The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Fire On The Mountain

 

 

 

I'm not as good with the scary stuff as some of you ladies, but here's my Halloween effort. One part, all inclusive. LOL

Scott rode up beside his brother and waited with a slight smile to be noticed. When Johnny did not immediately turn to him, Scott swatted his arm.

Johnny jerked his head and focused on his brother, blinking a few times with confusion on his face.

"What's the matter with you?" Scott asked, amused at his usually alert brother.

"There's fire on the mountain," Johnny replied in a monotone.

Scott frowned and looked at the top of the mountain to their left. "I don't see anything."

"I know," Johnny replied in the same montone. He spurred his horse and started home.

Scott watched his back for a few seconds, totally perplexed at Johnny's behavior. He kneed Remmie to catch up and fell into Barranca's stride.

"What do you mean, you know?"

Johnny didn't answer, he kept his eyes straight ahead.

Scott reached out and grabbed his arm. "Hey, what's going on with you?"

Johnny turned and looked at him. His eyes were distant, almost unseeing. "Nothin. Let's go home," he spoke softly.

They rode into the yard and Johnny dismounted, looping the reins over the hitching post. He walked inside and straight up the stairs. Scott started to follow only to be stopped by his father calling him. He sighed and walked into the living room.

*****

"Was that Johnny?" Murdoch asked.

"Yes. He's acting strangely. He was staring at the mountain. He said it was on fire but I didn't see anything."

"Did you tell him that?"

"Yes. He simply said he knew and rode off. I asked him what was wrong but he wouldn't answer me. I've never seen him behave so oddly before," Scott finished his explanation with a frown.

"That is strange. Maybe he was daydreaming," Murdoch offered.

Scott shook his head. "I don't know. He did seem out of sorts. As if he were somewhere else. Well, I'm sure it's nothing," he tried to convince himself.

"Which mountain?" Murdoch asked.

"Black mountain. Why?"

Murdoch pulled a face. "I need you two to go up there and check the mines. Martin Frazier came by today. He told me he was passing through that way last week and thought he saw someone up at the old Carmichael claim."

Scott noted the expression on his father's face with curiosity. "Is there something special about that?"

Murdoch seemed to be thinking of whether he would answer. Finally, he spoke. "There's an old tale that the place is haunted."

"What's haunted?" Johnny asked from the doorway.

*****

Murdoch had them sit down and he told the story. "Toby Carmichael had a mine on Black Mountain about fifteen years ago. He was a cagy old hermit. Wouldn't allow anyone near that mine. If anyone tried, he'd fill their backside with buckshot, or worse. About ten years ago, after everyone else had given up on finding gold in the area, Toby refused to go. He said he could smell a strike." Murdoch stopped here and smiled at the memory of the old curmudgeon.

"Anyway, Toby kept working the mine and even found a few nuggets. It was enough to encourage him, at least. One night, he went to town to celebrate finding his largest strike yet. He got pretty drunk and a couple of men helped him home. Those two men decided Toby must have more gold stashed somewhere and they ransacked the place. Frank and Paul Harper were their names. They were brothers.

"The next morning when Toby awoke, he found his shack torn to pieces. He grabbed his shotgun and headed to the mine. When he got there, he found the two thieves asleep by the entrance. Evidently, they had worn themselves out looking. Toby roused them and there was a fight. Well, it was two against one and Toby was no spring chicken. But, apparently, he put up a good effort. As they struggled, they went deeper into the mine. Just at that moment, a small earthquake hit and there was a cave-in.

"It was two days before anyone suspected something might be wrong. Ed Harper, the boys' father, became concerned when they didn't come home. Knowing they'd helped Toby home two nights before, he and some others went to the mine. By the time they dug through the debris, five days had passed. The brothers were dead and Toby was near it.

