Thanks to Rob and Chris for the beta
Word Count – 5,819
Christmas Morning 1871
No more strays! The words echoed in Johnny’s head before they were ever spoken. He could see the old man’s face in his mind, thinking he knew the circumstances knowing his son’s penchant for bringing in yet another stray; Johnny couldn’t help the sad smile that tugged the corner of his mouth. This time is different, Ol’ Man. This time is different.
Twenty-four hours prior…
Taking the shortcut wasn’t the smartest move he’d ever made. The cold was brutal, the snow kept falling — deeper than Johnny had ever seen, and travel was slow. He’d be lucky to get home and celebrate with his family; it was already Christmas Eve, and Johnny had doubts about arriving on time. Just get outta these mountains, an’ I might have a chance ta get there. It wouldn’t be the first Christmas he spent alone, but it would be the first Christmas spent without his family since he became part of a family. He hoped Teresa wouldn’t be too disappointed if he weren’t there to celebrate, but sometimes, well, sometimes things happen, like this snow, nothin’ I can do about it, so I hafta deal with things as they are. Hope she understands. It’s not like I planned for this ta happen…
At first, Johnny thought it to be a shadow, a dark space between the trees, but as he neared, a small cabin became visible through the swirling snow. It didn’t look like anyone was home. Should he risk stopping? The thought of getting snowed in wasn’t an option, not tonight, and he decided against taking the chance. Just keep goin’. But then, he smelled it. Smoke. Someone was there.
And suddenly, he heard the scream — long, agonizing, guttural — a woman’s scream, and now he had no choice. He reined Barranca to the cabin, flung himself from the saddle, and with his Colt in hand, he threw open the door.
The room was cold and sparsely furnished but fairly neat, well, as neat as it could be considering the occupant, a young woman about Johnny’s age, lying on the bed, sweating and bleeding… badly, gasping for air as she held her bloodied newborn son in her arms.
“P-Please… help me!” she whispered; her glazed eyes, surrounded by darkened circles, were shrouded in death and pleaded desperately for her cause.
Her request was granted.
The child, only minutes out of the womb, cried, sparking Johnny to cut the cord, then tie it quickly with a strip of rawhide he carried in his pocket. Was he too soon or too late? Had he done it right? He had no clue, but he took the chance and tried to save the baby boy’s life; it was too late for the mother. His heart thundered in his chest as he fought to keep death from the door on this night. But it wasn’t meant to be.
It was cold in the room; Johnny wrapped the babe in blankets and placed him in his mother’s weak arms, then banked the coals and added kindling and larger pieces of wood; soon, flames danced across the logs, and heat began to fill the room.
Johnny walked to the side of the bed as the woman coughed. “Ma’am? My name’s Johnny; I’ll help you all I can…” but he knew it was too late for her, and she knew it. The weak voice halted his offer of support.
“Table… letter on the…” Then her whispered words faded, and she went still as her arms that held her son relaxed, and she slipped quietly away.
Johnny sighed; his head dipped forward, chin against his chest, and closed his eyes. There was nothing more he could do for her now. He’d seen death many times, more than he could count, but tonight he felt the unfairness of it all. He covered her body with a blanket and gently tucked it around her; there was no more he could do; then he picked up the baby and cradled it in his arms. He could do nothing for her except to ensure her son was safe. Then he remembered her last words… The letter.
The woman’s name was Jennifer Blair, and she waited for the return of her husband, Robert, when he went after help, hoping to return before the baby arrived. There wasn’t any doubt the man was delayed due to the deteriorating weather. Well, Johnny had a name, but he couldn’t wait for Mr. Blair to return; he had to get the child help, help that he could not provide.
Sam, I sure hope you’re at the ranch when I get there…
Then it hit him… Whatd’m I gonna feed ya, little guy? Johnny began searching the kitchen; the sparsely stocked cupboards left no options except for a can of milk. Then, arranging a blanket on the floor in front of the fire, he wrapped the baby securely, placed him by the warmth, and began gathering whatever food he could find… and it wasn’t much. How long had Robert Blair been gone that the food supply was so low?
The baby began to fuss; it wasn’t crying, more of a whimper, and the red, scrunched face spoke of displeasure. Johnny warmed water and did his best to wash the infant of the blood and residue that covered him from birth. The fire took away the chill as he hurried as best he could with the task, ensuring the infant was as comfortable as Johnny could make him.
