Halloween Pranksters
by JEB


            Val Crawford, the intrepid sheriff of Green River, California, was ready to tear his hair out.  As a matter of fact so was his counterpart, Sheriff Gabe, in Spanish Wells.  Halloween was fast approaching and they were constantly being harangued with complaints about the strange and crazy things that were happening to buildings, fields and animals owned by people from the outlying farms and ranches.  

            One farmer complained that his wagon was now on the roof of his barn.  Another was complaining about raids on his pumpkin patch.  All day long and half the night somebody was in Val’s office, or Gabe’s, complaining. It was enough to drive the two men to drink!  Both men had a pretty good idea of who was responsible for all these tricks but proving it would be difficult.  The young men in question were, in the opinion of the lawmen, sneaky and conniving.  They weren’t licked yet though.  One of these nights one of the three, or four if a certain young Negro was involved, was going to make a mistake and Val – or Gabe – would be ready to pounce. 


             At the Lancer ranch things weren’t exactly quiet.  Handyman Jelly Hoskins was convinced that their cornfield, planted mostly for the benefit of the livestock but with enough to feed the humans on the place as well, was haunted.

            “But Boss, I’m tellin’ ya – that cornfield is haunted.  That there scarecrow keeps moving its arms and legs and getting closer to my quarters.  It’s out to get me!”  The bewhiskered handyman was pleading his case to gruff Murdoch Lancer, his employer, while Murdoch’s two fun loving sons listened and tried gamely not to laugh.

            “Oh come on, Jelly.” dark haired Johnny laughed.  “You don’t really believe that scarecrow’s tryin’ to move into your room with ya do you?”

            “Oh, no,” Scott, Johnny’s older brother said.  “Jelly’s not superstitious. Just look at the way he managed when Weir was trying to take over Hackett’s land a few years ago. Jelly was as brave as any soldier I ever served with.”   

            “You know you’re right, brother,” Johnny said with a wicked mischievous gleam in his eye.  “Jelly would never be afraid of such a thing as a little old scarecrow.”

            “You young ‘uns have no respect for your elders do you?” Jelly groused.  “I’d like to see what you’d do if a scarecrow kept coming after you like that!”

“Aw, Jelly, you know we’re just havin’ a little fun with you,” Johnny said.

“I think this discussion has gone on long enough,” the Lancer patriarch said.  “Don’t you boys have something you’re supposed to be doing?  Like fixing fences or the roof on the storage shed?”

“Yes, sir, we do,” Scott affirmed taking the hint.  “Come on Johnny.”

The two young men left their father alone with Jelly to try and talk sense into the old man.  Not that it would do a lot of good. Whoever was moving that scarecrow would have to face Jelly’s shotgun and Dewdrop – Jelly’s gander.  Jelly swore up and down that Dewdrop was better than a watchdog and Scott had found that out this past summer when he’d let Johnny talk him into a raid on Jelly’s watermelon patch. He’d gotten nipped and torn a perfectly good pair of pants on the barbed wire the handyman had put around his patch. It was a long time before anyone that knew about it let them live it down – especially if they saw the way Dewdrop and Scott reacted to each other the next morning.

As they were approaching their horses, which they had left tied to the hitching rail outside the house, Scott turned to his brother and said, “Whatever you and your pals have planned for me little brother you’d better just forget about it because I’ll be ready and waiting for you.”

            “Scott! I’m hurt!” Johnny gave his brother his most innocent look.  “Why would you think we’d be planning to do anything to you?”

            “Because you, Kevin and Rico have quite a reputation in this area and sometimes Willie joins you. It’s getting so that what you three don’t think up on your own Willie thinks up for you.” Scott mounted Ranger and then he fixed his brother with his fiercest glare.  “Halloween is fast approaching - if I find my saddle cinch loosened, scarecrows in my room or hear strange noises at night …if my window mysteriously raises and lowers itself I’ll know who to come after.  You three had better plan on running very fast and far because I will hunt you down and make you pay for your sins.”

            The boys turned their mounts toward the road that led away from the main house. They were headed to Black Mesa to chase some stray cattle belonging to Lancer back toward the main herd, and would separate any of their neighbors’ cattle and turn them into a separate pasture until they could drive them back. The Talbots, the neighbors to the north, were having a difficult time with fences lately.  The man they had put on the job was lazy and did his work indifferently.  Jim Talbot was fit to be tied.  Since the last incident, three days earlier, when twenty head of his cattle strayed over onto Lancer land he’d fired the hand that had done the sloppy work and was looking for someone to replace him. 

