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The Long Sleep by Ruthie W.

Word count: 4,500


The Long Sleep

After breakfast on a beautiful Monday morning Murdoch and his youngest son Johnny went out to the corral to inspect the horses that were just rounded up for delivery to the Army. This time however, the Army Major was coming with his men to take this group to his post for training saving the Lancers a lot of time and work.

While Murdoch and Johnny discussed horses, Murdoch’s oldest son Scott was finishing his breakfast while Teresa, Murdoch’s ward after her father Lancer’s foreman was killed a few years earlier, was cleaning up. Teresa was trying to get Scott to see her side of an argument that concerned Scott and Murdoch. Scott came to Lancer 2 years ago and had never seen his father before as he was raised from infancy by his maternal grandfather after his mother died at his birth. Both Scott and Johnny came back to their father at the same time and due to the strangeness of having a father they never knew agreed to call him Murdoch instead of father..

Johnny was born at Lancer and taken away at the age of 2 by his mother, Murdoch’s second wife Maria. Johnny had a past that included violence and abuse by his mother’s boyfriends. He also made his living by being a gunfighter known as Johnny Madrid. His first few months with his father were hard but after time the boy and his Pa grew close and recently Johnny stopped calling his father by his first name and called him Pa.

Teresa was thrilled when this happened and now she was trying to get Scott to do the same. “Scott you love him and you know he loves you and Johnny is calling him Pa now so if you stopped calling him Murdoch it would make him very happy”.

Scott knew that she was right but he was not ready to make the change, he was older than Johnny and he was not abandoned as his little brother was. He was raised in a loving home and decided to come to Lancer when Murdoch sent word that he needed help and offered both Scott and Johnny each one third ownership of Lancer.

“Teresa,” Scott said, “I am just not ready and I do not want to talk about it anymore so please let it rest.” Scott then left the table and went outside to see what Johnny was up to. He saw Murdoch and Johnny smiling at the new horses and thought to himself it was good to see his little brother happy and content.

Murdoch offered to stay and wait for the major to show up—that way Johnny and Scott could finish rounding up the cattle before the winter set in. It was almost November and the cold and snow could soon start. The brothers loved spending time together and had grown close since the day they learned of each other’s existence. Johnny was always up for fun when they went into town and Scott was always there to get him out of trouble. But the boys worked hard and helped their father run Lancer better than ever before.

They had rounded up the strays left over when the last herd was moved but as strays go half went in one direction and the other half in the opposite direction. Scott went East while Johnny went West and arranged to meet up at the bottom of the gorge. Scott was almost done but Johnny was trying to free a calf caught in the brush and was having a hard time. He reached in to free his legs when he felt a horrible sting in his hand. He had been bitten by a rattlesnake and never heard the rattle letting him know it was there.

Johnny knew he was in trouble and shot his gun into the air to signal Scott something was wrong. Then he took his knife and cut out the area where the bite was and used his mouth to suck out the poison and then spat it out. He saw that the calf was bitten by the snake and was dying then the snake started to come near him and he finished it off with a shot. He tied a piece of his shirt which he cut off and put it around the bite.

Just then Scott arrived and immediately sized up the situation. Scott was a former Army Officer and had training in first aid. He saw that Johnny had tried to get the poison out and knew he needed to get to a doctor but he also knew that too much movement helped the poison to spread. He had to get him home and have one of the hands ride into town to have doctor Sam come out as soon as possible. He carefully helped Johnny into the saddle and mounted up behind him to steady him then led Barranca ,Johnny’s horse, behind them.

Luckily they were not far away and as they rode under the Lancer Arch Scott called for their foreman Cipriano and told hm what happened and to send a rider for the doctor as fast as possible. Murdoch saw them riding in and ran out to meet them. Scott told him Johnny was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake and Murdoch reached up to take Johnny in his arms and carry him into the house. He took his boy upstairs and laid him on his bed while Scott and Teresa took his boots and clothes off.

Johnny was in pain and was starting to sweat. Murdoch wiped his face with a wet cloth and told his boy he would be OK. “Your Papa has got you now and I will not let anything happen to you,” he said.

Scott got the laudanum the doctor had left when Murdoch had sprained his back and so he mixed it with water as the doctor had instructed him to help keep Johnny quiet and ease his pain.

“Papa,” Johnny said, “I was not paying attention and tried to free a calf from the brambles and I never heard the rattle, it just bit me and then it bit the poor calf and there was nothing I could do. I am sorry to cause all this trouble Pa I really am.”

Murdoch stroked his son’s forehead and pushed his wet hair back from his face. He and Scott looked at each other and knew that the boy was in danger. All they could do was wait for Sam and pray he was not too late.

