The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

All Hallow's Eve

 

 

 

The crisp air felt tantalizing against his skin and he walked with a little extra spring to his step. Scott Lancer was in a fine mood. He loved this time of year when the weather was cooler, just before winter grabbed hold. But winter here was entirely different than the frigid temperatures the Bostonian was used to. There would be no blizzards, no snow ball fights, no ice storms. Truthfully, the only thing he really missed was the snow. He could do without the subzero freezes.

His mind was on one thing right now. A costume. Halloween was the next week and he still hadn't decided what he would wear to the mascarade party at the Belmonts. According to Murdoch, it was an annual event that everyone looked forward to all year. According to Johnny, it was a monumental waste of time and effort. He could not understand the reasoning behind dressing up in some ridiculous outfit in front of the whole valley.

Scott had tried to explain it, even tried to help Johnny decide what to wear. But the young man was adamant. He wasn't wearing a costume. In fact, he had no intentions of even going to the party. An announcement that had not pleased their father. As a prominent member of the community, Murdoch Lancer was expected to make an appearance at every social function. To Murdoch, that meant his entire family was expected.

Johnny didn't see it that way and said so. That had resulted in an hour long debate that had ended with Johnny going to bed and Murdoch fuming.

Even Teresa had tried to reason with Johnny. Telling him it was really no different than the Mexican tradition of dressing colorfully for Christmas and Cinco De Mayo. Johnny had politely informed the girl that he had never participated in those ordeals, as he called them, either.

That was two days ago and no one had brought the subject up in Johnny's presence again. Scott had resolved that it would not ruin his fun. He loved mascarade parties and had every intention of finding the perfect costume. All he had to do was figure out what that would be. He stopped in mid-stride as an idea bolted into his head. The smile on his face couldn't have been any bigger as he proceeded into the house.

Heading straight for the kitchen, he barely acknowledged his father's hello. He found the woman he was looking for and grabbed her around the waist, swinging her around to face him.

One look told her he'd decided. "Well, what did you come up with?" Teresa asked.

"Something perfect. Something no one would ever expect of me," Scott announced exuberantly.

"You're going to dress as a woman," Teresa guessed.

"No!" he proclaimed. Scott looked around to make sure they were alone. Then he took one further step and bent down to whisper in Teresa's ear.

"Oh, Scott, it's perfect! No one would ever suspect!"

"I'm glad you agree but I'll need your help."

"Of course. Oh, this is going to be great!"

"And I want it to be as authentic as possible, Teresa. No holds barred. We are going all the way with this costume," Scott grinned.

"You mean? Are you sure you want to do that, Scott?"

"Oh yes. In Boston, I never did a costume halfway. This will be no different," Scott nodded.

"Alright, just don't be surprised if it doesn't go away all at once," she warned.

"I won't. Besides, it will be a reminder to everyone of the party for a while," he laughed.

Teresa laughed as well. "Alright, I'll get started on collecting the things you'll need. Now, I'll expect to have you for most of that day. This is going to take a while," she grinned.

Scott couldn't stop smiling all through dinner. Johnny couldn't stand it any longer.

"What's got you so happy, brother?"

"Oh, I just decided on my costume for the Halloween party."

Johnny groaned aloud. "Good for you," he snipped.

"You know you don't have to dress up, Johnny. You could come in regular clothes," Murdoch said.

"Well, that would be something. I guess when people ask what I'm supposed to be, I could always say a gunfighter."

"There's no need for sarcasm, young man," Murdoch retorted.

"What are you going as, Murdoch?" Teresa asked.

"A pirate," Murdoch smiled.

Johnny laughed at this. "Where are you gonna find a parrot?"

"You'd be surprised at my adaptability, Johnny."

'Yeah, I would,' he thought but didn't speak it.

"What about you, sweetheart?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, actually I've changed my mind. I was going as a fairy princess but now I have a better plan," she replied surreptitiously.

"Well?" Murdoch pursued.

"Oh, I can't tell, Murdoch. It's a surprise," she smiled sweetly.

"As long as it's appropriate, young lady," Murdoch said, giving her a sidelong look.

"Of course it's appropriate," she defended.

Johnny smiled as he tried to envision Teresa as anything but appropriate. Somehow, he just couldn't imagine it.

For the next several days, Scott and Teresa worked vigilantly at hiding their surprise. Teresa had told Scott her own plan and he'd been most pleased with the idea. Both young people were growing excited about the event.

Johnny did everything he could to stay out of their way. Until Scott cornered him in the barn one day.

"I told you I ain't gettin dressed in no costume, Scott."

"I know what you told me, Johnny. What I want to know is why. You don't do anything without a reason," Scott countered.

"What's your point?"

"My point is, I want you to tell me the reason. It can't be that you'd be embarrassed. Everyone is going to be dressed up."

"Yeah, well, I'm not everyone."

"Oh, I see. You have a reputation to uphold," Scott grinned.

"That's right, brother."

"So, exactly how to you intend on spending Halloween?"

"Alone, I guess."

Scott looked closely at his brother. "You don't like Halloween, do you?"

"What's to like? It's a stupid holiday. It doesn't make any sense. It's just like Los Dias de los Muertos," Johnny said, exasperated.

"What?"

"Days of the dead. Every year in Mexico they celebrate Los Dias de los Muertos. People dress up like skeletons and ghosts and parade through the streets. Storekeepers throw candy and fruit at them. It's stupid. Then, the next day they all go to the cemetary and clean off all the graves. And they do all this because the butterflies have returned."

Scott shook his head. "I'm sorry, did you say butterflies?"

"Yeah. The monarch butterflies return to Mexico every fall and people believe it's the souls of the dearly departed returning home. Now, I ask you. Is that not stupid?"

"I'm sorry, Johnny, but that is still a pretty lame excuse. Wait a minute! No, you're not. No, that can't be it."

"What?"

"Johnny, you're not superstitious, are you?"

"Don't talk crazy. That's Jelly's department," Johnny furrowed his brow.

"Okay, I give up. I can't imagine why you don't like Halloween. It's a great holiday for kids. Didn't you ever pull any tricks?"

Johnny grinned wickedly. "Sure, but it didn't have to be a certain day."