            “Just remember what I said little brother,” Scott said as they parted company, for Johnny was going off to the east of Black Mesa to start his search.  “I’ll be ready and waiting for you three so don’t even think of trying something on me.” 


            That night, at the Bar T, for nobody was exempt from the practical jokers, two young men snuck into the barn and pulled a switch while two others stood guard outside.

            “What the heck?”  A shocked and bemused Jim Talbot walked into the barn to saddle his black and white paint, Pintauro, only to find that there was a black and white six-month-old colt with virtually identical markings in the horse’s stall. 

            This discovery prompted an all out search.  Pintauro was found, an hour later, hidden in a lean to a couple of miles from the barn.  He was munching away on some hay and had a bucket of water as well.  Whoever had moved him hadn’t harmed him or neglected him.

            Jim had his suspicions as to who could have possibly pulled this off but he was going to keep it to himself and let the young man trip himself up – and the same went for his cohorts.  The goblins of Morro Coyo, Green River and Spanish Wells would find Jim Talbot was not such an easy target.

            That same morning, back at the Lancer ranch, Murdoch Lancer was discovering that the same goblins had replaced his clothes with pants that had legs inches too short and a shirt whose sleeves were too short. On top of that his boots were two sizes too small - they had been replaced by a pair of Scott’s boots.

            Scott found that the goblins had swapped his clothes as well and that he was faced with a pair of pants that were far too big in the waist and leg and that the shirt he was holding was almost big enough to be a nightshirt. While identical to the blue shirt and the brown pants he was in the habit of wearing, , they were far from being the right size for him.   He suspected that his little brother was behind this.  There was no possible way that Rico, Kevin or Willie could have gotten into the house, let alone his room, without being caught the night before.   Scott decided then and there that there was going to be a little retribution before Halloween had come and gone. The question was what would it be? 


            At the Portillo house in Spanish Wells, Rico’s father was finding that goblins had been at work in his workshop for wooden replicas had replaced all of his carpentry tools.  He could be heard several houses away as he shouted in Spanish about the indignity of such a prank being pulled on him.

            “Rico! Come here this instant!” he called.

            Gesticulating wildly, and speaking in rapid Spanish, Manuel Portillo told his son just what would happen to the “goblins” if his tools – the real ones – did not reappear on his workbench by the time he was through eating his breakfast. 


            At the Millar Ranch, the Rocking M, Andrew Millar went out to his barn and discovered that his prize Hereford bull was in the hayloft.  There were no clues left by the perpetrators of this prank but that didn’t stop him from bellowing his son’s name.

            “Kevin!”  Scowling, he waited for his son to arrive.

            Kevin, a six-footer with sun streaked light brown hair, came running into the barn when he heard his father call.  He stopped up short when he saw the scowl on his father’s face and saw the bull in the loft.  He was, strangely enough, completely innocent of anything involving the bull though he had suggested it would be a funny prank.  He figured that Johnny and Rico, with a bit of help from Willie, had pulled this one.

            “You’ve got ten minutes to figure out how you’re going to get that bull down out of the loft,” Mr. Millar told his impish son.  “Or else!” 


            The Lancer kitchen was strangely quiet when the family sat down to breakfast that morning.  Murdoch and Scott gave Johnny annoyed looks.  Both knew perfectly well who the goblins were that had switched clothes on them. 

            Teresa chatted happily with Maria about the harvest they were getting from their vegetable garden this fall.  There were plenty of potatoes, beets, asparagus, beans – both green and yellow, the corn was coming in good and so was the squash they had planted.

            The herb garden was full of chives, mint, dill, cumin, parsley and other herbs such as sage and oregano.  It looked like they’d have a lot to celebrate come the harvest dance and Thanksgiving. 


            The Mays household was quiet.  Mr. John Mays, a blacksmith by trade as had been his father and his grandfather before that, was watching his son for signs of mischief.  Willie had always been somewhat of a mischievous boy but since hooking up with Johnny Lancer, Kevin Millar and Rico Portillo he seemed to be either doing something good for the community or creating mischief and possible mayhem in the same community.

            Willie’s twelve-year-old brother, Jimmy, had complained that ghosts were moving the curtains in his room.  He’d no sooner close them than they would open again and the window was opening and closing on its own as well.

            There was no indication on Willie’s face that he knew anything about this.  John was not fooled though.  If Willie wasn’t the actual perpetrator then he likely knew who was.


