29 December, 2015

29 December 2015

On the ground, unmoving, Einar appeared at first to have passed out, Liz hurrying to try and rouse him so they could keep moving, but something was wrong, his limbs all stiff and back arched in an odd way, the situation becoming clearer to her the next moment when he began visibly seizing. Nothing she could do, nothing but watch, wanted to move him in further under the overhang where he would be even better concealed from the air, but the way he was flailing about, she feared getting too near him with Will on her back.

It had been some time since Einar last experienced a similar incident, a long time, at least, since she had last seen it happen; she was not at all sure that he would have told her about it, had it happened somewhere out of her view...and though she could not be sure of the cause, low blood sugar seemed a likely candidate, perhaps various electrolyte imbalances after their long trek to reach the airport, accompanied by his usual antipathy towards taking in anywhere near an adequate quantity of nutrients...but nothing she could do about any of that at the moment.

She wondered if she could give him a bit of honey, perhaps, in the hopes of at least raising his  blood sugar, without either hurting him or putting herself at too much risk, wanted to take Will off her back for his own safety but with their situation so uncertain and the little one both highly mobile under his own power and intensely curious about all aspects of the world around him, she did not dare.  Could not have him wandering away.  So, she waited. Surely the event would have to end soon, and Einar would be alright, and they would move on...  But, it did not, and Liz knew she must try to do something.

Approaching carefully, knee gently on Einar's chest more to monitor his movements and give herself an early warning should she need to jump back than to restrain him in any way and his right hand gripped firmly in hers, she worked to get a taste of honey into his mouth.  Hoped it might help cut short the seizure, which already seemed to have gone on far too long.  His mouth was clamped shut and she could not get it open, had to make do with smearing the honey on his gums and hoping some might find its way inside.  Not too likely, but there was nothing else she could think to do.  Other than to wait.  And wait.

Liz had no way of keeping track, no time keeping device, but it seemed to go on for a dreadfully long time, upwards of eight minutes, she was pretty sure, and when at last it was over and Einar lay still, she was not at all certain at first that he was still breathing. Hurrying to him she was prepared to start CPR, but he grimaced and twisted to the side when she touched him, half opened his eyes and then went limp again.

 She sat down beside him, dabbed at a smear of  blood where his cheekbone must have contacted rock in his thrashings and tried again to get some honey into his mouth, this time succeeding.  It seemed to help.  To her amazement he got right to his feet, unsure at first, stumbling, eyes not quite able to focus, but with one glance at Liz he drew in a sharp breath, situation returning to him and the urgency of the thing lending a straightness to his faltering limbs and a wideness to his eyes as he met Liz's.  Tried to speak but couldn't get the words to come together, brain could form them but could not seem to send them to his lips in an order which made any sense, and he soon gave up trying, resorted to hand motions.  Time to go.  Keep moving.  And, they moved.

Focusing intently on the ground ahead of him as he walked, Einar strove to avoid leaving sign, mostly succeeding despite limbs which felt as though they belonged to someone else and a head which would not quite clear up and allow him to reason with the precision to which he was accustomed.  Aware enough to recognize the deficit but frustratingly powerless to correct it just at the moment, he struggled to strike some sort of balance between the speed he knew they needed to maintain, and the stealth essential to their situation.

They traveled some distance, Einar walking strangely but maintaining a decent pace.  He was sick though, vomiting, didn't want to take the water she kept offering, and when finally she insisted, he choked on the stuff, only managed to get a little down, immediately took off walking again.  His walking was getting worse, left side weak, leg dragging, face grey and a dreadful exhaustion in his eyes when finally Liz persuaded him to stop and look at her, hands cold and mottled purple where he held the straps of his pack despite the day being fairly warm, and she knew she had to get him to Arizona.

They did not discuss it, did not discuss anything, really, Einar still struggling to put two words together, but when Liz took out the map during one of their infrequent breaks and asked him if they were on course to make the rally point set by Bud and Roger, he squinted hard at the twisting, blurring lines until they began making a bit of sense, nodded, showed her their present location on the map, and waved her into the lead.

Doing her best to pick out landmarks as she walked and keep them on the course which appeared likely to take them with the fewest obstacles in the direction of the assigned meeting place, Liz took them up the remainder of the increasingly narrow canyon. Having looked at the map, she was somewhat dubious about their ability to cover the required distance before that coming morning, when Roger said he would meet them at the designated meadow, should their first attempt fail. As it had done. Not only had it failed, but Einar's driving, necessary as it had probably been at the had put them many miles from the assigned meeting place. Those miles could be covered, though, and she did her best to make certain they would be, pushing ahead somewhat ruthlessly even when she saw that Einar was lagging, struggling, left leg clearly not functioning properly, grey faced and fighting for breath. He did the same and worse to himself all the time, she reasoned, and they absolutely had to make that meeting.

At the canyon's head, a little trickle of water tracing and dashing down orange sandstone cliffs stained white and purple with deposited minerals, she found an end to the easy walking, a series of narrow, rocky cuts offered a good chance of escape, and when she looked questioningly back at Einar he squinted, nodded and headed for the leftmost of the cuts. Though still visibly struggling with both balance and strength, Einar took on the task of leading his family up that rocky, treacherous draw with the vigor and enthusiasm required of him by once more being in evasion mode, speed surprising Liz, though perhaps it should not have, and they were soon topping out in a dense cluster of wind-stunted little aspens, some of their lithe trunks bent nearly into loops a foot or two from the ground by decades of heavy, gale-packed snow. Going no further for the moment, world spinning most inconsiderately around him, Einar grinned at Liz, lowered himself to his stomach on the damp, mossy ground, and promptly passed out.

Not a time for rest, not even the enforced rest of unconsciousness, and Liz, though desperately wanting to allow him to rest, scrubbed a handful of icy, spring‐hardened snow across Einar's face, all but poured a sip of water down his throat when he snapped awake and looked at her with confusion in his eyes, and dragged him to his feet. Liz led again after that, map in her hand and landmarks showing themselves in such a way that they were able to make good progress, and by the time Einar put a hand on her shoulder and insisted on taking the lead once more, they were less than a mile from the long, narrow, aspen‐lined meadow where Roger intended to land the plane. Sun low in the sky and nearly swallowed by a growing mass of cloud, but not yet set, they had made it in plenty of time.

"Is that it, you think? That meadow?"

Einar nodded. "Has to be."

"Do you think they'll really come?"

Exhausted, swaying, Einar half closed his eyes, caught himself against an aspen tree to avoid falling, nodded.

"Can always count on Roger. He will come."

"I'm glad. Will you get on the plane?"

"Have to see. Just wait and see how things look."

It was the best she could hope for. At least he had not refused. The rest would have to come in the morning. Walking the perimeter of the meadow, securing the place, Einar discovered a jutting outcrop of broken, tumbled‐down grey shale at a high point overlooking the meadow, just inside the trees and parallel to one of its long sides. A fine place, he figured, to spend the night, and Liz agreed.

Later, Will warm and asleep beneath the shelter of stone and everything as well set as it could be for morning they stood together in the rising wind and watched the light fade, streaks of orange and crimson through the clouds. Einar's head still hurt from its earlier encounter with the rock and his entire being felt odd and somewhat out of place from the lingering effects of that seizure, but it didn't seem to matter, relief so great, joy at having been able to evade the potential dangers of the past several days, the smell of sagebrush, broken rock, distant rain and immediate freedom sharp and joyful all around them. Einar turned to her, led her over beneath the aspens, and she might have been surprised at the taut energy in his emaciated and half frozen form, had she not known him so well... Later they fell asleep close together beneath the sheltering overhang of rock, and that night she dreamed of a brother for little Will, the two little buckskin‐clad boys playing together outside a sturdy, hand‐hewn log cabin hidden high in basin somewhere between the peaks, and the dream brought a smile to her sleep...

Einar's sleep was not nearly so peaceful, night quickly becoming cold and a thin, piercing rain starting sometime after midnight. Liz and Will were well sheltered by the overhang, but Einar, on the weatherward side of things and jammed as well as he could manage under the little outcropping as he sought to avoid the rain, had the worst of it. They had begun the night with Liz's jacket tucked around the three of them them as well as could be but as the hours had passed and with little Will's squirming, he found himself with less and less covering, hardly wanted to wake the others to try and do something about it, so he just lay there with various parts of him inevitably sticking out of the cramped little space into the wind no matter how he contorted his body, shivering through the night and any hope of further sleep soon evaporating as the dampness chilled him though.

Better that way anyhow, he told himself, as it kept him awake to listen for any potential danger, gave him time to think. He spent the remainder of the night running through various scenarios in his mind, plane showing up, plane not showing up, showing up but something being wrong, being off, so that they had to conceal themselves at the last moment and melt back into the timber, disappear... Towards morning the rain moved out, sky cleared and Einar dozed a little, exhausted by the intensity of the thoughts and by his own shivering. Daylight and Liz's insistent words woke him some time later.

Wake up, she was telling him, the plane will be here soon, and you have to wake up, but more immediate than her concern about missing the plane was the fact that Einar had become seriously chilled in the night, extremities purple, body nearly too hypothermic to shiver, and she tried to get him warmer, talk him into eating something. Einar, though, saw no problem, his singleminded focus being on that plane, on watching, waiting, making sure things were safe...

15 December, 2015

15 December 2015

Encouraged by Liz to travel within the confines of the law so as not to attract undue notice, Einar quickly put several miles behind them in the little truck, Liz silent, letting him think, watching the rearview mirror and tending to Will, trying to keep him still.

Einar did not know the place, did not know the road, but it was not long before he knew exactly where he was going, barely losing any speed before abruptly leaving the highway, taking off up a dirt track, Forest Service Road 322, according to a battered brown and white placard that hung half detached from a bent green fence post off to the left of the junction.

"Where does this go?"  Liz's words were clipped and breathless, struggling as she had been to keep Will upright and prevent their backpacks and assorted gear from falling on him during the sharp turn.

