Binoculars under a rock, himself positioned carefully back from the daylight so as to prevent any possibility of a flash or reflection from the lenses giving him away, Einar studied the camp, learning its every visible detail and waiting for the return of its occupants from whatever urgent business currently had them out in the field. What he really wanted was to enter a tent or two and get a look at the gear these people had brought with them, thus gaining, he would imagine, some very solid idea of their intentions up on the high plateau. Such action, however, considering the fact that he had so far gone undetected, carried with it a risk which he deemed unacceptable under the circumstances. Suppose the activity had nothing to do with a search for him or for his family? Well, that would certainly change, after his image was captured on some hidden, motion-activated camera the visitors might have placed near one of those tents, intended, perhaps, to capture images of wildlife or weather, but instead revealing the presence of a strange wild man who fairly closely resembled a wanted fugitive…
Einar chuckled silently to himself at the irony of such a situation, should it happen, but he knew there was nothing funny about the possibility. Such an incident could spell the end for him, his capture or death, and terribly hard times for his family up there waiting for him in the shelter. Staying hidden was and must remain his only course of action, at least until he was able to determine the intentions of the unwelcome campers. Wished he could see more of their gear from his position, but as everything was under tents or tarps, he settled in to wait for the return of the people, themselves.
Waiting, and Einar’s injured leg, aggravated by the long climb, made the stillness difficult as minutes stretched into an hour and beyond, thing freezing up on him so that after a time of lying still on the chilly, damp ground he could barely move it, and he just had to hope that a need for sudden movement would not come without warning… Rest of him seemed to be freezing up, too, not so much from stiffness as from the cold itself, great shivers racking his body after a time and leaving him unable to keep the binoculars usefully steady.
He laid the glasses aside, shifting position in an attempt to get more of his body out of contact with the damp and partially frozen soil, but it was difficult there in the close confines of the space beneath the rocks. The only way he could accomplish much was to press himself up into the limestone, which, besides requiring an exhausting effort and eliminating his view of the meadow, did little to mitigate the chill. Would just have to live with it, but already he was growing sleepy, having already been nearing exhaustion after his trek through the downed timber and snow, what little energy might have remained accessible to him being rapidly consumed by his shivering. Just one solution, really, that did not involve fire, movement or other means which were solidly out of his reach, and knowing the urgency of the situation he dug into his pack and pulled out some of the jerky Liz had sent with him, breaking off a piece and setting it to soften in his mouth.
Only then—would-be meal not softening at all, just sitting there like a strip of aspen bark on his leathery-dry tongue—did Einar realize how far behind he must have allowed himself to get on water while traveling to this place, but when he tried to take a drink it was to discover that his water had frozen solid. Hmm. Must be colder than he’d realized out there, and slightly dismayed but not too concerned he rolled the water bottle beneath his body to hopefully begin thawing. All this effort had so exhausted him that he now felt more inclined to lie down and sleep than to keep watch, and might have succumbed to the notion, had he not been so focused on his mission.
No sign yet of current human activity around the camp, and with dusk coming he wished they’d hurry and return, so he might have some time to observe before it got dark and they went to bed. Wished…well, couldn’t remember what else he wished, tried to swallow the jerky that had been sitting in his mouth waiting to soften for far longer than such a thing should have taken, nearly choked trying to get it down. What is this, Einar? What on earth are you thinking? Pulled the water bottle from the concave spot beside his hip bone where he’d put it to begin thawing, and where it had been rapidly robbing what little heat he had left circulating in his blood, staring at the ice inside.
No sense pretending, here. You’re gonna freeze to death in the night under this rock if you don’t find a way to get hydrated and give yourself some serious energy. I mean, really. Look at it. Already too cold to feel your limbs after lying here for…what? Maybe an hour? And no wonder, either, with your knees and elbows being by far the widest points on your arms and legs these days and so of course nothing left to insulate all the blood running through them…they’re just acting as big long radiators, radiating all your body heat right out there into the icy air, and before long you’re not gonna have any warmth left in your core, either, and you’ll just fall asleep. And that will be it. How about trying to be sensible for once, and give yourself enough to eat? Some peanut butter, or something. Didn’t Liz send along a bunch of peanut butter?
Wasn’t easy getting to the pack where he’d stashed it behind him in the crevice under the rock, but after some cautious struggling and manipulating—couldn’t afford to scrape rock against rock, make a sound that might be heard by the men who would surely soon be returning to the camp—he managed it, found the peanut butter and lay there scooping it up on his finger, the warmth noticeably flowing through him as he ate. Still nothing going on at camp, and resigning himself to go on waiting, Einar figured he could now afford to use a bit of body heat on thawing the ice for some water, tucked the bottle back beneath him. What seemed like another long hour later—but could not have been, for it was not yet dark—several swallows of water had collected in the bottle, ice beginning to melt. Einar drank them thirstily, swallowing only with difficulty until he’d got some of the water down and hoping he might, in the future, remember never to consume half a jar of peanut butter when he was so dry and far behind on water. Not a pleasant experience! Not that he would be particularly likely ever to encounter peanut butter again in his life in the mountains, anyway…
It was nearly full dark by the time the camp’s mystery occupants began trickling back in, headlamps blinking in the distance, and when they came it was not as a single group but in twos and threes, individuals—men, mostly, but Einar was able to make out one or two women, as well—dressed casually and for the cold, layers of down and fleece, a conspicuous absence of any sort of uniforms leading him to hope they might prove to have nothing to do with a search of any sort. Raising his head off the ground and straining to listen Einar was able to pick up only the occasional snatch of conversation, most of it seemingly to do with weather conditions, terrain and the state of a large open field that lay somewhere a mile or two distant, and which some of them seemed to have visited that day. What might be their interest in this spot he could not tell for sure, but wondered if they might be looking for a better landing zone, perhaps to bring something in which was not equipped with tundra tires. Before he could glean too much information everyone retreated to their tents, cooked hasty suppers whose odors reached him and twisted his still-hungry stomach in knots, and went to bed.
Einar, shivering under the rocks as night swept down over the plateau and brought with it a wind which rustled tent flies and tarps and pried crept with icy tendrils into his meager shelter, considered retracing his steps and leaving as everyone slept. Trouble was, he didn’t yet know enough, knew he needed to observe the morning’s activities, hopefully catch a bit more conversation and perhaps even follow one of the parties when they left the camp, before he could say for sure what the planes and their passengers intended by being in this place. No sense leaving before he hand answered that question to his satisfaction. Staying, then.
Growing cold again in the wind he finished the peanut butter, checked to make sure the pistol was tucked in close to his body where it would be easily accessible in the night and took one last glance out at the dimly-moonlit silhouettes of the tents before curling up in his parka and drawing limbs in as close to his torso as possible in the confined space beneath the rocks.