            The next night the four co-conspirators split into two teams.  One team went to Spanish Wells and the other to Green River.  When they were through with their work there they would meet in Morro Coyo.  Sam Jayson was the least likely of the three lawmen to be able to apprehend what they were up to.  The only telegraph office was in Morro Coyo so there was no way that Val or Gabe would be able to warn Sam about what was about to happen.

            “Put these in all the windows,” Johnny told Rico as he handed him a carved out pumpkin.  “Here’s the candles – you can carry them in your pocket and put one in each jack o’lantern as you go along.  Got your matches?”

            “Yes, I have matches,” Rico answered.  “I’ll do the upstairs windows.  You do these down here.  Shall we wait until one of the drunks from the saloon comes by to light them?”

            “No,” Johnny told him.  “As soon as you have them all set up with the candles inside light them one by one.  Then meet me down here and we’ll be on our way to Morro Coyo.  I can’t wait to see old Sam’s face when he finds the jack o’lanterns in the window of the jail.”

            “What did you say was the story behind these things?” Rico asked.

            “Well according to Scott and Kevin there was this Irish guy named Stingy Jack.  He conned the Devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for the drinks Jack was supposed to buy them.  When he put the coin in his pocket it was next to a silver cross and the devil couldn’t turn back into his original shape because of it.  When Jack freed him he made a bargain with him – in exchange for his freedom the devil would not bother Jack for a year.”

“The year went by and Jack conned the devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit.  Then he carved a cross into the tree trunk and the devil couldn’t come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten years.  When Jack died God couldn’t let such an unsav…unsav….unsavory – that’s the word they used – character into Heaven.  The devil was upset about the trick that Jack had played on him and couldn’t claim his soul.  He sent Jack off into the dark night with a hollowed out gourd in which he had a lighted coal.  And he’s roamed the earth ever since then.  Scott says the Irish, like Mrs. Talbot’s folks, started calling Jack Jack of the lantern but shortened it to Jack o’lanterns.” 

“The Scots and the Irish started the tradition of carving scary faces into pumpkins and potatoes and putting candles in them to scare away Stingy Jack and all the other evil spirits wandering around.  Mrs. Talbot says that they use beets in England.”

The two young men finished their task in ten minutes.  They barely escaped being caught when Gabe was heard making his rounds.  They had a difficult time muffling their laughter as the sheriff of Spanish Wells was heard cursing the pranksters who had lit jack o’lanterns in every window of an old warehouse that was seldom used any more.  Johnny and Rico heard every threat and bit of frustration as they made their way out of the alley and to the place where they had left their horses.  Johnny was pretty sure that Gabe knew who was behind it but he also knew that, unless someone’s property was damaged or somebody was hurt, Gabe would eventually laugh it off.  After the troubles they’d had with the McGloin family, among others, lit jack o’lanterns in windows were the least of his problems.  The only problem was that there was always the Widow Hargis – she’d not take this as a joke and she’d be bending Gabe’s ear for months about it if he didn’t put a stop to it.  The woman just didn’t have a sense of humor.

Val Crawford, upon finding the abandoned school in Green River decorated in much the same way, was much more vocal about it.  He had a pretty good idea who was behind all this and he was going to find a way to make his buddy pay for putting him to all this extra work.  Val did not relish calming down Mayor Higgs – the man was difficult as it was and this would just irritate him more and have him calling for Val to turn in his badge.  The fact that Mayor Higgs had an exaggerated sense of self importance did not help matters any.  He also had less of a sense of humor than the Widow Hargis in Spanish Wells.

Sheriff Sam Jayson, a nice guy but not the most competent of lawmen, was the next target.  Morro Coyo was a sleepy little village with one general store, a dry goods store, a cantina and a stable.  The four young men got together and soaped all the windows they could get to without being seen and lit some jack o’lanterns in the window sills of the jail cells.  The prisoners, both drunks, were frightened out of their wits by the eerie faces glowing in the dark.  The four parties responsible could hear them screaming all the way down the street at the cantina where they were carefully creating their alibis for that night.  Everyone would remember seeing Johnny, Kevin, Rico and Willie in the cantina at the time that the prisoners started screaming. 