"Up.  Goes up.  Saw the road cut through the trees back there a little bit.  Looks steep.  We need that."  His attention was thereafter fully occupied with navigating the increasingly rocky contours of the track and preventing the truck either high centering or bogging down in the mud that lurked slick and greasy down in the ruts where rocks were more sparse, a balancing act, and one at which he found himself more than proficient, despite the several year gap in his driving experience.

Up out of the mud, then, road turning to shale, switching back and the grade increasing, aspens and the occasional Douglas fir beginning to replace the tangle of scrub oak and serviceberry which had prevailed down lower.  Four more switchbacks, shale slippery, road angled towards the outside where banks of the stuff, cut long ago during early coal mining days and largely neglected since, had partially sloughed off over the years and distributed fine rubble favoring uphill side of the track, and Einar eased the truck into four wheel drive, kept going.

"Einar, what...?"

"You'll see.  Almost there."  Which apparently they were, one last switchback and the vehicle rolled to a stop, nosed into a thicket of small firs so dense that she could not see more than a foot or two into its depths.  Einar motioned for her to wait, backing the truck out into the aspens and getting it turned around.  He exited the vehicle then, standing, one hand one the top of the door and eyes momentarily closed as he listened, drew in a long breath and finally nodded to Liz.

"Get your pack on, carry Will and follow me."  He shrugged into his own pack, but not before removing and unwrapping the FAL, hastily reassembling the rifle and slinging it on his shoulder.  Through the firs then, worming his way and then, timber thinning, aspens creeping in, dropping to hands and knees and motioning Liz to do the same.  Not easy when one is carrying a child, but Will was more than happy to walk beside her.  Reaching an abrupt clearing, trees ending entirely, Einar stopped, dropped to his belly in last year's dead‐brown leaves, snow having only recently left them, leaves matted, crisscrossed with telltale white fibers of snow mold.

Before them, the land dropped away sharply, shale cliffs plunging several hundred feet to the timbered lands below, highway clearly visible in the distance.  When she looked closely, Liz was almost certain she could see the place where the Forest Service road left the highway.

"That's the road we came up..."


"You knew, didn't you, that we would be able to see from here."

"I did.  Spotted the road cut from down on the highway. Want to watch for a little while, make sure no one is following."


"Then we ditch the truck, break our trail and get out of here."

"Too bad we can't keep the truck for a while.  But I know that probably wouldn't be a good idea."

"Wasn't a good idea to take it in the first place, but we kind of had to.  Thought about hanging onto it for a while, heck, thought about going back for Roger's Jeep and seeing if he'd hidden a key, but we can't do either.  That thing may be watched, bugged, who knows what, and if they're not already looking for this truck, they will be soon.  Got to break contact, here."

Liz was about to answer when Will, who had been quiet, broke out in a series of jubilant shouts, "Moon!  Moon!"  and when Einar glanced over to see what might have caught the little one's attention, his face wrinkled up in a strained smile at the sight of Muninn the raven, perched only inches from the boy's face, tilting his head and making the soft, contented rasping sounds usually reserved for quiet evenings after good, full meals.

"That bird is some tracker, being able to follow us in a vehicle, like that.  Hope anyone else who may be on our trail isn't half that good..."

"How could he have done that?"

"Oh, ravens are awfully smart.  He would have watched us get into the truck, just followed it I guess.  Took some shortcuts no doubt, to be able to keep up with my driving..."

"No doubt!  Einar, where are we going?    I don't know exactly where we are, but if we look at the map...well, I'm pretty sure we could make it to that rendezvous place Roger and Bud were talking about in case something went wrong at the airport, meet the plane in the morning..."

Einar sighed, looked worried.  "We need to break our trail.  Just need to break our trail, first, and then we can think about it."

Seemed to Liz that they could do both at once, really ought to be doing both at once, if they were to have any hope of making the meeting place in the timeframe specified by Roger, but Einar seemed to have thought through whatever it was he wanted to do to break their trail, and for the moment, she let it be.

Not content to abandon the truck where it sat—the road appeared little used, but not entirely abandoned, and he did not want anyone coming across it soon—Einar motioned everyone back inside, satisfied that they were not at the moment being pursued and wanting to find just the right spot.  Not a quarter mile further up the track he found it, creeping across an exposed section of schist—they were, it seemed, largely leaving the shale behind—and into the dark, welcoming timber beyond.  Not a road or Jeep track, as such, but it appeared to him as though hunters had used it from time to time to park their rigs, and he figured hunting season would be just about the ideal time for the truck to be rediscovered.  Making one final sweep of the vehicle's interior to be certain they were leaving nothing behind—he and Liz had both been wearing gloves the entire time, having been prepared for the plane ride and not wanting to leave fingerprints in Roger's plane—Einar pulled out  spare quart of oil he'd found behind the seat, carefully pouring a portion of it down over the windshield, while Liz watched in puzzlement.  He then scooped up a handful of loose soil and needles from beneath one of the evergreens and tossed it in the air above the windshield, letting it settle and stick on the film of oil.  This operation he repeated anywhere glass or chrome might be showing, the resulting dull finish ensuring that no flash of sunlight on glass would bring the truck to be discovered before its time.

Moving, then, off across the exposed schist, raven gliding after them, no trace of their passing, Einar intending to stop and review maps with Liz, make their decision about attempting to meet the plane, but wanting to be well clear of the area, first.  He would, at least, lead them in the general direction of said rendezvous , whenever such proved compatible with his escape plan.  Over around the shoulder of the ridge he led them, and then down, far down a stony wash where their passing would leave little sign, back into the land of shale and aspens and then, still descending, into a narrow sandstone canyon whose rims bristled with scrub oak.  All this time Liz found herself struggling to keep up, amazed at the speed and agility with which Einar moved, exhausted and hungry as she knew he must be.  It was almost as though, through being forced once more into close contact with the possibility of discovery and capture, he had begun to regain something of his old self, of the Einar she had known, and she hoped it might continue, even if it had taken rather dire circumstances to bring the thing about.  Einar, she had observed, always seemed to be at his best under dire circumstances, anyway...

Down the canyon, walls creeping further overhead as they went and a series of sandstone shelves allowing them to make some distance quickly without leaving much sign, they soon reached a place where the canyon deepened dramatically, water‐worn rock soaring above their heads, overhanging in places so as to provide cover from the air.  Liz wanted to pause here, catch her breath for a moment and allow Einar to do the same, but he kept moving, swinging into a narrow, rocky side drainage that took off uphill, a quick glance over his shoulder to make certain she was still following, which she was, but he made it only ten more yards up the rocky gully before she caught up to him for good.

09 December, 2015

9 December 2015

A dusky dawn light as Einar rolled for the last time from his bed on the ground, stretched cramping limbs and hauled himself to his feet, sun still hours from rising, and the wind was picking up.  Had been increasing throughout the night, bringing with it, mingled with the familiar and somewhat comforting scents of sage and alkali soil, the occasional whiff of asphalt and exhaust, town smells, and they had troubled his sleep.

It was warmer down there, leaves beginning to come out on most of the trees and not a trace of snow anywhere, but Einar was not warm as he scrubbed numbed hands across his face and stirred about camp that morning, energy entirely exhausted by the long trek to reach the airport, head heavy and confused and the morning chill seeming to pass right through him, sharp, keen, body beginning to tremble with cold whenever he stopped moving for more than seconds at a time.  Liz could see it, wished they might find a sheltered place and stop for an hour, make a fire and some hot food before the final push to the plane, but it was not an option, not even a remote possibility, and she just had to hope everything would go smoothly, so they could be in Arizona and on their way up to Bud's house within a few hours.  She could only imagine how good it would be to put that kind of distance between themselves and their pursuers, real, theoretical or otherwise, and to be able to relax for a while.

Einar, scouring camp for any trace they might be leaving behind and donning his pack, had no thought of relaxing, mission underway and everything coming into sharp focus as his thoughts turned to the details of their upcoming actions.  In his mind he could picture the site, both as it appeared on the map and through binoculars from their vantage point the previous day, access road running along the low ridge just above the wide basin which held the runway, high chain link fence beyond that but in one spot, brush coming down to the access road and beyond it, enveloping the fence and continuing, though hacked off yearly to maintain some semblance of order, nearly onto the runway itself.

It was here that they planned to wait, He and Liz, as Roger, Bud and Susan went to the waiting plane and prepared for the journey, here that they would meet it and board—or, more accurately, be loaded, concealed in duffel bags that Kilgore would carry into the brush and stuffed into the two black plastic crates which Roger had brought for the purpose.  Cargo.  Could work.  Would have to work.  They were committed now.  This being a small and somewhat rural airport—no tower, no flight plan and no clearance required for a small plane like Roger's, so long as he took the proper route out of the valley—there were no cameras covering the perimeter.  Of this, Roger was certain, having conducted a thorough reconnaissance of the area on several previous occasions, their plan thus posing little risk.  Theoretically.

On the move, hour still early and Roger wanting to keep it that way, especially with the wind continuing to become more blustery and now clouds moving in, they made their way down the slope and along a draw which concealed their movements while allowing them to approach within a quarter mile of their final destination.  That final push involved climbing the backside of the ridge along which ran the access road above the airport, seeking out the most heavily concealed path down its opposite side, and hastily crossing the dirt track.  They would then hurry along the fence in the timber to the spot where, just off of airport grounds,  Roger had concealed the vehicle in which they would all ride out to the plane.  No sooner had they got a closeup look at the access road than they realized there was a problem.

The truck, a small white pickup with some sort of logo on the door, was parked at the end of the dirt track, not ten yards from the spot where Roger had left his Jeep, window rolled down, engine not running and a head clearly visible on the driver's side.  Not an unmanageable situation, perhaps, had Roger been alone, but with no way to know the purpose or intentions of the vehicle's occupant, Einar certainly did not want to risk taking his family down to meet Roger's vehicle.  Had to come up with another option, and by the time Bud looked questioningly in his direction, he had already done so.

"Got to cut the fence, crawl through and wait for you guys in the oaks there on the other side.  You bring the plane to us.  You've got those duffels in the plane, right?"