The brothers walked out of the barn together, one satisfied, the other not. Then they spied Jelly hanging something around his door. Giving each other a sidelong look, the brothers idled over that way.

"Hey, Jelly, whatcha doin?" Johnny asked.

Jelly jumped a foot then turned to face them. "Nothin. Mind your own business."

"We are, Jelly. We were just wondering what you're hanging up," Scott said nicely and leaned in to take a whiff. His head jerked back and his nose wrinkled. "That's garlic!"

"What if it is? It's my business," Jelly said indignantly.

"Okay, Jelly. What's the superstition about garlic?" Johnny asked, knowing it was the only way to get an answer.

"Well, it's not one thing in particular. Don't you know all them devils hate the smell of garlic?"

"Who doesn't?" Scott deadpanned.

"Hush, smart aleck! It's a know'd fact."

"Really. A known fact, huh? Tell me something, Jelly. How did you learn all these facts?" Scott asked, crossing his arms and looking quite serious.

"From my mama. Now, are you gonna argue with my mama?" Jelly asked, cocking a brow and ready to defend his mother's good name.

Scott raised one hand. "No, I would never do that. You will do us a favor and keep that stuff away from the main house, won't you?"

"Are ya crazy or do ya just like ta tempt fate?"

"No garlic, Jelly," Johnny stated.

"But..."

"No!" came the unified response.

"Fine! But when them devils start comin after ya, don't say I didn't warn ya. It's their night, ya know. The one night they're free to go about their business. And their business is plain evilness!"

"You're not even going to be here, Jelly. Why are you doin this?" Johnny asked.

"Well now, I don't plan on bein here til after midnight. Still, just in case I gotta come home early, I ain't takin no chances."

"Well, I guess that's smart of you, Jelly. What would you recommend I do to keep these devils of yours out while you're all gone?" Johnny asked, straight-faced.

"That Colt ain't gonna protect ya! I got plenty of garlic, Johnny. You're more'n welcome to it," Jelly said, clearly with real concern.

"I don't know, Jelly. I might end up cuttin it up and puttin it in a soup."

"Go ahead and make all the fun ya want! You mark my words, Johnny Lancer. If'n you was smart, you'd be goin ta that party with the rest of us!"

"What about the stock, Jelly. I hear those devils like to go after livestock. Somebody has to stay here and protect them," Johnny reasoned.

"I suppose that's as good an excuse as any," Murdoch said from behind them.

"It ain't neither! Boss, ya gotta make 'im come with us. Nobody should be alone on Halloween night," Jelly nearly pleaded.

"Jelly, I almost want to insist Johnny stay home just to prove to you ..... nevermind. Just don't even think about hanging that stuff around the house," Murdoch ordered, pointing to the offensive herb.

"This is all your fault, ya know," Johnny said.

"My fault? What are you talking about?" Murdoch asked.

"Well, not you in particular but you Scotsmen. You and your folklore. Yeah, I read all about it in that book of yours."

"Ah, I see. The celtic history. You read that?"

"Sure, I mean I'm part Scottish," Johnny shrugged.

Murdoch smiled widely. "I'm glad you're showing an interest, son. Still, you can't blame it all on us. I mean the Romans and Druids had similar beliefs."

"Fine, you're all daft!" Johnny grinned.

Murdoch chuckled and placed an arm around Johnny's shoulders. "Everyone has their superstitions, son. What about Mexicans?"

"Yeah, I know and I don't agree with them either. Look, if I can't see it, touch it, taste it or smell it, it ain't there."

"A practical man," Scott smiled. "I don't believe in all that nonsense either, brother. That doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it."

"Ya'll just keep on talkin that a way. One of these days you're gonna learn there's more to this world than ya can see, touch, taste or feel!" With that, Jellifer walked off in a huff.

Johnny walked into the kitchen to some wonderful smells. He took a deep, appreciative breath and smiled at Maria. "Hola," he greeted.

"Hola, Juanito. Are you ready for Los Dias de los Muertos?"

"No, I am not. I am ready for whatever it is you're bakin, though," Johnny smiled charmingly.

"Ah, that is pan de muertos. Oh, and come look," she smiled as she removed towels from the dishes she had lying all over the kitchen. "My ofrenda will be beautiful, no?"

Johnny looked at her and could see how important the day was for her. "Si, Maria. Muy bueno," he smiled and reached out to grab a taste.

She smacked his hand away. "Juanito! This is for my ofrenda! Here, you may have this," she said and guided him to the chocolate skulls and marzipan coffins.

Johnny backed away. "No, gracias. Maybe later."

"Juanito, you miss your mama, si?"

"Maria, please."

"No, you should honor her memory as we all honor our dead," she chastised.

"I will, I plan to. Just not with a party, okay?"

She smile and patted his cheek. "Very well, nino. Do what you feel is right."

Johnny smiled gratefully at her. He couldn't stand all the hooplah surrounding the days of the dead. He'd always hated it, even before his mother died. It gave him chills to think of all those people spending an entire night in the cemetary. He wasn't a superstitious man by any means but he wasn't about to tempt fate either.

The day was upon them and Scott and Teresa had disappeared into her bedroom. Ordinarily, this might make Murdoch nervous but he knew it was innocent. He was actually very curious as to what the two had cooked up.

"Hey, shouldn't you be parrot hunting?" Johnny grinned as he walked in.

"Shouldn't you be working?" Murdoch shot back with his own grin.

"Oh no, I'm not about to miss this big secret."

"I'm pretty curious myself. I can't imagine what your brother has cooked up."

"Knowin Scott, it's going to be top of the line."

"I suppose I should be getting dressed. It won't take me long."

"Need any help?"

"No, I think I can manage, son. I wish you'd change your mind and come with us," Murdoch frowned.

"No, thanks. I'll be fine right here," Johnny smiled reassuringly.

An hour later, Murdoch Lancer walked back into the living room and Johnny fell off the couch. He held onto his sides as he laughed his head off.

Murdoch was dressed in his pirate outfit and it was quite impressive. What got Johnny was the bird. A yellow canary adorned his father's left shoulder. Johnny raised up from the floor to take another look and fell back again. Tears streamed down his face at the sight.

