By: Antwan Crump
The snake pursued them; hidden amidst the mounds of sand, as they trekked through the desert, with their trusted horse, Sloppy. Earl, unintelligibly rambled to his granddaughter, Emily, as she gazed about the desolate terrain -doing her best to appear like she’d been listening to his every word.
The two had been traveling for weeks toward a new town, that’d sprung up in the middle of nowhere. Rumors of gold had driven many, like them, to both riches and demise. Earl knew that he only had, but a few years left of ‘good-parenting’. Despite his deteriorating health, he decided that it may be best for his granddaughter to spend the remainder of her adolescence, among those with the potential prosper. It was worth the risk. She loved to travel.
The snake pursued.
“Let’s stop here Em. Give our legs some time to rest. Maybe get ol’ Sloppy here, some water and feed.” – Earl said, sounding more intent on resting himself.
Emily had barely been paying him any mind. It wasn’t until Sloppy, gave off a whimpering neigh, that her attention had returned to the old man and his ‘fat horse’. The three settled in a dune about a mile away.
The sun had been positioned, ‘just so’ – that it would provide them some cooling shade. Emily helped her grandfather set up camp, while Sloppy laid beside them, licking water out of a small bowl. The two would later use that bowl to cook the last of the beans -that Earl had packed.
The snake slithered into a hole just a few feet away.
“You know, you should consider yourself lucky, Em.”, Earl babbled, while he prepped their tent for the night. “A lot of folks back east would’ve gladly had you for themselves. Let an old-timer like me, drift into madness – all peaceful-like. They’d mold ya’ to suit. But not my Emily! Nope! I promised your parents – rest their souls- that I’d take care of you. And that’s what I done. Ain’t it?”
-Emily said, annoyed at hearing what a ‘hero’, her grandfather was -yet again. She adored him deeply for all he’d done. But his constant ‘patting himself on the back’, weighed heavy on her. Especially after such a long trip, and such a dull repeated story.
She’d thought about running away. Back to the Fitzgerald home. Where she would be well taken care of. They’d expect her to return the favor, by baring their grandchildren. Emily was fine with putting up the charade until the time came, and she would be compelled to depart -lest her womb be used as a human cattle-drive.
Those thoughts -to her- where moot, in any case. Earl had sacrificed his final years to ensure her safety. And had done so beyond expectation. She felt she owed him the satisfaction of his dying wish.
“Just don’t let me die alone, Em. Promise me.” – Earl would always request this of Emily, before he requested it from, ‘Tha’ Lord’, in his nightly prayers. He earned his wish fulfilled, though she would never admit that aloud. Emily had sworn to herself, that she’d be there for him in his final moments.
Earl retired to his tent. Emily bound Sloppy’s reigns to the carriage, placed a plank of wood in the wheels, and pet his mane for a few moments before the cold became too much to bear. She soon retreated into the tent with Earl.
The snake slithered closer to their camp and nestled into the ground itself, careful not to alert the easily startled steed.
The sun arose along the campsite. Earl had woken early to feed Sloppy and prepare for the day’s trip while Emily slept. Seeing this as a prime opportunity to privately void his bowels, he walked up the hill, where he wouldn’t be seen, and dug a hole. Bringing Sloppy with him, for their joint “morning ritual”.
Earl hummed a tune to Sloppy, as he rustled through his knapsack, for his, ‘doody cloth’.
The snake approached from beneath the sand. Sloppy jumped and let out a holler, loud enough to wake Emily. As Earl wiped and yelled profanity at his panicking companion, the snake pierced through the sand and bit into Earl’s bare upper thigh.
Earl grabbed his old revolver and attempted to shoot the snake. When the gun jammed, he began beating it with the blunt end of the gun. Emily ran over with Earl’s ‘trusty-stabber’, and pummeled the snake until it’s wispy tail fell still. The strikes had been severe enough, that Earl was able to tear the head from its body and remove the remainder of the snake from beside his ‘giblets’.
Emily ran to comfort a distraught Sloppy, while Earl struggled to pull his pants up over the swelling wound.
“Granddad!” – Emily called, as she calmed Sloppy, “Are you?”
Earl, adjusted his knickers and walked to the two, with a disdained sadness in his eyes. He patted Emily on the head, hooked Sloppy to the carriage, and put his hand out to her. The three continued forward. Earl and Emily, proceeded ahead of the sun, hand in hand, forward west.
They walked in silence for only a few minutes, before Earl forfeited his denial.
“Here is good.” – he said, letting go of Emily’s hand, and giving her his knapsack. Pointing away from the sun, he continued, “You see that way there? That’s west. The sun sets there. Head away from it in the morning, and toward it in the evening”. Petting Sloppy, he continued, “This ol’ bird, has got some flight in him yet.”
Earl leaned on the back wheel of the carriage, where there had been but a bit of shade, and began to fall asleep. Emily sat beside him and put his arm around her.
As he took his final breaths, he uttered, “ I love you Em.”
“I love you too.” – she said, holding back tears.
Hearing his last exhale, she stayed in his arms and thought fondly of their time together. Gently laying his body away from the carriage, she kissed his forehead, got in, and continued west – as per his instruction.