Part 13: Plague Gets Its Freak On
AUGUST 22nd, 1848
Cyrus had a new lease on life, and that lease had extended a full eight minutes last night in the dark, beneath the stars, as they danced the horizontal tango that night up on Independence Rock. It had given him a fresh perspective on things. The colors were brighter! The smells were richer! The air was fresher! Actually, the wagon still smelt like Baby stew, but this was where they sat together on their way to South Pass, hand in hand.
Sarah Jane sat in silence next to Baby. The last few days had been weird for Sarah Jane. She really had become traumatized by that impromptu ride through the hell-waters of Big Blue River, but when her mom had become deathly ill something changed. She was ok now and it wasn't that she couldn't talk (the crack had proven that), but rather she had decided not to. Some kind of emotion had been unearthed sitting there in the medic's tent, watching her mother bleeding out before her. Something ancient and deep and dark. She couldn't come up with anything concrete or visual, it was just more of a... feeling.
Susan turned around from the front seats.
Sarah Jane, how are feeling, dear? You were talking a few days ago and I was kind of hoping, well, you can't be an opera singer if you don't sing, right?
Sarah Jane shrugged. Her mom only cared about her when she wasn't busy sleeping around. She hated her father for dragging her out on this miserable ride and she had Waffles to blame for the most disgusting thing she would ever have to endure. And Baby... ugh, she was always being forced to sit next to Baby. It was that moment that she realized she hated her entire family.
No, actually it was the moment immediately thereafter as Susan's face contorted violently and she projectile vomited onto Sarah Jane's lap without warning. It was her last clean pair of clothes. That's when she hated everyone.
Dear?! Oh no, what is it?
Ma, you don't have another baby dying in there, do you?
Susan was writhing around in her seat.
GAAAAaaaaaah! No, no, don't worry about me, we'll just keep going, ok?
Susan hadn't been feeling well all morning. She thought that can of corn chowder had a small leak around the outside and an unusually nutty flavor. Looking detachedly at Sarah Jane's lap she silently pledged to never eat corn again and slumped back down in her seat.
Susan certainly looked the worst of the bunch but as time passed the rest of the family began feeling queezy as well. To be on the safe side, that evening they dumped out the remainder of their canned corn products into an unsuspecting dry river bed. Cornless, the family continued on in misery!
Pa, I just wanted to tell you in case I don't make it, I'm sorry I messed everything up so bad.
Waffles, you're not going to die from food poisoning.
Nah, I think... I think I got what ma had. I think I'm dying, pa!
Waffles, you're not pregnant.
To be fair, he did look pretty terrible. Despite her own pains, Susan gave him a glance and enacted the time-honored motherly tradition of feeling his forehead.
Oh my goodness, Cyrus, he's burning up!
He couldn't have known it at the time, but the unhealthy dose of toddler turd that had permeated the family's "Mornin' Cornin'" (as Cyrus liked to call the corn-centric breakfast tradition) resulted in a potentially fatal combination for Waffles. The fever would only get worse without treatment and this it did as the Neckbards headed two more days into South Pass.
Rest was the only option for the beleagered Neckebards. Several days and nights passed and Waffles' condition was getting worse by the day. He had picked up a tragic cough and was starting to become delirious from the fever. Late one night, he pulled Cyrus aside with sincere urgency.
Pa, c'mere, pa. About the waffle incident...
Shhh, Waffles. That's all behind us. You need to rest now, get that baby poo out of your system.
Listen to me, pa!
This was the most forceful the happy-go-lucky teen had ever been with his father, who was taken aback by his son's abrupt change in temperament.
The waffle incident... it wasn't me that done it. I promised I would never tell, but.. it was...
He trailed off, dazed, before he could finish the sentence. Cyrus sat, shocked to his very core. It wasn't... Waffles? Then, that means... before he could finish his thought, Susan came through the tent flap.
Cyrus, I need to tell you something. It's very important.
Cyrus braced himself. What the hell was going on around here? He looked back down at Waffles, who had completely passed out on his cot.
I know there's a fork in the road coming up and that going the long route to Fort Bridger will add a week or more onto the trip but...
Susan! We're already so late on this trip that winter's going to overtake us long before we make it to Oregon! We have to go straight through Green River! I've really been looking forward to this river!
Susan's voice lowered to a whisper.
Please, listen. I'm worried about Cyrus Jr; he's just been getting worse with every day and I don't know how long... I, I have to tell you something I've never told anyone. Waffles' father is stationed at Fort Bridger. If these are his last days I think they deserve to finally meet.
Cyrus, who was becoming hard to shock nowadays, was shocked.
You mean, you mean the town blacksmith isn't Waffles' father?
No, Cyrus. It was another man.
... ...you filthy slut!
Susan commenced with the obligatory slapping. She left the tent staring daggers at Cyrus, clearly driving home the message that if he didn't point that wagon towards Fort Bridger tomorrow morning, bad things would happen to him. He sat in the tent with his unconscious, dying son, deep in thought for an impossibly long time.
If they headed towards the fort the added delay and wintery weather could very truly be the difference between life and death on the trail for everyone. But if he made for the short route through the river, Waffles could die anyway without ever meeting his real father and who knows what Susan would do to him.
What to do? What to DO?!