30 April, 2016

30 April 2016

What Einar wanted more than anything at that moment, standing alone in the carport with the morning brightening around him and a soft wind whispering through the brilliant yellow-green haze that graced the tops of the awakening aspens, was to take off up one of the nearby ridges, push himself hard to the top and make a circuit of several miles around the place, come to know its ups and downs, the little hidden places where rock jutted out and trees hung over, learn by what concealed paths a man might lead his family to safety should the  need arise.  But, he could not do it.  Not just then, not without potentially  precipitating just the sort of situation he was seeking to avoid, possibly alerting any who might be watching to the presence of Bud Kilgore’s contraband houseguests.  So he kept concealed, studying the surrounding terrain as well as permitted by the limitations of being so close to the tree-enfolded house, focusing his special attention on the gully that held the creek.  Really wanted to get down in there and have a better look, more realistic proposal than had been his notion of taking off up the nearest ridge, well covered as the approach appeared to be by the dense boughs of several large ponderosas. 

A reasonable risk, and he went, following the sound of the water as it gurgled and cascaded over rock and root, finding as he went a deer trail which provided more secure footing on the increasingly steep slope, slick with fallen needles.  Halfway down he paused, crouching to examine the droppings of a large bird, too large to be grouse.  Wild turkey, he was pretty sure.  Lot of meat on a turkey.  Would have to ask Bud about their presence in the area. 

Below him, at last, appeared the creek, clear, moss-bordered in that spot where a small pool had formed behind a section of the long-decayed trunk of a fallen pine.  Einar crouched beside it the pool, both hands in the water, good, cold snowmelt water from up high in the peaks.  He could smell them in it, granite dust and ice, the freshness of subalpine fir.  Splashed his face with the stuff, shoulders, let it run down the back of his neck and trace along his backbone.  He shivered, stretched out flat on his stomach beside the creek and submerged his face, eyes open, everything very still down there, silent, save the crackling of the water over the top of his head.  Had to breathe eventually, rolling sideways to break contact with the water and lying for a moment in the rocks, staring up at the canopy of towering ponderosas overhead as he struggled to get his breath.  Had not helped the ribs any, those twisting motions required by his little dip, difficult to fill his lungs to capacity, but he did not care, greatly refreshed by the cold, grinning as he got to his feet.  It was a fine place, reminded him of home. 

Critically studying the landscape as he stood with his back to a tree, waiting to have enough breath to begin moving again, he supposed they could, in the long term, eventually find their way into the hills some distance from Bud’s house, seek out a sheltered spot in which to spend the remainder of the spring and perhaps, over time, establish themselves as they had done in his own high country.  The place was different, peaks not so high and everything so much further south as to be inhabited by flora and, to a lesser degree, fauna with which he was not quite so familiar, but it was a place he could come to know, to live with.  Not a bad change, perhaps, considering that it would theoretically allow them to break all contact with whatever remained of the active search, start over without that constant threat hanging over their heads.  Theoretically.   Would have to see, keep a close watch to be certain their move had not been observed, tracked, that this whole operation might not be—though not, he was certain, with knowledge of Bud and Roger—a trap.  Not likely, but it would take him a while to be certain. 

Do wish I could get up on one of those ridges for a while, really watch the place from a distance, get some sense of the normal comings and goings of the critters and birds and all, so I’d have some hope of knowing if things had changed. Guess that’s what Kilgore does when he goes out in the mornings, and he’d know it better than I, anyway, at this point, since it is his home.  Got to try and trust him I guess.  Fella’s never been one to let things slide as far as noticing the sorts of little details that will make the difference here between keeping us safe, and getting us discovered.
He sighed, stretched stiff arms and crossed them on his chest, focusing on getting a full breath.  Not an easy thing.  Guessed Susan might have had a bit of a point that morning in trying to impress upon him the precariousness of his own physical situation, entire muscle groups coming close to quitting on him at random times and in so doing, interrupting functions which might reasonably be deemed critical to the continuance of life.  He laughed silently, shook his head and knelt to scoop up a double handful of creek water, take a drink.  Yeah, she had a point, but I do fine when I’m out there in the hills.  It’s just this civilized living that gets to me.  All the sitting around and standing around and lack of activity, and only here do folks have the luxury of pointing out little physical things like she was doing.  Out there, too busy just getting by for such nonsense to be noticed, let alone folks trying to make a big deal of it.  I just need to get back out there as soon as possible.

Which brought him to the next difficulty, that of Bud and Susan’s expectations.  The tracker already had strongly hinted that he thought it would be a good idea for his guests to stay at the house for a good while and Liz…well, she had made no verbal objection to the idea, seemed to think it sounded just fine.  He needed to talk with her, discover her true thoughts on the matter and see what he had to work with.  Speaking of seeing what he had to work with, Einar had, the next moment, to admit to himself that he might well have been overstating things a bit when he insisted to himself that he would be “just fine” if only he were out in the hills again.  Couldn’t get his swallow of creek water to go down, choking and coughing on the stuff and finally with some difficulty leaning forward and down far enough to get his airway clear again and allow himself a big breath.  Well.  Fine thing this is.  Can’t have the others seeing this, for sure.  Not even once.  Guess you’re back to drinking like a bird for a while, Einar.

He rose, took a step and staggered, body stiff in the sharp morning breeze and a great weakness seeming to have come over him, legs nearly too leaden to lift for a single step, let alone the long climb that lay ahead of him to reach the house once more.  Yeah, doing just fine.  Just have to…  Took a few more uncertain steps, fell against the exposed root of one of the massive ponderosas which lined the steep-sided gully, limbs stiffening into odd positions and refusing to cooperate when he willed himself once more to rise.  It seemed a long time that he lay there waiting to regain some influence over his own temporal existence, strange stiffness finally beginning to abate and an almost irresistible sleepiness taking its place, forehead resting on the mossy ground, eyes closing.  Einar did resist, though, got his knees under him, body pointed more or less uphill, and began to crawl.  Cold.  He could feel it now, clothes wet from his splashing in the creek and breeze flowing over him as he crept along the damp slope, seemingly unable to rise. 

This is how it’s going to go, then?  I don’t think so.  Think there’s no reason you can’t stand, aside from your own laziness and none at all, and you’re going to do it now.  Up.  Stand he did, legs trembling under him and a nausea rising in his throat at the effort, but he took in great gulps of the sharp, evergreen-scented air and did his best to ignore it, kept moving.