When Sam arrived he opened up the bite more and cleaned out the wound. Because Johnny had moved before the snake could inject more venom Sam thought that Johnny’s chances of recovery were good. He wrapped the bite in a poultice of brown leaves that had been cooked and mashed. This method had been used by the Sioux successfully and Dr. Sam had learned about it from a colleague of his from the Dakotas. Finally he gave his young patient more laudanum and watched as Johnny fell asleep.

Sam stayed at Lancer all night long and helped Murdoch to keep him cool with cold compresses. Scott took over for a few hours to give his father a rest. Then Johnny’s fever started rising and he started to have hallucinations. Murdoch wrapped his arms around his son and held him tightly trying to talk to him and comfort him which seemed to work as Johnny stopped struggling and then fell asleep.

By the second day his fever was falling and he seemed to be resting comfortably so Sam told the family that Johnny was out of the woods and was on his way to a full recovery. His treatment was to let Johnny sleep as he was exhausted. Sam had to see other patients and told Murdoch he would be back first thing in the morning.

For the first time in days the family slept through the night though Murdoch sat up in a chair next to his youngest son in case he woke up and needed something. But he slept soundly letting his father finally get to bed and catch up on his sleep.

In the morning Johnny was still sleeping so the family met for breakfast and wondered when the swelling in Johnny’s left hand would start going down.

While waiting for the doctor Scott took his father aside and asked him a question. “Sir, did you think Johnny was acting like himself after he was bit? He apologized for causing trouble but that is not like him as he is usually ready to fight whatever comes his way . I don’t know but I am worried about his attitude, he was not talking like himself. Maybe it is nothing to worry about but I am. Who knows what the venom can do to a person’s body.”

Murdoch assured Scott he was worried needlessly and that his little brother would be fine.

Sam was late getting back to Lancer as it was afternoon before he came to check on his favorite patient. Murdoch and Sam went upstairs to check on Johnny who was still sleeping. Sam examined him then gave Murdoch a worried look.

“What’s wrong Sam?” Murdoch said.

“Let’s talk downstairs, Murdoch,” Sam replied.

The doctor asked that Scott, Teresa and Jelly, Murdoch’s assistant foreman and old friend, join the conversation as he had bad news to tell the whole family. “I’m afraid Johnny has slipped into a coma and I don’t know why. Maybe it was the snake’s poison but more than likely it was the high fever that also caused the hallucinations he suffered. What I pray for is that he comes out of it and soon.”

Then their friend and doctor discussed how they needed to help Johnny. “The best thing for his mind is for all of you to read to him and talk to him about anything and everything, things that he would love to talk to you about such as horses or how things have changed for the good since he came back to Lancer. Scott, you can talk about the trouble you two could get into the next time you two go to Morro Coyo.. Murdoch, I also want you to talk to your boy and you know what he needs to hear from you. The same for Teresa and even Maria, Cipriano , Sheriff Val and of course, Jelly.”

Maria was the cook and took charge of the Lancer household and since Johnny had come back she called him her Juanito. Sheriff Val knew Johnny from his days as a gunfighter and rode with him in range wars. When he arrived in Morro Coyo he was surprised to see Johnny and after the Lancers found out he had been like a father to Johnny and protected him since he reached the age of 14 they asked that he became the new sheriff in the town as they had been without one for many months. It seemed Johnny was loved by everyone at Lancer.

“Now there are things that need to be done for him physically. He will need to be turned, bathed and kept clean as can be. Coma patients tend to develop sores from laying too long in one position. I will wire a doctor friend of mine in San Francisco to ask if he will come to see Johnny. This man has a lot of experience with coma patients. These are all precautions as I truly believe this will pass and Johnny will be back with us shortly,. He is young and healthy and is surrounded by love on all sides. Once I hear back from my friend I will let you all know right away.”

They all talked for a while till Sam left and Scott walked him to his carriage. Teresa and Maria went into the kitchen to start dinner while Murdoch went back upstairs to sit with Johnny. He sat on the bed next to him and begged him to wake up. “Please son, please wake up and let me see your beautiful blue eyes and your smile. Let me hear your voice even if we end up disagreeing. I love you Johnny, you and Scott mean the world to me. I waited 18 years to find you again and we have only been together again just short of two years. I want a lifetime with you and Scott and I cannot face life again without you.” Then he kissed Johnny’s cheek and cried and cried.

The doctor came every day and on the third day after the accident Sam came out to Lancer to say he had heard from his doctor friend and that he would be coming to Lancer to see Johnny in 2 days. While there he checked Johnny again and said that his vitals were good but he was still in a coma. The family remained strong and were rallying around the youngest Lancer and would not give up no matter how long it took.

It was on a Thursday that Dr. John Heaton from San Francisco came to the ranch with Dr. Sam. He spent almost 30 minutes with Johnny then came down to talk with his father, brother and Teresa.