"Ed Harper went crazy with grief and rage. When they carried Toby out, barely alive, he grabbed the old man up and started hitting him. It took three men to pull him off. The whole time, Toby kept saying it wasn't his fault. Ed finally calmed down, or so everyone thought. That night, they all slept by a blazing bonfire built to keep light and warmth going during the rescue. Ed Harper got up and silently walked over to Toby. Without a word, he picked the old man up and threw him in the fire.

"Since then, people say you can see fire on the mountain. And if you're close enough, you can hear the old man scream. There have been stories of people going up there for a look and never coming back down again. They say Toby is still guarding his mine."

*****

There was total silence in the room when Murdoch finished. Scott looked at Johnny but his expression was flat. Shaking his head, he laughed a little.

"Superstitions and folklore," he said.

"Yes, I suppose so," Murdoch agreed.

"Hogwash!"

All three turned to see Jelly in the dining room.

"You have another theory, Jelly?" Scott asked.

"Ain't no theory, smart aleck! Just don't go dismissin this as superstition," Jelly replied.

"Well, what would you call it?" Scott asked, trying to remain serious.

"I'd call it a real good reason to stay off a Black Mountain. That's what I'd call it!" Jelly proclaimed and puffed out his chest.

"Jelly, it's just a ghost story. I need the boys to check the mine. Someone was spotted up there last week. And since it is now Lancer land, I want to make sure there aren't any squatters," Murdoch explained patiently.  

"You ain't gonna send them boys up there? Why, that'd be like signin their death warrants!"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Jelly! Don't be ridiculous!" Murdoch exclaimed.

"Why did you tell us the story?" Johnny asked. It was the first time he'd spoken since the story began.

"Well, I just thought it would be ..... I don't know, now," Murdoch stammered, frustrated by all this doom and gloom prophesy.

"We'll leave first thing in the morning, sir," Scott said, quite amused with it all.

Johnny quietly excused himself and walked outside.

******

"Don't go up there, Johnny."

"Have to, Jelly," he replied softly. He stood leaning against a column on the veranda, staring at the distant mountain.

"No, you don't hafta. Just tell Murdoch ya don't wanna go," Jelly said, almost pleading.

Johnny smiled and looked at his friend. "Don't believe all those stories, Jelly. Just old wives tales."

Jelly stepped closer to him. "It ain't and ya know it. I seen ya when ya came home today. Somethin's got you spooked. What is it?"

Johnny turned back to look at the mountain. "I ain't spooked. Just thought I saw somethin, is all."

"Saw somethin? Up there?" he pointed to the mountain.

Johnny only nodded.

"What'ya see?" the old man persisted.

"Nothin. Thought I saw fire but it couldn't have been."

Jelly paled and stared at his young friend. "You done heard that story afore, didn't ya?"

Johnny nodded and sighed. "Yeah, I heard it. Look, it don't mean nothin."

"Dagnabit, Johnny! Why is it you're too pigheaded to listen to your own self?"

Johnny laughed softly. "Ask Murdoch. Seems I get it from him. Anyway," he sighed and turned to Jelly, "me and Scott are goin up there tomorrow and that's all there is to it."

*****

The next morning there was a thick fog on the ground. Scott and Johnny walked to the barn, swirling the mist about their feet as they went.

"Can't see your hand in front of your face," Johnny commented.

"I've never seen such a thick fog here before," Scott added.

"Well, it's turnin. The weather, I mean. Fall's here and winter ain't far off. Just hope it burns off before we get there. Won't be able to see nothin," Johnny groused.

Both fell quiet as they saddled their horses. Each man deep in his own thoughts about the coming day.

"Full moon last night."

Scott started and turned. "Jelly, don't do that!"

"Do what?"

"Sneak up on him," Johnny explained.

"Sorry. Just sayin it was a full moon last night. Will be tonight, too. And ya know what tomorrow is," Jelly cocked a knowing brow.

Scott rolled his eyes. "Yes, it's Halloween. So?"

"So, perfect time for ghosts and such," the old man shrugged.