"Stop it! I couldn't find my parrot," Murdoch huffed.

"Your parrot? You actually HAVE a parrot?" Johnny asked through his laughter.

"I did at one time. I don't know what could have become of it," Murdoch said seriously. "Johnny, stop laughing!"

Johnny attempted to control himself. He managed to tone it down to a chuckle and get off the floor but he couldn't look at Murdoch.

For his part, Murdoch was grouchy that he couldn't find his parrot. He pulled the canary off his shoulder and threw it on the table.

Maria walked in after this and her hand went to her chest. "Senor, you look so handsome."

"Thank you, Maria. At least someone appreciates the effort," Murdoch groused.

She cleared her throat. "Senor Scott and Senorita Teresa are ready to show themselves," she announced. "Entre," she called.

Johnny and Murdoch stood with slack jaws at the sight before them. Neither seemed to be able to find their voices for a moment. Finally, Johnny whistled.

"Well, will ya look at that? Is that really you, Boston?"

"No. I am Don Scott Lancer, matador extraordinaire. Allow me to introduce Dona Teresa," he bowed deeply as he extended a hand toward her.

Murdoch smiled at the beauty before him. She did indeed look as elegant as a Dona. What amazed him most was the transformation in his son. His blond-haired son.

Scott had dyed his hair jet black. He wore a matador suit complete with a short waisted jacket lined in gold lame. His black pants were also trimmed down the seams with gold lame. He wore a black mustache that Johnny wasn't sure how he managed. His slim figure accented the outfit. He looked incredibly handsome.

Johnny walked over and completely around his brother, taking in the entire ensemble. "Well, I have to say, you do look good. I have two questions for you, brother."

"What's that?"

"Why the black hair? I mean, there are Spanish people with light hair."

"I realize that, Johnny, but I didn't want anyone to be able to recognize me. With the mask, well what do you think?" he asked as he donned the zorro-type mask.

Johnny scrutinized the man. "I gotta admit, I probably wouldn't recognize you right off. Teresa, you did a great job. And you, you look incredible," he smiled.

"Gracias, Senor," she smiled demurely.

"Oh boy, Murdoch! You had better keep a close eye on her tonight," Johnny laughed.

"I agree. And Scott, that is a fantastic outfit. You'll probably win."

"Win?" Johnny asked.

"Best costume. The man and woman with the best costume wins a prize. It's usually something quite nice, too," Murdoch explained.

"So that's why you wanted to go all out. Scott, you are really competitive," Johnny laughed.

"There is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition, Johnny."

"Okay, brother. I just hope no one expects you to speak Spanish."

"Teresa has taught me a few phrases to use."

"Well, I'll say this. A matador is perfect for you. You sure do sling a lot of bull," Johnny grinned.

"If I weren't worried about messing up my costume, I'd show you about slinging bull, little brother," Scott said in a mock tone of warning.

They heard the front door open and Scott put on his mask. Jelly walked in dressed in his Sunday best.

"And just what are you supposed to be?" Johnny asked, hands on hips.

"Not what, who? And that'd be myself. I'm too old for all this play dressin nonsense. Are ya'll about ready ta go?" he asked. "Teresa, honey, you look beautiful," he smiled proudly. "Scott, ya ready?"

"How did you know it was me?" Scott asked, clearly disappointed.

"Who else would it be? How many people do ya think lives here? Now, come on," he huffed and headed out the door.

"I guess we'd better go before he leaves us behind. Johnny, are you sure you don't want to go?" Murdoch tried one last time.

"I'm sure. Go, have a good time and win that prize you two," he said as he practically shoved them out the door.

"Wait a minute. You said you had two questions for me earlier," Scott said.

"Oh, right. How'd you get so ..... tanned?" he grinned.

Scott smiled. "Ah, that is Senorita Teresa's secret."

"Well, I hope Senorita Teresa knows how to get whatever it is off," Johnny said snidely.

"So do I," Teresa laughed.

Johnny watched as they rode under the Lancer arch. He sighed and went back inside.

"Juanito, there is stew on the stove, miel. I am going now," Maria called.

"Okay, have fun, I guess," Johnny replied.

Finally alone, Johnny listened to the sounds of the house. It was something he rarely got to do. He sometimes thought the house was alive with it's memories. Good, bad and ugly memories.

He walked over to the dining room hutch and opened the drawer. Pulling out a thick candle, he walked over to the sofa and placed it on the table. He then retrieved a bottle of tequila and pulled the picture of his mother out of his shirt pocket. He laid the picture against the candle, poured himself a drink and sat on the floor. He lit the candle and toasted his mother.

"I know this isn't tradition, but I never was much on that. You know that, though. It's just that I can't stand all that celebration. I don't see anything to celebrate about. You're dead and that ain't a reason to party. I know, I know, it's supposed to be a celebration of your life and your soul. You and I know that your life wasn't much to celebrate about, don't we? I don't know if you can see me or not. I'm not sure how much I believe in that sort of thing. But, just in case, I wonder if you're happy for me. I wonder if you're glad I'm home with Murdoch. I wonder about a lot of things, ma. Like why you lied to me. Why you never bothered to mention Scott. I try not to dwell on it. I know I'll never have the answers. Least ways, not in this life, right? Still, it .... haunts me, I guess is the word. I just want some peace. I can't have that as long as I wonder about those things. So, I try not to think about it. Just focus on now and the future. It is getting easier as time passes. I guess that's a good thing. Anyway, here's to you, ma. Le espero finalmente he encontrado su propia paz. (I hope you have finally found your own peace.)

He sat there, gazing into the fire, drinking and staring at his mother's picture for a while. He was starting to feel the effects of the tequila and decided he'd better stop and eat something.

Rising slowly, Johnny blew out the candle and put his mother's picture back in his pocket. The time for mourning was over. He had not expected to let it go on this long. He had said his peace, just as he had every year since she'd died and in much the same fashion. Alone, with a bottle and her picture. A candle if he could find one. Usually, though, he got stinking drunk and passed out. Not this year. No, never again. He wasn't alone anymore. He didn't need to numb himself. He didn't want to.