Einar arrived back under the shelter of the carport roof some twenty minutes later, still wet from the creek and too cold, he figured, to go into the house, lest someone bother him about it.  So he did the only thing which seemed reasonable to him under the circumstances, taking a splitting maul that was leaned up in the corner and working to split several massive ponderosa rounds on which it appeared Bud had given up, setting them aside after a couple of attempts to dry and become easier to split.  That maul seemed to Einar at first to weigh something over thirty pounds when he  tried to lift it, arms protesting greatly at the first swing and breath catching in his throat at the hurt it brought his bruised side, but he kept going, found a rhythm, finished the job.  Neatly stacking the split wood he laid the maul aside, brushed the wood chips from his clothes—mostly dry by then, good news—and went inside.  

19 April, 2016

19 April 2016

To be fair, Will, though raised on timbered mountainsides rife with cliffs and boulders and well aware of their dangers, had never before in his short crawling career encountered stairs.  It was perhaps not unreasonable, then, that his first reaction to encountering such was to attempt their descent head first and with great enthusiasm, leading to a series of barely-controlled tumbles, Liz dashing after him and Einar hurrying up from the bottom of the stairs.  Fall stopped and Will in his mother’s arms as she sat on the bottom step, it took both parents a moment to realize that despite a bloody scrape which ran the length of one cheek and a good-sized gash on the bridge of his nose, Will was laughing rather than crying.  Einar checked him over and could find nothing seriously wrong.  He told Liz so, and she, trusting his knowledge and the medical assessments he made of others far more than those he made of himself, was reassured somewhat as to little Will’s physical wholeness.  His response to the entire incident, however, was another matter.

“Why isn’t he scared, Einar?  Upset, at least.  That was quite a tumble.  You’d almost think he enjoyed it, to look at him.”

“Well, he’s still alive, moving…what’s not to enjoy?”

Liz just shook her head—a lot more like your father than I would have even guessed, aren’t you?—released her hold on the boy’s arm.  Will started back up the stairs at a hands-and-knees gallop as soon as his mother loosened her hold on him, squealing with delight at the prospect, she could only guess, of making another flight.  She caught him around the waist, scooped him up.

“Oh, no you don’t!  Not yet.  You may not need a break from the action, but your mother sure does!  You still have some things to learn about stairs, don’t you?”

“Up!” Will shouted with such enthusiasm that Susan could not help burst out laughing.  “Go up!”
Einar got to his feet.  “I’ll take him.”

“I’d better not see the two of you come tumbling down together, you understand?  This young man seems to have a sense of adventure similar to his father’s, but he’s too little to take up stair-tumbling as a hobby, just yet!  Maybe he can wait until he’s three.  Or eighteen.”

A silent grin from Einar as he pressed his elbow to his side to aid in breathing, took Will by the hand and started up the stairs.

No more than halfway up the pair stopped suddenly, Einar crouching on the stairs with Will behind him as the door burst open and a rather boisterous Kilgore burst in.

“You got to see this, Sue!  Come on, come with me.  You too, kids.  Here, Asmundson, take my hat so the birds won’t recognize your ugly mug, throw a jacket over the little one, and come on.  You’re not the first visitors I’ve had here, it won’t look strange even if they do see that there are folks around.”
Einar hesitated, not sure about going outside where he could potentially be spotted and hardly wanting to do so unarmed, if he was to go, but Bud was insistent, pulling him to his feet and all but shoving him out the door.  Einar wanted to take the rifle, but had to settle for his knife.

“Quiet.  Quiet now, don’t want to scare him off.”

Einar was quiet.  And very alert.  Danger in his eyes, and it did not escape Bud’s notice.  “Who?”

Signaling for silence and leading them all around to an area just behind the carport shielded from the air by the spreading boughs of a ponderosa pine, Kilgore pointed up at a dead section of a similar massive tree not thirty yards from the house, over near the rocky gully which held the creek.  “That’s who.”

The bald eagle was magnificent, huge, close enough that the yellow of his hooked beak and the piercing intensity of his eyes were clearly visible as he tilted his head this way and that, apparently scanning the creek for fishing opportunities.  Will stared up with huge eyes, fascinated, heeding Kilgore’s call for quiet when he whispered, “Moon?  Moon bird?”

“No, Will,” Liz whispered back, “that’s not Muninn.  That’s an eagle.  Bald Eagle.  He’s a lot bigger than Muninn.  He catches fish to eat.  Look, he’s about to fly down and catch one!”

The eagle had, indeed, spread his massive wings and taken to the air, skimming the scrub oaks along the gulley’s edge before plunging out of sight, presumably about to obtain a meal of trout.

“There.  Couldn’t have you guys miss a sight like that.  Used to see them from time to time following the creek here in the wintertime, but seldom this time of year, and never so close to the house.  Wasn’t he magnificent?  You know, the largest gathering of eagles ever spotted in this state was at a lake just over twenty miles from here.  One hundred and twenty of the critters.  Can you believe that?”

Einar squinted up at the dead section in the ponderosa.  “Don’t suppose they’d nest in that, do you?”

“They never have, not since I’ve been here.  Don’t see any remnants of an old nest.  But it’s the kind of place they like.  The do nest down near that lake I mentioned.  I’d take you folks to see it sometime, if you wanted.  But not yet.  Got to make sure things are kind of stable and steady here, make sure we’re not being watched at all.”

Eyes darting up at the sky, Einar took a step back under the tree.  Not good, really, for them to be out there, not even with Will hidden and his own identity concealed by Bud’s wide-brimmed Stetson.  Had to be more careful.  He retreated to the more certain cover of the carport, Liz following with Will, who very much wanted to get down so that he could crawl under Bud’s pickup and thoroughly inspect the tires.  Liz allowed it, knowing the boy—like his father—was used to a great deal more freedom of movement than would be allowed by being largely confined to the house.  Fascinated with the strange, rubbery contraptions, Will gallop-crawled from one to the next, finally settling on one of the rear tires and devoting to it the full force of his rather sharply-focused attention.  First exploring the chunky treads with his fingers and meticulously removing every lump of gravel he came across, he moved on to tasting the thing, wrinkling up his nose at the initial grittiness and then taking a tentative bite with his knobby gums, finding the texture very much to his liking and chomping away, leaving a trail of slimy drool to trace down the side of the tire like the paths of several large snails.  Liz put an end to the child’s little experiment at that point, not considering truck tires to be the best teething accoutrements.  Will protested at first, but only until Susan mentioned something about everyone coming inside for a snack, mention of food catching his ear and causing him to put aside, at least for the moment, his determination to taste all four of the tires and see which he liked best.

Einar stayed behind when the others went in, stayed outside, pacing back and forth beneath the sheltering roof of the carport.  He was restless.  Needed work.

