Picking their way carefully down the draw which had the day before led them to the cave-ledge, Einar and Liz kept diligently to the timber, wary glances cast at regular intervals towards the strange devices on the canyon rim and ears—especially Einar’s—sharp for any hint of approaching aircraft. The descent passed fairly uneventfully, no tracks in the gully to indicate that anyone had been scouting the area in the night, and, best as they could tell, no further activity on the canyon rim, either. Maintaining a reasonable speed was not proving an easy thing for Einar even on that steep downhill slope, head still thick and confused at times and body dragging from the lingering effects of the previous day’s fever, but driven by the uncertainty of their situation and the need to find a better place of concealment he surprised Liz by leading then down to an area just above the canyon floor several hours before midday.
Resting briefly against the smooth trunk of an aspen he studied the opening expanse of terrain below them, scattered aspens casting their winter-bare shadows over low-growing clusters of serviceberry and scrub oak but this fairly open ground rapidly giving way, down where the shallow creek meandered quietly between its banks of ice, to the dense thickets of willow and red osier dogwood which had two mornings prior concealed the moose. Einar did not want to cross that open ground, searched for a path which would allow them to keep to the heavier timber until they could lose themselves beneath those willows, but could see none. Squinting up at the spot where the canyon rim ought to have been he could hardly see that, either, trees obscuring its lines and he taking some reassurance from this fact.
Nodding to Liz he pushed himself wearily away from the aspen, trotting from one cluster of brush to the next as he quickly traversed fifty yards of more open ground and disappeared into the willows. Liz was at his side within seconds, automatically turning to watch their back trail when he stopped, scanning what he could see of the ground ahead. Could not see far at all, which under the circumstances proved every bit as reassuring as it was distressing, for neither could they be seen. Unless someone was watching from up on the rim, using motion or heat sensing instruments—or perhaps some combination—to track their every move. For the moment he pushed the thought aside. They had decisions to make.
“Pretty sure we’re only about a ten minute walk from where we left the moose and drop bag. Want to go pick some things up before we head up the canyon, and out of here?”
Yes, of course she wanted to do that, did not, in fact, want to leave at all until they’d found some way to take the entire contents of the drop bag and as much of the moose as they could reasonably carry, but already she could see that Einar’s focus was going to be speed, lightness, a quick evacuation of the canyon. She nodded. “Yes. Better take whatever we can.”
“We’ll have to go slow, make sure there’s no sign of anyone having been around there. Good thing for the snow. We’ll see tracks, if they have been. Don’t want us to get separated just now, but I need to go out front, really look for sign.”
Liz nodded, silently following when Einar took a snaking path off through the willows, heading for their previous camp, for the place where they had worked so hard to butcher the moose and hang its meat and hide securely in the timber. Instead of making straight for the spot Einar led them on a wide, circling path which crossed the creek, circled far around the moose cache and up onto the hillside before finally he had assured himself that no one had been in the area since their departure, closed the circle and headed for the hanging-trees, Liz thinking all the while that he was acting just like a wolf investigating a trap, and that it was probably a good thing, too.
Meat, hide and bag were exactly as they had been left, a fact, they both realized on seeing the plethora of coyote tracks in the snow beneath the trees, which could be attributed only to their careful stowing of the goods far out of reach of creatures which had not been blessed with the ability to either climb or fly. Lowering first the drop bag and then one of the moose quarters, Einar and Liz worked to load whatever they could into their packs. Frustrated at the limited space in her small pack, Liz emptied everything out and started again. Einar was intently focused on hacking frozen chunks from the elk quarter and stuffing them into his pack, never even looked up when she stopped work, so she had to interrupt him.
“How about we just take the whole drop bag? We managed to get it all the way down from the canyon rim without anything worse than a near-disaster, so surely we can move it to wherever we’re going, now…”
“No time, Lizzie. We’ve got to make this move quick, get to someplace a whole lot more secluded where—hopefully—we’ll be able to keep an eye on the canyon and see if this business with the antennas seems to have anything to do with us, and a wider search, or not. Then, after we’ve proven to ourselves that it doesn’t and that the place is still real quiet, we can come back for things. Our trail is the other problem. That bag leaves a real noticeable trail when we drag it through the snow, and I don’t know about you, but it’s a heavier thing than I can carry on my back, just now.”
“Me too, with Will there. But how about if we lash it to a stout tree trunk, maybe a willow or something else light and sturdy, and carry it between us? Then nothing drags, we aren’t slowed down too much, and we don’t have to abandon the supplies that were going to help us get a fresh start out here.”
Einar did not immediately answer, pondering as he continued working on the moose. “Could work, and would solve the track problem…but it would really slow us down. Change how we could move, especially on steep slopes or in heavy brush like those willows. And if we did run into trouble and have to take off we’d be leaving it behind, where someone who might be pursuing us could find it and see just who we were, what we’d been doing and maybe even who had been helping us…doesn’t sound like a real good risk.”
“Yes, those things could happen, but there’s always a chance that someone could find it if we leave it here, too. It might slow us down a little, but I think we can manage, especially if we keep the stick fairly short so we can go around corners and through the brush more easily. Chances are everything will go fine, and we’ll be glad not to have left most of our supplies behind, once again. And if it doesn’t work out, we can always find another place to stash the bag, somewhere along the way. That might be better anyway. Because we’d be splitting things up, not leaving all our eggs in one basket…”
A frustrated sigh from Einar, who was out of good arguments and already scanning the nearby willow thickets for a good pole. Sounded like they would be giving the idea a try.