Assumptions for all Lancer fanfic written by phoenix:
1) The Lancer Ranch is located in the San Joaquin Valley, five to ten miles southwest of Modesto, California, which became an official town in 1870* and was incorporated in 1884*,
2) Modesto is located on the Tuolumne River, near the Stanislaus River, and has grown tremendously since the railroads began to connect it to other parts of the country. In fact, Sacramento and Los Angeles were fully connected by good, solid, non-interrupted railroad lines by 1876*,
3) California became a state on September 9, 1850* and, since that time, the area surrounding Modesto has evolved into a thriving community,
4) Modesto became a major railroad stop making it a town able to offer a full range of goods, services, schools, churches and other community functions. With Modesto providing for the needs of those living within a large radius of the city, the smaller towns built before the 1850s, to serve gold rushers and the early ranchers in the area, shuttered up and became ghost towns,
5) During the 1850s, the San Joaquin Valley evolved from being gold rush territory and open range. It became an area known for its agriculture and cattle ranching. With the railroad support available in Modesto, and a few strategically placed dams to stabilize the water supply, the land in this area became, and remains today, some of the most productive farm and ranch land in California, and
6) Murdoch Lancer sent for his two sons in 1871. Scott was 25-years-old when he arrived and Johnny would be turning 21-years-old later that same year.
Additional assumptions for this Lancer fanfic story:
1) It is 1876 and the Lancer Ranch has grown bigger, better and more profitable since Murdoch’s sons arrived to help him manage the ranch, and
2) Teresa and Scott have both married and started their families. Johnny and Murdoch remain the bachelors around the Lancer Ranch.
FROM ATLANTIC TO PACIFIC
CHAPTER ONE – ONE HECK OF A LONG DAY
“Is the walk helping?”
“Feel like talking?”
“I would,” Scott couldn’t help but try offering his brother what he could muster of a smile, “if I knew what the heck to talk about.”
They walked on in silence, finally standing still when they got to the end of the pier. Scott stood taking in deep breaths of the ocean air surrounding them. He gulped in air until his brother’s chuckling brought him back to the present.
“Tell me, again,” Johnny smiled when Scott shot a stare in his direction, “how does the Atlantic smell?”
“Well, I’ve obviously been doing a bad job of explaining it to you, but there is a difference. The Pacific doesn’t have a natural smell. When you approach it, one has a sensation that there is more moisture in the air, but there isn’t a definitive smell. It simply smells fresh and clean, in most places, and I’ve found that to be true in San Francisco and, now, Los Angeles.”
“It is true whatever part of the Pacific Ocean I’ve seen; here, San Francisco, down in Mexico or all the small coastal towns I’ve wandered through over the years. Of course, that doesn’t explain to me what you mean by the Atlantic Ocean’s smell.”
Scott closed his eyes as delightful images of Boston’s harbor and other Atlantic Ocean ports danced through is head. Out of habit, when he had these daydreams, Scott took another deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Let’s see, how do I explain it?” He smiled when a new idea came to him, sharing, “When you leave Philadelphia and head straight for the New Jersey shore.”
“Philadelphia? When did that city enter the picture?”
“Just listen, Johnny. I was thinking of cities that aren’t right on the ocean, but close to it. My analogy will make sense soon enough.”
“You leave Philadelphia behind and head over land that becomes more sandy every mile. More than a mile before you’re actually at the beach, your senses fill with a salty, sandy, seaweedy, ocean smell. If a blind man happened to smell it, he would tell you the Atlantic Ocean wasn’t far away. Here, the poor man would walk right off the pier never realizing an ocean was in front of him.” Scott smiled, then added, “And, of course, the Atlantic up in the Eastern Seaboard is more green than blue.”
Johnny shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe someday, I’ll get back there with you and it will make sense to me. Heck, a few years ago, no one expected it would be so easy to get from Modesto to Los Angeles. Straight shot … Boom, you are here in three days. Used to take weeks of trains, stages and a whole lot of fortitude to make the same trip.”
“The Valley really has changed since Murdoch brought us home; hasn’t it?”
“Not only the Valley, Big Brother, we’ve changed a bit, too.”