03 April, 2016

3 April 2016

The dark of early morning, Einar moving quietly so as not to disturb the rest of the house, making his way down the stairs and out into the covered carport, inhaling deeply of the chilly air. Mountain air, not nearly as thin as that of his home ridges and peaks, but mountain air nonetheless, drier, some of its scents familiar to him, others less well known. The place was quiet, soft sounds of moving water in the distance competing with the overhead whisper and rustle of spring aspen leaves, morning breeze rising from the valley below sharply enough to set his teeth to chattering had he not clamped his jaw. He liked the feeling. Felt real, felt like home. Wary of the possibility that the place might be watched, he wanted to seek out the source of the water-sounds that seemed to be coming from somewhere behind the house, but hesitated to leave the concealment of the carport, metal roof shielding him, he could hope, from aerial observation. Later. He would do it later, when the sun was up and the breeze warmed, reducing the contrast between his body temperature and that of the outside world. For the time, he contented himself with sitting cross-legged on the ground beneath the roof--it hurt, getting into that position, seemed to pull at whatever injury he had somehow sustained to his side during the flight or the truck ride, but he did it anyway--and watching the night's blackness fade to grey, depth and definition beginning to creep into solid black silhouettes of the peaks. By the time the first rays of sunlight began glowing red-orange on the snow-dusted summits, Einar was well on his way to matching the ambient temperature with that of his body and being invisible to infrared detectors had he ventured out into the woods, nearly too stiff to rise when he tried. Made it finally, leaning for a moment against the bed of Bud's truck before heading for the door.

Still silent inside, no one seeming to be up, so he made a quiet exploration of the house, feeling far more present, somehow, than he had the day before, seeming almost to be seeing things for the first time; must have really needed that sleep. Avoiding the room where Bud and Susan were sleeping, he focused on the kitchen, ending up in the pantry and using the faint but growing light from its high, narrow window to thoroughly inspect its contents. A most enjoyable exercise, each box, can and jar containing some new wonder to be discerned, inspected, dreamed about. He opened nothing, disturbed nothing, contenting himself with a visual perusal of each item, several glass jars of olives especially drawing his attention. Different varieties and preparations, Kalamata olives with herbs in oil, large green ones stuffed with whole garlic cloves, standard black ones in water in metal cans... Very vividly he could imagine the taste of each, their texture, how it would be to open all of those jars, take five or six olives from each and put them in a little bowl, hide in a corner and eat them one by one. Had no intention of doing it, just liked the thought, took delight in knowing that the things were there, had he wanted to eat them. Hearing movement out in the main room, he froze, waiting, heart pounding at the sound of approaching footsteps across the tile floor of the kitchen. Susan. She saw him silhouetted against the pantry window, ignored him, giving him his space, turning on a dim light above the sink and starting Bud's morning tea. Einar let out his breath, stayed for another minute in the dark pantry while his eyes adjusted to the light outside, and joined Susan. 

"Tea?" she asked, setting out four mugs.

"Oh. Thanks. No, better not. Stuff would make me too warm and sleepy, I'm pretty sure."

She smiled, tried to catch his eye but without success, handed him a knife and cutting board, instead. "Help me with breakfast, then. I'll scramble the eggs, you chop the peppers and onions, and grate the cheese."
Einar nodded, began working, glad to have something to keep his hands busy. The vegetables smelled good, especially the onions. There was, in the high country, wild garlic which he and Liz used during the summer months to season some of their food, and he had at times harvested, cured and kept some of the larger roots for winter use, but circumstances over the past season had meant that they had none. Happily absorbed in the task at hand and daydreaming about the potential results of such a wondrous combination of ingredients, Einar did not notice Susan watching him, was startled to feel a hand on his arm.

"What's going on with your side? You don't seem to be using your left side very much, and your breathing is really shallow..."

"Side? Oh, no, just got tossed around a little on the plane. No problem."

"It kind of looks like a problem. May I see?"

"No, no, I don't think so. It's fine. Had a lot worse."

Susan let the matter drop for the moment, returned to her breakfast preparations, adding a few tablespoons of whipping cream to the scrambled eggs, taking Einar's chopped vegetables and spreading them in the skillet to begin cooking, Einar relieved to be left alone to continue his work. When he started to grate the cheese, however, the trouble became harder to ignore, even for him, both hands required for the task and taking a full breath becoming all but impossible without his left elbow to press to his side and support the injured area. Liz was awake, joined them, Will remaining fast asleep and Bud gone on his morning hike/reconnaissance of the nearly ridgeline. By that time Einar was really starting to struggle to get a full breath, face pale and a look of studied concentration in his eyes as he carefully grated the cheese.
Susan handed Liz a cup of tea.

"Your husband is being stubborn. He seems to be having trouble breathing, but won't let me have a look and see if anything can be done."

"Stubborn? You must be thinking of someone else. He isn't stubborn. He's indisputably intractable." She took a playful swat at Einar with a kitchen spatula, he whirling around and meeting her, fencing-style, with a butter knife, breaking into a big grin. The look in his eyes, however, struck her as more desperate than humorous, and she took his elbow, guided him to a chair just before he would have fallen.
"Einar, what is going on?"

"Nothing, just...kind of sore this morning, tight muscles. It's ok. I can breathe."

"Might be more ok if you'd let us wrap your ribs, don't you think? I saw the bruises yesterday. You must have bounced off of something pretty hard when the plane hit that turbulence."

"No, I don't..."

"You could have the use of both of your hands again, not have to keep one arm pressed to your side all the time."

He nodded. "Ok."

He wouldn't let them take off his shirt, knew he had lost a good deal more weight on the trek to meet the plane, and did not want anyone getting after him for the way his bones stuck out, insisted that the wrappings go on the outside, which worked just fine in the end. When they were done he stood, took his first full breath since getting up that morning.

"Lot better. Thanks."

"It's the ribs, isn't it?" Susan pressed gently on his left side, getting no reaction from Einar, but Liz could see that it was taking all his strength to prevent himself crying out.

"They're fine now. Got to finish grating that cheese!" Which he did, Liz hurrying up the stairs at the sound of Will waking, creeping about and finally falling--or jumping--out of the bed.

Cheese grated, Einar scraped the results together into a pile and slid the cutting board over beside the stove so it would be ready for Susan to add to the omelette, but he was starting to feel funny, dizzy, face and fingers going numb, and then going purple at a speed which puzzled him. He stood up, sank to the floor, world dimming, tearing at the wrappings around his chest, but without much success, clumsy as he seemed to have become. Susan could see that something was very wrong, helped him get them off and hoisted him back up into the chair so that he was leaning forward, elbows braced on his knees in a position which would allow for deeper breaths. 