Pouring a bit of milk in a pan, Johnny warmed it by the fire while he looked for a bottle but suspected it would be a waste of time. There weren’t many dishes at all, and judging by the rest of the furnishings in the cabin, he was sure the Blairs had been passing through and not residing there, though how they ended in this desolate place was anyone’s guess. Well, he would make do with what he had.
“Hey little one, whatd’m I gonna call you? Can’t keep saying ‘little one’. Ya need a name. I could call ya Johnny, but that’d get too confusing. I could call ya Murdoch, but you don’t look like a Murdoch. Think I’ll call ya Little Scott. That works.”
He kept his words coming, soft, murmuring tones more for himself than the child; they kept his mind focused on getting the newborn the help he needed and off the woman who died bringing him into this world.
Alright, Johnny Boy, ya got a plan? It’s gotta be more than a day’s travel ta Lancer, how’re ya gonna manage that with this baby?
Laying the child again by the fire, Johnny poured the milk into a large pan, just enough to coat the bottom, then put it outside in the snow to freeze. On a shelf near the fireplace lay a spoon, a compact tin with a lid, and a small bowl; he washed the spoon, dipped it in the warm milk, and dripped it on his hand. Not too hot.
“OK, little one, ah, Little Scott, how about some chow? Ya look hungry.” Drop by drop, he managed to get a bit of milk into the babe’s mouth. Feeding Little Scott was slow, painstakingly slow, but it gave Johnny time to devise a plan to get them home… to Lancer; finally, the babe fell asleep, completely oblivious of his shaky beginning.
Resting Little Scott again by the fire, Johnny retrieved the pan from the snow, then chipped the frozen milk off the bottom and put the chips into the lidded tin, leaving it outside to keep from melting. It was then he spotted the wagon on the side of the cabin. After a quick search, he took everything he could find to protect his charge until they reached the safety and comfort of the hacienda and into the arms of those who would care for him until his father could be found. Until arriving at Lancer, Johnny was it. He had to smile as his thoughts went to Teresa and Maria, knowing they would dote over Little Scott, seeing to his every need; all they had to do was get home.
With a canvas bag stuffed mostly with diaper material and anything to keep the child warm, Johnny strapped Little Scott to his chest to share his body heat, wrapped with layers of cloth, then buttoned his heavy, fleece-lined coat around them. An extra woolen blanket rounded out the supplies as Johnny went to the door, but he stopped, then turned to look at the bed where the woman sacrificed her life for her son. He nodded, then whispered, “I’ll do my best, Ma’am.” Quietly he shut the door behind him and left Mrs. Blair alone on the cold winter’s night.
Johnny delayed long enough to gather the tin of frozen milk chips, stuffed it in his saddle bags, then mounted Barranca. “Sorry, amigo, but we have a mission here ta keep this niño safe.” As if in answer, Barranca nickered and tossed his head, dutifully turned, and began the long walk home.
“What’d ya think, amigo, Murdoch gonna say somethin’ about another stray?” Barranca snorted, and Johnny couldn’t help the smile that slid into place as he thought about his father.
Johnny’s eyes snapped open as Barranca whinnied nervously. Damn! I need ta pay attention… He patted the sleek neck. “What’s a matter, boy?” And then he heard it. A yip, then a growl. No, no, no! Johnny grabbed his Winchester to be ready for an attack; keeping Little Scott safe was the only thing that mattered.
The waning crescent moon shed little light, but the snow reflected what little there was, making it easier to see two shadows skulking through the trees like demons waiting to pounce. The scent of the newborn child had probably drifted on the wind and alerted them of a potentially easy meal. Hafta get through me first, boys!
Then, the largest wolf charged from behind and tried to tear Barranca’s flank in a crippling attack. Johnny turned just in time to fire the rifle but missed the kill shot, earning the wolf a searing crease across the shoulder. The yelp rang sharply in the thin cold air as the predator dropped back. Barranca pranced while Johnny kept the litany, soothing the horse and the babe as he began to fuss.
“Sorry, Little Scott,” he comforted as best he could and hoped his words would ease any distress Little Scott felt; there was no way Johnny had the time to see to the boy’s needs now. “Hafta keep my eyes open here- make sure these wolves keep their distance…” His sing-song voice broke off and turned into full-scale trepidation as three more dark forms raced toward them through the forest; they were immense and formidable but still further behind than the others.
