Einar kept waking in the night, cold and with such an intense feeling of hunger that he wanted to gnaw on the moose quarter, scrape off bits of frozen meat with his teeth, and he probably would have done it, had he been able to rouse himself thoroughly enough to find the thing… At other times, half aware as he drew knees in closer to chest in an attempt to conserve warmth and did his best to ignore a series of vicious leg cramps that seemed determined to wrench him out of sleep every time he started drifting off, Einar knew he had messed up in choosing a spot to spend the night. He had not taken himself far enough from the canyon floor or into dense enough timber to be certain he was off the beaten path, both of humans who might be passing through and the hungry scavengers which would inevitably be attracted by the smell of the moose quarter he had failed to adequately secure before settling in for the night. Ought to get up and do something about it, tried a time or two, but something was wrong with his balance, darkened woods whirling crazily around him and the moose quarter beyond his ability to locate, let alone secure high in a tree. Not a good situation, and not really what he had expected, after feasting on moose. Not the result he had hoped to see. Well. Not much to do about it just then, and as for the discomfort, he always had been rather good at ignoring such things, pushing them aside and going on. Better do that now. Perhaps things would be better in the morning.
Daylight, Einar waking from an hour’s cold sleep, and he tried to get up but something was wrong, couldn’t seem to move his legs. Finally succeeded after much effort, but the world seemed to have become a very strange place overnight, drifting and distorting around him as he rose, stood, and then it bucked up and hit him in the side of the head, left him lying all stiff-legged and open-mouthed on the pine needles, fully aware of his surroundings but seemingly unable to interact with them in any way. Which turned out to be a very bad thing indeed, for what had begun upon waking as a vague sense of dread—he’d dismissed it at first as being associated with his sudden and rather unfortunate inability to move his body; big mistake—now materialized as the rapidly approaching sound of human footsteps, boots crunching through the remaining snow and frozen vegetation, breaking sticks as they made directly for his position, speaking quietly.
Certain that he had been seen Einar tried to get up, tried to reach for the pistol, which lay no more than a foot from where he had fallen, lightly concealed beneath a layer of pine needles and when that failed tried to go for his knife, but nothing happened. Body just wouldn’t respond. The men had clearly seen him by that time, approaching with a casual air and a lack of caution which told Einar, even in his rather desperate state, that they couldn’t possibly be part of any organized search. One of them knelt beside him and pulled a radio from his vest pocket, spoke into it, the second setting aside a device Einar recognized as the sort of antenna and receiver people used to pick up pings from wildlife radio collars.
“Good thing we came along when we did. Looks like this fella’s not too far from freezing to death, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t know. Something’s not right with him, for sure. Hey man, can you hear me? You know where you are? What’s your name? Hey! Can you say something? Let us know you’re ok?
Einar just stared, body still gripped in the throes of the episode that had started all the trouble, and though he desperately wanted to make a move, change the course events while this was still possible, he seemed frozen in place. The men did not appear to find his lack of response too reassuring, crouching on either side of him, poking, prodding, speaking, attempting to get some sort of answer from him, taking his pulse and rifling through his pack as if in search of something. Not good.
The worst of the episode had passed then and Einar found himself regaining some control over his movements but his head seemed dreadfully heavy, confused, waves of nausea coming over him so that after a time he turned to the side, lost the meat that he’d so eagerly consumed the evening before. In the aftermath of this, feeling confused and dreadfully cold, he once again struggled to rise, and probably would have made it had not one of the men been physically holding him down, speaking quietly and trying to talk him into keeping still, resting. All Einar heard were the questions. Do you know where you are? What is your name? Questions, the man growing more insistent until he was barking them in his heavily accented, sing-song voice, interrogating, demanding answers.
It was then that Einar fought, limbs lent a berserk strength by the situation, threw off his would-be rescuers and made a dash for it, legs weak and wobbly and head still thick with confusion but long habit and more than a hint of the horror that tended to come over him at the thought that he might be captured combining to lend to his limbs a speed which soon left the men behind, Einar tearing up along the creek, through the swamp, through the jungle, running for his life…
Panting and trembling, mouth so dry that he could barely get it open again when he shut it for a moment, he stopped inside a tight little cluster of serviceberry shrubs and willow, crouching up to his ankles in partially frozen water as he grabbed up a handful of crusty ice and stuffed it into his mouth, struggling to get some portion down. Confused. Tried to slow down, make himself think, make some sense of it. Had been slipping there for a minute, slipping into the jungle, but here the smell of the willows was sharp and sweet and strong, and he knew where he was. In the canyon still, and the men who had found him were…he struggled to remember their apparel, the equipment they’d been carrying…they were probably bat scientists who had descended into the canyon searching for bats they had previously tagged, and they’d happened across him when he was having…one of those episodes he’d been having from time to time some months ago, before going down to Bud and Susan’s, and had probably just been trying to help when they’d held him down and questioned him.
Right. Help. He shuddered, rubbed his arms where they’d been holding him. Had they recognized him? And what had they said to the people on the other end of the radio? Had they even reached anyone? He couldn’t piece it together in his mind. Details just weren’t there, weren’t cooperating. For a moment he held his breath, tried to quiet the painfully irregular bounding and stuttering of his heart, and listen. Nothing. At least they weren’t close. He might have some time. Had little else, everything but his knife and the other things which had been secured to his person for the night left behind under the camp-tree, lost, including the moose quarter, the entire moose, for now he could not go back to that place… Must go somewhere, and quickly. Couldn’t lead them to Liz, must not do that, and he changed course, turning away from the head of the canyon, and freedom, and heading down.
Thinking of those two men he wanted to go hunting, would have done it, done what was necessary to protect Liz and Will and his own life, had he not realized the likely futility of such a move. They’d already contacted someone on that radio, doubtless told them about him and while he could take on two men or even a party that might make its way down from the canyon rim to assist them, he had no intention of sticking around to fight the entire strength of whatever agency would be brought in to investigate the unexplained disappearance of the two men who had discovered him. Which rendered an immediate hunting expedition futile, or even worse, considering the possibility that he had not been recognized, that if he could avoid further contact, the entire incident might end right there, his presence dismissed as that of some eccentric wanderer who need not be further troubled. Maybe. But only if he could accomplish a few things, first.
Needed to get the pistol, his pack, and if the men were indeed bat biologists and not federal agents chances seemed fair that they would have left these things, might never have discovered the pistol at all, and he might well be able to retrieve them if he went back. Might walk right into a trap, too, if they had waited for him there rather than following, but realizing the sort of information the enemy—the real enemy, the one with access to a lab and samples of his DNA— would be able to glean from that pack should it fall into their hands, the decision was quickly settled.