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...