They laughed and continued their late night chat all the way to the hotel. Once inside their suite, they said goodnight for the second time that evening and headed back into their adjoining bedrooms. Despite being exhausted from their trip, a long day’s work and their late night walk after Scott couldn’t sleep earlier, it was only a matter of minutes before Scott’s screams rang out.
Johnny lit the lamp at the door, then walked over to his brother’s bed.
He sat shaking his head; utterly confused by what was happening and not knowing how to make himself stop screaming.
“It has to
be the visit to your doctor friend after we finished signing those horse
contracts at the Army’s Administration building.” Johnny slid into the chair
by the door, admitting, “I wasn’t even in that war, but seeing those broken
men still stuck at a smelly dank Army Depot after all these years ... Let me
tell you, I found it more than a bit alarming. The men physically crippled
by the war went home a long time ago, but these poor bastards, the ones who
lost their minds, they could be in Army Hospitals for the rest of their
“I know; it bothered me, too.”
“Enough to start these nightmares?”
“You had them before?”
“Used to have them on a regular basis, especially when I first returned to Boston when the war ended.” Scott leaned over and poured himself a glass of water from the vase on his nightstand, adding, “They lessened in frequency over time and they stopped when I came out to California. I truly thought I was done with them.”
“Nightmares are funny like that. They reach out and grab you when you’re least expecting them to.”
“You an expert?”
Johnny returned his brother’s weary smile.
“No, but your friend seems to be an expert about the war’s ability to play tricks on a man’s mind. He’s dedicated his medical practice, his entire life, to helping those poor buggers. Imagine, he said there are wards full of these men all around the country.”
“Yes, David and his colleagues certainly have their work cut out for them if any of the men under their care are ever going to be well enough to go home. The war ended more than ten years ago; I can’t imagine how he doesn’t find it exasperating.”
“Maybe, if you think it would help, we could stay an extra day. That would give you time to go over and talk to him about your nightmares suddenly coming back.”
“Thanks for offering to stay, but that won’t be necessary. I’m sure the nightmares will disappear as soon as we leave Los Angeles. The Army Depot, especially those smells around the hospital wards, just brought back some unpleasant memories.”
“I’m sure.” Scott finished his water and reached for a book, offering, “You go on to bed. I’m going to read; maybe I’ll drift off, and maybe I won’t, but you need to get some sleep.”
Johnny nodded his gratitude, then headed back to his room where he quickly fell into a much needed sleep. In the next room over, Scott read and worked hard to stay awake. He didn’t want to disturb his brother, or any of the guests in rooms nearby, any further that night.
CHAPTER TWO - ON THE WAY HOME
They had to get up extra early to make it from where a friend recommended they stay, by the water and decent seafood restaurants, and caught a coach into the Los Angeles station. From there, it was a slow ride uphill and by late afternoon, they were more than ready for their overnight stop in Sumner. Like Modesto, this town had been made by the railroad company’s decision to use it as a passenger and freight stop. Despite it looking like a good place for a bit of exploring, Johnny suggested they eat at the hotel and call it an early night. Scott didn’t argue since their train left before sunrise the next day.
Unlike the suite the two brothers had enjoyed during their stay in Los Angeles, the hotel in Sumner only had individual rooms. They ate supper, then parted ways in the hall before entering their rooms which were next to one another. Johnny noticed Scott’s room went instantly quiet and he hoped his brother was finally resting. Neither of them had managed to get much sleep on the train. It was a typical train; noisy, hot, uncomfortable and full of noisy, hot, uncomfortable whining passengers. He tried to read, and then decided Scott wasn’t the only tired Lancer and went to bed.
“RUN, TOM! GET OUT OF THERE!”
Scott’s voice easily penetrated the wall between their rooms. Johnny thought he had been awakened by people talking in the hall but, when Scott screamed again, he knew what was going on. He threw on his pants and rushed next door. Scott had locked his door, but it only took one serious push with his shoulder and Johnny was inside.
“Scott,” he spoke while lighting a lamp, “wake up. You’re dreaming, Scott.”
Scott sat up and tried to orient himself to where he was and who was talking to him.
