A Winter’s Tale
#1 in the Winter’s Tale series
A narrative set sometime after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. Johnny’s first months at Lancer had some ‘never before’ experiences, some of which he liked, others he didn’t enjoy. Nope not by a long shot.
Word count: 910
It was Scott’s privilege, or maybe not, to introduce Johnny to Thanksgiving. Since it was Scott’s holiday Murdoch delegated the duty to his elder son. Johnny wasn’t interested in some Yankee holiday about pilgrims and a rock, or that they hadn’t planned ahead so they were starving, but it was nice the Indians gave them food. Or so Johnny thought Scott told him since he phased out on the story and concentrated on the good smells coming from Maria’s kitchen. Though the holiday didn’t mean much to Johnny the food won him over and the Lancer’s celebrated their first Thanksgiving as a family.
With the colder weather upon them and the threat of snow in the air, Murdoch and Scott began sharing stories of their childhood snow adventures. They seemed to especially enjoy exaggerating how cold and wet they got building snowmen and fighting snow ball wars. Johnny enjoyed the stories but had trouble imagining what could possibly be fun about being cold and wet. Then he remembered Murdoch and Boston like cheese on their apple pie…yep, they’re crazy.
Another thing Johnny didn’t like about the cold weather was the amount of clothing required for these so called snow adventures. Murdoch had presented his younger son with a heavy jacket, wool scarf, fur lined gloves, thick wool socks, new boots, flannel shirts, heavy pants, and long-johns. The later didn’t appeal to him at all, they itched. He also realized that by the time he was fully dressed he either had to pee or forgot why he was doing all this in the first place. Also why were the old man and Scott making him gear up when it wasn’t even snowing…yet.
Christmas was two weeks away and Scott and Murdoch had been explaining traditions, decorations, foods, and presents. As for the decorations, he was so tired of Teresa and Scott pulling him into the mess, hang this, move that, and ‘Johnny stay away from the cookies’. At this point Johnny seriously considered shooting his brother and stepsister, but knew Murdoch would be mad and he didn’t want to listen to the ol’ man’s yelling. Now what did interest the former gunfighter was the getting presents part of this holiday. After all when he was a boy presents were never a part of his life, so this was new and exciting. However, much to the chagrin of the rest of the Lancer’s, Johnny was constantly searching the hacienda for his presents.
Now with Christmas approaching so came the chance of the dreaded snow. The fact was he had never seen snow and was not in the least comforted that it seemed to amuse his family. With the days getting shorter and colder he decided his favorite place in the hacienda was on the rug in front of the blazing fire. Scott said Johnny looked like a cat curled up on the rug.
Finally the day arrived, Murdoch and Scott were overjoyed, however the younger Lancer son was another matter. When they banged on his door and announced that it was snowing he yelled, ‘Go away!’ and snuggled further under his covers. He should have known that wouldn’t work.
Not to be dissuaded from the first snow day of the winter, they burst into Johnny’s room, threw back the covers, and pulled the reluctant man from his bed. Johnny was so surprised and it all happened before he could get to his gun. Later he blamed his slowness on frozen fingers, otherwise there would have been blood shed.
After much laughing by Murdoch and Scott and grumbling by Johnny the Lancer men finally headed outside. Johnny kept scratching the itchy wool long-johns, he was not happy, no, not by a long shot.
At first the snow novice was easy prey to the more experienced snow-ballers but being a quick study it wasn’t long before he took his revenge. Soon after Teresa joined Murdoch and Scott while Jelly joined forces with Johnny, the war was on.
After team Murdoch won the snow ball war he mandated a snowman building contest. The result was a snow family adorning the side yard. To show just how he felt about snow things, and feeling he had been sorely used, Johnny’s snowman sported a stick in the shape of a gun resting on its hip.
Exhausted, cold, and wet the Lancer’s decided to call it quits, and as the afternoon sun disappeared everyone headed for the warmth of the Great Room. Johnny was eager to get inside and warm up by the fire, he still wasn’t completely convinced that snow was fun. A fact he didn’t hesitate to let his family know, loud and clear.
Everyone had changed into dry clothes and gathered around the fire while Maria and Teresa brought coffee, cocoa, cookies, and sandwiches to the grateful men. Johnny was sprawled in his favorite spot in front of the fire, Murdoch in his leather chair, Scott and Jelly on the sofa, and Teresa in her chair working on her knitting. Each basked in their private revelry.
Murdoch looked at his children and knew this day would be a very special memory for him. He would never forget watching his younger son learn about snow, and the boy’s shocked look when the first snow ball hit him in the face.
Murdoch relaxed into his chair, smiled, and thought in the battle of Johnny vs Snow:
Next? How was he going to keep Johnny from finding Santa’s gifts?
~ end ~
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#2 in the Winter’s Tale series
Word count: 2,050
Murdoch was frustrated and ready to haul his younger son to the wood shed and apply belt to butt. Scott had volunteered, “I’ll hold him.”
