts until he’d learned everything Liz had discovered up on the ridge.  Since arriving back at camp and regaining some ability to think about something other than the simple but grueling act of keeping himself moving forward, he had come to quite regret his failure to get a look at the lay of the land, himself, but knew Liz could be trusted to give a full accounting.

Something strange, though, for the map she had laid out was not the one which covered the area where he had believed they must be, but that of the entire 2.6 million acre National Forest which had bordered their basin, and whose extensive lands stretched over the better parts of seven counties.  He looked at her inquiringly. 

“I saw the big river.”

“Big river?”

“The Colorado!  I’m pretty sure of it.”

Einar moved to put out the fire, but she stopped him with a firm hand on his arm.

“Wait.  Hear the rest.”

“This isn’t good.  Means we’re too close to places where people may go.  To rafters, canoes, maybe even the railroad tracks or a highway.  We’ve got to lie real low, and then as soon as it’s light enough to see, get moving.

“We might want to do that, but listen—Einar!  The part I thought you would like is that it looks to me as though we’ve been dropped very near to what appears a rather extensive system of caves and canyons.  See this bend in the river?  Well, it was hard for me to tell for sure, but I think that’s what I was seeing from the top of that ridge, I really do.  Wouldn’t that be good news?”

Einar was silent for a long time as he pondered the map, holding himself rigid against his own trembling and squinting at the little “cave” symbols that clustered plentiful and indeed quite promising around the mouth of a little canyon not three miles from where they were.  Where they might be, for determining location by the shape of a single bend in the river—and a river which had not been positively identified, at that—was a risky and questionable business, indeed.  Wished he’s been up on the ridge where he might have got a good look, himself, but knew things wouldn’t likely have looked too different to him than they had Liz

“You’re pretty sure about what river you were seeing?”

“I don’t know of another that’s so wide, for sure.”

“Me either, though sometimes appearances can be deceiving when you’re up high looking down on a thing.  Might have just been a wide spot in a smaller river, though I figure you know your rivers…  Huh.  What was Kiesl thinking?  Wanted me to settle down here, build a little shack and open up a guiding business?  Asmundson’s Scenic Raft Tours, or something like that?  Our motto could be, ‘come run the rapids with us, while running from the feds.  You may not make it through, but we guarantee you’ll have the time of your life.  Atlatl and crossbow provided, bring your own goggles, snorkel and parachute.’”

“That’s a little long for a motto, maybe.”

“Ha!  Yeah.  Maybe.”

“And just where are we going to get all those crossbows?”

“Make ‘em from the choppers our clients shoot down, that’s where.”

“Oh!  Sounds like a business opportunity…”  and she was laughing, but Einar, though seeing the humor in it and normally quite well able to laugh in the face of dire circumstances, was not, eyes going all hazy and distant, hardly even hearing Liz’s words.  Had stared for too long at that map, immobile and growing colder, never having begun to properly warm after his day in the snow, and now Liz, seeing it, sought to bring him in closer to the flames.

“Night is coming, and I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly going to be ready for some sleep.  We’d better get warm and have something to eat, before we get too sleepy.  Here.  Susan sent us these packets of soup, cream of chicken and broccoli cheese.  I’ll make us some with the water I’ve had heating.”

Einar nodded, moved closer to the fire at her prompting.  Knew he needed the soup, needed something, after his long climb in the cold, just as Liz would be needing something.  There had been since their landing in this new place a great weakness in him, muscles not wanting to cooperate and body seeming always to wish for sleep, and he had for the most part been doing his best to ignore it, assuming its origin must most probably lie in his hard landing and the various bruises and twists he’d thus received.  The climb had convinced him it was something more, the feeling, now that he allowed himself to think about it, a familiar one which he remembered from other times when he’d begun eating again after long stretches of going without, and it was a definite sign that he’d better be a bit more careful about the sorts of things he was taking in.  Too many starchy ones without enough fat and protein to balance them out, and he might well find himself back in the rather unpleasant and even dangerous situation he’d previously experienced a time or two, in such situations.

Already he could feel a disconcerting lack of coordination which he had come to associate with this sort of trouble, a difficulty filling his lungs with air, and next, he knew, would come the struggle to swallow, as those muscles were affected, as well.  Didn’t have time for such nonsense, not now, in this new place and still uncertain just where they might be, and how secure.  He knew the solution—temporary one, at least—rummaged about in the bad of supplies packed for them by Kilgore, found a jar of Nutella and retreated to a position against the trunk of a big spruce.  There, leaving most of the soup to Liz, he proceeded to dig out and eat nearly a fourth of the jar’s contents, feeling better, grip of the cold and his hunger-induced difficulties easing significantly, and before he knew it, he was asleep…

16 August, 2013

16 August 2013

From the ridge-crest itself, nothing was visible.  So choked with brush was the spot where Liz had finally emerged that Einar himself was not entirely certain he was on the true crest, until he’d fought his way through the gnarly, clawing arms of some fifteen yards’ worth of oak brush, and started down the other side.  No wonder she had not been able to make her observations from this point, and head back down.  Naturally she would have continued on up the ridge until things opened up and she was able to get a better look, which is exactly what her tracks told him she had done.  Still, Einar could not help feeling an instant’s dismay at the discovery, a momentary crossness at the prospect of more climbing as he stood resting the slightly bent knee of his bad leg on the snow, shaking with exhaustion and wishing, despite himself, that Liz might show up before he had a chance to get moving again.