He walked into the kitchen and ladled up a bowl of warm stew. He found a couple of biscuits and sat down at the table. He thought about grabbing some of Jelly's garlic and this brought on laughter. Shaking his head at the man's superstitions, Johnny settled for what he had in front of him. Still, a little niggle of mischief was at the back of his mind.

Scott pulled up on the reins of the carriage several yards from the house.

"What are you doing, son?"

Scott smiled and winked at Teresa. They both climbed down as Scott handed the reins to his father. "Teresa and I would like to make our own entrance."

Murdoch suddenly realized what Scott was up to. "You'll never get away with it, son."

"Maybe, maybe not. We shall see," he bowed deeply and offered his arm to his Dona. They set off on foot and Murdoch shook his head and slapped the reins.

"Won't get away with what?" Jelly asked.

"He wants everyone to think he's Johnny," Murdoch explained.

"That's crazy! You're right, Boss. He'll never get away with it."

Murdoch wasn't so sure. At least for a while Scott might pull it off. It was going to be an interesting evening.

By the time Scott and Teresa walked the distance to the house, Murdoch and Jelly were already enjoying themselves. Murdoch had simply said that Teresa and his son would be along. He made sure not to say which son and no one thought to ask.

They walked into the courtyard and the place fell quiet. All eyes were on the matador and his Dona. Murdoch felt his chest swell with pride as he saw Teresa in the low light of the Japanese lanterns. The light cast a glow about her that was angelic.

"Johnny, Teresa, welcome," Mr. Belmont greeted as he shook hands with 'Johnny'.

"The place looks incredible, Senor Belmont," Teresa replied graciously.

"Senor? Oh, I get it. Very good, both of you," he laughed then went off to mingle.

Scott leaned over and whispered, "I hope my 'tan' didn't rub off on him."

This illicited a joyful laugh from his companion and they walked into the throngs of people.

As the party progressed, Scott was amazed he had been able to fool so many people. His theory had held true. People will believe most anything given the right circumstances.

Teresa had asked him to dance and he'd apologized, explaining that Johnny didn't dance much and he wanted to continue his farce as long as possible. She'd understood, not that she hadn't had plenty of offers. Her dance card was quite full.

He kept in the shadows as much as possible. He was having more fun with this than he would have thought. If anybody approached him, he would hang his head and mumble any response. He made a conscious effort to tap his fingers against his right thigh from time to time. He fidgeted once in a while. And he smiled to himself at his deception.

At 10 pm, Mr. Belmont called everyone together. It was time to announce the winner of best costume. Some of his guest would have to leave soon as they had a long trip home. He explained the rules which all found boring, then he held up the envelopes.

"As you all know, our judges are always a secret. After all, it wouldn't be fair if anyone knew who was judging them," he smiled. "Alright, are we ready? The winner of best costume, female is ...... Teresa O'Brien!"

She gasped in delight and surprise. Scott bowed to her and escorted her to the front of the audience.

"Now, stay right there, Teresa. The winner of best costume, male is ...... Johnny Lancer!"

Teresa started laughing at this as 'Johnny' approached her with humility. Head down, he made his way back through the crowd to her side.

Murdoch tried hard but he couldn't help laughing. He moved to be closer to his son. He still couldn't believe Scott had pulled it off all evening.

Mr. Belmont presented Teresa with her prize. A beautiful jewelry box. He turned to hand 'Johnny' his prize, a Winchester rifle. 'Johnny' accepted humbly and mumbled, "gracias".

"Alright, you two, it's time for a speech," Mr. Belmont said.

Teresa stepped up on the small platform. "Well, I'm just so pleased. Thank you to the judges, whoever you are," she smiled. She wanted to get down, couldn't wait for the next winner to accept.

Scott stepped up and smiled. He removed his mask and his hat. "Thank you all for the prize. I'll be sure to thank my brother for you as well. I only wish he could have been here tonight."

The crowd became totally still as they heard the voice.

"Scott? Scott Lancer?" Mr. Belmont said, stunned.

"Yes, sir."

The crowd roared with laughter, being good sports about the trickery.

"Well, I must say, young man, you certainly had us fooled. How did you pull it off?" Belmont asked.

"With a great deal of help from Teresa, sir," he laughed.

"Maybe she should get that rifle," Belmont laughed. "Well, I'm sorry your brother isn't here but I'm sure he'll get a kick out of it. And you Murdoch, you went right along with this."

Murdoch had to laugh at his friend. "I'm more surprised than anyone that he got away with it, Harry."

"Well, I can finally give you that dance, Teresa," Scott smiled. She returned the smile and accepted his proffered arm. They went to the dance floor and the rest of the guests followed suit.

Johnny sat his bowl in the sink and headed out the back door. He walked over to Jelly's and started to take down the garlic. Then he stopped as a better idea occured to him. Leaving the garlic where it was, he walked into the room. He opened all the windows. He moved Jelly's bed to the opposite wall. He rearranged all of Jelly's belongings, then stood back. Satisfied, he grinned and left the room, leaving the door wide open.

He decided to walk around to the front of the house. It was a beautiful night. The sky was clear and the stars were bright as diamonds. The air had the sweet smell of autumn and a hint of the winter to come. He sat on the low wall of the veranda and listened to the sounds of the night. It was so peaceful, so quiet.

Johnny swung his legs up on the wall and leaned his back against the cold adobe. He sighed with contentment and idly wondered if his family were enjoying themselves. He had to laugh at Scott. If his brother thought he was fooled for a second as to what he was up to, he was sorely mistaken. Johnny figured Scott would probably pull it off, though. His brother was amazing and when he got an idea in his head, he saw it through.

He heard something in the darkness and his ears perked up. Sitting completely still, he listened again. He heard nothing else and decided it was a rabbit or something. He relaxed and leaned back, staring up at the stars.

Something caught his attention from the corner of his eye. Johnny jerked his head around but saw nothing. He chastised himself, figuring it was all the ghost stories he'd heard as a child. This night was full of ghosts and goblins for anyone who cared to believe in such garbage.

He stood up and stretched then turned to go inside. He was stopped cold when he looked through the French doors. He knew it wasn't real, knew his eyes were playing tricks on him. Yet, there she stood, in front of the fireplace.

