Part 19: Escape From Fort Bridger
SEPTEMBER 10TH, 1848
The Neckebard family wagon bounced across the Oregon trail like a ballerina running from a birthday cake, occasionally catching air as the oxen galloped in a frenzy.
Cyrus had wisely declined to continue thinking about what he should do. Susan seemed to be on top of it, why get involved?
Yup, there's the dust cloud, right on time. You're going to have to get involved, Cyrus, because we're not going to outrun them with these bloody oxen. Wait a tic... that's not just cavalry... they've got a war-wagon!
Cyrus couldn't help but chance a backward glance at the sound of "war wagon".
I don't think we're going to make it to Soda Springs like this, Susan... HOLY SHIT, ARE THERE GIANT SPIKES ON THAT WAGON?!
That's just for show. It's the twelve armed soldiers you need to worry about. We've only got 4 rifles and some ammo. Oh yeah, and your crappy hunting rifle.
Sarah Jane was certainly not helping- she continued to wail like an ambulence as the wagon throttled along at a grueling pace doing nothing but magnifying the tension. Susan didn't seem to notice. She had gotten off a few shots and already one of the soldiers had graciously volunteered to eject himself from of the war-wagon. She turned back to Cyrus.
Damn, there's a lot of them. Alright, listen. You're going to have to give the reins to Cyrus Jr and help me put some of these guys down, got it?
What?! But... my, er... I can't...
A gunshot went off from nearby. Waffles had been inching slowly towards the hunting rifle, had already loaded it and fired a round out the back of the wagon. To her amazement, another soldier fell to his doom. Waffles was already lining up his sights for a second shot.
With another loud crack and a puff of smoke, one of the war-wagon's horses stumbled over dead, pulling free of its harness.
Nevermind, Cyrus, you just keep driving straight.
Despite the loss of a horse, the man at the helm was whipping the everloving piss out of his pack and it wouldn't be long before they overtook the Neckebards. Bullets were starting to audibly whiz by their heads. Susan crawled over to Waffles, who was diligently reloading for a third shot.
That's amazing, Cyrus Jr! I'm so proud of you! Could you do ma a big favor?
I'm not gonna shoot 'em in the crotch, ma! It ain't right!
No, no, that won't be necessary. It's more like a carnival game, honey. I need you to try to hit that guy standing up on the horse, can you do that?
Susan felt like shit and she was beginning to sweat like a pedophile at a busy swimmin' hole. She really wasn't looking forward to what she was going to have to do. It was all a lot of effort. The war-wagon was getting intimidatingly close and she went to work discretely slicing a hole up the inside of the wagon's canvas covering. She gripped the bowie knife between her teeth and waited for her cue. Suddenly the man standing atop the horses took a nasty metal slug to the face and toppled backwards like a ragdoll.
That was the cue.
As the war-wagon began to pass alongside the Neckebards like dueling pirate ships, Susan bound gracefully onto the speeding parallel stagecoach, immediately planting her boot into the face of a man who had been waiting in the saddle rifle-in-hand to blast the next person he saw, who just so happened to be Jesus. There was no blasting involved.
Susan shimmied down the backs of the horses, hopping her way towards the heavily-armed schooner which still contained a fleet of men holed up inside who were clearly unaware of the unexpected boarding party of one. The driver, however, wondered if he was having something of a dilirious vision and was finding it hard to believe that he had really seen a well-dressed woman hop between moving wagons like a field gazelle. He didn't have very much time to work it out before Waffles had added another notch to the soldier count.
Free of their oppressive overlords and startled to no end, the war-wagon horses had begun to stagger out of control and the foremost soldier was curious enough about the wobbling to peek his head out of the wagon's front flap, where he found that half his crew had been replaced with a woman in a nice dress straddling the two closest horses. She appeared to be frantically sawing at the reins.
"What the?!" was not enough of an exclamation to alarm the rest of the troops before the entire war-wagon began to shudder from the stress of being pulled by only a single strap, and Susan had no trouble getting the only remaining, over-stressed tether to give up the ghost.
