The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Sprite

 

 

Things In The Night

Rating: G
Warnings: A little seasonal nonsense.
To Cat – who checked it over and Di- who said I wasn’t done yet. Thank you ladies.

It wasn’t often that he woke with the blood pounding in his ears, but he had tonight.  In the dim light filtering through the window Johnny strained to see what might have woke him, at the same time trying to get his breathing under control and slow his heart.

His eyes took in the familiar sights of his bedroom, while he wiped his clammy palms across the chest of his nightshirt.  Nothing appeared out of place in the gray world of the middle of the night.  Taking a deep, steadying breath he closed his eyes to determine if he’d heard something, but the night was only filled with familiar sounds.

He could hear a horse nicker and when he strained he could hear cattle lowing in the distance.  A few frogs chirped out by the pond and bugs filled the air with their buggy music. Closer in he could hear the curtains as the heavy material whispered softly against the polished pine floor. He shifted on the soft mattress and heard the wood and rope creak beneath him.

One more deep breath and he began to believe what ever he’d thought he’d heard had either been transitory, or conjured up in his dreams.  Shifting to his side, he mashed the pillow into a comfortable lump and settled back to sleep.

Almost ready to drop off he heard it again. Vague and muffled it sounded like someone talking, but not quite distinct enough for him to be certain.  Pushing back the covers he hastily grabbed his pants and shoved his legs into them.  Grabbing up his pistol he went to investigate.

Using only the moonlight that danced across the hallway after having snuck in through on of the many upstairs windows, he moved silently down the long hall on bare feet.  Cocking his head he attempted to locate the barely audible noise as he moved to the stairs, but it continued to be illusive.  He stood at the top of the landing and closed his eyes, attempting to determine if the noise was coming from the ground floor or the attic, but it seemed to fade away completely. He stood still, feeling a whisper soft breeze on his cheek, wondering what he'd heard. 

A door opened behind him, a rectangle of yellow light spilled onto the floor, making a warm dent in the darkness. Murdoch came to stand in the doorway his shadow spilling out into the hall.  “Son?”

Johnny looked into his father’s worried face.  “Did you hear it?”

“Hear what?” Murdoch turned his head as if listening for unusual sounds.

Johnny shook his head in frustration.  “I’m not sure, but I know I heard something.”

Murdoch looked both ways down the hall and then let his gaze linger on his younger child.

Johnny smiled ruefully. “Guess it’s nothing.” They stood looking at each other in the quiet hallway.

“Guess so,” Murdoch agreed.

Johnny rubbed at his cheek with a tired gesture and flashed a mischievous grin. “Course if the silverware’s missing I’m blaming you.”

Murdoch chuckled. “And now how am I supposed to sleep?”

“Wanna borrow this?” Johnny wiggled the hand that held his revolver as he moved past his father back toward his own room.

“No, thank you. Good night, son.”

“Good night.”

Murdoch stood in the doorway just a little longer until he heard the quite click of Johnny’s door latching and continued to listen for any sounds that might have woken his son.  Finally, curiosity got the better of him and he had to go downstairs and make sure that everything was secure for the night.

@@@

Murdoch couldn’t help but smile as Johnny sat heavily in his chair; his head propped on one hand. “Up late, son?”

“Is something going on?” Scott asked as he buttered his toast and watched Johnny pour a cup of coffee. Johnny was shaking his head with a look of chagrin on his handsome features.

“Seems Johnny heard ghosts in the night,” Murdoch chuckled as Johnny only grunted a response. “And decided he needed to shoot them. He was wandering the halls with a loaded revolver.”

Scott smirked over at his brother.  “Any luck in the hunt?”

“You two are just full of fun, ain’t ya?” Johnny attempted to glare at them, but was defeated by his own amusement over the situation.

“Did you hear the voices?” Teresa asked guardedly, her finger tracing a pattern on the tablecloth.

“Voices?” Murdoch looked at his ward with suspicion as if the two of them were joking with him.

Johnny sat up straighter in his chair and turned his full attention to her.