His breath caught in his throat as he stared at her. He blinked several times but the vision remained. Johnny decided it was the tequila. He walked purposefully to the French doors and threw them open, walking through.

She was gone now, or the vision was gone. Whatever it was, he didn't see it anymore. A shiver ran down his spine regardless. "Crazy," he mumbled and walked over to light a lamp.

"Johnny."

He whirled around at the sound of his name being whispered. "Who's there?" he called out loudly. There was no response. He turned back and struck a match when he heard it again. Louder and more insistent this time.

He turned and saw a mist gathering in the yard. Peering intently, he walked back outside. "Is someone there?"

"Find your brother," the voice said.

"What? Who's there?" he said insistently.

"Scott needs you now!" the voice had a hard edge to it now, more demanding and urgent.

"Why? What's happened?" Johnny asked, feeling a bit foolish.

The wind picked up quite a bit then and began howling. Johnny squinted his eyes from the dust and debris whirling about his face.

"Scott needs you now!" the voice repeated.

Johnny was uncertain what to do. It was probably a hoax. Someone trying to mess with him. Still, he couldn't ignore the feeling in his gut. A feeling that said this voice was right, that Scott was in trouble. More than that, he would swear on a stack of bibles it was his mother's voice he'd heard.

He walked hurriedly into the house and strapped on his gunbelt, grabbed his jacket, then half-ran to the barn. He saddled Barranca in a flash and took off. He hoped he wasn't falling into some practical joke. It would be just like Scott to pull something like this.

The Lancers said their goodnights and started home. Mr. Belmont called out one last time.

"Good night, Johnny!"

Scott turned and bowed. "Buenos noches, Senor."

They could hear Belmont's laughter all the way to the surrey.

"The whole valley is gonna be talkin about this til Christmas!" Jelly proclaimed.

"I have to admit, I had my doubts but you did it, Scott. You really did it," Teresa laughed and hugged him.

"You certainly had your brother's mannerisms down pat, Scott. I almost forgot myself a time or two," Murdoch chuckled.

"Well, I just hope Johnny appreciates the humor of the situation," Scott said with a wistful look.

"Oh, he will," Teresa said.

"Ain't like he didn't already figure it out," Jelly interjected.

"Excuse me?" Scott inquired.

"You think he didn't know what you was up to? You best give your brother more credit than that, Scott Lancer," Jelly declared.

"Well, why didn't he say something?"

"Why? It'd just spoiled yer fun?"

Scott laughed at this. "I suppose so."

They climbed aboard and set off for home, Scott at the reins. The night had drawn quite chilly and Jelly pulled a blanket out to lay across Teresa's lap. She smiled and kissed his cheek and he grew red.

Murdoch thought it had been a wonderful evening with one exception, Johnny wasn't there. He would have rather Scott not be able to pull off his trick and have both his boys with him. He couldn't understand why Johnny was so adamant about not going tonight. He sighed loudly without realizing it.

"Tired, sir?" Scott asked.

"Hmm? Oh, yes, but I was just thinking about Johnny."

"He doesn't like the days of the dead," Scott said.

Murdoch closed his eyes and nodded. He figured that was it but had hoped his youngest had gotten past his loss. Maybe he never would.

Scott rounded a curve in the road as something darted into his path. The horses reared back suddenly and he pulled hard to control them. Jelly grabbed hold of Teresa and Murdoch grabbed hold of the seat. Scott was struggling but Murodch could do nothing about it. If he let go to help, he'd be tossed out of the surrey.

Scott felt himself losing his grip. He couldn't speak, tell his father, as he was too busy holding on for dear life. But he knew he was about to go flying and there wasn't a thing he could do about it.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a figure appeared in the night. He grabbed the halter of one of the horses and started talking quietly to it. The animal calmed and his team mate followed suit. Once sure the horses were settled, Johnny walked around the side of the surrey where his father sat.

"Everyone okay?"

"I .... I think so. Teresa?" Murdoch called.

"I'm alright, Murdoch. Thanks to Jelly," she answered a bit breathlessly.

"We're right as rain back here, Boss," Jelly seconded.

Murdoch turned to his eldest. "Scott? Scott!"

"What? Oh, yes, I'm alright," he answered, though his voice wasn't quite steady.

Murdoch took a deep breath and looked down at Johnny. "Where did you come from?"

Johnny laughed. "Well, if I have to explain that one to you, Murdoch, you're in real trouble."

"Smart aleck! He wants ta know what you're a doin out here!" Jelly grumbled.

"Does it matter? Let's just get you home," Johnny said and whistled.

Barranca trotted out of the darkness to his amigo's side and waited patiently. Johnny turned to his father. "You might want to take the reins."

Murdoch nodded and gently took the reins from his son's hands as Johnny vaulted onto Barranca and led the way home.

Scott recovered on the way to the hacienda and wondered himself why Johnny was there. Once they arrived home, Jelly employed one of the hands to take care of the surrey. He was still too shook up himself.

They walked into the darkened house and Johnny lit some lamps. "I think you all better sit down before you fall down."

They all did so and Johnny poured brandy all around. Teresa shook her head but he stuck the glass under her nose and commanded, "drink!"

"That was so sudden. We were all just talking then suddenly out of nowhere.... I don't even know what it was that spooked the horses," Scott spoke.

"Probably a jackrabbit. I didn't see it," Johnny said calmly. Inside he was anything but calm.

"What were you doing out there, son?"

"Just taking a little ride."

"In the middle of the night?!" Jelly asked, unconvinced.

"Somethin wrong with that, Jelly?"

"I don't care what you were doing, I'm just glad you were there," Teresa said with a slight tremble.

"Time for you to get some rest, querida. I take it the party was a success," Johnny grinned.

She smiled then. "It was. Scott and I won best costumes," she reported, relaxing a bit at the change in subject.

"Is that right? Maybe I should have gone. It would've been a lot easier if they had the real me there," Johnny grinned wickedly.

"Jelly said you knew," Scott said dejectedly.

"Don't feel bad, Boston. Evidently, you pulled it off."

