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Birthdays by S

Word count 2,249

I’d like to wish our Scott the happiest of birthdays – December 19, 2003

The candles were so bright despite the fact that there were only six,
five for the years and one for good luck.  Blue eyes stared into the
flames that wavered in the breeze of the open door.  It was so hot
for this time of year that the breeze was welcome.  Glancing up the
small golden-haired boy could see his grandfather talking to a tall
man.  The stranger looked uncomfortable standing there.  Perhaps he
didn’t like little boys or their parties.
It was hot and sticky and his fine suit was stiff and uncomfortable even though the pants were short as appropriate for his years.  Beckoned to his grandfather’s side, the lad just stood there.  He knew he was supposed to be polite to visitors, but he was just so hot.  Why couldn’t the stranger leave him alone?  He just wanted to put his head down on a cool pillow and sleep.
Scott Lancer’s eyes fluttered open reluctantly as he began to gag once
again.  His stomach no longer contained any vestige of food or liquid
since the purge of his system had begun.  One sip of tainted water had
been enough to send his body into wracking spasms, followed by
hallucinations.  He was not in Boston, but in the desert, far from the
white hacienda he now lived in.
Struggling to his feet, the slender man knew that it would be fatal to
stay where he had fallen.  His horse had disappeared after carrying
him until his slim body had slipped to the ground as the cramps had
ripped through him,   Now he would have to depend on his two shaky
legs to survive.  One shuffling step forward meant one step closer to
home.  Home–Lancer–his first birthday celebration with his
newly-discovered family.
The desolate terrain offered little promise of salvation except for the
shade provided by some nearby rocks.  Aiming his trembling body
towards that point, Scott continued on until exhaustion forced him to
his knees.  The last few feet were crossed at the cost of torn fingers
and battered knees, but the simple shade offered a much-needed respite
from the blazing glare that made his eyes water with pain.  Curling
his body into a ball against the encroaching sun, Scott’s reality
escaped into the past.
In summer Libby Prison burned under the Virginia sun as tempers flared
among the prisoners who fought their guards and each other to stay sane
in the hope that one day the war would be over.  Taken in May, Scott
had secretly believed that somehow he would be able to escape the
tormented life this old warehouse with its three floors of Union
prisoners afforded.  Men had done so before.  In fact, 109 had
escaped the previous February, but almost half had been recaptured or
Then in a volley of gunfire the dreams of freedom had died for
Lieutenant Scott Lancer, along with sixteen men that he had led out of
the tunnel in the basement of the old building.  The shattering cold
of winter in Richmond drained whatever hope might have remained as bad
food and disease had taken their toll.  Death seemed the only true
Thrown into solitary for his part in the aborted attempt, the blond
officer in his filthy remnants of blue waited for the day when the Union artillery would open up on the city. Even in prison they sometimes heard rumors about great battles, about the fall of Atlanta, about the desperation in the South.  It was only a matter of time, but how many would be alive to see the gates open wide?
Shivering in his small cell, Scott marked off one more day on the faded
brick just to the side of him.  He had been methodical in his
calendar, separating the months from each other.  More than once he
had laughed at himself as he had used the sharp edge of a button to make the mark.  Did it really matter what day it was in hell? 
Sometimes he would take it in mind to count the days so that when he was free he would be able to recount their number to his grandfather, but fever and exhaustion would overcome his determination and besides he would never tell his grandfather of his ordeal.  Who would want to live through it again? 
It wasn’t until he heard the voices of two of the guards talking that he allowed himself to return to the reality of the day.  A devout wish that this coming Christmas would be the last of this war echoed between the men.  One spoke of his happiness that he would be allowed to spend a few hours with his wife and children.  The other man said little except that he had no one to care about.  His wife had died of scarlet
fever in the second year of the War.  After that there had been only silence.
For a time the conversation made little impression on the cavalryman. 
His war was over and Christmas seemed of little consequence in this
place.  Christmas meant Yule logs, Christmas trees and delicious food
which filled the tables at his grandfather’s house.  Just the thought
of food made his empty stomach burn with need.  Better not to think of
Slumping down onto the straw-covered floor, Scott shivered as he covered himself with the threadbare blanket.  Those flickering memories of Christmas were still sweet despite the cold and not just because of the holiday. Since his birthday was on the 19th, it had seemed that the whole week before the blessed day had been a time of celebration.
Images of those happy times flooded through him, including the last time SPIN had been there to bake a large cake with his name on it.  The sixteen candles and one for good luck had glowed with warmth and love as the tall, skinny boy had cut into it so that he could offer a piece to his grandfather, SPIN and the few friends who had been asked to share in the celebration.

