It was fall in California such as it was. It was early morning and the air was cool but not as cool as it was on a late October morning in Boston. Scott supposed that was one of the things he missed most about Boston, the stark contrast between seasons. It was October 30th and he was on his way back to Lancer from Morro Coyo. Murdoch had wanted some letters mailed, the mail picked up and a few things for Maria. He had also escorted Teresa into town to a friend’s house where she would be spending a few days and attending a Halloween dance. Scott’s attention was drawn to a wagon across the road. As he got closer he could see it was Mrs. Alice Elders. She and her husband Charlie lived five miles north of the Morro Coyo road about half way to Lancer. Scott pulled up his horse as he got closer to the wagon.
“Mrs. Elders, do you have trouble?” Scott asked noticing her frantic eyes.
“Mr. Lancer. Yes I’ve been waiting for help. Charlie is very ill. I need some help getting him in the wagon to take him to the doctor.”
“Of course. I’ll follow you” Scott watched as Mrs. Elders turned her wagon around and then started down the path to her house. Once in the house Alice pointed to the bedroom door. Scott nodded and went inside. He stopped dead as he looked at the man on the bed. Charlie Elders was past being very ill. He had been dead for months. Scott’s shoulders slumped. Somehow he had to make Mrs. Elders see that her husband was dead. He slowly left the bedroom. Mrs. Elders was standing her back to him looking out the window. Scott quietly shut the door. He looked up at Mrs. Elders surprised to see her pointing a gun at him.
The close range slug caught Scott in the shoulder and spun him around. As he fell he hit his head on the coffee table and he knew no more. Hours later Scott stirred and tried to climb out of the darkness he was in towards the light. As he got closer to the light pain flared in his shoulder and his head. Scott’s eyes fluttered open. He realized he was still in the Elders’ cabin. He was lying on a small bed against the far wall in the main room. The bed frame and box spring were made out of iron and Scott lay on a 6 inch mattress. Scott’s heart rate quickened when he realized his wrists were shackled to the bedframe by his sides and ropes were around his upper arms and bed frame holding him down. In trying to move his limbs he discovered his ankles were also shackled to the bedframe. His clothes were gone with a sheet covering him to his waist. His shoulder wound had been expertly bandaged and no blood showed on the bandages.
Scott tested his bonds. They were solid as was the bed frame. Scott stilled as Mrs. Elders came in carrying a load of wood which she dropped into the wood box.
“You’ll not be escaping young man.” She told him in a matter of fact voice.
“Why are you doing this to me ma’am?” Scott asked his voice hoarse.
“My son, William, is back from the war. He told me to capture you. It was Union soldiers like you that hurt my boy. He wants revenge.”
“Mrs. Elders, I never hurt your son.”
“Your kind did! Union soldiers! You will pay with your life!”
Scott said nothing. William Elders had died in the Civil War 7 years ago. Scott swallowed hard. It had not been a frantic woman he had seen on the road earlier; it had been an insane one. He was helpless to every insane thought she had or any nonexistent voice she heard. He looked at the window and felt it was sometime in the afternoon. He thought Murdoch and Johnny may have missed him by now and might be out looking for him. He just didn’t know how they would find him here.
Mrs. Elders came to him and removed the sheet, untied his upper arms and helped him lift up so she could place a bed pan under him. Scott hated being fully exposed but when she gave him some privacy by going to the other side of the side of the room he did what he needed to do. She came and removed the bed pan and was soon back with a tub of hot, soapy water. She gave him a sponge bath having him turn both ways as far as his bonds would allow so she could clean the back of his body too. She took a towel and dried him off. Scott faced the wall his face slightly colored at her ministrations. Finally she tied his arms back down and pulled the sheet up to his waist.
A little later Alice again came over to him and lifted his head and placed a rolled pillow under it. She went back to the stove and came back with a bowel of chicken soup. Scott looked at her warily as she held up a spoonful of soup for him. He decided he did not want to anger her and opened he opened his mouth and took a bite. It was actually very good and he allowed her to feed it all to him.
“That was very good. Thank you ma’am.” Scott said quietly.