“Mierda!” The growls came furious as snapping jaws threatened Barranca’s legs as vicious teeth sought tender flesh, and the steed kicked out, narrowly missing the target. A beast launched another attempt, but the Winchester was ready, and Johnny disposed of the animal quickly. Calculating one wounded and three other wolves in pursuit, their chances of returning to Lancer were none that any gambler would take. He had to get this baby to safety! The kid’s got his whole life ahead of him; he’s innocent!
Johnny’s head jerked to the right at the sound of fighting— the wolves were fighting amongst themselves! He urged Barranca ahead, not wanting to interrupt a territorial war. Straining to see through the trees and darkness, he caught sight of the fracas, the assault instigated by the three newcomers as they overpowered the second of the two original wolves and engaged in a savage conflict. A feral growl turned into a yelping cry of pain and surrender as the wounded canine lay still in the snow. The three newcomers sniffed the carcass of the dead wolf; they lifted their heads and watched the horse and riders put distance between them, then the alpha male tipped his head back and howled loudly, declaring victory.
What the heck had he just witnessed? Johnny thought about the event that sent his heart hammering wildly in his chest. Wolves, five in all, and he and the baby were safe, thanks partly to Barranca’s tenacity that they escaped unharmed!
Johnny looked skyward as he blew out a breath. The night was spectacular as the stars shimmered in their silver glory. A star caught Johnny’s eyes; brighter than the rest and larger, it cast an ethereal glow around itself and was like nothing Johnny had ever seen before. Was it a sign? Good or bad? Well, there were no wolves around anymore… or were there? He couldn’t see or hear them, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. But maybe that’s what the star was telling him…
A rustling in a tree above drew Johnny’s attention, and he searched to his left. Sitting on a branch fifteen feet off the ground and resettling its wings around a plump, well-fed body, a huge gray owl watched the passing visitors with interest. The dim moonlight reflecting off the snow allowed Johnny to see the lighter color on the underside as it stretched its wings. Johnny smiled, thinking the owl’s eyes were bigger than its stomach if it was watching them and anticipating a meal.
Staying vigilant for any sign of the wolves, Johnny kept Barranca moving… until the child began to fuss again. Little Scott was hungry, but it was a big chance- could he risk stopping to build a fire? Well, he had no choice; he had to make sure the baby had food; if not, the child wouldn’t make it out of these mountains alive.
Reining Barranca to a place out of the wind, Johnny carefully dismounted and secured his amigo to a low-hanging branch, then kicked away the snow, exposing any wood— anything that would burn and start a fire. He checked his weapons and reloaded the rifle; Johnny would be ready should the need arise. The snow wasn’t very deep, making him wonder how far they’d traveled down from the mountains. He remembered Murdoch saying there usually wasn’t snow at the hacienda during the winter… usually, and Johnny hoped that was the case this year. Once he reached lower elevations, he would make better time and get the help that Little Scott needed.
“I’m workin’ quick as I can, little one. Gonna have some a that nice milk for ya in a few minutes. Just hang on an’ you’ll have a full belly before ya know it!” Better have something handy ta change him into… Smells like he’s been… busy…
As the fire began a steady blaze, Johnny retrieved the tin with the frozen milk chips, then spooned a few chips into the tin cup he used for coffee and set it near the fire to melt. While waiting, he pursued the distasteful task of changing the baby’s diaper, then cleaned him the best he could. With the offensive chore finished, Johnny proceeded to drip the milk into Little Scott’s mouth; it was a slow process, but there was no way around it. The fire put out heat, but Johnny doubted it was enough. He pulled the baby closer to his chest and wrapped his coat around them while he fed the infant. It was all he could do.
Then he heard it- a howl to his left, and it wasn’t that far away. Immediately he grabbed the rifle, and… there was a whine behind him… Mierda! They’re close! To the right, another howl answered the first. Then a low hoot sounded from above! What was happening? Johnny risked a look behind and watched in absolute wonder as the huge wolf sat on its haunches twenty feet away, cocked its head, letting the pink tongue loll out the side of his mouth, and… wagged his tail!
