By Channing Winters
“I’m hungry!” cried Nathan.
It had been two days since they ran out of food. Jake and Sarah became more and more worried with every passing moment, but they tried to be strong in front of their kids, Nathan and Nancy.
“We’ll find food soon enough, I tell ya,” replied Jake. “Now go lay back down with your sister and get some rest.”
Nathan crawled back into the covered wagon while muttering under his breath. He hated his father. “Why are we even out here?” he’d say to himself. “What’s the point?”
It had been just over two months since they left their home in Kansas City to follow the Oregon Trail. They didn’t know exactly where they were. All they knew was that they were somewhere in the mountains of Wyoming. Sarah was convinced they were lost, but Jake assured her that everything was under control. This (failed) attempt to comfort her was a lie he’d also been telling himself for a week. It brought him no comfort either. He whispered to himself, “We’re as lost as a goose in a snowstorm.” He then laughed at the irony of it all. That silly saying he’d said his whole life had now become a reality. The snowfall was so thick you could barely see your own hands an arm’s length away.
“We should probably stop,” suggested Sarah. “It’s too dark, the snow is too thick. If we keep going, then we might as well bury ourselves. We’ll be lucky to make it another day as is.”
Jake agreed. He planned to kill and cook one of his two horses in the morning anyway. Maybe that would buy them enough time until another family caught up to them.
“Let’s get over this ridge, and we’ll stop,” Jake said.
They couldn’t stop yet because they were on a small trail on the side of a mountain. To the right was the mountain side, but to the left was a drop off, and the trail was only a foot wider than the width of the wheels.
“Sounds like a good idea-” before she could get the words out of her mouth, the back left wheel of the wagon snapped in two.
The wagon halfway slid off the trail, and Nathan and Nancy started to scream as they rolled to the back of the wagon. The horses pulled with all their might, but it was all for naught. The wagon kept slipping until Nancy fell off the back of it. Before he could think, Nathan had caught her arm, but he wasn’t strong enough to pull her up.
Sarah rushed to the back of the wagon as fast as her body would allow. She grabbed Nathan and pulled them both up. For a second, she forgot they were in a wagon hanging off the side of a cliff, but she was immediately brought back to reality when she felt the wagon slip again.
“Jake!” she cried as she tossed her children to him.
As he caught them, the horses finally surrendered to the ever increasing pull of the wagon, and Jake watched the love of his life fall to her death in his wagon.
Jake was stunned. He couldn’t move, speak, hear or even breath. He just stood there overlooking the drop-off with his kids crying in his arms.
After some time, he went and sat down against the mountainside with his kids. He still couldn’t speak; all he could do was cry. Nathan, being only 6, didn’t even know his dad could cry. So, that’s what they did. The three of them sat there in the freezing cold all night, crying.
When Jake awoke the next morning, he could feel his tears frozen to his face. Nathan was already awake, but he didn’t move. Jake was still at a loss for words so he, too, just sat there.
The sun was at its highest, which meant it was midday, but Nancy still hadn’t woken up. Jake nudged her, but she still didn’t move. He rolled her over to discover her entire body was frost-bitten, and she, too, had died.
Jake didn’t even react — he couldn’t. He just rolled her back over so Nathan wouldn’t see. He knew Nathan would be gone by nightfall, and he would die alone the next day.
"Oh, dad," said Nathan, "those biscuits and gravy smell so good. I can't wait to dig in."
Jake was confused at first. He and his son hadn't exchanged words since Sarah died.
"What are you talking about?" Jake asked.
"I feel like I could eat a horse. It's been so long since we've had food."
Jake still didn't understand what was going on.
"When is mom getting back with the jam?" Questioned Nathan, and it was at this moment Jake understood. His son was having a hallucination. Maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was the dehydration. Either way Jake knew his son was gone, and he had nothing left to live for.
Jake held Nathan in his final moments, trying to be as comforting as possible, and after his son had taken his final breath Jake stood up and walked over to the edge of the trail. He looked down at the rocks bellow him that would be taking his life in a few short seconds, but just before he could jump off the trail he heard the thumps of horse hooves just behind him because another family had finally caught up.