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Southernfrau

 

 

Carving Out Fun
Disclaimer:  I don’t own the Lancer characters…I am possessed by them.
Story Note: If you don’t know The Legend of Stingy Jack, retold by Johnny in this fic, you can find a copy below.

 

The sounds of Johnny’s excited squeals vibrated in Murdoch’s sleep deprived head, having been up since five o’clock with the energetic toddler.  The two year old, soon to be three in December, was currently running joyous laps around his father as the lofty Scot struggled to carry a pumpkin almost as tall, if not weighing more than, the toddler.  It wasn’t the weight that was the hindrance; it was the trying to maneuver around the ecstatic child as he kept darting in his path.

“Johnny, calm down.  You need to stay out from under my feet.  You don’t want me to trip and drop your pumpkin, do you?” Papa asked. 

Scott’s giggle drew the harried father’s attention to his seven year old, soon to be eight in December.  The little blond was just excited as his baby brother about carving Jack-o-lanterns; in fact, his body trembled with the suppressed anticipation, his emotions held in check because he felt it was beneath his status as the older wiser brother to participate in such displays of uncontained cheer.

“He’s just anxious, Papa, because Ha told us about Stingy Jack last night before we went to bed.  Johnny doesn’t understand it’s just folklore,” the little blonde stated seriously. 

Papa nodded sagely at Scott’s explanation, quietly amused that his oldest son was conveniently omitting the fact that he didn’t understand folklore until it was explained to him after he woke up screaming from a nightmare about the troubling tale.  

“Hurry, Papa, hurry,” Johnny encouraged as he stepped up on his father’s foot, wrapped his arms tightly around the calf of his long leg and held on for the ride to the picnic table.

“Oomph,” Murdoch grunted as he strained to keep his balance with his arms full of the oversized pumpkin and Johnny clinging to his leg like beggar lice. “Johnny, what are you doing?” exclaimed Papa.

“Papa say Johnny need to stay from unner Papa’s feet, so Johnny on them,” he reasoned in his skewered toddler logic and sounding somewhat put out that he had to explain it to an adult, who should be smart enough to know these things.

As they got closer to the picnic table, Scott -- unable to contain his joy any longer -- skipped ahead; so he could inspect the pumpkins already on the table and choose just the perfect one.  He wanted to carve the scariest Jack-o-lantern possible…just in case there really was a Stingy Jack wandering around on Halloween.   The overly serious and analytical little blond pulled a stack of folded papers from his pocket and opened them up.  The papers were divided into four sections, and in each section he had drawn a circle with varying shapes for facial features.

“What do you have there, Scott?” inquired Papa as he approached the table.  Seeing there was no room on the picnic table for the extremely large pumpkin Johnny had chosen, he sat it on the ground.

“It’s my designs for my Jack-o-lantern.  I need to decide which one I want you to carve for me before I can pick my pumpkin,” Scott stated, his eyes darting from the papers to the table as he chewed his bottom lip in indecision.  “Will you help me choose?”

In typical toddler fashion, the almost forty five seconds of inattention had Johnny demanding to be noticed.  Stepping between his father and older brother, Johnny began to leap and flap his arms as though doing jumping jacks.  Scott growled under his breath as his baby brother’s head knocked his papers out of his hand.

“Stop it, Johnny,” Scott exclaimed, pushing the smaller boy to the side and causing Johnny to stumble and fall on his behind.

Due to his height, Murdoch had a bird’s eye view of the interaction between his sons.  He sucked in his breath when Johnny’s facial expression flashed from excited to furious.  Before he could bend over Johnny’s temper exploded like a stick of dynamite, and he flung himself at his older brother making them both crash into the bench portion of the table.

“BOYS!” Papa shouted, reaching down and separating the combatants by picking Johnny up.  “I’ll put an end to this activity right now if you can’t behave,” Papa threatened, displeasure pinching his lips into a grim line.

Johnny’s reaction was to wail lustily and bury his face in his father’s shoulder.  Scott immediately felt contrite for causing Johnny’s distress.  He was also worried about the aggravated look on Papa’s face. He knew his father would keep his word if they didn’t calm down; he had to think of a way to occupy his baby brother so Papa could help him.