“What the….?” Buck Addison, new husband of the former Agatha Conway, went to open the gate to his corral in the morning only to find that it had been taken off its hinges when it fell in the dirt at his feet.  He was not amused by this little stunt and immediately suspected Johnny due to their past history when he was courting Aggie.  He may have been married to Aggie, and had an understanding with Murdoch, but that didn’t mean he was going to put up with this nonsense from Murdoch’s son. 


At the Malcom ranch, Mark Malcom was finding out that his outhouse had been tipped over.  He was half the morning putting it to rights again but, unlike Buck Addison, he didn’t get very mad because he remembered pulling stunts like that when he was a younger man. 


“I guess you men know why I’ve called you here,” Gabe said as he looked out over the assembled group of ranchers and business owners.  “It seems that we have some practical jokers in our midst. They’ve been lighting jack o’lanterns in empty buildings and putting them on windowsills at the jail, tipping outhouses, unhinging gates and so on.” 

“I hear it’s happening in Green River and Morro Coyo as well,” someone piped up from the back of the room. 

“Yes, it is,” Gabe acknowledged. “And it’s high time it came to a stop.” 

“Gabe,” Murdoch Lancer’s deep voice spoke up, “I agree with you whole heartedly – Lancer has had more than its share of jokes played in the last couple of weeks.  The latest one had my bedroom recreated outside in the courtyard – and it was done in broad daylight but no one saw a thing.  How can we stop what we can’t see?” 

“Besides that,” Scott spoke up, “although I strongly suspect my brother has something to do with it we have no proof.  Is there a pattern?  Not that I’ve noticed.” 

The other men in the room grumbled as they realized what Scott was saying was true.  Without either catching the pranksters in the act or finding proof, such as the glove Scott had lost a few months earlier in Jelly’s watermelon patch, there wasn’t much they could do.

 “Let’s start by making a list of the pranks that have been pulled and make a note of when and where they were discovered,” Scott suggested.  “By doing this maybe we can find a pattern and figure out who’s doing these pranks.”

 So they did.  Scott made a careful list of each prank that had been pulled and where they were pulled as well as when they were discovered.  Other than the fact that the jack o’lanterns had been lit at approximately the same time there was no rhyme or reason to what had happened.  It was maddening and it was frustrating but all Scott could put together was that more than one person had to be involved.  He wasn’t about to implicate Johnny and his friends until he had more proof. 

The meeting broke up a few minutes later.  Scott tucked the papers he’d been writing on into his pocket after folding them in quarters.  He intended to study them some when he and Murdoch got home. He didn’t know that there were more surprises in store for the people at Lancer let alone anywhere else in the vicinity. 


 It was pitch black at the hacienda by the time Murdoch and Scott arrived home.  None of the hands were about so they tended to their horses themselves.  As they exited the barn a blood-curdling scream came from Jelly’s quarters.  The two Lancers rushed toward the noise as lights were lit in the bunkhouse as well as the main house.

 The one doing the screaming was Jelly.  He’d been sound asleep but had awakened when he heard a noise in his room.  Sitting up he’d found himself staring into a pair of glowing green eyes.  Thinking it was some sort of a demon Jelly had let out a scream that Johnny would swear could be heard for miles around.

 “What’s the matter?” Teresa asked as she arrived on the scene clad in her nightgown and a robe.

 “We don’t know yet,” Murdoch told her, “but we’re about to find out.”

 Jelly’s door burst open just then and the grizzled handyman came rushing out. Scott caught him by the arm as he rushed by them.

 “What’s wrong Jelly?”

 “There’s a demon in my room!”

 “What?”  Scott was incredulous – everyone could hear it in his voice.

 “There’s a demon in my room.  The devil’s out to get me I tell you.  I was asleep and I heard a noise.  When I sat up I saw these green eyes staring at me in the dark!  It’s a demon I tell you!”

 “Scott, take a look,” Murdoch said as he took his turn at trying to calm the older man down.

 Teresa, for her part, was very curious.  She didn’t believe for a second that Jelly was being haunted but there was something strange about a pair of green eyes.  A few minutes later Scott emerged holding a bundle of black fur.

 “Here’s your demon, Jelly,” he said with a chuckle. 

 “It’s Smoky!” Teresa exclaimed.  “How’d he get in Jelly’s room?  He usually sleeps in the barn.”

 “I suspect our practical jokers have struck again,” Murdoch said while trying gamely not to laugh at poor Jelly.

 “Let me have him,” Teresa said to Scott as she reached for the pure black cat with the green eyes.

 “Teresa, honey, you oughtn’t to handle that cat.  Black cats are bad luck – don’t you know that?”

