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Do You Get That From Chickens?

Disclaimer: The Lancers do not belong to me, but I like to borrow them to write.  I don't get paid to do this, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Rating: PG-13.  Just to be on the safe side.  I grew up in a military family so I do tend to talk like a sailor sometimes.
Warning:  No actual chicken was harmed in the writing of this story.  (For my animal loving sister who was mad at me for 2 days because of Mirabel).
This story was beta read.  Any and all errors and mistakes that slipped through as I put the parts back together are mine alone.  

Thanks to Chris for the beta read on this.  You have taught me a lot about the writing process.  You were unfailingly honest in your assessments each time.  I thank you for pointing out what was wrong and showing me how to fix it myself.  I learned to look at my writing from a different point of view, which made me see the beta process is about construction not destruction.  You gave me the right tools to construct a better story without changing my idea.  With your help, I discovered I truly was strong enough to bend.
Thanks to Nancy and Karen.  Nancy for advising me to seek help from Chris when I started this last year. Nancy said she had an eye for detail and she wasn't kidding.  Karen for confirming the medical facts were correct. Thanks to Janet (JEB) for letting me use the Talbot name again. Thanks to Winj, KC and Kona (Linda B) who made me a freak for bath scenes.


Johnny Lancer sat in the chair by his bedroom window. He sighed heavily to himself.

// Well you did it again Madrid. The old man is going to have a fit. The fur will fly. Of course, I’m used to going toe to toe with him. I just wish Teresa wasn’t mad at me too.//


Six Hours Earlier

“Johnny would you do me a really big favor? Go check to see if there are any more eggs in the hen house. I want to bake a cake for supper and there aren’t enough eggs in the house,” pleaded Teresa O' Brien, Murdoch's ward.

“Well now, that depends. What kind of cake are you making? If it’s chocolate, I’ll get right on it. If it’s not chocolate, forget it. It’s not worth fighting that hateful old laying hen, Mirabel. I swear that crazy bird has it in for me,” replied Johnny.

Teresa laughed, “Johnny, Mirabel can tell that you don’t like her that’s why she acts so jumpy around you. She doesn’t trust you.”

“I don’t trust her either. I ain’t never been in the chicken yard when she didn’t fly at me like she’s going to peck my eyes out. I swear one of these days I’m going to put a bullet between them beady little eyes of hers.”

“Johnny Lancer you better not do anything to hurt my best laying hen. If you ever so much as cause her to lose a feather I’ll never bake you another chocolate cake.”

Johnny’s eyes twinkled as he gave her an insolent grin, “So you are making a chocolate cake. I’ll go right now and get the eggs. If I ain’t back in five minutes you’ll know I ran into trouble. Send Scott and Cipriano with the wagon and first aid supplies.”

“Oh quit being a smart aleck. Not even you could run into trouble collecting eggs.”

With a wicked little smirk on his face, and a tug to Teresa’s hair, Johnny set off for the chicken yard.

The closer he got to the chicken pen the louder the ruckus coming from the yard got.

//Oh great, sounds like Mirabel has all the old biddies in a mood today. I bet Teresa knew it too. That’s why she wanted me to come for the eggs.//

Johnny opened the fence to the chicken yard and stepped in. “Hello ladies, what’s wrong? Mirabel got everybody’s feathers all ruffled today?”

Johnny crossed the pen, dodging the chickens that were running towards him and away from the hen house.

“I don’t blame you chickens. I’d want to run too and I got a gun. Y’all might want to huddle on the fence over there for the next few minutes. I’m about to put Mirabel in a fouler mood than she’s in already.”

Back at the hacienda Teresa paused and wondered what Johnny was doing to cause the chickens to squawk so loudly.

Johnny stepped into the hen house and froze. Coiled in the corner was a snake. Acting from sheer instinct and a hatred of snakes, Johnny drew his gun and shot it's head off before he even took time to identify what kind it was.

Teresa could hear the commotion from the hacienda and ran for the chicken yard to find out what was going on.

Johnny was crouched down next to the snake he had just shot. It was only a chicken snake. It might have made off with some eggs or baby chicks so it was just as well he had shot it.

Teresa flew into the hen house and was stunned by what she saw. There were feathers and hay from the nests everywhere. There were even a few broken eggs on the ground, knocked out of the nests by fleeing chickens.

She was about to ask Johnny what had happened when she noticed Mirabel lying dead on the ground near his feet.

Teresa gasped, “You shot Mirabel! How could you? I’ll never forgive you! You knew she was my favorite.”

Johnny stood and gave Teresa an incredulous look. “I did not shoot a chicken. I shot this snake,” he said gesturing to the snake behind him.

With tears running down her face Teresa cried, “If you didn’t shoot her then why is she dead?"

“How would I know ? Maybe she had a heart attack or maybe she was just plain scared to death of this chicken snake?”

The shock of finding her best laying hen dead caused Teresa to speak without thinking, “You shot your gun in here for a stupid chicken snake? Why didn’t you just get a stick and run it out? You could have killed it once it was out of the chicken yard. Now Mirabel is dead and the hen house is in a mess. You never think before you act. You are so irresponsible. Just wait until Murdoch finds out what you’ve done now.”

“Teresa I didn’t know it was just a chicken snake until after I shot it. I walked in here and saw a snake and shot it out of instinct. I’m sorry Mirabel is dead. I’m not sorry I shot this snake without getting close enough to tell what kind it was. The only good snake is a dead snake. Don’t you think you’re acting kind of ridiculous?”

“Johnny Lancer don’t you tell me I’m being ridiculous. You never liked Mirabel. For all I know you could have crushed her trying to get to that snake.”

A look of hurt and anger passed over Johnny’s face at Teresa’s harsh words.

“Well if you want to check the chicken over I’m sure you won’t find any bullet holes or broken bones,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

Teresa turned on her heel and stomped from the hen house. As soon as she got back to the hacienda she grabbed Maria by the arm and began gesturing towards the hen house. She explained her version of what she thought had happened. When she finished, Maria enfolded her in a hug and glared angrily towards Johnny.

Johnny stormed off to the tack room to finish his work. // Women, I swear I’ll never understand them. Teresa knows me well enough to realize I wouldn’t shoot a chicken. //

The longer he worked the angrier Johnny got. // I wonder why everyone else around here can make mistakes. They can have accidents and nobody thinks a thing about it. Let it be me and it’s all my fault. They want to say I never think before I act because these stupid accidents always happen to me. //




Johnny was slamming equipment around in the tack room when Scott rode in from the range.

“Hey little brother who put a burr under your saddle?”

Johnny frowned as he faced his brother, “Hell I might as well tell you my side before Teresa tells you hers.” Johnny proceeded to explain what happened in the hen house to his brother.

“Johnny, I don’t think I would have done anything different myself. As far as I’m concerned I’m not going to get close enough to a snake to find out what kind it is unless it’s dead.”

Johnny grimaced, “I hope Murdoch sees it that way too. Since it upset Teresa and I’m the cause of it. I don’t reckon I better hold my breath over it.”

Johnny waited on Scott to feed and groom his horse then they walked to the house together.

Teresa greeted Scott with a smile and a glass of lemonade. She made a point of ignoring Johnny.

Johnny glanced at Scott just long enough for his brother to see the hurt in the eyes. Turning away, Johnny walked up stairs.

Scott winced as he thought about the look of hurt that had been on his brother’s face.

Turning to Teresa he smiled and asked, “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on him? He was just following his instincts. He certainly didn’t intend to kill your chicken. He feels bad about it.”

Teresa turned up her nose as she replied, “I have nothing more to say about it. Murdoch can settle it.”

After going upstairs Johnny washed up for supper. It had been six hours since the chicken incident and Teresa was still mad. Figuring there was nothing else he could do Johnny sat in the chair by his window waiting for his father to get back. He knew Murdoch was going to explode, like he normally does.

Johnny leaned out the window, to see who was coming, when he heard the sound of a horse approaching the house. It was Murdoch coming back from town. Johnny saw Teresa running to the barn to speak with his father.

Fifteen minutes later Johnny heard Murdoch bellow from the kitchen stairs, “Johnny I need to speak to you now! Get down here.”

Murdoch turned and limped to his desk.

//Guess I know whose side he’s going to take.// Johnny got up and left the sanctuary of his room.

Johnny did not find his father in the kitchen. //I guess he's waiting in the great room. I might as well go let the old man chew me out//. Johnny passed through the kitchen and dining room on his way to Murdoch's wrath.

Murdoch sat at his desk, his displeasure written all over his face.

With his head down, Johnny stepped up to stand before his father. //One man, judge and jury//.

“I would like an explanation of what went on here this afternoon young man. How could you upset Teresa like that? You killed her best laying hen!”

Johnny clenched his jaw so tight he thought it might break. Johnny snapped his head up as he shouted loudly, “I did not kill that chicken. I killed a snake. I told her I was sorry even though I didn’t actually do anything to it. The chickens had already knocked the hay and eggs out of the nests before I got there. The snake scared them.”

“Teresa says you threatened to shoot Mirabel before you even went to the hen house.”

“I was teasing her. If she would stop to think about it she would realize that.”

Murdoch looked smugly at Johnny before replying, “Why would you expect her to stop and think when you don’t?”

