Dia de los Muertos by S.

Word count: 3,824

Scott Lancer shivered under the quilt that covered his bed.  His grandfather had sent the quilt to him just the week before with a simple note that said that his grandson might find it of use.   Scott recognized it immediately.  It was the quilt his mother had made when she was seventeen.  It had been intended for her to take with her when she married and left for a new home thus the familiar pattern of interlocking rings.  Unfortunately, the quilt had never made the trip to California and had stayed on her parents’ bed until Harlan Garrett had sent it to his grandson.  The quilt was still in excellent condition after years of use and in the young man’s imagination, he could almost see the blond-haired young woman wrapping herself in it during one of Boston ‘s cold winters.

Shivering again, Scott sat up in bed.  During the past week the weather had turned chilly with overnight frosts as well as snow up in the mountains which surrounded Lancer.  After all, in just a few weeks it would be Thanksgiving so it wasn’t surprising that the intense heat of summer was gone.    The crispness of fall made it easier to work outside, but Scott still hadn’t become used to getting up to a cold dawn.  The memories of a chilly reveille while with the 83rd had quickly faded upon his return to Boston at war’s end.

In fact, Harlan Garrett had made a point of seeing that Scott stayed in bed for the much needed rest and recuperation from his year’s imprisonment at Libby Prison.  As his health had improved, Scott had found the forced rest to be tedious, but had recognized his good fortune that he would be able to resume his life.  So many soldiers had never survived to do so.

As he pulled the soft quilt up around his ears once, he stopped to listen.  The door to the outside had closed.  A tingling whisper moved down his spine.  Had someone come in or gone out?

Moving silently on bare feet, he grabbed his gun from its holster.  Fortunately, he had started wearing long johns to bed at the first hint of cold so he could safely walk out into the great room without offending anyone—especially Teresa if it should be her although why his father’s ward would be opening the wooden door he couldn’t imagine.

The young man peered out then jumped when the clock began to chime the hour of 4 A.M.   Hurrying to the outside door, he opened it slightly as he heard the sound of hoof beats.  Glancing out, he could see a gleam of gold in the light of the full moon—Barranca with Johnny astride the broad back.  Where could Johnny be going on this cold November morning?

Hesitating only for a fraction of a second, Scott rushed back to his room, threw on some clothes and a jacket and headed to the stable.  With practiced ease, his bay was soon saddled and he was on his way.

Emerging from under the great gate, Scott hesitated for a moment, but then turned north.  Johnny had quite a lead on him, but he could see the gleam of wetness where iron horseshoes had trampled the frosty ground.  As long as he could follow, it would be to his advantage not to close in on his brother.  It was not likely that Johnny would appreciate being spied upon in his nocturnal journey.

The sound of Waterloo’s hooves pounding across the range filled the night air.  Hopefully, they would be lost to Johnny’s ears in the echo of Barranca’s thundering steps.

Scott slowed his pace when a cloud covered the moon.  It would do little good to stumble in an unseen hole.  As it was, in the darkness and shadows, familiar ground seemed as alien as the shining luminescence in the sky.  By the time the man in the moon once again cast his countenance on the older Lancer son, Scott was in no doubt about where his younger brother was heading.

The blond had discovered the old Traveler’s Rest Cemetery some months before while searching for missing cattle.  Long abandoned as a resting ground by people who had moved farther west, the cemetery held the remains of those who had crossed the prairies and mountains with the dream of finding a golden land, but who had met death instead.    Most of the crude headstones were now virtually unreadable while weeds and grass had grown up around the graves.  Scott had spent some time trying to clean up the area, but he knew that it was more than a one man job, but on a ranch like Lancer, time and man power was in short supply for anything other than ranching.  To his chagrin the old cemetery had slipped from his mind until now when he saw Barranca halted just outside the broken gate.

In the darkness Scott could see the compact figure of his brother silently moving about.  For one instant the tall blond almost rode away before he could be discovered, but that thought fled when the moon reappeared from behind the bank of clouds.  In that almost dazzling light he could see that Johnny had flowers in his arms and was distributing them on the graves.  Puzzled by the young man’s actions, Scott climbed off his horse to pull open the battered gate.  The screeching of rusted hinges caused the former gunfighter to swivel around, drop the flowers and draw his gun.  As soon as he saw the slender man standing there, he lowered the gun and returned to his task.  Over his shoulder he threw a taunt at his sibling, “Damn fool stunt, you bein’ out here.”

“I might say the same about you, brother.”

Johnny gave a snort of contempt.  “Why don’t you get back up on your horse and go back to Lancer.  Didn’t even know you easterners knew there was a time of the day before dawn.”

Scott gave the remark a slight chuckle before answering, “Oh we know it exists, we’re just not stupid enough to be up and about then.  Leave that up to you westerners!”