Alice took the soup bowl and pillow away. “I don’t suppose you would like to know your fate?” She asked abruptly.
“I would.” Scott said in a somber voice.
Mrs. Elders seemed to grow excited. She pulled a kitchen chair and sat beside Scott. She had a big smile on her face and her eyes shown with excitement.
“Tonight my son comes back – tonight at 12:00 midnight. He’s been talking to me since Charlie died, told me he wanted your soul. Tonight when he comes I will do whatever he asks. He told me it will not be pleasant for you. Then tomorrow at noon I will take poison and you will burn. We will be together forever and we will go and find others to join us.”
“Ma’am please it isn’t your son talking to you. You can’t take poison. It won’t bring you and your son together, it will just kill you! I’ve never met your son. Why would he want me dead?”
“You will see Scott… tonight. He likes you, where you live. He wants you for a minion.”
Scott looked up at the ceiling. Minion indeed. The voice was her own insane imagination. He was discouraged. If she was willing to kill herself he doubted anything he could say would save her or him. When she told him he would burn he wondered if she meant literally or in hell. The bonds were solid, he could not escape. The bed itself must have been bolted to the floor because it did not move. His only hope was that Murdoch or Johnny would find him before she killed them both. The unpleasantness she spoke of after midnight worried him too.
Scott awoke to a clock striking midnight. It took a few seconds for Scott to again realize he was a captive. He looked towards Mrs. Elders and his breath caught in his throat. She was sitting in her rocking chair knitting and standing behind her was a black, opaque figure of a man that seemed to be talking in her ear. Scott blinked his eyes in shock but the figure remained. Then it slowly turned and looked at him. It had red eyes that burned through him. Scott felt an evil permeating from it that terrified him. Mrs. Elders was right. For some reason it wanted him, his soul, his total being and he would never escape. Upon his death he would irrevocably be joined to that evil being, a minion as Mrs. Elders had said. As he watched the dark figure shape-shifted into a dark figure of a woman. It was amused at his terror and amused at Scott’s thought of praying.
Scott turned his face to the wall unable to look into those eyes any more. He had a fear in his heart he had never felt before. His breath was ragged and his heart raced. He felt all alone. He didn’t know of anyone that could help him. Murdoch and Johnny could not fight this thing. Scott felt a hopelessness overtake him, that he was doomed to spend eternity serving this evil being. Then a small hope came to him and he wasn’t sure from where. “Mother.” He whispered. He began to talk to her in a barely audible desperate voice his face facing the wall and his eyes screwed shut.
“Mother, please help me…I’m so frightened. If I am to die tomorrow, please don’t let it take my soul. I need you mother.”
Scott stopped as he heard a sound. The black thing was gone but Mrs. Elders came towards him carrying a tongs with a hot coal in it. She pulled the sheet away.
“Ma’am, please don’t do this…fight it.” Scott begged her. “It’s not your son.”
“I can’t Scott. I’ve tried. Please don’t move your leg.”
Scott could only watch as she placed the coal on his upper leg. He cried out in pain and gritted his teeth trying not to move. “Oh God!” He moaned. It seemed like an hour but it was less than a minute before the coal was removed. Mrs. Elders came back with a cool wet cloth and placed it on the burn. Scott sighed with the small relief it brought. He closed his eyes and let his heart and breathing slow. The black figure was not showing itself but he could feel its presence.
Alice came over and placed a soothing ointment on the burn and then bandaged it. She pulled the sheet up to the middle of Scott’s chest. “I’m sorry, Scott. I’ve tried to fight it but it’s been here since Charlie died. It took months but it controls me now. It hasn’t talked to you yet. It comes into your mind and speaks to you. Tomorrow I will kill us both and I can’t stop it. I’m so sorry.”
“It isn’t your fault ma’am.” Scott said realizing she was telling him the truth. He felt a despair he had never felt before in his young life. He watched Alice turn the lamp down and lay on the couch. Scott turned his head toward the wall and thought about his family. Whatever that thing was it didn’t control him yet and according to Alice it had taken awhile to control her. But it had her to do its bidding now. If Murdoch and Johnny were able to get him out of this place perhaps he could be saved. Asking his mother for help had been foolish. There was no bond between them and he had never been able to feel her presence. She had been ripped away from him when he had needed her most in his vulnerable state of a being a newborn.
