Disclaimer: Since the Lancer characters aren’t mine, I do this for free, no money for me and none for them.
Author’s note: This is my attempt at a little Halloween supernatural humor. For those of you who don’t like true hair-raising fright this is the tale for you. Absolutely nothing graphic, scary or unexplainable happens.
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It was Halloween; the night was tranquil and beautiful, rather than scary and stormy, as many thought Halloween to be. The full moon was high in the starry sky. There wasn’t a cloud about to impede the silvery beams of light that stretched earthbound from the pale sphere. The radiant glow of the heavenly bodies bathed the landscape with a soft purple haze saving the night from total nocturnal blackness. It was luminous enough to cast moon shadows of the trees and the light breeze moving through the limbs caused those shadows to sway and dance upon the ground. The moonlight wrapped around the creamy form of Barranca making the palomino shine like gold as he trod home with Johnny upon his back.
Humming contentedly to himself, Johnny enjoyed the beauty of the night. He felt happy and relaxed not only due to the calm and peaceful atmosphere but also because of the shots of tequila he had enjoyed in the saloon with some friends, still in town after the Harvest dance, as Johnny rode through on his return from a three day business trip. He had offered to go even though it was Scott’s turn because Scott had a date for the Halloween dance and would not have been back in time to attend.
Johnny sighed in pleasure as he spied the turn off to the ranch just ahead. The white stone arch loomed out of the darkness, standing like a solitary guard greeting all who entered. Barranca’s meandering plod switched to a happy trot and he tossed his head as he smelled the familiar scents of the barn. Horse and rider passed under the arch and headed straight for the barn. Riding past the patio Johnny noticed his border collie, Lady, waiting for him by the French doors. The dog seemed to have an intuitive sense about when to wait up for his return and when to retire for the night with the rest of the family.
Arriving at the barn, Johnny slid with boneless deportment from the saddle; his boots striking the dirt with a dull tired thud. He rested his head briefly against Barranca’s side trying to find the energy to take care of his tack and horse. Out of the corner of his eye, he detected a movement within the dark shadows near the barn door. Instantly he spun, his hand dropping to his holster and drawing his gun, his arm blurred with deadly accurate precision, his pistol was locked on his target.
“It’s Pedro, Senor Johnny. I only wish to tend your horse for you.”
Shoulders slumping back into his loose easy, posture from the alert stance of his ready for danger mode, Johnny smiled nervously, his white teeth glowing in the gloom of the late night hour. “Sorry, Pedro, I guess all those ghost stories Scott told around the campfire the other night have me jumping at shadows. I think I’ll take you up on your offer tonight. I’m ready to fall into bed.” Johnny punctuated his statement with a jaw cracking yawn. He pulled his saddlebags from the horse and slung them over his shoulder. He gave Barranca’s chin a good scratching, and then turned his steed over to the ranch hand.
Dragging his feet lethargically across the yard, Johnny kicked up dust and his spurs ching-chinged in a slow lazy ring. He by-passed the front door and headed to the French doors so he could let Lady in with him. As he trudged towards the doors, Lady’s tail began to wag and thump in joyous rhythm against the glass panes behind her. She stood and yipped happily at her master’s return.
“Shush…” cautioned Johnny as he approached, “You don’t want to wake the house up. They’re liable to think some of them Halloween spirits are after them, especially Teresa, she actually believed Boston’s tales of ghost and spirits,” Johnny snickered quietly.
As he reached for the door knob, Lady dipped her head and picked up whatever it was she had been resting her chin on when Johnny walked up. In the silvery light of the moon it appeared she had some kind of rag, but on closer inspection Johnny realized it was a small animal.
“What have you got?” inquired Johnny as he reached down and grabbed hold of the item and pulled. Lifting it up for a better look, he grimaced when he realized it was a rabbit. His grimace turned to an eye popping, mouth dropping open look of horror when he realized it wasn’t just a rabbit, but it was Teresa’s pet bunny Happy. He was sure of that because it was all white except for a small patch of black fur right between his eyes that was shaped like a heart. The little rabbit had been an Easter present from her father ten years ago. Normally the pampered and much loved pet was kept in a small enclosure, fenced in with chicken wire.