“Sometimes, just sometimes,” she stammered, “it sounds like someone talking in low tones, but I can’t ever figure out where it’s coming from. Then if you go looking for it, it just…”

“… fades away,” he finished for her.

“Yes,” she said with a sigh, and then smiled. “It’s good to know I’m not the only one.”

“I don’t know what you two are going on about, but don’t bring it up again.” Murdoch’s tone was forceful enough that it even startled Scott.  “Once a story gets out that a house is haunted it never ends. And I don’t find this sort of thing amusing.”

Teresa started to sputter out that it wasn’t a story as Johnny tapped his finger against the tablecloth. “Do you really think I got up in the middle of the night for a practical joke?  I heard something.  Ghosts, I don’t know, but it was something.” Johnny sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, as if daring his father to contradict him.

The older man cleared his throat and glared back at his son. “Just don’t spread this kind of thing around, is all I’m saying.”

Teresa turned away from her guardian and touched Johnny’s arm.  “I’ve heard it too.” She cast a disapproving eye toward Murdoch.  “And I don’t know what it is either, but it sounds like voices to me.”

Scott cut in.  “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.  Next time either one of you hear –what ever it is – come get me and we’ll investigate it together.”

Teresa gave a very unladylike snort of disbelief, but didn’t say anything further.

@@@

True to his word, Johnny didn’t mention the incident again.  He and Scott spent the day working on building a new chicken coup.  They had it finished after lunch and then came the burdensome task of moving the hens from their old home to the new one.  In a flurry of feathers the job was completed, with the help of some creatively colorful language, and the two went in and washed up. But in the back of Johnny’s mind was still an unsettled feeling of something forgotten or left undone.

Supper was a lively affair as Teresa shared the news of the upcoming festival of St. Francis of Assisi.  The mission was putting on a week long festival in honor of their founding saint and the whole family was intending to go. The conversation flew around the table fast and lively as they discussed meals and travel and activities.

@@@

Johnny found himself sitting bolt upright in bed with his heart pounding.  It was there again, that low murmuring of voices just at the edge of his hearing.  He swallowed hard and held his breath forcing himself to be calm.

Glancing to the window where the curtains were open, letting in a flood of moonlight, he could hear the soft rustle of the wind in the trees.  Systematically he eliminated the noises he recognized.  It was definitely coming from inside the house, but he was unable to put a direction to it. 

He slid out from between the sheets, the bed barely making a noise as he put his feet on the cool pine floor. He stood still, waiting to see if he could still hear – whatever it was he was hearing.  There it was, soft and low as if the speakers didn’t want to be overheard.  He waited, but the direction was still unclear. 

Moving with stealth across the floor, he reached out his hand. The edges of the ornate cut-glass doorknob were cool and bit into his palm as he held it tight.  This was neither a dream nor his imagination.  He waited again, debating if he should get his gun, but if it really were ghosts, what good would the weapon do?

With a shake of his head, he slowly turned the knob, and stepped out into the hall.  He could still hear the sounds.  Having headed for the stairs last night, tonight he headed the other way down the hall.  He was tempted to bang on Scott’s door.  “Let his heart pound for a second,” he muttered low under his breath, but as he raised his hand, the noises stopped.

He lowered his fist, still clenched tightly, but there was nothing else.  He stood in the hall in his bare feet, straining to hear anything, but there was no other sound except the wind in the trees and the other little noises of the night.

Frustrated, he made his way back to his room. He stood in the center of the floor, trying to figure out if it was an over-active imagination at play.  He’d never truly considered himself as having flights of fancy before. One part of his brain kept warning him of danger while the other part just told him it was too many chili peppers in his salsa.

After standing uselessly for five or six minutes doing nothing he finally crawled back between the sheets and tried to tell himself it was all a dream gone wrong.

@@@

Johnny kept his nocturnal journey to himself the next morning.  His first thought was to talk to some of the hands that had been here for some time, but his father’s warning still rang in his ears.  If he was going to ask Teresa he needed to be sure it was at a time that the servants or hands wouldn’t overhear them.  So he kept his thoughts to himself, and with a day full of chores the opportunity didn’t present itself.