Murdoch battled to fight the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he watched Scott’s face crinkle in concentration; he could practically hear the wheels of his oldest son’s mind turning as the analytical little thinker worked on a solution.  He knew the very second Scott had figured one out by the way his eyes twinkled and the slow smile crept across his serious face; and the true indication, the way the little blond held up the index finger of his right hand, in a Eureka! I have it!! fashion.

“Papa, since Johnny already has his pumpkin picked out, you could cut the top off and he can be scooping out the seeds while you help me,” Scott suggested, ending his idea by clasping his hands in prayer like manner under his chin, his blue eyes pleading for acceptance of his plan.

Pride shining in his own blue eyes over the diplomatic abilities of his son, Murdoch was quick to agree, anxious to see the boyish joy return to Scott’s face.  He ignored the little inner voice that cautioned against turning Johnny loose with a spoon and a pumpkin.

Lifting Johnny’s head so he could see his face, Murdoch cringed at the mix of mucus and tears smeared from eyes to chin.  Taking out his hanky he cleaned him up as he asked, “Is that all right with you, Johnny?  Would you like me to cut the top off your pumpkin so you can work on scooping out the seeds while I help Scott?”

“Yippy,” Johnny crowed out happily, wiggling to be put down.  “Johnny gonna have the bestest Jack-lantern so that Stringy Jack don’t come to Johnny’s house.  Papa did you know Jack was a Mister Ball Drunk and he stealed six pennies so God wouldn’t let him in Heaven and the Devil wouldn’t let him in Hell?” Johnny babbled without taking a breath; his eyes widening as he slapped his hand over his mouth.  “Uh oh…Johnny sorry, Johnny say a bad word.”

Giggling nervously, Scott looked at his father to gauge his reaction to Johnny’s version of Stingy Jack.  He sighed in relief when he realized Papa was biting his lips together to keep from laughing at his little brother.

Pretending to study the knives he had assembled to carve the Jack-o-lanterns, Murdoch got his mirth under control.  Then, turning back to Johnny, he crouched down and began to saw an opening in the pumpkin.  As he removed the top piece Johnny leaned in to look and they cracked heads, Murdoch grunting and Johnny muttering ouch.

“Ewwwwwwwww,” Johnny squealed, as he peered inside.  “Yuck, is that why him named Stringy Jack?” Johnny exclaimed as he look at the jumbled mess. “Look, Squat,” Johnny requested.

Curious at his little brother’s reaction, Scott moved in place and glanced in the opening.  “Blech,” Scott uttered, “It looks like big worms.  That’s not what Mamacita wants us to save for her to toast is it?”

“Not exactly,” Papa replied, reaching to put the knife in the middle of the table, well away from Johnny’s inquisitive hands.  Picking up a bowl and a large metal serving spoon, he dropped down and scooped up some of the membrane and dumped it in the bowl.  Pointing out the teardrop shaped seeds he said, “We’re going to separate out the seeds.  Mamacita will wash them, soak them and toast them in the oven.  Some she will sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.  They make a sweet crunchy snack, like nuts.”

“Johnny do it,” demanded the youngest Lancer son, trying to pull the spoon from Papa’s hand when he started to get a second scoop.

“All right,” Papa conceded. “Do it just like I did and be careful not to get it all over your clothes because it will dry sticky.”

“Okay,” Johnny agreed happily, standing on his tiptoes to reach inside with his spoon. He retrieved just a minuscule amount of the membrane and two seeds but he appeared satisfied and preoccupied with his effort as he studiously placed it in the bowl.

Realizing Johnny was captivated and would be engrossed in his chore for quite some time at the rate he was working, Murdoch turned his attention to Scott.

“Now then, let’s see which one of your designs we’re going to use and pick the perfect pumpkin for it,” Papa stated, dropping wearily onto the bench next to his son, knowing it might take quite some time for Scott to come to a decision as he would thoroughly explore all his options. Soon they were absorbed in their discussion.

Johnny labored away cleaning out his Jack-o-lantern, grunting and huffing as he struggled to reach inside.  “Shoot,” he muttered when the spoon slipped out of his hand.  Pushing up on his tiptoes, he strained to get hold of the utensil but it was now inaccessible to his seeking hand.  He leaned so far over his feet left the ground and he almost fell in the over sized pumpkin.  Suddenly realizing the goop inside was getting on his sleeve, Johnny jerked his arm back.  He lost his balance and ended up on his butt in the dirt.