"He did. It was quite a sight, Johnny. He had you down pat," Murdoch said.

"Well, I think I'd like to pull off these clothes and go to bed," Scott said as he rose.

"Oh no you don't! You need to take a bath first and try to wash that stuff off. I don't want it rubbing all over my clean white sheets," Teresa admonished.

"Teresa, I'm exhausted," Scott complained.

"Too bad, Senor Lancer," she jutted out her chin.

"You ain't gonna win, Scott," Jelly chuckled.

Scott sighed and dropped his shoulders. He knew when he was beat. He headed off to the bath house resignedly.

"Johnny's right, sweetheart. Time for you to get some rest," Murdoch said.

"I am tired but it was a wonderful party," she smiled. Standing, she walked over to Johnny. "I only wish the real Johnny Lancer had been there."

Johnny smiled and kissed her cheek and she said her goodnights. Jelly stretched and yawned.

"Reckon I'll turn in, too. Night all."

"Goodnight, Jelly," they both said.

Once alone, Murdoch's curiosity piqued. "Why were you out there, Johnny? And don't tell me you were just out for a moonlight ride."

Johnny smiled and dropped his head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Let's just say I got a bad feeling something was wrong."

Murdoch started to say something when Jelly came tearing back into the house, white as a sheet.

"Good grief, man! What on earth?"

"Somethin's been in my room. Everythin is different," Jelly gasped between breaths.

"What do you mean everything's different?" Murdoch asked.

"Come see fer yourself!" Jelly said and grabbed his arm, dragging him to the door.

Johnny waited until they had left then burst into laughter. He had forgotten about his little trick but it was a priceless reaction from Jelly.

Murdoch took in the sight and shook his head. "Johnny!" he bellowed.

Johnny got control of himself and went to Jelly's room. "Yeah?"

"What do you know about this?" Murdoch asked.

Johnny stepped inside and looked around. A puzzled expression on his face. "What happened here? Wasn't your bed over there?"

"Yes it was! You did it, didn't ya?"

"What are you talking about? I hadn't been out of the house until I came after you," Johnny said with just the right amount of indignation.

"The door was wide open and all the winda's, too. Whatya make of that?" Jelly interrogated.

Johnny shrugged innocently. "Jelly, I swear I don't know. It's odd, isn't it? I guess those goblins like garlic after all."

"I outta turn ya over my knee is what I outta do. Smart aleck! Why didn't ya just burn the place down while you was at it?" he sneered.

"Jelly, I didn't do this!" Johnny asserted.

Jelly looked closely at him, studying his face. "Then who did?"

"I have no idea. Like I said, I was in the house."

"And ya didn't hear nothin?"

"Well, I did hear some noises but nothing like moving things around," Johnny admitted.

"What kind of noises?" Jelly asked, almost convinced.

"Well, I can't really describe it, Jelly. The wind was picking up and had that howling to it, ya know? And I heard some scurrying like a rabbit or something. I didn't really pay attention."

"Didn't pay attention?! Fine guard you are."

"Well, you two let me know if you figure out the culprit. I'm going to bed," Murdoch announced.

"Goodnight, Blackbeard," Johnny grinned.

"You want me to help you move this stuff back?" Johnny asked.

"No, if that's where they want it, that's where it'll stay," Jelly decided.

"They?" Johnny cocked a brow.

Jelly stepped from one foot to the other. "Whoever done it."

"Okay, Jelly. Sleep well," Johnny smiled.

"I doubt that!"

Johnny walked across the yard laughing to himself. He stopped suddenly as his spine started to tingle. The wind picked up again and he heard it.

"Hizo bueno, miel." (You did good, honey.)

"Gracias, mama. Mucho gracias," he whispered.

"Johnny Lancer!"

Johnny's head jerked up at the sound of his father's booming voice. He ran into the house and vaulted up the stairs two at a time. He skidded to a halt at Murdoch's open door.

"What?"

"Enough is enough, young man. It's one thing to trick Jelly but this ..... Johnny, how could you?" Murdoch was stunned and Johnny swore he heard hurt in the man's voice.

He stepped into the room. "What are you talking about, Murdoch?"

Anger flashed through the older man at the denial. "This!" he yelled and walked to the dresser.

Johnny joined him and his heart lept to his throat. His knees were shaking as well. He shook his head as he took in the sight. Catherine's picture sat front and center and everything else that had sat on the dresser was on the floor, most in a million pieces. He backed away from it. "I ..... I didn't......"

"There was no one else here, Johnny," Murdoch said accusatorily.

Johnny looked up at him. "I swear to God, Murdoch. I would never to something like that! I wasn't even upstairs."

"I suppose you didn't rearrange Jelly's room either."

"Yes, I did because it was funny. This isn't funny!" Johnny shot, his anger showing.

Murdoch took one good look in his son's eyes and knew he was telling the truth. Of course Johnny would never destroy his property.

"I'm sorry, son. I know you wouldn't. I was just so shocked. I .... I'm sorry, Johnny."

Scott walked into the room with a puzzled expression on his face. "Murdoch? Did you put this in my room?" he asked, holding out a picture frame.

Murdoch took it and looked at the likeness of his second wife. "No, I didn't. It was right over there on the dresser. Right next to Catherine's."

"I found it lying on my pillow," Scott reported. He glanced past them then. "What happened?"

"I don't know," Johnny mumbled, a feeling of unease flooded him.

"I was so stunned I didn't even notice Maria's picture missing? What the devil is going on around here?" Murodch asked, his voice rising.

"Don't say devil too loud," Johnny dead panned.

"That's not funny, Johnny."

"No, neither is the reason I came after you tonight."

"What do you mean?" Scott asked.

"You're gonna think I'm loco but I heard a voice," Johnny said, embarrassed now.

"A voice? What voice?" Murdoch asked.

"At first I wasn't sure. Someone called my name. Then they said Scott needed me right now. It was ...... it sounded like ......"

"Johnny?" Scott walked over and laid a hand on his brother's shoulder.

Taking a deep breath, Johnny said, "it sounded like my mother's voice. I know it's crazy but just before you called me, I was out in the yard and I heard it again."

"What did she say? I broke most everything in your father's room?" Murdoch asked snidely.

