Despite dreams which ordinarily would have jarred him from sleep and sent him scrambling out into the cold to keep vigil on some high ridge until the coming of daylight, Einar barely moved during the dark hours that night. He was home, safe, for the time, in the little basin with his family safe and peacefully resting beside him, and some portion of his brain remembered that, and allowed him to sleep. Liz also slept, relieved to have a night during which she did not have to keep waking and wondering where Einar might be, whether he was warm, had eaten, if he would see the morning. In the night she was dimly aware of his restlessness, kept a hand on his shoulder in the hopes of providing him some measure of reassurance should he wake not knowing where he was. She wanted to be closer to him, keep him warm, as he was quite obviously struggling with the cold even there in the shelter, but he kept startling and inching away whenever she tried it, so after a time she let him be, huddling half in and half out of the unzipped sleeping bag where for whatever reason he seemed to find the situation most tenable, parka pulled up haphazardly over one shoulder in an attempt to keep out some of the night chill.
At least, Liz told herself, he had eaten a fair portion of the stew that evening, and would surely be in a better position for making it through the night than he had been over the past week and several days of his absence. The food ought to help. He had certainly needed it, had, much to her dismay, clearly lost more weight while out on the trail, despite his mention of moose meat and avalanche lilies whose roots he had almost obtained for food… Almost. She shook her head, moved a bit closer and was glad when this time he made no effort to increase the distance between them.
Morning, and Einar was up before daylight heading out on the trapline, feet dragging some despite his best efforts and body feeling heavy, legs reluctant to support him but a lightness in his heart as he watched the first golden fingers of the sun brush peaks still brilliantly white with lingering snow. Good to be home. No rabbits though, nothing in any of the snares, and he knew they’d be needing other food sources to supplement the occasional animal thus obtained. Deer, elk and bighorns would be somewhat scrawny that time of year, having themselves just come through a hard winter, but they would still provide a good supply of meat, should he manage to find places where they were spending the spring. This would require travel to a lower elevation, however, and he’d had quite enough travel for the moment, if more could be avoided.
Wished he’d been in a position to bring back a significant portion of that moose meat. Would have loaded a good sixty or eighty pounds of the stuff onto his back and hauled it up the canyon, had it not been for his discovery and the need to evade a couple of bat scientists who likely as not had no intentions of pursuing him, in the first place… Hadn’t been much of a choice though, as he’d had to assume he was being pursued, that the men had contacted others when they used the radio and perhaps—had they suspected the true identity of the strange wild man whose sleep they had disturbed—even passed the information on to the feds and reactivated the search. Not a time to be loading one’s self down with moose meat.
At least—he could be reasonably certain—his suspicions about a renewed search seemed to have been unfounded, as demonstrated by the blessed absence of renewed aircraft activity. Seemed nearly certain that they would have seen things start to stir by then, had his presence been reported as something suspicious. Still, reported or not, the encounter troubled him greatly, for it represented a threat of the sort they simply could not afford in their current life, and he had brought it to them as a result of his carelessness down there in the canyon.
Not deliberate carelessness, wouldn’t do that, but by allowing yourself to get into such a depleted state over the past…well, months, years, goes back a ways I guess, you kind of set yourself up for that, and set your family up for the consequences, too. Got no business doing that, not with them depending on you not only to help provide for their daily needs, but to use your experience to keep them out of the hands of the feds. Depending on you for that, and here you go creating a threat and inviting trouble by falling asleep in a place where people ended up coming. Not only falling asleep there, but—he shuddered at the memory, hadn’t really wanted to think much about it since that day—ending up unable to get up and go, when they did come across you. Do you realize the implications of that? Realize how close you came, that time? If they’d been searchers of some sort, or even if they’d simply been bat scientists, but had recognized you, it might well have all ended right then and there. They’d have had you and you couldn’t have done a thing about it.
Is that really a situation you want? Would want, even if other people weren’t depending on you? That’s just about your worst nightmare, man. Ending up defenseless like that with the enemy standing over you and you entirely unable to resist, just like in the tunnel that day when you came out of that water and had the little guy in black pajamas knock you upside the head before you could do anything about it, and drag you away to that cage… He kicked savagely at a nearby granite boulder, suddenly very angry and no longer the least bit cold, struggling hard to keep himself in the present and prevent his slipping into the dark, humid jungle world that seemed always lurking to claim him when such memories presented themselves with any degree of intensity.
No, he did not want a repeat of that situation, and the fact that he’d very nearly let it happen again infuriated him, left him wanting very badly to bash himself senseless against the nearest sizeable chunk of granite by way of recompense for acting so foolishly, such an act seeming the only way to set things right, but he kept walking, didn’t do it, knowing the resulting blood loss would only serve to worsen the situation and increase the likelihood of finding himself in another similar predicament. That was the problem, wasn’t it? The things he used to get himself through these troubles—had used all his life to do so—were killing him now, were demanding more and more of him until there quite literally wasn’t much left. Supposed perhaps he could find some new ways of doing things, if he really set his mind to it. If he really wanted to change his methods. Which, most times, he was pretty sure he did not, for reasons of his own. Enough, Einar. Let’s have a little less talk, and a lot more action, as they say. This nonsense isn’t getting us breakfast, and it’s about time you helped Liz get hold of the provisions around here. She’s been on her own with that for way too long. Your turn.
Setting aside for the time all his philosophical musings—but not the anger which had come with his remembering the incident in the tunnel; that was not so easy to set aside, once it had taken hold—Einar continued up the ridge, his pace increased and feet not dragging nearly as badly as they had been. Had to be food out there, and he meant to find it.