"Right.  But not the crates."

"So we skip the crates."

"Just load you folks in duffels?  Gonna be a mighty rough ride."

"Got a better idea?"

"Let's go for it."

Safely on the far side of the road, having crossed on a curve so as not to be visible from the area where the truck was parked and having seen no other sign of human activity up there, other than their own, they began worming their way through the oak brush, Einar walking point and Bud just behind him.

There it was, the fence, Einar motioning for everyone to wait some distance back while he crept forward and inspected the thing, looking for sensors, trip wires, anything which might necessitate a re‐thinking of their plan.  Finding nothing he gave Bud a nod, set to work severing the minimum number of links so as to allow their passage.  The cut, narrow and well ‐concealed in the surrounding brush, might not be discovered for weeks or even months.

Striding confidently over to the little green and white plane as soon as he'd exited the brush, Roger began his walk around while Bud and Susan loaded their packs and Susan climbed in.  Liz, meanwhile, was thoroughly occupied with keeping little Will from crying out in fascination at the sight of so many unfamiliar things, the planes, especially, catching his eye.  She succeeded, the boy, like most creatures who grow up in the wild and under some degree of daily threat, possessing an innate sense of danger, and he sensed it now in his mother's hushed words.   Watching carefully for any sign that the plane was being watched, Einar saw no sign of it, scrutinizing a truck which stood between their position and the plane, and determining it to be unoccupied, some sort of airport service truck.

Roger was finished, got in, Bud looking very deliberately in Einar's direction before joining him.  It was time.  Or would be, as soon as Roger got the plane a little closer.  Einar was ready.  But, it was not to be, plan interrupted by the appearance of a white pickup over between the hangars but heading their direction, no way to know the driver's intentions but Roger was powering up, ready to begin taxiing, and Einar caught his eye, gave the pilot an emphatic depart! signal, a hasty salute and a big grin, disappearing into the brush as the little plane began to move.  Right past them.  Gone.  Good.  Go.  While you can.

Quickly scanning the ridge from which they had come, Einar was dismayed to see their escape cut off, the first white pickup having left its parking spot and begun inching its way slowly along the access road that ran the length of the ridge's summit, window down, driver appearing to search for something.  Not good, not a place he wanted to go, unsure as they were of the driver's intentions and well aware that they would likely be seen now should they attempt to cross that opening, but they couldn't stay where they were, either, first truck still heading roughly in their direction, and he did the only thing he could see to do, taking Liz's hand and striding out of the brush, straight to the service truck which sat parked only yards from their hiding place.  The vehicle was concealed from the ridge by the close proximity of the scrub oak thicket and they, themselves, concealed from the first pickup by the bulk of the second as they approached.  Rising from his low crouch by a few inches  and peering in the passenger's side window Einar saw the key in the ignition, eased open the door, motioned to Liz and prayed the thing would start.  It did, no visible reaction from the other truck as he started it up and slammed the seat back to allow for legs apparently rather longer than those of the previous driver.

"Get Will on the floor between your feet and keep him there," he spoke to Liz, voice low, well controlled, but with a hard edge to it that she had heard only a few times in the past.  "No matter what happens, you keep him there."  He checked his pistol and handed it to her then, wishing the rifle were available but not having time to retrieve it from his pack and reassemble it.

Einar  took off, creeping at first, still hoping to avoid provoking alarm on the part of whoever occupied those other trucks, a plan which seemed to be working, as the first had veered away and headed back towards the hangars at a leisurely pace, the second continuing its slow circuit of the access road.

A few dozen more yards and then there they were, pulling out onto the highway, after which, concealed from airport grounds by a low, juniper‐covered rise, Einar, behind the wheel for the first time in several years, took off with such enthusiasm that Liz had to put her hand on his knee and remind him that down here in the world, there are such things as speed limits...

29 November, 2015

29 November 2015

Though not much distance remained between their current location and the one chosen as the best place to pass the night, Bud was anxious to close the gap and get the little party established there, wanting to have time to thoroughly inspect the place for escape routes, give Einar time to become as comfortable with the arrangement as he might be capable, and allow everyone time to once again go over maps and discuss procedures for the following morning.

That last quarter mile of approach involved  a lot of climbing, up and over several low ridges in a landscape that appeared to have been picked up and folded with some precision by giant hands while it was still malleable, resulting crenellations standing out like ribs  on a bamboo fan.   A fine sort of terrain, providing as it did many opportunities for concealment, just the sort of place Einar might feel at home, but his legs were giving out as they approached, simply refusing to support him, leaving him to cling grimly to his two walking sticks, grit his teeth and hope no one would notice.  Despite this difficulty Einar was able through sheer determination to more or less maintain the pace Bud was setting, but if he thought he was concealing the struggle, he was convincing only himself.

Finally, nearing the top but with several hundred feet of elevation gain still to go, Bud halted the party beneath a sheltering overhang of yellow sandstone, spreading the map on a dry stretch of ground and holding it flat against a rising wind.  Einar doggedly remaining on his feet even as the others crouched around the map, knowing he would be hard pressed to rise again should he allow himself to sink to the earth.    Into the earth.  Stillness, and the sweet, damp smell of soil.  He wished.  Tired.  Trembling, beads of perspiration standing out on his face with the effort of maintaining his stance, he swiped a hand across his eyes, shook his head and squinted out at the world below, keeping watch.  All across  the jumbled sweep of land below them, the country through which they had just traveled, the sound of the wind singing between the ancient, twisted branches of several score of junipers was interrupted only by the occasional rasping call of a scrub jay.  He could not see the airport, ridgetop above them concealing its basin, but last he had seen of it, the place had appeared quiet, also, no sign of trouble.

Swaying, sick, he wanted to tell Liz to go, take Will,  get on that plane and make a break for it, start a new life in Arizona where no one would be looking for them, leave him there where he stood, where he would fall, soon to become a part of the landscape, scant meal for the vultures, bones  carried away by coyotes.  As it stood he was only slowing them down, increasing the danger of their already‐risky plan.  But, he could not bring himself to say it.  Could not abandon them, could not banish from his mind the images of what could happen down there, hidden teams rushing out to capture them as soon as they stepped onto that runway, succeeding, he watching from a distance, too far away to have any impact...  He would not do that.  Must at least go along to see them safely onto the plane, provide cover, if needed, as they took off, and then...but that wasn't right, either, for the flight would have a landing as well as a takeoff, and he must be present for that, too, see them safely all the way through.

Except, he told himself, arguing, debating the thing, except that Bud and Roger were two of the most capable and competent men he had ever known when it came to such missions, not to mention his own Lizzie, who had more than once proven her own strengths.  They would be fine without him.  Better.  So.   Make it happen.  Let this be the end of it, let them go.  Swaying again, and this time he let go his grip on the sticks would have fallen and in all probability found himself beyond the ability to rise by the time the others took notice.  Did not fall though, standing straighter after a moment's uncertainty, smelled the sage, spicy, damp, springtime down there in the valley, drawing himself together and starting up the last rise, heading for the ridge crest.

Less than an hour later they had reached the spot where all had agreed to spend the night, preliminary reconnaissance carried out and shelters beginning to take shape beneath the trees, nestled up against a series of low rock outcroppings which slashed their way incongruously across an otherwise‐unremarkable landscape of low pinyon and juniper.  While Liz and Susan set up camp and prepared a cold supper and Roger—well aware of his duties the following day—slept with hat pulled down over his eyes beneath a jutting shelf of sandstone, Bud and Einar made a final going‐through of their own packs, and everyone else's.

Carefully emptying Liz's pack and his own, Einar went over each item, careful to make certain that nothing put back into Liz's would, if somehow seen by others, provide any particular clue as to her way of life over the past years, keeping it to the essentials, and mostly those that had been brought in from outside by Bud and Susan.  His own gear he did not similarly sanitize, no point, if they get hold of me there won't be any shred of plausible deniability, no doubt who they're looking at, so instead he focused on weapons, FAL brought to him so many months ago by Kilgore disassembled and stashed in the pack so as not to be obvious from the outside, wouldn't do to be seen crossing the runway with such a thing, though he would have been far happier had he been able to have it at the ready...  Pistol and knife, though, he kept on his belt as always, concealed beneath his vest, bone spear and dart heads carefully wrapped and stowed in an outer pocket of his pack.
Dusk, then, air growing sharper with the setting of the sun, and Einar was as ready as he figured he was ever going to find himself.

08 November, 2015

8 November 2015

Responding to a silent summons from Kilgore the little group assembled beneath a stand of junipers, some distance further back from the edge of the vegetation and just out of sight of the airfield.

"Here's the plan, guys.  Roger's got a vehicle stored down there, not on airport grounds but nearby.  He and I are gonna work our way down around to where it is, show up and check things out.  Then while Roger gets the plane ready I'll take the truck back off of grounds, since there's a fence and no cover and you kids don't need to be climbing it...come here."

Bud beckoned and the others followed, Einar lowering himself to his belly on the little rise indicated by the tracker and taking the binoculars, studying the fenceline, two spots where the timber crept down nearly to the fence, itself.
"We're supposed to meet you, and the truck, down at the edge of the timber?"

"Better.  In the timber.  There's a little access road that parallels the fence.  You can't see it from here, and it can't be seen from airport grounds, either, and that's where you're gonna meet me.  The three of you will hurry into the back of the truck, where Susan'll help get you all packed into your transport containers as I drive out to meet Roger at the plane."

Einar looked skeptical.  "Transport containers?"

"Sure.  You don't think you're just gonna be walking around out in the open out there, do you?  No!  We've got it all figured out, got a couple cargo crates for you guys. "

Cargo crates.  Sensible plan, really, he had to admit, good concealment, but the thought of being locked in a crate and shoved aboard a plane with no way to see out and no chance to resist should trouble come...he let out a slow breath, nodded.
"Let's do it."

Roger grinned, Susan let out a silent sigh of relief and Kilgore clapped the fugitive on the back, nearly bowling him over.  Liz just watched silently, knowing Einar was agreeing too easily, wishing she might know what was going on in his head.

