Part 15: Waffles Explains It All
AUGUST 30TH, 1848
Time was short, and regardless of what choice Cyrus was going to make, he needed to make it now.
Cyrus had pussed out. He knew what a risk it would be adding even more time onto the trip with the thousands of delays the Neckbards had faced but he feared Susan's wrath even more. She still had a hell of a fever and instead of fading away into her illness, she had gotten even more aggressive like a promiscuous, rabid merecat.
Waffles, thankfully, had been keeping an even keel the last few days, popping in and out of consciousness, but never long enough (or alone) where Cyrus could ask him those vital details about the waffle incident, and now Cyrus desperately wanted to know what happened. He imagined that if someday in a theoretical future he became famous and there were an audience following his life through the history books they would also desperately want to know what happened. And that made him very anxious.
Sarah Jane was keeping to herself, as usual. There was really noone she could talk to, nobody that cared about her except her deaf boyfriend, Oliver, all the way back in Boston. All this seclusion had begun to mess with her perspective and her thoughts had been taking a dark turn lately.
Baby, frankly, was just about fed up with this bullshit family and wanted out.
Pull the wagon over, pull the wagon over, PULL IT OVER.
Ok, ok geez! What's the deal?
Susan slumped out of her seat and sprinted to the nearest tall grasses like an exhausted marathon runner with the finish line in sight. From the wagon, the family could hear a variety of grotesque moans and gurgles that, honestly, did not sound like Susan. She returned nearly thirty minutes later.
It's bad, Cyrus, I'm in a bad way. This fever's growin' horns.
She couldn't know it, but Susan was fighting off one of the most deadly strains of virus found on the planet at the time. It would give her the squirts so bad that fatal dehydration just from lying around in a dark room was a very real possibility, much less being stuck on a wagon in the middle of a desert, days away from civilization. Dysentery, Typhoid, Cholera; these were all fancy words with various causes that resulted in one thing: shitting yourself to death. If the Neckebards had been asked whether they would risk death by extreme crapping to make it to Oregon, this story would not exist.
Cyrus made a decision. Full food portions were back, but he'd also be kicking the pace up a notch to get to the fort as quickly as possible. Stopping would only occur when Susan shrieked at him like a wombat. She, for one, was too much of a lady to marinate in her own poo-sauce, unlike some babies should could name. Now two of the family hung on to life by a thread.
Susan had become a water-downing monster, constantly replacing the fluids she left on the side of the road with fresh ones the family had been trying to carefully ration. This was causing a problem.
They were nearing to the Fort now, and Cyrus was thankful for this. When he had started this trip, he imagined it something like a postcard scene, kids playing in the wagon as his wife looked on lovingly in the warm summer breeze, their shiny new future beckoning on the horizon, "Oregon, Where Dreams Become Reality". Instead it was coming across more like a painting created by an deranged modern artist who had used his own blood and feces to create something that looked vaguely like a road made entirely out of dead babies.
Only one more day to the fort. Susan was exhausted from baking cow pies all day and crawled off to bed at the first opportunity. Cyrus was tucking Waffles in when the motionless teen suddenly grasped his forearm with unexpected strength like a brain-hungry zombie!
PA! Pa, I gots to tell you somethin!
GAAAH! Err... what is it, Waffles?
The... waffle incident... I have to tell you what really happened while I can, pa. Everything. Ok?
Cyrus' heart skipped a beat. This was it. He would finally know the truth.
Of course, Waffles. You take your time and tell me everything that happened.
It all started when I was a young boy in school...
Everybody else looked different than me and it was hard to make friends. But there was a girl I really liked, pa. Her name was Laura. Over time, I began talking to Laura and we became friends. After school we would take walks near the creek and I could talk to her about anything in the world. When she looked at me with her big blue eye I knew I loved her, pa, I knew it. Someday, when she was ready, I was gonna get her pregnant. But somethin' happened, somethin real bad. It wasn't my fault, pa, it wasn't!
Waffles was starting to look panicked as if he were reliving the events all over again and drops of sweat were beading up on his brow. Cyrus sat down beside him, dabbing his forehead with a towel.
Shhh, everything's ok now. What happened next?
One day we walked down to the creek just like usual and I 'member Laura had her nice eyepatch on that day but when we got down there we weren't alone this time. On the other side of the water was a bunch of men and when they saw us they run off like they were doing something wrong. They left somethin' behind on the ground, it was big like a body. I told Laura to wait there and I rolled up my pants and walked through that water to see what it was they had done.
