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.