No, this wasn’t a dream — the baby in his arms was very real, the snow was cold, and that wolf sitting behind him was immense… OK, Johnny boy, move slow — There wasn’t any way to do it safely… only slowly. Without taking his eyes off the wolf, Johnny did his best to tuck Little Scott into his coat and buttoned it up while keeping the rifle close. As he walked slowly past, he kicked snow over the fire, mounted Barranca, secured the rifle in his hand, and rode away from the wolf.
The large ears were perked forward, not an aggressive posture, and the wolf continued to cock his head one way, then the other. It whined again and wagged the full, bushy tail making a half circle in the snow behind him.
Trusting Barranca to find his way, Johnny watched as the wolf became a smaller figure; it stayed where he was as they moved farther and farther away. What the heck is goin’ on? Then, movement in the sky made him look up as the owl flew to a tree ahead— a tree they would be passing under, then flew to another tree. Again, Johnny wondered, was that owl leading them? That’s crazy! How’s an owl gonna lead us home?
After leaving the cup and milk at the fire, Johnny puzzled over what to feed the baby. It wasn’t a good thing to leave the supplies, but under the circumstances, Johnny didn’t think he had any time to pack up— all he could think of was to keep Little Scott safe, and sitting across a fire from a wolf did not promote anything remotely safe! OK, Madrid, what’re ya gonna do now? Keep goin’ an’ watch for danger. Only thing I can do…
Exhaustion seeped into his bones, along with the chill; his eyes grew heavy, and they finally closed.
The shiver tore through his body and jerked him awake. Dawn was breaking over the mountains. Barranca moved under him, toward Lancer… toward home. His arm, stiff from steady pressure as he held Little Scott inside his coat, felt numb, and Johnny could only hope he was all right after the long ride. How often do babies have to eat? And what would he feed him without that milk?
Johnny peeked inside his jacket, not that he could see the baby wrapped as he was, but it felt warm on Johnny’s body, and he hoped it was enough for Little Scott. Hafta keep him safe… Safe? What about the wolves? But thinking back, the three large wolves weren’t a threat… How could that be?
Johnny looked around him, recognizing landmarks — Lancer! They were on Lancer! Barranca got them home! Again, he looked skyward… and the bright star was still there, alone in the dawn.
The sun breached the mountains in a spray of buttery gold that glistened off the frost-covered trees and grass and glittered like a blanket of diamonds. Everything was encased in a mantle of sparkling ice chips. It was Christmas morning — Johnny had made it home! And brought another stray with him!
The Lancer arch never looked so good! At the moment, it was… What?! It can’t be! Johnny didn’t believe his eyes, for there, sitting on top of the Lancer arch, perched the gray owl, watching them and alert. As Barranca, Johnny, and Little Scott approached, it flexed its wings, hooted, then flew off toward the mountains. It had led them all the way to Lancer! Then, as if on cue, the howl of wolves echoed down from the higher elevations. Johnny wondered if they lamented their missed meal or cheered that the horse and riders had found their way home!
They’ll never believe me! Johnny thought. Can’t hardly believe it myself!
As Barranca neared the hacienda, the front door opened wide, and Murdoch and Scott charged out, covered in a mantle of worry and relief.
“Johnny! We were worried, son!” Murdoch wasn’t sure if there was something to worry about, but knowing his son, chances were great something had happened.
“Yeah, that makes three of us,” Johnny smiled. “Could use some help,” he looked down into his coat and kept his left arm tight to his body.
No! He’s hurt! The thought slammed into Murdoch’s brain as he and Scott crowded around to help him out of the saddle.
“Easy, brother! I have you…”
Those words of comfort made Johnny grin, but there was no time for pleasantries, not yet.
“’ M fine, but he ain’t. Brought home another stray, Ol’ Man.”
Murdoch shrugged, then huffed. Not again…!
“Help me inside first.”
With Johnny’s left arm still crooked, Scott helped ease the heavy coat from his brother’s shoulders. Johnny slid his right hand around his belly, then relaxed his left as the heavy coat came away.
“Where’s Maria? Gonna need her help, an’ prob’bly send for Sam, too…” Johnny said as he moved toward the heat of the fire burning in the massive fireplace with the bundle in his arms.
Now, Murdoch’s curiosity was piqued. “Johnny? What have you there?” He stepped closer as Johnny unwrapped the swaddling, and Scott came to stand on his other side.
