I guess you could say this is the third story in a Trilogy that began in Christmas Memories(2003) and continued in Let It Be Christmas (2004).
Disclaimer: Yada Yada Yada Yada......They belong to who?......They should be where?.......Sorry, that ain't where I found them.....They wandered off on their own and took up residence in my imaginary world. Can I help it if the door has a one way lock? You can open it from the outside to get in, but once in, there's no escaping. <BG> Ubrigens: Lady SF is mine.
Rating: On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it a ten but then I'm biased, I wrote it.............oh my bad...okay this is definitely a big ol' G cause there ain't one dang cuss word in it.
Feedback: Sure. Notice: This story is flammable if you try to flame it, it will explode in your face, singe off your hair (which could be a plus if you're a lady with a mustache), fry your lips and boil your eyeballs from the intensity of the heat and flashback.
Beta read by Kissimmeme and Poohjee
Special Thanks to Walt Disney and Ray Stevens for the two plot bunnies that I cross bred to propagate this tale!
Thanks to Whistle for the loan of her characters, Timothy, Molly and Jerusha Harper. You're an inspiration, my friend!
This is for my bud Texas T (Tina), whose private chats help keep me sane or a reasonable facsimile there of and especially for my THC officers Lori and Cheryl P, in appreciation for my birthday story.
This is also for the oldest Johnny Girl in our midst, Faith 'Ma' Brayden with a prayer thrown in for your continuing good health.
Kona: I moved the squeak to the Christmas tree.
Oh Christmas Tree! by Southernfrau
Murdoch Lancer frowned at his youngest son's dog, Lady SF, as she stood before the Christmas tree, alternating between whimpering and growling. Snapping his calloused fingers and patting the side of his chair, he called the normally well behaved border collie away from the decorated evergreen for the third time since the arrival of their dinner guests.
Lady whimpered again as she crossed the room, in front of the fireplace. The reflection of the flames danced and flickered in her shiny and alert eyes. Reaching the gray haired man's chair, she laid her head on his knee with her moist pink tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth. Her chocolate brown eyes stared into his blue, as if they were begging him to figure out what she wanted. The canine glared back at the lavish tree and once more growled a warning. Murdoch was stumped as to why the obedient dog was acting so strangely. He had to hold back a snicker when the thought crossed his mind that maybe it was Jerusha's presence, strange things tended to happen when she was around.
The Lancer patriarch knew it wasn't very Christian of him, but he resented the early arrival of his friends. He recognized it was somewhat selfish of him to feel like they had invaded on his private family celebration time. He didn't really mind Reverend Timothy Harper and his daughter Molly, but Jerusha Harper grated on his nerves. They had shown up three hours early on the pretense of Jerusha helping Teresa with the completion of the feast. He had been enjoying every aspect of his holiday from the decorating of the tree days before, the sharing of memories old and new, the palpable excitement of his children over their first Christmas together, this first Christmas morning opening gifts. It all seemed to be spoiled after Jerusha descended on them. He harrumphed to himself as he thought the old biddy didn't really want to help, she wanted to control. He had no doubts, but what she wasn't in the kitchen right now insisting her way was the right way. She was probably dictating with more assumed authority than a despot tyrant. Her critical attitude and snippy comments had already driven his sons to seek refuge outside.
The sound of clanging pots filtered through into the great room, followed by the high, nerve shredding commanding voice of Mrs. Harper. She had found fault with everything from the moment she set foot in the house. Her chastisements were followed by the meek replies of yes ma'am from Teresa and Molly. The metallic ringing of the pans still echoed in the oldest Lancer's ears as his thoughts turned back to the joyous morning spent with his family.
4 hours earlier:
Scott had presented his brother with a deluxe set of drawing pencils and a painter's box filled with paints, brushes and other artistic accoutrements. His father had purchased an easel and several canvases in a variety of sizes, already stretched onto wooden frames. The younger Lancer had been thrilled with the gift. As soon as they had cleaned away the clutter from the morning unwrapping session, Johnny set up his easel, put a canvas on it and announced his intentions to try out the new supplies.
