Word Count 1,657
Warning…Not for dog lovers or the faint of heart!
This little story is too early for Halloween but what can we say, Marilyn inspired us. So Marilyn, this one is for you. Oh, and there is a part in here especially for Amber. You two ladies really should learn to be careful what you wish for, you may get it. *veg*
Scott couldn’t relax, even as he performed his toiletries before dinner the sense of unease he had been experiencing engulfed him, spinning its web tighter and tighter around his chest. An obstruction in his throat choked off his breath and he quickly gulped down a glass of water to ease the grip of the fear. He knew it was fear, though he would have honestly declared himself fearless. He had succumbed to Jelly’s paranoia.
An unidentified terror had gripped Green River and the surrounding ranches. Damn the old coot anyway. Murray was the town drunk but he had successfully managed to single- handedly fill the entire town with his tales of a masked murderer on the loose. Jelly himself had been completely unnerved, declaring it was God’s judgement for the gunhawks and loose women who frequented the tiny town.
It had taken all the Lancer patriarch’s powers of persuasion to convince the old handyman to return to town to pick up the supplies that the ranch was in dire need of. Scott almost smiled in spite of himself as he recalled the grizzled old handyman’s solemn departure. Jelly had resembled a lamb being led to slaughter. Grimly, Scott surveyed his reflection before leaving his room.
As he entered the hallway, he was taken aback by the silence in the huge house. Absent was the familiar clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen, the great room was eerily quiet. No one argued over the daily running of the ranch, or the newest hands, or even the amount of time a certain Lancer spent with the latest herd of wild horses, now securely corralled by the main house.
Johnny’s gaze wandered around the corral, the blue eyes lingering on several mares he recognized as quality horse flesh. Unfortunately, his father hadn’t been as pleased with Lancers latest acquisition, at least he’d not appeared to be. But then at the very same time Johnny had arrived home with the herd, Jelly had been assailing the patriarch’s ears with blood curdling tales of murder.
Johnny had listened incredulously to the older men’s exchange; his father’s struggle to contain his increasing irritation with the older man’s limitless imagination a picture to behold. But Johnny had to admit the stories were chilling, eerily so. The very fact that they were true, although now wildly exaggerated, couldn’t help but make any man a little cautious.
A shiver ran down his back, his sixth sense alerting him to danger and drawing his eyes towards the barn. Hand just inches from his gun he stealthily crept to within in a foot of the door.
“Who’s in…urgh?” Johnny clawed for his gun but it was too late, and he fell open-mouthed to his knees, hands curled around the wooden handle of the projectile now imbedded deep in his chest.
A groan escaped his lips but not from pain, simply from the unfairness of it all. He’d hoped death when it came would not be from the barrel of the gun. He’d lived too long that way, he didn’t want to die that way too…but he’d have readily taken that bullet from a better opponent than be slain by the soulless wretch that stood before him now. With his eyes wide and staring he breathed his last.
Teresa had begged Maria to stay; to help with the evening meal as she always had done but the little Mexican woman had insisted she had to get home to her family. Left standing alone in the huge kitchen, the young girl felt paralyzed, unable to prepare the evening meal, a routine she could have normally achieved in her sleep. The kitchen seemed to be caving in on her as fear brought its walls closer and closer. With a shake of her head at her foolishness, she crossed to the backdoor. Lucky, Johnny’s dog, was always nearby sniffing out the aromas wafting through the kitchen windows and appearing at just the right time to clean up the leftovers.
But this night the dog was no where to be seen. Teresa softly called to him, but his failure to do her bidding and return to his place at the back door further upset Teresa’s all ready precarious hold on her senses.
A small black mound further a few yards away in the garden drew her attention. It seemed to sway in the wind, peaceful and enticing. With a grim set to her jaw, she courageously ventured further from the house, her curiosity driving her onward. Lucky lay where he had fallen, now slumbering deeply, never to awake. As Teresa reached the mound, a scream rose in her throat, one she never had the chance to utter. Heavily, she fell beside the now cold dog, her hand ironically landing on the animal’s back.