Johnny shook his head angrily before exclaiming, “I’m sure you checked out the chicken and didn’t find any bullet holes or broken bones. I didn’t kill that chicken! Since I’m going to be made to wear the blame for it, go ahead and pass judgment old man.”

“I don’t appreciate your tone of voice young man. I expect you to clean up that mess in the hen house. You can make any repairs it needs while you’re at it.”

“I’ll get right on it. And, for the record, I don’t think there’s anything about me you do appreciate. In fact, it looks to me like y’all think more of that damn chicken than you do me. If that had been a rattler instead of a chicken snake you’d all probably still be mad that the chicken is dead,” said Johnny in a deadly calm voice.

Turning swiftly Johnny headed for the door. He stopped when his father called out, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“I’m going to clean up the mess I made when I shot a snake in a dimly lit hen house without bothering to find out what kind it was first.”

“I’m sure that can wait until tomorrow. It’s almost time for supper.”

“I’d rather get it done now. I’m not hungry. I don’t want to sit down with people who think more of the animal on their plates than me.”

Standing in the kitchen Teresa now realized how ridiculous she had been.

// Why did I have to over react? If I had gone in the hen house and seen that snake I would have been hollering for one of the men to come with their gun.//

Murdoch got up from the desk, his body stiff with exasperation. He walked to the sideboard and poured himself a scotch. As Murdoch turned around he saw Scott standing in the doorway of the open french doors. Murdoch could tell from the disapproving look on Scott's face he had heard it all.

Murdoch grimaced as he sarcastically inquired of Scott, “That went well didn’t it?”

Scott couldn’t really believe what had just transpired. He knew Johnny could be reckless and stubborn, but his only crime had been to shoot a snake. It wasn’t Johnny's fault the chicken was dead.

“I’d say it went about like normal, sir. Johnny is in trouble again because he’s quick with a gun. Do you really think he should have gotten close enough to identify that snake before he took any other action? What if Johnny had done that? What if it had turned out to be a rattler and it bit him? Then Johnny would be in trouble for not killing it before he got close enough to identify it.”

Murdoch was speechless, but he was also prideful. Murdoch Lancer wasn’t about to back down now.

When he got no response from his father Scott shrugged and went upstairs.

Standing in the kitchen listening to Scott point out the facts, Teresa realized she had made a mountain out of a molehill. She didn’t even understand why she had done it. She knew Johnny would normally go out of his way to ensure her happiness and safety.

Teresa felt she owed Johnny an apology. She had not only gotten him in trouble with Murdoch, something he did enough on his own, but she had also treated him poorly when he came in from work.

Tears began to spill down her face as she recalled how she had made the cherry pie, which Scott preferred, for dessert instead of the chocolate cake - that Johnny loved.

// I must be the worst sister in the world. Knowing Johnny, he probably isn’t even mad at me. He’s more than likely hurt. I wish I knew how to make this up to him. I can’t just tell Murdoch to forget it. He’ll never back down. I can hear him now saying, "This is no longer open for discussion.//

Teresa decided to give Johnny time to get his emotions under control before she tried to talk to him. She didn't think Johnny was angry with her but she was certain he was angry and upset with Murdoch

Johnny stomped out to the chicken yard, his body rigid with frustration. He wished he had been able to keep a level head. Johnny tried to explain to his father what had happened, and as usual it had ended up in a shouting match. Johnny took exception to his father questioning his thinking. He knew Murdoch was very protective of Teresa and just the fact that Teresa was upset was enough to cause his father to overreact.

// Overreact, boy I wish I could understand why Teresa reacted so badly. I wish I knew how to make her understand. I think the best thing for me to do right now is keep my mouth shut until it all blows over. Murdoch will probably send me on some job that will keep me away for a few days. That way the old man can pretend like nothing happened when I come back.//

Johnny stepped into the hen house and peered around at the destruction. He looked at the body of Mirabel and couldn’t help it, he had to smile. Mirabel had to be the most disagreeable animal he ever met. She was still running true to form. Mirabel was causing as much trouble in death as she had in life. // Maybe Mirabel was one of them black magic chickens. She probably put some kind of curse on me. I bet I come down with some kind of chicken sickness cleaning out this chicken coop.//

Johnny decided the first order of business was to dispose of Mirabel. Those beady little eyes seemed to be staring at him. He took Mirabel outside of the chicken yard and buried her. Johnny figured that put her a little closer to the devil, which was right where she belonged.

Johnny knew it was childish of him, but just to pay Mirabel back for all the trouble she caused, he buried the snake with her.

Since Johnny was supposed to make any repairs that the hen house needed he went to the barn to get fresh hay for the nesting boxes. He also got a rake to clean up the floor.

Teresa walked up just as he was returning to the chicken yard. “Johnny, I wanted to tell you I know I over reacted and I'm sorry. You really do mean more to me than a stupid chicken.”

Johnny kept his head down the entire time Teresa spoke to him. He didn’t want her to see the hurt in his eyes. When she finished her little speech Johnny nodded his head and brushed past her to finish his job.

Teresa chewed her lip as Johnny went by. She knew he was hurt by her actions. “I saved some supper for you. I know you said you weren’t hungry. If you change your mind I left it warming on the stove for you. If nothing else you could eat the pie with some buttermilk or coffee.”

Johnny turned and glanced at Teresa, “Cherry pie?”

As Teresa nodded yes he snapped back, “Give it to Scott it’s his favorite. I lost my appetite.”

The second he said it Johnny was sorry, but he had enough Murdoch Lancer in him that he couldn't back down just yet. Johnny wasn’t mad. He was hurt. Johnny didn’t like the feeling of that any more than he liked feeling mad. Feeling hurt was new to him. It made him feel vulnerable. Johnny watched silently as Teresa left the chicken yard, her shoulders drooped in sadness.

Before he came back to Lancer, Johnny never had to worry about hurt feelings, his or anybody else’s. It had been Johnny's experience that he couldn’t let feelings get in the way of his survival. Johnny felt to survive he needed to be in control of his emotions and actions. That was hard to do if you had to worry about hurt feelings.

Control, it all came down to control. Johnny Madrid didn’t like for people to tell him how or when to do things. He felt like they were taking the control away from him when he wasn't given an option on how or when to do things. Madrid needed to be in control to feel safe. Johnny didn’t really have that big of a problem with the jobs he had to do on the ranch. Johnny had a problem with the way he was told to do them.

In all the years Johnny was with his mother she never told him what to do. In fact, once she got any money he might have earned, she basically ignored him. She never gave much thought or attention to what her only child was doing.

Unlike Maria, Murdoch expected a recounting of all the day's events and what chores were completed. He felt like his father was paying too much attention to what he was doing. Johnny knew Murdoch cared or his father wouldn’t feel the need to rake him over the coals when he felt his son could do better. Murdoch held his sons to a higher standard than the hands, and Johnny to a higher standard than Scott.

Johnny couldn’t recall a single time Murdoch had ever raised his voice at Scott or Teresa. Johnny had never heard his father bellow at the hands the way he did him. Oh sure, Murdoch could be terse or bark his orders to the men, but the old man didn’t get over wrought and purple in the face the way he did with Johnny.

The more he thought about his present situation, the angrier Johnny got. He could forgive Teresa, in fact he already had, she was a girl. Johnny understood girls were more emotional than men.

Thinking about his father flying off the handle the way he did over a chicken, really set Johnny's teeth on edge. In his agitated state of mind Johnny began hastily pulling the old hay from the nesting boxes to replace it with new hay.

When he got to the fourth box he forcefully pushed his hands down around the old hay and snatched backwards with both hands full. Half way out of the box it felt like something bit into the outside edge of his left hand. Johnny yelped in surprise. He quickly threw the hay down and lifted his hand to inspect it.

There was a deep gouge running from his small finger to his wrist. It was bleeding freely. Johnny frowned at the sight and wondered what could have done it. Inspecting the inside of the nesting box, Johnny saw that whoever built the box had used nails too long for the task. He had cut his hand on a dirty old nail.

When Johnny realized it was also the nest Mirabel always used he rolled his eyes and muttered, “I knew that chicken was out to get me.” Johnny then hollered as if the dead chicken could hear him, “It ain’t going to work Mirabel! I’m not going to let you make me sick! I’m going to clean this with carbolic as soon as I get done.”

Wrapping a bandana around the wound he got back to work changing out the hay in the rest of the boxes. Johnny raked the broken eggs, feathers, and hay from the dirt floor and placed it with yard trash to be burned later.

Now that he was done with his chore Johnny wanted to get his cut cleaned up. It was starting to burn and sting. Johnny headed back to the house and the kitchen door.

Stepping into the kitchen Johnny was relived to see it was empty. He went into Teresa’s pantry where she kept her medicines and herbs to find the carbolic. After finding the medicine he walked over to the sink to pump the water. Johnny hated the thought of using the carbolic because of the intense burning it would cause, but he’d rather take the burning now than chance an infection from a cut received in a dirty chicken coop.

Hearing someone work the pump handle in the kitchen Teresa came to see what was going on. She saw Johnny standing at the sink unwrapping a bandana from his hand and the carbolic sitting by the sink.

Teresa knew he was probably still feeling a little hurt and would not ask for any help so she stood back in the shadows of the stairs to watch. When Johnny turned to hold his hand closer to the light to inspect it better, Teresa gasped at the ugly wound.