That night he almost dreaded going to bed.  For the first time he could remember he had trouble falling asleep.  He tossed and turned but eventually exhaustion won out and he slipped off to dreams pleasant dreams.

@@@

He woke the next morning amazed that he’d slept through the night undisturbed, but he didn’t question his good fortune at a restful night. And with the preparations for the trip to the fiesta, thoughts of anything supernatural was pushed aside and forgotten.

@@@

Three weeks later Misters Scott and John Lancer came home very late on a Friday night from running errands in town.  They managed to put up the horses and wagon and staggered to the house.

Johnny sat heavily on the bench seat on the patio and managed to pull off his boots with out first removing his spurs.  It was quite a struggle but he managed to get them off. 

“Whatcha’ doin’?” Scott whispered in the over loud voice that can only be spoken by those very drunk.

“Can’t be quiet with boots on,” Johnny whispered back. He dropped one boot and fumbled to catch it, but failed and it landed heavily on the adobe bricks, spurs jingling. He hoped the sound was covered by the sound of the Grandfather clock chiming two times.

“Oh!” Scott nodded with compete agreement. He took a seat beside his brother and removed his footwear.

They both gathered their boots in their hands and made their way up the back stairs.  At this time of night to go up the front stairs and past their father’s room was tempting a morning lecture on responsibility and coming in at a reasonable hour.  So they lurched up the back stairs and onto the upper landing.

The hallway was bathed in the pale glow from a full moon.  Two sconces hung on the wall with thick candles adding warmth to the darkness.

Scott's room was the first door that they came to and Johnny hovered in the doorway as he watched Scott sit on the bed. 

"Night, brother," Scott said with a wave as he struggled to pull back the covers while he still sat on them.

"Night." Johnny shoved away from the wall as he contemplated the navigation required to get to his own room. Some instinct long honed stopped Johnny in his tracks.  The hair on the back of his neck rose and he stood just where he was, clutching the doorframe, knowing he was being watched. Slowly he turned to look back the way he'd come.  Not seeing anything he shook his head and realized he was drunker than he thought.  He looked in on Scott again and noticed that Scott had managed to get most of the way under the covers. He again turned to head back to his room. He blinked rapidly; trying to clear his vision when down at the end of the hall, near his father’s door was a hazy, blue fog.

Swallowing hard, Johnny stared at the haze, a cold knot of trepidation lodged in his stomach. The vapor seemed not to move, but grow larger and closer with each beat of his heart that pounded loudly in his ears. 

The mist moved slowly past him, leaving an icy chill in its wake, and glided silently into Scott's room.  Still rooted in place Johnny watched as the blue light seemed to solidify the closer it got to the bed. He observed the mist with anxiety but he could think of nothing that he could do at this moment. He cocked his head as he could almost see it reach out and touch his brother.

But it grew and shrunk and returned to its previous condition as it glided back across the floor and came back his way.  It hovered near him, paused and then moved on down the hall leaving him feeling chilled to the bone and instantly sober. Johnny released a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding and stared in fascination as the light moved down the hall and disappeared down the back stairs.  Never in his life had he been so paralyzed.  What he'd just seen, whatever he'd just seen, was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before.

The cold lump was still lodged in the pit of his stomach.  He was not a superstitious man by nature, but instantly he knew that whatever he'd just seen was not candle vapor or night gasses or moon shadows.  He did not want to believe in ghost stories, but the word phantom kept creeping into his mind.  The stories of old ladies told when children were supposed to be asleep assaulted him –aparicións…, and the things they did late at night. 

Despite the coolness of the early morning air a bead of sweat rolled off his forehead and into his left eye. Swiping at it with the back of his hand jolted him into action. Releasing another steadying breath he silently made his way to his own bed. His fingers hurt when he finally let go of the boots he held in his tightly clutched fist. He blinked at the night trying to comprehend the evening’s events.

Lying in bed he had to force his jaw to relax when his teeth began to ache. Every noise out side the window had his attention; every sound seemed overly loud as his senses reached out into the darkness. He waited and listened and concentrated. It wasn't until he heard the clock strike three times that he relaxed enough to drift off to a restless sleep.