 “Nonsense, Jelly,” the girl said as she cuddled the cat.  “Smoky is one of the best mousers I’ve ever had.  He keeps the rats and the mice out of the feed in the barn.  We haven’t been pestered since he grew up.”

 “Somebody’s just playing a joke on you Jelly.  I doubt they meant to scare you that much though.”  Murdoch tried to placate the old man.

“Well, it weren’t funny!” Jelly exclaimed indignantly.  “I coulda had a heart attack seein’ those eyes staring at me in the dark!”

“Well, it’s all over now Jelly,” Murdoch said.  Turning to Scott he said, “Put Smoky here back in the barn would you?”

Teresa handed the cat to Scott who went to comply with his father’s request.  Along the way he reassured the men who had come out of the bunkhouse at the sound of Jelly’s scream that it was just somebody’s idea of a joke and that Jelly had had a nightmare. Cipriano gave Scott a knowing look as if to say “I know who it was and so do you Señor Scott.  Juanito has a lot to answer for by the time this Halloween is over”. 


The jokes didn’t stop there.  Every night someone reported jack o’lanterns shining in the windows of abandoned buildings.  There was never a risk of fire for Johnny and his friends made sure that they were discovered long before they became a hazard. 

More outhouses were tipped over.  Gates that led to yards but didn’t endanger any of the livestock on the place were unhinged.  Each joke was nothing more than a nuisance as if it were a group of teenagers, or even younger boys, out doing all the work.  It would be a while yet before anyone figured out that it was four overgrown kids doing it all. 


Two mornings after Jelly’s encounter with the “demon” the jokes were being played on Murdoch and Scott.

Murdoch went to his desk with papers in hand and sat behind it to do some work on the ledgers.  Without thinking about what he was doing, he reached out of habit to the right side of his desk for a pencil only to find that the pencils were now located on the left side of his desk.  His inkwell had been moved from the left side of his desk to the right side and the contents of his drawers had all been shifted to different drawers.  He had his suspicions as to who would have done this but, since his desk was never locked due to the fact that the cash needed for payroll and other expenses was kept in the safe, it really could have been anyone who had done it.

In the kitchen poor Maria was finding that all of her jars and cans and tins had been moved around and nothing was where it should be.  Teresa helped her move things back to where they belonged but Maria was breathing fiery threats toward the prankster that had done it.  Somebody would learn that it didn’t pay to mess with the cook – especially if you like to eat.

Scott, upon retiring to his room to clean up before dinner, found that his furniture had been rearranged.  Nothing was in its original place and it took him an hour, after dinner, to put the room to rights again.  That night he short sheeted his little brother’s bed in an attempt to pull something on Johnny rather than the other way around.  So much for that idea as it didn’t bother Johnny a bit – He simply lay down on top of it with a single quilt pulled over him for warmth. 

“Sleep well brother?” Scott asked at breakfast the next morning.

“Just fine, Scott,” Johnny said with a grin that told his brother he knew who had short sheeted his bed and it wasn’t Teresa.  Scott had mentioned it as being something that his roommate had done in college to some of their fellow students in the dormitory.

The next night Scott returned from a day on the range, a day in which nobody was supposed to be around the house or anywhere near it, to find that his bedroom had been moved – all of the furniture had been relocated to the yard and set up exactly as it would be in his room.  With help from Jelly and some of the other hands he put it back in his room where it belonged within an hour all the while breathing murderous threats toward his little brother and the clowns that had obviously helped him pull this one off.

Kevin Millar’s father picked up his pipe to have a smoke before bedtime only to find that his good tobacco had been replaced with stinkweed.  Once again he suspected his son, or one of his friends, but he couldn’t prove it.  Kevin was the oldest of five children and any one of them – or even his wife who loved a good joke – could have done it.

Rico’s older brother, Mateo, went to put on his hat and found his face covered in flour.

Aggie Conway got into the spirit of things and moved all of Buck’s books so that the spines were facing the inside of the shelf instead of outward so that they could be easily identified.  Buck didn’t think it was all that funny but Aggie laughed a long time at the look on his face.

Willie’s mother came home from shopping to find that all of her pictures had been turned upside down on the walls.  Once again, the suspected culprit wasn’t around and was also not the only viable suspect in the matter.

Scott came out to get to saddle Ranger only to find that his saddle was hanging from a pulley in the ceiling of the barn.  That was almost the last straw.  What really topped it off was when he got ready to go into town to visit the girl he’d been seeing off and on for the last few months and found that his bay rum aftershave had been replaced with something that made him think a skunk smelled pretty good in comparison.

