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.