“You were having another one of those nightmares.”
“Oh, for heavens sake,” he moved to the side of the bed and rubbed his face with both of his hands, “I can’t believe I woke you all the way in the next room.”
“Believe me,” Johnny, as always, tried humor when things were too tense, “these walls aren’t much thicker than a piece of paper.”
Scott smiled, but couldn’t hide the fact he was disgusted that he’d been screaming, again.
“I don’t remember. What did I say?”
“I only heard part. Something about ‘getting out,’ but your words weren’t clear.”
They sat quiet while Scott thought over what Johnny shared.
“Make any sense?”
Scott rested back on the headboard and put his feet up on the bed. Slightly shivering as the sweat created by his nightmare began to dry on his skin, he pulled up the covers and tucked them in around his legs.
“Do you remember any of it?”
“Foggy stuff. I know I’m back in the army. I think we’re somewhere stuck in this incredibly thick underbrush … Maybe it was around Five Forks? We got stuck there in a nasty mess due to bad reconnaissance on the exact locations of the enemy’s flanks. That was one of a few hellish afternoons on that campaign, but I’m not sure.”
“That’s okay. I’m not certain there’s proof nightmares are necessarily based on the truth. Otherwise, why would little kids have nightmares about monsters being under their beds?”
He smiled, but Scott didn’t smile back. He was deep in thought and confused by his nightmares following them from Los Angeles.
“Are yours true?”
“Everybody has a nightmare now and then, Johnny. Are yours about true things?”
Johnny stood up and moved to stare out the window.
“We’re not awake in the middle of the night because of any bad dreams on my part.”
“Sorry.” Scott had spent over five years learning about his brother in heavily guarded bits and pieces, admitting, “Too personal. I shouldn’t have asked the question.”
“You feel like walking?”
“No,” he really didn’t and felt utterly exhausted, “I’m going to try and rest. Thanks for the offer.”
“Not a problem.”
Johnny crossed the room and stopped by the door. When he looked back, Scott had already slid down, but his eyes were focused on his brother.
“Lamp lit or …”
“Out is fine.”
After his brother blew out the lamp and closed the door, Scott repeated his earlier prayer. He had no idea why these nightmares were suddenly taking over his dreams, but he prayed for them to stop.
CHAPTER THREE – AN EARLIER MORNING THAN EXPECTED
“Breakfast sounds great after all that walking.” Johnny tried to get his brother to smile, adding, “Look at that stack of flapjacks; I might have to get some of those, too.”
“I’m sorry I kept you up all night, but it did seem to build your appetite.”
“Yes, I’m hungry, but I really am sorry …”
“Scott,” Johnny nodded his gratitude when the waitress refilled his coffee cup, “forget it. I simply wish a night wandering the streets of good’ol Sumner would help you figure out those nightmares.”
“I’m just tired from the trip.”
“Whatever you say.”
Their breakfast arrived and they began to eat in silence. Earlier, when Scott’s dreams woke him, again, the brothers headed out for a walk. Five hours later, Scott still had no desire to try resting for fear of waking the hotel’s other guests. They were in the hotel’s restaurant when it opened for breakfast, but not that much earlier than they would have been to catch their train north that day.
Johnny looked over and saw one of the hotel’s staff members posting a sign on the menu board, asking, “What’s he doing?”
Their waitress was nearby and explained, “Some type of problem with the tracks up north. Train schedule is going to be pushed back a day.”
After she walked away, the two men shook their heads and started to laugh.
“And here, we were going to be so gosh darn on time for that train.”
“First in line! Murdoch would have been so pleased.”
They shared another round of laughter, then ate their meals. After sending a telegram to Murdoch, they headed back to the hotel where Johnny went upstairs to get some sleep. Scott stayed in the library area of the lobby having decided not to bother to try sleeping and not wanting to be tempted by the bed sitting empty in his room.
XXXXXXXXXX LATER THAT DAY XXXXXXXXXX
“This sure is beautiful country.”
“You always say that; no matter where we’ve been together in California, you always say that.”
Johnny laughed and nudged his rented horse to move forward a bit faster, admitting, “It’s always true, Big Brother.”