Scott closed his eyes and it was then that the evil entity came into his mind. It began to say the most vile, despicable things to him. It began to show him moving pictures of the most depraved and immoral acts Scott had even imagined. It also showed Scott its plan to go to Lancer and use Scott to trick his family by speaking to them from the dead and controlling them. The thing showed Scott’s future after he died being under the entity’s control and Scott’s soul becoming more and more evil with time, the goodness being stamped out until there was no hope for him. It stayed with Scott for an hour terrorizing him.
When it left Scott’s mind was numb and his head ached. His breath came in gasps and he was making little sounds of horror with each breath. His heart was racing and the mattress was damp with his sweat. He couldn’t stop shaking and tears streamed down his face. He was completely and utterly terrified and since the entity’s departure it seemed to be getting worse. He pulled at his bonds uselessly. He felt like screaming but he could not.
Suddenly Scott felt calmer and less frightened. The fear receded and he felt almost comforted. He didn’t understand it but his mind seemed to relax. The horror he had experienced seemed to fade to the back of his mind enough so he could close his eyes and fall into a dreamless sleep.
Johnny Lancer stood on the veranda at Lancer listening to the clock in the Great Room striking midnight. It was a cloudy, dark night and the wind had blown all day. He shivered as a cool gust of wind brought a fine mist with it. He was worried about his brother and cursed the chain of events that had made a search for him impossible until tomorrow. Johnny and Murdoch had gotten in a little late from the job they had been doing. They were in washing up for dinner wondering where Scott was. They knew after his trip to town Scott had planned to go help one of the crews working on fence line. Johnny went down to the bunkhouse and found out Scott’s crew wasn’t in yet. They had delayed dinner but finally had gone ahead. They were having dessert when Cip had come to the door to report the crew Scott was supposed to be with had gotten back but Scott had never joined them and what was worse they had found Scott’s horse grazing near the Hacienda fully saddled. Murdoch had looked up at the thickly clouded darkening sky and had reluctantly said it would be dark soon and a search would have to wait until morning.
“Son, you should come in and try to sleep. We’re going to start early tomorrow looking for him.”
Johnny turned and gave his father a faint smile. “I think he needs us, Murdoch, that’s all.” He said coming inside. Murdoch looked out and closed the door behind them. He felt Scott was in trouble too and he hated the feeling of helplessness he had.
The Lancers were up early the next day. Murdoch sent 10 teams of two to areas around the ranch and to Green River and Spanish Wells. He rode with Johnny to Moro Coyo. They found Scott had been to the post office, the general store and had been to the saloon for a beer. A regular saloon patron had told them he had headed out of Morro Coyo on the road that he would have taken to get back to Lancer.
“Now what?” Johnny asked his father.
“We backtrack and go down every road, path or tracks going off the main road from Morro Coyo to Lancer.”
Johnny nodded grimly and followed his father.
Scott woke up with a jerk. The first thing to enter his mind was he was going to die this day. The next was his experience with the evil entity the night before. He could feel the fear creeping back into its mind. He tried to fight it back but it was impossible. His shoulder was throbbing and so was his leg. Alice came over and placed the bed pan to let him relieve himself again. After she had removed it she gave him another sponge bath. Scott just looked at the wall and did his best to bear it. After she had dried him off she placed a clean sheet on him to his chest.
“I have to mark you now Scott.” Alice said. “At noon we both die.” She pulled a sharp looking small knife out of her apron pocket.
Scott closed his eyes. “Mark me?”
“I’m going to carve his name on your arm.” Alice said regretfully. “Please do not say it out loud. You’ll only empower him.”
“Yes ma’am.” Scott whispered. He did his best to keep from crying out as she carved 5 letters in to his upper arm but he was not totally successful. He had tears in his eyes when she finished and bandaged his arm. Then the thing came to him again this time showing him how he would be used to destroy his family. Scott would speak to them, appear to them and make them do things for the entity and slowly destroy them. By the time it left him again he was screaming “No” over and over. As Scott lay still trying to let his breathing and heart rate slow he heard the clock strike 10:00. He turned his head towards the wall.