Johnny narrowed his eyes. "No, she said I did good."

No one spoke for long moments and the quiet was making them all edgy. They all three jumped when Jelly spoke. "What's goin on?"

"What are you doing here? I thought you went to bed," Johnny snapped.

"How d'ya expect me ta sleep with everythin that's been goin on?"

"Jelly, I moved all your furniture around and I opened the windows and doors," Johnny confessed. "But I didn't do that!" he pointed to Maria's picture. "Or that!" he point to Catherine's picture.

"You moved all his furniture around?" Scott asked, then broke out in laughter. "Why do I miss all the fun?"

Johnny started laughing too but Murdoch and Jelly were not amused.

"It doesn't explain everything else. Maybe we should take a look around. If someone was in here playing pranks, I want to know what else to expect," Murdoch said, his voice calm and even now.

"Hmmph! Don't be so sure ya wanna know!"

Johnny and Scott searched the kitchen but found nothing unusual. Murdoch and Jelly were upstairs, searching all the rooms. They all assumed if Teresa had noticed anything, she would have already let them know.

The brothers walked back into the living room and Johnny grabbed Scott's arm.

"Did you light that candle?"

Scott looked over at the coffee table. "No."

"I know I blew it out hours ago," Johnny said and walked over. He licked two fingers and extinguished the flame.

He felt a sensation along his spine as if long, cold fingers had gripped him. Johnny straightened and looked at his brother but Scott didn't seem to be feeling it.

"What's wrong?" Scott asked.

"I don't know. It feels like someone's here," Johnny whispered.

"Very funny, brother."

"I ain't jokin!" He walked slowly to the French doors and outside. The temperature had dropped a good twenty degrees he thought and he shivered in the cold.

Johnny had the same feeling as before when he'd gotten the warning about Scott. He suddenly wondered why Scott was the only one she'd mentioned. There were four people in danger. He turned then, drawn inexplicably to the side of the house. He walked into the garden and stopped.

Scott watched his brother walk outside as if in a daze. He followed but was afraid to say anything. He stood back and watched as Johnny stood perfectly still in the garden.

He turned when he heard footsteps and saw Murdoch and Jelly approach. He put a finger to his lips to hush them. They all stood there, watching.

"What's he waiting for?" Murdoch whispered.

Scott only shook his head in answer. He had no idea what his brother was doing but he was fascinated for some reason.

Johnny suddenly dropped his head and went to his knees. Scott and Murdoch both reacted at the same time as they went to him.

"Johnny? What is it?" Murdoch asked gently.

"Nothing. Leave me alone, please," he whispered.

"It's not nothing, brother. We aren't going to leave you like this. What happened?"

"Nothing happened, Scott. I just felt a little lightheaded, that's all."

"Come on, son. Let's get you inside. It's turned cold out here."

Scott and Murdoch helped Johnny to his feet and walked beside him all the way inside. Murdoch guided him to sit in front of the fire. Johnny stopped cold and pulled back. The candle was lit again.

"Who lit that?" he asked.

No one answered the question.

"Johnny just put that out before going outside and now it's lit again," Scott explained, his voice barely above a whisper.

Murdoch leaned over and blew the candle out. "Come on, son. Sit in front of the fire."

Johnny allowed himself to be led to the chair and sat down. He stared into the flames as if they would give him an answer to some unspoken question.

Scott poured a glass of whiskey and handed it to him as he knelt in front of his brother. "What happened in the garden, Johnny?"

Johnny took a long swallow of the alcohol and stared at the amber liquid as he swirled it round the glass. "I'm not sure."

"Can you tell us what you do know?" Scott asked gently.

Johnny smiled at his ever-inquisitive brother. "Something just told me to go to the garden. It was like I couldn't help myself. I stood there and ....." he visibly shuddered.

"What, son?"

"I felt someone touch me. They touched my hair then my face."

"Was it soft and warm or cold?" Jelly asked.

"It was soft and warm, Jelly."

"Your mama," Jelly stated as a fact.

Murdoch shot him a perturbed look but Johnny was nodding his agreement. "I think so."

"This is ridiculous. All this Halloween business has everyone seeing and hearing things. I think it's time we all went to bed," Murdoch decreed.

"I didn't imagine it, Murdoch. I didn't imagine being told Scott needed my help and I didn't imagine those horses bein scared. I just don't understand why," Johnny said. There was no anger in his voice, only confusion.

"Why what?" Scott asked.

"Why she said you needed me. Specifically you, Scott. Not they, she only said your name."

"If it was your mother ....." Murdoch started but decided against making a snide remark.

Johnny shot him a look but said nothing.

"I think we should all get some sleep, like Murdoch said. Whatever happened, it's over now," Scott suggested.

"Yeah, I am tired," Johnny said and stood up. "It's funny, though. I mean Jelly's the one who believes in all this stuff but then all this craziness happens to me."

Not even Jelly had an answer for that one.

"I really did mess your room up, Jelly. It was just a prank. I'm sorry," Johnny said.

"Well, that's alright, Reckon it was purty funny. Or it woulda been if all this other hadn't happened," Jelly said.

The Lancers settled in for the night, each going to his own room. A blood-curdling scream sent them all into the hall at the same time. They looked at each other and bolted down the stairs to find Teresa outside her room.

Johnny reached her first and she flew into his arms, trembling.

"She's in there. She's in my room," the girl quivered.

Johnny handed her off to Murdoch and he and Scott stepped into the empty room.

"There's no one here, Teresa," Scott announced.

She stepped inside with Murdoch and looked around. "She was right there by the window."

Johnny walked over to the closed window and opened it. He stuck his head out but saw nothing.

"What did she look like, Teresa?" Scott asked.

She blushed deeply and turned her head into Murdoch's chest. "Your mother, Scott," she whispered.

"My mother? This is getting ridiculous. First Johnny's mother and now mine? I think we've all had a little too much excitement tonight," he protested too strongly.

"Take it easy, Scott. She's only telling you what she saw," Johnny said softly.

"I'm sorry, Teresa," Scott apologized.

"It's alright. It was just so real. I'm sure it was a dream. I think I'll just get a cup of tea to settle me," she said and walked quickly from the room.

