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.