Cyrus was enraptured by Waffles' story. He had never heard this part before and was bracing himself for what would happen next. Waffles leaned over on his elbow and began speaking with a lowered voice.
It was a rodeo clown, pa. They had been beatin' the piss out of it and it was starin up at me with his eye hangin' out and its face paint all messed up and its baggy pants were torn and it was missing a giant floppy shoe. I looked over at Laura 'cause I was gonna shout at her to stay put, but suddenly men dropped down outta the trees dressed all in black with swords and they almost grabbed her, but I shouted and my whole pirate crew forded that little creek and started slashin at the ninjas with their hook hands! There were bodies flying every which way and screamin' and shit, pa, you shoulda seen it!
Cyrus stared at his step-son the way one might look while inspecting a baby's diaper for worms.
It got real fucked up, pa, and guts were hangin' out and there were hands lying on the ground and the pirates were puking their guts out and the ninjas were puking too but it would get stuck in their face masks and make a big mess. Then those ninjas started flippin' out somethin' fierce but we didn't let down! I think I shot one of them in the goddamn eye but he just did ten backflips in a row and ran up a tree and disappeared! All of a sudden I turned around and looked at Laura and she was pulling out a goddamn cannon and she put on her helmet and started climbing in and I was all like "Laura, what are you doing?!" and she was like "I'm sorry, Cyrus Jr, I have to go home now!" and it exploded, BOOM, and she flew through the air like an angel and I shouted "I love you, Laura!" but she was already just a gleam in the distance and then she was gone, prolly safe at home with her mom.
I never saw her again, pa.
That's a terrible story, Waffles. What does that have to do with the waffle incident?
Exhausted from reciting his epic story of love and loss, Waffles had immediately passed out. Cyrus would later learn from a doctor that one of the defining characteristics of typhoid fever is profound dilirium and he would wonder if there was ever a Laura at all. But for now, he simply tucked the boy in, shook his head, and headed for his own tent to endure another night with Mrs. Poopsalot.
Baby had been sharing a tent with Waffles since the journey began. Even though it was unable to hear the conversation, much less understand it, Baby knew that there was only one appropriate response to it.
The next day Cyrus eagerly packed the family into the wagon as quickly as he could manage and got the day started off at break-neck speed toward Fort Bridger without even stopping for the usual Mornin' Cornin'. Things were bad and could only get worse with the prospect of meeting Waffles' real father. How the hell could that encounter possibly go well?
He was casually considering drinking heavily again at the next stop, but his mind started drifting towards resupplying the wagon now that they were almost half way through the trail. They had eaten less than half their food supply between rationing and outright nausea, but they were back to full rations for health reasons and with winter coming on, they'd need all the food they could get. Cyrus began to make a checklist of items he would need; extra clothes, some more bullets, lots of water... hey, where's Baby?
Honey, have you seen Baby?
I thought it was sleeping with Cyrus Jr?
Wha? ...No, I didn't feed the cows, ma, sorry.
Technically, Baby was not lost. It was well aware of the fact that it had crawled as fast as possible that morning into the unforgiving desert praying for well-deserved release. Now that the full heat of day was beginning to toast the tyke, it began to gurgle with glee at the thought of buzzards taking it away to green pastures in the sky. Unfortunately, the vultures were keeping a healthy distance from the little mutant, fearing infection or worse.
Baby's sight had begun to darken and its breathing holes were becoming choked up. Though it could not see without proper eyes, it did get an impression of light and dark and this sudden blacking out, despite the sun hanging high in the sky, could only mean that the end would be coming soon. There was no way Baby could have known it was just in the shadow of a wagon.
What's that? WHAT'S THAT?! DID YOU JUST RUN OVER BABY?!
Son of a bitch!
Cyrus peered beneath the wagon as the dust cloud the oxen had kicked up settled. Miraculously, Baby appeared to be completely unharmed, albeit a little dirty. He couldn't quite reach the baby and had to settle for dragging it out from underneath by one of it's appendages, which happened to be a foot. Baby slowly began to understand what was happened and for the first time used all the strength it could muster to cry out.
Cyrus, did you hear that! I think Baby said its first word! What was it?
I think it was da-da!
It was that moment that Baby realized it hated its entire family.
As the sun began to set that evening, the Neckebards would arrive at Fort Bridger; miserable, but together.
That's when things got awkward.