“Folks, your boy is in good physical shape and you are doing everything right with his care. I have seen cases where a person can be in a coma for days or weeks then suddenly wake up. But there are also cases where comas can last for months or even years. At present there is no new treatment or ability to tell how long your young man will be comatose. Sam has told me what he instructed you to do and he was correct. I wish I could predict how long this will last but I cannot. I do believe in prayer and I will contact fellow physicians across the country for the most up to date treatment and news, My friend Sam will keep me posted and I promise you will hear from me again.”

After the first month with no change in his condition, Murdoch and Scott still had high hopes that they would get Johnny back any day now. Scott’s day was busy from morning till night. He did the work that he and his kid brother used to do together, then spent the night helping Teresa and Maria to turn his brother in bed and bath him. They also used lotions to keep his skin healthy. Murdoch spent his days with Johnny talking to him, reading to him or reporting how the ranch was doing. He kept him up to date on the income from the Army on the horse business that was Johnny’s idea. Then he stayed up late doing the paperwork that needed to be done.

Sam came out twice a week to see Johnny and to make sure he was not developing sores. This went on for the first then the second then the third month. At the beginning of the fourth month the strain was on the faces of everyone in the family. Murdoch seemed to have aged all at once and Scott was exhausted. The family was at the breaking point and if a miracle did not happen soon they would break apart.

Sam was coming out now only once a week. He was dreading the talk he needed to have with his good friends Murdoch and Scott. He had talked with Dr. Heaton and he recommended that Johnny be moved to an institution in San Francisco. He would get the best care there and give the family the break that they all needed. He needed Scott’s support as he knew Murdoch would refuse to let Johnny go.

The meeting did not go well at all. As predicted Murdoch refused to even discuss it and Scott said nothing. Jelly was the worst as he told the doctor he got the treatment all wrong and insisted he could do better. Sam had brought some information about the San Francisco hospital and left it on the table. Then Teresa apologized for the Lancer men and walked Sam out the door.

That night Scott broke down for the first time since the day of Johnny’s accident. He went outside and wept and prayed that God would heal his brother and help his family be a family again. He tried to talk to his father but Murdoch would just say he would never give Johnny up then walked away without another word. Maybe the answer was for Scott to leave for awhile and go to Boston to see his grandfather and friends.

But he loved his father and could not desert him. He had to try and reach him one more time so just before sunrise Scott got up and went outside to watch the horses in the corral. It was over a year ago that Johnny and Murdoch took their first trip together to Wyoming to purchase the quarter horse mares to be breed with Lancer stock. Now they were about to foal and he wished Johnny was standing there with him to see the babies being born.

Just then he heard someone walking up behind him. Murdoch said he came out to see the horses as well but then admitted he needed to talk with Scott. “Son, please forgive me. I have neglected you and everyone else. My heart is broken but I have acted like I only have one son. I love you Scott and I need you to be with me. I have faced the truth and spent the night talking to Johnny. I have to let him go to that hospital and let the professionals try to help him.”

Then Scott fell into his father’s arms and after awhile they looked at each other and Scott said “I love you father and I need you very much. We will get through this together you and I.”

The arrangements had been made and Johnny was going by covered wagon to the train that would take him to the San Francisco hospital. They were leaving in two days. Friends came to say their goodbyes to Johnny and hoped he would be back with them again soon. Jelly was making things worse for Murdoch when he kept blaming him for not taking proper care of his Johnny till finally Murdoch asked him to go with the men who were ready to leave on a cattle drive because they needed a cook. He went but made the family promise to send word if the boy’s condition changed. Jelly loved Johnny but he had to go away for awhile. He could not stand to see Johnny be sent to the hospital.

Johnny looked healthy and was as handsome as ever. It was hard it believe he was not just sleeping. Even the wound on his hand from the snake bite was healed

The night before he was to leave both mares foaled. One delivered a colt and the other a filly. They were healthy and got up to nurse right away. The family was happy but sad that Johnny was not with them to see his dream come true. Scott spent the night in the barn to be sure the new arrivals were ok, Murdoch had been with Johnny most of the day then finally went to sleep in his own bed. His heart was breaking and he was not sure he would be able to face what was going to happen in the morning.

There was a full moon that night and the stars had come out in force. Around 3 in the morning someone was coming down the stairs quietly so as not to wake anyone. The door opened in the Great Room that led to the outside where the air was cool and sweet. Murdoch was not sleeping soundly and decided to get up and check on Scott out in the barn. He came downstairs and saw that someone was standing outside but the moon had been covered for a moment by a cloud and assumed it was Scott who was probably also not sleeping well.

Murdoch decided to join his son and started to walk toward the open door when the moon escaped from the cloud. He blinked then blinked again thinking his mind was playing a trick on him. Just then the person turned and said “Pa, how long have I been sleeping?”

