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."