Moving in the moonlight they left their hasty camp, drop bag secured once more to its carrying pole and everything sharply outlined in the stark silver light, willows bristling in harsh definition and the creek taking on a hard-edged, metallic tone beneath its brittle sheath of ice.
As they walked—Liz in the lead this time, her turn, she’d said, and he had not wanted to argue—world black and white and silver-shadowed around them in the moonlight, Einar’s mind returned to the jungle, and his dream. Hard reality—whatever the dream-vision had mercifully if unrealistically shown him—was that Andy had almost certainly not died that day, happy and at peace, had lingered for who knew how long and had almost certainly suffered dreadfully as a result of his own escape, interrogated for details about which he knew nothing, could know nothing, but it wouldn’t have made any difference to them, and Andy, the man who had never talked, would have borne it all wordlessly and in silence until at last the end had come for him. The thought of it was very nearly more than Einar could bear, tears freezing on his parka-collar in the moonlight and world losing its definition around him so that he had to squint and stare in a rather desperate attempt to stay in the present and regain some focus, keep from stumbling on the rough creekbed terrain beneath his feet.
When at last he steadied some and was able to look up there was Will again, little mittened hand reaching out from the cozy compartment on his mother’s back to grab at passing willows, and as if knowing, the boy squirmed, turned, looked at him, and Einar could not help but allow a smile to creep across his face in response to the child’s own. Life, joy and the strength to carry on.
They saw the rim-lights no more than night as they traveled, trees perhaps obscuring their view in places but even when the way was clear they could catch no glimpse, and were left to assume that the men had either moved on, or had moved back sufficiently from the rim itself as to be concealed by the intervening terrain, and though curious as to the meaning of the nightly visits, neither Einar nor Liz minded the thought that they were well and thoroughly concealed from one another, their little family and these mysterious men. Up the canyon they traveled, mile after mile of winding willow-path, red osier dogwood and the occasional tangle of chokecherry or serviceberry that had grown down and into the bed of the creek.
Ground rising, Einar knew they must be nearing the head of the canyon, and none too soon, for though the moon was near sinking below the high limestone rim, light slowly strengthened as dawn neared. He did not want to be caught in the canyon after daylight, knew there would be more cover up in the dark timber which hopefully awaited them and considering the uncertainty of the towers, very much wanted to gain that higher ground. Not that darkness had been any guarantee of safety, of course, considering the uncertain purpose of those towers and their potential means of infrared or other detection, but it was with a great sigh of relief that at last he caught sight of the tumbled rock and broken spires which marked the end of the canyon. No gentle rise to timbered slopes greeted them, however.
Squinting in the uncertain light, Einar searched for a draw which might allow them passage, some steep, rocky gully between spires, but instead it appeared they had found their way to the end of a box canyon, and become trapped. Frantic for a moment at the thought of it he dropped his end of the willow pole and hurried down to the bottom of the creekbed, boots crunching in the ice as he followed the water, seeking the spot from whence it came. Couldn’t be a waterfall, not quite, or he would have heard it, and if it wasn’t a waterfall, perhaps they might find passage up whatever channel the water was descending. Its broken surface glinting in the last light of the setting moon Einar found and followed the water, which seemed to be coming from several places at once, creek having split as it bounded and gurgled down from the heights above. Following the liveliest channel with his eyes he soon lost it amongst the rocks, but not so quickly as to rule it out as a potential avenue of escape. Liz, too, had set down the pole and joined him.
“Is there a way out?”
“Got to be. Just don’t know which one of these leads out, and don’t want to get up halfway up one of these gullies only to have to turn back after daylight because we get cliffed out up there. Should have known it would be like this. Should have been able to tell from the map.”
“The map did show a lot of jumbled terrain and close-together lines up here, but I thought there would be some way around it, too. It really looked like there would.”
“There will. Gonna be hard to get the bag up this, though. Any of it.”
“What if we drag it behind us again?”
“Up the cliffs?”
“Up the gully. And if it gets too steep, we can hide it somewhere, and come back.”
“This stuff is going to be too exposed once it really gets light. Just in case somebody’s watching from the rim over there. Once we’re off the cliffs and out of the gullies, I want us to be out for good. Not come back this way, at least not anytime soon. I know we need the stuff in the bag, if there’s a way to keep it. Will really help up get our new start up there. How about we keep on like we have been for now, carrying it between us. Maybe things will open up sooner than we think, and we’ll be able to get it all the way up the draw that way. And if not…well, just have to stop and see how much we can carry on our backs, I guess.”
Sounded better than anything else Liz could come up with, and a good deal better than what she had expected from Einar, whose first inclination almost always seemed to lean towards abandoning everything in order to make better time—and who needs things, anyway? Certainly not a man who doesn’t eat, doesn’t care if he’s dressed warmly and half the time would choose to sleep out in the weather on a cold, damp rock or some such if left to his own devices, instead of in a sleeping bag under shelter like a sensible person—so she was quick to agree.
“Yes, let’s give that a try. It’s difficult to tell exactly how things are above us in this light, so all we can do is to try.”
Trying, taking the pole and starting up the centermost and largest of the craggy draws, Einar and Liz slowly ascended, Einar once more in the lead and the going becoming steadily more difficult as the terrain demanded more and more contact simply to prevent their coming loose and tumbling back down the way they’d come. Limited to one hand each, one devoted as it was to keeping hold of the pole, this considerably slowed their pace so that a dusky but rising daylight soon overtook them, making more plain their steps if increasing the urgency of the climb.