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.

03 May, 2015

3 May 2015

Einar looked confused at Bud’s suggestion, tried to rise, fell to his knees, gave it another go and this time succeeded, hoisting himself up and over one of the evergreen trunks.  Wasn’t sure how long he could stay on his feet, and movement seemed a rather unlikely thing with his body seizing up on him, all the major muscles cramping or on the verge of it, but he was willing to try.  Did seem about time to be getting back to camp.  He did not want Liz to worry, and besides—squinting up at the sun, which was close to disappearing behind the heavily timbered ridge— he’d lost nearly an entire day’s work to the jungle.

Movement hurt, result of the ropes and of the cramping brought on by electrolyte levels skewed by blood loss; his body did not want to move, but he took a certain satisfaction from pulling himself together and causing it to move, anyway.  Bud was surprised, though perhaps he shouldn’t have been, to find that Einar easily kept up with him when he set out for home.

By the time the two of them reached the ridge just above camp, however, Einar was really struggling for breath, not getting enough oxygen, gasping and panting, even travelling downhill.  Bud stopped, waited for him to catch up.

“How about we take a break for just a minute, let you catch your breath and maybe get cleaned up a little before we go down there.  You know, to keep the womenfolk from carrying on, the way they can do…”

A good idea, Einar thought, though he couldn’t really see too much wrong, a little blood on his hands, maybe, and he picked up a lump of crusty snow and did his best to scrub it away.  His shirt and jacket, set aside during the ordeal, had remained mostly clean, looked just fine where he carried them now, draped over one arm, and he rose to go, but Kilgore stopped him, suggested he might want to consider putting them on.  Seeing as it is still early in the spring, and cold and all, and that would be what most folks expect you to do…  Einar nodded, began struggling into the garments but couldn’t get too far, fumbling with fingers crusty with blood.  Another problem.  Thought he’d solved that one.  Got some more snow, tried again to clean his hands and then to manage the shirt, Kilgore finally buttoning it for him when his fingers proved unable.  Einar then wanted to check everything over again and make sure he’d got all the blood off so Liz would not be bothered, crouched, began again to scrub his hands with snow.  Kilgore, who could see that he was swaying and fading, starting to lose his balance and probably not too far from passing out, pulled him to his feet and continued down the slope.

Nearing dusk by the time they finished the descent, Susan stirring stew over the fire, Roger out collecting wood and Liz in the shelter feeding Will after his most recent nap.  Susan took one look at Einar, steered him over to a fallen aspen and pressed a cup of water into his hands, taking Bud aside while Liz hurried out and sat down beside him.

“This man looks like he needs a blood transfusion, Bud.  He’s white as a sheet.”

Einar heard despite Susan’s hushed tone, grinned, eyes flashing with a brief fire that told Liz he had a fair chance of being alright, appearances notwithstanding.  “Nah, I’m ok.  This is nothing that hasn’t happened before.  It’s normal.  Works itself out.  Just kinda takes a while, sometimes.”  Out of breath after those few words he sat with head down and elbows braced on his knees, hoping to drive away the gathering blackness.  Muninn, who had been watching the entire scene rather skeptically from a nearby tree—too many people for him, too many strangers, or semi-strangers, for him to be comfortable on the ground in camp—glided down to perch on his shoulder, rasping quietly and twisting a bit of hair above his ear.

“Well,” Susan gently scolded, “things might work out a lot better if you didn’t let this happen so often.  It shouldn’t be ‘normal.’  Liz, better see if you can get some soup in him.”

Soup did not sound very good to Einar, he finding himself nauseated at the smell of it and suddenly wishing very much to curl up on the crusty snow of the nearest remaining bank and sleep, but Liz was insistent, and he gave it his best effort.

Susan motioned Bud over behind their tent, lowered her voice further to prevent Einar's sharp ears from again picking up her words.  “Seriously, Bud, how much did he lose up there?  Do you know?”

“Not really.  Pint or three, I’d say, though it’s always a little tough to say when it’s all over the rocks and leaves and all, like that.  Always looks like more than it is.”

“He can’t afford that much even, I’m afraid.  I really think if we can’t talk him going lower where there’s a little more oxygen for a while, he may not pull through this.”

“Aw, you heard him.  Nothing too much out of the ordinary, bad as it looks.  Ornery old critter knows what he’s doing.  More or less.”

“You don’t sound terribly confident.”

“Yeah, this time I’m not.  He didn’t look so good up there.  Was really out of it, all grey and dazed and didn’t even realize what he’d done to himself.  Seemed surprised when I pointed out he was bleeding.”

“It’s the dreams, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I figure.  Fella can get trapped in that stuff sometimes.”

“I know.  I remember.  With Bill.  We had a few really rough years there, after he got back.  But then somehow it seemed to fade, go into the background and only come up from time to time, for the rest of his life.  I wish it could fade like that for Einar.”

Bud shrugged, felt strange, somehow, speaking of the matter, but Susan wanted him to speak, and it wasn’t as if he usually had any trouble whatsoever finding plenty of words…  “Thing is with Asmundson, you know, I’m not sure he ever let himself have any of those ‘tough years’ after he came back.  Old buzzard never quit moving long enough to let any of it catch up to him.  But now it has, with the search, and being on the run, and his having to face some of these memories finally.  Maybe it will fade some, with time, maybe it won’t.  For some guys it never does.  Just got to give him time.”

“I’m not sure how much more of it he can survive, Bud.  Not like this.  Not with it getting worse every time, or seeming to.”

“Yeah, I know it.  Don’t know that he’s going to have to do that, though.  I’ve got an idea.”