Work was difficult there in the rotten snow of that steep slope, Einar struggling to keep the downed elk from inching its way even further down the side of the ridge as he began cleaning it. Lasso rope around the antler provided at least a partial solution, he cinching it up tight around the aspen he’d used to trap the fleeing creature, tying it in place to prevent further slipping. This arrangement, though securing the elk, itself, did nothing to prevent Einar slipping as he worked, no purchase for his feet now that the crust had all been bashed and broken by the struggle, and he kept falling, once sliding several feet down the ridge before catching himself, thoroughly winded and choking on the dryness in his own throat. More snow. Scooped it into his mouth, stood swaying and shivering as he waited for the stuff to start melting and providing him some moisture. Ok. Better. Back to work.
Got the animal gutted, gravity helping after he’d made the cut, helping so much, in fact, that he nearly ended up having to chase the animal’s liver down the slope after it began slipping from the spot where he’d set it to cool in the snow. Managed to prevent it going too far, securing it on the uphill side of a tree and returning to his work. Animal gutted, Einar wanted to go on with the skinning, keep going, as he always did, until the entire job was done, but instead he stopped, considered for a moment and took a seat on the elk’s stillwarm shoulder, cutting a large slice from the liver. Chopping this into small squares with his knife, Einar ate it bite by bite until it was gone. Not his usual course of action, but probably, he realized, a very good idea under the circumstances. The iron in the liver gave him strength, an amazing feeling of well-being which told him just how far behind he must have been on all such nutrients, but at the same time the food left him feeling unbelievably, inexorably sleepy, barely able to keep his eyes open. Knew he must finish the job, had hours of work left before he could even think about going home and sleeping, and he knew what to do. Knelt in the snow, scrubbed his face with a double handful of the hard, icy stuff until he was confident in is ability to remain sufficiently wakeful.
Once the fairly arduous task of skinning out the elk had been completed—not the neatest job he’d ever done of it, but more than satisfactory under the conditions—Einar began thinking about what he might be able to haul home on the first trip, and how best to accomplish this. Not wanting to leave the liver subject to possible scavenging by passing crows and ravens and lacking a good means to prevent this, he settled on hauling it in his pack, while carrying one of the animal’s hind quarters over his shoulder. Or attempting to carry, as the case might be, for as soon as he rose with the quarter his right leg—the one he’d injured in the hard landing after being dropped out of Roger Kiesl’s plane—collapsed under him, spilling him, and his cargo, in the snow.
Nearly impossible to rise again with the elk quarter on his shoulder, rotten snow crumbling and collapsing beneath his every attempt, and at last Einar was forced to set it aside, extricate himself from the hole thus created and drag the meat out after him. Well. Might have to rethink the sort of load he would be carrying. Or perhaps simply rethink his method of carrying. Dragging might well work better, take some of the strain off his troublesome leg and spread out the weight so that he might not fall through the crust quite as often. A plan. Not time to head out just yet, though. Must first do his best to secure the remainder of the carcass against any scavenger that might pass by before he and Liz could return for the second load.
Using the lasso cord he secured the second quarter, threw the line over a high branch and attempted to raise the meat up off the ground. Not an easy task and he couldn’t seem to get it very far because—the fact surprising him, as it did every time he was reminded of his own diminished physical existence—its weight was so much greater than his own. After much struggling and straining Einar did manage to raise the quarter some distance from the ground, quickly tying the cord and moving on. Not enough cord to raise everything off the ground, and in the end he had to leave some of the meat right where it had fallen. Not a terrible thing, he told himself, seeing as there had been little sign of sizable predators in the area who might come along and decimate the remaining bits of the carcass in his absence. Though hating to leave things in such a state he knew he couldn’t be all that far from the shelter, really, and was hopeful that with Liz’s help they could still get all the meat hauled in before nightfall—or at least more thoroughly secured against scavengers.
Dusk already, Einar realized as he raised weary eyes to the horizon. So that might not be happening, the bit about securing all the meat before nightfall. No matter. Elk was down, he’d got his quarter ready to transport and now must get back to Liz, let her know the good news. He got to his feet, grinned fierce defiance at a wave of weakness that wanted to knock him back off them again, and set out for the ridge’s nearby crest. Up, over and down, and he would be home.
Dusk fading into darkness, and Einar’s plan was not working. Temperatures had not yet fallen sufficiently to begin firming up the crust, leaving him to break through with every step in an agonizing series of repeated motions which served only to further aggravate his injured leg and exhaust any energy he might have gained from eating the liver. Long before reaching the ridge’s crest, he knew his plan was not going to be particularly successful. Sure, he’d make it sooner or later, but with night coming and the rest of the meat to think about, he turned back, got himself into the elk’s old trail and began following this, movement still far from easy while packing twenty five pounds of liver on his back and hauling significantly more weight behind him, but at least he was making slightly faster progress.
Darkness at the shelter. Liz had wanted to set out searching for Einar hours ago, when first she realized that he’d been gone longer than for a typical trapline run, but by then the sun had already been on the snow for some time, and she had known it was not wise for both of them to be out making great, deep tracks in the rotten snow. Much as she hated to admit it—not from any sense of vanity on her part, but because of it’s implications for Einar—she was also aware that she, especially while toting Will, would leave rather a deeper mark than would he. Best to stick close to the shelter and await his return. Not easy to do, especially as morning turned to afternoon and still she’d heard nothing from him. No sense worrying, and she had kept herself busy around the shelter, tidying up, collecting and splitting firewood and keeping Will entertained and out of trouble, which was itself an increasingly demanding job, lively and mobile as the little one had become.