Having finished with the flowers, Johnny turned slowly to face the other man.  “And yet here you are.  Mind tellin’ me why?”

“I heard you leave the house.  I was. . .concerned.”

“Well, I’m done with what I came to do so why don’t we go back?”  The dark-haired man shivered.  “Could use a cup of hot coffee.”  Johnny pushed past his brother, heading for Barranca.  “You comin’ or you plannin’ to bed down here the rest of the night?”

Scott glanced around the small graveyard.  “Doesn’t look too comfortable.  S’pect I’d prefer to go back with you.”


On that note Johnny climbed into the saddle and headed back to Lancer.  Scott soon caught up to him, but said nothing more to his brother until they were safely in the kitchen of the white hacienda.  It didn’t take long for the pot of coffee to heat and was ready to be poured into two mugs.  Handing one to Johnny, Scott sat down at the table, pushed back slightly so his lean frame was more relaxed and waited.

“Thought you’d want to go back to bed.”

“Not until you tell me why you were out there at this time of the morning.”

Johnny’s handsome face took on a sulky look, but he carefully averted his eyes from the penetrating gaze of the cerulean eyes.  “Nothin’ much to it.  Found that graveyard coupla weeks ago.  Just thought it’d be nice if someone put out some flowers, that’s all.”

“Johnny, how stupid do you think I am?”

“Never. . .never said you were stupid.  Read all those books, haven’t you?”

Scott tried hard to keep the smile off his face, but it lingered in his eyes.  “Johnny, don’t try that with me.  I’ve only known you for seven months, but you don’t believe that book learning is the only thing that makes a man intelligent.”

The dark-haired man sighed and shifted in his chair.  “All right so maybe I had a reason. . . do you know what day this is?”

“Wednesday, November 2, 1870.  Why?”

“In Mexico November 2nd is el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.”

Scott’s eyes narrowed.  “I think I’ve heard of it, but, well, you’ve never seemed to be very religious.”

Johnny snorted.  “You’ve got that right, Boston .  Used to go to church with my mother, but after she died I made a deal with God.  I wouldn’t bother Him if He wouldn’t bother me.   ‘Sides the Day of the Dead goes back long before Christianity.”

Scott got up to pour himself another cup of coffee.  This was a side of his brother that he had never contemplated.  “So why would you get up at 4 A.M. if you don’t even believe in that sort of thing?”

Johnny shrugged his shoulders.  “Don’t know for sure.  Just felt I should remember my mother.  Been thinkin’ ’bout her some ever since Teresa told me that stuff about what happened between her and Murdoch.   Just don’t know what to think anymore.”

“I can understand that.  Coming here has opened up my eyes some too.  I’m not sure I’ll ever understand Murdoch, but nothing’s going to change the past.  Have to make do with what’s here and now.”

“Yeah.  Mebbe Murdoch’s tellin’ the truth and mebbe he’s only tellin’ it the way he likes to remember it.  Whatever it is, she was my mother ‘n I’m not gonna forget her.”

Scott smiled at his brother.  “Glad to hear that.  It’s important not to forget people you care about.  Just wish I’d had had a chance to know my mother.  All I have is what my grandfather told me and a painting.”

“That’s one of the reasons people in Mexico remember this day.  I remember my mother telling about it when she was young.  They would go to the cemetery and have a celebration of the lives of those they loved.  She said she always wore a pretty dress and they’d take flowers and have a picnic.  ‘Course it was different when we were on our own.  She never seemed to have the time for celebrating, too busy trying to keep food in our mouths.”

“Must have been difficult for her.  I wonder why the two of you didn’t go back to her family?”

Johnny’s head sank down to his chest.  “She told me they didn’t like it that she had married outside the Church and, well, she. . .she had a protector or two.  Guess they thought livin’ in sin made her untouchable.   Priests wouldn’t even let me bury her on holy ground.  Had to take her out to someplace outside town.  Found a private spot.  Probably couldn’t even find it now.”

“I. . .I’m sorry, Johnny.” Scott wanted to say more, but what was there to say?

“Doesn’t matter now.  Dead is dead, but she deserved better than to be buried under a scraggly tree near some dusty town.  Least now that’s not gonna happen to me.  Gonna make sure I’m buried on my third of this ranch if I ever figure out which part that is.”  Johnny cracked a grin at his brother.  He didn’t like talking like this.

“So what else do they do to celebrate?  Is that the right word?”

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be a happy time, not wailing and mourning, but I stayed away from all of it after my mother died.  Just couldn’t see anything happy ’bout losin’ the only person I knew for sure loved me.”  The sapphire-eyed man hesitated.  “You know I remember one year she bought me this little skull made out of sugar as a present.  Didn’t eat it for a long time.  Just looked at it, imagining how good it must taste, but I knew that once it was gone I wasn’t likely to have more.  Must be why I have such a sweet tooth now.”

