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.”
“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…