Liz did not come, and soon Einar was, indeed, moving, climbing, seeing no sense in heading down at that point, near as he must be to the spot from which Liz had finally got a view of things.  Figured he might as well have a look, too, and—perhaps more pressing reason, but one which he found himself a good deal less anxious to acknowledge—should he return to the waiting-spot and she prove further delayed, he knew he didn’t have another climb in him.  Not that day.  Would be pretty hard pressed just to make it down to camp before dark, the way things were currently going.  So, he trudged on, following Liz’s trail but still not able to take long enough steps to fully utilize her tracks, themselves, making some of his own and discovering along the way that though done for the time with the menace presented by the fallen timber of the slope, buried oak brush can itself present quite the series of catching, snagging obstacles for a one-legged man…

After a time, doing his best to make speed through the deep snow and brush, Einar ceased particularly caring about or really even noticing the difficulty of the climb, mind wandering quite without his prompting over a varied and turbulent landscape of dark mine tunnel, paved highway with loudly-passing traffic, and silent, eerie airstrip where he expected every moment to hear the screech of tires and the staccato burst of semi-auto gunfire.

And then, after a time trapped in these worlds, contending with invisible foes in the damp darkness of tunnels the likes of which he knew one could never expect to find in the hard-rock mining country of the high Rockies, making a rolling leap at highway speeds from the back of Roger Keisl’s borrowed pickup truck with Liz and baby in tow and fighting with all his might to avoid being dragged onto a plane he was falling, free air all around him and the ground coming quickly beneath his feet.  This time, unlike the last, he really was trying to pull his cord at a sensible altitude, but something was wrong, chute gone, no reserve, nothing, couldn’t see Liz but knew she was already drifting safely somewhere above him, and with nothing left to do he tucked arms in close to body, ducked his head and prepared for impact, watching as the trees took on definition, every detail of bark and cone clear to his vision and more beautiful than he had ever remembered seeing them, sweet scent of snow-laced evergreen needles rising to meet him, and somehow managing to avoid striking and becoming impaled upon one of those myriad tree-lances that lay beneath, he hit the ground grinning, not bad, not bad at all…

Thus it was that Liz found him on her descent, lying face down in the snow not far below the spot where she had finally won her way to a clear and distant view, still as a stone and without obvious sign of life or breath.  When she got him turned over he was still grinning, sight made somewhat horrible by the shade of purple to which his face had been darkened by its contact with the snow, but in response to her efforts he opened his eyes, took a big, gasping breath and sat up.

“Kind of a…rough impact but…”  Moved arms, legs, shrugged his shoulders and stiffly turned his head, apparently satisfied with his physical condition, if a bit surprised to find everything still more or less in working order.

“How’d it…how’d it go…landing?”

“Landing?”  She looked up, half expecting to find a tall aspen out of which he might have fallen after climbing up in the hopes of a view, but there was nothing save a cluster of barely-six-foot-high oak brush.  “I haven’t been doing any landing today.  How about you?”

Einar blinked slowly as he searched for an answer, really beginning to feel the cold as he stared at the surrounding brush, at Liz with the map case in her hands, Will asleep on her back, and he thought better of saying anything more.  Liz saw the change in his eyes, the growing awareness, let it go.  Gave him a drink of water, a piece of dried fruit which she’d brought along and did her best to warm the snow-chilled portions of his face with a gloveless hand, hoping he hadn’t been lying there too long.

“Sorry I took so long up here.  The brush is very thick, and I couldn’t see anything.  It’s better up there a little higher, big open area, and I think I know where we are now.  Let’s get back to camp, and I’ll show you.  You’re going to like it, I think!”

Einar nodded, struggled to his feet, wanted to know right then, without any delay, but couldn’t find the words to tell her so, and when she started down the slope, he did his best to follow.  Will was awake, kept pulling aside the fur ruff on Liz’s hood and craning his neck to look back at Einar, making eye contact, giggling and quickly looking away, and it was this game which kept Einar going, prevented him slipping back entirely into the shadowy world which had claimed him on the latter portion of his climb. 

Despite this solid and rather lively tie with reality in the form of little Will, Einar did several times on the descent find himself caught up again in the act of falling, the feel of it, spruces rising beneath his feet as the ground rushed up at him and impact always coming, but for some reason unknown to him he survived it every time, snow soft beneath his body and apparently no further harm done, except that each time it was a bit more difficult to find the energy to pick himself up out of the snow, and to rise.  Rise he did, though, and trudge onward, for what else is there to do, when one has not yet reached the destination and darkness is coming?