“Arrrggghhh,” Johnny growled in his throat.  He was about to ask for help, but stopped.  He wanted this to be his Jack-o-lantern, and he just had to find a way to get to the bottom inside.  A bright smile lit his face as the solution came to him.  He had a plan; and it didn’t take him long to implement it. 

Climbing on top of the pumpkin, Johnny slowly levered himself down, giggling when his feet slipped on the slick and gooey innards causing him to abruptly sit down with a wet sounding splat.  Picking up his spoon he scraped up a heap, popped up out of the pumpkin with a grunt and dropped it over the side into the bowl below.  He repeated the sequence over and over as he diligently worked to clean out his Jack-o-lantern.

The sounds of Johnny’s grunts and huffs told Murdoch the toddler was hard at work behind him, so he focused his attention to Scott.  Scott was a bit of a perfectionist  and it was beginning to look like it would be a while before he made a decision because he still had not picked a favorite design yet, much less a pumpkin.

“Scott, what would you think about using all of your designs?  I was just thinking it would be nice if we carved extras so we could share some with the orphanage and a few of our neighbors,” Papa suggested, subconsciously holding his breath as Scott considered the offer.  It would take less time to use all twelve faces the little blond created than it would for him to make up his mind.

“Oh boy…thanks, Papa, I was having trouble making up my mind,” Scott exclaimed, the relief on his face clear.

As Father and son were conferring, Harlan exited the house and started across the yard, curious that he didn’t see Johnny as he knew the toddler had been excited to participate.  As he approached the table, he was startled when a little dark head popped out of an extremely large pumpkin.  Rushing forward, Harlan arrived in time to see the rest of Johnny emerge, a spoon clutched in his hand.  The shocked grandfather’s mouth dropped open when he took in the current state of his youngest grandson.

“Johnny, what, in the world, are you doing?” Ha asked, as Johnny climbed out of the pumpkin and slid down the side to stand by it.    

 Ha’s question alerted Murdoch and Scott that Johnny was up to something.  Murdoch quickly counted the knives to make sure the youngster had not taken one off the table.  Scott turned around, gasped and fell off the bench in a fit of laughter, rolling under the table.

Murdoch turned around just in time to see Johnny huff angrily, his little eyes narrowing as he glared at his brother. “What so funny, Squat?” Johnny demanded; fisting his hands and placing them on his hips, his buck-naked, pumpkin seed covered body quivering in righteous indignant ire.

Ha was wheezing as he tried to breathe and laugh at the same time.  Jumping up, Murdoch fairly shrieked in an octave higher voice. “Johnny, why did you take your clothes off?”  Removing his jacket, he wrapped the pumpkin-gore covered baby and picked him up, seeds trickling out from under his coat like raindrops.

Pointing to his clothes laying on the ground next to his Jack-o-lantern, Johnny explained.  “Johnny take them off so they not get sticky. Johnny do a good job.  See, Johnny’s punkin all-l-l cleaned out,” he boasted.

“I see,” Papa agreed with a weary sigh.  Handing the little one to Ha, he added, “You need to go with your grandfather and wash up and get dressed.”  Murdoch bent over and picked up the toddler’s clothes.  His eyes connecting with Scott’s, Papa winked at his oldest and watched as he struggled out from under the table, his face beet red from laughing.

“No,” Johnny whined, “Johnny want to see Papa cut the punkin’s faces.”

“You will, after you clean up.  Scott and I will be scooping the seeds out of the other pumpkins and when you get back we’ll carve them,” Papa placated his youngest son as he handed his clothes to Ha.

Ha and Johnny headed for the bath house loudly singing John, Johnny Madrid Lan…cer to the tune of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

Plopping down on the bench, Murdoch shook his head and raked his long fingers through his hair, briefly thinking he had to stop that nervous habit or Johnny would have him scratching himself bald before he had time to turn grey. “Lord, that boy is one of a kind,” he muttered mostly to himself.

Stepping in between his father’s legs, Scott leaned in, placing his ear over his Dad’s heart and wrapping his slender arms as far as they would go around his broad chest and hugged him tightly.  “Papa, I sure am glad Johnny is one of a kind because I don’t think we could handle two of him.”