@@@

Saturdays the ranch ran on a short crew.  More than half the hands went into town for their day off and when the basic morning chores were done the rest would go in after lunch. Johnny waited until early afternoon to corner Teresa in the kitchen pantry. "Can you talk to me for a minute?"

"Of course," she smiled up at him sweetly while she folded a dishcloth.

He looked both directions, ensuring that they were not going to be over heard.  "Have you," he stopped and licked his lips and smiled sheepishly, as if realizing just how foolish he was about to sound. Shrugging one shoulder he continued.  "Have you ever seen "the Ghost"?" 

"Good Heavens, no," her laughter was light and cheery and she slapped him gently with the towel. 

His eyes cast downward and he was intently studying the buckle on his belt.

"You didn't "see" it, did you?" Her voice was pensive as she realized he was serious.

"I don't know," he admitted.  "I saw something." Moving aside some crockery he hopped up to sit on the sideboard, letting his legs swing.

Teresa watched him for a minute trying to decide if he was joshing her, but she decided he was serious from the way he wouldn't meet her eye.  Whenever he teased her, he liked to watch her reaction and this time his blue eyes remained locked on the finger that ran endless circles around the edge of a pie tin.

For the next ten minutes, in hushed and whispered tones, they discussed the events of last night and everything that Teresa had experienced and the stories she'd heard.

Juanita came into the pantry to pull down a roasting pan for supper and scolded them. "It is bad enough to speak of such things, but you will anger the patron and that is worse. The two of you will bring nothing but trouble if you keep talking of this."

"You're right," Johnny conceded jumping down from his perch. Their talk had been fruitless, and although they had fun telling stories like kids out of school, they didn't know any more than when they started. He turned all his charm on the two women before him. "Ladies, if I get caught in here, alone, with two beautiful women, my reputation will be ruined."

Teresa laughed and Juanita shook her head ruefully. "Señor Johnny, it is not your reputation that will be ruined if your papa and mi espouso find you in here, understand?"

He grinned and took her hand and gallantly kissed the back. He turned to do the same to Teresa but she tossed the dishtowel in his face and darted past him.  He was in a much better humor and decided to chalk up the experience to too much alcohol and too little sleep.

@@@

Johnny went about his duties around the ranch, putting the incident in the hallway behind him. For the next week he kept expecting to see something or hear the voices in the night, but each night it didn't happen he began to accept that it was all in his imagination.

They completed chores and worked each day and occasionally went to town and soon the event was mostly forgotten. 

Johnny was working with three other hands breaking a string of horses.  They worked together to saddle and bridle each horse, but only one man sat on top and used skill and stamina to ride each animal. 

Scott sat on the fence rail with a few other hands cheering and jeering in equal measure.

Johnny mounted a dun colored mustang and settled into the saddle.  His feet firmly in the stirrups, he gripped the heavy rope reins tightly in both hands. The dun stood surprisingly still for about three seconds and then she moved as if someone had set her tail on fire. 

She didn't use just the usual buck and kick to get her rider off, but also spun and twisted. With a dip of her left shoulder and a roll of her right flank she managed to rid of herself of the rider, but not the offending saddle. She continued around the round corral in a heedless flash of hooves.

Scott let the hands worry about the horse as it continued to buck. Jumping off the fence rail he sprinted across the dirt enclosure to his brother's side.

Johnny never felt when he hit the ground with a dust-raising thump.  He wasn't aware of the tender hands that thoroughly checked for injuries.  He was still oblivious as he was gently lifted and carried from the corral to the living room and laid on the couch.

And he was still unaware when Murdoch made his own examination, frowning as long, thick fingers probed a large lump on the back of his son's head, and it failed to produce a response.

It would be hours later before those long, sooty lashes would open slowly to stare up at a white ceiling. It took a moment or two before his brain could determine that it was indeed the ceiling above him as he continued to try and blink it into focus.  His vision latched on one of the heavy oak beams that ran the length of the room and he followed it to the wall.  Without moving his head, his eyes continued down to the mirror there, suspended in an oak frame over the washbasin.  He recognized that and took in other familiar objects.  It was still moments longer before he realized he was in his own room, in his own bed. 

