“I feel guilty drinking this,” Abigail said. “Knowing my dad doesn’t have this luxury.”
Scott broke open a pistachio, plucked out the nut meat. “You getting dehydrated isn’t gonna . . . Lawrence is your father?”
“We aren’t close. He left us when I was very young.”
Abigail lifted the Nalgene bottle, and as she unscrewed the lid to take another sip, it twitched, the tree trunk between them went psst, a piece of bark flew off, struck her face, and two streams of water shot out from the middle of the bottle, one arcing into the snow, the other into her lap.
Abigail said, “What the—”
The delayed report of a high-powered rifle broke out above them in the cirque.
Scott tackled her into the snow.
“How close?” she whispered.
“There was a three-second lag from when the bullet hit the bottle to the gunshot. . . . If he’s shooting one of the bigger cartridges, he’s maybe . . . fourteen, fifteen hundred yards away. Just under a mile. Probably scoping us from the ledges below the pass.”
A bullet tore through Scott’s pack, followed by fleeting silence, then a resounding gunshot.
“I don’t know how the hell he’s got us sighted up in these woods,” Scott said. “You run first. I’ll be right behind you. Don’t run in a straight line. Zigzag between the trees. Make yourself a harder target. Go.”
Abigail scrambled up out of the snow, took off downhill through the firs.
After ten steps, she heard another gunshot, glanced back, didn’t see Scott, kept running, thinking, The bullet’ll hit you. You’ll go down, might never hear the shot.
She came out of the forest into the little glade where they’d camped three nights ago, and on the other side, she ducked behind a tree. When she caught her breath, Abigail peeked around the corner, spotted Scott running toward her across the glade.
He stepped behind the tree, threw his pack down in the snow.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I wanna see where this f**ker is.” He unzipped the top of his pack, jammed his hand inside, and pulled out a small black leather case, which he unsnapped.
He took out a pair of eight-power Nikon binoculars and lay flat in the snow.
Propped up on his elbows, so the lenses just barely poked above the surface, he brought the eyecups to his eyes, adjusted the focus knob, and glassed the cirque.
After a minute, he said, “There you are. Shit, I thought we were making much better time. You wanna see?”
Abigail got down in the snow with him and took the binoculars. Scott guided her finger to the focus knob. “First, find the pass,” he said. She glassed the buttresses and couloirs of the cirque in the big sphere of magnification, then the jagged rock outcropping of the Sawblade, two thousand feet above and a mile away, the sharp rocks and snow glinting in the sun, a deep, shimmering quality to the condensed air.
“Okay, I’ve got it,” she said.
“See the trail we took?”
“Just follow it on down.”
Abigail adjusted the focus, slowly glassing the ledges, tracing their steep descent down the back wall of the cirque. “I see him,” she said.
“That’s the guy who locked you in the mine?”
“Yeah, that’s Quinn.”
Minuscule among the huge broken crags, Quinn post-holed at a fast lope just past the fifth switchback in that silver-and-black down jacket. He toted a backpack and a scope-bearing rifle slung over his shoulder.
“Oh my God,” she said. “He’s almost down from the ledges.” Abigail lowered the binoculars. “He’s gonna catch up to us, Scott, and he has our tracks to follow.”
Scott’s face paled, and she wondered if it was from blood loss or fear.
He said, “We have to get down below the snow line.”
Abigail and Scott worked their way down through the trees at a lung-wrenching jog. The valley broadened. They passed into a forest of spruce and aspen. At ten thousand feet, the snow was only knee-deep. At nine thousand, just a foot lay on the ground. Abigail’s tailbone felt like it had split, and she saw blood in Scott’s tracks, his right boot squishing.
A little past six o’clock in the evening, they arrived at the alpine lake where they’d lunched on Sunday afternoon. The sun had slipped below the valley wall an hour ago, and a fleet of leaden clouds invaded from the west. Scott’s Sherpa put them at 8,700 feet, but they still stood in snow to their ankles.
“How you holding up?” Abigail said.
He squatted by the bank. “Fucking agony.”
“What can I do?”
“Nothing. We just have to keep descending. Think Quinn’s stopping?”
They pushed on past the spruce-rimmed lake, down and down, faster than they’d moved all day, light dwindling, clouds thickening up, dark and without texture, an immense sheet of metal stretched across the sky. They tramped through occasional patches of bare ground. Then there were more bare spots than snow-covered ones. Then just tatters of wet snow on the tree-shaded north aspects. Then no snow at all, but only the naked floor of the forest—spongy and saturated from two days of cold November rain.
At dusk, they came into the aspen grove—slim silvered trunks as far as they could see, some marred with arborglyphs, carved graffiti from the old West. Abigail hadn’t noticed it before, but the aspens had eyes, hundreds of them all around her, mysterious dark bark scars from where old branches used to be, watching her from every side.
Scott collapsed. “We have to decide,” he said, breathless, “whether to stop for the night or keep going.”
“Could you even go on any farther?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so, but maybe you can.”
“I’m not going anywhere at night and alone with this lunatic out here. Besides, I’m wiped out, too.”
“Well, we’re out of the snow, so we’d better find a place to camp.” Scott struggled to his feet. “The valley’s a half mile wide here. Let’s get ourselves out of the middle of it.”
As they headed east through the aspen, Abigail felt her stomach tighten. The imminent threat to her life notwithstanding, there was still something unnerving about being in the wilderness with night coming on and watching the sky lose its light above you, a sinking feeling rooted in the most basic of primal fears—the woods after dark.
They came to a stream. It flowed stronger than Abigail remembered, and it seemed two lifetimes ago that she’d watched Scott fly-fish this same watercourse two miles up the valley for their supper. “Stream’s up,” he said. “I’m gonna filter some water, since we can’t camp here. First place Quinn will look for us is along this stream. We’d never hear him coming.”