Murdoch sank to his knees and Johnny grabbed him and held him up.

Johnny was confused but leaned into his father’s arms and hugged him tightly. “Pa, I feel like I have just woke up from a long dream. I remember being bitten and you carrying me to my bed but that is all I remember till I woke up a few minutes ago. How long have I been sleeping?”

Just then Scott had come into house to get a drink of water and could not believe his eyes. There was his kid brother hugging his father. Murdoch held out his hand to his oldest son and pulled him into a three way hug.

Looking at his brother and father he said, “Little brother, you came back to us”.

The sun was rising when Scott went to tell Cipriano and the ranch hands that Johnny had come out of the coma and also to have someone ride into town to tell Dr. Sam and have him come out to check Johnny. Cipriano also sent someone to catch up to Jelly and give him the good news. Teresa woke up, then Maria, and soon the whole house was up. The family sat down together and answered Johnny’s questions telling him he was in a coma for almost 4 months. Johnny was shocked to hear all this and was also a little weak but he refused to lay down but did not tell anyone the reason was because he was afraid that if he went to sleep he might never wake up again.

Within one hour Sam arrived at Lancer and gave Johnny a complete head to toe examination. But Johnny did not share his concern with the doctor. Before he left for the ranch he sent a telegram to his associate in San Francisco saying that Johnny was not coming to the hospital because he was awake now. However Sam knew his young patient and guessed what he was worried about. He asked Murdoch, Scott and Teresa to sit down for another family conference but this one was about good news and had to do with what Johnny was now facing.

“Murdoch, Scott, Teresa, Johnny has not told me what is on his mind but I think I know as this is a common concern for all people who have been in a coma for some time”. Then he looked at Johnny. “Son, you are afraid that if you go to sleep you will go back into a coma aren’t you?” Johnny just nodded his head yes. “Johnny, since you became ill I have consulted with a specialist in San Francisco . His name is Dr. John Heaton and while you were sleeping he came here to exam you. He may want to visit you again soon. In this day and age we still don’t know much about what causes a coma but we both had hopes that you would wake up and because it could have been caused by the combination of venom and fever we doubt it will ever happen again. You came out without any physical problems and you remember everything about yourself and your family. In my mind that is called a miracle.”

After resting through the day Johnny wanted to see the new foals so his father and brother came out with him to the barn. Johnny was thrilled and could not stop smiling as both new additions were healthy and full of life.

Sam came by to say that he had heard from Dr, Heaton and that he was very happy for Johnny but he would not be coming to Lancer as he had to travel back East to take a teaching position in a New York University.

After 3 weeks had gone by things were getting back to normal and Johnny was ready to go back to work though he had to take it slow for at least another week. What really made him happy was seeing how close his brother and father had become. Hearing Scott saying “father” and not calling him Murdoch seemed to bring the family a lot closer.

The others had gone to bed but Johnny wanted to stay up for awhile so he bundled up and put on his coat then went outside to look at the stars. The stars always gave him peace of mind and he thought about the times when he was a boy of 10 after his mother was killed and he shot the man who did it. After that there were years of sleeping under the stars wondering if he would be killed in a gunfight that could happen without warning if someone called him out and was faster than him or when he was hired to fight in a range war.

He would look at the stars and wonder why his father did not want him as his mother had told him. He always wanted a family and when he first came to Lancer and saw his father he could not believe what a mountain of a man he was. Then he found out he had an older brother. For the first few months things were tense to say the least. There were confrontations between him and his father about his past and about how he needed to work as hard as everyone else on the ranch. Johnny was not lazy but he was used to being free to do what he wanted to do and several times he left in anger only to come back again.

Gunfighters would show up to challenge him and he thought that would make his Pa ask him to leave but the opposite happened. Murdoch stood with him and so did Scott. When he had been shot in the battles to save Lancer from men who tried to take it over, his father cared for him and told him how much he loved him. It took almost 2 years but he finally knew he was loved and wanted and had a home.

Johnny was feeling the cold and looked up one last time at the stars before he came inside. He whispered to the darkness “Time to climb up the stairs and go to sleep as tomorrow I will face a fresh new day and enjoy the life that comes with belonging to a family”. Then he got into bed and whispered “Goodnight” to the darkness and fell asleep with a smile on his face.





Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment.  Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here.  You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Ruthie W. directly.


7 thoughts on “The Long Sleep by Ruthie W.

  1. Sweet little story. It would have been really nice if we had been able to watch the family getting closer and had a few episodes which depicted the trials that a city boy and a gunfighter must have encountered as they learnt how to be cowboys


  2. I thank you so much for sharing this great story with us. It could have been an episode or two of Lancer, but thanks to you and other writers, Lancer lives on!


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