Johnny jerked his head around to find the source of the gasp. Teresa stepped out of the shadows, a concerned look on her face. “Let me help you Johnny. That looks like a nasty wound. How did it happen?”

“ Snagged it on a nail in one of the nesting boxes,” Johnny softly replied.

“I’ll wash this for you, you really don’t want to get an infection from this. It looks to be fairly deep. You might need stitches,” said Teresa in a concerned voice.

“I’m not going to get stitches for a stupid cut I got from getting snagged on a nail.”

Johnny, you really can’t be too careful. I'm sure you realize this could cause a bad infection," Teresa stopped, cringing at her poor choice of words.

Johnny’s head snapped up at what he considered to be another admonishment. “ No, I don’t know because according to everyone around here I don't know nothin'!”

Unbeknownst to Teresa and Johnny, Murdoch had been listening from the dining room doorway. “Johnny, you don’t need to be so abrupt with Teresa. It’s not her fault you injured yourself.”

Murdoch’s statement proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Johnny was already battling a combination of tiredness from the extra chore and hunger from missing his supper. He was still feeling somewhat hurt over Teresa’s treatment and the stinging wound. The young gunhawk had finally had enough of his father's self-righteous attitude. Whirling around, Johnny faced his father and hissed through clenched teeth, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you all just get the hell out of here? Let me tend to myself. I’ve survived this long without any of you doing my thinking for me. I guess I’ll survive this too.”

Teresa's hand flew to her mouth trying to stifle a sob. Immediately, Johnny was sorry for the harshness of his words. Before he could apologize, Teresa ran up the backstairs to her room.

Murdoch advanced on Johnny, fuming with displeasure. “Do you see now what I mean about thinking before you act? You have reduced Teresa to tears twice today. I think you could use some time to cool off and think this over John. Tomorrow morning I want you to ride to the north line shack. The place needs to be repaired and the winter provisions stocked. It should take you around 4 days to complete the job and for you to cool off.”

Standing steadfast, blue eyes blazing with fury Johnny shouted, "So, you’re going to do what you always do when you're mad at me - send me away for a few days and when I come back pretend like nothing happened!” He then stormed from the kitchen forgetting to use the carbolic solution on his hand.

Murdoch sank down wearily onto a kitchen chair. // Why does every discussion with Johnny turn into a verbal fight? We have got to learn to talk with each other instead of screaming at each other.//



Standing outside of his bedroom door Scott had not heard the first part of the conversation downstairs. He certainly heard the parts that Johnny and Murdoch shouted.

“What happened?” Scott asked softly. Reaching out a hand to stop Teresa as she tried to rush by with tears in her eyes and a hand clamped over her mouth to stifle a sob.

Wiping her tears, Teresa replied, “Johnny cut his hand on a nail. I was trying to make light conversation while I helped him clean it but it sounded more like I was correcting him. My poor choice of words caused Johnny to snap at me. Murdoch heard it and that’s when they started hollering at each other.”

Scott shook his head as he sighed, “Yes, I could hear their bellowing up here. I wish those two would learn to discuss their differences without getting so loud. " It just sets Johnny off. when Murdoch barks orders at him, like Johnny doesn't have enough sense to know which end is up.”

Teresa nodded as she added, “I think part of the problem is Murdoch is trying to make up for all the years he wasn’t there to teach Johnny by over guiding him now . We both realize Johnny doesn’t like to feel that someone is watching over his shoulder all the time. I think Murdoch buried his paternal instincts to show loving affection. Murdoch is in the habit of paying attention to all the things Johnny does wrong. Johnny needs praise from his father too. I've seen the pride in Murdoch's eyes when Johnny does something right. Why can't he let Johnny see it?”

Blowing out an exasperated breath, Scott added, "Murdoch seems to have conflicting emotions. He has a propensity for being authoritarian with Johnny. He speaks harshly and negatively to him, but yet I've heard him bragging to friends about Johnny's magic with horses. Murdoch reminds me of a jealous, possessive man. He doesn't like to admit someone other than himself guided Johnny through his formative years. Neither one of them realizes they are just alike, both fear being rejected so they try to be the first to reject the other. When there is a blow up instead of settling the problem they ignore it. Once again Murdoch is exiling Johnny to some job that will take him away for a few days so that they won’t have to tip toe around each other until this latest storm is over.”

“Oh Scott, I just wish they had the patience with each other that Johnny displayed two weeks ago at the orphanage when he taught some of the boys to ride. Johnny didn’t raise his voice once or get cross even though he had to keep repeating his directions. We all have seen how gentle Murdoch can be when he helps the ranch hands children accomplish new skills. Your father needs to show Johnny the same care and positive attention he gives the kid. Johnny is his son; he deserves and needs praise and affection too. If Murdoch and Johnny could just learn to communicate with each other and accept their differences it would be so nice. As long as the job gets done why should it matter how it was accomplished?"

Teresa went on to her room and Scott turned to go down the stairs when Johnny came storming by him. Trying to break the tension Scott asked, “What’s got you in such a hurry?”

“Didn’t you hear the old man bellowing? I’m being sent away again until he can pretend that nothing happened. I’m going to get my stuff together and go tonight. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no use in waiting.”

“Johnny it’s getting dark now. Maybe you should wait until morning.”

“I ain’t waiting. It’s a full moon and the sky is clear. I shouldn’t have any trouble getting a wagon with supplies up to the line shack. I’ll be gone at least four days because that’s how long Murdoch said it should take. I guess that's how long it’ll take him to get over this latest snit.”

Shaking his head sadly, Scott went down the stairs. The blond Lancer raised his eyebrows at his father as he walked through the kitchen, then left out the back door and headed to the barn.

Johnny charged into his room to gather up his stuff. Hearing a knock at the door he glanced up to see Teresa standing in the doorway.

Johnny tilted his head to the side and opened his arms. Teresa flew into them exclaiming, “I’m so sorry, I don’t know why I was being so foolish. I’ve got you and Murdoch cross with each other again. Please forgive me.”

Johnny whispered, “There’s nothing to forgive. It was about time for the old man and me to blow up at each other again. Don’t worry about it. It will be fine. You’ll see. In four days he’ll be acting like nothing happened.”

“Will you at least come to the kitchen and eat some supper before you go?”

Johnny consoled Teresa by saying, “I’m really not hungry, but if it will make you feel better you can pack me something to take along.”

"I'll pack a picnic basket with the leftovers while you finish getting your gear together. Don't forget to stop in the kitchen before you leave." Teresa stepped back from Johnny's light embrace and the two exchanged smiles before she left to complete her chore.

Johnny stuffed the rest of the items he thought he might need into his saddlebags. He stopped by Scott's room to tell him goodbye but the blond Lancer was not there. Johnny took a moment to look around his brother's room. // The best thing about being back at Lancer is having a brother. Sometimes Scott is the only reason I come back when I get sent away.//

After retrieving the basket of food Teresa packed for him, Johnny headed to the barn to load the wagon with supplies and hitch up a team of horses.

When he got to the barn he was surprised to find that Scott and Jelly had already hitched up a team and had begun loading the wagon.

“Are you that anxious to get rid of me Brother?” Johnny smiled.

There was no amusement in Scott’s eyes as he replied, “No I’m just trying to make sure you have everything you need. I worry about you. That’s my job. I’m the big brother remember?”

Johnny's head dropped, chin to his chest as a lump formed in his throat preventing him from speaking. // Sometimes I feel like my brother is the only one who thinks I'm worth the effort.//

Trying to break the awkward moment Scott grabbed Johnny in a playful headlock and ruffled his hair.

Jelly stood by watching. // I wish that Johnny could connect with his father like he has with Scott.//

When Scott turned his brother loose Jelly stepped forward and offered to go along. Johnny declined saying he could use the time alone to think.

Jumping up onto the wagon seat the former gunslinger asked his brother to keep an eye on Barranca.

With a wave, Johnny pulled away from the barn with the loaded wagon. “See ya in around four days.”

Driving by the chicken yard all the chickens were squawking in response to some unseen spector. “I bet that old biddie Mirabel is still haunting them chickens,” muttered Johnny.




The further away from the hacienda he got the more Johnny relaxed. It was a clear night sky. Every star in the heavens seemed to be trying to out shine the one beside it. The moon was a huge yellow luminescent ball over the top of the distance mountain peaks. The pale yellow moonbeams created an ethereal light on the lush landscape. A light crisp breeze lifted the sweat soaked hair from Johnny’s forehead and face. The cool night air helped him to finally get his emotions under control.

Driving the wagon towards the north line shack, Johnny realized the reason his father could provoke such emotion in him was because he wanted Murdoch's approval of the things that he did. Johnny wanted his father to know he was good at something besides being a gunslinger.

Everytime Johnny and Murdoch butted heads it ended up in a shouting match. When it happened the former gunslinger was reminded that once again he had failed to get his father’s approval.