Scott laughed and they rode on. It turned out they had the entire day to spend in Sumner. The brothers turned their unexpected opportunity into a day of visits to a few ranches people in town had recommended might be interested in doing some business with the Lancer Ranch. They had bought packed lunches at the hotel to keep in their saddlebags. After visiting three places with no cattle or horses that truly interested them, they diverted to a shaded area near a small creek they’d noted on their way out of town. Once their horses were settled, the brothers removed the food from their saddlebags then found a comfortable place to sit and eat.
After lunch, Johnny was restless and wanted to wander the creek to check on fishing possibilities. While he was gone, Scott relaxed against the large shade tree where they had eaten their lunch. When Johnny returned to check on his brother, he found him enjoying a much needed afternoon nap. He did some more exploring then, guessing correctly, pulled out the book carefully tucked in Scott’s saddlebag. While he was busy staying quiet, Johnny fell asleep, too. Finally, the late afternoon sun came around and shone into their shady spot, which woke the brothers up. They laughed about their ‘lost’ afternoon, but both felt refreshed and ready to head back into Sumner for the evening.
CHAPTER FOUR – FINALLY HEADING HOME
After a good supper and a pleasant evening of cards with a group in the bar, the two Lancer men headed off to bed feeling tired despite their unexpected nap that afternoon. Scott drifted right off to sleep, but Johnny spent a restless night listening to be sure his brother wasn’t having another nightmare. He finally fell into a deep sleep only an hour before Scott started knocking on his door so they had time to eat breakfast before heading to the train station. Johnny was too weary to say much when Scott delighted in teasing him about looking tired after a nap and a full night’s sleep. They ate and headed off for the train that, gratefully, left the station right on time.
Later, when they headed to their rooms at the hotel in Fresno, neither man expected they’d have any trouble sleeping. It had been another long day riding on an overcrowded train and Scott hadn’t had any nightmares their last night in Sumner. After all the time it took their train to deal with the mountains coming out of Los Angeles toward Sumner, the flats in the valley winding north to Fresno were a welcome relief. Neither of them had much success napping, but the flatter ride meant you weren’t fighting to stay in your seat with every elevating or declining pitch along the tracks. Once in Fresno, they had a pleasant meal, walked around town, and then sat in on a few rounds of poker.
That night, Scott had another nightmare not long after they retired. When he heard his brother’s voice and the lamp was lit in his room, he couldn’t believe it had happened, again. After refusing Johnny’s offer to ‘walk it off,’ since they’d already walked the entirety of Fresno, Scott insisted he wanted to relax alone in his room. Johnny tried to argue, but he held firm and the younger man, who was looking pretty worn out from their trip and too much interrupted sleep, reluctantly went back to his room.
Once he was alone, Scott sat at the desk making notes of the fragments of his nightmares that he did remember. Once he had things written here and there on his piece of paper, Scott sat back and looked each note over. He was a man that functioned better if he could apply logic and reason to something that was happening. But, after taking his time to examine the bits of dreams scribbled on the paper before him, Scott couldn’t find any logic that might be applied to them. It was simply a jumble; finally, after staring at it for too long, he couldn’t imagine any of it actually made sense in any way. Disgusted, Scott headed back to try and get some rest.
“Scott!” Johnny walked over and gently shook his brother’s shoulder, insisting, “Wake up. You’re having another bad dream.”
As was the case earlier, when Johnny ran into the room, lit the lamp and spoke loudly for his brother to awaken, Scott remained lost in his nightmare.
“TOM, GET THEM TO SWING AROUND. FOR GOD’S SAKE! GET OUT, TOM; THE REBS HAVE US FLANKED.”
Finally, Johnny shook Scott by both shoulders and he woke up. At first, he stared up at his kid brother like he’d never seen him before. Slowly, as the sound of the other hotel guests pounding on their walls for him to ‘shut up,’ Scott woke enough to realize where he was and what must have happened. He sat up and continued to shake off his nightmare. When Scott was ready, he got up and walked back over to look at the paper he’d left on the desk.
“Any answers written there?”
Scott turned and smiled at his concerned brother who was sitting in the armchair looking quite tired.