For the last week Teresa, Maria, and Scott had been complaining non-stop to Murdoch about Johnny’s antics. “You have to do something, he is getting out of control.” The usually tolerant big brother had had enough. The harried elder Lancer was fast approaching his breaking point and was wondering about the worth of having his younger son home? A question he asked himself several times a day.
The Pest, formally known as Johnny Madrid Lancer, was driving everyone crazy. Said pest was stealing cookies, sampling cakes based on finger prints found in the icing, and scooping out the filling from the pies. The most heinous crime was snatching Maria’s still warm tamales. An angry Maria snuck up behind the thief and mid bite, “Niño, no more stealing,” swatted him with her wooden spoon. He yelped and rubbing his injured butt backed out of the kitchen. However, Maria’s wooden spoon didn’t seem to daunt him and the crime wave continued unabated.
Then there was the constant pestering about what he was getting for Christmas and the location of said gifts. “Johnny you will have to wait for Christmas.” Murdoch clasped his hands behind his back to keep from strangling the pest.
Much to the younger son’s dismay the gifts remained safely hidden. He had searched the barn, attic, tower, and even snuck into Scott’s room but no presents. When he tried to search Teresa’s room she caught him. The entire ranch heard Murdoch’s yelling, “YOU WILL STAY OUT OF HER ROOM, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”
When Murdoch caught Johnny trying to sneak into his room he was barely able to control his anger as he pinned his errant son to the wall. Jabbing his finger into Johnny’s chest, “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THE PRYING, THE STEALING, AND IF THIS DOESN’T STOP AND I MEAN NOW…” The threat left hanging made it abundantly clear that someone would be in serious trouble if he tried entered his father’s room-again.
That ultimatum only served as a challenge to Johnny Madrid Lancer. However, for a few days calm reigned at the Lancer hacienda. Everyone was starting to relax. Unfortunately for his new family, they failed to realize they should have gone to high alert.
Madrid was at Lancer and he was plotting.
On the third day of calm Murdoch decided it would be safe to keep an appointment in town with the banker. “Scott, I want you to check the North pasture’s lake level.” Then turning to Johnny, “You will check the fence line bordering the road to Morro Coyo.”
Johnny, the picture of innocence, made the appearance of riding out to check the fence line. Once he was out of sight, he dismounted and waited for his father and brother to leave so he could sneak back the hacienda.
When the coast was finally clear, Madrid slipped in the front door and up the stairs to Murdoch’s room. After glancing over his shoulder to make sure he was alone, he slowly opened the door and slipped into the room. Madrid looked everywhere in the room, but nothing, he didn’t even find gifts for the rest of the family. He shook his head and plopped down on his father’s bed, thoroughly frustrated.
Then a thought popped into his mind, he would finish his earlier search in Teresa’s room. After checking under every lace and frill, still nothing.
Then he figured, why not check Scott’s room again but as with the other rooms there were no gifts to be found. He was now beyond frustrated.
Since he hadn’t been able to search the kitchen with the women around, he would make that his next target. First, he needed a diversion since all the ladies were on high alert against the cookie thief.
Madrid stood at the top of the back stairs and listened to Maria and Teresa talk about the supper menu. Slowly he made his way down the stairs and out the side door without the women noticing him. His next stop was the chicken coop and Teresa’s beloved hens. Once he was in position he propped the gate open and waved his arms until the frightened chickens squawked and flew into the yard. Maria and Teresa heard the racket and ran out of the kitchen, worried about what might have frightened the chickens. Maria tried to calm the distraught Teresa, “Niña, don’t cry, it will be alright.” Then she called to some of the ranch hands, “Please help.” Thankfully, Walt and Hank rushed over and corralled the terrified fowl.
Behind the coop Johnny smothered his laugh and headed for the kitchen. He checked in the pantry, the cupboards, and in the boxes under the prep table. Again, nothing was found. When he heard the women return he ran into the Great Room and out the front door.
Madrid looked around, the coast was clear so he headed for Jelly’s room. After another fruitless search Johnny was being to wonder if these gifts even existed.
While he stood empty handed, he remembered Murdoch reading the story about Santa Claus delivering gifts on Christmas Eve, but it was just a story. “Wasn’t it? I’ve searched everywhere.” Then he remembered the story also told about a bad list, he was sure because of Madrid that he was on that one. “Guess I should be searching for switches and coal instead of gifts.”
Resigned to the fact he wouldn’t be finding any Christmas presents, Johnny left Jelly’s room.
He thought he was in the clear, but his luck had run out when Murdoch and Scott rode into the yard and caught him coming out of Jelly’s room. “Dios.” Johnny knew he was in for it now.
The master of Lancer sat at his desk facing his two sons. Scott was sure he saw smoke coming out of Murdoch’s ears while Johnny was trying to be invisible. It wasn’t working.
The rafters shook from Murdoch’s explosion. “THIS HAS GONE ON FOR LONG ENOUGH. GO TO YOUR ROOM. IF YOU EVEN TRY TO LEAVE IT…”
Johnny backed up, then turned and headed for his room, there was no way he was going to push the big man into physical harm to his backside.