Has come, for the next time he was jolted to awareness by a sudden impact with the ground—how come I keep getting back in the doggone plane, knowing how this is going to go?—the world had grown almost entirely dark around him, and when at last he managed to struggle to his feet, he found himself navigating almost solely by the sound of Liz’s boots in the snow.  How she knew where to go was a puzzlement to him, for sure, but he supposed she must be following their earlier trail in the snow, by feel if not by sight.

Home, such as it was, both of them dreadfully glad to see it, and Liz was lighting a fire.  Einar, standing all stiff-kneed as he braced himself against collapse outside the glowing ring of its light, guessed he didn’t mind, though he would have liked to himself see and scrutinize the maps with their present location in mind, first.  No seeing the maps without some source of light, though, and wanting to do his part he stared up at the surrounding trees until he managed to locate their stashed gear, freeing the rope and lowering the bag.  Liz was keeping the fire small, but appeared to have it going well and steadily, and hauling the bag, he joined her beside it. 

14 August, 2013

14 August 2013

Einar listened as Liz’s footsteps crunched off into the distance above him, sound soon dimming as she climbed, trees coming between them until he was left all alone in the silence.  In that silence, Liz no longer there to motivate him with her presence to restrain and conceal signs of such trouble, he gave himself over to the shivering which had been trying to seize him every time they stopped, head bowed and arms wrapped around his middle as he sought to let the shaking warm him.  Wasn’t working too well, needed to be up and moving, he knew, if he was to have much chance of remaining mobile by the time Liz had finished her climb and returned to him.  Standing there in the snow pit, swinging his arms and marching in place as well as his sore and swollen leg would allow, he lamented agreeing to stop and wait, in the first place.  Even if slow, his progress up the slope would have served to generate some heat, and even now he could follow in her tracks, reach the top, perhaps, as she sat studying the maps.

Not a good idea, and he knew it.  Should Liz for some reason return to his waiting-spot by some route other than that used on her climb, they might well miss one another and end up wandering about as darkness fell, walking in circles as each pursued the trail of the other.  Bad plan, lightly equipped as they had come and with the brush in places so thick as to be nearly impenetrable, considering the depth and rotten quality of the snow…   Might spend the entire night just shoving their way through the brush in search of one another, and while Liz might make it alright, he knew that he, realistically, would not.

So.  Looks like you’re waiting right here, and you’re gonna have to make the best of it.  Just keep yourself moving, and you should be fine.  Give the leg a good twist if you start feeling sleepy, and there’s no chance of your losing awareness in the cold.  That ought to be plenty to keep you awake.  And then she’ll be back, hopefully with some good solid information, and we can all head down and sit around a good warm fire tonight, planning where we go from here and where we might want to start looking for a place to set up a more permanent shelter.  Be good to have something like that in place before the next storm comes, because this time of the spring, we’re almost certain to have another good storm or two.

Thus occupied in thought and contending physically with the cold and with the hurt of his leg, Einar passed what he estimated must have been upwards of an hour in a wearying but effective routine of structured motion interspersed with brief if exhausted rests, mind busy all the time with the puzzle of their new location and of what it could mean that Kiesl had apparently dropped them in a place some fair distance from the one which had originally been intended.  The pilot had not said much about their destination when, half an hour into the ride, he’d slid open the window between truck cab and camper shell, and struck up a conversation with his passengers. 

The talk had mostly been about the technical aspects of the jump, at first, Kiesl apparently wanting to make sure that Einar remembered and Liz was somewhat educated about the particulars of the thing she would be doing for the first time several hours hence, but when he had somewhat assured himself as to the readiness of the pair, conversation had turned to memories of past jumps, missions, corners of the world whose acquaintance the two of them had made, if not always at the same time.  Einar had enjoyed the conversation—as much as anyone can enjoy good conversation while confined in the back of a truck with one’s family, half expecting every moment to hear the squeal of tires as the feds cut off all avenues of escape—had done a good deal more listening than speaking, but would have liked time to further reminisce with the pilot. 

Well.  Not likely to happen now, hopefully not, anyway, as their best option appeared to involve removing themselves far enough from the drop zone that not even Kiesl or Kilgore would be able to locate them, in the future.  If either man should have a mind to do such a thing.  But first they must know just where they were, and in which direction good sense dictated they ought to travel, lest they end up placing themselves in more danger by unwittingly straying too close to civilization.

He wondered what was taking Liz so long.  Supposed they might have been a good bit further below the ridge crest than he had estimated when they parted ways, prayed nothing had gone wrong and contemplated once again following her tracks and attempting to catch up to her, but once again decided against it.  Would give her a bit more time, first.  Time, he knew, can be a tricky thing when waiting for someone, can seem to pass a good deal more quickly than it actually is, and she might well be right above him, about to come into view.  Straining ears and clamping jaws he sought to catch any faint and distant hint of crunching in the snow, moving branches, anything that might indicate her approach, but there was nothing.