“Mother, if you can hear me, please help me.” Scott said in anguished low voice. “I am to die in 2 hours. I’m so frightened. God, I need you. Please save me.” Scott could say no more. All that was left to do was wait.
Murdoch and Johnny made it back to the main road. They had followed several paths and roads away from the main road using their best judgment on when to turn back. They had found nothing. The day was dark and windy with thick, dark clouds making it seem like dusk.
“This damnable wind’s howling so Murdoch, I swear I heard a woman call your name on the wind.”
“Johnny…I heard it too.”
They both heard it again. With confused looks on their faces slowly they turned the horses and followed the sound.
It was nearly noon when Alice came to Scott and spread a very thick quilt over him up to his shoulders. She then began to sprinkle the quilt with kerosene covering it completely.
“Oh God.” Scott said knowing he was going to suffer without mercy. He watched Alice pick up a small bottle. ”Ma’am please don’t drink that! Alice…it will kill you!
Alice shook her head and drank it down. “I’m sorry, Scott.” She stuck a match and started the quilt on fire. She then went and sat in front of the fireplace.
Scott watched helplessly as the fire spread over the quilt. He knew he had little time before the fire would burn through the quilt. He couldn’t watch anymore and turned his head away closing his eyes waiting for the pain. He began to speak to his mother in an anguished voice.
“Catherine Lancer…this is your son, Scott. Mother I accept my death and the pain I must suffer. But please don’t let this thing take my soul. It wants to hurt everyone I love. I want to be with you mother...God please don’t let it separate us forever.”
The female voice in the wind led Murdoch and Johnny to the Elders place. When they pulled up the voice said in their minds very clearly “Hurry!” Johnny slid off Barranca and pulled his gun and ran to the house with Murdoch behind him. The door was ajar and Johnny pushed in.
“Scott!” he said in shock his voice hoarse with fear on seeing his brother covered in flames. Johnny went to the foot of the bed and grabbed an area of the quilt that was not on fire and pulled it off his brother. He folded it over and stomped on it.
Scott lay with his head turned towards the wall and his eyes screwed shut. He could feel heat from the fire on his skin and knew he had only seconds left before being burned. He wondered how long it would take him to die. He hoped unconsciousness would come quickly. Then all of a sudden the quilt was gone and he felt cool air against his bare skin. Scott turned and opened his eyes to reveal Murdoch leaning over him scanning his body for burns.
“Scott!” Murdoch said in relief seeing his son’s eyes open. “Son are you alright?”
“Murdoch.” Scott breathed. “Please sir, just get me out of here!”
Johnny appeared in Scott’s view. He cut the ropes around Scott’s upper arms. “Scott, do you know where the key is?”
“The table. Good to see you brother.”
Murdoch grabbed the key and began working on freeing Scott’s ankles. Johnny picked up the discarded sheet and placed it over Scott’s middle taking in his bandages. “Same here Scott. It looks like you’ve had some kind of trouble.”
Scott nodded unable to speak. He was near breaking down and he didn’t want to put them through that. He could tell by their faces they were traumatized enough by the way they had found him. Murdoch gently put his hand on Scott’s head for a moment and then began to free his wrists.
Johnny went over to Alice Elders and felt for a pulse and found none. It was then that he noticed there was smoke coming out from under the bedroom door. “We need to get outta here Murdoch.”
Murdoch saw the smoke too. He helped Scott sit up and wrapped the sheet around him. “Let’s get him up and you walk him out of here. I will be right behind you.” Both of them helped Scott stand. He was pretty shaky and he put his arm around Johnny’s neck. Johnny’s arm encircled his brother’s waist and they slowly made their way towards the door.
Scott stopped. “Mrs. Elders?”
“She’s gone Scott.”
Murdoch picked up Scott’s clothes and boots and followed them out. He set down Scott’s clothes by the horses and spread out his bedroll.
“Come on son. Sit down here for a while and rest. Then we’ll get you dressed and home.” Scott sank down gratefully and let his father pull him against his chest and he rested his head on Murdoch’s shoulder. Johnny knelt beside them.