“Oh…no, Lady, what have you done? Johnny hissed dispiritedly. “Teresa will have both our heads. You know how she loves this rabbit,” Johnny exclaimed in a rush of dismayed guilt as he shook the limp lump of dirty fur at the collie. The poor rabbit looked like it had been dragged through mud and bushes. It’s once snowy white fur was coated and clumped together with dried dirt and bits of sticks and leaves. Happy’s dead pink eyes stared in mute accusation at Johnny.
Johnny swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat. He felt just terrible. Teresa would be heartbroken over the death of her rabbit, not to mention mad enough at the way it died to string his and Lady’s guts into garters. Truth be told, he was shocked himself. Lady had been introduced to Happy when she was a puppy, and they had often played together. It didn’t make sense that the dog would kill its bunny friend.
Moving over to one of the patio torches, Johnny struck a Lucifer stick and lit the torch. He held the small animal in the light and carefully inspected every inch of it. It had no broken bones, or open wounds, gashes or lacerations. In fact other than the filthy state of its fur Johnny could find absolutely nothing wrong with it. Desperate to avoid Teresa’s over the top ire, as well as to spare her the horror of the details behind Happy’s demise, a devious masterful plan was born out of a tired mind with a tequila buzz…one that he hoped would save them all.
“Come on, Lady. I’m not sure what happened here, but I am sure you and me will be blamed for it. I have an idea that will keep us out of trouble and that will make Teresa think Happy died peacefully in his sleep.”
Cramming the lifeless bunny in his saddlebags just in case he was spotted before he reached his room, Johnny then opened the door. He poked his head in first and glanced guilty about, seeing the coast was clear, Johnny slipped quietly in and held the door for Lady. He closed the door, and then turned and tiptoed for the staircase, shushing the collie when her toenails dared to make a clicking noise on the hard wood floors. Up the stairs they crept, as silent as shadows they ghosted down the hall. Reaching his door, Johnny’s eyes darted nervously about for witnesses before entering the room, carefully closing the door and engaging the lock. Lady scurried across the room and leapt onto the bed.
“Oh sure make yourself comfortable in my bed while I clean up the evidence of your bad deed,” Johnny groused as he walked over to the washstand and dresser.
Opening his saddlebag, Johnny retrieved the carcass of Happy. All he needed to do was clean the little guy up, and then return him to his pen, where hopefully Teresa would find his body and assume he had died in his sleep. But for her to believe that Johnny needed to wash and dry its fur, restore it to its normal pristine condition. With the absence of any trauma on its body and with its advanced age for a rabbit it shouldn’t be hard to convince the others it was Happy’s time to go.
Grabbing his comb, Johnny used it to brush some of the loose dirt and debris from the bunny’s fur. When he had dislodged all he could he stepped to the front of the washstand and placed the body in the basin and poured some water over it. He picked up the bar of soap and began to lather the body. He rubbed briskly causing a thick covering of foamy suds to rise; it was grayish in appearance instead of white due to the amount of dirt that had been present on the fur. When he moved to the head, Johnny squirmed under the glare of the lifeless pink eyes, his conscience almost getting the better of him. He grimaced in disgust and dismay as he scrubbed the area between the deceased animal’s ears and it made it look like the rabbit was wiggling them at him. With the last area cleaned Johnny grabbed the pitcher and rinsed the soap away. He sighed in relief when the shampoo chore was done. He grabbed a thick piece of flannel and for the next hour vigorously toweled the fur dry. When he was finished Happy looked so good, he could almost convince himself he was just asleep.
Lady had observed the activity of the past hour from the luxury of the bed. She kept tilting her head and giving her master inquisitive looks and inquiring low throated whines and whimpers.
“Well, what do you think?” questioned Johnny as he approached the bed with the neatly groomed dead bunny. “He looks as good as new, doesn’t he,” Johnny inquired as he held the rabbit in front of Lady and she nuzzled it. “Now all I need to do is sneak it back down to its pen and no one will be the wiser.”