"Now," Roger took over, "should something go a little funny down there and we fail to make contact with you for one reason or another, we've got a backup plan of sorts, a rally point so we can all have a second chance at this thing."  Roger spread a map on the ground, indicating the airport and plotting a course cross country, over a series of low hills and around a low, open basin, indicating a location near its northern edge.

"Can set the plane down here, if need be.  About a three hour walk from the airport, if you really hoof it.  So we'll give you six hours, to be safe.  Should we miss meeting one another then, we'll make a second attempt the following morning just after dawn.  After that,  I've got to clear out of here and you're on your own.  So we better make this work.  Understood?"

Einar nodded.  "This afternoon, then?"

"I was thinking morning.  Morning will give us more options if we have to go to plan 'b.'  We'll head down first thing in the morning, after a good night's sleep."

A slight smile from Einar, sleep, sure...  "Lot of daylight left, here.  Seems better to just get it done, minimize our time here near town."

"Sure, we could do it that way.  Morning means more time to watch the place though, make sure it all looks right before we head down there."

Sounded good to Einar, the extra time, almost outweighed the added risk which came of passing another night near the glow of the town.  He glanced up at Bud, but the tracker shrugged noncommitally.  Could see potential benefits and pitfalls either way—spooky as the man had been of late, he knew the fugitive might well change his mind about the entire operation, given another long night to stew over the thing, but might just as well back out should he decide he had not been given enough time to reconnoiter the airstrip and surroundings—and wanted Asmundson to make the decision.

Einar rose, studied the low folds of land that flowed away all sage‐and‐juniper dotted below their position, squinted down at the yellow‐grass basin which held the airport, and nodded to Roger.

"Yeah, sounds good.  Morning.  But we can't spend the night here.  Too exposed."

"No, no way, not here," Kilgore agreed, hoisting his pack up from the log on which he had been resting it, settling the load on his back and grabbing Einar's arm to help him to his feet, seeing that the man, despite his a tremendous effort, could not get his legs to cooperate.  "Already got us a spot picked out, back along this ridge by about a mile, mile and a half, still within bino range of the  planes, but far enough back so we won't be worrying about any townsfolk stumbling on us while they're walking their dogs in the evening, or anything like that."

Will, having grown restless on Liz's back since their stopping, squirmed and wriggled at the mention of "dogs," having seen pictures of them in a little book Susan had brought him.  After the first time reading that book to him, Susan had been begged, cajoled and finally commanded to re‐read it time after time, the boy's little hand clasping her finger and tugging insistently, making sure she understood his intentions by repeating, "ook.  Ook!" until she fetched the book and sat down to read.

Now, having heard Bud mention dogs, he wanted to see the book again, but wanted even more to see the dogs the big man seemed to be taking about, making his desires known with a series of well‐executed woofs and growls just like the ones Susan had demonstrated while reading to him.  Liz did her best to hush him, explaining that this was neither the time nor place for dogs, or books, or the sounds of dogs or demands for books, that one must be very, very quiet when within sight of towns and cars and all that mess down in the valley.  Will understood few of her words, but grasped very well their intention, watching the valley with huge eyes and keeping still.

Onward, then, to the spot where they had determined to pass the night, hours of daylight left and some final preparations to be made for the following day's journey once they got there.

27 October, 2015

27 October 2015

No one slept much that night, Einar relieved after his watch by Bud, but remaining near his post, listening.  The night was not quiet, but all of the sounds, so far as Einar could tell, were coming from some great distance off, from the area of Clear Springs.  Head nodding, sleep wanting to come, he fought it, struggled to stay alert.  Liz was sleeping, or appeared to be, Will with her over near Susan where the junipers were at their thickest, and he was glad to see her getting some rest.  Rose, stretching, holding himself rigid against a series of cramps which gripped the muscles of his lower legs, eased some by movement, and he moved.  A small sound in the darkness, a faint scraping of rock on rock, and he froze, listening.  Bud.  Recognized his pattern of movement, steps with a slight limp in them, probably remarkably similar, Einar realized, to his own.  Except that Bud was heavier, steps more solid, feet more firmly connected to the earth.  The tracker stopped, swiveled, froze, knew he had been heard

"What are you doing, Asmundson?  Supposed to be getting some sleep.  Your turn'll come again soon enough."

Einar said nothing, silently crouching on the rocks beside Kilgore, squinting into the darkness, past the trees and out across the sagebrush flats that lay between them and the murky glow of Clear Springs.  Bud got the message, words or not, and let Einar share the watch without further objection.  Roger, by common agreement, was to be allowed as much sleep as he might be able to manage, his being the duty to pilot the plane sometime the next day.

Morning, light barely beginning to show on the horizon when Einar rose stiff and shivering from his post and went to wake Liz, anxious to be on the move and gain, hopefully, a few extra hours during which to scout the area around the airport.

Four hours of walking, that's all it took.  Would have been less still, had they not needed to put so much time and energy into carefully choosing the most well concealed routes, sometimes necessitating an additional half mile here and there.

Einar's focus sharpening as they neared town, the world seemed to crackle around him, every detail alive, moving, imprinting itself on his consciousness without any deliberate effort at observation on his part.  Useful, this effortless alertness, but at the same time nearly unbearable as they neared town and the man‐made sights and noises increased.  Too much information, too much to sort out, and Einar wished rather desperately to be able to turn around and retreat into the quiet, concealing safety of his hills.  Could not do that, must not, paused and used his breath to slow everything down for a moment, give him some room to think.  Better.  Still nagged at him, but at least he was able to shove to the background the increasingly frantic feeling of the thing, concentrate once more only on the details that mattered.

Five minutes later they topped out on the ridge and saw through a screen of junipers the airport stretching out below them at the edge of the wide, flat basin which held Clear Springs, destination nearly reached, and Einar stopped in his tracks, wanting more than ever to turn back.  The thought of what he must do next, what they all must do...it took him right back to the moment when he had decided to walk out of the jungle after his escape from captivity, that morning three weeks into his escape when he had taken that leap of faith and stepped out into the open in front of the wire...only this time, there were no friendlies waiting for him, no hope of being reunited with the men beside whom he had fought...

It had been hard enough that first time, even though he had known logically that he was walking into the presence of friends.  He had still fully expected a bullet to rip into him the moment he was spotted, had almost been able to feel it as he took that first step out into the burnt clearing that surrounded the camp, and that bullet had been the best case scenario, because the other involved his being captured and returned over the border to that squalid swamp, to the bamboo cage for another round of interrogations...  He shuddered, hunched his shoulders against the sudden physical sensation, real and immediate as the rocks beneath his feet and the sage‐scented wind on his face, of the ropes about his upper arms, pulling them back into that impossible position, arms nearly jerked from their sockets.

He blinked, scrubbed the sweat from his face with a rough swipe of a hand, did his best to swallow the sense of rising dread.  Mostly succeeded, started moving again, but it left him queasy, unsettled, a situation not helped by the realization, as he took his turn with the binoculars before their final approach, that Roger's plane was well over on the far side of the airport near the hangars, nowhere at all near the trees or any other sort of cover...

11 October, 2015

11 October 2015

Doubts, as they traveled, Einar remembering some of the more difficult times during their years in the high country, those first months when he'd been virtually unable to move from the dark, cold recesses of old mines due to the intensity of the air search, no food, no way to have a fire, nowhere to go, standing and stomping his feet all night just to keep from freezing—until he'd hurt his hip, and couldn't stand at all, and was left to huddle shivering over a single bearfat lamp all night, hoping he'd get to see one more morning.

Rough times, but here he was.  Had not given up, walked into town and surrendered, not then, not when they'd shot him in the leg during one of his near escapes and he'd faced weeks of serious  infection as he attempted to clean out and care for the wound, nor during the agonizing months after the frostbite injury which had ultimately cost him all the toes on his right foot.

That one had nearly meant the end, numerous times, yet not once had he seriously considered doing what they were about to do, putting themselves in the hands of another and venturing willingly down into the territory of the enemy.  Liz.  Maybe she had wanted to do it, wished they had done it long ago, had been waiting for him to agree to the thing...he looked back at her, watched for a moment as she walked, Will on her back.  No, didn't think so.  Even during her pregnancy, when things had looked uncertain and she had struggled at times until they had figured out just how much protein she needed.   He had asked her, then, had offered it, but she had refused.  Had even insisted that, no matter what happened, they needed to stay out where they were free and were safe.

Doubts, and he put them aside, kept moving.  Different times, different situation, and this time he had agreed to it.  Advantage, which he had always found in the familiarity of his chosen territory, in the certainty that he knew the area better than his enemy ever would—he knew it could be had in a dramatic, unexpected change, as well.

The course they had mapped out took them with an efficiency not common to previously untried routes down out of the high country and into a series of lower, timbered hills, subalpine fir giving way to endless acres of blue spruce interrupted here and there by patches of aspen, leaf‐buds swelling with spring sap.  The breeze that whispered up from the valleys as morning stretched into afternoon was a warm one, soft with spring, alive with scents of the awakening world, and Einar was hungry.  Wanted to hunt, to stop and make camp for a few days here where the timber still concealed their paths, seek out the deer whose tracks he was seeing with increasing frequency, feast on fresh meat and show Will how to tan a buckskin...

Dreaming, drifting.  Stumbled over a rotted stump, realized his eyes had been closed.  Later.  The opportunity would come, would have to come, but not that day.  That day, they must cover distance.

Knowing the press of time everyone moved quickly, Einar traveling beside them and sometimes taking the lead, not wanting to be an obstruction to progress, but after a few hours of this his legs began hurting so badly that it was at times all he could do to continue putting one foot in front of the other.  He tried stretching each out to its full length between steps, leaning more heavily on the stick he already carried for balance, even tried standing still for a moment here and there, but nothing seemed to have any impact.  Silly thing, and he told himself it would pass, gritted his teeth and kept moving.  When it did not pass, he allowed his mind to wander back to the jungle, to the ropes, and the pain became that of returning circulation, and his anger carried him onward.

