Part 20: Some Stuff Happens
SEPTEMBER 20TH, 1848
The Neckebards were lucky to make it to Soda Springs alive, but they only had time enough to stock up on water, clean their wounds and keep going. They hadn't seen any more soldiers since the war-wagon, but Susan was wary. Not long ago, a lone man on horseback had blazed past the springs. He wasn't wearing a soldier's uniform, but it was pretty clear he was a messenger sent from Bridger. Surely an entire regiment would be waiting for them at their next stop- Fort Hall.
She'd have to keep her wits about her and they might have to skirt the trail altogether to keep out of sight. As the Neckebards started the short but perilous trip to Fort Hall, Susan's gaze fell, as it did so many times before, to the hypnotic trotting of the oxen. She remembered how in her fever she had named the front two Oxford and Winston and smiled at the novelty of only having to deal with poop and snakebites back in those days. She imagined they had wonderfully banal conversations in familiar british accents about the weather and tea.
In a way, she envied the simple oxen and their responsibility-free lives. But she snapped out of it when she saw a new dust cloud gaining momentum from the direction of Fort Hall. "You have got to be kidding me," she thought.
Unlike Susan, it turns out the oxen actually were having a fantastic time.
What I wouldn't give for a good camomile, Winston.
In this weather? You're a loon, Oxford!
A loon, you say? Perhaps you've confused me with Churchill again, haw! They had to put him at the back of the line, you know.
I heard! Whatever for, the poor goit?
Seems he took that kick rather personal. You remember, when the short daftie that used to be in charge got all in a huff? Hasn't been right since, he hasn't.
Well, you can't dwell on that sort of thing, I say. Reminds me of the time uncle Archibald was on that farm up in...
Wait a tic, you see that?
What then? Oh, that. More squaddies, I suppose.
A squadron of armed cavalry had been barrelling towards the Neckebard wagon and were closing rapidly. Susan sprang into action as Cyrus drove, Waffles beside them, hunting rifle in hand! Shots on both sides started ringing out! In the gunsmoke, Susan could tell that Sarah Jane wasn't looking so good. Like, worse than usual.
I'm hoping grandpa back there doesn't get the racing urge like last time. Real bag of wank, that was.
Lookit you, complaining like a nancy. Get off it, I'm eight years your senior and you don't hear me cryin' on.
Right, you're too busy wazzin' on Winchester without knowing it half the time, aren't ya?
That happened one time, ya ruddy git!
A scream went up from the back. Soldiers had boarded the Wagon of Shame and were wrestling with its occupants. A few went flying from a well-placed boot as Waffles fell off the side, holding on for dear life by nothing but a loose strap. Susan and Sarah desperately dragged him back on the wagon while even Cyrus got in a few good hits. Waffles' leg had been banged up pretty bad from being dragged behind the wagon.
You been able to sleep lately? I've had the damndest time of it.
You have been looking saggy-eyed lately, chum. Do tell.
It's the piggy chavvy! She's got a snore like a hundred of the squeeling buggers. Like nails on a blackboard, it is, drives me up the bloody wall!
Really? Doesn't do for me. Then again, you recall that time I slept through the stampede? Haw, woke up in the middle of nowhere by my lonesome! Thought I'd gone daft!
Course I remember that, lummox! Took a week for your mum to get the grunge out, ya mucky pup! She made me promise to keep you 'way from stick, now we're seconds out.
No worries. Looks like they handled it.
Oh, did they? Cheers.
Well, there it goes. I was hoping for a few scoops and a quick slap and tickle, if you get my meaning.
I know precisely what you mean, Oxford. I shant say I'm surprised though, that place was positively crawling with colonial tossers.
Winston, did you...?
Hey there! I'm getting right tired of the insinuations, ya fancy gaylord!
You bleedin' wish, poofter. Who is it, the piggy one?
Naw, the other one. Hold on then, you mean to tell me you aren't used to the flowery bouquet what's been wafting around since we started this trail? It's been bloody shitepipe alley about here and this is the first you've noticed? You gone spacky?
Well, if I'm going to be honest, I've been having terrible sinus pressure with all the ragweed and...
Oh, get off it!
Honest to God, Winston!