Scott shook his head at Jelly's foolishness and turned back to his horse. As they both led the animals out of the barn, Jelly followed for one last try.

"Don't go up there. I'm tellin ya it's a real bad idea."

"Don't worry so much, old man. Besides, I got us covered," Johnny grinned and patted his right side.

"That Colt ain't gonna be no help to ya agin a ghost!"

"And no ghost is going to hurt us," Scott retorted.

Jelly stared at him as they mounted up.

Johnny tipped his hat and grinned. "See ya."

Jelly watched as they rode away. He heard Murdoch walk up behind him. "Ya ought not've sent them boys up there, Boss. Ya ought not've done that," he shook his head and walked away.

Murdoch grimaced and watched as his sons quickly disappeared into the fog.

******

The fog showed no signs of burning off anytime soon. Johnny kept trying to see the sun through the thick mess but came up empty.

"Must be cloudy," he opined.

"Must be. Not that we would know it," Scott smiled.

"What did you think about Murdoch's story?"

Scott smiled again. He figured Johnny would bring this up. "It was interesting. I must admit, it gave me goosebumps. Just like any good ghost story would."

"I reckon. I did see fire yesterday, Scott. I know it wasn't there when you looked, but I saw it."

"What kind of fire?" Scott asked, keeping his tone neutral.

"Like a big campfire," Johnny's voice hushed.

"Well, if someone is up there, that would make sense," Scott reasoned.

Johnny felt some of the tension leave his shoulders and neck. "Yeah, that makes sense." But he wasn't completely satisfied with that explanation either. A campfire easily seen from that distance? He didn't think so.

It wasn't that far away and had been the border to Lancer on the west side at one time. After Toby Carmichael's murder, the land was put up for sale by a cousin and only living family. Murdoch bought it at a good price. The cousin wanted nothing to do with mining or California and was just glad to be rid of it. Murdoch was pleased with the acquisition which ensured his water rights in that section of the ranch.

It should have only taken a few hours to get there. But, with the fog slowing them down, the brothers figured it would be late afternoon before they made it to the mine site. Neither had been there before and wasn't sure what they would find. They didn't even know if the shack was still standing. Scott hoped so. It would be better than sleeping outside if this fog persisted.

They made their way up the overgrown trail, the shadows of the thick overhead foilage lending to an even gloomier atmosphere. By the time they reached the clearing, the sky was darkening above as well.

"Well, its standing. I wonder for how much longer," Scott said, taking in the dilapitated shack.

Johnny smiled. "Let's take a look see."

*****

It was in better shape than either would have hoped for upon first sight. Scott cleaned the fireplace out and checked the flue. Soon, he had a fire roaring in the hearth.

Johnny found some buckets and took them to the stream nearby, scrubbing them clean and filling them. He put on coffee and a pot of beans for their supper. Soon enough, the place wasn't so drear.

Still, there were cobwebs at every turn and a thick coat of dust. If someone was squatting up here, they weren't using this shack.

Scott thought about taking the cot mattress out for a good beating, then decided against it. He would rather sleep on the floor. Heaven only knew what had taken up residence in that bed over the years.

They worked almost silently together. In sync, with each just knowing what needed to be done and doing it. Johnny bedded the horses down and brought in their tack. Scott took their camp supplies from the saddlebags and served up the beans. They sat at the rickety table, testing the chairs gingerly and finding they would hold the weight.

"Could be worse," Johnny noted.

"Yes. We could be outside," Scott agreed.

"Sure is damp. Seeps right into a man's bones," Johnny said with almost a shiver.

"I can't believe that fog stayed with us all day. It's going to feel good sleeping by that fire tonight," Scott smiled. He knew what his brother was thinking because he was thinking the same.

Johnny looked at him with a gleam in his eyes and both brothers fell out laughing.

They cleaned up from supper and, still chuckling, took their coffee to the fireside.

"Hey, we should come up with a good story for Jelly when we get back," Johnny said.