Stopping only twice that day, once to eat a hasty lunch and obtain water from a little limestone seep and the second time because Bud could see that Einar was near falling over with exhaustion and would likely benefit from a few minutes' forced rest, the little group made good progress, a faint reflected glow creeping across the sky as darkness fell and telling them that the lights of Clear Springs were not too many miles off.  They camped that night on a low, juniper‐studded rise above a sagebrush flat, no human habitation in sight, but the faint, unsettling rumble and hum of distant civilization reaching them as the night quieted.  It was a thing barely noticed by Bud, Susan and Roger, accustomed as they were to such background noises even in the relatively rural environments which they called home, but Liz noticed, the distant bustle imposing on her subconscious, and was troubled.  To Einar the change was not nearly so subtle, he hearing it as a clamor, a chaos, as the roar of impeding destruction.

This is it, then, Einar told himself as he took up a position beneath the most densely needled of the juniper clusters just below the ridgecrest.  Here they were, and  in the morning, they would go down there, and they would prepare to leave.  Muninn settled on his shoulder, twisted a bit of hair and rasped softly, helping him keep watch.

08 September, 2015

Morning, everyone packed and Roger anxious to get moving lest time become short; Einar could sense the urgency, struggled to bring himself to wakefulness and get his limbs to coordinate usefully with one another.  Liz was off helping Susan with the breakfast, Roger and Bud conferring over maps, and Einar was glad, did not want an audience.  Had one anyway, he discovered, in little Will and the raven, child standing not two feet from his bed and bird perched on a branch not far from the little one's head, both staring, silent.  Einar gave the pair a wild grin in the hopes of scaring them off, failed, rolled quickly out of bed and hauled himself to his feet with the help of a nearby aspen.  Would not do to have them see him like this, particularly the boy.   They saw, anyway, Einar's body not nearly as well‐coordinated as his mind told him it would be, and in his enthusiasm to gain his feet he sent himself  way over past the balance point, toppling forward into a clump of currant shrubs.  Will found this enormously funny, laughing, squealing and attempting to imitate his father's movements, raven rasping, diving and settling on the boy's knee when he, too, took a tumble and ended up stuck in the shrubs.

By the time Einar had got to his feet again and extricated Will from the dense, thorny thicket of currants, the others were sitting down to breakfast and Liz had come in search of the wayward pair.

"You're two of a kind, aren't you?  What were you doing down there?"

"Just learning to walk.  Everybody's got to do it."  And he scooped the child up in his arms, brought him to the place where the others sat surrounding spread‐out map and deposited him at the circle's edge.

"You got a plan here, Kilgore, or do we just go charging down into the midst of civilization and hope we'll blend effortlessly in with the natives?"

Kilgore bellowed with laughter, but Roger shook his head.  "Do what you will, but if my plane is to be involved, there won't be any 'charging' or 'blending' going on.  We do have to make time, but once we're down there near the airstrip, everything's got to be deliberation and stealth.  Bud and  Susan and I will head out there first, make sure everything looks good with the plane, then we'll start loading our cargo.  Got three big duffel bags in there, though I think we'll only have to use two of them, and we can get you folks all loaded up with no one being the wiser.  Asmundson, you don't count for a lot more than a sack of potatoes, weight‐wise, I'm thinking, your wife here is pretty small and the little one..." he lifted Will off the ground, up and down, weighing him like cargo.  "Little one can't be much over twenty pounds I'm going to say, so we'll be just fine.  We'll just bring the bags into the brush near the edge of the airstrip, get you folks all loaded up and get out of there."

Einar wanted to grumble about being compared to a sack of potatoes—even if, as he would have to admit, the comparison was likely a reasonably factual one as far as cargo weights were concerned—but had bigger things on his mind.  "What about cameras?  Even a small airport like that probably has a couple of dome cameras on sticks, just to monitor things..."

"You bet they do.  Cameras almost everywhere, now.  But I'm real familiar with that place, know where they all are, what they cover and what they don't, and there are a couple real good big blind spots, one of which happens to be right where the oak brush comes all the way down to the flats, so we can load those bags, bring a vehicle over, shove the bags in the vehicle and drive to where I've got the plane."

Einar looked skeptical, but kept quiet.  Sounded as though the pilot had really thought the thing through, believed it could be done safely, and with decades of smuggling experience in a wide range of very hostile places, few men were more qualified than Roger to make such a call.

"Ok Kilgore, show me your route.  You got ideas on how we'll get down there without running into folks?"

"Was hoping for your input on that, Asmundson.  Lot of country between here and there, and I've never seen most of it."

Neither had Einar.  Over towards Clear Springs the country flattened out, mountains dropping off into a series of increasingly gentle hills and canyons widening, edges becoming less vertical, elevation falling and the vegetation tending towards sagebrush and juniper; too low, too open for hunted men to safely inhabit.  Forbidden territory.  Violating one of his own rules.  So he could go and violate another, and stick his family on a plane.   And go off to an unknown place, and...stop it.  Yeah, the rules have kept you all alive and free so far, but sometimes just barely.  Time to break a few.  Break the mold.  Leave the enemy in confusion, and make a clean break.

He took the map, squinted critically at it for a full minute, then handed it to Kilgore.  "Ok.  Picked us out a path.  Pretty direct but hopefully not too exposed, two or three days' travel if we keep moving and don't slow down for any sticks in the mud or sacks of potatoes, and that ought to give us time to check things out at the airport before committing to this thing.   Here."  He pointed the route out to Kilgore, who had flattened the map back on the ground, the others gathering around to see.

"Looks good," the tracker grunted.  "Lot like what I had in mind.  We may have to adjust some as we go, of course, depending on what it really looks like on the ground, whether we run across any signs of civilization before we're ready, stuff like that.  But ought to work."

Already on his feet Einar nodded, hoisted his pack and stood waiting for the others to be ready.  No more holding things up; time to move.

11 August, 2015

11 August 2015

Liz never quite knew, looking back on that day,  just how it had come about, could not remember Einar verbally agreeing to Roger's offer, but then somehow that afternoon there it was, looking like a done deal, everyone just knowing it was going to happen that way, and if Einar did not give his explicit approval, neither did he loudly object.  Did not say much of anything, in fact, mostly silent and seeming increasingly distant since his time under the waterfall, one foot in front of the other as they traveled, remaining on his  feet during breaks as if knowing he might not be able to get himself going again, should he sit down.

Arizona.  He thought of it as he walked, brought to mind the things Bud had told him about his house there, did his best to create a mental picture of the place and puzzle out its potential hazards.  The greatest of which, as he saw it, came in the form of the intervening space.  Hundreds of miles, dozens of which lay between their current position and Clear Springs where Roger had his plane, and while he might have taken a week or more to carefully cover the distance by keeping to the backcountry and avoiding potential contact with others, he knew Bud and Roger likely meant to employ vehicle transport.  Fine by him, so long as he had a weapon in hand and the opportunity to make an escape—or at least a good end of things—should they run into trouble, but watching Will's little white‐blond head bobbing up and down in the sunlight like so much dandelion fuzz as Liz walked, he wanted nothing more than to keep those two as far as possible from any such potential action.

 Would have to see.  Would just have to get down there, and see.  Take his time.  Except that there would not be much time, because in less than a week, Roger had to be back at work and that was really pushing things, considering all the country they still had to cover in order to reach the nearest road, and the two or three days he would have liked to devote to reconniasance of both the vehicle in which they were to be transported to the airport, and the plane, itself.  Two or three days each.  But there would be no time to  do it his way, hardly time to do it Bud and Roger's, and he picked up his pace, closed the gap between himself and the others.  The faster he traveled, now, the more time he would have at the other end to make sure things were alright, before he committed.

 Already committed.  You committed to this whole thing the minute you didn't speak up and refuse the offer again, like you should have done.  But it's not  too late.  You can still stop it, turn around with Liz and Will and disappear again into the timber, head over that ridge and settle someplace where they won't be able to find you again, these people from outside.  Keep them safe.  Keep your family safe.  But he didn't do it, didn't stop them, because truth be told he simply wasn't sure anymore, and maybe Liz was right, and it was time to go.  Besides which, he had committed, had better keep moving, and make the best of it.  Make it work.

Smell of water.  Einar noticed it ahead of the others, noticed it and stopped because it smelled sizeable and often as not, where there was a large body of water, people could also be found.  Liz saw that he had stopped, turned towards him and he nodded in the direction of the smell, sunlight shimmering, glinting through green‐black ranks of spruce and fir when he turned his head at just the right angle.  By then they had all seen it, stopped to confer.  The lake, near as any of them could tell, was not terribly large, but certainly exceeded the size of the tiny tarns Einar and Liz were accustomed to seeing in the high country, large enough, perhaps, for the Forest Service to stock with fish and consequently to attract occasional backpackers and fisherman.  But not that time of year, not likely, when snowbanks still stood drifted deeply in the shadows and nights were peircigly cold.  Not yet.  Still, they must be cautious, and motioning for the others to follow at a distance, Einar pulled ahead, began a cautious descent, Bud going with him.

The lake, when they drew near enough to tell, proved not to be as large as Einar had initially judged by the smell of the place, a funny little lake with no obvious inlet but several slowly seeping outlets on the far side of it, a snowmelt lake, surrounded nearly entirely by swamp.  Which accounted for the richness of the smell.  No obvious human activity at or around the lake as Einar and Bud investigated, at least, nothing recent.  Behind the lake, on the swampiest side where the two of them had to balance carefully on grass hummocks in an attempt to keep boots from sinking in the black mud and ooze, they found plenty of human sign.  Back there, swamp brilliantly green with reeds and rushes, rimmed with the low, twisting forms of subalpine willow scrub and appearing the perfect setting in which to spot a moose, they found the series of three cabins.