Sighing while shaking his head to himself, Johnny pondered. // At least the old man notices what I’m up to or takes the time to find out what I’m doing. I get his attention even if it’s not exactly the kind of attention I want. Mama never cared where I was at or what I had done.//

The youngest Lancer resigned himself to the fact that it would take a lot of hard work to build a relationship with his father. Johnny cared about his father or he wouldn’t have stayed at Lancer. The fact that the Old Man got so upset told the gunhawk that at least his father cared about him. //Now if we could just learn to trust each other and talk to each other without just about coming to blows.//

It was almost 10:00 when he got to the line shack. The first order of business was to retrieve a couple of buckets of water for himself and the horses from the lake. By the time he fetched the water, fed the horses and bedded them down it was 10:30. Walking up to the line shack from the lean-to Johnny could see his work was cut out for him. The old shack's state of disrepair looked just as bad in the pale yellow moonlight as it had in the bright light of day last week when Johnny and Murdoch had inspected it.

The outside the line shack had several areas of the roof that needed repairing. The door was open and partly off the hinges and the steps were sunk down on one end. There was only a two day supply of firewood stacked at the corner of the building.

Inside there were debris on the floor which was blown in through the open door during the same storm that had done most of the outside damage. The bedding needed shaking out. A window needed to be shined. The potbelly stove needed to be cleaned out and the table and two chairs would have to be scrubbed down.

Seeing all the work that needed to be done reminded Johnny how tired he was. However the former gunhawk knew he wasn’t going to lay down in the bed until he had shaken out the mattress and put the new blankets and sheets on it.

The thought of him changing a bed brought a smile to Johnny's face. There was a time when Johnny Madrid would have fallen asleep in the closest bed he could find, clean or not.

Living at Lancer had spoiled him, Johnny found he really enjoyed the once a week ritual of clean sheets on all the beds. // I like the smell of sunshine and lavender left on the sheets from Teresa’s washing them and hanging them out dry.//

Pulling the mattress outside, Johnny shook the dust from it. He took it back in and put it back on the cot frame. Retrieving the clean sheets and blankets from the supplies the dark haired Lancer held the sheets to his face and breathed in the crisp clean smell.

The lavender scent that still clung to the sheet’s reminded him of the pretty brown hair girl Johnny thought of as a sister. // I’m glad Teresa stopped by my room before I left. I would hate to think of her worrying about me being mad at her.//

After finishing putting the sheets and blankets on the bed, Johnny took the pillow outside to give it a good shaking out before he put a clean pillowcase on it.

Satisfied he had done all he could at this late hour the tired man washed up. The tenderness in his left hand reminded him about forgetting to use the carbolic solution on it. After scrubbing it the best he could with the homemade lye soap kept at the line shack, Johnny wrapped a strip of white cloth around it for a bandage.

The next morning the sun had already climbed the side of the mountain and had spread it's glorious early morning hues across the sky before the former gunslinger opened his eyes. Gone were the shades of pink, lavender and blue. The colors were already blending into a solid blue sky.

Moaning softly as he forced his eyes open, Johnny could tell by amount of light shining through the dirty window that it was late in the morning. // It must be close to 9:00. Good thing Murdoch ain’t here or he would be hollering at me for sleeping late.//

Stretching his lithe body, extending his toes out flat and his arms up and back behind his head made Johnny grimace. // I guess too much sleep ain’t good for ya. Feeling kind of achy this morning and my head hurts too.//

Glancing around the shack before getting up, the young man could see just how much work he did have to do. The bright light of day showed the place didn’t just need repairs it was filthy.

Throwing the covers back, Johnny swung his feet to the floor and stood up, swaying as he did. // Whoa, I shouldn’t have gone to bed last night without eating, that’s probably why my head hurts and I feel a little weak.//

The young gunhawk needed his morning coffee to help him wake up. Some of Teresa's cherry pie with a cup of the strong black brew would make a tasty breakfast. The chill in the air reminded him he never lit the stove last night. // Oh well, I guess the coffee will have to wait. It will be easier to clean the stove if I don't heat it up.//

While getting dressed Johnny decided that he would start his chores by cleaning the stove. After putting on his clothes, the young gunhawk retrieved a bucket and ash shovel along with the hammer he brought with his tools. Using the hammer he banged the sides and top of the stove to make the burnt on build-up drop off into the old ashes. When that was done, all that was needed was to scoop out the old ashes and place them in the bucket to take outside. The chore would be finished by taking down the stovepipe in sections and hauling the pieces outside to tap loose the soot and build-up.

Tapping the sides to loosen the soot was making a puffy billowing cloud around the gunhawk. // I'm glad I thought to clean the stovepipe outside.// By the time Johnny was finished cleaning the different sections he had breathed in enough of the soot to cause a cough. That’s when the youngest Lancer realized his throat was sore.

It was close to lunch by the time the stove was finished. Johnny decided to light the stove and take a break for some lunch. Fetching some firewood from the corner of the shack he got the fire going and then put on a pot of coffee. //I should have enough of the water I fetched last night left until tomorrow, then I'll need to get some more.//

The basket Teresa had sent contained thick slices of ham, fresh bread, cold potatoes, glazed carrots and a thick slice of cherry pie.

The potatoes didn’t look very appetizing after sitting all night. //Yuck! Glazed carrots. No, thank you!// Johnny saved the ham and bread for sandwiches later. // I think I’ll just have some pie and coffee for now. Don’t feel like eating anything but I would probably feel better if I did.//

Grimacing as he ate the pie, Johnny thought that breathing in the soot had made his throat feel raw. The hot coffee sliding slowly down his sore throat made it feel better.

// Well I might as well finish up my jobs inside for now. It's too late in the day to try to get on the roof to make repairs. It would be too hot up there now. A person could get heat stroke. Better wait and do the roof early tomorrow morning before it gets too hot.// Now that the former gunslinger had the rest of the day planned it was time to get the action started.

The dark haired Lancer commenced back to work by pulling the cot, table and two chairs outside into the sunshine so they wouldn’t get dusty when he swept the cobwebs from the ceiling and walls. The last thing the broom was used for was to sweep the floor clean.

Getting the bar of lye soap, a bucket of water and a clean rag Johnny polished the window until it shined. He surveyed his hard work when it was finished, satisfied he had done a good job. // I could have scrubbed the floor with soap and water, but Johnny Madrid draws the line at getting down on his hands and knees like some kind of washer woman.//

The bucket of water and soap were taken outside to wipe down the table and chairs. Johnny left them to dry in the sun while he dragged the cot back in the shack. After a brief break and a drink of water, the table and chairs were brought back inside.

Going back outside the gunhawk figured it was about two hours before dark. He hadn’t realized the work inside would take so long. // I could chop firewood for about an hour. If the wood chopping chore is spread out over a couple of days maybe I won’t get to feeling any sorer.//

Johnny steadily worked chopping wood. By the time he was finished for the day he could feel every vibration of the ax in all the joints of his body. The new rancher couldn’t remember ever being this sore and achy even after coming off a long trail drive. The headache was still there and his throat was beginning to feel like it was on fire. // I’m beginning to believe that crazy old chicken really did put a curse on me or gave me some kind of sickness.// Johnny peeled back the bandage on his hand to inspect the wound. It was clean, dry and showed no sign of infection.

Deciding he had done enough for the day, Johnny thought maybe a swim was in order. The cool water might relax his aching muscles while he bathed. He got the bar of lye soap and a towel and headed to the lake.

Before undressing Johnny gazed around at the magnificent view. This was one of his favorite spots. The lake was so clear it reflected perfectly the scenery around it. That’s why it was called Mirror Lake. If you looked up or down you saw the majestic mountain peaks with their snow capped tops. Johnny laughed to himself thinking // Those mountains look like short, fat, old men with pointed heads. The snow caps could be their white hair; the trees looked like green coats while the rocks and dirt around their bases - their brown pants.//

The former gunhawk sat down to pull off his boots and socks,  the cooler air of the higher elevation breezed across his bare feet and shirtless chest making Johnny shiver. 

After removing the rest of his clothing, the shivering intensified. Johnny rubbed his hands briskly over his arms and chest, hoping the water was warmer than the air felt right now.

The ex-gunhawk was startled by the shrill twill of an excited bird.  He chuckled as the twill was answered by the howl of a wolf.  Johnny had just been enjoying the picturesque view of nature and it seemed as he stood there, with the fading light of day highlighting his tanned muscled physique and generous attributes, that nature was enjoying the view he made.

Stepping into the water, Johnny gasped as the coldness of it closed in around his bare feet and decided to just sit about waist deep in the edge, wash up quickly and get out.

The chill in the water made him decide not to dunk his head below the surface.  Soaping up his cloth, he rubbed the soft flannel over his work hardened body.  He made fast work of rinsing the lather from his skin.  Johnny paused long enough to watch the soap bubbles slip off his arms into the water, gathering around his slim waist.  When he stood up the soapy spheres popped or floated away.

Leaving the water, Johnny hurriedly towel dried himself so he could get back into warm clothes. The sore young man had hoped that the water would help soothe his achy muscles but instead the cool water made them feel like they were contracting instead of relaxing.

Once the former gunslinger was dressed he sat enjoying the view for a few minutes before heading back to the line shack.

Back at the line shack, Johnny started a fire in the stove to make coffee. While the coffee was heating he cut four thick slices of bread from the loaf Teresa had packed and put ham in between the slices to make sandwiches.