Scott couldn’t resist the temptation and followed his brother from the Great Room. “Johnny, Santa isn’t going to be happy.” Disgruntled, Johnny just snorted and announced he didn’t believe in Santa as he stomped up the stairs.
Much to the relief of everyone on Lancer; Johnny had been keeping a low profile. All the while he continued to claim, “I don’t believe in Santa.” But figured he should stay out of trouble, just in case.
Maria and Teresa had prepared a special Christmas Eve meal with Val and Sam joining the family. Sam had agreed to spend the night to share Christmas morning with the family. Val had to get back to town but promised to come by the next day, if possible.
All was quiet at Lancer with everyone in bed, that is, everyone but Johnny. His curiosity had overcome his good sense, again. He listened at the door then opened it and peeked into the hallway. All clear. He snuck into the Great Room and gasped at the sight before him.
There by the tree stood a hairy, black, creature with cloven hooves, and the horns of a goat. His long pointed tongue lolled out, and his curled clawed finger indicated Johnny should come to him.
Madrid had just met Krampus.
“I am here to discuss your actions this December.” The creature’s tongue flicked back and forth, “You have been a bad boy, Johnny Madrid Lancer.”
Johnny gulped and nervously took a step backward, “Who are you?”
“I am Krampus and I am here for you.” The creature leered at him.
Johnny rubbed his eyes and looked again, yep the creature was still there. “What do you want with me?”
“Well, young man, where Santa serves the good children, I,” he pointed to himself, “Come to punish the bad ones.” The creature cackled, “And you by your actions have placed you among the bad ones.” He reached into the sack he carried and pulled out a birch branch which he smacked against his outstretched hand.
Johnny took another step back and was regretting the fact that he had left his gun hanging on the bedpost.
Krumpus growled and moved toward his victim. “You can’t run from me.”
“I ain’t running, you’re not real.”
“Oh but I am Johnny boy.” Again he smacked the branch against his hand as he advanced on miscreant . Then he raised the branch and was about to strike when Johnny ducked to avoid the hit.
Unfortunately Johnny wasn’t paying attention to where he was and tripped over the ottoman. On the way down he hit his head on the arm of Murdoch’s leather chair. The last thing he saw was the monster advancing on him… then blackness.
Johnny jolted awake to find Sam leaning over him. “Dios Sam, what are ya doing?”
“I am checking you after the fall you took last night.” Sam released his patient’s wrist. “From the way you are acting I guess it is safe to say you have recovered.”
Johnny bolted upright in bed and looked around his room, “Did you see it?”
“See what?” Sam reached for Johnny.
“That thing in the Great Room.” Johnny rubbed his forehead. “It was big, furry, had horns…”
Sam tried to calm his patient. “Johnny you were alone. We heard a crash and found you on the floor.”
“It was there, I saw it.” He leaned back against the headboard.
Murdoch and Scott had been waiting in the hallway, per Sam’s orders. Hearing Johnny’s voice they decided it was time to find out what happened last night.
Murdoch sat on the bed and Scott stood at the foot of Johnny’s bed.
“Son, just what do you think you saw last night?” Murdoch reached out to rub his son’s leg.
“It was big, hairy, had horns, and a really long tongue.” He stopped when he saw the doubting faces. “Give me a piece of paper and a pencil and I draw it for you.”
A few minutes later three heads were bent over the drawing.
Scott cleared his throat to hide the laugh fighting to erupt. “Actually Johnny, I have seen this creature before.”
Johnny almost jumped out of bed, “See I told ya.” He was feeling vindicated.
“Actually Johnny,” Scott held up his hand, “He is from Alpine folklore, and is seen as a companion to Santa.”
“I know he told me. Said Santa was for the good kids and he was for the bad ones.” Johnny crossed his arms and pouted.
“Johnny…” Scott wasn’t sure where to go with this. “Listen brother, he’s not real.”
“I saw him.” Johnny shook his head then held it with both hands.
“Johnny, that is not a good idea.” Sam put his hand over his mouth to stop the grin.
“I think that’s enough, we have presents to open.” Murdoch looked to Sam. “Can Johnny go downstairs?”
The contented Lancers sat in the Great Room basking in the glow of the fire and the candlelit tree. Everyone was happy with their gifts, especially Johnny who had worried about birch branches and coal. The cooks really outdid themselves with the meal, and Maria even made more of her special tamales.
Finally everyone headed for bed. Johnny couldn’t sleep, he waited in his room until all was quiet. When he was sure everyone was asleep he snuck back down to the Great Room.
He sat in Murdoch’s favorite chair and watched the embers glowing in the fireplace. It had been an amazing day, this Christmas thing met all his expectations and then some. Scott and Murdoch had been right, it was a wonderful time. The warmth of the room and the tequila lulled him to sleep.
Jelly was headed for his room when he notice someone sitting in the Great Room. He peeked in the window and smiled, the boy was okay.
“Guess Krampus didn’t hurt him after all.”
~ end ~
December 2012, completed January 2015
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