Look, when I was a youngster my pops had the worst allergies; we'd often find him laying paralyzed in the middle of the field, nobody to take care of the bastard but me and me sis. Too much responsibility at too young an age, I tell you. I feel like I never got that childhood I deserved, really.
My apologies, chum. Didn't mean anything by it, of course.
No offense taken. I ask you, does this trail look different somehow?
You know, I'd been meaning to bring it up it when we pulled off-road a few days prior! My hooves are positively killing me.
Did you have a good rest, Oxford?
The best in months, my good man! I dare say, though, I'm nearly looking forward to a vigorous stroll. And you?
Oh, shant complain! It has been getting a bit snappy out lately, hasn't it? I do so hope we can give the powdery bits a pass.
Truly? I have to confess, ever since I was a little oxlet the winter-time has always given me a bit of holiday cheer. Everything seems so clean and fresh, don't you think?
If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not discuss it.
Something amiss, Winston?
No, no... it's just that... You see, when I was very young an icicle killed my father.
I'm afraid it's true. He was just trotting along beneath the bell trees when a wind kicked up. We were on the way to the Oxen Festival and easy breezy, lemon squeezy, it dropped right through his head like hot shit on butter.
Blimey! I shant speak of it again, I assure you.
Oh, think nothing of it. If I'm going to be honest, I didn't much care for the bloke.
You don't say?
Turns out he was fucking me mum!
And twelve other ladies.
Humans certainly are disgusting, don't you think, Winston?
Can I ask you something, Oxford?
Of course, my good man!
You ever been attracted to an ox of the same sex? I mean theoretically.
Been on this trail a long time, have you? You some kind of pillowbiter now? You been campin' it up, have you?
Oh, pardon me, I thought we were capable of having a mature ox-to-ox conversation.
Well, I didn't know you were more of a bear, eh? You get it?
You're crackers, you know that?
You get it, Winston? Bear! You get it? Or you more of a chutney ferret? AHAA! C'mon now, that one's good!
I said stuff it, Oxford.
Something of a beaver leaver, am I right? Gay as a goose?
GET OFF IT! My pop was a homosexual, alright?
What?! You said he was cheatin' on your mum with other ladies!
Yeah, and men, too, alright?! I'm sorry, it's a bleedin' sore spot with me, alright?
Good gracious. You have my sincerest apology, Winston. I had no idea.
No harm done, I suppose.
Weather certainly has taken a nice turn, wouldn't you say? For a while I dare say I was expecting it turn ugly!
You have that right, though I could do with better rest. They've been having loud bloody gunfights every night and I wish they'd keep it down. I don't know how you sleep through that racket! I could almost do with a brisk jog to wake me up...
A little off-roading, you were going to say? Well, looks like we're taking the long route, eh? Where do you suppose we're headed?
Craps if I know. I can only assume they're trying to avoid a fight at the river! Balls how we're the ones end up suffering, isn't it?
You have it there, Winston. I don't care much for these canyon ravines, I can tell you that.
Jeezy Creezy! It'll be a damn sight for sore eyes to get to that river! How long has it been would you say, three weeks?
I tell you, to be frank I think a little fording could do this family some good, wouldn't you agree? At the very least we could get some of that smell out, am I right?
Unbelievable, Oxford. You're a real class act, you know that?
My father smelt like runny shit. It was a rare condition, they said. I grew up with that smell, you know, it became a way of life.
That was intense.
Yeah, I hope I never go through anything like that again as long as I live.
I can't believe you beat that man to death with his own jawbone, ma!
Yeah, and I still haven't figured out how you got your arm stuck in that coyote.
I can't believe how many diseases you've had!
None of those things are something to be proud of. Let's stay focused. I think we lost them in the canyons, but we won't have much time to rest. We need to get back on the trail, no complaining.
I can't think straight anymore. What do you want to do?
What do YOU want to do? It's a really wide river. At just over six feet deep, it has the potential to be dangerous but not outright deadly. Fort Hall soldiers are hot on the Neckbards trail! This could change everything!
Just a casual notice here.
If anybody wanted to, for example, write a haiku poem about what the Neckebards should do, I'd count it as two votes. I'll still count non-haiku votes, of course. No pressure.
Why would you do this, Chewbot?
Think about it. What's more ridiculous than dozens of internet strangers voting on the river-crossing status of a fictional family based on an educational game that was created 30 years ago? Haiku about it.