The brunet Lancer sat down at the freshly scrubbed table to eat supper. //Well, I got a good bit done today. It certainly looks and smells better in here. Think I’ll get the door back on the hinges before laying down. Tomorrow morning, before the sun makes it too hot will be the best time to do the repairs on the roof.//

Johnny had made two thick sandwiches for supper but was able to eat only one. His throat was really sore and raw and now his stomach didn’t feel just right. He looked with distaste at the other sandwich and threw it in the potbelly stove. The former gunhawk didn’t want to chance attracting wild animals by throwing food scrapes outside the shack. Besides if Mirabel was any indication he wasn’t having good luck with animals right now.

Getting the tools out, he started fixing the hinges on the door. All it really needed was new nails because the old ones had rusted away. Johnny decided to go ahead and reset both hinges so it would be a good repair job instead of a patch job. When the chore was finished he was glad to shut the door. It was beginning to get a lot cooler out at night and Johnny was feeling the start of a chill.

It wasn’t very late when the task was completed but Johnny was so sore and achy he decided to turn in for the night. It was already dark and there wasn’t much else to do. Huddling under the covers, Johnny was unaware that a fever was beginning to build in his tired body.

While the youngest Lancer slept, thunder clouds climbed over the peaks of the mountains hurdling themselves across and down the other side with a speed that would rival a stage coach making a mad dash through the Badlands. Johnny was so exhausted he slept right through the sudden storm. It sounded as if God himself had stepped down from the heavens and marched down the mountain with a cadence of boom, boom, boom. Shaking the tree limbs in his fury, rippling the water on the once calm lake with his windy breath and rapping on the line shack roof with enough force to rattle the windowpane, before gracing the living creations with a rain as gentle as tears.




The next morning Johnny awoke to find wet spots on the floor from the holes in the roof. Johnny groaned, he felt worst today than yesterday. The sick Lancer laid on the bed squeezing his eyes shut while pinching the bridge of his nose. It felt like his eyes were square blocks forced into round sockets. //My throat burns like I slept with hot sauce and chili peppers in my mouth all night.// The ham sandwich from supper last night was tumbling around and around in his stomach trying to get back out.

Johnny figured he must have had fever during the night because his head and underwear were wet with sweat. His sheets felt damp too, but the outer blanket was dry.

//Well Madrid, there ain’t nobody here to baby you. You might as well haul your sorry carcass out this bed and get to work.//

After talking himself into getting up Johnny forced his eyes back open, threw back the covers, swung his feet to the floor and stood up. The second his body was vertical he knew last night’s supper was coming up. Stumbling to the door, he yanked it open and just made it off the steps when he fell to his knees - retching until he had dry heaves. With eyes closed, he remained in that position with his head down until he heard what sounded like a chicken clucking. Snapping his eyes open, Johnny searched around with watery fever glazed eyes but there wasn't a chicken to be seen anywhere.

 // Either my mind must is playing tricks on me or Mirabel is haunting me.// Feeling exhausted and sick Johnny shivered at the thought. The shivering intensified when Johnny realized he was outside in nothing but his underwear while a light misty rain fell.

//Oh great, I was going to repair the roof today and here it is raining.// Swaying as he stood, Johnny turned to go back in the line shack.

After the rebellion his stomach just went through Johnny didn't dare try to eat anything solid. He put on a pot of watered down coffee, thinking his stomach wouldn't take full strength. While the coffee heated up Johnny put on clothes. He added some more wood to the stove, poured a cup of coffee and sat down to decide what to do about the work left to complete. Johnny drank a whole cup of coffee, the weak warm brew soothing the raw aching pain in his throat, before he could make a plan of action. Even though it was raining, it was more misting than anything. Johnny was determined to go ahead and do the roof repairs. If it started raining too hard he would quit, since there no way of knowing whether or not it would be raining worse tomorrow he might as well get it done today.

The decision made, Johnny went out and placed a ladder against the shack to climb onto the roof. He wanted to estimate how many wood shake shingles it would take to get the job done by inspecting the roof’s damage. Johnny found that being on the roof made him a little light-headed but thought it would be fine as long as he didn’t look down too much. Because of dizziness, Johnny didn’t want to climb up and down the ladder. He got the tarp that had covered the supplies in the wagon loaded all the shingles and nails he would need on it. Johnny used a length of rope to tie it shut and pulled it over to the shack.

Johnny could climb the ladder and pull the tarp up behind him at the same time. Once he got on top of the shack and had the supplies pulled up and sitting next to him he laid down on the roof to catch his breath. The exhausted young man was shaking and light-headed again. He alternated between feeling hot and flushed to cool and clammy. It was hard to tell if he was sweating because the misting rain was beginning to soak through his clothes. Johnny was afraid he had fever but resolved to finish the job since everything was now in place.

Starting at the peak of the roof the weary young Lancer began replacing broken and missing wood shingles. The windstorm that had come through earlier in the month had peeled quite a few off the roof. Johnny had only repaired one section of the roof when every strike of the hammer against a nail was matched with a pain in the back of his skull. The youngest Lancer was determined that he was not getting down off the roof until the job was done. He had to keep taking breaks which made his time on the roof double what it should have been.

By the time Johnny finished it was well past lunchtime. He was more than ready to get off the roof but had to wait for his vision to clear. For the last hour he had worked with blurred sight. Scooting to the edge of the roof where the ladder stood, Johnny sat still for a few minutes inhaling and exhaling deeply trying to catch his breath and calm his shaking limbs.

The youngest Lancer didn’t understand how someone could feel cold and hot at the same time. His throat felt like someone had turned it inside out and rubbed it raw with sandpaper. The former gunslinger realized that doing the roof repairs during a misty rain probably wasn’t one of the smarter things he had ever done, but at least he was finished.

Gathering his resolve Johnny turned and clutched the top of the ladder and began his descent to the ground. All the tired ex-gunhawk could think about was getting off the ladder so he could get in the shack and stretch out on the cot for a few minutes. He still had the steps to fix, more firewood to chop and needed to cut back some of the brush.  Those were the easy chores and there was two days left to get it done.

Johnny managed to put away the tarp and left over supplies. The broken wood shake shingles were put with the firewood because they could be used for starting the fires in the stove. // I’ll have to remember to tell the old man about saving the broken shingles for starting fires. Murdoch will have to admit that was thinking before I acted. //

Choosing to go and fetch any water that might be needed tonight, before going back in, Johnny headed to the lake. Just as he was stooping to scoop water into the bucket, the heavens let loose with a deluge of rain that had him soaked to the skin. Trudging back to the shack with the buckets of water, Johnny was secretly pleased that the weather would keep him inside.  From the looks of the sky he thought he might have the rest of the day off.

Johnny wearily pushed the door open and shuffled across the floor with the water burden. He used some water to put on another pot of weak coffee. The former gunslinger had not eaten breakfast or lunch but didn’t think his stomach would be too pleased if he tried to put anything substantial in it.

Realizing his teeth were chattering because he was so cold, Johnny peeled off the wet clothes and hung them on nails near the stove too dry. Retrieving a dry pair of long john bottoms and socks from his saddlebags he put them on. Then the ex-gunhawk stoked up the fire and added more wood to it. After pouring a cup of coffee he sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped up in the blanket to drink it.

Johnny was so tired and his eyes felt so heavy by the time he finished the coffee, he just leaned over and sat the cup on the floor. The youngest Lancer eased himself over on the bed and swung his legs up onto the bed. He was asleep before his covers were adjusted properly and it wasn’t even dark outside yet.

Around midnight the former gunfighter was tossing and turning in a sweat soaked nightmare brought on by the high fever building in his body. Johnny moaned and groaned, his eyes moving rapidly under his eyelids and his breath was coming in short frantic pants. Trapped in a nightmare something was smothering him, he struggled to breathe, whatever was holding him down was causing him to burn like he was on fire. Johnny couldn’t see past what was sitting on him, he just knew that for something that felt so soft the weight of it on him held him in place.

The former gunfighter began to struggle trying to get free. As he managed to free himself of the blankets in his nightmare the weight on him shifted. When the weight shifted Johnny searched the dark frantically to see what had trapped him. That’s when his fevered blue eyes saw the biggest chicken he had ever seen in his life.

The giant chicken looked just like Mirabel. She had been sitting on the ex-gunhawk smothering him to death and over heating his body with her own body. Johnny screamed out, “I knew you put a curse on me, I tried to tell everybody you didn’t like me.”

Mirabel turned to face Johnny with her beady blinking eyes. Her beak was stretched and pulled into the most evil grin, baring the grotesquely sharp yellow teeth, “You never appreciated me Madrid, you didn’t mind eating my eggs and then making fun of me. Now you will pay.” Johnny was glued to the cot. He could not make himself move. // Chickens ain’t got teeth, now I know that bird is black magic. //

Mirabel, the giant chicken advanced on Johnny as he stared at her with morbid curiosity. Standing right next to the bed she began waving her right wing across him while chanting:

    “Night and day, day and night,
    For 2 weeks you won’t feel right.
    Burn, burn, hot to the touch,
    Fever will hold you in a clutch.
    Throb, throb, the pain in your head,
    Sores will make your body red.
    Itch, itch, you’ll scratch and claw,
    Watch out your skin will show the flaw.
    Cough, cough, your lungs want air,
    Then remember Mirabel if you dare.”