The three of them stood there feeling a bit awkward.

"Well, I guess I'll go to bed now," Johnny said.

"Yes, I think that's a good idea," Scott agreed.

"Yes, I'm sure Teresa will be alright now," Murdoch made it unanimous.

Once more, they went to their rooms. Each paused outside the door to glance at the others. All three felt entirely too foolish.

Scott settled into the bed and sighed with relief. It felt so good to lay down. He pulled the quilt up around his shoulders to ward off the chill. He thought about lighting a fire earlier but he liked the crispness in the air. Smiling with the pure pleasure of relaxing into a soft mattress, he closed his eyes.

Scott was about to doze off when his instincts warned him. Someone was in his room. Trying to hide a smile, he opened his eyes slightly to see what his brother was up to.

His eyes flew open and he sat straight up in the bed as he stared, slack-jawed. The apparition stood by the window watching him. It didn't move one iota. Scott swallowed hard and tried to find his voice. It came out in almost a squeak.

"Who are you?" he whispered.

She didn't answer but kept staring at him. Her expression was one of sorrow mixed with joy. He watched, fascinated, as they locked eyes.

"Mother?"

The door flung open and Johnny stepped inside, looking quite pale. When he saw Scott, his eyes followed his brothers and any color left in his face drained.

Her eyes left Scott and focused on Johnny. She smiled at him and he found he couldn't help but smile back.

Scott finally looked at his brother and saw Johnny nod his head and smile. When he looked back, the apparition was gone.

"Did she say something to you?" Scott asked.

Johnny broke out of his daze and stared at his brother. "What?"

"You were looking at her and nodded your head. Did she say something?"

"I ..... I think so. I don't remember now."

"Was it like in the garden?" Scott asked, coming out of the bed and throwing his robe on.

Johnny nodded and walked over to sit on the bed. "I was in bed and I felt someone watching me. I thought it was you but when I opened my eyes...."

"Was it Maria?"

"Yes. I bolted," Johnny laughed nervously. "I wanted you to see it, too. Figured if you could then I wasn't really losing my mind," he explained.

"I saw my mother. At least, I think that's who it was," Scott said.

"It was."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, Scott, I'm sure. Do you think?"

"What?"

"Maybe we should check on Murdoch," Johnny said warily.

Scott gave him an identical look to the one he was getting and stood up. They headed out the door and down the hall, hesitating outside Murdoch's door.

"Well, go on," Johnny urged.

"Me? You go. You're the one they talk to."

Johnny chewed his lip and took a deep breath. "He's gonna burn our ears for this," he sighed and eased the door open.

The first thing he could see was the bed and the fact that Murdoch wasn't in it. He opened the door wide and found their father standing in front of the dresser.

"Murdoch?" Johnny whispered.

"Come in, boys," he answered distantly.

They shot each other a look and stepped into the room.

"Are you alright, sir?" Scott asked.

Murdoch turned to face them. He was holding two pictures. "Yes, son, I'm fine. Sit down, both of you."

They both moved to the bed haltingly, unsure of what was going on.

Johnny cleared his throat. "Have you had any visitors tonight?"

"Yes, two. I talked to them both. They're both very proud of you boys. They love you both very much. They want us to be happy together and they're glad we are together. They said we would have many years with each other and to treasure that time. Not to waste it with futile arguments and old resentments."

Murdoch walked over to Johnny and smiled. "The reasons don't matter anymore, they never really did. All that matters is that we're together. I don't have to worry about you. You aren't going anywhere."

Johnny frowned. "I wasn't planning on it."

"I know that now. But I wasn't sure before."

There was a peaceful expression on Murdoch Lancer's face. A look of contentment neither son had seen before.

He looked lovingly at his eldest. "She's so proud of the man you are, son. You are something special. A special gift I've been given, both of you. You both have a special purpose in this world. And you are loved."

Though neither knew quite what to make of this, they instinctively knew they would get no more information.

Murdoch laid the pictures down and cupped a hand under each son's chin, lifting their heads to look at him. "Go to bed and have pleasant dreams, boys. I know I will."

As he spoke they could hear the grandfather clock in the living room strike the midnight hour.

"All Saint's Day," Johnny murmured and smiled.

 

 

~end~
2003

Notes:
Los Dias de los Muertos, the Days of the Dead, is a traditional Mexico holiday honoring the dead. It is celebrated every year at the same time as Halloween and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd). Los Dias de los Muertos is not a sad time, but instead a time of remembering and rejoicing.

The townspeople dress up as ghouls, ghosts, mummies and skeletons and parade through the town carrying an open coffin. The "corpse" within smiles as it is carried through the narrow streets of town. The local vendors toss oranges inside as the procession makes its way past their markets. Lucky "corpses" can also catch flowers, fruits, and candies.

In the homes families arrange ofrenda's or "altars" with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Pictures of the deceased family members are added. In the late afternoon special all night burning candles are lit - it is time to remember the departed - the old ones, their parents and grandparents. T he next day the families travel to the cemetery. They arrive with hoes, picks and shovels. They also carry flowers, candles, blankets, and picnic baskets. They have come to clean the graves of their loved ones. The grave sites are weeded and the dirt raked smooth. The Crypts are scrubbed and swept. Colorful flowers, bread, fruit and candles are placed on the graves. Some bring guitars and radios to listen to. The families will spend the entire night in the cemeteries.

Skeletons and skulls are found everywhere. Chocolate skulls, marzipan coffins, and white chocolate skeletons. Special loaves of bread are baked, called pan de muertos , and decorated with "bones. Handmade skeleton figurines, called calacas , are especially popular. Calacas usually show an active and joyful afterlife. Figures of musicians, generals on horseback, even skeletal brides, in their white bridal gowns marching down the aisles with their boney grooms.

The celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, like the customs of Halloween , evolved with the influences of the Celtics, the Romans, and the Christian holy days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. But with added influences from the Aztec people of Mexico. The Aztecs believed in an afterlife where the spirits of their dead would return as hummingbirds and butterflies. Even images carved in the ancient Aztec monuments show this belief - the linking the spirits of the dead and the Monarch butterfly

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