Darkness heavy over the little basin but no one ready yet for sleep, Liz worked to coax snow into its liquid form over the flame of a single candle, the upper limit, Einar supposed, of what was safe as far as light and heat inside the shelter, with the possibility of that plane’s return. Slow and painstaking was the process, Liz frequently stirring the icy slurry with a stick in the hopes of getting a bit more liquid on the bottom of the pot, knowing this would speed the melting process. As it was, appeared they might each enjoy the benefit of a single small swallow of water before bed, hardly enough to go with the supper of jerky and dried fruit she had planned for them, let alone to help Einar, who always appeared to her to be a bit dehydrated, to stave off the creeping encroachment of hypothermia in the night.
It was Einar who solved the problem for them, leaving the shelter and searching about in the night until he’d found, by feel more than by sight, a rocky area just below the ridge behind which their tiny basin was tucked. Here, where wind and steepness had kept sections of granite exposed and free of snow, he found places where on wamner days water had seeped down the rock and frozen, leaving behind weird, twisted forms of solid ice. Using his knife to break and free several of these small ice masses, Einar wrapped them in a cloth he had brought for the purpose, slung it over his back and returned to the shelter.
Approaching, he was glad to see that almost no light leaked out from between the wall chinking, only a faint glow emanating from beneath the improvised door they had rigged of leftover aspen lengths, lashed together. Nothing, he was reasonably confident, that would give away their position from the air. Brushing the snow from his clothes and ducking inside, Einar slid the door back in place, tucking the parachute down under it in order to better seal out drafts. Crouching over the candle, he opened the cloth and showed Liz the ice chunks, taking a minute to steady his breathing and do his best to stop shaking before attempting speech.
“Brought us some ice. Won’t melt quite as fast as the snow, but it’ll give a lot more water. Most water for the same amount of fuel, I mean. Was gonna take forever to get much, melting snow over that candle.”
“I know. Just didn’t realize there was any ice around. This will help a lot!”
“You can have the first batch here, as soon as it’s done. You got to have plenty to drink, or Will might end up short on food. Don’t want to let yourself get behind.”
“Hey, I’m not producing food for a little guy…”
“You’re procuring food for all of us, though! Like that rabbit yesterday. And that moose meat you’re going to go retrieve for us, as soon as the planes stop coming… So we’re going to split this water equally, ok? I’ll make it into spruce needle tea, and we’ll split it. It’ll be good to have a little something warm before bed.”
“Well, as long as you get enough that way.”
“I’ll get plenty. Maybe we can melt snow on some black plastic tomorrow too, if it’s sunny. Just to help keep our supply up.”
“Good idea. Bud wrapped some of the stuff in the drop bag in heavy black plastic bags, and it doesn’t even take a very warm day to melt snow on one of those, so long as you sprinkle it on there pretty thin, and find a place where there’s full sunshine. Might get a pint or so that way during the sunny part of the day, if we really keep after it.”
“Well, that’s a start. Too bad there aren’t any creeks around here that we can use for water.”
“I’ll walk down to the canyon floor, if you’d like!”
“I don’t like! Don’t like it at all. That would be an awful lot of energy expended, just to get water…”
“Was mostly joking about that one, anyway. Don’t want to be leaving tracks down into the canyon right now, not knowing what that plane was doing. Better give it some time, and keep melting snow for our water for a little while.”
“Show me where the ice is tomorrow, and we can take turns getting it. Was there much, or did you already get most of it?”
“Not sure. It was too dark to tell just now, and I wasn’t paying it a lot of attention when I saw it earlier. Just passed it while hauling trees, and kind of took note of it. Have to go take a look when there’s more light.”
“Yes, it’s about time to turn in for the night, don’t you think? Before it gets any colder in here…”
“Oh, I like it cold in here!” She heard him move in the semi-darkness of the flickering candle, but did not discern his intentions quickly enough to dodge the pair of icy hands with which he soon found her.
“Hey!” she half squealed, rolling away and pouring the accumulated wax from the candle to brighten its flame. “Hands off until you’ve warmed up some. I don’t like the cold nearly so well as you do, you know!”
“Well maybe you could learn to appreciate it more if you’d just…”
“Oh, no! No you don’t! Do I have to get the rabbit stick, or what?”
“Sure, if you must.” They were both laughing by that point, Liz trying to hush Einar, and herself, half afraid that they would wake Will, but the little one slept soundly as they quickly made a few bedtime preparations, blew out the candle and slipped into the sleeping bag.
Some time later Liz could feel Einar’s restlessness, drew the bag more closely around his shoulders and tucked her own face inside for warmth. “Are you thinking about that plane?”
“Yeah. Thinking and listening.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to get any sleep?”
“Nah, probably not. But it’s pleasant, listening to the sound of the wind in the spruces. Neat how most of it goes right over us here, isn’t it? Because of that little ridge in front of the shelter.”
“Yeah, and the rest is being pretty effectively blocked out by all those spruce needles we stuffed in the cracks between logs. And by the parachute. Pretty cozy place you’ve built here.” But Einar did not answer; Liz could tell from his breathing that he was asleep.