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.

1 comment:

  1. Oh darn! I was really hoping that they were going to make it to Bud's place.

    Thanks for the new chapter.