With a demonic laugh the chicken was gone. Johnny’s eyes snapped open and he stared around the dim interior of the line shack lit with only the moonbeams falling across the floor. // That is the weirdest nightmare I have ever had. Why would I dream such a thing? I did not kill that chicken. //

The ex-gunhawk's throat was on fire. His face felted hot and flushed. Johnny swayed and stumbled as he stood to go to the water bucket to get a drink of water. Putting the drinking ladle to his lips Johnny's throat felt so swollen he couldn’t gulp the water. He had to sip it slowly. The feverish Lancer took a rag and wet it to wipe over his face. Johnny couldn’t remember the last time he felt this bad without having a bullet in him. He dunked the rag in the cool water again and wrung it out slightly then stumbled back to the cot. Johnny lay down on the cot, pulled the covers back over him, and then placed the cool wet rag over his aching eyes.

The full feeling in his throat caused Johnny to start coughing. Every time he coughed it felt like someone had bound his ribs tightly cutting off the air supply. Exhausted, he turned on his side and found it easier to breathe that way. Finally Johnny was able to fall back into a fitful, feverish sleep. The youngest Lancer slept through sunrise the next morning while back at Lancer breakfast was being served.


Murdoch was aware that Scott and Teresa kept staring at him and then each other. Unable to take the silence any longer he finally inquired, “All right you two have something on your minds let’s hear it.”

Scott merely raised his eyebrows and glanced towards Teresa.

Teresa cleared her throat before replying, “I just wanted to apologize for over reacting the other day. I know you already said you didn’t come down so hard on Johnny for the chicken but because of the disrespectful way he acted. He wouldn’t have acted that way if I hadn’t flown off the handle. Now Johnny's up at the line shack by himself and I’m worried because of that nasty cut on his hand. He didn’t get a chance to wash it with the carbolic solution before he left. I’m afraid he got up there working and let it get infected. You know how easily Johnny gets fever.” By the time the dark haired girl finished talking tears were streaming down her worried face.

Murdoch sat in stoic silence for a minute before blowing out his breath and proclaiming, “I was planning on checking in on Johnny today to make sure he has everything he needs. You can gather up anything he might need for his hand and I’ll check it myself for infection.”

Jumping up Teresa ran to the kitchen to gather up first aid supplies. Murdoch’s ward also cut a couple of slices of the chocolate cake she had made to send.

Returning to the dining room Teresa gave the care package to Murdoch and placed a kiss on his forehead whispering, “Thank you.”

Walking to the barn Murdoch was lost in thought. // Johnny will more than likely blow up at me for coming to check on him. I wonder why he has such a hard time accepting the fact I worry about him too. // After saddling his horse and stowing the care package in the saddlebags, Murdoch mounted for the ride to the line shack.


Up at the line shack Johnny was just opening his eyes. He groaned as he realized that he had not gotten any better in the night. He recalled the nightmare that had awakened him in the night and he moaned. Johnny felt like someone had picked him up and literally wrung all the fluids from his body, leaving his bones and muscles to scream in protest at the slightest movement.

Johnny knew there was no way he could work today. He would need to go out long enough to feed the horses then come in and try to take in some water or other fluids. Johnny just didn’t feel like he could eat, his throat was too painful. // I can rest today and hopefully tomorrow I will feel like finishing the job I was sent to do. Then I can head home the next morning. Murdoch will be over his fit and we can pretend like nothing happened like we usually do. // Johnny floundered getting up off the cot. He struggled to make his limp limbs get his clothes on.

The former gunfighter decided he better try to at least drink some water before going outside. The cold water felt good in his hot mouth but it was hard to swallow it.

With a pounding head, Johnny gingerly walked to the door, slowly opening it, then squinting his eyes against the sudden brightness. He made his way over to the lean-to. Johnny stopped and pressed himself up against the rail to catch his breath. Feeling short winded, he tried to breathe in deeply to catch his breath but it caused a coughing fit.

The sick young man rested against the rail for a few minutes before grabbing the bucket to fetch the water for the horses. Johnny had to make his way slowly to the lake as he was fighting the return of dizziness. Feeling even weaker, he had trouble toting his water burden back to the lean-to. Sweat was pouring off his head, running into his eyes and stinging them as Johnny tried to make sure each of the horses got a portion of water. After filling the horse's feed sacks they were hung up. Johnny turned to the hay bales stored at the back and pulled some hay to put down for each of the horses.

Stumbling backwards Johnny decided he needed to sit down. Since the bales of hay were closer than the shack he moved over to them and sat down. The coughing made the youngest Lancer's head throb. His lungs felt like someone was squeezing them and his throat like it was trying to turn inside out. Feeling overly hot and the way his vision was graying around the edges Johnny feared he might pass out. // I think I’ll just lay down on these hay bales for a few minutes then I’ll get up and go back to the shack. //

An alarmed Murdoch would find his youngest son several hours later, burning with fever, still asleep on the hay bales.


Murdoch pondered this latest fight with his youngest son as he made his way towards the North line shack. The Lancer patriarch knew he had been wrong in his actions about the chicken, but he was not wrong to expect Johnny to act with more respect for others.

Murdoch Lancer did not back down once he had decreed something. To back down would be to show weakness and that was something the oldest Lancer was unwilling to do. In his heart Murdoch knew the reason they butted heads so often was because they were too much alike. The youngest and oldest Lancers were too full of foolish pride.

It was also hard to reconcile himself with the fact that the cherubic toddler, who was happy as long as he was going with his papa, had turned into the very independent, self-sufficient Johnny Madrid.

A series of other men had taught his child the lessons that by every right were the Lancer patriarch's to teach. Like all children do, Johnny had out grown the hero worship of a father he barely remembered. Since the youngest Lancer considered himself grown, any efforts on Murdoch’s part to give him guidance was met by a wall of resistance. Murdoch recognized he needed to find a way to help Johnny understand that his father would always feel a paternal responsibility to his sons no matter how old they were.

Father and son needed to find a happy ground to meet in. Both the oldest and youngest were going to have to give a little. // Scott says I need to ask Johnny, not bark commands at him, that I can get a lot further with him if I’m careful not to take all control from him. //

The last mile to the line shack had Murdoch making up his mind to have a nice calm discussion with Johnny. Maybe father and son could sit down and have lunch together. They could talk while they enjoyed the cake Teresa sent, along with some coffee.

 Nervous, but pleased with himself, Murdoch crested the little hill the line shack sat on. His eyes scanned the area around the shack. Murdoch could see that Johnny had already repaired the roof, from where he sat it looked like a good job. There was a little more firewood chopped. // I guess Johnny repaired the roof first and then worked on the inside yesterday because of the rain. //

Dismounting right outside the line shack door, Murdoch wrapped his reins around the post near the door.

Stepping inside he could see the window had been cleaned, the ceiling and walls swept down, the table and chairs scrubbed, the bed linens changed. The oldest Lancer walked to the potbelly stove and opened the door to inspect it; he was pleased to see that it had received a good cleaning also. The patriarch smiled and chuckled to himself, //That boy doesn’t have a problem with doing a good job. My youngest just has a problem with being told to do it. Maybe I should try saying I need you to instead of I want you to or you will. //

The oldest Lancer frowned, as he looked around further, wondering where Johnny was. The only jobs left to do would have kept him here near the shack. // I didn’t see him any where outside as I rode up. // Some paternal instinct kicked in and Murdoch realized something was wrong. Johnny was in danger!

Turning Murdoch headed for the door. //Dear God I hope he wasn’t chopping wood and felled a tree on himself. // When Murdoch got outside he saw the ax was resting in the tree stump where they spilt wood. //Well Johnny is not chopping trees without the ax. //

Murdoch stood surveying the area around the shack trying to see any sign of his youngest. As the Lancer patriarch stood there he heard a barking, coughing sound coming from the lean-to. He hurried over and saw that the horses had been fed. The worried father still didn’t see Johnny though, and then he heard the barking sound again. He realized it was coming from the hay bales.

The oldest Lancer pulled his gun from the holster, not knowing what he might find, as he walked towards the hay bales. Murdoch became alarmed when he realized the barking sound was coming from the supine form of his son. Johnny was laid back on a hay bale with his legs hanging down limply, in front of him. The gun was holstered as Murdoch ran to his son’s side. The Lancer patriarch was dismayed to find his youngest son was burning with fever. Johnny's skin was hot and dry. He was breathing in short pants in between the barking, coughing spells.

Murdoch gently shook his son's shoulders trying to wake him but Johnny would only mumble in response. The concerned father took off his bandana and wet it in the bucket of water that was left for the horses. He began wiping Johnny’s face calling to him to wake up.

Hearing someone calling to him, Johnny pried his eyes open, he smiled when his father’s face swam into view. “Hey old man, how you doing? ”

Murdoch had to smile at Johnny’s seeming unconcern for his present situation. “I’m doing just fine son. I was wondering how you’re doing though?”

“Oh, been better, a giant chicken tried to kill me last night, put a curse on me and everything. I would have shot it but I didn’t. I know how you feel about that. I didn’t shoot Mirabel either.”

 “I know you didn’t son. I came up here to talk with you about that, but right now we need to get you inside and let me check you out. You have a fever. I need to see if it is coming from that cut on your hand,” replied Murdoch.