Just as he was touching the doorknob to open the door Johnny was struck with an idea. He spun around, Happy clutched tightly to his chest against his faded red shirt. He raised his right hand and snapped his fingers, and then pointed upward with his index finger, in a strikingly Scott like gesture. “Wait a minute! I need a way to get Happy out of here without anyone accidentally seeing him and I have the perfect plan. I’ll put on my nightshirt and hide Happy under it…and why I am telling you this?” Johnny shook his head as Lady panted at him and seemed to have a smirk on her face.
Laying the bunny on the bed, Johnny quickly shucked his clothes. In his haste he unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt, and then pulled it over his head, inadvertently mussing his hair and giving himself a sleep tangled look. He slung the shirt away; it sailed to the head of the bed and slid out of sight behind the headboard. He toed his boots off and kicked them towards his chair, one skidding up under the piece of furniture. He shimmied out of his leather pants, letting them drop in a heap around his feet, stepping out of the pooled leather he pushed them partly under the bed.
Striding to his dresser in just his cut-off long johns and white socks, Johnny retrieved a nightshirt. As soon as he dropped it over his head, he groaned in frustration. Apparently whoever folded and put the laundry away had mixed up his nightshirt with Scott’s. This nightshirt was a bit too big on him. He reached down and grabbed the hem, preparing to pull it back off when a devious thought struck him. // Hey…wait a second! If I’m gonna smuggle a dead rabbit out of the house in a nightshirt, I just as soon use Scott’s as mine.// He let the shirt fall back in place and then strode back to the bed and picked Happy up.
Johnny stared at the bunny in disgust, now that he was actually ready to hide it in his nightshirt just the thoughts of the furry dead body next to his gave him a shimmying case of the skin crawling willies. Biting back his distaste, he lifted the shirt, pushed Happy up under it and laid the rabbit against his chest and pressed it in place with his arm, and then pulled the clothing back into place. As he turned towards the door, the bunny shifted and its long whiskers tickled his chest: it felt like bugs scurrying across his torso. The sensation caused him to cringe and shake all over, which in turn caused the rabbit to slip and fall to the floor with a heavy thud.
“Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww…ewwww…arrggghhh!” Johnny vocalized softly as he did a fancy two stepping dance to move away from Happy.
Lady, thinking her master was trying to get away from the rabbit ran to his defense. She picked the furry animal up by the neck and gave it a good shake as she growled.
“Hey, stop that!” hissed Johnny, snatching the bunny back. “I didn’t just spend over an hour cleaning Happy for you to mess him up again,” Johnny admonished, his voice ending with a high pitched tremble as he pushed the rabbit back under his nightshirt.
There was something about having a dead bunny tucked under your clothes and trying to sneak out that magnified every sound in the house. First the bedroom door had squeaked so loud it had raised goose bumps on Johnny’s skin. Lady’s toenails clicked on the hall floor and she panted like a grizzly. Up on his tip toes, white socks muffling his footsteps, Johnny crept towards the stair, as his eyes roved from side to side making sure he wasn’t being observed. He started down the steps and they seemed to creak and protest like the wood was splitting other every tread, his head stayed turned back to make sure he wasn’t being followed.
All of a sudden he collided with a large white mass that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Johnny was so startled he couldn’t make a sound and he fell back on his behind, plopping down heavily on the stairs. He tightened his arm across the hidden rabbit, his grip was so strong the claws on the bunny’s front feet dug into his chest and that caused a reaction.
“YEOW!” Johnny yelped.
“Son, are you all right?” Murdoch inquired as he slowly inspected his youngest for injury.
“I’m fine. You just startled me, is all.”
“I didn’t mean too. I was standing here, watching you and wondering why you were looking back as you came down the stairs.”
“I was making sure Lady was following me,” Johnny stated as he flinched and shivered because it felt like the dead rabbit was twitching against his chest, but he knew that was impossible.
“Are you sure, you’re all right? You just grimaced and it looks like you’re guarding your stomach.”
Johnny paled as he tried to think of how to word his reply. For some reason, he just couldn’t out and out lie to his father’s face. “I’m just on my way outside…uhh…I ate a lot of beans on the trail,” Johnny nervously chuckled.
“Oh well…do you need some stomach tonic? I can get you some from the first aid supplies.”
“No, I don’t need any. I’ll be fine.” Johnny replied, relieved that his father had done just what he hoped he would, assumed Johnny was on the way to the outhouse. And Johnny had no plans to correct the assumption…and best of all for his conscience he did not lie, he was on the way outside and he did eat beans on his trip home.