Murdoch Lancer, his older son Scott and ward Teresa watched in stunned amazement as the talented and quick hands of Johnny Lancer sketched a lifelike rendering of his collie, Lady SF. His faithful canine companion was resting on the rug in front of the fireplace. She had the most quizzical look on her furry features, as she cocked her headed, pricked her ears up and studied the bauble bedecked evergreen. The dark haired Lancer's sure and quick strokes of the pencil transferred the essence of the intelligent and loyal animal's persona to the canvas. Once the sketch was finished, Johnny open the paint box, getting ready to prepare his palette with the colors he would need.
"Just a minute, young man. I think you better go check to see if one of my old discarded shirts is in the rag box. You can put it on over yours to protect your clothes. Maria will have a fit come next wash day if you have ruined that new shirt Maura sewed for you." stated Murdoch.
Teresa's girlish giggle drew the Lancer men's attention as she called over her shoulder, "Or I have a lovely pink, frilly apron you can borrow."
Scott sniggered as his brother rolled his eyes as he hurried off to check for an old shirt. Johnny found a suitable shirt and was pulling it on to his smaller frame as he walked back into the great room. The two older Lancers did a double take at how oversized the shirt was on Johnny.
"I think you should button it up, son."
Johnny complied readily with the suggestion. He really didn't want to get paint on the golden colored flannel shirt with the Lancer brand embroidered on the pocket. His father stepped forward and helped him roll up the sleeves because they hung several inches past his finger tips.
Madrid was forced to send his best glare to rake over his brother when Scott chortled and commented, " Too bad you don't have an old nightshirt, that would cover his pants and boots too."
Resisting the temptation to stick his tongue out at his amused blond brother, the younger Lancer opened his jars of linseed oil and turpentine and set them in the easel tray. The pungent scent of the turpentine momentarily over powered the more pleasant scents of Christmas in the room. Johnny looked over the selections of paint before applying an array of colors around the palette, ending with a large glob of white in the center and a smaller one of black near it. He chose his brush and then walked to his easel, tilting his head as he studied it. Then he proceeded to dip his brush into the edge of the colors he needed, he moved his brush to a clean section of the palette and custom mixed his color.
His family sat in captivated interest as his nimble hands manipulated the brush, applying the color in strong bold, strokes. Each swipe of the brush against the canvas revealing more and more of the collie. Lady appeared as magically on the canvas before them as a ghost materializing out of the mist.
The varying shades of browns, tans, white and black he smoothed over the drawing looked as rich and lively as the dog's own fur. He even incorporated the highlights the cheery fire, in the background, caused to glint off the silky coat. He picked up a smaller brush to do the eyes The spellbinding show continued and a simultaneous audible gasp issued from his family when the exact replicas of Lady's chocolate brown orbs stared at them from the painting. He had captured perfectly the intense and loyal attitude with the shining light of love for all prosperity with his talented hands and perspective.
The group sat in silent awe of the master piece forming on the canvas. They barely realized an hour had flown past until the clock chimed out the hour of nine o'clock and startled them from their concentration. They were so engrossed in the majestic display of talent before them, they did not hear the horse and buggy drive up to the house. The first they knew of their guests having arrived early was when the sharp rap sounded on the heavy wood just as the grandfather clock stilled it's chimes.
Grunting as he rose from his chair, on aged and old injury stiffened limbs, the oldest Lancer had just reached the door when the impatient knocking echoed through the thick panels again. He grimaced as he was assaulted with the sour countenance of Jerusha Harper.
"Murdoch Lancer, what kind of household are you running here? A body could be murdered on your doorstep waiting for you to let them in." snapped Jerusha.