Without a word to anyone he went to town to visit Señor Portillo.  He had an idea of how to get even with the pranksters that ought to make them swear off such things for a good long while. 


At four o’clock the next morning, an unseen bugler was heard playing Reveille at Lancer. Other buglers were heard outside of the Sheriff’s Offices in Green River, Spanish Wells and Morro Coyo.  Three very sleepy looking, and grumpy, lawmen got out of their bunks and went looking for the buglers.  Kevin, Rico, Willie and Johnny were well hidden and managed to smother their laughter as the lawmen, and one ex-cavalryman, went looking for the smart alecks that had disturbed their sleep.  By the time Scott got around to checking his brother’s room, Johnny was, to all appearances, sound asleep and looked as innocent as a lamb.

“I’m going to fix you little brother,” Scott grumbled.  “You can lie there pretending to be asleep and looking innocent but I know you’re responsible and I’m going to pay you back – but good!”

Johnny just lay there with his eyes tightly closed and laughing to himself on the inside.  Kevin, Rico and Willie, who all lived relatively close to their victims, also managed to be in bed when the law discovered where they’d been hiding.  The only clue that anyone had been nearby recently was the fact that a box had been pulled up near the side of the building so that the bugler could play directly into the window before making good his escape. 


“Señor Lancer?”  Manuel Portillo hailed Scott from the doorway of his shop.


 “I have almost finished the job you gave me.  Would you like to see?”

 “Yes, I would,” Scott replied.

 The older man led Scott into the back room of his shop.  He’d been very careful to keep this particular project out of sight.  He knew what Scott planned and he didn’t want Rico to find it and spoil the surprise.  For that matter Kevin and Willie had been hanging around an awful lot lately and they would be just as apt to discover what he was working on.  None of the young men were stupid and it wouldn’t take long for them to figure out what was going on.  Nobody involved wanted the practical jokes to stop until they’d had their chance at revenge.

 “Very nice, Señor,” Scott said.  I’ll see that you have the rest of the supplies we need for this in a couple of days.  How long after that will it be ready?”

 “Oh, it will be ready for Halloween, Señor Lancer,” Portillo said.  “We will give your brother, Juanito, and my Rico and their friends a Halloween they will never forget.”

 “I hope so, or I might just have to kill my little brother,” Scott said. 


Halloween night arrived dark and windy and cold for California.  It almost reminded Scott of the Halloweens he’d known back in Boston when the weather turned brisk and the multi-colored maple leaves swirled around in the wind and crunched under the feet of those who walked on them.  The one thing that was similar to Boston at this time of year was the smell of wood smoke in the air.  For a few minutes Scott was transported back to his childhood and youth before the war. 

Ten minutes after he saw Johnny ride out, presumably to have some fun with the kids at the orphanage where there was a Harvest Party going on complete with bobbing for apples and eating donuts that had strings tied around them and were dangling from low beams in the big dining hall, Scott went to the barn to get Ranger.  He fully intended to meet his brother at that party but first he had something else to do.

 Rico’s father, Andrew Millar, John Mays and Jim Talbot were waiting for him when he arrived at Portillo’s workshop.  Jim Talbot was supplying the wagon that would haul the project Manuel had been working on.  It took the four of them to load the large wooden object into the wagon – it was that heavy.  Scott, meanwhile, collected the giant spring that Mr. Mays had formed when it was discovered that none of the general stores had one big enough for what he had in mind.  Also in the workshop was a long piece of wood that looked like a club.  In reality it was part of Scott’s diabolical plan to get even with his brother for all the stunts he’d been pulling with his pals over the last few weeks.

 “Ready when you are Scott,” Jim told him.

 “Ok.  Let’s get going then.  Val and Gabe should be there by the time we get back.  They said they’d let their deputies handle things for a while – they wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

 Scott remounted Ranger and led the way while Jim, Manuel and John rode in the wagon.  Andrew Millar rode his own horse, a dappled gray mare named Betsy, alongside of Scott.  Within an hour they were at Lancer where Murdoch and Teresa waited, with Gabe and Val, for the revenge seekers to return. 