Scott laughed. "It would serve him right."

"Aw, he just worries. If he didn't have that to do, he'd get bored," Johnny grinned.

"He thinks he has to watch out for you," Scott observed.

Johnny cocked his head and looked questioningly at his brother. "All of us, Scott. He thinks he has to watch out for all of us."

Scott smiled wanly. "Yes, but especially you. You are one of his boys."

"That's crazy," Johnny disagreed.

"If you say so, brother. I just know what I see. Murdoch sees it too. Jelly has a particular fondness for you."

Johnny didn't respond to this. He knew it was true. Sometimes, it bothered him. Like being a favorite son or something. Jelly was like a father to him, he supposed. He sure did love the old man. Of course, he'd never admit that.

"Well, think I'll sack in. Long ride for nothin," Johnny sighed.

"We still have to check the mine," Scott reminded him.

"Yeah and that'll take all of two minutes," Johnny yawned and snuggled down in his bedroll.

******

Johnny was freezing. He felt the cold draft and tried to pull his blanket over him more. He couldn't even feel the heat from the fire now. Awareness took hold and his eyes flew open. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Slowly, he raised his head and saw the fire was out. Only a few glowing embers remained.

It was almost pitch black in the room, save for those embers. His hand went to his right side and he slipped the revolver out silently.

"Scott," he whispered. There was no response. He couldn't hear his brother breathing. More than that, he *knew* Scott was not in the shack.

Johnny raised up and reached inside his jacket, pulling out a match. He struck it on his gunbelt and raised it. It was pitiful relief and he squinted to see. He got to his feet and walked to the table, grabbing the lamp and lighting it. He turned the wick up high and looked around.

The first thing he saw was the door open. The next thing he noticed was Scott's bedroll - empty. 'Brother, you better be answering the call of nature,' he thought.

But the fire was out and Scott wouldn't have done that. The blaze was bright when he fell asleep. No way it could have burned down to nothing before morning.

Johnny felt a coldness that had nothing to do with the weather. His gut clenched tight and he took a deep breath. Gun in one hand and lantern in the other, he walked outside into the dark.

"Scott!" he called in a loud whisper. The only answer was the wind. It gusted and swirled dead leaves about his feet, mixed with that relentless fog.

Johnny stood perfectly still and listened but he could hear nothing. Deciding to take a chance, he shouted his brother's name at the top of his lungs. The only answer was a nightbird's call.

"Damn it!" he swore. He lowered the lantern to the ground and studied the tracks. Their boot prints were all around the door. He stepped further out and had a thought.

Heading to the side of the house where the leanto stood, he checked the horses. Both were there sleeping. He was surprised his shout hadn't awakened them. Checking the ground there, he found no tracks but his own from earlier.

He decided to head down to the stream. He found nothing there either. Frustration and worry mounted as Johnny tried to think where his brother would have gone off to in the middle of the night.

There had been no sign of a struggle and Johnny was sure he would have awakened had there been any trouble. The idea struck him like a blow to the face. Surely he wouldn't? Shaking his head, he started toward the mine.

******

Scott was freezing. He was curled up in a ball trying to warm himself with his own body heat. Why was the fire out? He opened his eyes and found nothingness. Frowning, he raised up. "Johnny?" he called.

"Johnny, where are you?" he asked after a second.

Scott waited but got no answer. Then he realized this was all wrong. He wasn't where he was supposed to be. This was not the shack. He reached out and tried to feel for anything that would tell him what this place was. He used his remaining senses and took in the smell and feel.

He could discern a moldy aroma and it was very damp here. The ground felt like rock and it was wet. He was so cold, his hands were shaking as he reached in his pocket for a match.

The flame exploded then died a little. He held it up and looked around. It couldn't be. How did he get in here? Scott got to his feet feeling weak. His knees buckled and he grabbed at the wall, holding himself up. Dizziness came over him in waves and he closed his eyes until it passed.