Returning, Scott’s embrace, Murdoch chuckled and squeezed the slim child, rearing back so the boy’s feet left the ground and dangled in the air.  He enjoyed these displays of affection from Scott, as the little blond was getting to the age when he only allowed it in private, never in front of his school friends.  “We better get to work cleaning these pumpkins out before Johnny gets back or he’ll want to help and end up needing another bath.”

 

~*~ L ~*~ A ~*~ N ~*~ C ~*~ E ~*~ R ~*~

 

Papa and Scott cleaned out twelve pumpkins and took the bowls of pumpkin meat and seeds to Mamacita.  As they crossed the yard heading back to the picnic table; Ha and Johnny returned from the bath house.

Seeing his father, Johnny turned loose of Ha’s hand and began to run towards his father, his short legs pumping furiously.  Halfway there, he leaned too far forward and gravity took over; the weight of his upper body causing him to lose his balance.  Hitting the ground with a dust raising thud, Johnny’s face plowed dirt and his legs rose up so his heels hung over his butt.  The whip like motion of his legs was so forceful he threw off his left boot.  Before anyone could reach him to help him, Johnny popped up and brushed himself off, hollering, “Johnny all clean now, Johnny ready to cut punkins.”

Stopping to retrieve Johnny’s forgotten boot, Ha continued on to the table.  Shaking his head, he smiled at the son of his heart.  “Well, he was all clean for about five minutes,” he announced with amused resignation.  He sat down and pulled the dusty toddler up onto his lap, tugging the boot back into place.

“Let’s make Jack lanterns,” Johnny squealed, lunging from Ha’s lap towards the knives.

“JOHNNY!”  Papa shouted, blocking his access to the sharp implements.  Shaking his finger at the toddler, Murdoch reminded him.  “We discussed this earlier, you boys have done your part and now you will watch while I carve.”  Seeing the petulant pout forming on Johnny’s face, he held up his finger and wagged it back and forth in a no-no fashion.  “This is not up for further discussion,” Papa announced in his final say voice.

Hoping to keep his baby brother from bringing an end to their activity, Scott spoke up, “Johnny, you go first; tell Papa how to make your pumpkin look scary.”

Calming right down, Johnny turned to his brother. “Johnny, not know how Squat,” he admitted as he scrubbed at his nose dislodging snot and dirt, which Ha quickly wiped away with his ever present white handkerchief.

“It’s easy, just think of the things that scare you…er like things that could hurt you,” Scott replied, smiling in encouragement.

His little dark head bowed, chin to chest, and Johnny wrapped his arms around his torso as he thought things over.  The others watched with bemused grins as the toddler had an internal conversation with his self, shaking his head no at times and or nodding it yes sometimes and finally, giggling when he came to an answer.

“Okay, Papa, Johnny ready,” he announced.  “Johnny want the eye hairs,” he indicated, rubbing his eye brows, “to look like horseshoes cause if you get stepped on by horseshoes it would hurt.”

“That’s a good idea, Johnny,” Scott remarked as they watched Papa sit down by the pumpkin and cut out horseshoe shapes.

Pleased with the effect and getting into the spirit of the fun, Johnny crawled out of Ha’s lap and sat down by his father.  “Now make snake eyes in here,” Johnny instructed, pointing inside the horseshoes.  “Johnny scared of snake eyes cause if you stare in them the snake will bite and you get swelled up, turn black and die.  That what Walt told Johnny when we founded a snake behind the barn,” the toddler announced with a wide eyed look.

“Walt’s right,” Papa replied as he cut the shapes into the shell, “I don’t ever want to hear of you approaching or trying to pick up a snake.”

“Okay,” Johnny readily agreed, wanting to get on with making his Jack-o-lantern.  Pointing to the middle of the pumpkin with a dirt smudged finger he instructed, “Make a really big spider,” he demonstrated by spreading his arms wide, “for his nose.  Johnny ‘fraid a spider will put a web all over Johnny so Johnny can’t move.”  The little boy trembled, brushing off his arms as though one might be on him.

Seeing his youngest grandson was dwelling on the frightening aspects of arachnids, Ha spoke up to add something nice about the long-legged beasties in an effort to allay his baby’s fears.  “Most spiders are helpful, Johnny,” he cajoled. “They use their webs to catch insects that can harm us. People are too big to be trapped in their web.”