Of course, most of the talk that night had been about the threat to
peace that had settled on the land since the November elections.  War
seemed so exciting and adventurous to those boys.  The realities of
Libby Prison were far away
That night after his friends departed, Scott lay in bed dreaming of the
coming holidays.  He would be able to go skating and do all the things
that boys love to do on a snowy day, including exchanging a few
snowballs with the uppity girl next door, who at the age of thirteen,
did not have the proper respect for a boy of sixteen.  Still, she had
an excellent throwing arm and was not afraid of anything.
Sleep had almost overtaken the young man when SPIN had entered to say
goodnight as she always did.   At one point Scott had felt embarrassed to still have a nanny although she had now taken over the housekeeper’s duties, but fortunately he had realized how much this tall, spare woman meant to him.  Sarah Nicholson’s common sense caring had made all the difference in his growing up years.
“Did you enjoy your birthday, Scott?  You and those other young
scalawags certainly ate enough cake!”
Scott turned over to look into SPIN’s gray eyes.  “It was delicious.  The best ever.  And I loved your present.”
SPIN ruffled the blond head.  “I’m glad. Now you’d better get some
sleep, young man, if you intend to go ice skating tomorrow.  Don’t
forget to come back here for some hot chocolate and cookies when you’re
“We’ll be here.”  Suddenly, Scott reached up to give SPIN a kiss on
her cheek.  “I love you.”
“And I love you, my dear boy.  Happy Birthday!  Now go to sleep or
I’ll ask your grandfather to bring up one of his ledgers and start
reading to you.”
Scott grinned and turned over.
Scott and his friends did go ice-skating the next day, but when they
entered the house for their cookies and hot chocolate, the holiday mood
had disappeared.   As soon as his friends finished their treats and
left, Scott immediately went to his grandfather’s study where he found
the white-haired man sitting somberly at his desk.  “Grandfather?”
“Oh, Scotty, come in.   Did you have a good time with your friends?”
“Yes, sir, but did something happen?    I heard some men talking
out the street.  They were all talking about war.”
“Sit down, Scotty.  It. . .it isn’t exactly war yet, but unfortunately
I have no doubt it will come.”
“Why? Mr. Lincoln isn’t even President yet.”
“No, but today South Carolina took the first step into making war a
reality.  They voted unanimously to secede from the Union.”
Scott held his breath for a moment before exhaling.  “That’s only one
“Yes but there will be more and barring a miracle, troops will be called out and from there it will take only one spark to set this country aflame.  I. . .I’m afraid, Scotty, for you and all the boys like you.”
“But they wouldn’t want me in the army, I’m too young!” the blond
“Now you are but if it is a long war, who knows what might happen? 
You’re all I have and I’ve seen what a call to the colors can do.”
Scott rose slowly to walk over to the old man.  Carefully, he gave his
grandfather a brief hug.  “It will be all right, Grandfather. 
You’ll see; it will be all right.”
Shifting in the itchy straw of his prison cell, Scott felt the tears
drip down his cheeks.  His grandfather had been right to be afraid. 
By the time of his seventeenth birthday, the country had fought a great
battle at Manassas and SPIN had gone to nurse the soldiers. In the
following years the boy had become a man and just as his grandfather had predicted, the man had joined in the fight for the Union’s soul or at least so it had seemed.
It was then that a horrifying idea struck the young man.  Did his
grandfather know what had happened to Scott or was he grieving for his
lost grandson?   The Union Army had lost so many men in this year of
1864, would anyone have noticed that one lieutenant had been taken
prisoner, not killed?  Surely someone cared about the 83rd?  Despair
overwhelmed the filthy man with the matted blond hair.


Scott’s eyes opened with a reluctant flutter.  The pain in those
red-rimmed orbs was excruciating for just a moment then the burning
sensation lessened as he tried to focus on the figure standing by
him.  The bewhiskered man’s face wavered in front of him as the blond
tried to make his eyes do their job.  “J-Jelly?  Johnny’s present?”
he rasped out despite the dryness of his mouth.

“Sorry, young man, I don’t know who this Jelly is nor Johnny.  My name
is Martin Ferris.  I’m a doctor.  My wife and I have been taking
care of you for over a week.”

“H-how?”  Even that one word seemed to exhaust him.

“A prospector found you and brought you in.  I wasn’t sure you’d make
it, but my wife didn’t agree.  Looks like a stubborn woman can do more
sometimes than the best medical man.”


“My pleasure.  Don’t like losing patients, especially this time of the

“Don’. . .don’ understan’.”

“Young man. . .what is your name anyway?  You didn’t have anything on
you so we didn’t know who to notify.”

“Scott. . .Scott Lancer.”

“Well, Mr. Lancer, you’ve missed Christmas and the day after tomorrow is the beginning of a new year.”

Scott closed his eyes for a moment since the room had started to whirl
about him.

“I want you to have some water then go back to sleep.  It’s going to
be awhile before you recover from your ordeal.  When you wake up
again, my wife has some broth for you.”

“Fa. . .family.  Lancer. . . Morro Coyo.”

“All right.  I’ll see if I can find someone to take word to them. 
Now, you go to sleep.”

Despite the doctor’s order, the blond-haired man couldn’t immediately
lose himself in sleep.  Regrettably, he had missed Johnny’s birthday
and Christmas.  Hopefully, Jelly had remembered where Scott had told
him the presents were that he had purchased for his family.  The
easterner knew that Johnny would be sorely disappointed if he hadn’t
been able to open all of his gifts since the younger man had reminded
Scott at least twice a day about the 23rd.

On January 4, 1871, Scott returned home.  He had survived once again
and that was all that mattered. He would celebrate his birthday at
Lancer next year.
The End

* I know that some writers accept that Scott’s birthday must be in
September, but I prefer to use the 19th for Scott and the 23rd for

* In 1889 Libby Prison, which had been dismantled and shipped to
Chicago, opened as a museum with many Civil War artifacts.  Thousands
of people visited there to see the infamous prison where so many men
lived and died.  In 1899, it was torn down due to lack of interest on
the part of the paying public.  As far as is known, Scott Lancer did
not visit the museum


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