Some two hours later, sun beginning to sink low and Einar rather past his capacity for maintaining anything like a workable body temperature without some serious movement, he made his decision, rose with considerable difficulty and started up the slope.  She had taken big steps, anxious, it appeared, to reach the top and start back down, and as this pattern continued without any sign of letup, it only added to the mystery of her delay.  And to the difficulty of his own travel, for though a good nine inches taller than she and anxious to use her footsteps lest he have to discover for himself all the pitfalls she had already made plain, Einar found himself hard-pressed to keep his stride as long as hers had been.  Mostly he ended up stumbling about somewhere halfway between the halting, liming steps to which his leg was trying so hard to limit him, and the ones she had taken, floundering and flopping and generally making frustratingly slow progress.

Doggone it Einar, you’ve got to move faster, here.  She could have reached the top, turned around and been back to your waiting-spot two times over, by now.  Come on, you’ve got it in you.  Just…right, yeah, just drag the leg.  Thing’s all but useless by now anyway, as far as supporting your weight, and it just wrenches it worse every time you end up sticking it down through the snow.  Yeah, this is the way!

New method of travel a good bit more effective if not nearly as graceful as the careful walking he had so far been attempting, things began to go a bit more quickly for him, trees passing by and the summit nearing.

When after nearly an hour’s climbing—slow going through all that down, snow-hidden timber, and the effort did not seem to be improving his leg any, despite his new method of travel—Einar finally came out on the ridge crest, the reason for Liz’s lateness became immediately plain.

12 August, 2013

12 August 2013

Equipped with a few items out of Kilgore’s supply bag and quite anxious to learn more about their surroundings, Einar and Liz set off through the timber which lay between their camp and the nearest ridge, Einar finding the entire thing rather a slow prospect with his leg still unwilling to support even a reasonable portion of his weight.  For the first few hundred yards he tried simply keeping most of the weight off the leg with the use of his aspen staff, but no sooner had they begun climbing a bit than this strategy ceased doing him any good.  

The terrain was simply too steep for a one-legged man to make much headway without actually resorting to crawling, and as he was not yet willing to do this—slows a fellow down too much, and folks tend to look at you funny—he simply gritted his teeth and tried his best to use the leg.  Some four hundred feet higher in elevation Liz, who was in the lead, stopped for a break, making her way out to the edge of a rocky outcropping which allowed them something of a view over the timber and back down to the area of their camp.

“Well, what do you think?  I don’t see any sign of civilization, at least, and that has to be a good thing…”

Einar wormed his way through the brush—a tangle of serviceberry and scrub oak—until he was beside her, stood panting for a minute until he’d got his breath.  “Yeah, real good thing.  At least we do seem to be alone out here, wherever he’s dropped us.  Well.  Onward?”

“How’s your leg?”


An understatement, she could see, the way he stood white-knuckled and grim-faced as he hung onto that aspen stick, willing himself to remain upright but appearing close to toppling over.  “Should we call this good for today, and come back another time?”

“It’s not good.  Not high enough to get any perspective yet, see where we might be on this map.  If we’re on this map at all.”

“It did seem we flew an awfully long way…”

“Oh, that was part of Kiesl’s plan, no doubt.  Fly far out of the way just to confuse anyone who might have been trying to keep an eye on him.  For all I know, he may have flown straight south for two of those hours, then turned around and brought us back past the airstrip and right into our own country again—where the map shows him intending to drop us.  It’s just that I don’t recognize this place, and really need to get a better idea of where we are.  Got to keep climbing.”

“Alright, we can keep climbing.  How high do you think we’ll need to get, before we have a better view?”

Shading his eyes, Einar peered up the slope.  Saw nothing but trees.   “Don’t know.   Probably all the way to the top, which was about twelve, fifteen hundred feet off the valley floor, if I’m remembering the map correctly.  Would really like to be able to see down over the other side, if we can.  Better get moving.”

The terrain grew steeper as they climbed, Einar taking the lead for a while and pausing now and then to turn and peer down the slope behind them, but for the most part, the trees and brush were too thick to allow for much of a view.  He hoped there might be an area at the top where things would be more open, some combination of rockier ground and persistent wind having prevented the crest from becoming too heavily timbered.  He had in the past observed this often to be the case with saddles such as the one to which they were headed, lower areas along the ridge crest between two distinct rises, which provided natural channel for the wind.

As they climbed, the vegetation changed from evergreens interspersed with thickets of serviceberry and chokecherry brush to a vast slope of aspens, large trees, far taller than any they might have expected to find around their high basin, and it soon became clear to Einar that in the not-too-distant past, a great wind had indeed blasted its way up and over the saddle of the ridge, leaving in its wake hundreds of fallen trees which now lay barely covered in the diminishing snow, most of them right at knee or calf height where they provided perfect traps for any unwary humans who might find themselves stumbling along the surface and periodically breaking through the rotten snow.

