Part 23: Ride the Snake River, part 2
The Crossing of Snake River, part 2
As you may recall, the Neckebards had just suffered treachery at the hand of the Snake River indians, sending their wagon sprawling into the cold waters of the biting Snake River.
Each member of the family were experiencing the same event in drastically different ways.
Time had slowed down for Cyrus. This was not a normal occurance for him; in fact, this was the first time something like this had ever happened, and it cast an oddly calm light over the chaos that had erupted. It was all a bit fascinating, to be honest, because otherwise he would not have noticed everything that was happening around him, and an awful lot of things were happening now very quickly.
The first was that the local indians were beginning to gather up everything that floated down the river. It seemed pretty obvious at this point that there was nothing accidental about this whole situation. Cyrus wondered ever-so-briefly how many poor families had fallen victim to the scam.
The second thing he noticed was that Sarah Jane was giving Susan a good old-fashioned choking, which seemed like an odd thing to be doing as both women flailed around desperately in the dangerous waters. I'll get back to that in a second, he thought, as his attentions were captured by something else.
The third event to to make a real impression was that Waffles had been flung as though from a catapult when the wagon flipped and he was now moving swiftly downstream amid the jagged rocks and debris. Waffles was flopping about awkwardly when Cyrus realized he was unable to swim with his broken leg.
The last thing of note (and this was an important one), was that Cyrus was about the slam head-first into a massive boulder that had been worn down by ages of ceaseless liquid erosion. With a loud crack, Cyrus realized he wasn't much for reflexes.
The last thing to cross his mind was a vision, of his beautiful wife in a golden field of wheat. His children were there, but they looked different, they looked more like him. Susan cradled a small baby in her arms; he was reaching out for his father and giggled in anticipation of being in his father's arms. Dark clouds rolled up instantly behind him, Lightning flashed and suddenly Cyrus found himself on a dirt road, alone. A wagon rolled past on fire, and charred corpses stared at him from inside with hollow eye sockets. Tears were streaming down his face. Then the sun blacked out.
Sarah Jane has not spent much time in this story, and there is a reason for this: she is a terribly unlikable person. I'm not a terrible person, she says to herself because nobody else has ever said it. This has been a bad dream that might go away if she slept enough, if she stared into the shadows long enough, if she hid her head under a blanket and screamed loudly enough. But now someone had thrown a bucket of cold water in her face. It was all over now.
Sarah was a fairly normal girl before the Oregon Trail. She wanted to be a singer. She wanted to be in love. She had spent each night alone, writing a story about whatever she was that day and fall asleep and dream. The stories were the real world, not this poor excuse for existence. In them she was a princess and a horse trainer and a famous opera singer and she was successful, she was loved. She would wake up and figure out who she was going to be that night, always waiting for night to take her away where she was real.
The river had taken that away from her and she could never go back to the fantasies. As she was dumped unceremoniously into the freezing waters, she flashed back to infancy. Her real-life infancy. She was looking up at a familiar face; it was Susan, it was her mother with blue skies and white clouds rolling overhead, but it was not warm. A tear rolled from her mother's eye and anointed her forehead. Suddenly Sarah Jane's vision had become blurred, but she had not lost the vision, she was just looking up through the refraction of water. It was cold. Bubbles escaped her nose and mouth and she gasped for air but breathed in water. Her throat tightened and she could feel a lung pop like a vicious punch to the gut. Blood was swimming in her sights.
Now she was still looking at her mother's face, but this time she was on top. She still saw red, but this time it was her hands around a neck, and Susan's face below the water. She smiled.
Cyrus Jr struggled on the quick moving water, his leg stiff as a board and throbbing like a limb that had fallen asleep. It was in a bad way.
He was exhausted, figuratively and literally, and couldn't swim anymore. "I'm going to die on this river," he thought to himself. On both sides of him he could make out the dark faces of indians who were jovially scooping up whatever they could grab with long sticks and nets, but not him. He wasn't worth anything.
He rolled to his back and tried to keep his head above water, floating, but was repeatedly being dragged down by the fierce current. Cyrus Jr always appeared to be a happy boy, eager to please. He was smart and strong and fast as a fox, though he never really knew why he had these skills. He would have traded it all if his father had ever once said he was proud of his son. He never did.
As the water ran over his face for the last time, he suddenly stopped. His foot had struck something soft and tossed him to the side. In the rapids he had slowly rolled to the riverbanks and now he sat on his knees in the mud. He had travelled so far down the river his family had probably given hm up for dead. Cyrus Jr fell on his side defeated, the sun in his eyes. Suddenly a dark sillhoutte was looming over him, blocking out the bright light and he managed to tilt his head back to look.
Cyrus lifted him out of the mud and pulled the boy's weight over his shoulder. He looked Waffles in the eyes.
"I'm real glad to see you, son."
They hobbled back to the river's crossing together.
Susan looked up at that face of her daughter who was staring down at her with murderous rage and found it difficult to breath. She was starting to black out and her life was starting to flash behind her eyes.
She remembered her beloved mum and pop, and she remembered how they died. Then the military took her in. Full seconds were devoted to nothing but harsh training and pain, and then the pride of her country and the war with the damn yanks. When it ended it was just her. She lived alone in a country she hated with nothing but her impossible mission to hold on to.
Then she saw Cyrus. He was stupid and came from a rich a family and was a perfect patsy. But there was an accident. She truly fell in love with him. She had children she didn't mean to have. She was content. She started... wanting this life, but her old one wouldn't stay away. She was about to lose both.
Susan snapped back to reality in a flash; it wasn't going to end like this. With unnatural strength she pulled her daughter's arm aside in one swift motion and spun her around, trapping the girl's arms against her body. Sarah Jane stopped struggling, her head bent and tears rolling down her cheeks. Susan knew what her daughter had remembered.
"I'm so sorry, Sarah," she said softly into the girl's ear. And she was.
A few minutes later, the Neckebards were reunited in a heap near the river's edge. The indian chief stepped up to them timidly.
We, um... find 'em wagon...
Having witnessed the drama they had caused, the indians had pulled the wagon out of the water. Usually it didn't go this badly, they'd just try to knock a few things out the sides and call it day. They weren't savages. The wagon seemed to be missing a few pieces but indians were going about patching it up as best they could.
Wordlessly, the Neckebards climbed aboard and set off without a backwards glance. Susan sat in the back of the wagon, cradling her exhausted children and they had already fallen asleep effortlessly on her shoulders. She looked up at Cyrus and smiled. For all the terror of the river, Cyrus realized they really hadn't lost anything important or been terribly hurt. He wondered if maybe... this was the best thing that had happened to them. It was funny that almost drowning was one of the best things to happen on this trip. How fitting.
He grinned, then he laughed.