Taking stock, Scott could detect no injury to himself. But he felt sick. He didn't know what kind of sick it was, only that he felt awful. He was cold and his muscles ached and his head hurt. It was like he was badly hungover but that didn't make sense. Nothing made sense to him; his mind was befuddled. All he knew for certain was he had to get out of here.

He gasped and shook his hand as the match flame burned his fingers. With a quick suck of his index finger, Scott searched for another match. Finding it, he struck it to life and tried to distinguish the way out of this place. The flame flickered and he had an idea. Wetting his finger again, he held it in the air and felt the slight movement of air. Scott headed in that direction, reasoning it was his escape route.

Knowing the match would be useless, he extinguished the flame and used the wall to guide him. It was damp and slick and felt smooth to his palm.

He moved slowly to avoid stumbling or, more likely, slipping on the wet surface. As he walked, he had to duck down several times as the ceiling lowered and rose. He only hoped he was going the right way and not further inside the earth.

He noted the surface of the wall was growing rougher and this gave him some encouragement. But he was still so cold. Every step was a struggle. Every foot a victory. He'd never felt so sore in all his life.

*****

Johnny kneeled in the dirt at the mouth of the mine and sighed. No prints. No tracks of any kind. Not one damned thing! "Where are you, brother?" he mumbled.

A snap and he whirled, still crouched, gun cocked as his eyes took in the area.

"Who's out there?" he called.

Johnny stood and swung the lantern out in front of him. "I know someone's there. Show yourself!"

He squinted as if that would help him cut through the curtain of fog that surrounded everything. He realized the only thing that could be seen was him. He lowered the lantern and stepped just inside the mine, then turned the lamp out.

Trying to listen through his own pounding heartbeat wasn't easy. He made himself slow his breathing, calming his heart so he could hear. But there was no more sound. Not for several minutes. But, he was a patient man when he had to be and he never moved.

Without warning, light appeared outside the mine. It was a flickering, dancing light and Johnny was unsure what was causing it. Then, he heard the crackling and snapping as ashes twirled to the ground before him.

He looked around the edge of the rock entrance and saw a huge fire burning between him and the shack. His jaw went slack and his hand tightened around the Colt's grip.

Mulling over his options, he decided he did not want to be tonight's entertainment for whoever was out there. Obviously, this was some sort of a joke. But his mind refused to believe his brother had anything to do with this. That only served to worry and anger him more. What had they done to Scott?

"Look, this is all very funny but the game's over. Now show yourself or this could get real ugly real fast!" he yelled.

"Johnny?"

He turned on his heel and went to one knee. His eyes scanned the darkness uselessly. "Scott?" he whispered.

"Yeah, it's me. Where are you? I can hear you but I can't see you," Scott called.

"Just keep coming toward me, Scott. Keep following my voice. Someone is out there playing tricks or something. Are you hurt?"

"No and yes. I mean, I don't know. I'm a little ..... disjointed," Scott stammered out.

Johnny frowned at this then he moved forward and grabbed his now present brother's arm. "I'm here."

"Thank God. How did I get in the mine?" Scott sighed.

"I have no idea, brother. Right now, we have bigger fish to fry. Someone's out there and they started a big fire. Why is what I want to know."

"Maybe it's a Halloween prank?" Scott offered.

"If it is, it ain't funny," Johnny hissed.

*****

Johnny stepped to the mouth of the mine once more and peeked around the edge. The fire still blazed but he could see not a soul. Tiring of the game, cold and more worried for his brother's state, Johnny stepped into the opening.

Scott grabbed at him but missed. He stumbled out behind his brother.

"Whoever you are, this is over. We're goin back inside the shack. If you want a piece of us, you know where to find us," Johnny called out. His tone left no doubt that he was deadly serious.

He took Scott's arm and walked three steps before being stopped cold.

A piercing scream awakened every nerve in both men's bodies. It was the most wretched sound either had ever heard. The shear agony of it made Scott want to cover his ears.

