Huddled close together in their parkas Einar ad Liz ate a cold breakfast, even the candle being too great a risk, Einar had decided, if planes were going to be buzzing so low overhead and without warning. Silent, listening, Einar glowered at the dimly-lit outline of the improvised door through its covering of white parachute, an anger growing within him at the repeated intrusion of the plane, the uncertainty it brought to their lives in this new place, and when nearly an hour later it came back again, this time rising up out of the canyon and making an arc over their mountainside before departing, he was ready.
Not willing to risk being seen but determined to get a good look at the as-yet unseen adversary, Einar dived at the door when first he heard the droning whine of that plane climbing up out of the canyon, pressing himself down under it and wriggling head and shoulders out into the snow, under the its surface where he would be concealed. There he lay, snow over and on him but with a reasonably clear line of sight up through the fractured chunks of boot-packed whiteness, through the gently swaying tops of the spruces and up into a narrow strip of grey sky through which he greatly hoped the small aircraft might make its way.
Einar’s efforts were soon rewarded with a glimpse of yellow right on the edge of vision, small moving object soon materializing, taking on the unmistakable shape of a Piper Cub, filling the space into which he could see and leaving him shaken and a little surprised, both for what he did see, and what he did not.
Waiting, unconsciously holding his breath until the plane had passed, he wriggled quickly back into the shelter, blinking and brushing snow from his eyes. Not that there was much to see inside. Not in that darkness, without the candle. But this could now be remedied, and searching, seeking, he found the small object, brought it to flame and waited until its flickering light filled the place, adding a nearly infinite degree of cheer, if not immediately changing the frigid temperature of the place. Liz looked at him with some measure of surprise, silently glancing at the candle and then apprehensively up at the ceiling, as if expecting the aircraft to double back at any time, and spot the heat from that tiny flame.
Einar smiled. “It’s ok. Got a good look, and they’re not carrying an infrared pod. Not equipped to sense heat. So looks like we’re in the clear, as far as that goes. Wouldn’t want to risk the smoke of a fire, at least not by daylight, but the candle is fine, and we just might get to have a fire tonight, if nothing else shows up in the sky.”
“Whew! I sure am glad of that! We need a fire, when it’s this cold. And if they don’t have infrared, then they’re probably not up there looking for us, are they? I mean, that’s not their purpose in being here…”
“But that’s not all, is it? What’s the rest of it? What did you see?”
Einar was quiet for a minute, looked troubled. “Plane’s equipped with skis.”
He nodded. “Means it can land almost anywhere up here where terrain and conditions are right. Means it must intend to, actually. Don’t need skis to get in and out of any airport around here, not even the small ones. So either these folk have some sort of private airstrip up high where no one maintains it, or…well, they may have intentions to be coming and going from one of the big meadows on either side of the canyon. That’s what I suspect they’ve been doing yesterday and today.”
Liz’s eyes were large in the candlelight. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Wildlife officials, maybe? Shouldn’t be any hunting season right now, except maybe small game, goose and…cat. So not likely to be hunters. Who knows? But I do know we’ve got to be awfully careful what we do, and where we do it, until we haven’t heard from them for a week or two. And even then, what’s to say they didn’t drop people off over there? Might be setting up a camp over there, going out for a day or two at a time to do whatever it is they’re up here doing. We’re gonna have to lie awfully low for a while.”
“At least we’re here in the middle of all this tangled deadfall and brush, where nobody is likely to come, even if they are hunters or wildlife people. Don’t you think?”
“Hope so. Hard to say, not knowing exactly why they’re up here. I’m thinking we really do need to know.”
“But how can we?”
“I can go scope things out.”
“Go where? We don’t even know where they are, or if they are!”
“Oh, I’ve got a pretty good idea of where they’ve been taking off and landing from, now that I’m pretty sure that’s what they’ve been about. It all fits together now, makes a pattern. You know the cave we spent a night in, before we found the moose and then came here?”
“Well, near as I can estimate, that plane has been landing and taking off from a spot somewhere above the canyon rim, not too far from that cave. I mean, within a mile or two. Can’t be any more exact than that, not from here. Which is why I need to go have a look.”
“That has often not gone well. What if you run into them out there? Or leave tracks for them to follow, back to us?”
“Hey, don’t be doubting my ability to be stealthy. I may not be what I once was, in all ways, but I’m still alive, here, and some instincts an experiences are with a person until they quit breathing. They’d never see me. And I have a plan for tracks, too. To avoid making tracks that could lead them back here. All has to do with the time of day when I travel..”
“How about giving it a few days before you travel, at all? Wait and see if the plane comes back. Maybe they’re done here, doing whatever it is they came to do. Maybe they were just counting elk. Or looking for a moose with a radio collar. It would be a shame to waste all that energy hiking over there—and maybe risk leaving sign in the process—if they really were gone. Will you give it two days?”
He looked skeptical. Several reasons why he did not want to give it two days, not least amongst them the possibility that someone had been dropped off by that plane and was even then snowshoeing towards their location, closing the distance, reporting back to some person or agency with resources to launch once again a full-scale search, should sufficient cause be detected… Yet, Liz did have a point.
“I’ll think about it. We can think about it.”