Johnny sighed as he rolled his eyes, “Okay, hey did you see the roof? I had to work in the rain and it took me most of the day, but it's finished. I even saved the old wood shingles to help start the fire. Now that was thinking wasn’t it?”

 Murdoch stared aghast at Johnny. //Bite your tongue Murdoch, Johnny knows better than to work on the roof in the rain. Obviously he already had fever clouding his judgment. //“Yes, Johnny you did a good job on the roof. You did a fine job on the inside too,” placated the oldest Lancer.

Motioning for his father to bend down to him, Johnny whispered conspiratorially, “I didn’t scrub the floor. Johnny Madrid don’t get on his knees for nobody.” He then winked at his father. Murdoch couldn’t stop the short bark of laughter that escaped him. His son could find humor in a situation as easily as the scamp could find trouble.

Grasping Johnny's hands the Lancer patriarch pulled him upright. As soon as his son's head was higher than his stomach what little water he had consumed came back in a rushing torrent. Johnny's entire body shook as he looked at his father with the most pitiful eyes Murdoch had ever seen. “I don’t feel so good. I think I caught something from that dead chicken.”

Murdoch watched in horror as the color drained from his youngest son's face. Johnny's eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped forward onto his father’s chest. The amount of heat radiating from his son concerned Murdoch.

The oldest Lancer had always been a man of quick action. He decided on the spot to load Johnny in the back of the wagon and get him back to Lancer. The doctor needed to be sent for to check over his son.

There was no way the Lancer patriarch was going to leave his son by himself, with a high fever, while he rode for help. After Murdoch got Johnny situated, he pulled the bandage off his son's hand to see if an infection was the problem. The cut on his hand was healing fine; there was no sign of infection. The worried father didn’t know what could be causing the fever and cough, but he was sure Doc Jenkins could find out. Murdoch crawled out of the back of the wagon and went back to the line shack.

Once in the line shack Murdoch gathered up Johnny’s stuff and put it on the cot. He put the fire out in the stove and doused it good with water. The Lancer patriarch went back to the cot and rolled up the mattress to take it with him. He walked out the door closing it behind him. Murdoch took the reins to his horse as he walked by it.

The oldest Lancer tied his horse to the back of the wagon. Murdoch put the mattress in the wagon and then roused his son to get him on the mattress.

Johnny didn’t even open his eyes as he moved over on to the bed. He whispered, “My head hurts, my body aches, my throat is on fire and now I’m itching from taking a nap in that hay.”

“It’s alright son, I’m taking you home. We’ll get you cleaned up and changed. You can nap in a nice comfortable bed while we wait on Sam.”

Murdoch hitched the horses as fast as he could. He didn’t know what was wrong, but felt it was bad for Johnny to have this high a fever. The concerned father made sure both canteens were full of water before starting for home.

Murdoch stopped every thirty minutes to make Johnny drink some water. It was getting harder and harder to get his son to drink. Johnny was groggy from the fever and kept saying he couldn’t swallow because his throat hurt.

 About forty-five minutes from home Johnny had a particularly bad coughing fit. The coughing spell went straight into gagging. Murdoch stopped the wagon and stepped into the back just as all the water he had been able to get into his son came back.

Johnny opened his eyes and peered miserably at his father imploring, “Help me old man.”

Murdoch knew nothing else to do but sit down beside his youngest son and lean him into his chest, rubbing his back until his breathing returned to normal. When he realized Johnny had fallen asleep he eased him back down on the mattress.

The patriarch decided it was time to pick up the pace and get home. Murdoch breathed deeply as he crested the last hill leading down to the hacienda. They had made it home. He glanced back at Johnny who was again breathing in short fevered pants.




Scott Lancer was working a new horse in the corral when he noticed the wagon coming towards the house. The driver was too big to be his brother so he figured his father had driven back to get more supplies. Then Scott saw his father’s horse was tied to the back. That’s when he knew something was wrong. Murdoch would not have taken the wagon and his horse leaving Johnny without transportation.

Riding quickly to the corral gate Scott let himself through. He took off for the wagon at a gallop. As Scott drew up beside the wagon he looked in the back at his brother. Scott gasped, “My God what happened?”

Shaking his head Murdoch replied, “I don’t know. I got to the line shack and found him laying on the hay bales in the lean-to, burning up with fever.”

Scott had an incredulous look on his face as he exclaimed, "Why in the world was Johnny in the lean-to instead of the shack if he was sick?”

“I think he went to tend to the horses and then didn’t have the strength to get back to the shack. Ride ahead and get one of the hands to go for the doctor,” commanded Murdoch.

Scott rode hard for the corral. Jumping down from the saddle, he handed off the horse to Cipriano. At Cipriano’s questioning look, the ex-calvaryman ordered, “Send one of the men for the doctor. Murdoch has Johnny in the wagon and he has a high fever.”

Hurrying to warn Teresa that Murdoch was coming with Johnny, Scott ran ahead to the hacienda. Running through the french doors, across the great room, through the dining room, the concerned older brother almost collided with Teresa as she came out of the kitchen.

Teresa took one look at Scott’s face and gasped, “What’s wrong?”

“Murdoch should be here any second with Johnny. He found him sick this morning,” Scott replied breathing hard from his sprint.

"Is it an infection from that cut? Oh, I knew Johnny would get sick. He never got around to washing out the cut with the carbolic solution," fretted the brown haired girl.

“I don’t know. Murdoch didn’t say. He just said Johnny was sick and to send someone for the doctor.”

Hearing the wagon pull up by the french doors, the two siblings rushed out to help. Scott jumped into the back of the wagon and reached down to lift his brother. Johnny looked up at Scott and announced, “Hey Boston, a big ole chicken tried to kill me. Sat right on my head, tried to smother me and then put a curse on me. Don’t tell Teresa, but it was Mirabel. If that chicken weren’t already dead I believe I would shoot it. I just don’t understand why that dead chicken won’t die.”

Scott glanced at his father.   “Do you have any idea what he is talking about?”

Murdoch shrugged as he replied, “It’s the fever talking. I guess your little brother is still upset about being blamed for the chicken’s death.” Murdoch grabbed Johnny’s legs to help Scott carry him in, but Johnny would have none of it. He insisted he could walk on his own.

Taking two steps, Johnny smiled at Teresa and began a slow melt towards the ground. Murdoch grimaced, catching Johnny under the arms. The worried father tried to support his son's weight so he could walk, but Johnny was unable to get his limp legs to work. Finally with an exasperated sigh, Murdoch scooped his youngest up in his arms and carried him to the couch.

As soon as Murdoch placed him on the sofa, Teresa began to remove the bandage from Johnny's hand. “I don’t understand. His hand looks fine. I don’t see any sign of infection.”

Coughing, Johnny looked at Teresa with feverish watery eyes, “Ain’t nothing wrong with my hand. I got some kind of disease from that chicken.” Looking at Murdoch, Johnny pleaded, “Can I go get a bath now? I’m all itchy from sleeping in the hay.”

“That’s probably a good idea. Keep the water room temperature and it will help bring down the fever,” suggested Teresa.

With his father and brother supporting him, Johnny slowly made it to the bathhouse. While Murdoch filled the tub, Scott helped Johnny  get undressed and into the tub."Johnny sighed in relief as he slipped down into the cool water. The water made Johnny buoyant, helping to relieve the heaviness he had been feeling in his limbs. It didn’t take long before his teeth were chattering.

“Son, you need to get out of the tub now before you get too chilled.”

Johnny grabbed the large towel Scott held out to him and wrapped it around his waist. He stepped from the tub, leaning on his older brother's arm. Then Johnny tried to lie down on the bench in the bathhouse. Grabbing his own bathrobe from the wall Murdoch walked back to Johnny saying, “Let’s get you wrapped in this so Scott and I can help you to your room.”

The three Lancer men were walking out of the bathhouse when they ran into Jelly who informed them the doctor would be there in less than an hour. Diego had met up with Sam on the road. The doctor had been on the way to the Talbots to check the splint on one of the cowhand’s arms.

Johnny muttered to himself the entire time they were maneuvering him up the stairs and down the hall, “burn-hot-throb-itch-cough.” Shaking his head the ex gunfighter glared at his father proclaiming, “I ain’t never going in that chicken yard again, I don’t care what you say.”

Once they had Johnny safely ensconced in his bed Scott ask his little brother, “Johnny is there anything I can do for you or get for you?”

Johnny glared seriously at his brother while announcing, “Yea, Boston you can make sure my gun is loaded and hanging on my bedpost. If that dead chicken comes in here tonight I am shooting her this time and sending her straight to the devil.” After saying his piece Johnny leaned back on his pillows closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Shaking his head in puzzlement Scott asked, “Murdoch are you sure Johnny didn’t fall off the roof and hit his head? He’s not making any sense.”

“Scott, all I can tell you is I found him with a fever. Johnny thinks he caught something from that dead chicken. His symptoms are throwing up, headache, body aches, feeling like his throat is on fire and itching from sleeping in the hay".

“Well, Johnny was fine when he left to go up there. I wonder how he got sick so quickly?” pondered Scott.

“That’s what I am here to find out,” announced Doc Jenkins as he walked in the bedroom.

The Lancer patriarch detailed Johnny's ailments before he added, “ And he did an incredibility stupid thing. I think his reasoning was clouded by the high fever. My youngest son repaired the roof of the line shack, in the misty rain yesterday, because he didn’t know if it would be raining harder today.”