Johnny gently pulled away the wrapping as a gurgle erupted, and a soft cry announced an empty belly. The red, squinty-eyed face greeted the Lancer patriarch and left him speechless.
Scott raced to the kitchen for Maria and Teresa, then put Jelly in charge of sending someone for Dr. Jenkins. Murdoch looked from the infant to Johnny, his mind full of questions, all scrambling together and unable to ask any.
“Johnny, what happ… where did you find him?” Murdoch stumbled, uncharacteristically flummoxed under the circumstances.
“Long story; let’s get Little Scott cared for first, then I’ll tell ya.”
Seconds later, Maria hurried into the room, followed closely by Teresa, and, like a human tornado, each with questions bubbling from their lips and a brisk “Glad you’re home, Johnny” and “Es ahora de que estés en casa, chico” (It is time you are home, boy), the two doting women swooped in and spirited the child into the kitchen to tend to its needs until Sam arrived.
Scott stopped in the kitchen to watch his sister and Maria as they fussed over the newborn, then returned to the great room, wanting to hear the story of Johnny’s newest ‘stray’.
Johnny sagged onto the soft cushions of the couch and tipped his head back as he shut his eyes; Murdoch stood in shock, then it hit him…
“Little Scott?” he asked and wondered if his youngest had been keeping something a secret for the last nine months.
“Yeah, Little Scott. Hey, he look alright? I couldn’t take good care of him out in the cold… Think he’s gonna be alright?” Johnny’s head came up from repose; blurry sight from lack of sleep made him blink and rub his eyes.
Scott chuckled. “Well, he sounded alright when I came through the kitchen, but I’ve sent for Sam, and he will do all he can, Johnny. Do you want to tell us how you came upon a baby andwhere the parents are?”
Yes, I’d like to know that, as well! Murdoch thought.
Johnny didn’t feel like making the big explanation, but he knew his family was waiting for answers. “I took a shortcut through the mountains an’ came across a cabin. Didn’t think anyone was there at first, but then smelled smoke. It was snowing pretty hard, an’ I heard a scream. Didn’t know what was happening, but whatever it was, it wasn’t anything good. There was a woman inside, alone, she just had the baby, the cord wasn’t cut- she was bleedin’ an’… she didn’t make it…” Johnny sighed, regretting he couldn’t do anything for her.
Murdoch, now ashamed for jumping to his earlier conclusions, searched for words of comfort, something to make Johnny realize there was probably nothing anyone could have done under the circumstances. Perhaps Sam would have the right words when he arrived.
“I left her there — covered her with a blanket, took Little Scott, an’ left. Barranca got us home… Barranca!” Johnny lunged off the couch but stopped at his brother’s confirmation that the trusty steed was cared for, given a good rubdown, and offered an extra measure of oats.
“Thanks, Boston… Think I’ll go upstairs an’ catch an hour or two of sleep.”
Murdoch and Scott watched him navigate the stairs without his usual grace. Then Scott cleared his throat. “Did I hear correctly? Did Johnny say ‘Little Scott’?”
Murdoch chuckled. “You heard correctly. Little Scott!”
Scott couldn’t help but laugh, knowing that, deep down, Johnny Madrid was more sentimental than he would admit to being.
Johnny undressed, crawled into bed, and was asleep before he settled into a comfortable position. The dreams began immediately, but the dreams were soft and sweet, pleasant visions of innocence and man and beast coming together in a common goal. Unity and hope.
The Lancer family and their closest friends celebrated Christmas Day with a delicious dinner and precious fellowship. There was something different this year… something special — they all felt it — a tangible spirit-like presence drifted in the air that enhanced the Christmas atmosphere.
After arriving at Lancer, Sam declared it a miracle the child lived; there was no conceivable reason for that baby to have made it out of the mountains alive under those conditions, but he did.
When Johnny woke, Sam insisted he check his most frequent patient, surprised to find Johnny was, as he claimed, not injured or ill.
As sheriff of Green River, Val questioned Johnny regarding the child’s parents, and having a name, he would investigate and find Robert Blair. Johnny handed the letter written by Mrs. Blair to Val, then voiced his regret he hadn’t left a note for Mr. Blair should he get to the cabin and not find the baby. But, there had been no time to waste in caring for the infant, and, in those first crucial moments, a note was the furthest thing from Johnny’s mind. Val would see to the details and present Mrs. Blair’s letter to her husband when the man was located.