Remains of cabins, more accurately, for the wood was so rotted and decomposed with moisture as to be almost unrecognizable at first as former structures, but Einar noticed, a certain squareness catching his eye, an unnatural regularity.  Timbers, hand‐hewn and carefully placed, mostly disappeared now beneath the swamp muck, and in one of the badly deteriorated cabin footprints he found the remains of an old wood cookstove, burner tops and a large iron plate, some two feet long and nearly half as wide, ornately‐edged and bearing the text, "Glenw...04."  A chunk of iron had fractured and fallen from the center of the plate, taking with it part of the text, but he expected "04" must have referred to a year, which seemed to confirm the place as an old mining settlement.  Must be a mine nearby, or the remains of one, and that possibility, combined with the wealth of salvageable metal debris at the site, led to Einar's wanting to stay, to settle, spend some time.

With which everyone agreed, wanting, at least, to spend the night, sun having sunk some time ago behind the evergreens for the evening.  Einar, satisfied that no other humans had recently ventured near the lake, watched Will as the others set up camp, the little one fascinated with the water, and in particular with a long dead fallen spruce whose bare trunk, nearly devoid of branches and entirely stripped of its bark, sat on the surface of the water and extended some ten feet out from shore.  Will wanted in the worst way to explore that tree, to scramble out along its length and no doubt at some point to slip off into the water, which seemed to Einar a fine idea.  He knew that Liz, though, might not approve, water frigid and in some places still bearing the remains of the winter's frozen cover, fractured and melting, but still ice.  Besides which, the water quickly became deep, far over Will's head, so in order to prevent possible disaster Einar went with him out onto the log, father and son balancing equally precariously on the slippery surface, staring down into the water.

Unruffled by wind, water acting as a mirror, Will stared for a time in puzzlement at the world turned upside down, peaks standing on their points and trees doing the same, but slowly he gained perspective, was able to look through the reflection at the lake's bottom, some three feet below.  Muddy down there, and dark, but enough daylight remained to clearly make out the slowly undulating form of a large mud puppy, brown with lighter blotches, gills waving in the water and head appearing much too large for its body.  Will wanted the creature, wanted it so badly that he lunged, launching himself off the log with his strong little feet, Einar barely catching him in time.

"Hold on there, fella.  That critter's down a lot deeper than it looks, and see?  You've moved too suddenly and scared it.  All gone.  No supper tonight.  Got to take your time with these things."

Frustrated, Will struggled for a moment and then was still, attention captured by yet another fantastic sight which was entirely new to him, water skipper insect treading its graceful way across the glassy surface of the lake, walking on water.  Will, of course, wanted to do the same, chase it down and learn more of the ways of his new companion, and this time Einar let him go, firm grip on his jacket but figuring the boy might as well begin learning the properties of water.  The lake, of course, did not support him, and Einar soon pulled a spluttering and spitting Will clear of the water, depositing him firmly back on shore and smiling when the boy very quickly got past his panic, settled down and stuck a tentative foot back into the lake.  He was learning.  And also very wet, and in need of dry clothes before either the evening cooled off much further or his mother discovered what the two of them had been about, and came after them both with her rabbit stick.  Situation remedied, he settled down some distance from the lake to keep an eye on Will while the others finished setting up camp.

Now that he had stopped moving for a while Einar found himself alarmingly weak, had trouble sitting back up again when he briefly lay down to watch Will and the raven play together with a bit of driftwood, and finally had to roll to his stomach and push with his arms before he could get himself up off the ground.  Even then, he almost didn't make it.  Frustrated, he allowed himself to sink back to the damp soil, try again.  No better, maybe even a little worse.  Well.  Had wanted to eat, get stronger, had committed to do it for Liz and for his family, and he was trying, or thought he was.  Maybe he was trying too hard, or doing too much too soon, but in any case, most things just wouldn't stay down, and those that did, seemed to go through so quickly that they came out the other end looking almost as they had when he'd eaten them, his body not seeming to gain much strength from the exchange, and no wonder, as dehydrated as the entire thing seemed to be leaving him.  Have to try something else.  But not that night.  That night, legs finally beneath him again where they belonged, he wanted to stay on his feet.

Even when bedtime came and the fire was put out Einar remained determined to stay on his feet, and Liz has to all but drag him to bed, aided by threats of swift action from Bud and Roger.  Sleep, she insisted, would help, would make things better.  Einar was not so sure.  He was tired, alright, a dense, intractable heaviness settling in his limbs and pressing on his chest until it almost seemed that breathing, itself, required a conscious effort and was likely enough to cease should he relax his control.  Sleep seemed out of the question, though.  Seemed like the end.  Like it would be the end, and must be fought.  Yet here it was, taking him, snarl of protest perishing on his lips and limbs going lax before Liz could finish struggling him into the sleeping bag, teeth bared, body limp as a rag.  Close enough, and she pulled the bag over the two of them, covering, curled herself around him, and together, they slept.

23 July, 2015

23 July 2015

Einar reluctantly came out of the water some ten minutes later at Liz's rather persistent urging, stiff with cold and a shade of mottled purple which seemed frighteningly close to being incompatible with life, but cleansed, somehow, refreshed, ready to continue.  Liz, concerned about his ability to warm himself effectively, wished he was willing to stop and spend a few minutes beside a fire before going on, but Roger and Bud agreed with his assertion that they had already spent far too much time beside the roar of the waterfall, deafened to the potential approach of both aircraft and hikers.

Liz getting into her dry clothes, Einar crouched with his back to the rocks just outside the area of fine misty spray from the waterfall and studied a map, identifying, after some consideration, the spot where they stood.  This took some real doing, hard as he was trembling as his body began to warm in the sunlight, some real concentration, but the focus was a good thing, kept his mind from drifting too much.

Had there remained any danger of Einar drifting off into hypothermic oblivion while staring at the map, this was soon remedied by little Will, who remained out of sorts from Susan's refusal to allow him free access to the waterfall, and took out his frustration by toddling over and stomping all over the map with his little moccasins.  This resulted in swift but gentle correction from his father, who took the time, once he had the little one's attention, to seat him on his knee and explain in broken sentences all about the utility of maps and why one must never cause them damage.

Will listened in wide‐eyed silence before at last trotting off to harass the raven, who had remained well clear of the waterfall's mist and now at atop Roger's backpack, doing his best to free a locking carabiner to which he had taken a fancy.  the raven, lacking fingers, could not manage to free the device despite his best efforts, but it did not take little Will long, grabbing, prodding and experimenting, to puzzle out the mechanism and invent a way, bracing the back of the carabiner against the side of the pack to compensate for his tiny hands, to get it open.   Susan watched silently, shaking her head.  That boy was going to be trouble.

Finished after a time with his studying and not yet ready to attempt getting into the warm clothes with which Liz was rather insistently pressing him—would have simply got tangled up in the things had he tried, just yet—Einar motioned to Bud and Roger, who joined him in front of the map.

"Time for you folks to...head down pretty soon here.  Was looking at the map, and  if you see this deep draw heading down from the area of the falls..." braced forearm against shinbone  in an attempt to steady his hand so he could point with some accuracy, "well, looks like a good way out.  Lots of rock, not leave much sign if you're careful."

"Yeah, Asmundson, looks pretty good except that our stuff is all back in the canyon below your camp."

"Go back for it."


"Later. "

"Roger's got to be back on the job a week from yesterday, haven't you, Rog?"

"Yeah, I've got a gig down in Flagstaff starting next week.  Can't be late for that one.  Got all my stuff with me, though, aside from the tent.  Can come back for that another time.  It does seem a good idea to head out a different way than we came in, just to be sure."

"Flying right through from Clear Springs to Flagstaff, aren't you," Bud asked somewhat rhetorically.
"Yep, that's the plan.  Left the plane at Clear Springs because it's a bigger airport and I didn't want to attract any suspicion by flying into Culver like I've done a couple times before."

"And on your way to Flagstaff...well, your path takes you real near my old place, don't it?"

"That's a fact."

"And you got room in that little green‐and‐white of yours for a couple passengers, haven't you?  Two full‐sized and one‐pint sized?"

"Affirmative.  Though my official flight plan would in no way reflect that little detour, should I take it."

Fixing his gaze on Einar, Bud waited for an answer.  The fugitive said nothing, crouched silently over the map, eyes cloudy and body attempting with decreasing success to tremble itself warm from the chill of the water.  He was wearing out.  Liz could see it.  She moved closer, put a hand on his arm and spoke quietly.

"Maybe it's time."

A slow smile, a shake of his head, subtle, almost lost amidst the shivering.

Some hope, Liz thought, simply in his lack of vehemence.  Perhaps this time, something having shifted ever so slightly in his way of looking at things, she might find a way in, and she hurried to press the point.

"It would take us far from the last places they were searching, really let us start all over, fresh.  I think it may be time."

More silence; she could see him hesitating, wavering, uncharacteristically indecisive.  Tried to catch his eye, but he wouldn't look at her.

30 June, 2015

30 June 2015

Morning, Einar up before the others, alarmed that he had somehow managed to fall asleep and stay that way for  a good while there in the bag with Liz; lately that hadn't been much of a problem, as his own shortness of breath would wake him after only a brief time of sleep, chest aching and a choking sensation gripping his throat until he'd concentrated for a while on getting more air.  Must be the extra oxygen that had allowed him a deeper sleep.  Not so good, not down here in this unfamiliar place which he'd given only a cursory inspection before settling down for the night, slipping, Einar, slipping, and this is how it's gonna end if you don't get a grip on things pretty quick here, somebody's going to come along and capture you all in your sleep, or see you and report it and the next day the choppers will come...  

Except that no one would have captured them that night, no one sneaked into camp unawares, for there was Bud standing guard just below a rock outcropping which overlooked the camp, and though still frustrated with himself for sleeping, Einar was glad of the man's presence, and his forethought.  Bud saw that he was awake, started down from his perch.

Quietly so as not to wake the rest of the camp, Einar joined Kilgore on the low ridge.  "Was there a plan here, Kilgore?  A destination?  Afraid I wasn't quite as present as I'd have liked to be, yesterday."

"You might say that.  Better now, down here where the air's a little thicker?"