Doc’s and Scott’s mouths dropped open at this bit of information. “Is there anything else I should know before I check him out?”

“Sam, the only other thing he has complained about was itching from sleeping on the hay bales. We helped him get a cool bath as soon as I got him home. He hasn’t mentioned that again,” replied the worried father.

“The cool bath was a good idea, it will help with the fever. Well let me check him out and see what’s going on.” Sam began by feeling all around Johnny’s head to make sure he had not hit it. He didn’t find any lumps. Doc Jenkins slipped a thermometer under his patient's tongue and checked his pupils, which were fine. He had Murdoch lean his son forward so he could listen to Johnny's lungs. Sam could definitely hear congestion. Lifting Johnny's limp wrist, the doctor determined that his patient's pulse was more rapid than normal. Pinching the top of Johnny's hand the doctor determined the youngest Lancer was slightly dehydrated.

Taking the thermometer from his patient's mouth Doc Jenkins frowned as he voiced the reading aloud.“103.5. Something is going on and it’s not the cut on his hand. I don’t see any sign of infection there.” Laying the thermometer on the table and picking up the lamp Sam asked Scott to hold it near his brother's head so that he could get a good look at Johnny's throat.

Johnny awoke from his fever-induced sleep when the doctor attempted to pry open his mouth to check his throat. The fevered man broke out into a fit of coughing. When the coughing spell was over and he could catch his breath Johnny inquired, “Hey Doc, you got anything in that bag to break a black magic curse put on me by a dead chicken?”

Laughing, Sam replied, “Let me find out what’s wrong with you before I prescribe anything. Now open your mouth wide and let’s see what’s got your throat feeling so bad.”

Johnny opened his mouth and Scott leaned in closer with the lamp. Doc peered into Johnny's mouth then gasped and uttered, “Good Lord!”

Startled by Sam’s reaction Murdoch pleaded, “Sam, tell me what is it?”

“Just a minute Murdoch let me check a couple of more places,” Sam checked the back of Johnny’s neck up in the hair line. Then he lifted Johnny's nightshirt and checked his armpits. "Well that’s the only places I need to check. He has it for sure.”

Murdoch and Scott echoed, “He has what?”

“Chickenpox” laughed Sam.

“Aha!” said Johnny, “Do you get that from chickens?” He pointed his finger at his father and exclaimed, “I told you that chicken made me sick.”

Snickering, Doc Jenkins informed Johnny; “You do not get chickenpox from chickens. It’s an upper respiratory illness caused by a virus. It is easily spread through the air by sneezing, coughing or through contact with someone with chickenpox sores. Have you been to the orphanage in the past 7 to 21 days?”

“Little Brother was there 2 weeks ago teaching some of the boys to ride,” answered Scott.

“That’s where he got it from then, over half the children there have it,” explained the doctor.

“How sick is he going to get Sam,” asked Murdoch.

“Well most children recover within a week or so, after the skin rash finally crusts over. The older you are the greater the risk of serious complications," Sam informed them. "Johnny didn’t do himself any favors by working in the rain. That’s why his congestion is so bad. The virus and fever had already compromised his immune system. He needs to stay in bed and rest".

Doc glared sternly at Johnny, "Don’t get out and get over heated it will cause the rash to itch more. You can soak in an oatmeal bath to help the itching. Try not to scratch or the sores can become infected. You can wear gloves or socks on your hands to remind you not to scratch. I’ll leave some aspirin powder for the fever and cough medicine. This is just one of those illness you have to suffer through especially the body aches. I won’t sugar coat this. You are going to be mighty miserable for the next couple of days, while your rash finishes breaking out and then crusting over,” instructed Doc Jenkins.

Snorting Scott teased, “Johnny, I knew you weren’t through with your childhood. This just proves it, you getting a kid’s disease.” As if to prove Scott’s statement Johnny threw a pillow at him and stuck out his tongue.

“BOYS,” admonished a frowning Murdoch.

Clearing his throat Sam said, “Chicken pox can be a very serious illness in the very young or elderly. At 22, Johnny is young enough and healthy enough to avoid serious complications, if he follows my instructions. I know Teresa had chickenpox when she was 6. Scott I assume you had them as a child since you’re finding your brother’s plight so funny.”

“I hate this. Why did I have to get an illness that leaves you polka dotted? Why couldn’t I get something like the mumps?” groused Johnny.

Sam’s shout of laughter startled everyone in the room, “Let me assure you Johnny, you do not want mumps.”

“Yes I do. With the mumps your head just swells up then everyone will just think I’ve been in a fight,” reasoned Johnny.

“Johnny, you are a young adult male. Your face would not be the only thing to swell,” Sam said while staring at Johnny’s lap.

When it dawned on Johnny what Doc was talking about he squirmed and crossed his legs, “There too?” At Sam’s nod of affirmation, Johnny declared, “Oh well, what’s a little itching and fever?” Sliding down in the bed the youngest Lancer covered his head with the blanket.

Midnight the next day.

Murdoch sat in the chair by Johnny’s bed. He was amazed at the number of sores that had broken out on his son’s body once his fever hit its peak and then receded. Sam had been right when he said Johnny would be miserable. The itching along with the high fever had made him, to quote Jelly, “iller than a danged rattle snake with a fang ache.”

Studying his youngest son's face in the dim lighting from the lamp, Murdoch was struck with the youthfulness of Johnny's face. It was easy to envision the impish baby he had once been. There were still traces of the over energetic toddler who had worshiped his papa.

// I can't deny I was a proud father. It was so easy to give praise and guidance to Johnny when he was a toddler. I could lavish him with affection when he did good and he would return it in kind. Johnny doesn't remember the lessons I tried to instill in him. My child remembers what other men taught him. God help me, it's wrong to be jealous of that. Johnny is my son. I want him to do things the Lancer way. He sees my guidance as negative, critical and rejective of him because it's not how he learned to do it. My fear of being rejected by him are keeping me from reconnecting with him and building a strong father/son relationship. We both need to respect that there's more than one way to accomplish things. I'm going to work on getting input from my both sons on what they feel needs attention on the ranch, then give them a chance to plan their own work schedules. //

Johnny stirred, waking completely when he sensed he was not alone. The youngest Lancer saw his father sitting in the chair by his bed. He could see the old man's face in the moonlight and the slight smile on it. “Hey you don’t have to sit with me. I ain’t out of my head with fever anymore. I ain’t seen no more giant chickens. I just have to deal with the itching, coughing and Scott’s teasing.”

“Son, the reason I’m sitting here is because it’s a father’s right to worry about his children. Just remember no matter how old you get, you are still my child. I need to remember the fact that even though you are my child you are also a young man. It’s only natural for you to want independence and respect. Let me propose a deal. Instead of barking orders, I will try to tell you what is needed. Scott helped me realize instructions go over a little better when they are phrased as a request rather than a demand."

Johnny could hear the sincerity in his father's voice. He graced his father with one of his slow forming smiles, " I figured out quite awhile back the reason you fuss is because you see where I can improve. Guess you’re just being a father when you try to make me see it. I haven’t had a lot of experience with being guided by a father. Sometimes your advice feels like disapproval, which kind of gets me wound up so tight it's hard to hear what you’re trying to tell me. I want us learn how to talk to each other instead of shouting.”

Father and son nodded their acceptance of what the other said. Neither one had actually come right out and said they were sorry. These two stubborn Lancers knew that was exactly what they were saying to each other.


Two Weeks Later-Supper

“Hurry up Scott, I want to get to town while the night is still young,” complained Johnny.

“What is the big rush? The saloon will still be there no matter what time we get there.” replied Scott.

“My big rush is I ain’t been to town in three weeks. I’m sick and tired of the scenery around here. Now get done. Let her buck,” demanded the youngest Lancer.

Scott snickered, “Doc Jenkins told you it would be alright to go to town last week but you wouldn’t go. Don’t blame or rush me because you haven’t been to town in so long.”

“I told you last week I weren’t going to town with crusty sores on my face. Then everybody would know I had a stupid kid’s illness.”

Scott had a look of pure devilment on his face as he explained, “Everyone asked where you were last week.”

“Really,” asked Johnny with a worried look, “What did you tell them?”

Smiling as he stood and reached for his hat the older brother retorted, “Oh I told them my BABY brother couldn’t come to town because he had chickenpox.”

Slapping his hat on his head Scott ran for the door. Johnny jumped up from his chair so fast he knocked it over and took off screaming, “Scott, I’m going to make you pay for that.”

Chuckling as he got up from the table the Lancer patriarch went out the french doors to watch the battle.

Scott was laughing as he ran towards the barn to get his horse. Johnny was hot on his heels, cussing a blue streak in Spanish.

The chain of events that happened next had Murdoch Lancer doubled over in laughter.

In his mad dash to escape his brother, Scott took a look over his shoulder to see how close Johnny had gotten. With his head turned in the wrong direction the older brother veered off the path. Scott tripped on a rock and flung himself head first into the horse trough. The blond Lancer came up sputtering water from his mouth just as the dark haired Lancer screeched to a stop. Howling with devilish delight Johnny shouted, “Boston looks like you ended up between a rock and a wet place.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in an alternate universe,” grumbled Scott.



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