Though equipped with a good knife and sharpener each, and the hatchet sent along by Bud and Susan in the drop bag, Einar knew the task before them was to prove somewhat monumental, not a quick thing, and he wished there might be some way to speed their progress away from the place where he’d taken the shot. Though immeasurably grateful for the meat, the situation had him worried, entire canyon feeling compromised, contaminated by his action, no longer safe. If it ever had been. Gathering hatchet and sharpening stone, pausing briefly to help Liz slide a still-sleepy Will into the hood of her parka, he returned to the moose, staring up at the sky as if he half expected to hear the approaching rumble of helicopters and crouching for a long half minute at the edge of the timber before venturing out into the more exposed maze of willow and red osier dogwood in which lay the fallen moose.
The creature had gone to its knees and then, in its final, brief struggle, rolled to one side, and had the ground there on the canyon floor been somewhat more angled, this might have proven a distinct advantage when it came to gutting the moose. As it was, terrain all but flat where centuries of spring runoff had deposited its sandy detritus, it looked like they were going to have to do things the hard way, gravity not helping them as much with the gutting process as it might have done on a more noticeable slope.
Then there was the matter of skinning the great beast, a job, Einar knew, not quite comparable in difficulty to that of the Plains women who had come in after a successful buffalo hunt and worked together to skin out one of the great, hulking animals minutes rather than hours—but it would be close. And with just the two of them, he and Liz, even this first step was looking a bit daunting. No problem. They’d get it done. Just wished that queasy feeling would leave the pit of his stomach, that sense of alertness which made the world stand out in crackling-sharp relief around him and left him expecting at every moment to see some enemy stepping out of the next clump of willows or swooping down from the sky. Probably no reason for such anticipation, really, he told himself, for the chances of anyone not only having heard that single shot but traced down its origin and gone to the trouble of seeking out its source must be minescule, indeed…
Those facts aside, he knew better than to ignore such foreshadowings, and he kept the rifle near him as he worked, making a careful first cut on the belly of the moose and using all his strength to try and roll it into a slightly better position, Liz helping from the other side and neither of them meeting with too much success. Any movement of the animal while still whole was going to be, he could see already, a job for parachute cord—webbing would have been better, but they didn’t have any—and some clever rigging. Too bad the creature had fallen so far from any large trees, out where the willows were insubstantial little things, lithe and springy, but not very big around. Well. They’d just have to manage things with the beast in its present position, if at all possible.
Standing, wiping sweat from his face and stopping to stretch stiff arms, shoulders and flex his wrists as well as he was able, Einar wished everything was a bit more mobile and useful that morning. The pain he could tolerate—helped keep him awake, that’s what it did—but the incredible stiffness and lack of strength which seemed to have set in overnight were decidedly hampering the speed and agility with which he was able to go at the task. Not unusual to feel such effects after a visit with the ropes, but it seemed lately they grew more noticeable each time, took him longer to get back to his version of “normal.” Ought to be grateful, right? Means maybe you won’t have to do it as often, which would be a good thing, because sure aren’t going to have time for anything like that, for the forseeable future! Neither time nor the resources to spend on it. This thing’s gonna take all you’ve got, and more.
He grinned, nodded at Liz and got back to work.