"Well," she began, handing him a glass of water once he'd begun to get some of his color back, "looks like you've taken this little experiment about as far as it can go, haven't you? Can't swallow, can't breathe, your muscles are too weak to push against those elastic bandages and let you get air into your lungs...what's next? Where does it go from here?" 

He shook his head, kept silent. 

"It looks to me that whatever you set out to prove to yourself by living on next to nothing and pushing your body farther than anyone's ought to be able to go...well, surely you must have proven it by now. A good test, and you passed it, and maybe now can get back to living."

"Not trying to prove anything. This is just the way I live."

"It's going to be the way you die, if you don't get it turned around here pretty soon."

Einar, about to answer, was cut short by the simultaneous appearance of Bud, bursting in as if he had some urgent news after his walk, and little Will learning how not to descend a spiral staircase...

23 March, 2016

23 March 2016

Sorry for the long delay in posting here.  My laptop finally died and while waiting for a new one to arrive, I was writing and posting with an ipod.  Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to navigate this blog on said device, and was posting only on my forum during that time.  You can find the link to the forum on this page on the right, just under the photo.  I will now post all three missed chapters in the following post.  Thank you all for reading!

As soon as Liz set him down Will began dashing excitedly about the house exploring everything, wanting to touch each of the fascinating and highly varied animal hides and furs which sat draped over furniture and mounted in willow frames on the walls, the turtle shells bolted to the loft-post, and soon doing his best to climb said timber in an attempt to make contact with an armadillo shell which had especially captured his attention and sat just out of reach. While Susan and Liz kept an eye on the little one, Einar joined Bud back out at the truck, retrieving their packs and taking them, at the tracker's instruction, up to the loft.

Cozy little place, bed in the corner, a few tall bookshelves, windows looking out on the nearby peaks and railing of hand-hewn fir timbers allowing an open view of the living room below and out onto the wraparound deck where Muninn had settled on a post and was straightening his feathers after what had to have been the longest, strangest flight of his life.

"You and your lady and the little one can stay up here if you like, have the whole place to yourself while you're here. Sorry it don't quite live up to the standards you're used to, no slushy snow or tangle of prickly old brush for you to sleep on, but we can kinda remedy that by filling the bathtub with ice cubes for you to sleep in, tossing in an old roll of barbed wire or something, if it turns out you just can't abide a soft, dry bed at night..."

Einar nodded, grinned, said nothing, beginning to grow a bit dizzy in the warmth of the house, hearing muffled, eyes blurring, nothing seeming quite right.

"Ok then, ice cubes it is. Looks like you could use a good hot stove and about a gallon of steaming soup right now though. Take a minute, get settled in up here then come on down and we'll see what we can do about all that."

Bud left, Einar bracing himself briefly against the wall and catching his breath before moving both packs over against the wall and making a hasty examination of his own, somehow feeling a pressing need to be certain that everything was still there and as he had left it, ready to go should the situation demand. Thus assured, he put his knife back on his belt--Roger's Air Taxi and Smuggling Service boasted no regulations prohibiting carry-on weapons; they were, in fact, highly encouraged, but the cramped quarters had rendered wearing the knife somewhat impractical--and headed for the stairs.

Einar liked the loft, wanted to stay and explore the bookshelves--containing, he could see, numerous volumes the tracker must have brought back with him from Rhodesia--but could tell he had better get back downstairs in a hurry, lest he end up falling down them when he did try. The warmth of the place was leaving him increasingly dizzy, and he barely made his stumbling way to the bottom of the spiral stairs before the blackness overtook him.

Kilgore, mercifully, had gone straight to wash up and help Susan finish preparing the supper, leaving Einar to his own devices as he hastily wedged himself into a narrow space between the sofa and end table and sank to the floor, rifle propped between his knees and badly chilled body beginning to shake hard as the warmth of the house crept in around him. Though not pleased with this seeming inability to stay on his feet at a time when he would have very much liked to explore and inspect the entire house and grounds, Einar took some small measure of satisfaction in the fact that he had, at least, come to rest in a spot which allowed him to observe the door and the deck outside. Which at the moment meant a bird's eye view of the bird, Muninn doing plenty of his own exploring, hopping, flapping and taking flight to explore the area beneath the deck.

Looking past the raven, Einar studied the terrain below the house, aspen giving way to scrub oak and the driveway visible here and there through the brush, winding its way up towards the house. Even more of it, he was sure, would be observable from upstairs; clearly a site chosen by, and a house designed by, a man who had seen the elephant more than once. And wanted advanced warning should it ever happen to be approaching, again.

Though giving him plenty of space and allowing him to maintain for a time the illusion that no one had noticed his situation, both Bud and Susan were in fact closely watching Einar from the kitchen, which was separated from the main part of the downstairs only by a long counter with aspen wood cabinets beneath, everything wide open and airy, just the way the tracker liked it. After a few minutes Susan left Will in the charge of Bud, motioned to Liz and went to attend to Einar, whose face and hands had remained a rather unhealthy shade of purple, and who--though he would have vigorously disputed the assertion, had his shivering allowed for intelligible speech--seemed entirely incapable of beginning to warm up on his own.

Einar, having for the time accepted the place as reasonably safe and seeing, himself, no problem whatsoever with his current state of being, just shook his head in response to Susan's urgent words, smiled, and went back to watching the raven, the budding aspens, the world beyond.

Dismissing at first Liz's quiet hints and Susan's much more emphatic assertions that perhaps he ought to think about moving a bit nearer the stove and working to get warm, Einar might have been content to go on sitting there wedged in safely between pieces of furniture for a great while, had it not been for Will.  The little one, having squirmed loose from Kilgore's grasp and gone dashing through the house in a joyful rampage of exploration and discovery, soon found Einar and joined him in his erstwhile hiding place.  Not content to sit and be still with so many fascinating new things to explore, he grabbed his father's finger and insistently declared that he must "come!  Come see bird!"  This got Einar to his feet, following the boy over to a window and bracing himself against its sill as the two of them watched Muninn pick apart the remains of a Ponderosa cone which had some months ago been packed with peanut butter and rolled in bird seed as a winter treat for the jays and chickadees.  Will wanted to go out and visit with the bird, chase him along the deck and perhaps borrow one of his irridescent tail feathers to see how it sparkled and shimmered in the sunlight, dragged Einar over to the door and pointed rather emphatically at the knob when no one made a move to let him out.  Amazing, Einar thought, that the boy had already been able to figure out what door knobs were for, when he had never lived in a house with a proper door.

"No, not going out right now," Liz explained, when Einar just stood there staring out at the bird.  "Maybe another time.  Muninn is just having his supper, and soon we will have ours.  So we have to stay in right now."