“Johnny, next year on the 2nd would you. . . .?”  Scott stopped.  The idea which had just popped into his head struck him as extremely selfish in the face of Johnny’s memories.

“Would I what?”

“Nothing.  Just talking without thinking.”

“Not the first time, but I guess I do it too once in awhile. Go ahead, tell me.”

“Well, would you want to ride with me over to Cartersville where my mother is buried?  We could put flowers out and remember both our mothers.”

Johnny’s mouth dropped open.  He had never thought about where Catherine Lancer was buried.  “Wonder why Murdoch never brought her back to the ranch?”

This time it was Scott’s turn to drop his eyes.  “I don’t know.  I once mentioned it, but he, well, he seemed to be disturbed that I’d ask so I never did it again.  I. . .I don’t like thinking of her out there all alone though.”

“Then let’s not wait until next year.  We can ride over there whenever you want.  We’ll just tell our partner that we need some time off!”  An impish grin covered the dark face.

“Guess we could, couldn’t we? The two of us together outvote him!”

That brought about smiles on both handsome faces.

“Seriously though, Boston , I’d be proud to remember your mother too.”

“Thanks.  Maybe Maria can help us out.  She probably knows about those candy things you mentioned and whatever else we need.”

“Good idea.  I had to raid the last of Teresa’s flowers to get enough for today.  Think it’s supposed to be cempazuchilies or some like that, but if your mother was like mine, she liked any type of flower.  Can remember her going out to pick wildflowers to brighten up the room.”

Their reverie was abruptly broken when the tall figure of Murdoch Lancer appeared in the doorway.  “What are you two doing up so early?  I usually have to yell to get the two of you out of bed!”

Johnny snorted with indignation.  “What do you mean?  Last Sunday you barely made it to church on time!  Teresa had to get Scott and me to haul you to the table!”

The rancher flushed slightly.  “That’s only because I returned late from the Henderson ‘s.  Normally, I’m the first one up.  And anyway you two are thirty years younger than me, you should be full of energy.  When I was your age, I was building up this ranch and. . . .”

“Cup of coffee, Murdoch?”  Scott offered with an innocent look on his face.

Murdoch gave his older son a questioning look, but took the mug of coffee and sat down. “Lots to do today.  Johnny, I want you out on the north range.  There have been reports of cattle downed by a cat.  Maybe you can find some tracks.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Scott, I need you to work on the books.  There’s a discrepancy in the accounts for October and it could cause us serious problems.”

Scott could barely conceal his groan.  The books, always the books.

“Any questions?”

Johnny took to his feet.  “I’ll get on it right away.”


Heading out the door to the kitchen, Johnny stopped for a moment, “See you later, Scott, and thanks.”

The blond merely nodded his head at his brother.  As soon as the door to the outside closed, Scott spoke up, “Murdoch, we need to talk.  We also need Teresa’s help.”

“My help for what?”  The young woman’s sleepy voice startled both men.  “I was just coming out to start the biscuits and coffee.  What are you doing up?”

“Just the person I need to see.”  With all the confidence of a military commander talking to his subordinates before a great battle, Scott outlined his plans for the coming day.

Just after noon on that chilly Wednesday, Scott Lancer finally located his brother out on the north range.  He had hunted for him in several places, but without success.

As soon as Johnny heard saw the man approaching on the bay, he rose from the crouched position he held.  The tracks he had found were not the ones he had been seeking.

When Scott dismounted to stand by his brother, Johnny nudged him in the ribs.  “You playin’ truant, Boston ?  Thought Murdoch wouldn’t let you get away from the books.”

“He tried to chain me to them, but I outsmarted him.”

“Whooee, how’d you do that?”

“Just a little eastern know-how, brother.”  The blond tapped his head for emphasis.

“So what are you doin’ out here then?”

“He needs you to do something and I volunteered to come out here to tell you.  Mount up, we’ve got some riding to do.”

“Aw, Scott, I was just about to stop ‘n eat somethin’.  Didn’t have breakfast.  Cipriano gave me some pan de muerto his wife made and I was just about to eat it.”

“Johnny, I just need you to come with me for a few minutes.  Then I promise you can go eat.”

Grumbling, the dark-haired man hauled himself up onto Barranca’s back to follow the other man.  The ride took longer than Johnny had assumed and his stomach was on the edge of revolt.  It was just then that the two brothers rode over the rise so that Johnny could see their destination.  Just outside the Traveler’s Rest Cemetery was a buckboard with Murdoch and Teresa sitting on the driving seat.  As soon as the two young men halted by the buckboard, Teresa got down to put out a blanket.