“Maybe, but I can’t make sense of them and believe me I’ve tried.”
“You want to know what I believe?”
“You should tell me about that mess at Five Fours. It might help to talk about it.”
“It might not.”
“I’d take that bet.”
Scott turned the chair so he could rest an arm on the desk and see Johnny.
“I’m not sure …” Scott took his time before speaking, again, “We’ve vicariously established that you, my dear brother, have been known to have nightmares, too.”
“Yes and I know very well that you’ll never talk to me about your dreams. What makes you think it would help me?”
“First, ‘never’ is a long time, Scott.”
“It is. And …”
“And it seems to me these recent nightmares are directly related to our visit at the Army Depot in LA, especially the time we spent with your friend, David. They might not have anything in common with the nightmares about the war you’ve had in the past or, heaven forbid, the ones you might have in the future. But, for now, it seems to me like your body is trying to work through one particular memory that our trip has touched upon in some way.”
“Something about Tom?”
“Tom, your men, the Rebs … Who knows.”
Scott shook his head as his mind wavered between the logic Johnny had presented and a strong desire to simply make the entire nightmare issue go away.
“You relax and think about what I said. I’ll be right back.”
Johnny was up and out of the room before Scott could ask what he was doing. A quarter of an hour passed, then his brother was back with two glasses and a bottle of whiskey from the bar.
“Can you imagine, the West has gotten so damned sophisticated, I had to bribe the desk clerk to pull these out of the bar! Fresno’s newly crowned society-types might not want to remember, but this used to be one hell of an ‘all night shoot’em up’ town. And I’m not talking that long ago.”
As it usually did, Johnny’s sense of timing for infusing humor when Scott was too tense worked its magic. He chuckled and waited for his glass to be poured and offered, then they sank back into their chairs.
“Thanks, John. I appreciate your concern.”
“You are welcome, but don’t give me too much credit. I wanted a drink and figured it might relax you, too.”
Scott smiled and watched the amber liquid he was swirling around in his glass. After waiting for his brother to start somewhere, Johnny tried to get him going.
“Tell me about Tom. You’ve mentioned his name in quite a few of these dreams.”
Scott sat back and sorted through the memories of his good friend floating across his mind.
“Good man, good officer and a good friend. We were young buck cavalry lieutenants in General Sheridan’s ranks. Fought our way through all those weeks outside Petersburg together.”
Scott took a long time to swallow the next taste of whiskey he put in his mouth.
“I remember the first time we met. The first thing he did was start what turned out to be an endless tease about my being from ‘Harvard Yard.’ Tom was a Penn man through and through.”
“Penn like the ‘University of’ in Philadelphia?”
“That would be the one.”
Johnny smiled, repeating Scott’s earlier lesson, “That’s the city you head east from, across sandy New Jersey, to get to the smelly green ocean you miss so much.”
Scott laughed with his brother who was obviously implying that he had been thinking about his friend, Tom, since they had been staring out at the Pacific Ocean together in Los Angeles.
Feeling better for having laughed with good company while holding a strong drink in his hand, Scott let his mind review that day in April of 1865 … The day when their unit was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. That day, Scott had led his men forward unknowingly using inaccurate information on where the Confederate flanks were located. It was the day his friend, Tom, lost his life in a hail of artillery fire from Reb canons that had swung out to easily flank them.
“April 1st, 1865, was a day that changed my life forever.”
Scott found his brother’s eyes and felt the trust between them in that room. He proceeded to tell his brother about his experience at the Battle of Five Forks. Slowly, Scott was able to relate how it felt to be stuck in horrific underbrush, under unrelenting canon fire and have nowhere to go. When the Union Army finally forced the Rebel artillery to shift its attention elsewhere, then chased them back behind their own lines, Scott found he was one of only a handful in his company to have survived their unsuccessful charge.
Later that night, when he had filed his reports and been reassigned to a newly formed company, Scott tried to find other survivors of his former company’s attack. Finally, he found Tom in a hospital tent, amid the chaos and confusion of war’s effects on the human body, and sat with him while he died.