Murdoch and the two sheriffs pitched in and helped unload the wooden contraption.  Teresa and Maria had been willing to raid the henhouse for loose feathers, mostly white with some gray, which were glued to the outside of some old white pillowcases. They’d also raided the feathers they had stored for new pillows and mattresses.  Maura Talbot had supplied what Teresa couldn’t, including a couple of the pillowcases that she had intended to tear into bandages.  She thought that this lesson that was being planned for the four boys was just as good a means of using them as the bandages.  She always had old sheets to use for bandages.  The pillowcases were stuffed with feathers.  If all went as they hoped it would be pretty noisy for a few minutes and the feathers would be flying, but four young men would have learned a lesson about playing practical jokes on the wrong parties – especially when they had overdone it.

 “No need to hurry too much fellows,” Jim said to his friends.  “Johnny will be slightly delayed. 

 “How do you know?” Scott asked.

 “Because I pulled a Halloween prank of my own – I stopped by the orphanage and swapped Barranca for a Palomino colored Shetland Pony to pay him back for swapping Pintauro the other night.  As a matter of fact all of the boys will be delayed for the same reason – I had a little help and we swapped the horses of all three of them for ponies.  It’ll take them about half an hour to find their horses and return the ponies.”  Jim grinned, “By my reckoning they’ll not get here for another hour and a half.  There’s plenty of time to set our prank up and mark up the yard with the tracks.”

 “Mr. Talbot!  I never knew you could be so sneaky!” Scott laughed.

 “Wait’ll you’ve known me as long as your father has,” their neighbor told him.  “You’ll learn a lot of things about me you don’t know now.”

 The group took their time but set up as quickly as possible.  The wagon and team were hidden, the joke set up and the tracks Jim had spoken of were carefully arranged to lead the boys right to the main part of the joke.

 Just as the boys were heard coming down the road toward the arch everyone went into hiding.  Jim Talbot, Andrew Millar, Scott, Murdoch and Teresa hid around the side of the house nearest the courtyard.  Manuel Portillo and John Mays hid in the darkness near enough their joke to be able to spring it and yet be out of harms way if the young men reacted the way everyone anticipated.  Their darker coloring made them the ideal candidates for it.  It was natural camouflage.

 “I still can’t figure out who would have swapped our horses for ponies,” Kevin was heard to say to the others.

 “That’s easy,” Johnny said.  “Scott would have done that.  He never did show up at the party.  He must have waited until he was sure we were busy with all those kids and then made the switch.”

 “Ah, come on!” Kevin said.  “Why would Scott do that to all of us?  I can see him doing it to you but whoever did it did it to all four of us.”

 “Mark my words – it was Scott,” Johnny said with conviction.  “He figured out that I’m the one that’s been playing tricks on him so he did this to get even.  He included you because you’re my friends and he figures it’s only fair to figure that you were in on it.”

 Jim Talbot grinned at Scott who was giving him an exasperated look.  Mouthing the word “sorry” he turned his attention back to the quartet of mischief-makers that were now entering the yard. Teresa stifled her giggles with difficulty as the young men got closer to where the booby trap was set up and waiting for them.

 “Hey!  What’s this?” Rico could be heard.

 “What’s what?” Johnny asked.

 “These tracks.  I’ve never seen such big ones before.”

 Johnny reached into his saddlebags and retrieved a candle, which he lit with a match he took from his pocket.  Bending over the tracks he said, “I’ve never seen anything like ‘em before either.”

 “They look like chicken tracks,” Willie said, “only I ain’t never seen a chicken that big.”

 “Oh, come on you guys!” Kevin exclaimed in exasperation.  “You know there’s no such thing as a giant chicken.  Let me see!”

 Johnny handed the candle to Kevin.  From their hiding places everyone was stifling their giggles and guffaws as the boys came closer to their “reward” for being such good trackers.

 Suddenly there was a great squawking noise from the place where Manuel and John were concealed. 

 “Bawk.  Bawk.  Bawk, bawk, bawk.” Came from the dark corner of the yard where their “destiny” awaited them.

 “What’s that?” Rico asked as he looked around.

 “Nothin’,” Johnny replied.  “Just a chicken.  You afraid of chickens now Rico?”

 “No!  But those tracks don’t belong to an ordinary chicken Johnny!  Those tracks are huge!  Bigger than a turkey even.  As big as an elephant’s footprints!”

 “Ah, what do you know about elephants?” Kevin asked his pal.

 “I’ve seen pictures of them,” was the reply.

 “Bawk.  Bawk.  BAAAAWK!”  the chicken squawked louder.