Glancing from Murdoch to Scott, Johnny immediately inquired, “What’s all this?”

In his deep voice, Murdoch told his son, “I understand that today is something special in your mother’s country.  I. . .we thought it would be nice to celebrate together.  That is if you would care to join our picnic.  Maria prepared some of your favorites and there are some special sweet treats.”

The aromas of the dishes reached the nose of the hungry man who jumped down from his horse and began to fill a plate.

Murdoch winked at Scott.  “I assume that means his answer is yes.”

“Looks like.”

Since Johnny wasn’t the only hungry individual, words were delayed until everyone had full plates and were able to relax.   “Hmm, Maria has outdone herself with this meal although I do have to say that one dish was too hot for me.”

Johnny chortled at his brother’s discomfort.  “Guess you easterners have tender insides.”

“You know what they say, Johnny, weak stomach, smart head!”  Scott winked at both Teresa and Murdoch.

Bewildered for an instant, Johnny demanded, “They don’t say that, do they?”  He turned to Teresa then Murdoch who gave him amused looks.

“I don’t know about that Johnny, but it’s time to see who finds the clay skeleton in the bread that Maria baked.  I have a small loaf for each of us, but only one has the figure in it,” Teresa added.

Scott carefully examined the small loaf formed in the shape of a bone.  “Uh, thanks, Teresa.”  He took a tentative bite then consumed the rest of the bread.  No skeleton.

Neither Murdoch nor Teresa had the good fortune to find one in theirs either so it was with confidence that Johnny bit into his.  As his tongue wrapped around the smile skeleton, he smiled with pleasure, whispering, “Guess it’s good I didn’t swallow it.  Don’t need a bellyache.”

Rising to his feet, Murdoch stretched his long frame, “Well, I suspect it’s time for Teresa and me to return to the house.  Still have work to do,” avowed the tall Scot.

“I’ll go back with you, sir.  It’s time I started on the books.”

“Uh, they’ll still be there tomorrow, Scott.  Why don’t you stay out here with Johnny for awhile?  Two sets of eyes might find those tracks sooner.”

“Be glad to.  After all, I think Johnny might need glasses.”

“What?” the sapphire-eyed man protested.

“You must because I distinctly saw one of those chocolate treats still in the bowl and if you missed that you must need glasses.”

Johnny quickly popped the chocolate candy in his mouth and then demanded, “What chocolate are you referring to, brother?”

While Scott helped Teresa pack up the dishes and silverware, Murdoch pulled Johnny over to the side.  Hesitating, the big man licked his lips and then in a low voice told his son, “Johnny, I just want you to know that no matter what differences your mother and I might have had, I know she loved you so I understand that you need to remember her.”

Speechless for a second, Johnny just replied, “Thanks.  She was all I had for a good part of my life.”

A look of regret flickered briefly in Murdoch’s eyes, but he only nodded before helping Teresa into the buckboard.  As they drove off, the rancher called out, “See you two later and don’t be late for dinner.  I plan to whip both of you at checkers tonight!”

Scott grinned at Johnny.  “You’re playing him first!”

“Coward!” was his sibling’s reply.

Flapping his arms, Scott ran around in a circle going, “Cluck, cluck!”

Laughter spilled forth from the dark-haired man, only to be echoed by his fair-haired brother.   “Guess we got into the spirit of celebration after all, didn’t we?”

Johnny sobered then grinned.  “Right you are and I appreciate you getting Teresa and Murdoch to come out here.”

“I just figured if it meant so much to you, it would mean something to them.”

“Thanks anyway.  Haven’t had much to laugh about on this day in the past few years.”

Walking towards Waterloo , Scott called back over his shoulder, “Better get on the trail of that cat.  Gets dark early this time of year.”

When there was no answer, Scott turned to see that his brother was once again inside the fence of the graveyard.  In fact, he was kneeling by a grave with a very small headstone, the kind that might be used for a child.  Not wanting to intrude, Scott hesitated but then decided to stand behind his brother.  To his surprise Johnny had placed a small wooden cross midst the flowers.


Deliberately the younger man kept his back to the blond behind him.  In a breathy voice filled with emotion, Johnny asked, “When you were growin’ up, did you ever think ’bout havin’ a sister or brother?”

“Sure.  Wanted a brother to play with.  Now I’ve got you.”

Johnny chuckled softly.  “Never thought I’d have one of them dandies for a brother either.”

With a gentle admonishment, Scott protested.  “More to me than clothes, brother.”

“I. . .I know and I’m glad we finally got to know each other.  Now there’s somebody in my life who can help me track a cat—and loan me money on a Saturday night.”




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