“The children need meat, Eli,” said Bess. They had circled the wagons on the east side of the mountain, so they could catch the sun first thing in the morning. The winter had been cruel this year. They had to bury three of their own before they had even reached the Rockies. Eli looked at his feet, but he knew Bess was right. As they embraced, he could count the ribs beneath her dress.
“If I had known, we might’a stayed in Missouri,” he said. The hardship of the plains and the promise of new opportunity had drawn them out by the wagonful. Dreams were measured in acres of land and the rich soil of the Oregon territories. But their numbers dwindled come frost. Death had arrived in many forms along their journey: measles, snakebites, exhaustion, typhoid, or cholera. But now, as the leaves disappeared with the fauna behind them, there was only one left. Starvation was endlessly patient, he sat white-lipped by the embers, hands folded in anticipation as the survivors wondered when (if) they would ever see their neighbors again.
Loading his Colt, Eli called the dog. Tippet was a happy, stupid thing, Eli reasoned, all sunshine and fur. He wouldn’t think twice about what he had to do. Hell, he might even forgive him, if such a thing were possible. When Tippet came a-running, Eli had to work hard to empty his mind of all thoughts of Tippet as a pup, stealing hen eggs and bounding across the wide expanse of the Missouri plains. If love had a face, then it also had a cold, wet nose.
Eli couldn’t bear to look at the children during dinner when they asked where Tippet was.
©2018 by Kellye McBride
Kellye McBride lives in Portland, OR with her dog Pucci. When she’s not writing short fiction, she’s a copyeditor for science and technical books.