"I'm so sorry to keep you waiting Mrs. Harper. I was under the impression you would be arriving between twelve and one, for Christmas dinner." Murdoch gazed over the head of the valley's resident fuss budget and busy body in time to catch the bemused smiles and shoulder shrugs of the Reverend Timothy Harper and his daughter Molly.
"Well, Mr. Lancer, I would be sorely lacking in Christian fortitude and charity to just show up and eat and not help poor Teresa prepare the Lord's bounty." Jerusha swept into the great room, lips pursed, nose turned up and pinched with a disapproving air. Teresa stepped forward to take her hat and wrap and place them on the coat rack, while Murdoch took the Reverend's and Molly's.
Mrs. Harper greeted the blond Lancer first. "Good morning, Scott. Don't you look nice," she declared, taking in his neat and orderly appearance in the soft gray pants, the starch white shirt and the red plaid vest with string tie.
Then the judgmental beady eyes of the easily disgruntled woman settled on the youngest Lancer. She looked with displeasure at his rumpled state. His hair was unruly and out of place from running his fingers through it. There were paint smears on his face, fingers and on the dingy over sized shirt he wore over brown pants. Her eyebrows cocked and rose slowly like caterpillars rolling up her forehead, her lips pursed and then made a smacking sound as she set her mind to have it's say. " John Lancer, is this the way you honor our Savior on his day of birth? Why, it's down right blasphemous!"
The harping old biddy would have advanced on him and shaken her self-righteous finger in his face had it not been for the dog that emerged from behind his legs. Lady dropped her head and tail as she growled at the loud woman harassing her master.
"Well, I'm sure I'd never allowed a wild animal in the my house under any circumstances or reasons!" Jerusha exclaimed.
Johnny put on his most innocent face as he replied, " The old man won't let me sleep or eat in the barn so I have to come in sometime."
Realizing Johnny deliberately pretended to misunderstand her statement, the old woman puckered then clamped her lips so tightly it would have been impossible to slip a BB pellet between them. " I am referring to the dog, as I'm sure you well know, young man. I see you are still in possession of that smart mouth."
Before Johnny could make a reply, the Reverend interceded. "Now, Jerusha, I think it's apparent Johnny is so attired because he has been painting. The kind and mellow man of the cloth moved past the sofa to inspect the work in progress on the easel. " Oh goodness, Johnny. God has truly blessed you with a rare and wonderful talent."
Molly sidled in next to her father and gasped as she gazed at the vibrant portrait. " Johnny, this is amazing. I don't think I've ever seen eyes depicted with such life like accuracy."
Murdoch's chest puffed with pride. " Johnny's uncle, Ian Blane Lancer, who he was named for, loved to draw and paint too. I'm sure that's where he got his gift from. I certainly don't have an artistic bone in my body."
Feeling like the control in the room was slipping through her fingers, Jerusha got down to the business of organizing the day to her liking. " Would you look at the time, it's going toward nine thirty. Timothy, you and Murdoch have a seat and enjoy some conversation. Teresa, Molly and I will help you finish up dinner. Scott, why don't you make sure your brother puts away his paints and cleans himself up. I want the dog out of the house before we eat."
/I wonder if she means herself or Lady? And just who died and left her boss? I really don't like her talking to my brother like he's an idiot!/
Casting a self-important look about the room, Jerusha turned and waddled from the room looking like a homely duck that thought of it's self as a swan. Molly and Teresa followed with a dejected slump to their shoulders. The two young girls had just stepped through the doorway to the kitchen when the caustic voice of Mrs. Harper wafted through the still open door. "Boys, don't just stand there. Those paints won't put themselves away. We're eating at one thirty, Johnny. I will expect you to be dressed appropriately and your face and hands scrubbed free of paint. Do not forget to put that animal out."
Picking up his palette, Johnny announced his intention to clean it since he had on protective covering over his clothes. Scott agreed to move the easel back, then make sure all the paints were closed and placed back in their original spots. By the time he finished the younger Lancer had his palette cleaned. He hung it on the easel instead of putting it in his case.