Johnny stared at the fire unable to move. His grip on Scott's arm increased to the point that Scott felt pain.

"Johnny, that hurts," he complained when the scream stopped.

"What?" he asked in a distant voice.

"Let go of my arm!"

Johnny looked at him with the same look he had when he was staring at the mountain two days ago. He blinked then seemed to realize what Scott was saying. He released his hold and Scott rubbed at what he was sure would turn out to be a beautiful bruise.

"Who was that?" Scott asked.

Johnny shook his head slowly. "Toby Carmichael," he barely whispered.

Scott stared at him for a beat before irritation took hold. "Let's go inside," he said tersely and started around the fire.

Johnny stood where he was, mesmerized by the flame. Suddenly, he saw Scott and shouted, "no! Stop!"

Scott turned to look at him and felt a heavy push. He fell to the right, toward the flames. Arms waving in the air, Scott tried to regain his balance but he knew it was a lost cause.

Johnny found his legs and ran toward his brother. Horrible pictures flashed through his mind and he desperately raced to stop the inevitable.

Several thoughts ran through Scott's mind as he fell. Was this really happening? Who pushed me? Please, God, don't let me die like this. He threw his arms across his face and head as he felt the searing heat engulf him.

*******

It was surreal the way time seemed to slow almost to a stop. Johnny could not make his legs move faster. They felt as if they were weighed down in lead.

He saw his brother frantically try to stop his own fall. Saw the look of terror on Scott's face. Then he saw understanding cross those features as Scott put his arms in front of his face and went down.

He hit the ground, he thought, with a resounding crack. But it gave way even more as he went further into the flames. Then Scott felt two hands grab him and yank him hard. Then, it was suddenly much cooler and he found he could breath without pain again. But those breaths could not come fast enough for him. He had tried not to breathe at all but when he hit, the air was knocked out of him. Instinct caused him to inhale and the burning sensation was terrific.

Before these thoughts were out of his mind, he felt himself being lifted and carried.

Johnny scooped his brother up and ran to the stream. He felt nothing at that moment but raw panic. A feeling he had not had in a long time. He didn't stop at the water's edge. He ran straight in with his precious load. Submerging Scott completely then allowing only his head out of the water, Johnny sucked air into his own starving lungs.

The sun was beginning its ascent with pink and golden hues casting the first light of the day. Johnny looked down at his brother and winced.

"Scott?"

He opened his eyes and looked up. A smile flickered. "Hey, brother."

"Hey yourself. How do you feel?" Johnny asked.

He frowned then grimaced. "Burns," he whispered.

Johnny swallowed hard. "I know. I'm gonna take you to the shack now. We'll get you home in no time."

He carried Scott to the shack and laid him in front of the cold hearth. Johnny wasn't sure what to do, if anything, about the burns. Some of them looked pretty bad to him. He thought it best to cover them and just get Scott home fast.

He dug out the medical supplies Teresa always insisted they carry from the saddlebags. Removing what he could of Scott's shirt, he wrapped the worst burns loosely then poured cold water over them. He filled both canteens to brimming then saddled the horses quickly.

*****

All the while he could only keep thinking, at least his face isn't burned. He figured that was pretty petty but he knew Scott wouldn't think so. Which is why, he reasoned, his brother had protected that part of his body above all else.

When he was ready, Johnny went back to his brother. "Hey, think you can sit a saddle?"

"I think so. I don't think my legs are burned," Scott replied.

"Not bad. It's mostly your arms and chest. Come on, I'll help you," Johnny tried to give a reassuring smile but couldn't.

He positioned Scott beside Remmie and with a mighty heave, swung his brother onto the saddle. He grabbed Scott's arm and heard the cry of pain. He ignored it; he had to. Letting Scott fall out of the saddle would be ten times worse. He muttered a 'sorry' before making sure Scott would stay put.

Johnny mounted Barranca and took Scott's lead rein. "Ready?" he asked.