“He was so broken up, terribly wounded.” Scott shook his head and held back his emotions, fighting to be able to admit, “I couldn’t pray for him to make it. It was obvious no man could survive his wounds and Tom was in horrific pain. At the very end, Tom didn’t even realize where he was and I was grateful. The sounds and smells in that place … Well, I suppose, my experience in the hospital tent took part of my soul that night.”
Johnny listened for another hour while Scott related more memories about this and other battles, plus this and other friends. Finally, when his brother was spent, they shared a last round and toasted Tom’s memory.
“Thank you, Johnny. I don’t know what it means, but I do feel better for having shared those memories. Relieved would probably be a more accurate word.”
“I’m honored and so proud. Thank you for trusting me with your memories. I promise to hold them dear.”
“It was the smell.”
“I think it was the smell at the Army hospital, very distinct.” Scott shrugged his shoulders, admitting, “I’ll probably battle with my war memories for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t take away one iota of how proud I was to serve.”
“I sure hope these nightmares don’t bother me for too long. Whatever the reason I’m having them, not sleeping is wearing me out. Plus, Anne won’t be happy having a husband scaring her with screams in the middle of the night.”
“She’ll be there for you.”
Johnny correctly sensed a long held and logical fear of being judged as ‘crazy’ if his nightmares continued was behind Scott’s comment.
“And,” he smiled and stretch while noting it was nearly time for breakfast according to the nightstand clock, “even when you and Anne get around to building that house you keep dreaming about, I’ll always be available for late night walks whenever you feel like one.”
Johnny stood up, suggesting, “No use trying to sleep. I’m heading down for a hot bath, then I’ll meet you for breakfast.”
“Sounds good; sounds real good.”
With a nod, his brother was out the door and Scott rested back to gather his thoughts. It had been a long night but, he wasn’t lying to his brother, Scott did feel better. He felt relieved, proud and glad to have told someone he respected about the loss of a friend he respected.
“Dear Father in Heaven,” Scott closed his eyes, earnestly praying, “may Thomas Wayne Scaffe rest in peace. My those that loved him find peace and be assured in their hearts that Tom was a good, just and honorable man who served his country with distinction. And thank you, Father, for the opportunity to have known Tom, and so many others who willingly gave the ‘last full measure’ for their country. May I live my life in a way that honors You and them. Amen.”
Feeling truly better, Scott headed down to the baths to clean up, too. They only had ninety minutes to bathe, eat breakfast and make their train north to Modesto.
EPILOUGUE – THE FOLLOWING SPRING
“I wasn’t expecting to find you out here.”
Scott strolled over and sat looking out across the corrals at their ranch’s newest acquisitions with his younger brother.
“Tried sleeping, but I’m …” Johnny thought for a minute, admitting, “I couldn’t sleep.”
Johnny had just returned from a long trip with Murdoch through the few Miwok villages still hidden up in the hills. Supper had been filled with Murdoch’s tales of the desperate poverty they had observed, along with their delight in finding the horse stock they wanted to cut into Lancer’s growing herd. With their US Army contracts to fill, along with the growing list of their other customers, Lancer was becoming known for both its quality cattle and its quality horse business. Murdoch rambled proudly about Johnny’s ability to, not only find the villages, but also relate and communicate with the people in them.
“You didn’t have much to say at supper.”
“Murdoch didn’t leave much room for any of us to say much.”
“True,” Scott chuckled with his brother, “but you seemed abnormally quiet. Something about those villages you helped Murdoch find bothering you?”
“Did you disagree with buying their horses?”
“No!” Johnny stood up and walked over to lean on the stucco wall, quietly sharing, “I’m glad we were able to give them some money in a respectful and honorable manner. They are a proud people and I hope we keep doing business with them.”
“Okay, then I’m glad, too.”
Scott waited while they both admired the horses across the way.
“I think it might be something like your experience in Los Angeles.”
“Something in the village set off a memory for you?”
“Maybe,” he let out an exasperated sigh, “but I’m not sure. Those folks are so proud, but so poor. The kids can’t keep the hunger from showing in their eyes.”
“Think we should take them some food?”
“We could try, but I doubt they’d accept it.”