Einar’s leg just couldn’t take it.  If travel had been difficult before, it was rendered all but impossible for him after a few stumbles and twists amongst those concealed tree trunks, and before long he was doing well just to hop along on one leg, struggling to lift the injured one out of holes in the snow and drag it along behind him.  Besides which, he was really beginning to feel the chill in his bones, despite the ski suit with which Kilgore had provided him, too worn out to do a lot of shivering, but knowing he’d be in serious trouble if forced to stop moving for any significant length of time without some source of heat.   Still in the lead he stopped, motioning for Liz to pass him and take a turn, but instead she stopped beside him, helped free his trapped leg and wrapped her scarf around his neck.

“Pretty rough going, isn’t it?”

Quiet for a minute, breath rasping in his throat, he took a bit of snow and let it melt in his mouth in an attempt to ease its dryness.  Not too much.  Was cold enough, already.  “Yeah.  Lot of trees down.  Looks like we’re…more than halfway to the top, though.”

“Let’s take a break.”

He nodded, didn’t want to do it—leg would only stiffen up further, he was pretty sure, if he stopped moving, and besides, the cold would get him—but supposed she must be tired from lugging Will up the mountain.  Couldn’t do too much harm to let her catch her breath, so long as they were soon moving again.  But Liz had other ideas.

“How about if you wait here with Will, and I hurry up to the top and see what can be seen?  I can give you a full report, maybe even make a sketch on the margins of one of the maps, if you’ll send them with me.  Think I could get up there pretty quickly…”

“Doggone leg.  Sorry it’s slowing us down so much.”

“I didn’t want to say anything, but it’s getting worse, isn’t it?”

He shrugged. “Is what it is, but looks like it will be taking me a while to get to the top.  If you’re willing…”

“Of course!  I’ll be as quick as I can, so we can get back to camp.”

“One thing though.  Better take Will with you.  Not gonna go so well if you’re delayed a little and he gets hungry.  I’d do my best, but there’s no substitute for Mom, in that case.”

Liz saw the logic in his suggestion, but sensed something else behind it, as well, something she did not entirely understand and definitely did not like.  In any case, it made sense for Will to go with her, and practically, his presence would not dramatically slow his progress.  Making sure Einar had a good spot to wait—together they had scooped and brushed all the snow from one of the buried aspen trunks, piling it in a semi-circle and creating a dry seat surrounded by something of a windbreak—she took the maps and set off up the slope.

11 August, 2013

11 August 2013

Hate to do this, but once again plans did not go as planned...and I have not finished the chapter for today.

Hope you all can forgive the delay, and be patient until tomorrow!

Thanks again for reading...

10 August, 2013

10 August 2013

Taking the day off today, but will be back tomorrow with another chapter.

Thank you all for reading!

08 August, 2013

8 August 2013 ~ Coming Home

Liz met him before he was halfway back to their sleeping spot with the bag, sliding Will over onto her back and insisting that she be allowed to help pull the load.  Together they dragged it through the snow and at times over its surface, for daytime temperatures wherever they were apparently climbed high enough to begin melting its surface, which then froze to a hard crust during the colder nights.  Typical spring snow, bane of skiers but for a man who is trying to cover ground without leaving tracks, a great advantage.  All he must do is to sit out the warmer hours, keep still and do his traveling very early in the morning when the crust has had a chance to thoroughly solidify, and before the next day’s sun begins once again to rot it. 

Einar was glad the bag mostly skated across the surface, and not simply because of his aversion to leaving sign.  Whatever the two conspirators had loaded into the thing, it felt as though it weighed close to half a ton—a gross over-estimation, and Einar knew it—and would have been a major challenge to move through deep powder.

“Where are we headed?”  Liz wanted to know.  “Back to the big ponderosa?”

“Yeah, better go take inventory, see what we’ve got here and hopefully look at a map or two, and then we can start to make some sort of plan.  Need to get up high and have a look at things, make sure there’s not a town or ski trail or something just over the ridge…”

“Roger wouldn’t do that to us!”

“Nope.  Don’t believe he would.  But I’ve got to see for myself.  Let’s take a quick look in the bag, stash everything and make a go of it before the sun comes out and starts rotting this snow again.  Not too anxious to be leaving tracks everywhere, until we know just where we are.”

“We’re lower, aren’t we?”

“Lower, maybe further south, too.  I don’t know these mountains.  Though of course the vegetation seems real similar to what we would have found at home—down around Bud and Susan’s elevation.  We’ll just have to see.”

Speaking of elevation, Einar seemed to be losing it all of a sudden, sinking towards the ground as his injured leg tired of being compelled to support more weight than it was really able to do, and buckled beneath him.  With a firm hold on the aspen staff he’d found for himself, he managed to stop the descent, remain standing, but the situation did slow their pace and leave Liz looking for ways she might make their path easier, though she said nothing about it.

Back at their makeshift camp Liz freed Will from her back and set him down to play on the mattress of firs while she helped Einar unstrap the bag and explore its contents.  Einar was cautious, almost insisted on dragging the thing back out away from camp and doing the initial opening, himself, well out of range of his family should something go dreadfully wrong, but he tried his best to dismiss the thought, knowing Roger had packed the bag and that the pilot had no reason, really, to go to all that trouble and risk just to destroy them, in the end.  Still, he found himself gritting his teeth and squinting as he unloosed the final webbing strap—as if it would have helped—edging over to place himself between Liz and the bag.  Nothing disastrous, unless one could count the jar of Nutella that had been placed, apparently at the behest of Susan, atop all the other goods in the bag and which, being  wrapped in a scarf, had survived the drop quite nicely.  Einar grinned, setting it aside.  Immediately below was a large camouflaged tarp, which he spread beside the past night’s bed as a base on which to sort and organize the bag’s remaining contents. 

Liz was pleased to see a variety of concentrated and nutrition-dense foodstuffs, cheese, powdered milk, powdered eggs, peanut butter, a few pounds of rice and split peas to help them get started, spices, salt, elk jerky, dried apples and a variety of other wonderful surprises.  Some of these were packed into a large pot which could be used both for cooking and—should the need arise—melting snow for drinking water.  Also included was a change of warm clothes for all, an extra pair of boots each for Einar and Liz, snare wire, sixty feet of parachute cord (in addition to that attached to the various chutes by which they had come to be in this new place) Einar’s rifle and a supply of ammunition both for it and for his pistol. 

The thing which most interested Einar, however, was the large waterproof map bag in which a number of documents were folded.  Choosing a wide area Forest Service map he spread it out on a free corner of the tarp, studying while Liz delved into their newfound food supplies and began preparing a breakfast.  Bud—Einar knew the style—had marked the drop zone clear as could be, but when he began orienting the map and trying to make sense of surrounding landmarks, things weren’t making a tremendous amount of sense.  At first Einar chalked this up to their position so close to one of the ridges; often, things can look very different when one is too close to them to get a perspective.  But that didn’t quite explain it.  Nothing was in the right place, ridges running entirely in the wrong directions and several peaks which he thought certain he ought to be able to see, according to the map, missing entirely.  Well.  Perhaps it would all make more sense once they had climbed to the top of one of those ridges.  Liz was watching him.

“So, where are we?”

“Two counties over, supposedly, in the bottom of a very remote valley situated at about nine-thousand feet elevation, nice looking spot, several little creeks coming down off the ridges and no human habitations or even marked trails for miles.  But something doesn’t add up.  I think Roger dropped us somewhere else.  Need to get some height, take a better look.”

“Yes, let’s do that.  After breakfast.”

In his eagerness to reach some high ground and get a better idea of their surroundings, Einar did his best to eat everything Liz put before him lest by his hesitance the trip be delayed.   Struggling with his own hunger, which had been increasingly stalking him since he’d begun eating a bit more at Bud and Susan’s, he found himself somewhat alarmed at the haste with which they would go through their rations if they kept on eating the way Liz had them doing that morning.  He knew though that she was surely hungry after the busy day prior to their jump, and then no supper, and the rations were only a temporary solution, in the first place.  They would soon have to get snares set out, find, perhaps, that turkey whose feather he’d seen stuck to the rock and begin getting themselves established, but first he must know how far they ought to move, and in what direction, and to that end he helped Liz package up all of their newly-discovered treasures and hoist them high up to hang from a branch of the big ponderosa, safely to await their return.

06 August, 2013

6 August 2013 ~ Coming Home

Muninn searched.  He knew they were no longer in the mine, but neither, when he made several passes and sat for a time outside the big sliding glass doors in the living room at Bud and Susan’s, could he detect any sign of them at the house.  The snow machines had frightened him when they came to the mines, and even when some instinct which told him to keep close to Einar had in some measure overcome the fright, he had lost them in the end.  No way to keep up with the truck that had taken them away, and now the raven was at a loss.  Splitting his time between house and mine he kept a lonely vigil, searching, in the evenings, the timbered land between, and sometimes flying all the way down to the spot where he had last seen Einar, down at the highway.  The raven never did find anything which might lead him to his human charges, but it was through one of these daily vigils that he came to witness a most curious sight.

*  *  *
Einar woke before daylight the following morning and lay holding himself rigid against the cold as he watched the sky pale and begin going grey.  East.  Over there behind them was east, it appeared, for when he arched his neck and stared back through the gently swaying boughs of their shelter-tree, the silent, slow-creeping light seemed stronger.  East.  Well, it was something, knowing that.  Even if he had no reference against which to measure the knowledge, no way to gain perspective on their new location.  Needed to climb one of those ridges that he could begin to see in the strengthening light, soaring rocky and rugged above the area of meadow and timber where they were camped.  That, or find the maps Kiesl had assured him were included in the drop bag that lay out there somewhere on the snow.  Yes, that seemed a good plan.  Find the maps, then climb a ridge and get oriented.  He did not, under current circumstances, absolutely have to know their exact location, he supposed, but needed at least some solid idea of how near they might be to the things which might threaten to compromise their existence in this new place.  He did not want to stumble unaware across some major hiking or skiing trail, for instance, and leave tracks that might make someone wonder.  Not that he expected Kiesl to have dropped them to close to any such thing, but he had to know for himself; with daylight coming and danger of potential discovery increasing, the matter suddenly seemed urgent.

When Einar—wanting to scout their new home and possibly even find the bag before Liz woke; she would, after all, be wanting breakfast, and he had yet to see anything he might try snaring—tried to move it was to find himself dreadfully stiff, hurt of his injured leg returning in a wave which seemed to clench itself around his stomach and leave him fighting back the bile that rose in his throat.  Well.  Not such a good start, but things would get better.  Would have to.  Much of the stiffness would be a result of his tumble upon hitting the ground, and that, he could surely work out as he started doing a bit more moving.  The leg was as yet an unknown quantity, aggravating, for sure, but hopefully not in the end too debilitating.  Wouldn’t know for sure until he’d really tried to put some weight on it, and this he did not intend to do until he was well away from the camp. 

Wriggling out of the bed and creeping out into the snow, Einar was glad of the ski suit with which Bud had provided him, a good deal more warmth and protection than he was used to having through the long, cold months of that past winter, and pretty handy when a fellow is having to drag himself through the snow, too.   Out from under the tree and some distance from where Liz and Will lay cozy beneath their folds of parachute material he made a try at standing, succeeded, but only so with the help of a small dead aspen that stuck up out of the snow near him. 

Not so good, Einar.  Gonna take you a mighty long time to search the couple of square miles where that bag could have landed, if you’re having to crawl.  And you’ll leave a real noticeable trail, too.  Come on now, it’s just a little twist.  Ought to be able to support your weight.  Not that much weight to support in the first place, so that should help…  Didn’t help, though, and after a few painful and disappointing tries, Einar resigned himself to the necessity of using some sort of prop, at least for the moment.  The tiny aspen tree which had supported him in standing seemed a handy option, and rocking it back and forth he managed to free its tenuous grip on the ground.  Turning the aspen pole upside-down so that the broken remnant of its single root might serve as a handle for beneath his arm should he need such, Einar set off, hobbling along the edge of the timber in search of the drop bag.
Dotted with the low-growing scrub oak he recognized as belonging to altitudes slightly richer in oxygen than that at which he and Liz had been dwelling for some time, the land met Einar with an array of opportunities for finding food and shelter, rabbit sign apparent beneath the oaks, the tracks of a small squirrel disappearing beneath a spruce where the animal had apparently been digging up cones from a hidden stash and once, catching his attention as it moved in the wind, a single turkey feather caught in a bit of rough orange lichen on the side of a rock.  All hopeful signs, and seeing them, he found himself anxious to learn more of this new land, not only where, precisely, it might lie on the map, but what benefits and challenges it would offer them as they sought to make a new life.

The first of which challenges, it soon became clear to Einar, was to involve simple movement, itself, at least for him.  Leg wasn’t getting any better, not losing any of its stiffness with use, as he had hoped, and before long he found himself reduced once more to crawling.  Which meant he must keep carefully to the trees, not wanting to leave great, lumbering trails thorough the open snow, and between these two factors, the pace of his morning reconnaissance was dramatically slowed.  No success, no sign of either the bag or his main chute, and he was not surprised, seeing as he was looking at the world from approximately the height and perspective of a lynx or bobcat.  Surely you can do better than this.  And he did, pushing aside the hurt as he rose, moved, settling into a hopping, shuffling gait which covered the distance far better than the crawl had done, and before the passage of an hour he had located the bag, studying it for some time from a distance before satisfying himself that no one had been near since its landing.

Thing was heavy, well-laden with whatever Kilgore and Kiesl had seen fit to pack, and Einar looped the lines around his waist, pulling, tugging and generally struggling to move the uncooperative bag through the crusty and rotting snow, but quite pleased at his success in having found it.  Liz would have breakfast that morning, and he, hopefully, would soon know more about their location, and could begin making plans for their immediate future.

04 August, 2013

4 August 2013 ~ Coming Home

With darkness quickly descending and all of their possessions—with the exception of Einar’s main chute and the cargo bag Kiesl had packed them—gathered together beneath the trees, Einar and Liz were anxious to get settled for the night while they still had a bit of light to aid them.  The chosen spot was nothing particularly special, the spreading branches of what even in the encroaching dimness Einar could not help but recognize as a ponderosa pine providing shelter from the air should snow come, ground beneath largely free of snow.   Seemed odd that there would be so little snow.  Already he had determined that they were at an elevation somewhat lower than the one at their cabin in the basin; oak brush such as the stuff which had stopped his tumble simply didn’t grow up that high.  It bothered him not knowing exactly where they were.  Kisel had provided them with maps, had said he was doing so, at least, but those maps, along with everything else that had been sent along, were tucked securely away in the cargo bag that had landed who-knew-exactly-where…  A job for morning.  In the meantime, he would simply have to speculate.