The two younger Lancers headed upstairs for Johnny to wash up. As they reach their rooms, positioned at the far end of the hall, near the staircase from the kitchen they could hear the old woman Harper giving directions and criticisms at the same time.
"Molly, I know I have taught you better than to mix dough with your hands. Teresa, I'm sure you do think these pots and pans are clean, it just an extra precaution to wash them again right before using them. Molly, be sure you coat the baking sheet for the rolls with plenty of lard. Who in the world stacked the firewood in this hap-hazard manner? I can see I need to come back after the holidays and help you organize this kitchen in a more efficient and safe manner."
Standing at the top of the stairs, out of sight, Scott and Johnny shook their heads in disbelief at the grumpy complaining woman. "I tell you what, Boston. That loco lady's tongue is flapping so hard it's a wonder it don't beat her own brains out."
The brothers grinned at each other as they turned and slipped into Johnny's room for him to make himself more Jerusha presentable. Johnny scrubbed up with a bar of hand-milled English soap, Scott retrieved from his room. The blond Lancer pulled his younger brother over to the window and the natural sunlight to closely inspect his thoroughness. Satisfied that his efforts would pass even Jerusha Harper's high standards, the two quietly left the room, swiftly making their way to the stairs that lead back into the great room. They headed for escape out of the French doors, but were halted in their progress by the deep rumbling voice of their father.
"Boys, why don't you take Lady SF with you."
"Okay, come on girl. Let's go see if we can spy some rabbits to chase," suggested Johnny.
Normally, the collie would be the first one out the door if she thought her Johnny was going some where without her. For some reason today, she was preoccupied with guarding the Christmas tree. When the youngest Lancer called she merely raised her head, whimpered, wagged her tail, then rolled over to her side and stretched out on the rug, eyes glued once more to evergreen. She had no intentions of leaving her spot.
"I guess she doesn't want to go. You don't think she's feeling sick from eating those raw eggs, I dropped on the floor this morning, do you?"
Murdoch leaned forward in his chair and reached for the dog's head. "Her eyes are clear, her gums and tongue are nice and pink and her nose is moist and cool. I don't think she feels sick, I believe she's being a little stubborn and opinionated. You two go on out for some fresh air, I'll keep an eye on her."
The Reverend and Murdoch passed the morning discussing community affairs, cattle ranching, the bane of sheep and many other assorted topics. Every once in a while a particularly loud shout from outside or a imperative command from the kitchen would silence them.
After a while Mr. Harper became engrossed in an illustrated book of European architecture, that Scott had received for Christmas. Murdoch sat quietly smoking his pipe and reflecting on the glorious bond he had felt strengthening with his children that very morning around the Christmas tree. Just thinking about it caused his chest to swell and tighten with a pleasurable fullness, his eyes began to sting and it had nothing to do with the aromatic tobacco in his pipe. He knew he would always hold the moment, when he realized Johnny still possessed the horses to his ark set, in his heart. His eyes once again drifted over the lush green limbs of the tree as he sought out the doll, tin soldiers and animal menagerie.
Murdoch frowned as he realized Lady was standing in front of the tree, growling again. Just as he began to call her back Scott and Johnny entered the French door, bringing with them the fresh crisp air and the sounds of their laughter. Jerusha, Teresa and Molly exited the kitchen and headed for the dining table. Mrs. Harper was instructing them in the proper etiquette for setting the table. She left them to the task and joined the men in the sitting area of the great room. Sitting down on the end of the couch, Jerusha huffed her displeasure as she noticed the dog was still in the house.
"I believe I told you to put the dog out. As soon as the girls finish setting the table, we will bring in the food and sit down to eat."