It was dusky out side, and turning his head toward the window caused him to squeeze his eyes tightly against the pain.  He gritted his teeth and clamped his lips shut as he grimaced against a wave of stomach churning nausea.  With a shuddering breath he opened his eyes again, only to see his father, back lit by the setting sun, slumped in a chair pulled up beside the bed.  Murdoch's elbows were on his knees, his head in the large hands that covered his face.

Johnny was just about to let his presence be known when he felt an icy sweat break out down his spine.  The room that seconds ago seemed over warm from the afternoon sun suddenly felt bone chillingly cold.  The blue light came next, entering the room just out of his line of sight and gliding slowly past the foot of his bed. 

It moved behind Murdoch, as if aware just where the chair was placed and moved to stand next to the bed, directly between Johnny and the window.  He watched, as it slowly seemed to shift and move and yet not move all at the same time.

It shifted again and Johnny could see it was a woman. With each passing second he could distinguish more and more of her.  She didn’t seem any older than him with straight hair, parted down the middle and put up at the back of her neck.  She wore an older style of dress, which seemed to be a brown color with an intricate wide, white lace collar.  For a moment he thought he smelled peaches as he watched her move a hand toward him, as if checking his temperature. 

What would have been her hand if she had been solid brushed over his forehead, and it felt cool, but not cold and Johnny felt strangely reassured.  He could see her move back, her hand trailing slightly over the bowed shoulders of his father’s back. It was such an intimate gesture that Johnny instantly knew who she was. Murdoch's first wife, Catherine.

Murdoch sat up with a shudder and the movement distracted Johnny, and when he looked again, she was gone.

"You're awake."

It was as much question as statement and Johnny felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "Seem to be. What happened?" He closed his eyes again and let the secure warmth of the feather pillow pull him back toward the mattress.

"You took quite a fall. Do you remember?"

He started to shake his head in the negative, but stopped abruptly when the pounding headache returned.  "I remember breakfast."

Murdoch slid forward in his chair to gently grasp his son's wrist, confirming for himself that Johnny's pulse was steady and strong.  "How do you feel?"

Johnny was the picture of relaxation, his head back, his eyes closed but not pinched shut, his breathing seemed slow and calm.  "My heads pounding and if I move too quick I get a little queasy, but I think I'm okay."

"Do we need to send for the doctor?"

Johnny was about to make a smart remark about only if the doctor was going to bring him up a glass of lemonade, but he opened his eyes and the remark died on his lips.  Murdoch was worried, the dark circles obvious under his blue eyes, even in the gloomy half-light.  "No," he drawled. "I'm not hurt all that bad." He shifted under the light blanket, wiggling his toes. "I think I could even get up now."

Murdoch shook his head in both resignation and chagrin.  "I'm not so sure that's a very good idea."

Johnny made an attempt to sit upright, but the pounding in his head made the room sway and the nausea return. 

"Now, I'm sure it's not a good idea." Murdoch frowned wondering if his son's suddenly pale skin meant he should fetch the basin.

Johnny lay very still, listening to his own breathing, his eyes shut.  "I think you're right."

The light was back, hovering and glowing at the foot of the bed.  He could feel it, know it was there by how cold the room had become again.  He opened his eyes to see it, her, there watching him.  He couldn't help but smile.

"What?" Murdoch noticed the smile.

"You don't have to watch over me." Johnny wasn't quite sure who he was talking to, but inside, deep down, he knew she – it -, wasn’t a threat.

Murdoch sat back in the chair and looked his son over long and hard, noticing a strange glaze in the blue eyes that seemed to be staring at the foot of the bed. "Maybe for just a few minutes."

The blue light seemed to grow and fade both and Johnny knew it agreed with Murdoch.

Johnny turned his head and again looked at his father.  He couldn't help but notice the tightness around the older man's eyes or the serious set of his jaw.  He noticed the way Murdoch shifted attempting to ease the long-ago ache from Pardee's bullet.

A slow smile crept across Johnny's face again.