As Susan casually stood upright on the back of the horses who were now making a respectable distance between themselves and their heavy cargo, the war-wagon began to wobble violently off-balance. A wheel cracked and shattered from the unfamiliar weight and the whole frame made an unexpected ninety degree detour but its momentum had not changed. It was suddenly rolling brutally end-over-end as blue-clad soldiers were flung into the air from the openings like a pan of popcorn left on an open flame.
Cyrus had been watching the whole thing over his shoulder in sheer disbelief and had only now just now begun to slow his own oxen before they overexerted themselves. Susan rolled off of the panicking team of horses and let them gallop off into the distance. It was a shame to let them go, but there was no way she could get an entire group of them to slow down, much less stop. She was going to be hurting in the morning, she thought, as she made her way over to her family.
We should go check the wreckage for supplies.
Cyrus and Susan picked through what was left of the war wagon, bodies lying in the wake as though a giant had picked the wagon up and rolled it down the Oregon Trail like a bowling ball. They found some unused ammo and three of the soldiers had died in generally bloodless ways.
We should take these uniforms. They might be useful.
Cyrus simply nodded. As they wandered back to the wagon she beamed lovingly at her son, who clearly took after her side of the family.
Hey ma! I did good, right? I got that guy in the... what is this? Uh oh.
Waffles rolled over from the prone position he had been in throughout the ordeal and noticed a slightly compressed infant.
Sorry ma, I think I was layin' on Baby. It looks ok, though.
He propped Baby up against a box and noted that it was still moving. Good enough!
The next few days seemed to go on forever between the deathly boring surroundings and the threat of more soldiers on the horizon, but none ever came. It was five days out of Fort Bridger that Cyrus noticed something wrong.
Susan? Does Baby look a little pale to you? I mean, more than usual?
Susan put her hand on Baby's forehead.
Oh my God, it's burning up!
Two days passed like normal, as though nobody had noticed Baby's deadly disease. As far as the family was concerned, Baby was some kind of magical self-sustaining creature that thrived on negligence. Just leave it alone and it'll flourish, like a chia pet! This was how it had always been.
Baby had been in some bad situations before but this was the worst. Between dysentery and typhoid, it didn't have anything left to crap out. Nobody had even checked on it in the last five days, much less taken care of it. Nobody even cared enough to figure out the gender! Baby sat alone in its own filth for another hour that day, teetering between the instinct to survive and the aching depression of living in a world knowing what utter solitude is. Maybe I'll give it one last hour and see if anyone notices me, it thought. One last chance for someone to turn everything around and show even the slightest touch of affection. One last chance to know what it feels like to be loved...
Nah, fuck this.
It would be three more days before anyone would notice.
Susan? SUSAN! Baby isn't moving! Baby isn't moving at all!
Oh no! Cyrus... I'm so sorry, I guess I could have checked every day...
Cyrus knelt down, unexpectedly crushed by the news. He had never felt anything for the little mutant before but it suddenly occured to him that... this was the last in the Neckebard line- the other kids weren't his! He would probably never have a child of his own. He was the last. The Last Neckebard. A silent tear rolled down his face. His despair was starting to turn to anger, anger at himself and his family and his entire life leading up to this point.
Maybe we can just prop it up against the back of the wagon and...
NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER!
Of course, that was terribly insensitive. I'm so sorry.
I'm the last one, Susan. My family... this family is a lie...
Susan looked away and it was obvious that something was weighing heavily on her mind. A moment passed between them before she replied.
Cyrus, I... there's another child, my first. A boy who came before Sarah Jane. He's your boy.
Cyrus stared into space. He didn't know what to believe any more, but in the back of his mind... he believed this. Tonight all he wanted to do was make it to Soda Springs and wash the last week off of his body. No, make that the last six months. In the distance he could see other wagons coralled around a large pool of water. Waffles was the first to break the silence.