Word Count 1,237
(Note: This story was started in response to the 2008 January Holiday and Observance list. I finally completed it on January 4,2013 and posted it the following day to the Lancer_Writers group on Yahoo. I made some revisions prior to archiving it at the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook in January of 2014.)
Blue sky and an invasion of robins greeted Johnny Lancer as he stepped off the porch and headed for the barn on the fifth of January in 1871. Never had he seen so many birds. They were everywhere.
Scott Lancer caught up to Johnny and waved his hand toward the birds in their path. “They must think it’s spring.”
“What makes you say that?” Other than the number of birds, Johnny saw nothing unusual about them being there.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen robins this early in the year.” Scott motioned toward the barnyard. “Look at them. Have you ever seen this many birds in one place. There must be two or three hundred just between us and the barn.”
Johnny brushed one arm back and forth against his leg. “There sure are a lot of ’em, all right.”
Birds flew out of their path and landed in every direction. Some joined the line on the fence. A group perched on the edge of the barn roof while others took refuge in the trees or chose a place on the ground farther away.
As the brothers approached the barn, the door swung outward and Jelly Hoskins stepped into view. Several birds flew past his head, and he slapped at them with his cap. “Robins,” he muttered. “Don’t know why they all gotta show up at once.”
“Well, you know what they say.” Johnny scratched one ear and gave his brother a sly glance.
“What’s that?” Jelly’s voice had a sharp edge to it.
Johnny raised a gloved hand to his mouth to hide the smile lurking there. “Birds of a feather . . . always flock together.”
Jelly puffed out his chest and scowled at Johnny. “You calling me a bird?”
Scott laid a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Now, Jelly. You know Johnny better than that. However, as my grandfather always said . . . if the shoe fits, wear it.” Laughing, he sidestepped out of Jelly’s reach.
“Think you’re smart, don’t you?” Jelly glared at Scott and then at Johnny. “Well, you two better get movin’ before one o’ them birds builds a nest in your hair.”
“Yeah, well.” Johnny flashed a grin and gripped the strings to his hat with one hand so it couldn’t fall off when he had to move fast. “If you don’t get out o’ sight, them birds are gunna think that beard of yours is a nest.”
Before Jelly could get out more than a sputter, Johnny dodged past him and into the barn.
Scott followed close on Johnny’s heels. “You’re living dangerously, Brother. You know that, don’t you?”
Johnny kept on grinning. “No more’n you. Besides, what’s he gunna do?”
“I don’t know, but you can bet he’ll think of something.”
Johnny snorted and opened Barranca’s stall door. “I ain’t afraid of Jelly.”
Scott went into the next stall over. “I’m just saying that he’ll be looking for a way to get even.”
“And I’m saying, there ain’t nothin’ he could do that’d have me worried.”
The brothers saddled their horses in silence. A few minutes later, Johnny led Barranca out through the side door of the barn. Scott was right behind him.
A bobbing black and red carpet covered the ground. Barranca snorted. When the birds refused to move more than a few inches, he reared.
“Easy now.” Johnny tugged on the reins. “It’s just a bunch o’ itty-bitty robins.”
Scott’s horse, Chico, crowded against Johnny and blew in his ear.
Johnny glanced back at his brother. “Can you keep him back before he walks on me?”
“I’m trying.” Scott dodged the dancing horse’s hooves. “Why don’t these birds want to move? They weren’t like this a few minutes ago.”
A snicker came from somewhere off to the right. Johnny looked and saw Jelly peering between the rails of the corral.
Johnny glared at the man. “What’d you do?”
“Who . . . me?”
“Yes . . . you.” Johnny continued to glare. “These birds weren’t this tame when we came over here from the house.”
Jelly stretched upward and looked between the next higher set of rails. “Maybe, they just like horses.”
“Or . . . maybe, they like chicken feed,” Scott said.
Johnny turned toward his brother. “Chicken feed?”
“Yes. Chicken feed.” Scott motioned to a bare patch of dirt beside Johnny’s foot. “If you look close, you can see it.”
Johnny gazed at the ground. Sure enough, he could see bits of cracked corn and other grain here and there. He looked back at Jelly. “What’d you feed ’em for? You know Murdoch wanted us to check on the bulls and be back here in an hour. How are we s’posed to do that if we can’t get our horses away from the barn?”
“Tell him it’s a holiday.”
“A holiday!” Scott’s voice hitched upward. “And just what holiday would that be?”
Jelly snickered. “Bird Day. What else would it be?”
Johnny let out snort. “There ain’t no such holiday.”
“There is now,” Jelly replied and disappeared back inside the corral.
Scott pushed Chico back and moved to Johnny’s side. “Holiday or not, Murdoch’s not going to go for it.”
“I know.” Johnny skewed his mouth and tried to think what to do.
Scott rubbed his chin. “You know, if we could spook these birds without frightening our horses, we could be on our way.”
A thought popped into Johnny’s head. He grinned and pulled out his gun.
“What do plan to do with that?” Scott asked.
“Have me a bird day.” Johnny grinned. “Wanna help?”
Scott smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Bang! Bang! Bang, bang, bang!
Twelve shots sent feathers flying every-which-way. When the robins had scattered, Johnny led Barranca around the edge of the corral and mounted. Scott soon joined him. In no time, they were on their way.
Years later, Johnny Lancer smiled at his grandchildren: one on his lap, one leaning against his knee, and two more sitting on the floor at his feet. “And that is how the Lancer ranch came to celebrate Bird Day on the fifth of every January.”
“Is it really, Grampa?” Scott Lancer’s youngest granddaughter asked from her perch near his elbow on the arm of the sofa.
Scott nodded. “Absolutely.”
“But you don’t really kill the birds, do you?” Johnny’s five-year-old grandson peered up at him–brown eyes filled with worry.
Johnny shook his head. “No. We just give ’em a good scare. Make a lot o’ noise is all.”
Scott’s eldest grandson rolled onto his stomach in front of the fireplace and scowled. “Why don’t you shoot ’em for real? They’re just a nuisance, aren’t they?”
“Robins? A nuisance?” Johnny shook his head. “Nah. They only hang around a few days and they’re gone.”
“B’sides, our grammas’d have their hide if they hurted ’em.” The little girl on Johnny’s lap gazed up at him with big, blue eyes. “Huh?”
“You’re absolutely right,” Scott said. “And that is why we call it Bird Day.”
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