"What?" Murdoch had to ask; afraid Johnny was more addled than first thought.

It seemed to Johnny that his father had more gray hairs than when he'd first arrived.  "I've got to get used to having somebody worry about me, I reckon."

Murdoch smiled at the memory of when those words were spoken to him.  "It's not as easy as it sounds, is it?"

Johnny looked back to the spot at the foot of the bed and watched as the vapor began to fade and dissipate and the cold feeling left the room. But it was not just the lack of the icy vapor that made the warm feeling spreading from his chest out to the tips of his fingers. He knew that something was there, in the house, keeping watch, not only over him, but of all of them and it left him with a feeling of contentment, and a strange feeling of acceptance he wasn’t sure he’d ever felt before. Not only did his own family accept him, worry about him, but Catherine did, too.

A flicker of light caught Johnny's attention, and he waited for the cold, but it didn't come.  Instead, warm lamplight spilled in from the hall and then was blocked momentarily as Scott entered the room. "How is he?"

Murdoch shifted the chair and tried to ease his back and leg. "He'll be fine."

Scott grinned.  "I told everyone that since he'd landed on his head there was no reason to worry."

"Such friends I have," Johnny replied, but he was amused and he smiled broadly.

Scott took two ungraceful steps into the room and Johnny was just about to ask why when Teresa moved around Scott.

"You could just say excuse me," Scott rebuked as he moved to stand near the dresser.

"You could just not stand in the doorway," Teresa returned, teasing him right back. "How are you feeling, Johnny?" She asked as she came to stand at the foot of the bed.

"I'm good."

Murdoch rolled his eyes, and Scott shook his head, clearly obvious that neither man believed him.

"He'll be fine." Murdoch said again, this time with much more conviction in his voice.

"Do you want something to eat?" She was standing in the same place the vapor had been and Johnny wondered if she could feel anything.

"Nah, I don't want to eat." His stomach was still queasy. "How about something to drink or something?"

"I'll be right back." She breezed out of the room.

The feeling of contentment was still there, lingering like the moonlight that was just coming in the window.  There were plenty of people looking out for him; taking care of him, watching over him and him over them.  That feeling of acceptance washed over him again and he found himself smiling.

Murdoch reached out his hand and laid it gently on his son's forehead.

"I haven't lost my mind," Johnny found himself grinning.

“I hope not, son.”

Scott came and sat at the foot of the bed. “You gave us quite a scare, little bother. It wasn’t the falling off; it was that you didn’t wake up.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you all. Honest.” 

“Cipriano said that you had promised to help celebrate the Day of the Dead and he didn’t mean that you were to participate.” 

Johnny shifted on the bed, sitting more upright and Murdoch assisted by moving pillows against the headboard.  “When Cipriano found out I could make corn dolls I was enlisted for the festival.”

“Corn dolls?”

Johnny grinned and tugged at the coverlet. “Little dolls made from corn husks. They aren’t hard.  Wanna help make a few?  You put them out on the grave of the children that have died.”

Murdoch and Scott exchanged looks across the bed. “That sounds like a great way for you to spend your time in bed tomorrow.” Murdoch said, with no attempt at keeping the amusement from his voice.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine by morning.”

“We’ll see.”

“But I’ll be glad to help,” Scott agreed, “when I get home in the evening.”

Johnny knew they were ganging up on him, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling of well being, so he just grinned.  

“Are you sure he’s not addled?” Scott teased when Johnny didn’t rise to the bait.

“Perhaps he was addled before and that horse just knocked some sense into him.”

“I’ll knock the two of you together,” Johnny growled.

“There, that’s more like it.” Scott chuckled.

Teresa came back and set a blue china pitcher of iced tea on the bedside table and then sat on the other side of the bed. “You look better all ready.  You scared the life out of all of us.” She swatted his leg. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“I’ll do my best.” Johnny grinned and reached for his glass.

The three of them took up the conversation and Johnny found himself drifting off to sleep blanketed by the warmth of his family and knowing that they were all being watched over.  All was well at Lancer.

 

~ end ~
October 2003

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