This did not particularly satisfy Will, who, once his mind had been made up on a particular course of action was all but impossible to distract, sway or dissuade.  Rather, Liz could not help but think with a sideways glance at Einar, like his father.  A trait which surely would alternately serve him well, and serve to trip him up in this life, as Einar's present determination to remain on his feet and away from the stove seemed to be doing for him, just then.  Almost literally, for he was close to losing his balance, hanging onto the windowsill with white knuckles and a sort of resigned determination in his face which seemed to leave open no possibility of another course of action.  Liz knew better, even if just then he could not, handed Will to Susan and took him firmly by the elbow--briefly he twisted away from her, face blank but body indicating that something hurt, and she resolved to investigate later, as he would be highly unlikely to let her know had he sustained any injury on the journey--led him over to a stool beside the stove before he had time to make any objection.

"Sit.  You've been freezing for two days and two nights now, and I know the plane ride didn't make it any better.   You might as well get warm while you have the chance.  I'll bring you some tea."

Einar was about to mention how he was fine and really would prefer that tub full of ice cubes Kilgore had promised, but he was shaking too hard to make himself understood.  Well.   Time for that later.   For the moment, perhaps the fire really was best.  Though he had maintained a dogged grip on his rifle since arriving at the place, he was operating under no illusions as to his present ability to use it accurately should the need arise.  Body was not working very well, not responding to his demands as quickly as he would have liked, everything seeming a bit foggy.  Instead of gaining ground, he seemed to be losing it.  Alright, perhaps, had they been out in the safety and seclusion of their own hills, but here...  Lots of unknowns in this place, so many things that could go wrong, and he must be ready.  Leaning the weapon against the nearby wall he clasped hands in front of his knees, pressed his elbows to his sides and allowed the heat of the fire to begin doing its job.

Not wanting to give Einar an excuse to leave the fire right away now that she had got him settled near it Liz dropped for the time the idea of making tea, sat with him, followed his gaze out the nearby window.

"Quite a view from this place, isn't there?"

He nodded.  "Good place.  Need to...get out and..."  nodding at the door he encompassed the surrounding hillsides with an expansive sweep of his hand, somewhat frustrated with his seeming lack of ability to communicate verbally.  Maybe the fire would loosen things up, after a while.  For the moment though, Liz did seem to understand, more or less.

"You want to get out and explore the place?"

He nodded. "Got to borrow...Kilgore's hat or something.  So it looks like him.  So no one knows."

Uproarious laughter from nearby, Einar startled to his feet and nearly falling over before Liz caught him.  "Oh yeah?  You think it'd be that easy, do you?"  The tracker crouched in front of the stove, adding another log.  "Got to tell you fella, you'd need a lot more than a hat to pass for me right now.  You're not even the same shape, man.  Better stick to the house for now."

A good point, Einar supposed, though he would have been a good deal more at home with the present arrangement had he been able to scout the surrounding forest and decide on the two or three best exit routes from the house, the property.  Not happening.  Would simply have to wait, and Einar waited, inhaling with each breath the warm, living odors of rising bread and baking turkey from the kitchen, eyes nearly drifting closed despite his best efforts, not seeming to get any warmer despite the closeness of the stove and not understanding the fuss people seemed to be making when he drifted slowly sideways and fell off the stool.

With supper soon to be ready and Einar clearly still struggling to get warm and regain full used of his limbs, Susan enlisted the help of Bud and Will to get the table ready, sending Liz and Einar to wash up in the hopes that some warm water might speed up the process.  Einar, who harbored a good deal of antipathy towards warm water under the best of circumstances, was very uneasy about the idea of spending any amount of time in the bathroom, despite Liz's quiet insistence that it would only be polite for the two of them to do so after their long journey, before joining the others at the table.  He assumed the place would have no windows, would not allow him to maintain the watch he had been keeping since their arrival, but Kilgore had, of course, designed it as he had designed the rest of the house, room in a corner with tall, narrow windows looking out in two directions, after which discovery Einar had little excuse and Liz talked him into taking a shower.  He insisted on letting her go first, though, knowing she looked forward to it a good deal more than did he, and, though not wanting to admit to any such thing, needing some time to let his dizziness pass and hopefully avoid any more falls.

Happy to be clean after the long hike, flight and their dusty ride in the truck, Liz wanted to stay and help Einar off with his clothes, seeing that he seemed to be keeping one arm pressed tightly against his side whenever he moved in a way which indicated some sort of injury and wanting to get a better idea of what that might be.  He insisted, though, that everything was fine and she really ought to go check on Will.  Glancing back as she left, she saw that his entire left side was a mass of bruises along the ribcage, the result, she could only think, of the bumpy ride in the bed of Bud's pickup truck.  Finally alone where no one could see and question him on the state of his physical existence Einar got down to the business of washing up, knowing better than to use water that was  too warm unless he wanted to find himself losing consciousness and, as a result of this caution, only seeming to end up colder and shakier when he was all done.  He managed eventually to get his clothes back on anyway, and join everyone at the dining table.

Supper that night was a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, wild turkey from Kilgore's freezer, Susan's mashed potato casserole with butter, cream cheese and chives, home-made cranberry sauce and buttered rolls, everyone rejoicing, feasting, Liz thoroughly enjoying it and Will getting his first taste of many things he'd never tried before.  The cranberry sauce seemed especially to please him, somehow ending up all over one side of his face and up into his hair, as well as in his mouth, much to Einar's consternation when once he looked up had the momentary impression that his son was covered in blood.  The situation very quickly became clear to him, fortunately, leading to a fit of silent laughter as he wiped the boy's face and dabbed with a napkin at the sticky redness in his hair.  Will just squealed with delight and began applying fresh smears of cranberry.

Einar, wisely left by Susan to serve himself, had a tiny bit of turkey with gravy and a few bread and butter pickles which he chopped up very small before attempting to eat.  Really did want to have more, cold as he was and knowing he needed fuel to get things headed in the right direction again, but he didn't want anyone to see that he was again having a difficult time swallowing.  Had been a problem off and on out in the high country of late--could be any number of different causes, he'd told himself, but knew likely as anything was muscle wasting from his ongoing lack of food--but he'd been able to largely conceal the fact--or so he thought--by turning away from everyone while he ate.  Not so easy to do at Bud Kilgore's big pine dinner table.  So, he mostly stuck to the pickles.

Later, Bud and Susan gone to bed downstairs, the house quiet and Liz all clean and relaxed, she sat on the bed with Will and paged through a Field Guide to North American Mammals from one of Kilgore's bookshelves.   It was the first time the boy had seen photos of animals he had grown up seeing in person, as well as many he had never seen, and the book held his rapt attention from the first page to the last.  He wanted to see the book again, demanded in no uncertain language that his mother show him once more, but she gently refused, lowering him to the floor and beginning her preparations for bed.

