The day passed in relative leisure for the little family in the cave, wind raging so outside that neither Einar nor Liz found themselves much inclined to try their footing on the steep descent, spin-drift creating near whiteout conditions even when the snow itself abated, and travel largely out of the question until the wind managed to subside, some.
Several times Liz took advantage of the smoldering fire---pleasant; just enough warmth for that small space—to cook up additional treats from the supplies Susan had left the, Einar having some of everything she prepared but doing so with caution, finally having admitted to himself that a good deal of the weakness and other troubles he’d been experiencing over the past several days could be directly traced to the insidious and sometimes dangerous sickness he had experienced several times in the past when his body struggled to adjust to eating a bit more, after extended periods of near-nothing. The trouble would pass, but only if he worked cautiously to find some balance until the adjustment was complete—enough to give him the energy he needed and keep him headed in the right direction, but not so much that his physical systems would find themselves unable to cope, and begin betraying him. Or finish doing it.
Late that morning and after having helped Liz finish their second warm snack of the day—not counting breakfast; what’s got into her?—Einar roused himself from a heavy and encroaching near-sleep, raised himself on a bony elbow.
“You know, we really do have to leave here sometime. No easy access to hunting, trapping or much of anything else here—even firewood. Once we’ve used up all the branches from that old dead pine, there’s no more easily available, not that I’ve seen, and the food from Bud and Susan won’t last forever…”
“No, and I’d hate to use it all up. The storm seems to be slowing a little. It seems a shame to leave this place, but you’re right that there isn’t much here for us. Are you wanting to head for the bottom of the canyon soon?”
Einar stretched, rose, squinted out at the whiteness beyond the cave mouth. “Not entirely sure that I want to, but think it’s about time. When the wind slows and we can see where we’re going, that is. Maybe this afternoon, and if not, first thing tomorrow morning. Need to get someplace where we can set up a bit more of a long term shelter, and this just isn’t it.”
“No, I guess it wouldn’t be much of a life, over here. But it does have the advantage of not being on the map. Those other places are on the map. What do you think the chances are that they may be places people come to explore…”
“Possible, of course. But as remote as they are, as far as this place is from any sort of road or even a Jeep track, I don’t think it’s too terribly likely, especially not this time of year. We’ll take a look when we get over there. Will be tracks to show us, of course, if anyone’s been there during the winter and once we get a look inside a cave or two, I’ll be able to tell you for sure. No matter how careful a fellow may be, he always leaves signs in a cave, marks of his passage. Makes an impact. I’ll be able to tell if anyone’s been in there, and roughly how many of them and how frequently, too. Then we can make our decisions.”
“Well. If we’re going tomorrow, I guess we’d better do it before too much of the day goes by. This camp worked out just fine, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of getting ourselves stuck on narrow shelves halfway down cliff faces with night approaching, and having to search with our hands in the dark in the desperate hope of maybe finding some rock feature that will let us hang on for the night without being scoured off the rock by the wind…”
“Oh, it wasn’t as bad as all that! Not nearly.”
“It was worse. You just don’t remember. You nearly walked right past this cave, and probably would have kept going until you finally fell off the wall from sheer exhaustion, wouldn’t you?”
“Maybe. Ok, first thing in the morning, it is. Should give us plenty of time to work our way to the bottom of the canyon even if things get complicated, and from there we can decide whether to camp for a night, or go ahead and make the climb, figure on camping in one of the caves when we reach them.”
Will, bored after a time with the monotony of eating, resting in the sleeping bag and watching the fire and tiring at long last of listening to the adults converse—a process which normally held endless fascination for him, and seeing the intensity in his eyes as he listened, seldom looking directly at either speaker but clearly focusing with undivided attention their words nonetheless, Einar wondered sometimes if the little one understood far more than he let on—he wriggled free of Liz’s grasp and set out at a gallop-crawl to investigate a particularly sparkly patch of white calcite near the back of their little grotto. Already out of the sleeping bag and not wanting the little one to journey too far into one of the tunnels at the back of the grotto, Einar followed. “What do you see there? Rocks really reflect the light of the fire, don’t they?”
Knowing he was about to be scooped up Will made a sudden change in direction, evading Einar’s grasp and heading straight for the fire. Stopping just short of the coals he stared in silent wonder at the living red-orange that danced and glowed in their centers, light reflecting on his face. “Fi. Fi!” He whispered and then shouted, holding out a little hand so that Liz was afraid he might be burned, but pulling it back in time. “Fi!”
“Did you hear that?” She exclaimed, swooping in and moving him back a few feet before he could again reach for the coals. “He said ‘fire!’”
“He said ‘fi.’”
“It’s close enough, for his first try! He meant ‘fire.’ He was looking straight at it. Your son is talking, Einar!”
“Well, it’s about time he said something, I guess. I can see him thinking every time he looks my way. Lot of stuff going on behind those big grey eyes of his. Wouldn’t be surprised if he understands every word we say, and has for a while, now. I could. I remember.”
“You remember things from when you were six month old?”
“Oh, maybe eight. Hard to say for sure. But around that time. I just know a person should never underestimate the capacity of these little critters to hear and understand. Because it aggravates the heck out of them, when you do. I remember that, too. Best to always take them real seriously.”
“I do take him seriously. Between you and Will, I’ve learned to take everything very seriously! But I may not mean that in exactly the way you do, so you’ll have to help me out now and then, as he gets older.”
“Oh, I don’t know anything about little humans, really. Except that they are little humans, with fully-formed if still-growing human minds, and ought to be treated that way.”
“Yes. And this little human is hungry at the moment—guess speaking must require a lot of energy—so I’d better take care of that. How about his father? Are you hungry too?”