“But Johnny not a big people, Johnny just a little boy,” Johnny patiently explained to his grandfather.  “Papa, can Johnny have a gun to shoot spiders?” At least once a week the child tried to finagle a gun out of his father.  “Don’t forget all the legs,” Johnny stated, seeing his father had finished the body of the spider.

“Spiders have eight legs, Papa,” Scott helpfully added, watching and counting as his father carefully cut eight straight slender slices for legs.

“Yippy,” Johnny clapped ecstatically, pleased with the over sized daddy-longlegs gracing his Jack-o-lantern. “Now do the mouth, Papa,” he shrieked giddily in his father’s ear as he leaped up from the ground and held onto his dad’s elbow and jumped up and down in his excitement.

Chuckling, Papa said, “You need to tell me what you want the mouth to be.”  He waited knife poised to finish the project.

“A saw, Papa,” Johnny squealed, his high pitched excitement causing the chicken’s pecking nearby to squawk in protest.  He giggled when Ha grabbed him and sat him on his lap so Murdoch could work without the toddler hanging on his arm. 

“Why a saw, Johnny?” Scott questioned, befuddled by what his little brother would find scary about a common tool.

“Saws hurt, Squat.  One time Johnny rubbed the saw teeths with Johnny’s fingers and it made the blood come out and Johnny cried and cried and Ha gived me candy,” the youngest Lancer announced, snuggling into his grandfather’s arms and ending his statement with a huge yawn that signaled it was way past his nap time.

“Can you think of anything else that’s scary,” Papa asked, as he finished cutting out the saw mouth, secretly praying Johnny was satisfied with his Jack-o-lantern.

“Spankings are scary…but Johnny don’t think punkins get spankings,” Johnny mumbled around another yawn, too tired to complain when everyone laughed at his ‘serious’ statement.

“How do you like it, son,” Papa asked as he stood up and moved aside so the others could get a full view of Johnny’s creation.

Johnny turned on his brilliant heart stopping smile; his blue eyes twinkling in his dirt smudged face as he inspected his Jack-o-lantern.  “It’s the bestest scary punkin ever, Papa,” he announced popping his thumb in his mouth and settling comfortably against Ha’s warm chest.

By the time Scott and Papa finished the first of the twelve designs Scott had planned, Johnny was asleep.  Ha rose gently from the bench to take the little one inside to tuck him in for his nap.  Crossing the yard he couldn’t resist nuzzling the soft, dark curls and breathing in the baby scent, dreading the day his grandson would outgrow these tender mercies.

At dark, the entire family returned to the yard to light, one by one, Mamacita’s special candles, and to admire their Halloween creations.

 

~end~
October 2009  

  

 

The Legend of Stingy Jack

Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who loved playing tricks on anyone and everyone. One dark, Halloween night, Jack ran into the Devil himself in a local public house. Jack tricked the Devil by offering his soul in exchange for one last drink. The Devil quickly turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender, but Jack immediately snatched the coin and deposited it into his pocket, next to a silver cross that he was carrying. Thus, the Devil could not change himself back and Jack refused to allow the Devil to go free until the Devil had promised not to claim Jack's soul for ten years.

The Devil agreed, and ten years later Jack again came across the Devil while out walking on a country road. The Devil tried collecting what he was due, but Jack thinking quickly, said, "I'll go, but before I do, will you get me an apple from that tree?"

The Devil, thinking he had nothing to lose, jumped up into the tree to retrieve an apple. As soon as he did, Jack placed crosses all around the trunk of the tree, thus trapping the Devil once again. This time, Jack made the Devil promise that he would not take his soul when he finally died. Seeing no way around his predicament, the Devil grudgingly agreed.

When Stingy Jack eventually passed away several years later, he went to the Gates of Heaven, but was refused entrance because of his life of drinking and because he had been so tight-fisted and deceitful. So, Jack then went down to Hell to see the Devil and find out whether it were possible to gain entrance into the depths of Hell, but the Devil kept the promise that had been made to Jack years earlier, and would not let him enter.

"But where can I go?" asked Jack.

"Back to where you came from!" replied the Devil.

The way back was windy and very dark. Stingy Jack pleaded with the Devil to at least provide him with a light to help find his way. The Devil, as a final gesture, tossed Jack an ember straight from the fires of Hell. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed-out turnip...one of Jack's favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. From that day forward, Stingy Jack has been doomed to roam the earth without a resting place and with only his lit turnip to light the way in the darkness.

 

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