“If you change your mind or begin to feel sick just come down to my room and get me,” Murdoch instructed as he moved by his son, reaching down he patted his shoulder before heading up the steps.
“Whew!” sighed Johnny, as he ran a trembling hand over his face, surprised to find it coated with a cold sweat. This sneaking about the house business was more nerve racking than being called out.
Gathering his wits about him, Johnny shook off his shock and pushed up off the tread he sat on. He descended the remaining stairs, pausing at the landing to make sure no one else was in the kitchen, and then literally raced for the back door anxious to be done with his clandestine task.
Under the beams of the full moon, Johnny’s white socks and nightshirt glowed against the dimness and his dark head seemed to disappear, camouflaged by the nocturnal darkness. It made him look like a headless ghost cavorting across the yard as he pranced on his tiptoes. Reaching the fenced enclosure that contained Happy’s little house, he was surprised to find the gate open, but then when he thought about it he decided that must have been how the bunny got out and was caught by Lady. Giving a final glance about to make sure no one was watching, Johnny bent down and arranged Happy’s lifeless body just inside the doorway of his house, because that was where he was often seen sleeping.
When Johnny was satisfied Happy looked natural enough he left the pen, sighing heavily as he latched the gate. He hated to fool Teresa like this. He knew she was going to be heartbroken by the death of her rabbit, but he felt it would be easier to take if she believed he went to sleep and just didn’t wake up rather than to find out he was dragged around by Lady until he was filthy and dead.
“Come on, Lady. It’s time to go to bed. Morning will be here before we’re ready and I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot of drama tomorrow.”
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After tossing and turning all night as guilt prevented him from a peaceful rest, Johnny rose as soon as he heard Maria begin to bustle about the kitchen getting breakfast started. He shucked the nightshirt and pulled on clean pants and a shirt and went downstairs to keep her company as she worked. He was sitting at the table enjoying a cup of coffee and a biscuit filled with peach preserves when the rest of his family arrived as a group in the kitchen.
“Good morning,” Johnny mumbled around a mouthful of biscuit and fruit as he greeted his father and brother when they sat down and Teresa moved to the pantry to retrieve her egg basket, and then exited the door to start her chore.
“Morning little brother,” replied Scott as he poured a cup of coffee for himself.
Murdoch passed his cup to Scott to fill while he scrutinized Johnny, pleased to see he was eating. Johnny squirmed under the examination as Murdoch questioned, “How’s your stomach this morning?”
“Fine…there’s nothing wrong with my belly,” Johnny stated truthfully yet he could feel a fine sweat beginning to pop out on his brow. After his restless night and his father’s continued unwarranted concern over his health, he was about to confess what had occurred, feeling fairly certain his father and brother would agree that Teresa’s feelings should be spared of the details of Happy’s death but he never got the chance.
“Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” Teresa’s blood curdling screams rent the morning air.
The Lancer men followed by Maria, her wooden spoon clutched in her hand, rushed outside. They found Teresa in front of Happy’s pen. The egg basket was lying at her feet, broken eggs littering the ground around her. She had stomped some of the eggs as she jumped up and down pointing at the pen as she shrieked.
“It’s true! Scott’s story about the dead rising on All Hallow’s Eve is true. Happy returned from the dead!” Teresa screamed almost incoherently.
The ensuing commotion confused Johnny. He could understand Teresa’s reaction at finding a beloved pet dead but he was pole axed by the rest of the family’s response.
A wheezy gasp huffed from Maria’s mouth. She crossed herself and whispered, “Holy Mother of God! It was a headless ghost I saw last night from the window!” She began to wilt and Johnny caught her under the arms and sat her gently down at his feet.
Scott did a double take, and then snatched the gate open, declaring loudly, “This is impossible. There is no way that rabbit is alive!”
Murdoch paled as he moved forward and embraced his distressed ward. “Dear God, please tell me we did not bury a live rabbit!”
“I can tell you he is definitely dead now if he wasn’t before,” Scott stated as he examined the body.