It was late when the guests left the hacienda; Val’s promise to notify them when he tracked down Little Scott’s father left them hopeful, and they offered help retrieving Mrs. Blair’s body from the cabin for a proper burial.
Sam elected to stay the night as a precaution to watch Little Scott. He smiled when told of the name Johnny picked for the babe, thinking those Lancer boys sure are something!
“Well, it’d be confusing to have two Johnnys; the niño didn’t look like a Murdoch, so that left Scott… Sounded reasonable ta me!”
Murdoch chuckled, happy his boys had grown so close in the short two years they’d known the other.
With the baby settled for the night, Teresa said her goodnights, giving them all a hug and kiss, wishing them all a Merry Christmas before she left the room, then took her leave of them.
Scott offered a refill of drinks, having to ask Johnny twice before his brother heard the offer. That wasn’t like him, and Scott knew there was something on his mind.
“Johnny, are you all right?”
Murdoch turned his attention to his youngest, suddenly worried. Sam stopped his drink halfway to his mouth when he heard the question.
Johnny looked around the room, distracted from his thoughts, finding their stares focused on him as if something was wrong.
“What? What’d I do?”
“You didn’t do anything, brother, but you looked like you were… in deep contemplation. Is anything wrong?” Scott gently asked.
Johnny exhaled and looked at the glass of tequila in his hand. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told ya…” He didn’t intend to say anything more and wondered why he said anything at all. Why didn’t he just tell them, No, nothing was wrong… but he didn’t, and now they would ask.
And he was right; Scott was persistent. “How do you know we wouldn’t believe you? You’ve never lied to us yet. Why would you start now? Tell us…”
“Ya might start ta think I’m crazy.”
“No, son, not crazy… never.”
Sam was curious about what had Johnny’s thoughts so occupied. He’d never known Johnny to fabricate any tall tales and knew Johnny never lied.
They’re not gonna let it go, ya might as well tell them so they’ll leave ya alone; otherwise, they’re gonna make ya miserable…
He blew out a deep breath. “All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya!” He settled into the couch and took a drink, feeling the pleasant burn of the alcohol down into his belly. “Well, after we left the cabin, I thought we had a chance of gettin’ here with no problem. I mean, it was quiet an’ peaceful, but I know that ya can’t count on that. Heck, there was this bright star blazin’ away in the sky; it kinda felt good havin’ it up there. Anyway, we’d got about seven miles down the trail, an’…” he stopped, looked into their eyes, and hesitated in the telling but was urged on by their concerned interest. “… an’ two wolves started chasin’ us. I wounded one, an’ the other made ta jump at Barranca, then,” again he hesitated, but there was no way the three men before him would let the subject drop now.
“Then, through the trees, I could see three more wolves closin’ in, but… Hell, ya ain’t gonna believe this, but I swear it’s true…” Johnny took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I got one of the two that started the chase, but the three newcomers, they… they were huge! Never saw wolves that big before!”
Murdoch shivered, not liking where this was going, then thought his son was sitting here before him without a mark on him…
“Anyway, the three wolves took down the last of the two, then… they didn’t follow us; they stayed away. I couldn’t believe it. But the funny thing is, Little Scott started ta fuss an’ I had ta feed him, so had ta stop. I got a fire goin’ an’ melted some milk in my cup… then… I heard a wolf howl off ta my left; it was close an’ I grabbed my rifle, an’ another one off ta the right. Then,” Mierda! They ain’t gonna believe this! “Then I heard a whine, like a dog twenty feet behind me, an… there was one a them big wolves, sittin’ on his haunches, ears forward an’ watchin’ me. He was panting like a dog, tongue hangin’ out the side of his mouth like he was waitin’ for me ta say somethin’. There was nothin’ aggressive about him — he was actin’ like any dog I ever knew an’… was waggin’ his tail.”
Johnny took another deep breath. “But I didn’t want ta take any chances with Little Scott being there, so I tucked him inside my coat, mounted Barranca, an’ started for home.
“None of them followed, but I could hear them during the night. An’ another thing happened. Now you’re really gonna think I’m tellin’ stories, but as long as I’ve started this, I might as well tell ya the rest…”
What more can happen? Murdoch wondered.