“Murdoch…the doorway.” Johnny said in a voice Scott had never heard before. Scott knew what it was before he turned his head. The black entity stood in the doorway of the burning cabin seemingly looking at them.
“It wants my soul.” Scott said in a dead, flat voice.
Murdoch started at Scott’s words and he protectively encircled his son in his arms. The entity started to move toward them when a white mist formed in front of it and drove it back into the cabin. The shapeless mist seemed to hold the entity from leaving the cabin. The seeming battle went on as the Lancers watched. Some of the vileness began to seep back into Scott’s mind. Scott turned away and he began to tremble.
“It’s evil…so evil.” Scott whispered brokenly. “Please make it leave me alone!”
“Whatever it’s trying to do to you Scott, don’t let it.” Murdoch said in a low voice.
Johnny took Scott’s hand. “Fight it brother!”
Murdoch watched as the white mist began to grow thicker and it forced the entity out of sight into the cabin. There was a whoosh and the cabin roof collapsed. Murdoch felt Scott relax in his arms.
“Murdoch.” Johnny warned. The white mist was moving toward them.
“It’s alright Johnny.” Murdoch said releasing Scott from his arms.
The mist enveloped Scott. A small smile came to his lips and the stress disappeared from his face. He nodded and spoke to the mist and understanding came to Johnny at his words.
“Thank you mother….you’ve given me my life twice…I love you” Scott whispered. He smiled wider. “Yes, we will be together someday.” The mist began to fade until it was gone.
“She called you to me, didn’t she?”
Murdoch nodded. “Yes son, she did.”
Sam Jenkins, Murdoch and Johnny stood in the Great Room. Dr. Jenkins had just finished examining Scott.
While they had waited for Sam, Scott had haltingly told them what had happened to him. He did not go into detail on what the entity had showed him when it was in his mind just that it was vile and depraved and it had horrified him. His mother had assured him that it was over and that the specifics would soon fade from his memory so he would only remember his reaction to what the entity had showed him, not what it had shown him. She had also told him that the Elders’ souls had been freed. Murdoch told them she had also passed him a message of undying love.
Sam looked at Murdoch. “Scott insisted I make incisions to obliterate a name on his arm which I am not to say out loud. I did as he asked or he said he would do it himself. I’m not even going to ask what that was about. The gunshot wound in his shoulder is clean. The bullet went straight through. I’ve stitched everything up. He’s got a bad burn on his leg we need to watch. I’ve bandaged him and put a sling on his arm. We need to keep an eye out for infection. I’ll be back in 2 days to check on him. Keep him in bed.”
Murdoch nodded and shook his friend’s hand. Murdoch glanced at the clock. It was 11:30 PM. “Sam, please stay over.”
“Thanks Murdoch but I have a new mother in the first stage of labor in town”
Murdoch and Johnny saw Sam off and then went to Scott’s room. Scott opened his eyes as they came in.
“How do you feel, son?”
“Lucky.” Scott said. “You both look exhausted. I’m alright. You should turn in.”
“I think I will” Murdoch said. He came over and lightly kissed Scott’s forehead. What had happened earlier had unnerved him. Seeing his son on fire was something he would not soon forget. “Goodnight son.”
Scott smiled wanly. “I’m fine Murdoch…really I am. Good night sir.”
Johnny sank into an easy chair beside Scott’s bed. “You go ahead and sleep Boston. I’ll turn in a few minutes.”
“I owe you brother.”
“Forget it. You went through hell Scott. Try to sleep now.” Johnny said tenderly.
Scott nodded his eyelids already heavy. He was asleep in minutes. Johnny sat and watched him sleep. The clock downstairs began to chime midnight. Halloween was over. He gently touched his brother’s deeply bruised wrist knowing how hard Scott must have pulled against his shackles to hurt it that badly.
Johnny hadn’t told Murdoch and Scott that Catherine Lancer had spoken to him too. She had thanked him for being a good brother and friend to her son.
“Ma’am no thanks are needed.” Johnny whispered. “Being Scott’s brother and friend has been the best thing in my life.”