Teresa huddled in Murdoch’s arms, a look of horror distorting her face. ‘I was sure Happy was dead. That’s just how I found him yesterday morning. I thought he died in his sleep of old age. He was lying in the door way …oh my God…poor Happy…we buried him alive,” Teresa wailed. “Poor thing…waaahhhhh…he dug his self up,” Teresa sobbed.
“I hardly think he dug his self up…he’s too clean,” Scott reasoned. “Somebody must be playing a cruel joke!”
The family turned and looked at Johnny when he smacked his forehead so hard the sound vibrated around them. In the light of day, Johnny saw what he had missed last night under the cover of darkness, right next to Happy’s house was a hole and lying partially covered by fresh turned dirt was a small white cross with Happy written on it. The dirt around it had been disturbed by animal claws, most likely Lady’s. The guilt over his attempted deception rose bitterly in his mouth and it burned as Johnny swallowed it down and prepared to admit what he had done.
“Calm down…all of you just calm down. I have something I need to confess. When I got home last night, Lady was waiting for me by the French doors and she had Happy’s body. He was covered in dirt and trash and I thought she had done something to him. I knew Teresa would be upset about him dying. I thought that was bad enough without her thinking his last moments were violent. So, I brought Happy in, cleaned him up, and then snuck out and put him back in his pen so she would think he had died in his sleep. I wasn’t trying to be cruel…really I was trying to spare you a little additional pain. I’m really sorry.”
“I forgive you, Johnny. You weren’t here; you didn’t know I found him dead this morning. We had a burial for him after lunch. But you know if you paid more attention when I was talking to you, you would have known I’ve been saying for the past two weeks that I thought Happy’s age was catching up with him because he had been acting sickly.” Teresa admonished, as she used Murdoch’s handkerchief to wipe the tears from her face.
“So, this is what you were up to last night when I surprised you on the stairs. You told me you were on the way to the outhouse because your stomach was hurting,” Murdoch accused, his lips pressed into thin lines of displeasure over the deviousness.
Johnny’s hair fluttered about his face as he quickly shook his head no, emphatically. ‘No sir, I did not say that. I said I was going out, which I was and I said I ate beans on the trail, which I did…you assumed the rest all on your own,” Johnny declared.
“Very clever, young man, I see I’ll have to consider your words carefully the next time I have suspicions. And I did have my suspicions last night when I caught you coming downstairs in your socks and nightshirt; usually you have to be sick to put on one. Now, I realize you had the rabbit hid under it,” Murdoch said.
“Ewwwww…you put a dead bunny under your nightshirt, little brother?” Scott grimaced in disgust.
“Nope, I put a dead rabbit under your nightshirt, Boston since someone put it in my room,” Johnny taunted.
Scott lunged for his brother and began to chase him around the yard, catching him by the kitchen door when Lady raced out to see what the commotion was all about and accidentally tripped him.
“Hold on to him, Senor Scott. I’m going to teach him a lesson about wandering around the yard in his socks,” called Maria as she advanced with her large wooden spoon that she had rushed outside with earlier upon hearing Teresa’s scream. Her first wild swing missed Johnny as he twisted about, and landed solidly on Scott’s thigh causing a gasp of surprise from the blond. The next whack connected with Johnny’s backside and he grunted in pain.
“Let that be a reminder to you,” harrumphed Maria, her dark eyes twinkling.
Murdoch and Teresa stepped around the tangled mass of arms and legs on the ground in front of the door and Murdoch ordered, “Get up boys and come clean up so we can eat breakfast, and then Johnny you need to bury Happy again.”
“ME! Why me?” complained Johnny, as Scott pulled him up and they dusted off and followed the others in.
“Yes, you! Because your dog is the one that dug him up,” proclaimed Murdoch.
“And be sure you put your boots on before you do..ay yi yi…if I catch you outside in your socks again, it will be bad for you,” Maria exclaimed as she motioned wildly with her wooden spoon.
“You see what kind of trouble you got me into,” fussed Johnny as he shook an accusing finger at Lady.
Lady licked his fingers, raised her head and sniffed the breeze wafting in the open kitchen door, with a woof she whirled and shot off for the rabbit pen. Johnny raced after her, his once white socks picking up another layer of dirt, Maria took off after him shaking her wooden spoon and threatening him.