While Liz busied about cutting branches for an improvised mattress Einar spread her parachute flat on the sheltered spot beneath the tree, cutting one line and using it to suspend the center of the canopy from a sweeping branch, creating a low tent which would keep out a certain amount of moisture should it fall, but more importantly would help retain some of the heat of breath and body which otherwise would have dissipated out into the night.  This done, he similarly secured several points around the edges, tying these to rocks or sticks which he jammed into the ground, meaning to create something of a windbreak. 

Movement was becoming more difficult for him as time passed, leg stiffening up and entire body beginning to feel the effects of his tumble.  Wanting first to finish preparing a secure shelter for the night he had not yet in any detail assessed his injuries, knew the leg was likely to be hassle for a while and only hoped he hadn’t broken or otherwise seriously injured it.  Prospects weren’t looking great, in that regard.  Doggone thing wouldn’t support his weight.  Well.  No sense letting Liz worry too much about it, not yet, so he sat back down in a hurry, finishing his work from the ground.

Will had been sitting, while this work went on, atop the piled material of Einar’s reserve chute, happily rummaging about as he tried to trace the origin of one of the lines, determined to follow it to its conclusion and protesting loudly when Liz, returning with arms full of soft, sweetly-scented fir boughs, had to move him so she could make the bed.  Wanting to quiet the child, Einar picked him up.

“What?  You set on packing that thing for the next jump, is that what it is?  Looked to me like you really enjoyed your first one, didn’t you?”

“He sure seemed to,” Liz took the little one, depositing him on the freshly-arranged mattress of fir.  “Do you know that he didn’t even cry on the way down?  Not one bit.”

“Maybe he was too startled to make a sound, all that air rushing past him!”

“No, I don’t think that was it.  He seemed to like it.  We got down and he was just laughing and grinning like you wouldn’t have believed.  That doesn’t seem normal, does it?  That he wouldn’t be afraid?”

Einar really did laugh then, breathing right past the hurt in his leg for the first time since landing and letting himself go at the hilarity of attempting to define what might be “normal,” in a situation like theirs…  “Sure it’s normal!  He’s an active little boy just out discovering the world.  Sight of the ground rushing up at you at a hundred miles an hour is just way too fascinating to leave room for being afraid.”

“Is that what happened to you?”


“On the way down today.  Something happened…”

“Nothing happened.  Little bit of a rough landing, that’s all.”

Liz knew that wasn’t all, but saw no purpose in pressing him to answer, turned her attention instead to arranging the folds and billows of the reserve chute into something resembling a sleeping bag.  The stuff was thin but, when layered, fairly warm, and she knew they should be alright for the night between the fir mattress, their ski suits and the folds of cloth. 

“Let me see your leg now?”

“Too dark to see much.”

“If there’s  a lot of swelling, you might risk frostbite tonight if we don’t get your boot off and take care of things.  We’ve got a little light left.  Here, let’s get it done.”

Einar nodded, began unlacing his boot.  “Yeah.  Lot of swelling.  Just twisted something, I’m hoping.”

Twisted something?  Having watched you hit the ground, I would think that’s got to be quite the understatement!  Ok, be still and let me have a better look.”

Einar was still, holding himself rigid against the hurt as Liz gently poked and probed at the puffy purple-black mess to which his right leg had been reduced, but after a while he tired of the time she was taking—and the effort required of him to keep from reacting in ways which might have been unfortunate—and he took the leg in his own hands, feeling for any break or deformity which might explain the swelling.  Didn’t find anything, and finally had to start breathing again lest he risk passing out, inconclusive, he supposed, but if there was a break, it was causing no noticeable deformity.  Nothing to set or splint, really.  Maybe things would be better in the morning, once the swelling had been allowed a chance to go down.  Had to hope so, as he needed to be on his feet and mobile in the morning to go out looking for their missing items.  Liz suggested icing the area with some snow wrapped in a bit of parachute material and Einar figured it was worth a try, but she wouldn’t let him do it until he’d got all settled with them beneath the blanket—the plan, though she didn’t say so, being to prevent his deciding that abandoning the bed and spending the night sitting in the snow would be a far more efficient means of bringing down the swelling.

An hour later, leg throbbing a good deal less and everything quiet beneath the trees that sheltered them for the night, Einar lay staring up at the stars where they pierced hard and unblinking through the boughs of their ponderosa, Liz breathing quietly beside him and Will giggling softly in his sleep, dreaming, perhaps, of the delight of falling free through the air, and with that thought Einar joined them in slumber.