The reprimand had barely left the harping lady's lips when a flurry of activity occurred at the tree. There was the sound of a rustle of the branches, then a squeak was heard. Lady SF snarled, pressed her face into the greenery and then yelped. Johnny reached down to grab his collie's collar, but before he could get his fingers around it, something small and furry burst from the limbs and scurried across the room. Lady saw it and Johnny saw it because he was darting after the dog. The youngest Lancer snatched the lunging growling dog back and watched in morbid fascination as the little creature dashed under Jerusha's skirt to safety.
/Snicker, how do I tell her something small and hairy is hiding under her clothes./
Mrs. Harper opened her mouth fully intending to read Johnny the riot act for his unruly, misbehaved hound. Before the first chastising thought could be voiced, her unholy scream split the air. She felt claws piercing through her leggings as something crawled up her legs. The scream was still vibrating around the room, when Jerusha leapt from the couch onto the top of the coffee table. Her feet beat out a startled, hurried march on top the piece of furniture as she began to flap her skirt and shriek.
"Help me...help me JESUS....some devil has a hold on me."
The others stood in shocked and mute astonishment because they could not see anything. They had no idea, save for one dark haired Lancer, what could have made the woman seemingly slip over the edge of sanity.
Mrs. Harper's wild dance on the table continued as they stared. Her shouts for help became more urgent and frantic as she loudly implored and called upon Father, Son and Holy Ghost to release her from what ever demon was trying to pull her soul from her by attacking her on the outside.
The frightened chipmunk scampered desperately through the folds of her clothes looking for an escape from the voluminous mounds of cloth. Jerusha roared and pulled at her clothing as she felt the scratching and clawing climb higher up her body. A ballistic bellow exploded from her red face as the table collapsed under her weight and frenzied activity. She was dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. She was still squealing as she began to scoot across the floor on her behind, pulling herself along by digging her heels into the floor. She was just making her way past Scott and Johnny when the critter burrowed into the front of her blouse. She popped the buttons from her shirt as she ripped it open. The blond Lancer's eyes went wide, he gulped and saved his younger brother from the traumatizing sight by covering his eyes with his hands.
The crazed woman rammed her hand into her full bosom and hollered, "I have you now, you evil seed of Satan."
Jerusha triumphantly held the now nearly comatose and terrified creature above her head. She bawled angrily and dropped the little rodent when it urinated on her head and the pee rolled down her face. The chipmunk ran helter skelter towards the French doors where it could see the outside it craved through the glass panes. It tried to scratch through the glass to get out, Murdoch finally came to his senses and opened the door for it.
Mrs. Harper was still sitting on the floor spitting furiously and wiping the wetness from her face with a lace hanky. The calm and never flappable Reverend Harper picked an afghan up from the couch and draped it around Jerusha's shoulders to preserve her modesty.
The only sound to be heard in the room was the brush of cloth to skin as the delicate piece of cloth in the old lady Harper's hand scrubbed with mad agitation at her soiled face. Then there was the unmistakable sound of a muffled snicker, followed by girlish twitters, a compulsive staccato rhythm of a throat being cleared and finally the full blown, breath taking, wheezing, side aching laughter rolling from Johnny Lancer's mouth.
Jerusha Harper abruptly stood, back ramrod straight, righteous indignation painted all over her face and glared at her brother-in law. "Timothy take me home immediately. I refuse to partake food with a family who obviously finds me to be the butt of some joke." Stomping to the foyer, she replaced the afghan with her wrap and stormed out the door.
The Reverend and Molly were barely able to keep the mirth from their faces as they retrieved their own coats and hats. Timothy assured the Lancers, with his tongue firmly in his cheek this was not their fault, but quite obviously an act of God.
Johnny closed the door after their departure, turned and looked over the destruction of the great room and announced. "I don't think she's the butt of a joke, I just think she's a butt. I'm gonna miss her at dinner too, about like I would miss a boil on my own butt. Let's eat, I'm hungry."
"Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," mumbled the Lancer patriarch as they all headed to the kitchen to help bring the food to the table.