Einar was dead tired, back braced against the good solid log wall as he watched Will play with a jar of marbles on the blue, white and green rag rug beside the bed and the gentle light of a single lamp radiating through its stitched rawhide shade to illuminate the scene, dead tired, but he did not want to sleep.  Not in the bed with Liz and Will, anyway, not as jumpy and alert as he found himself here in this new place.  Did his best to explain it to Liz, who had the bed turned down and was clearly looking forward to getting some sleep, rested his forehead briefly against hers in silent appreciation when she said she understood, smiled at the sight of Will already asleep lying sideways across the rug on his stomach, both fists full of marbles, and retreated to a corner near the top of the spiral staircase.  Here he crouched against the wall as Liz turned out the light and hoisted the sleeping Will into bed, crouched and waited, watching the last of the light fade from around the peaks and stars start blinking into being as the sky blackened.  The place was dark and quiet, both inside and out, Kilgore not one to put up with lights or noise from fans, clocks or anything else unnatural at night, and after a time, soothed by the silence, Einar's head began sagging in sleep, mind letting go for a time its constant vigilance, body gratefully accepting the reprieve.

Liz found him some time later sprawled out on the floor and covered him with a quilt, wishing she could get him up off the hard boards and prevent the inevitable stiffness and chill that would settle in his bones overnight, but grateful simply to see him sleeping.

15 February, 2016

15 February 2016

Rumbling down the road in Bud's old pickup, Liz and Will had soon worked their way out of their bag, too, Liz moving carefully lest she disturb the coverings with which the tracker had concealed them but Will fascinated both by the unfamiliar surroundings and the motion of the vehicle, wanting to explore.  Liz corralled him, pointed out the crack through which his father was watching the world, and crept over closer to Einar.

"About sixteen miles from the airport to Bud's house, didn't he say?"

"To the turnoff, yes.  Then a long climb up to the house on a dirt road."

"I like the sound of that.  Sounds nice and out of the way."

Einar said nothing to that, face grim, appearing deep in thought.  Nothing, she knew, to which one could drive on a road, dirt or not, would likely ever see remote and out of the way enough to him.  Perhaps he was even beginning to regret the decision to leave the backcountry , now that they were on the ground at their final destination and his familiar hills were far behind them.  It seemed better not to ask just then.  They could talk about it later, after they were settled.   He seemed completely focused on watching the road, keeping the rifle ready, and she left him to that, corralled Will and began quietly telling him about the things they were passing, other vehicles, the occasional old barn or shed, most having nearly succumbed to time and dry rot, and once, an irrigated pasture full of llamas.  The boy seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his first road trip, fascinated, especially, each time a semi truck passed them going the opposite direction.
Truck slowing, turning, leaving the highway, and Einar's hands tensed on the rifle, a quick glance at Liz to make sure she was paying attention before he flattened himself lower against the truckbed, squinting out through the crack along the tailgate.  Wished he could get a look around the front of the vehicle, see what was up ahead, but could not.  Had to trust Kilgore, hard to do, hard to trust anyone, with so very much at stake, but he had put himself, and his family, in this situation, and now he had little choice.  Tired.   Bones hurt where they jarred against the truck bed, and had the situation not demanded of him such a level of intensity and alertness, he might have been having a difficult time staying awake.  Liz wordlessly put a hand on his arm, gave it a squeeze, almost there...

Slowing further, rolling to a stop, daylight creeping in from outside becoming less intense, shaded, somehow, though from his perspective Einar could not make out what was creating the shade, and then Bud cut the engine, stepped out, slammed the door.

"Ok kids, that's it.  We're home.  Now, just in case you were getting any ideas on that long ride...hey, don't deny it, I could smell the gears in your brain smokin' from turning so fast...anyway, you ought to know that Sue and I spent last night here, and I made real sure there are no surprises waiting, no eyes or ears in the place aside from our own.  So no need to worry about any of that.  You just keep under the roof when you leave the vehicle, so you're hidden from above, and come on in when you're ready."

The tracker left, then, Einar hearing the house door open and then shut behind him, and they were alone.  No reason to wait, nothing to gain, really, yet Einar found himself having a difficult time with it, not wanting to move from the protective little cocoon of the truckbed.  Too bad.  Time to move, and he did, motioning Liz in behind him as he dropped the tailgate, rifle ready, only silence meeting him outside.  Silence, and the sound of the wind in aspens just barely leafing out; springtime down there in the high desert.  Quickly scanning the area Einar found himself in a carport, cover from above but no walls, and he stood blinking in the bright daylight, swaying, bracing himself against the truck, standing up straight.

"Come on out, Lizzie."

She joined him, Will on her hip, and together they walked to the door, where Bud met them, escorted them in.

"Welcome home, soldier.  My home, yours too, for as long as you can stand it.  Glad to have you here."

With a hasty glance Einar took in the room, eyes lingering on the assegai hung above the stove, kudu hide draped over the railing of the loft upstairs, the view of the San Francisco Peaks through a pair of large triangular windows near the ridgepole upstairs in the loft.  All around the house the aspens were leafing out, soft‐shouldered form of Mt. Humphreys rising in the distance through their brilliantly yellow green trembling leaves, and it looked a lot like home...

29 January, 2016

29 January 2016

Indistinct, muffled by layers of cloth and his position pressed into the ground, Einar struggled to make out words, to be certain beyond doubt as to the owners of the voices , but he could not.  Could not see out, either, aside from a very small half moon shaped opening at the top of the bag, and though he very much wanted to see out, he hardly dared risk the movement necessary to facilitate it.  Legs were all cramped up from the flight, knees drawn up to his chest as they had been to allow him to fit in the bag, and it bothered him, for he knew quick movement, should it become necessary, would be a tremendously questionable thing just then.  Well.  He could, at the very least, create a distraction and hopefully cover Liz's escape with Will, if it came to that.  For which he would need his hands.  Flexed his fingers, tried to find a bit of warm flesh against which to press them, restore some mobility, but without much success.   Didn't seem to be a whole lot of warmth left anywhere, and though he was not shivering, he knew he probably ought to have been.

A stirring in the dirt near him, could not see its cause but knew he had earlier heard Liz's voice coming from that approximate spot as she quieted Will, and he twisted around in an attempt to get a look, finally spotted the other bag.  That was it, explained the sounds he'd been hearing.  Liz, it seemed, was very carefully attempting to wriggle over nearer him, difficult, he could only imagine, with Will crammed in there beside her and they still presumably having a need to appear as inert cargo, should anyone else be watching.  Having no sense that anyone was particularly nearby at that moment and wanting to know if she had been able to see anything he was about to speak to her when the sound of approaching boots cut short his efforts.  A few heavy footsteps, then silence.  Einar inched his hands downwards, finger resting beside the rifle's trigger, though not in a position anywhere near what would have been ideal, its stock braced hard against the tops of his feet.  Nothing ideal about the situation at all, but at least it was something, gave him some hope of being able to resist should the situation not be as it seemed.