Johnny walked back and took a seat across from his brother.
this one kid, a little boy who couldn’t have been more than seven, and he
had these eyes.” He swallowed an unexpected swell of emotions, and then
continued, “It was obvious that boy was a mixed breed because the native
people up in this part of California are fair skinned and he had tawny skin
and the biggest brown eyes. Probably Mexican, but I wasn’t going to ask.”
“So this child reminded you of someone you know?”
He looked up and returned Scott’s smile, then shrugged his shoulders.
“I was that dirty, hungry, desperate kid, except I had the only big blue eyes for miles in every direction.”
“We all know you have a soft spot when it comes to kids, but something about this boy seems to have really gotten to you. Tell me more about that little boy growing up in Mexico?”
“Nah, not much to tell. We had no money, we didn’t have much food and life could be tough now and then. Boring stuff, really.”
“Johnny, there are lots of hungry children in the world. We’ve seen too many of them on our travels around California. What about this little boy stuck a cord with you?”
in his eyes, a haunted look. Like he had seen too much, too early and
despite being such a little guy, it had aged him.”
“He had an old soul for a little boy?”
“Yea, like that.”
“Did you already have an old soul when you were seven?”
Johnny laughed and shook his head, joking, “Think over what you just asked me, Scott. This conversation is nuts.”
“No,” Scott refused to laugh, pushing harder, “I would like an honest answer to my question.”
“Did I have an old soul at seven like that Miwok kid?”
Scott waited, not for his brother to formulate an answer; they both already knew the answer. He waited for Johnny to decide if he wanted to share the answer; it was obviously very personal information, and he guarded anything personal, even from family.
“When I was seven, things weren’t good at our place. We lived in a border town where my stepfather made a living gambling and probably doing a few other things he never mentioned. My mother worked hard doing other folks laundry and I tried to help. We’d load up this old wagon she found, fill it with the laundry to be delivered and my younger brother, then walk for miles delivering clean and picking up dirty. I didn’t mind; like any seven-year-old boy, I was happy just spending time with my mother.
“That year, I’m guessing the gambling wasn’t going well for my step-father because the beatings he gave me became more frequent. My mother would try to intervene and then he’d hit her, too. It got really bad when he decided my little brother was fair game. Ma and I would jump him together, but he was much stronger than us.”
Scott waited, then spoke to draw Johnny back from being lost in his own thoughts.
“So what happened?”
He looked up stunned to see Scott still sitting there; Johnny had been immersed in memories he’d kept hidden for many years.
“What happened when your step-father started to beat your younger brother?”
“It ended in a bad way, a very bad way.” He sighed and shook his head, adding, “I suppose it had to, but I was a little kid and didn’t know it then.”
“Tell me what happened?”
Scott nodded when Johnny’s eyes met his own. The enormous trust that their years on the ranch had build between the two brothers was palpable on the veranda that night; they both felt it.
“He came home drunk, really drunk, one afternoon. I remember how hot it was in the back where we were busy boiling water to wash another tub of clothes. My ma tried to get him out of there, to get him to go to bed and sleep it off, but he was having none of it. The way they were screaming … It scared my brother and I couldn’t get him to stop crying.
“My stepfather grabbed that little kid and slammed him across the room into the kitchen wall. My mother rushed at him with a kitchen knife, but he knocked her silly, too. At the same time, I had wrapped myself around his legs, trying to bring him down, and he … Well, he made sure I knew not to do that, again.
“Finally, he tied me to the legs of the kitchen stove and took a few more swings at me. Ma had come around by then and she got on his back and tried … He was too strong for her. He whipped her around like a doll, raped her right on the kitchen table, then beat the life out of her before throwing her lifeless being on the floor where my brother and I were laying.”
Suddenly, stirred from the thoughts crossing his mind, Johnny explained, “I know folks would argue with me about that rape thing. After all, they were considered married in Mexico; heaven alone will have to figure out that mess, now that I know Murdoch’s side … The point is, a man, even a husband, ain’t got no right when she kept screaming for him to stop.”
Johnny stood up and tried to physically shake the sensations overtaking his being away. Scott waited, trying to quell his own emotions, then moved over near where his brother was standing.