"I get along fine with the thin air.  Always have."

"Yeah, you have, but no so much these last few days.  Hope you're kinda seeing that, now."

Einar growled something unintelligable, got back to his feet.  "Think we'd better be parting ways here pretty soon.  This would be a good place for you folks to start heading down to wherever you started from, go back to the canyon and collect the rest of your gear, let the three of us move on so we're not such a big group leaving a lot of sign."

"Speak for yourself, Asmundson.  Nobody ever accused me of leaving much sign."

"You know what I mean.  No matter how careful the individuals might be, the larger the group, the more sign left and the greater the risk of discovery.  We both learned that first hand in some pretty gnarly places around the world, you and I, on both sides of the tracking equation."

"Undeniable fact, that is.  We'll split off soon and leave you kids alone, but before we do that, I'd kinda like to see that you're in  some sort of state where you've got some chance of making it out here, pulling security, doing the hunting, traveling, all of that.  No skin off my teeth if you want to wander off into the timber and end things, but I'd hate to leave your bride and little one stuck out here by themselves, if that's the way it's gonna be."

"You know that has never been my intention."

"I do.  But it was almost a reality the other day, wasn't it, intention or not?  Intention is nice, but at some point, results are the only thing that really counts.  They're what's gonna count to that little boy of yours."

"Well, I'm still here, not going anywhere anytime soon, if I can help it."

"Right.  And I'm sticking around for a few more days to make sure you hold yourself to it."

Einar glared, but did not verbally object, too short of breath after the brief exchange to speak without giving away his difficulty; just one more thing for the tracker to hold against him.  So.  Looked like they would have company for another day or two.  Might as well make the best of it, and at the moment, that meant packing up camp and moving  on, so as not to be spending too much time in any one place, here in this unfamiliar country.  The others were beginning to stir, Roger crouching over the remains of the fire and Susan carrying Will on her hip as Liz prepared a cold breakfast.  Einar and Bud started down the ridge to join them.

After a breakfast insisted upon by Liz and Susan and enforced jovially but firmly upon Einar by Kilgore, the small party packed up camp and resumed traveling, Bud wanting to lose a bit more elevation before setting up a more permanent camp and Einar gladly going along with the plan, as the place where they had spent the previous night held for him a vague and not‐quite‐definable dread whose source he thought just as well not to stick around and discover.  Something about the terrain, the lack of a good lookout area, perhaps, or its proximity to some as‐yet undiscovered trail.  Good to be moving again.  He would find something better.

Anxious to be moving in the cool morning air, warming up, they quickly covered the space of half a mile, Einar beginning to realize, then, the source of his unease at the previous night's camp.  The waterfall they had spotted in the distance, while barely audible from the place where they had spent the night, proved itself not only to be a roaring torrent as they neared, but also to be rumbling and resonating in the rock in such a manner as to make it felt in one's bones.  Though operating at a frequency all its own, and far deeper than any manmade flying machine, Einar now realized that its resonance had been without his awareness putting him in mind all night of distant helicopters.

Though relieved to discover the source of his disquiet, Einar was very cautious about approaching the falls, pulling ahead of the group and watching, waiting, wanting to be certain no others were about whose presence the roaring might mask.  Satisfied at last, he approached the frothing, foaming pool at the base of the falls, mist rising to meet and envelop him.  Losing sight of Einar in the spray and thinking he might have found some path by which they could circle around or even pass behind the falls, the others followed.

Quickly shedding all but his shorts, Einar stepped over the narrow rim of mineral‐encrusted rocks and driftwood at the edge of the pool and into the water, Liz shocked at how different he looked from the last time she had seen him visit a waterfall, some two years prior.  Emaciated, skeletal, spider limbs  with joints too large by proportion and appearing as though they ought to have been incapable of supporting even his slight weight, ribs and spine standing out like features on a topo map, hills, peaks and ridges with valleys of sunken flesh between, bruised, battered.  But happy.  Ecstatic, almost, as he approached and stepped calmly under the torrents of falling water, snowmelt, icy, not even flinching as they first hit him, a force fully capable of knocking him from his feet and pounding him into the rocks, arms upraised and a childlike joy transfiguring  his face so that she could not help but want to join him.  But for the icy bite of the water which she knew awaited.  Went anyhow, picking her way cautiously across calcite‐whitened rocks and logs which proved to be a good deal more slippery than Einar's sure‐footed movements would have led one to believe.

Susan held Will while Liz went to him, went to bring him out before he could freeze or fall or lose consciousness and drown beneath that pounding deluge...but when she reached him, he took her hand, held it, and instead of leading him out, she stayed, joined him, regretting that she'd kept most of her clothes but knowing they would dry.

Will had  wanted to follow his father into the water from the start, but when he saw Liz wading out towards the falls he could wait no longer, squirmed loose from Susan's grip and she let him go, taking off his little moccasins and setting him at the edge of the water, certain that he would stop as soon as he felt its bite.  Wrong, and she had to move quickly to snatch him back before he went in too deep.

07 June, 2015

7 June 2015

Einar woke in the darkness very cold despite Liz being close beside him, breath coming too fast, too shallow despite their drop in elevation, feeling too weary to move.  He tried to slow his breathing, take inventory of the scents around him; nothing untoward, lingering smoke, damp spruce needles, the foreign, plasticy smell of Bud and Susan's camouflage tarp...nothing wrong there.  He lay listening to the night, then, all quiet, only the sound of  a soft breeze in the soon‐to‐be leafing aspen tips and  somewhere far in the distance, falling water.   Inside him though, something was terribly wrong.

That feeling again, that dull, bottomless dread that he'd known only a few times in his life, the sense that nothing ever would or could be right again...he'd known it in the jungle more than once, when he'd finally given in and talked; even though he hadn't given the enemy anything real, anything they could use, it had still been crushing, an end to himself, and here he was again.  He'd given in.  Tried to ignore the thoughts, go back to sleep, but there was no sleeping now.  He'd done this.  He'd broken.  Left the path which he'd believed himself meant to walk, taken an easier one.  Just for the sake of making things easier.  For himself.  Unacceptable.  Had to fix it, couldn't fix it, couldn't wander off and do the things he needed to do, not with everyone in camp and expecting him to be there in the morning, and suddenly he couldn't breathe, couldn't get his breath at all, wanted to run, had to run, but made himself keep still.

The moment of panic passing, Einar at last permitted himself movement, crawled out of the sleeping bag—wanting to stand but pretty sure that he didn't have the breath for it; no sense falling and waking everyone—past the still‐glowing coals of the fire, feeling their  warmth radiating upwards at him as he passed.  He shivered at the contrast, went on until he could feel the heat no more, back against an aspen and arms wrapped around his knees as he shook in the night chill.  It was better in the cold, to be cold, to have it seep down inside him.  Brought a certain quietness, a solace, an ability, perhaps, to refrain from taking his leave of the camp and seeking the harsher if far more effective refuge of the ropes.  Which he could not do that night, must not do.  They were traveling, and his absence—and his actions—would interfere with the course of their journey, perhaps put his family and their guests at more risk than that to which they were currently subject because of their lower elevation.

Liz found him some time later when she noticed his absence and searched the camp, felt the tension in his body when she touched him, knew he wanted to be up in the woods handling things his own way, as he had been when Bud had found him this last time...  She sat down beside him, tried to put her parka around his shoulders, but he didn't want it.

"What's going on?  Can't sleep?"

"Shouldn't have done this."

"What?  Left the bag and frozen yourself to an aspen tree...?"

"Come down here.   Agreed to come down here."

"You couldn't breathe."

"Doesn't matter.  I gave in.  Not ok."

"What's not ok is you getting yourself into situations where you can't get enough oxygen without losing elevation because you've been doing things that cause you to bleed so much."

"I know.  Ridiculous, isn't it?  But I don't know what else to do, sometimes.  You know, something was...taken from me back there in that cage, and doing the ropes, enduring through it...that's the only way I have of getting back what was taken, just a little of it, just for that moment, Makes me ...clean.  Justified.  Justified to go on existing for a while more. "

"But yesterday...the things you and Bud were talking about.  You know you don't need to stay in that cage anymore, and every time you go do the things you do with the ropes, you're putting yourself back there."

"It's how I go on living, though.  What allows me to go on living.   Even if I accept the things he said, and I do, intellectually...well I've got to do certain things if I'm to go on living. "

"But it doesn't have to be that way.  Does it?  Isn't there something else you can do instead?"

"I don't know anything else."

"You know Will, and you know me."

He was silent.  He did know them.  It ought to be enough.  But wasn't.

"Can you just let it be?  For a while.  I know you can't let it go entirely, but just try to set it aside, live here with us for a while and see what happens..."

Yes, he was willing.  Afraid, but willing.  Nodded in the darkness.  She took his arm, helped him up.

"Come get warm.  Come to bed."

He wasn't quite ready, got stiffly to his feet and stood for a minute, listening.  "I hear water.  A waterfall.  Do you hear that?"

She did.  "We'll go find it in the morning."

22 May, 2015

22 May 2015

A lot of things happened in fairly rapid succession, then, Einar wishing he could stop it all moving, have some time to think, trying, but everyone around him seemed to possess an urgency he could not quite understand, swept him along with their momentum and kept him going.  Roger and Bud soon had tarp tents and bedding packed up and ready to go, Susan working with Liz to gather up some essentials from the shelter and distribute recently‐finished jerky between various packs.  While Liz packed Will's things Susan sat down beside Einar and handed him a pot of lukewarm broth, kept reminding him to drink, giving him only short reprieves whenever he stopped, turning away, nauseated.  Difficult as it was he did manage to keep most of the stuff down, consciousness a slightly easier thing to maintain after he was finished. 

"Guess I must have been a little dehydrated," he told her, handing back the empty pot for the last time, and Susan looked at him strangely, one corner of her mouth turning down as if she might laugh, but she didn't, pressed another pot of broth into his hands, instead.

"Maybe just a little. "

Time missing, moving, not sure how or when they had left camp, but they were moving, Roger walking beside him as if assigned to do so—which, in fact, he had been—closer than Einar might have wished, but the man wouldn't seem to go away, kept speaking to him in words which made no sense to Einar.  He tried to answer, anyway, as well as he could, eliciting a suppressed grin from the the man, who apparently found his answers humorous but didn't want to let on as much.  Didn't like it.  Why was everyone acting so strangely, refusing to talk to him?  And, where was Liz?  He looked for her, finally caught a glimpse of her walking beside Susan some distance ahead, Will on her back.  Wanting to catch up, he increased his speed, soon outdistanced Roger.

After a time, seeing that Einar had no intention of being left behind, Bud said something to Roger, and the pilot stopped shadowing him so closely, gave him some space.  Einar was glad.  Not feeling too steady, and didn't want to others to see.  Better to deal with it on his own.

World was weird around him, strange and shimmery and dim, which, he could only surmise, must be attributable to the late hour, far too late to be starting out in search of a new camp, which they did seem to be doing.  He tried point out the fact, suggested that they wait for morning, but no one seemed to be listening, and then they were moving again, heading down.  Too fast.  It was all happening too fast and he didn't like it, and because no one would listen and he seemed entirely ineffective, just then, at communicating with words, he did the only thing he could think to do, and sat down.  Fell down, more accurately, for once he reached a certain angle his knees folded and he was on the ground, same results, would have to do.  For a while no one but the raven noticed that he was lagging behind, kept moving and left him there, which suited Einar just fine.  

Night was coming; sleep seemed a good idea.  He could catch up in the morning.  Except that they were headed down, and down meant danger, which meant that he must be with them.  Back on his feet then, still wanting to call a halt to the descent and still unable to communicate the fact, all his breath going to keeping on his feet and moving his body forward.  Through a supreme effort he managed to catch up to Kilgore, pace him for a while, delivering, at last, a firm whack to the man's shoulder with his hiking stick by way of attempting to obtain his attention.  Bud stopped, whirled on Einar and grabbed the stick.

"Hey now, what's this?  What do you think you're doing?  You're not the only one who doesn't care for folks sneaking up behind you, you know."

"Want to...stop.  Too fast."

"Oh, we're going to fast for you, are we?  Can't keep up?  Well ain't that a shame?  Push harder, you doggone lazy slacker."

Einar grinned, shook his head and would have laughed, if he'd had the breath for it.  "No.  Not the pace, the...just need to stop and...talk about what we're..."

"We did talk.  All done talking.  Headed down a thousand feet or so, where there's more air and you can get more oxygen into your bloodstream overnight.  All done talking.  Can talk after we make camp.  Now, on your feet unless you want a quick boot to the ribs.  Move." 

He still didn't like it, knew the further they descended, the greater became their chances of encountering others, but unable to effectively communicate this and seeing that Liz wanted very much to continue, he allowed Bud to push him along.

Einar kept going down, falling every ten or twelve steps, coming close to losing consciousness and having an increasing struggle getting up again.  Bud pulled him to his feet the first time, kicked him the third; Einar barely seemed to notice any of it, and Liz wished he would stop, wished there might be another way, but words didn't seem to be reaching him, so she kept walking with Susan, let the tracker do his job.  After a time not even the kicks seemed to be registering, Bud resorting to lifting Einar by the shoulders and bodily setting him back on his feet, ordering him to go on marching.

The end.  Everyone had stopped; Roger was already busy setting up his shelter.  Einar, freeing himself from Liz's grasp as she tried to guide him to a seat on a fallen aspen, insisted on making a thorough reconnaissance of the place before settling down for the night, squinting hard against the dizziness and doing his best to assess their position. Not too bad, brush heavy and no sign of recent human presence, other than their own.  It would do. Would have to do.  Darkness inside and out, trees fading into night on the high horizon and the deeper blackness which had been stalking him all day finally asserting itself, consciousness fading as he finished his survey of the place.  With Bud's help Liz rolled him into a sleeping bag, slid in beside him, relieved; rest, whether he wanted it or not.

12 May, 2015

12 May 2015

Einar sat where Bud had left him, knees on his elbows, staring into the remains of the fire and trying very hard not to lose the broth Liz had talked him into drinking. Sure wasn't setting well, but she had been so insistent. Wanted to be up and working, doing his best to catch up on the work he knew he'd missed out on while gone that day, but knew that to attempt such would mean to lose the soup, and probably to lose consciousness, as well. Was a mighty tenuous thing while simply sitting there, that blackness always at the edge of his vision, swirling, swarming like a flock of hungry black‐winged vultures, waiting, threatening to creep in and take over. The tracker stalked over and crouched beside him, stared at the side of his head until he startled at the feeling of another human presence, looked up, eyes taking too long to focus. Kilgore was offering him a knife, and Einar took it, puzzled, weighing the thing in his hand. A good blade, Kilgore's own.

"Why don't you just finish it, Asmundson?"


"Whatever it was you were doing up there."

"I did finish it. It's done."

"Yeah...for now. Until next time. You know where it's leading though, don't you? Can sense it, even if it isn't your conscious intention. You know that a fella can only lose so much blood on an ongoing and increasing basis before it sets up a lethal sort of pattern that he can't pull himself out of, especially when his system's already compromised the way yours is. You're there, man. Past it. So you might as well just finish the job, stop making your family watch this, day after day."

"It's not...I'm not..."

"Oh, don't go trying to make excuses and tell me how you're made of a different sort of stuff, strongest and most resilient fella you've ever met, and all, because I already know that, and I'm not here to dispute it. But you feel it, this time, don't ya? That solid brick wall limit, starin' you straight in the eyes. I can see it in there. See you staring back out at it and this time you're afraid, even if you don't want to admit it, 'cause you know it's gonna get you. Can tell."

Einar shrugged, handed the knife back to Bud. "Maybe. Not afraid, though. Not of death. Made my peace with that old foe decades ago, and there've been a bunch of times since where it should have got me, could have, but it just didn't want me. Took everybody I cared about, but it wouldn't take me."

"Been times when you wanted it too, haven't there? Plenty of times when you tempted it, set yourself up to dance on that edge, grinning into the abyss, just to see..."

A nod from Einar. "Sure. It's how I've lived. Only thing that's made me sure I really was alive, a lot of times."

"But now that it's looking like a sure thing, an easy thing and maybe inevitable...well, now you don't really want it anymore, do you?"

He looked away, eyes wandering up to the ridge where the new leaves of aspens reached for the sky in a riot of unbelievable yellow‐green brilliance, straining, bursting, exuberant with life, little boy with his own eyes and his mother's grace galavanting about with equal enthusiasm as he attempted to match the hopping course of the raven round the fire, and when he looked back at Bud, his eyes were misty, for he knew. Knew that for one of the first times in his life since returning from the jungle, he really didn't want it. Wanted to live. Wanted life.

Bud knew, too, but he wanted to hear Einar say it, knew it was a thing which must be spoken if it was to have any force, any staying power; waited.

"It's just...Will. I know it's out there waiting, and I'm not afraid. But if I've got any choice I really ought to stick around for Liz and the little one. Ought to make that choice."

"Yep. You ought to."

"Don't know if I have the choice. Anymore."

"I don't know either. Body's failing you pretty fast here. All you can do is try. You gonna try?"

"Not try. Going to do it."

"Ok. First thing you got to do, after getting about a gallon of water and broth down your gullet, is to lose some elevation."

"No, now I don't need to be doing anything that's going to put us at risk of being spotted, coming into contact with other people..."

"Now come on, Asmundson. No excuses here. You want to live, you need more oxygen. Breathing's not negotiable."

"I'm breathing, I'm..."

"Nah, take a look at yourself. Sweating, shaking, gasping for breath, skin somewhere between grey and blue after all that blood loss, and even if you can kinda hold your own during the day, what's gonna happen when you go to sleep and your heart rate falls by a dozen points or so? Might survive that, might not. Likely as not you just won't wake up."

"Oh, it's not all that bad, it's just..."

"Yeah, it is. It sure is, and if you want to live, you're gonna have to admit it, and you're gonna have to come with me."

"Can't leave here, Bud. Not for those reasons. It would be...selling out. Giving in. The physical stuff, I can resist that. Have always resisted it, and if things are getting a little harder, well, maybe that's just because I'm getting softer and need to make a greater effort."

"Hey!" Kilgore thumped Einar on the shoulder, nearly knocking him from his seat "You already forgotten our conversation? No, you can't go on resisting that way and expect it to work. You're dyin'. Body is dyin' and you need to make a different choice."

"It's all I've got. If I quit resisting, if I give in, even a little..."

"Then what? What's gonna happen?"

Einar couldn't answer, but his eyes belied the terror and anguish which came with the thought.

"See, that's the thing," Kilgore went on. "Of course you can stop 'resisting' in that particular way if you want to, just like you can descend to a lower elevation for more oxygen if you need it, and nothing particular is gonna happen. Least of all the end of your honor or integrity or any of the other things you fear. You're free, man. You can go anywhere on God's good, green earth you might want, for whatever reason you might choose, as you really ought to realize by now. You're not in that little bamboo hovel anymore, and you got to quit acting like you are. You need to get up, walk out of that cage and come on home."

Bud was offering his hand, but Einar wouldn't take it, looked away. "Can't. Can't do that. Andy's back there, I left him back there in that cage, and I can't leave him again..."

"Oh, but that's where you're so very wrong. Andy's not in that cage. He's been home and free with a perfect freedom for the last forty years, rejoicing before the throne of his Savior. I wouldn't presume to know what another man might be thinking, but can you really imagine Andy would want you stayin' in there, now? If he knew about any of this, I mean. It's time to come out. Time to come home. You're the only one still in that cage, Einar."

Einar did not immediately respond, face the same blank, hard‐lined shell which he always wore, but when the tracker again held out his hand, he took it. Bud pulled him to his feet, Einar shaking with cold and exhaustion and now with silent sobs that left tears tracing down his face; instead of trying to stop it he stood, unashamed, just letting it be.