“Going through the trees was this big owl. He landed in a tree right above us, then flew to a tree down the trail like he knew where we were goin’. I couldn’t believe it, but he was there… an’… he was… he was sittin’ on the arch when we came through this mornin’. I swear, he was there, then after we crossed under, he flew away.” Johnny refreshed his drink, then turned his attention to Murdoch, Sam, and Scott.
“Ya think I’m crazy now?”
There was nothing in their eyes to condemn the recounting of his story. No smirks of disbelief, only shock at the truth. Their stares were nearly unbearable.
“Johnny? Do you realize what happened to you?” Scott began, stunned at what he’d heard.
“Ya gonna tell me that I need ta see that special doctor in San Francisco?” Johnny snorted, ready to take the teasing he felt sure would follow.
“No, Johnny, not at all. You just experienced firsthand your own Christmas story! Johnny, think about it! The baby, you saw the bright star, three wolves guided you, protected you, they were the wise men, and the owl was the angel! Johnny, this was incredible! You, brother, lived a Christmas miracle! The fact that the baby is alive is a miracle — Sam even said that when he got here!
Now, it was Johnny’s turn to be astonished, and he turned, staring at each of them. Could it be? Scott had never lied to him before, but Johnny had a hard time believing a miracle could be connected to Johnny Madrid, gunhawk. Yet… he wondered. Well, he wasn’t going to second-guess himself. He knew what happened in the mountains, and he knew it was real, not his imagination. And Madrid was certainly not qualified to claim it a miracle, but it was a wonder it turned out as it did. Had Johnny ventured a guess when it all began to unfold, he would not have thought the child would survive… but he did.
He would never have guessed three wolves would protect them and that an owl would guide them home… But they did.
Johnny pushed himself off the couch. “Well, I’m tired. Guess I’ll get ta bed. ‘Night. An’… thanks for not laughin’.”
Murdoch went to his son’s side and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Johnny. You saved an innocent child’s life, and I have to say, this was one stray I didn’t mind that you brought home!”
Johnny stared, not used to Murdoch’s praise. Say somethin’! A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Thanks, Murdoch; I figured ya wouldn’t mind this one too much! ‘Night.”
As he walked past Scott, Big Scott, that is, Johnny reached out to gently pat his ribcage, nodded at Sam, then headed up the stairs.
Johnny stood at the window and looked across the pastures of Lancer and to the mountains beyond, thinking about the woman that gave her life to birth the baby boy. “Rest easy, Mrs. Blair, Little Scott’s in good hands.”
A sound reached his ears —the howling of wolves answering their lonely calls. Then, movement caught his eye, and sitting on a branch of the tree outside of Johnny’s window, settling its massive wings, was the gray owl as if standing guard. On a whim, Johnny looked skyward, and there was that star, just as bright as it had been the night before.
Was it true? Had Johnny lived his own Christmas miracle?
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12 thoughts on “(A) Christmas Morning Stray by Buckskin”
This is a very special Christmas story, one I’ll keep in my holiday folder to read again. I like how you used nature to bring all the elements we celebrate together. Lovely.
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Hi, Sherry Thank you for the feedback. Nature and animals have always been my passion, and as James Stacy was an animal lover, I’ll use that whenever I can. Thinking about Christmas, a Lancer story (usually a Johnny story) and nature/critters, this just fell into place. I’m very happy you liked it.
oh this was so good
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Hey, Char! I’m glad you liked this story. I could see Johnny doing this so clearly in my head- and the critters fit the roles of the angel and the wise men, so, that’s what I wrote. Thanks for the feedback!
Oooohhhh! What a lovely story! Thank you. This one goes in my keepers.
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A different slant to the original Christmas story. I happy you liked it and thanks for commenting!
Fabulous as always. Thank you.
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Thank you Helen. I appreciate your reading and commenting on my stories!
I really love this story, it’s already one that has been read several times.
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Hi, Crystle, I am very happy you liked this Christmas story. It kind of fell together thinking on Christmas, the Christmas Story, and Johnny. You’ve read it several times… already? Wow! Thank you for letting me know!
Lovely story. Thanks for sharing.
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You are very welcome, Lesley, I am pleased you liked this little tale!