Scott nodded and kept his head down. Johnny knew it was so he didn't see the pain. He sighed softly and clicked his tongue, setting both horses toward home. As they passed the entrance to the mine, Johnny saw the thin tendrils of smoke rising from the now extinguished bonfire. There was a sickly sweet smell in the air and Johnny shivered. He'd smelled it before and knew it for what it was.

He kept an eagle eye on his brother as they rode. Keeping the gait slow and as steady as possible, Johnny knew it would take them hours. He knew little about burns but he knew they could be deadly. Infection was the biggest concern.

As the noon hour approached, Johnny stopped. Scott looked up with a questioning gaze.

"You need to rest a minute," Johnny explained. He handed the canteen to his brother then leaned over and watered the bandages with his own.

The cold felt wonderful to Scott as did the water going down his burning throat. He sighed as he handed the canteen back. It was then he saw what he had not seen before.

"Johnny, your hands!"

Johnny pulled his hands back and placed one over the other on the saddle horn. "It ain't that bad. Come on, we need to get going," he said and started the horses moving again.

Scott focused on Johnny's hands as they rode. He kept his head lowered so his brother wouldn't notice. He could tell, even with the constant rocking motion of the horse, that it was that bad. It looked very bad to him. But whenever he would chance a glance at his brother's face, all he saw was brute determination in the tight features.

He had to admit, thinking of Johnny's injuries helped him. He didn't even notice the arch until they were passing under it. He looked up in time to see Johnny draw his gun and fire two shots in the air.

*****

Murdoch and Jelly came running when they heard the gunfire. As the brothers approached, Jelly groused that he would send for the doctor and set off toward the bunkhouse.

Murdoch eased Scott out of the saddle and saw the burns. Fighting back a gasp and the urge to shout, he carried the young man upstairs to his room.

Johnny dismounted and leaned heavily against Barranca for a few seconds. As he started inside, he felt a hand take his arm. Turning, he saw a grim-faced Jelly.

"How bad is it?" Jelly asked.

"Looks pretty bad to me, Jelly. He fell into a fire. I got him out right away but ..... I don't know," he sighed.

Jelly only nodded, curbing the desire to ask, and walked Johnny upstairs to Scott's room.

"Jelly, I need some aloe, cold water and fresh bandages," Murdoch ordered as soon as he saw the man.

Jelly only nodded and disappeared.

Johnny stood by the door and watched his father try to comfort his brother. He turned and walked out and to the kitchen. "Grab some laudanum, too," he said to Jelly as the old man searched the pantry for aloe.

Johnny returned to the room and sat in a chair by the window. He could do nothing to help now and he knew it. He watched Murdoch and Jelly care for his brother and noted the tenderness in their touch.

He smiled a little thinking of Scott's claim that Jelly favored him. The old man would fight tooth and nail for any one of them and Johnny knew it.

"Johnny!"

He jerked his head and stared at his father.

"I asked you how this happened," Murdoch repeated in frustration.

"He fell in the fire," Johnny answered flatly.

Murdoch opened his mouth to say something as Sam Jenkins walked in the room. He quickly reported his own findings to the doctor who nodded and sent them all packing.

******

Downstairs, Murdoch poured himself a whiskey and downed it quickly. He turned to face his younger son. "Now, how did he fall in a fire and what fire?"

Johnny looked at the floor, his hands clasped behind his back, feeling exhaustion overwhelm him. "The fire on the mountain."

"What are you talking about, son?"

Johnny looked up with a haunted expression. "You won't believe me. I just want to go sit with Scott, okay?"

"Good Lord!" Jelly exclaimed as he walked in from the kitchen. "Johnny, your hands are burned!"

"I know, Jelly. It ain't bad," he mumbled.

Murdoch walked over and held his own hands out expectantly. Johnny sighed and produced his for inspection.

"Not bad my foot! Come in the kitchen. These need to be cleaned. Jelly, tell Sam he has another patient."