More footsteps, some scuffing in the dirt and then a heavy boot made contact with Einar's ribs, not too hard, but hard enough that he had a difficult time restraining himself from making a physical response.  Succeeded, lay still, waiting.

"This the stuff I ordered, Kiesl?  Is it all here."

It was Kilgore; Einar relaxed slightly.

"Yep, it's all here.  Air mail.  Special delivery."

"Is it still...alive?"  He again poked Einar in the side, a bit harder this time.  "Don't seem too lively to me, and no way I'm payin' for deceased cargo."

The pilot laughed, took what sounded to Einar like a step to the side, placing himself between his cargo and the tracker.  "Hey, cut it out.  You break it, you buy it, alive or not.  Only I was under the distinct impression that I was doing this on a pro bono basis, no so no pay coming my direction, one way or the other..."

"Oh, you'll get paid, alright.  Show up at the house next Saturday whenever you get back into town, and we'll have some elk steaks on the grill.  How's that for pay?"

"More than adequate!  Ok, got to get back in the air.  Have to be in Flagstaff in less than an hour."

Receding footsteps, and Einar, finally assured that they had no unfriendly company, rolled to his stomach, bringing him a few inches closer to Liz.

"You guys doing...ok in there?  Will ok?"

Her voice came quickly, quietly.  She sounded more anxious than he felt, and he wondered why, wondered what he was missing.  "Yes, yes, fine.  He slept most of the way.  You?"

"I am ready."


"Ready if...but Bud and Roger...I think they're alone so it's ok."

"You're really cold."


"Hang on, we'll be there soon."

A strange conversation, Einar could not help but think, and there were other things he wanted to say, but words seemed rather difficult to come by, and besides, there were the footsteps again, and he braced himself as Bud and Roger each took an end of the bag and tossed it into what he presumed must be the bed of a truck.  Liz and Will were next, that transfer much more gentle, a slam of the tailgate, some strange rustling as the tracker fiddled with sheets of some crinkly substance above them, not quite plastic and not quite metal, from the sound of it, and they were moving.

Wriggling and squirming, Einar managed at last to work one of his hands up to the top of the bag and out the hole where he could work on opening the thing.  Took a long time but he got it at last, a rush of colder air meeting him.  The truck, as he had guessed, was equipped with  a camper shell, cover from above, so no reason to remain concealed in the bag.  Above them Einar found several layers of mylar bubble insulation, which accounted for the crinkling after Bud had loaded them and whose purpose, he could only surmise, must be more to help prevent detection of their thermal signature from the outside than to keep his passengers warm.  It was freezing in there, pressed as they were against the metal of the truckbed.   He was freezing, anyway, and he struggled to get up into a sort of crouch  in the hopes of having less of him in contact with the bed.  Did not work, limbs largely refusing to respond and he left flopping rather unceremoniously back to the ground.  Well, it was progress, anyway.  At least he was no longer confined in the bag, could watch through a small crack where tailgate met truck, hopefully see in time should things start going wrong.

16 January, 2016

16 January 2016

Roger had done what he needed to do to fully conceal his cargo, and to keep it that way even at the other end when the bags would be unloaded, had insisted that everyone needed to stay inside for the duration of the flight, but he had left things fairly loose at the tops, both for the purpose of air exchange  and, if need be, to accommodate the barrel of Einar's FAL.

As the flight went on Einar wished he could see out, wished he had a parachute, the idea of landing in an unfamiliar place with no foreknowledge of the terrain, cover and possible escape routes, and doing it with his family, beginning to seem a risk hardly worth taking.  Too late to do much  about it.  They were committed, now.  Liz was near him, speaking softly to Will, who clearly wanted out of the bag, and to be exploring—and in all likelihood flying—the plane.  Einar smiled, tried to reposition himself slightly to alleviate a growing pressure on his ribs where he had ended up lying on a raised ridge of metal.  Did not work too well, so he let things be as they were.

Tired.  Had not noticed it until the plane had been airborne for some time and he, of necessity, lying still, but now it came over him as an inexorable force, heavy, all encompassing, so that after a time, nothing he could think of to do in that confined little space seemed to have the power to let him go on resisting it.  Wanted to talk with Liz, plan, as well as they could, how things would go on the other end, but the weariness was very strong, and though it went against all of his instincts he figured it might be best to go ahead and allow himself a bit of sleep.  Perhaps for half an hour, forty five minutes, no more.  So he would be alert and ready at the other end, when things could really get interesting.

Liz wanted to talk, too, tried, but could not get Einar to answer with any reliability.  His voice, when he did respond, was muddled, sleepy, and before long he stopped responding altogether.  It was cold up there, a lot colder than she had imagined or expected, and she was worried for him, wished the bags were sleeping bags, and that they had all been able to share one.   Will was unhappy at the confinement, wanted very badly to escape the bag and explore the unfamiliar wonders of the plane, so that she had quite a job keeping him still and reasonably content, and had little time to think about Einar for the last hour of the flight.

When finally Liz  got Will to settle down and  sleep and was able to wonder about Einar again, she found herself unable to rouse him through either speech or jabs to the spine with her elbow, but was reassured somewhat by the sound of his breathing, the occasional chatter of this teeth, until at last those things, too, were silent...  Finally she managed to wriggle around so that she could press her back against his—still, not shivering, and she knew he should have been, frigid as the high altitude air had become—enough warmth, she hoped, to make a difference.

Sagebrush, oak brush, alkali soil.  He could smell it, could feel its grit between his teeth as he lay where Roger had heaved him upon unloading the plane of its contraband cargo.  Arms cramped up at his sides, hands beneath his chin, clasped around the rifle, and its presence was reassuring, even though he found himself at the moment neither in the position nor the condition to use it, had such been necessary.  Couldn't feel his hands at all, face all stiff and strange, and he supposed he must have ended up a little chilly after the flight.  Liz was there beside him.  He could hear her speaking softly to Will, telling him to wait, to keep quiet, that they could get out very soon, but not quite yet, and then in the distance he picked up the grumble of an engine, vehicle creeping along in low gear, stopping.  He twisted his head sideways, fought to get an eye up to the little hole at the top of the bag where light was getting in, managed at last and could see out, if barely.