“Thank God, you were able to survive the madness of that afternoon. What happened to your younger brother?”
“He laid there making weird breathing noises most of the evening, but they stopped sometime that night. I just listened, couldn’t get loose from the stove and nobody seemed to hear me screaming. I remember praying I was wrong; that my mother wasn’t really dead, but I knew she was gone.
“That evening, when the bastard woke from a nap, he took one look at the mess in the kitchen, walked out the door and rode away. Neighbors found us the next day since people wondered where their laundry had gotten, too.”
“Who took care of you?”
“I was shipped off to a town big enough to support an orphanage when the rotating priest passed through our village. Folks where we lived didn’t want me since I was double bad luck; what with my Anglo blood and how my ma and brother died. Didn’t last more than two years at that awful orphanage. The Sisters were busy trying to save my soul, but I had already decided not to care if I was ‘eternally damned to hell.’”
“Because I knew I was going to be a killer. Had to be since I was going to kill my son of a bitch step-father or die trying.”
“And you knew that when you were seven?”
Scott hated hearing himself restate the obvious, but Johnny’s memories were so horrible. His mind, and heart, were fighting the thought of his brother having survived … For any child to have seen …
“Oh, Scott, I’m sorry.”
Johnny turned at the sound of his brother’s quiet weeping; suddenly, Scott’s embrace saved him from continuing to loose himself in things he’d locked away for many years. Johnny felt safe, loved and grateful that the new life Murdoch had brought him to included his brother.
“Don’t be sorry, Johnny, I’m the one that’s sorry. I wish …”
“Can’t go there,” Johnny smiled and wagged his finger as they moved apart, “the past is the past. Can’t change it.”
“True.” Scott smiled and nodded, admitting, “I am honored you felt comfortable enough to share what happened to you, your mother and brother with me. I won’t break your trust.”
They stood in silence, refocused on the horses in the corrals across the way. Finally, they said good night and Scott watched as his brother crossed the yard to sit on a corral fence. He knew Johnny would find as much peace spending time admiring those quality animals as he would attempting to sleep.
For Scott, their talk had revealed an unexpected truth. A man didn’t have to have been ‘to war’ or to have served ‘on any sort of battlefield’ in order to have endured combat. Johnny hadn’t said it, but he was certain they had just discussed the memories that had caused his brother more than a nightmare or two over the years. Since their talk in Fresno, Scott’s nightmares had been less frequent and he felt better knowing Johnny would always be there if he needed to talk more. Hopefully, his younger brother had learnt the same lesson tonight; Scott was, and would always be, there for him.
Thank you for reading my story.
Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.
XXXX Additional Information For Those Who Might Be Interested XXXX
Scott’s character’s nightmares in this story are meant to depict the Battle of Five Forks in Dinwiddie, Virginia, on April 1, 1865.
If you would like to learn more about this battle, try these Internet sites:
Most advances in the USA’s medical/surgical practices have their roots in the world of military and battlefield medicine. (I believe this is true around the entire world.) Additionally, after the American Civil War, physicians began to exchange information and document what they termed ‘soldier’s heart’ when discussing that war’s effects on the young men in their communities. Thus, the effect of war on human beings began to force advances in Psychiatry, too.
It was noted that Civil War veterans, who survived the battlefield, all too often later lost their lives to diseases such as alcoholism, which no one knew to address as a chronic illness (most probably Depression). In towns across the country, men came home and were never productive citizens again. The growing railroad system ferried many of these men around and they became known as ‘tramps’ and ‘hobos’ long before that population of homeless persons exploded during the Depression years (1930s). In addition, many American Civil War veterans were too restless to go home and settle back into rural settings. They moved into the cities, fed the labor needs of America’s growing heavy industries, and changed the dynamics of America’s population makeup.
Most men, as is depicted by the Scott character in this story, simply went on with their lives. They ignored the nightmares, night sweats and bouts with depression and rarely, if ever, told anyone anything about it.
US Army records from as far back as the American Civil War document the existence of wards for those completely incapacitated by their war experiences, as is depicted in this story, but the recovery rates were dismal.
If you would like to learn more, try this Internet site: