Part 12: Love, in Twenty-two Easy Steps
AUGUST 1ST, 1848
The last couple of days had been hell on the Neckebards, whose health in general had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.
What's wrong with her, paw?
The Neckebard men paced nervously in the camp beneath the looming Chimney Rock as the sun began to set, its erect shadow and unavoidably dong-like appearance spread out now both horizontally and vertically like a massive phallic rorschach test. Cyrus had returned to consciousness that evening in a groggy but coherent state to suddenly witness his wife double over in agony. As they had pulled into camp, Susan was immediately rushed to a troop medic (the only vaguely doctor-like person on hand) where Sarah Jane was staying with her.
Sarah Jane still appeared to be in shock and unwilling to speak, though she had insisted (by enacting a death grip on Susan's ankle) to stay by her mother's side. She may have simply been terrified to be left alone with Waffles and Cyrus. Cyrus himself felt like a team of oxen had trampled him and were now playing tackle football with his brain. His ears rang and every sudden movement was an invitation to play 52-card-pick-up with his stomach contents. And Waffles' arm had begun to swell. It wasn't that the snakebite was venomous, but violent and frequent exposure of feces had inflicted upon him a nasty infection that had begun to ooze.
Baby was left in the wagon. It wasn't feeling so hot either.
The entire Neckebard family was bordering on absolute and utter failure and they had only travelled a few hundred miles.
The doctor says her stomach's in a bad way. They might have to... the baby might not make it... your mother might not make it.
OH, HOLY NIGHT!
That's exactly right, Waffles. It's in the Lord's hands, now.
They waited long into the evening, hands wrung and soles worn down. The morning found them exhausted and dozing outside the medical tent where the doctor emerged, his hands trembling and his smock drenched in blood.
"Mr. Neckebard? I'm... sorry. There were massive complications, blood clots. Your wife nearly suffered an anuerysm. I had to make a quick decision... I'm afraid I couldn't save your child. I'm so, so sorry."
Cyrus paused for a long beat, wrestling with the news.
Oh... man. That sucks. Hmm.
They stared at each other silently. It was awkward. The doctor continued, "Your wife should be fine in a few days with plenty of rest and..."
I am a BUTTERFLY!!
Susan burst from the tent, her legs blood-stained, and danced up to Cyrus who was glancing nervously and a little suspiciously at the doctor as he tried to keep his shimmying wife at arm's length. The doctor continued, "I gave her a medication for the pain..."
Cyrus! Let's make some babies! WOOOOOOooooo not now, silly! Just consider it, ok?! In the FUTURE!
While the rest of the family tried to get some rest that night, Susan stayed up, busily going about several tasks at once, talking to herself and giggling all the while. She drove everyone out of their sleeping bags at the crack of dawn with her incessant cackling. They grudgingly shambled to the wagon.
Susan? Are you sure you're ready to get back on the trail? The doctor thought you should get a few days rest before... did you make twelve blankets overnight?
I had to start three of them over again 'CAUSE I MESSED UP! HAHAHAHAHA!
I don't think you're well, Susan...
SHHH, I have a secret! I borrowed some of the doctor's medicine so we could share. Don't worry, I'll give it back! No wait, he said I could have it!
From behind her seat Susan had pulled out an enormous bag overflowing with a white powdery substance and was pouring copious amounts of it into her trail cup. Cyrus began to protest but his head was pounding too hard to form the words. His wife seemed to be feeling much better... a little bit couldn't hurt, could it? He mixed some in with his morning brew and began to feel something almost immediately. This stuff was good... this stuff was...
Hey kids, you gotta try this!
A few minutes later they had unanimously agreed that running the oxen as fast as possible would be the most fun option.
Hey, did we just pass a fort?
I love broccoli!
I have gravy in my pants!
Who needs four more blankets?!
I feel fuckin' great! Let's never stop!
Both of the kids were buzzing in the back of the wagon like alarm clocks had gone off and nobody had bothered to reset them. They were feeling much, much better. Even Baby managed to get a powdery diaper replacement for talcum and was feeling a heck of a lot better.
Have... have you kids seen that bag around? Where's the...
Sarah Jane held the sack aloft. She grabbed the corner and flipped it upside-down. The whole family watched as a few white puffs escaped on the breeze.
It was spent.
SHUT UP! If you weren't gone working for weeks at a time I might not need the company!
Oh yeah, it's my fault! No need to talk about your problems when you can just fuck the blacksmith instead!
Sarah Jane had returned to the security of the fetal position. Waffles had curled up in the corner of the wagon with his hands over his ears softly chanting "lalalalala".
You live in a fantasy world, Cyrus! The only one you figured out was the blacksmith? Really?! What about the baker? What about Matt, did you know about them?!
You fucked Matt the retard?! Oh my God! OH MY GOD!!
That's right, Matt! And the bowl-legged midget with the novelty hat! And that guy that walked around town in a suit made entirely out of raccoons!
What?! THAT guy?!
That's right! And three soldiers at Fort Kearney! And I had sex with the old man in the ferry booth while I was waiting for you to take off the wagon wheels! He didn't even wake up and he was better than you!
This is unbelievable! You're lying!
No, Cyrus, our marriage is the lie! I... I can't live like this anymore! I can't do it!
Ge...GET OUT! GET OUT OF MY WAGON!
Susan slapped Cyrus across the face and rolled out of the moving wagon like a professional stunt man, hopping back on her feet and dashing into the low brush, sobbing and flailing about like a girl. She was ashamed to finally admit her promiscuous past but helpless to restrain her innate primal passions. She didn't know where she was going or how she would make it out in the wild, but she knew there was no place for her on the wagon. The Wagon of Shame.
Cyrus was in a fury unmatched as Susan vanished out of sight of the wagon. GOOD. Fuck that noise, he thought. A few hours later he finally slowed down. He wasn't feeling so good anymore. He really wanted some of the medicine they had been taking for the last two weeks and tried to distract himself by building a fire. Everyone would sleep poorly that night, but this was not unusual.
None of the Neckebard clan, neither on Cyrus' side at camp nor Susan, alone in the wilds, remembered the next 72 hours very well except that twitching uncontrollably and lying around staring into the sky were the order of the day. It was on the fourth day that Cyrus sat upright, rubbing his head. Coincidentally, eight miles away, Susan was making the exact same motion at the exact same time. They both got onto their knees and slowly rose to their feet. They blinked in unison.
I love her!
I love him!
Frantically, Cyrus began throwing supplies back into the wagon, shouting at the kids to get up. They were going back, dammit! He only hoped it wasn't too late.
Susan looked up at the sun, noted it's position and headed in the direction she hoped would lead to the Oregon Trail. If I find the trail, she thought, maybe I can follow it to Independence Rock!
Two hours later they would meet again. For the first time.
Oh Cyrus, it wasn't just a drug-induced stupor... let's make a baby!
Baby? You read my mind.
(ok, I may have altered this shot. A little bit. For the sake of love.)