Kilgore.  It was Bud Kilgore who got out of the truck, boots stirring up white dust as he walked over to the plane.  Boots were just about all Einar could see of him, but the man's identity was in no doubt, and the coiled knot of readiness in Einar's middle eased just a bit. This part, at least, appeared to be going according to plan, but there were too many variables, too much he did not know and over which he had not the slightest modicum of control.  Well.  A little late to be worrying about it, so, according to plan, he kept still and waited, did nothing to reveal his presence in the bag should someone be watching from air, ground or space.

Silence for far too long, as far as Einar was concerned, then the muffled sound of voices at what seemed a great distance.

05 January, 2016

5 January 2016

They did not have to wait long.  Shortly after first light and before the sun came up Einar thought he could begin to hear a distant hum, faint, intermittent because of the terrain but then he was sure, pressing himself, and Liz and Will, up against the trunk of a dense, low‐branched fir so as to avoid detection until they could get a good look at whatever was skimming the treetops.

Roger—for it was indeed Roger, and he appeared to be alone—made one low pass of the meadow, banked, doubled back and set the little plane down neatly in its center, coming to rest safely but with little room to spare just before the trees, turning, positioned for takeoff before powering down.  Unmoving, Einar watched as the pilot exited his plane, walked once around it, scanning the treetops and settled in, leaning, facing their hiding place, looking as if he expected to be there for a while.  Not much else they could do, Einar realized, to assess the situation, and little purpose in further waiting; the point of decision had come.  He turned to Liz, who met him with such a mix of hope, excitement and pleading in her eyes that even he, who normally found himself all but oblivious to such visual cues from other humans, could not miss or misinterpret her desires.

"You really want to do this..."

"I want to do it.  Let's do it, Einar."

"What about the raven?"  Muninn, who sat silent and solemn on Einar's shoulder, cocked his head and chortled softly at the mention of his name.  

"Take him.  He could make the flight, couldn't he, if we kept him still and quiet?"

Einar nodded, and Liz pulled off her stocking cap, handed it to him.  "To put over his head and keep him still.  So he doesn't panic.  Do you need one, too?"

A slight hint of a crooked smile from Einar, though his eyes were very still when he looked at her, almost frighteningly distant.  He shrugged, shivered, shook his head.  "Been in plenty of planes.  I'll make it."

He left the timber then, rifle at the ready, approaching Roger from his blind side, behind the plane, Liz and Will waiting in concealment until he gave them the signal.

"You're alone."  He spoke not three feet from Roger's left shoulder, causing the pilot to crouch and whirl on his heels, simultaneously drawing a pistol whose presence Einar had suspected, but not been able to see, from the woods.

"Doggone it, man!  Why you son of a slub‐skegged, glabrous‐pated, midden munching GOAT!   Yeah.  Alone.   Hey, you almost got yourself shot right there.  What were you thinking?"

Einar shrugged, leaned back against the plane.  "Just testing your responses, that's all."

"Right.  I'll thank you for it later, huh?"

"Right.  Now, what happened to the others?"

"Two of 'em took Bud's truck and headed for Arizona by highway, last night.  Wanted to get there ahead of us and check things out, make sure it was all as they had left it, and besides, this gives me more leeway with cargo."

Sounded ok to Einar, and he beckoned for Liz to join them.  Roger watched her walk, tilting his head and critically examining her pack.

"This is not gonna be the ideal sort of weight distribution, especially for up here in the mountains.  Better if one of you could ride up front with me, but that isn't a good idea, so we'll make it go.  Need to put both packs up front, though, and anything else heavy that you've got with you."

The pilot hefted Liz's pack, then Einar's, estimating weights.  "Good," he grunted, "good and heavy, help with balance.  The lot of you together probably weigh...what?  Twelve or thirteen for the little one, and maybe one‐seventy, one‐seventy‐five‐between the two of you?"

Einar gave a humorless chuckle, shook his head.  "Not even.  Knock off another twenty and you might be getting close."

"Yeah.  Good.  Helps a lot, today.  Got to fix that real soon here ya crazy heap of animated bones, but not before this flight, ok?  No eating before the flight."

"Got it."

"Now.  I'm staying low so you folks'll have plenty of oxygen, but it's gonna be cold.  You need to get anything else out of these packs before I load 'em, warm stuff for the flight?"

"Nah, I'll be...."

"Yes, we do."  Liz was already digging in her pack, pulled out Will's blanket and another hat for herself, tried to get Einar into another layer but he was too busy walking around the plane, crouching, inspecting.

"Hey, that's my job," Roger snarled in mock outrage.  "Get away from my plane."

Einar stood, stretched.  "I didn't touch anything.  Just looking for transponders."

"Transponders?  Find any?"



"Speaking of transponders, your truck still out at the airport?"

"No, I took it to Bud and Susan's last night and left it.  Kinda seemed like some funny business going on there yesterday at the airport with the service trucks and all, but nobody had tampered with it.  Didn't seem like a good idea to leave it there indefinitely, especially after somebody supposedly heard reports on a police scanner about one of the airport trucks going missing yesterday...didn't want to arouse anyone's suspicion."

"Went missing, did it?"


"Well, they'll find it...eventually."

"I bet they will."

"So if you moved your truck, I guess you got the crates..."

"Look for yourself."

Einar looked.  No crates.  Relieved.  Would have felt so trapped in one of those crates.  So confined.  Besides which they would have messed up the load even further made weight distribution more difficult.  Which must have been why Roger finally decided against their use.  The concept, though, had been a useful one.  Concealment.  Given the nature of the cargo, concealment of some sort was essential, and now they would be left to use the duffel bags which lay folded and ready.

Roger was ready to go, peering up at a few high streamers of cloud which had recently appeared from behind the horizon, and looking anxious.  "We doing this?"

One last glance at Liz, at little Will, entirely enthralled by the plane and striving his hardest to reach up and touch a wing, and Einar nodded, took a step towards the plane and nearly fell when he stumbled over some not‐quite‐visible irregularity in the soil.  Roger caught him, a firm hand on his wrist.

"You sure you're ok, man?  You kinda feel like ice.  Maybe you should eat before the flight."

"Huh?  No, I'm fine.  Let's get airborne, before your cargo changes its mind..."

Into the bags, then, they slithered with some difficulty in the close confines of the plane, Muninn secured somewhat unhappily in Liz's hat, Will going in with Liz and Einar taking the rifle with him, despite some degree of consternation from Roger, who really did not want holes in his aircraft should such be at all avoidable...  They were ready to go, then, roughness of the meadow beneath Roger's tundra tires, a bump as they left the ground and then the smooth nothingness of rapid ascent as the powerful little plane climbed, banked, headed south.