Handing Will to his mother he quickly followed her through the timber to a spot just before the creek, where only a few lithe, leafless willows stood to block their view. Though having to look far off to one side and move his eyes rapidly back and forth in order to catch a glimpse, Einar did see the lights, agreed with Liz that they appeared to be located rather close to those they had seen the previous night. Too far away now, even with binoculars, to get any idea of what might be going on back there, but the continued activity certainly did cement Einar’s determination to put a good deal more distance behind them, before sheltering for any length of time. He would have perhaps insisted that they pack up and move on that night and without any further delay, had not the discussion with Liz been still fresh in his mind. Moon would be up in a few short hours, greatly assisting their travel and—most importantly—allowing them to pick routes on which they would leave the least sign. Patience was in order. He handed the binoculars to Liz, crouched against a tree and waited to see if the lights would move on.
“Don’t know what to tell you. Two nights in a row. Might have called it a good sign, something they do regularly and that has nothing at all to do with us, except that we didn’t cross any snowmobile tracks on our way to the canyon rim. So it’s a mystery, and the sooner we can put this place behind us, the better.”
“I know. I don’t like it either, but so long as we don’t have a fire or make a lot of noise, we ought to be as safe here as anywhere, at least for a few hours. Don’t you think?”
Einar rose, rubbing cold hands and squinting at the far rim. “Don’t know what to think, but do know there’s not a lot of sense in stumbling over willows in the darkness for the next few hours and leaving a big, floundering mess for someone to follow.”
“No. But it’s not that bad, is it? The pole-carrying idea, I mean. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do when we’re going through brush and timber, but it mostly seems to be working, doesn’t it?”
“Sure it does! That’s not what I meant. Think it’s working real well, all things considered. Really cutting down on the sign we do leave. Just meant with it being as dark as it is, we’d be doing a lot of stumbling and scrambling, no matter what we are or aren’t trying to carry through all those willows. The moon should solve that for us. I’ll wait.”
Would sleep, too, threat a distant thing and not nearly so immediate as it had been during the previous night, and it was not long before—cold snack of jerky and moose liver eaten and Liz’s insistence—he was drowsing in the sleeping bag, struggling and then failing to stay awake. Wished he had succeeded. Warm in the sleeping bag, far too warm before long, as his resting body made one final effort against the infection that still lingered in his arm and the fever returned with full force to leave him dreaming, drifting, jungle vegetation dark and close around him, water up to his calves as he turned, hurried as quickly as he could back in the direction from which he had come, slipping on some bit of rotting plant matter under the water and going down.
Gasping for breath when he managed to raise himself again, hands and arms still weak and mostly lacking sensation from his treatment in that cage, struggling to breathe without coughing, choking, giving himself away, and he managed it, if just barely, scrambled forward with his eyes on Andy’s enclosure, meaning to return, to make one more effort, wrench the side off that cage and drag the man if he had to, carry him, anything to get him out of their hands and up into the densely-vegetated and in places nearly vertical karst crags that would give him a chance. Some chance, at least, to die free, but Einar did not mean for either of them to die that day, not if he could help it, and there was the cage not fifty yards ahead of him but already men were coming, shouting excitedly at the discovery of the dead guard he had left behind and rapidly scattering to search the area.
No way to go back now, no hope of anything but death—and probably not a particularly rapid one, either—should he try, and he was running, exhaustion and blood loss making his head swim, injured leg collapsing beneath him so that he was at times slithering through the muck as much as he was running, going under, losing his place, back of his neck bristling with the certainty that one of them was about to grab him, have him, firmer ground, leaving the swamp behind and he was on his feet again, breath harsh and metallic in his throat as he pushed himself up the nearest slope, dodging, weaving, changing direction in the hopes of confusing his pursuers, but he could hear them back there, coming, could feel his body failing him, far past its capacity for such work but somehow he managed to keep on his feet, keep going, for it was the only way…
There, ahead, crest of the ridge and some hope, could he gain it, that he might lose them on what he knew would be the even more densely-vegetated backside of the mountain, must hurry but before dropping down to the other side he paused, looked back and saw Andy there watching him through a space in the wall of his cage, a spot where the woven mat had been torn away from the bamboo bars—impossible, no way he could still be visible over that great, tangled distance, but there he was—and the young man was smiling, urging him on, light in his eyes and a strange, transfiguring joy easing away the hard lines of suffering that had been etched in his face, raising a hand in farewell before sinking out of sight, resting, at peace…
Over the crest and down, then, falling hard as his bad leg went out from beneath him, and Einar woke with wild eyes staring into Will’s face in the moonlight, radiant where it peeked out from the hood of his mother’s parka and graced with the smile of some carefree dream, a child’s dream, entire life before him, and for the first time Einar—tears in his eyes as he reached out with trembling hand to caress the child’s cheek—did not want to go back.
Instead he rose, quiet, careful not to disturb mother or child, ate, made ready their things in the brilliant moonlight, silver moonlight spilling down the canyon, teeth rattling in the deep pre-dawn chill, all prepared for their departure before he gently woke Liz and offered her some food.
“Time to go, Lizzie. Go find our home.”