Much as that drop bag weighed with all its contents, Einar knew they might have been better off finding two stout willow poles rather than one, and carrying the thing liter-style. This, though, would serve to further restrict their movements, as well as keeping both hands occupied rather than just one, a major disadvantage should they unexpectedly run into enemies on the trail. One stick it would be, then, and they’d just have to see how it went, both carrying the weight and navigating the sort of terrain that lay ahead of them, burdened with such a potentially cumbersome load. Keeping close together as they searched, neither wanting to risk being separated from the other in that dense thicket and with the unknown threat of those newly-built towers hanging over their heads, Einar and Liz spotted it an nearly the same moment, a long, straight willow pole which ought to prove adequate to their purpose.
Liz held while Einar cut, using his knife to fell the willow and remove its branches so they were left with one long, straight pole. The work of lashing the drop bag in place then began, Einar making use of its own straps to secure it in place. Ready to test the system, he took his place at the front of the line—had to keep an eye on things up there, at least starting out—and Liz prepared to lift her end.
“Ok, let’s give it a try.” He spoke softly, as if half-convinced that someone might be listening. “If it works alright, let’s go ahead and get moving. Been here way too long.”
Liz nodded, lifting at his signal, a bit of a struggle getting things coordinated and then they were moving, willow pole bowing precariously but not breaking, strong, supple and definitely up to the task. Movement was difficult at first, Einar misjudging the length of the pole and trying to go too tightly around a corner so that Liz was left doing her best to avoid being mashed against a tree or a cluster of brush, but gradually they adjusted to the arrangement and began coordinating things a bit more smoothly, stumbling less often and beginning to make better time. Better, certainly, than Einar had been able to make while dragging the bag behind him, sled-style, as he’d done up on the rim, and without doubt better than they would have been able to manage if attempting to drag it through the tangled willow and dogwood brush that matted the canyon floor.
Feeling slightly more confident with every step they took further from the caves, antennas and the strange men who had come in the night, Einar would have happily kept trudging ahead until they’d put the entire length of the canyon behind them, reached its head and climbed up into the dark timber which he believed—and the map somewhat confirmed—ought to be awaiting them there, but after nearly two hours of solid walking, Liz called a halt beneath a small stand of fir trees that crowded down close to the creek. She did not like the way Einar had been periodically stumbling for the last half hour or so, did not care for the rough, ragged sound of his breathing, and when he turned to see what the matter might be, what had caused her to stop moving, the look in his eyes confirmed to her that it was long past time for a rest.
“Can we stop here for a few minutes? These firs ought to give us some cover, and Will really needs to eat.”
Squinting hard against a strange and aggravating blur which had been increasingly creeping in to obscure his vision as the hours went on, Einar studied Will, who appeared to be fast asleep.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. You wouldn’t want him to wake crying later because he’s hungry, and possibly give us away…”
No, of course Einar would not want that, and arguing no further he nodded, leg his end of the pole drop to the ground and sank down beside it, attempting to keep the process somewhat orderly in the hopes of concealing his weariness, but only half succeeding. When Liz—not appearing in any particular hurry now to feed the soundly-sleeping Will—offered him water and some almonds from the things Susan had sent them, he did not refuse.
Only after Einar had eaten did Liz settle in to feed Will, who had by then awakened and was attempting mightily to escape from her hood and explore the fir grove. The offer of food was, at the moment, more captivating yet, and while he ate, Einar took out notepad and pencil and began sketching, to the best of his memory, the towers and apparatus they had observed on the canyon rim. He still hadn’t decided what they could be, and doubted the sketch would help him figure it out, but wanted to make it while his memory was fresh, should the information become pressingly relevant in the future. Which he certainly hoped it would not do—at least not without a good deal of warning.
Sketch done and body beginning to stiffen with the cold—he’d barely felt it while moving, but could not sit long without its iron fingers finding their way in and beginning to tighten their grip on him, it seemed—he rose, stretched and scanned the rather limited bit of evergreen grove and willow thicket which made up their immediate surroundings. The day had been quiet so far, no hint of human presence either along the canyon floor or its rim, no sound of distant engines or aircraft, and though Einar would have liked to be reassured by this silence, it somehow only added to his unease.
Wished greatly that he might be free to take off for the canyon rim, make the climb and find some secluded high ground from which to observe, watch for the return of the past night’s intruders, try once more to puzzle out what could have been their purpose and, should it turn out to be a sinister one—do something about it. Such action, however greatly it might align with his instincts and past habits, was all but precluded by the situation, by that round little face with its joyful and piercingly curious eyes which were even then studying him, asking some unspoken question—and by his mother. Until they were safely out of the area and well established somewhere hidden and secure, his first focus must be on making their exit from the canyon and whatever unknown dangers lurked on its far rim, and to this end he took up his end of the pole, waiting for Liz to get Will situated once more in her parka hood, and started walking.
Liz had not quite been ready, held back. “Hey, how’s it going for you? You’re awfully quiet. You doing ok?”
Einar just shrugged, grinned and started walking again, yeah, be just fine as soon as we’re out of this canyon… Place is starting to feel like a trap.