Death’s Letter S by Deb B.

Word Count 1,223

Disclaimer: The characters don’t belong to me, I just borrowed them.

Summary: This story was written in response to the following challenge:
“Write a story of approx 1,000 words (a few hundred either side is okay) with the title “Death’s Letter S”. It can be in any fandom, but not original fic. Use the characters from the fandom without introducing any other (live) original characters.”

Additional Comments: Thanks to Karen for the beta-read and Becky for issuing the challenge.

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The rider slowed his mount to a walk as he approached the main gate to Lancer. The pace had less to do with consideration for the horse, as it had to do with the man’s unwillingness to return home. From the stone archway, he could see the gaily-lit hacienda, lights twinkling in welcome for his brother… his brother who would never see their home again.

Scott Lancer spurred the horse forward. There was no point in prolonging the inevitable. His family deserved to hear the news from him, no matter how painful it would be. His thoughts returned to this morning. How happy they had been.

//”Scott, hurry up and finish your breakfast. You don’t want to be late and not meet the stage. What would Johnny think?”

“Now Teresa, Johnny’s a big boy. I’m sure he’d find something to keep him occupied if he got to Green River before me,” replied Scott reaching for another biscuit.

Murdoch directed a mock glare at his son. “Yes, I’m sure he would. There’s too much to do here for either of you to be lollygaging in town.”

“Besides, I gave him a list of items to get in Silverton. It might interest you to know that several them are needed for your birthday dinner tomorrow,” added Teresa, her hands on her hips.

Grinning, Scott stood up. “Okay, I’m going. Wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of my special dinner.”//

Reaching the courtyard, Scott dismounted. He removed the damp saddlebags before turning the horse over to one of the hands. He could see the question in the man’s eyes, but only shook his head. “Take good care of him. He covered a lot of ground today.”

At the sound of his voice, the French doors were opened and his father appeared.

“About time you got back,” said Murdoch irritably. As Scott approached, Murdoch looked past Scott. Gripping Scott’s shoulder, he demanded, “Where’s Johnny?”

Despite the gruff words, Scott could hear the concern and fear in his father’s question. Gently grasping the old man’s arm, he replied, “Let’s go inside and I’ll tell you what I know.”

It didn’t take long to relate the tragic story. A bridge washed out due to heavy rains. An old stagecoach driver who should have retired years ago. A mangled heap of wood, harness, and horseflesh. A strong current which had so far only allowed the recovery of two lifeless passengers.

“We searched 15 miles down the river. We found a few personal items.” Scott’s voice almost broke as he looked at the saddlebags he was still holding. Made of the finest leather and carrying the Lancer brand, they had been his Christmas gift to Johnny. “Tomorrow, I’ll take a crew and we’ll search again, but I’m afraid….” Unable to continue, Scott walked to the fireplace and leaned his head against the rough stone.

With tears streaming down her face, Teresa turned to her guardian wanting reassurance that everything would be fine. Instead, she saw the defeat in Scott’s stance reflected in the old man’s eyes.

“But there’s still hope. Maybe he was able to get to shore and is out there just waiting for us. It’s possible!” she cried.

A sad smile crossed Murdoch’s face. How he wished he and Scott shared her innocent faith in Johnny’s invincibility. Gathering the sobbing girl into his arms, he murmured comforting words, which he himself didn’t really believe. Tomorrow, it would be his turn to mourn. Tonight, he needed to be strong for his two remaining children.

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The young man, carrying an Indian lance and wondering if his father was very angry, made his way through the darkened kitchen. Entering the great room, he stopped in surprise at the tableau before him. He leaned the spear against the dining room table and made his way to Scott’s side.

Putting his hand on his brother’s back, he softly asked, “Scott, what’s happened?”

At the sound of his brother’s voice, Scott whirled around and stared at the young man in front of him. He blinked several times praying the apparition wouldn’t disappear. Seeing the consternation on Johnny’s face, Scott grinned and pulled him into a bear hug.

At Johnny’s complaint of not being able to breathe, Scott released his brother and watched as his father and Teresa repeated his action. Finally, a bewildered Johnny was able to pull away from his father’s rib crushing embrace.

“Would someone mind telling me what’s going on here?”

Hurriedly, his family explained. Interrupting each other and faltering a little as they described how scared they had been at losing him, Johnny realized anew how much he meant to each of them. Marveling at the feeling of being loved, he almost missed Teresa’s question of how he survived.

“I missed the stage. Had to buy a horse and came home cross country,” replied Johnny.

“Missed the stage! Why?” exclaimed Murdoch. Quickly he added, “I’m relieved you’re safe, but how is it your saddlebags made it onto the stage and you didn’t.”

“A few minutes before the stage pulled out, I remembered I hadn’t gotten Scott’s spears. I knew a little store that had Indian stuff in it so I bought the only one they had,” explained Johnny, pointing to the lance he had propped against the table.

Scott picked up the spear and examined it. “It’s very nice, but what made you think I wanted a spear?”

Confused, Johnny removed Teresa’s list from his pocket. “Teresa added it to the list right before I left.” Turning to the girl, he said, “I’m sorry. Was it supposed to be a surprise for his birthday?”

Teresa took the list from Johnny. Scanning it, she had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. “Johnny! I didn’t write Spears. I wrote 5 pears.” Between the relief over Johnny being safe and the sight of Scott holding the lance, Teresa couldn’t control her merriment any longer.

Abashed at his mistake, Johnny felt his face growing red, but then the humor of the situation hit him and he found himself laughing with Teresa. His father and Scott quickly followed.

After a few minutes, Johnny remarked slyly, “Well, I guess I should be grateful for Teresa’s sloppy handwriting.”

“Sloppy? It’s not my fault you can’t tell a ‘5’ from an ‘S’. Why would you think I wanted you to get Scott a spear? What could he possibly want with it?” responded Teresa teasingly.

Before Johnny could answer, Scott smiled at his family. “While I can’t say I’ve every wanted a spear, this one shall always hold a special place in my heart. After all, it’s not everyday a spear cheats Death by saving a man from drowning.”

The End
March 2003

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