 “Where’s that stupid chicken at?” Johnny asked.  “If I don’t put it back in the coop Teresa will blame me if something happens.  Just like she blamed me for that stupid Mirabel dying of a heart attack when I shot that snake I found in the chicken coop.”

 “Sounds like it’s coming from over there.” Willie pointed toward the place where his and Rico’s fathers were hidden waiting to spring their trap.

 The four young men walked over in that direction.  The two older men hiding there got ready to spring their trap.

 “Here chick, chick, chick,” Johnny called the hen he believed was loose from the coop. 

 Those in hiding around the corner of the house could see and hear everything that was happening.  As the boys got ever closer to where Manuel and John were hiding they slipped away from the corner of the house and hid in the courtyard.  It wasn’t easy not to laugh as they anticipated what was coming.

 “Hey look,” Kevin said holding the candle close to the ground.  “The tracks lead this way.”

 The other three young men followed Kevin’s lead.  The closer they got to where the trap was going to be sprung the louder the chicken squawked.

 “Where are you you stupid chicken?  You’re as dumb as Mirabel was!”

 All of a sudden a huge white-feathered creature sprang up in front of the four young men. 


 “Madre de Dios!” Rico and Johnny exclaimed simultaneously.

 “Yikes!” was Kevin’s reaction.

 “Yeow!” was the scream that was torn from Willie’s throat.

 BANG!  That was Johnny’s pistol, which he had drawn as the specter made its appearance.

 The bags of feathers burst sending clouds of white and gray feathers into the air to land gently on the ground, on the clothing of the four frightened young men and in their hair.  The horses they had ridden into the yard spooked at the unexpected noise and ran off.  Barranca, though, did not go far as he was already home.

 “What the heck was that?” Johnny wanted to know as he and his friends backed away rapidly.  Kevin, Willie and Rico looked like they were ready to run just as their frightened horses had.

 “That, little brother,” Scott said as he and the others came out of hiding, “is payback!”

 “Serves you right for pulling all those jokes – all four of you!” Teresa scolded.  “And Mirabel just got her revenge on Johnny!”

 Unable to stay serious a moment longer, the other men came out of hiding and every one of them had a good laugh on the bewildered young men standing before them.

 “That should teach you four a good lesson,” Murdoch said while the other men nodded their heads.  “Don’t take Halloween pranks too far or you’re liable to regret it.” 


The next morning Johnny was the last one down to breakfast.  He and his friends had been given the job of picking up the mess that the “Ghost of Mirabel” had left since it was their stunts over the last couple of weeks that had precipitated the jokes the night before.  Little did he know that there was one last prank about to be pulled even though it was now November first.

 Maria bustled about fixing flapjacks and bacon for those family members who were already up and about and seated at the table.  Every now and then she glanced toward the door that led to the main part of the house watching in anticipation of the younger of the Patron’s son’s arrival.

 “Mornin’,” Johnny said as he came into the kitchen.

 “Good morning, Johnny,” his father said.

 “Good morning,” Teresa greeted him.

 “Did you sleep well last night little brother?” Scott wanted to know.


 “You boys did a good job of picking up those feathers last night,” Murdoch complimented his younger son.  “What did you do with the chicken?”

 “I put it in the barn for now.  Rico’s pa went to a lot of trouble to make it.  I figure he should have the right to decide what to do with it.”

 “That’s good thinking.”

 “Mamacita!  Breakfast looks good!” Johnny said as he eyed the food on his family’s plates.  “Could I have my breakfast now?”

 “Sí.  I will give it to you in un momento.  First I must give you papa his second helping.  Then I must give su hermano his.  Teresa has already finished hers.”

 “Never mind,” Johnny said.  “I can get my own.”  He couldn’t understand why she was making him wait.

“No!  You sit down at the table.  I will serve you in un momento!”

Quickly she refilled Murdoch and Scott’s plates as well as their coffee cups.  Then she went and got plate for Johnny.  When she placed it in front of him his eyes went wide with disbelief.  For Maria was having the last laugh where her kitchen was concerned.  Johnny’s plate was covered with hay and cracked corn such as he would feed to Barranca or the other horses.

“Maria!” Johnny wailed.

“That will teach you to play around in my kitchen!” the matronly housekeeper declared.

The kitchen was soon filled with the sound of laughter as, looking from Johnny’s plate to his face and back again Murdoch, Scott and Teresa started laughing until tears ran down their faces.  Maria soon joined them and even Johnny had to give in and laugh.  It seemed the joke was now on him. 



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