Murdoch placed Johnny in front of the sink and began working the pump. Cold water poured over his hands and he sucked in a breath. It was both a comfort and painful.

"I'll have to clean them good, son," Murdoch explained with deep regret in his voice.

Johnny nodded.

By the time Murdoch was finished, Johnny was ready to pass out. He couldn't stop the groans of pain as his father cleaned the burns. His only solace was his right hand really wasn't that bad. Tears had welled in his eyes and he kept his head down.

Murdoch knew how painful burns were. He knew how hard Johnny was trying but it was an impossible task. No one could stand this without some sort of reaction. He wrapped bandages around Johnny's hands and found something to do that required turning his back on his son. Giving Johnny time to compose himself before facing his father.

Murdoch's thoughts went to his other son who was much worse off. If Johnny was suffering, he didn't even want to think about what Scott was going through.

Sam entered the kitchen and walked straight to Johnny who had taken a seat at the table. Without a word, he began to unbandage the hands.

****

"How's Scott?" Johnny asked.

"He's in a lot of pain. I gave him a healthy dose of laudanum. He has one third degree burn on his side. Mostly first degree which is like having a sunburn. He will heal and, barring infection, recover. I've cleaned the burns thoroughly and they look good. You did a good job here, Murdoch. Just keep these bandaged and apply the aloe salve twice a day. These are first and second degree." Sam finished bandaging Johnny's hands as Murdoch went upstairs.

He entered the room quietly. Scott was sleeping peacefully, probably due to the laudanum. He sat next to the bed and pushed a lock of hair from his son's forehead.

"You were very lucky, son." He sighed and bowed his head.

"Johnny?" Scott mumbled.

Murdoch leaned forward and took his hand. "It's me, son. Johnny's with Sam right now."

"Hurt bad?"

"Not too bad. Sam said he'd be fine. So will you," Murdoch smiled.

"So strange," Scott whispered.

"What's strange, son?"

"Fire, mine. How'd I get there?" Scott's voice faded as he succumbed totally to the laudanum.

Murdoch frowned at the nonsensical words. Maybe Johnny would understand. He stood up and pulled the blanket over Scott's chest then left quietly to allow his son to rest.

"How is he?" Johnny asked, coming down the hall.

"He's out like a light," Murdoch smiled. "You should be, too."

"I am tired. I just want to peek in on him then I'll lay down."

Murdoch thought to argue but knew it was useless. He just shook his head and walked away.

Johnny sat by the bed and watched for a while. Soon, his eyelids began to close of their own accord. He left his brother and went to his own bed. Not bothering with formalities, he plopped down and was asleep in seconds.

*****

Scott and Johnny sat on the veranda enjoying the fall day. The air was crisp but not cold. With his hands out of commission, Johnny couldn't do any work. Scott was nowhere near ready to return to laboring. Both men sat quietly.

"Wahll, how's it feel ta be men of leisure?" Jelly asked as he rounded the house.

"Feels pretty good, Jelly. Too bad you can't join us," Johnny grinned.

"Yes, it's a real shame you have to pick up the slack," Scott smiled fully.

"Hmmph! Like I don't do that already!" His puffed out chest deflated as he regarded the two of them. "Ya seen somethin out there, didn't ya?"

Both of them lowered their eyes.

"I didn't. But, I think Johnny did."

Johnny looked at his brother without affection. "I didn't see nothin," he asserted.

"Uh huh. Well, just don't be makin no more trips up that mountain. That's all," Jelly said, walking off and deciding some things were best left unspoken.

Scott watched his brother's profile. "Someone pushed me into that fire," he said quietly.

Johnny said nothing but nodded almost imperceptibly.

"I still don't understand how I ended up inside the mine," Scott spoke again thoughtfully.

Then, after another minute of silence. "What did you see, Johnny?"

Johnny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Just what I told you I saw, Scott. Fire on the mountain."

 

~end~
2004

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