”What now?” Murdoch snapped. It had been one interruption after another all day. He’d hardly got anything done on the accounts and supper was barely an hour off. The single loud knock on the door had startled him; no doubt Jelly’s earlier retelling of several nonsensical tales was responsible for that. The tall rancher grinned to himself as he strode to the door, a thought tickling his fairly dry sense of humor //Masked murderers didn’t usually knock on the door.//
The grin faded as he pulled the door open, his eyes widening in shock. Stumbling backwards he found himself unable to look away from the blood dripping from what he had always regarded as a fairly innocuous tool, but the implement had obviously been used for more sinister purposes and his stomach roiled. //Who’s blood was it?//
His gun was out of reach but he had a Derringer in his drawer if he could just get to it. Fate, it seemed, had other ideas and as he turned the searing pain between his shoulders told him it had been a futile attempt. Collapsing to the floor he tried to crawl the rest of the way but his strength drained alarmingly along with his blood. Mere inches away from his goal the patriarch took one last shuddering breath.
Jelly knew he was a little late getting back from town. He had, he supposed, spent a little too much time haggling over the price of a pair of boots. Still, he’d saved himself a few dollars and taught the young whippersnapper behind the counter a thing or two about respecting his elders. And talking about young whippersnappers. Where were that pair of smart alecs? Surely they weren’t expecting him to unload the supply wagon all by himself?
Harrumphing in indignation, Jelly approached the barn, stopping abruptly as his eyes took in the sight of the fallen young Lancer. The scream rose in his throat yet wouldn’t come. Turning on his heels, the handyman raced for the back of the ranch house. He drew up short, his heart thundering loudly at the sight of Teresa and Johnny’s dog. They lay peacefully in death, the girl’s hand draped on the dog’s neck. Gasping, fearing he would suffer heart failure, Jelly ran around to the front of the large house. There was no one in sight, the hacienda and adjacent bunkhouse were eerily quiet.
Reluctantly, Jelly crept toward toward the hacienda, stopping abruptly on reaching the front door. Blood was splattered across the heavy oak structure, and even with his aged eyes the old man couldn’t miss the tiny droplets of the very same crimson hue that sickeningly littered the floor of the porch.
The door was already slightly ajar and with dread rising in his chest the ranch handyman quickly pushed it open, stepping anxiously into the foyer. Scott lay where he had fallen at the bottom of the stairs, yet blood led away from his still warm body toward the great room.
As a man in a trance, fear rendering him unable to think, to feel, he followed the trail of blood as it led towards the patriarch’s desk and a body. Numb with shock the old man could only gaze down at the lifeless form, eyes focusing intently on the three jagged and bloody holes situated in the center of Murdoch Lancer’s back.
Trancelike, Jelly shuffled backwards but a heavy and unfamiliar tread on the stairs brought him to his senses. Slowly he turned around, his heart rate increasing with every second that passed. A tightness spread across his chest and he realized he was holding his breath but what air there was trapped in his lungs escaped in a harrowing scream as a masked, blood drenched figure stepped into view. Somehow his leaden legs carried him out the door but his every step seemed to be through molasses and he knew the vile specter was quickly gaining ground. Too late he realized just how close, and as the cold steel pierced his back, puncturing his heart and filling his lungs with blood he fell, crumpling boneless to the ground, his terror mercifully fading into a black nothingness…but not for long.
Hands were shaking him; a familiar voice was calling him, demanding he wake up.
Forcing wary eyelids open he found himself staring up into a set of concern filled blue eyes.
“Johnny? You ain’t dead?” Jelly’s voice shook as he incredulously stared into the eyes of the youngest Lancer.
“No, I ain’t dead. Are you ok, Jelly? That was some nightmare you were having.”
“Nightmare? It was a nightmare?”
Lethal Lacy & Sinister Seren aka the QOD
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