Word Count 2,295
Note: This short story was inspired by Napping Day from the list of 2013 March Holidays and Observances. Prior to archiving at the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook, I made a few revisions to the wording. Other than that, this is the same as what I originally posted to the Lancer groups on Yahoo two years ago.
It was well into the second week of March of 1873. Sunlight streamed through the open set of double doors and brightened a strip of the pile of loose hay inside the barn. Scott Lancer pulled his gaze from the inviting scene and focused on his brother who was standing beside him in the barnyard corral. “We can’t.”
“You sure?” The expression on Johnny Lancer’s face held the innocence of a child.
Scott rolled his eyes and blew out a puff of air. “Johnny, it’s already the eleventh. You know Murdoch’s due home tomorrow. We haven’t replaced the missing shingles on the barn or completed anything else we were supposed to have done this week.” He pointed to the where the crown of the western hills met the sky not much over a mile away. “Haven’t you noticed those black clouds brewing over there? It’ll be raining within an hour. And you want to take a nap?” He slowly shook his head. Sometimes his brother didn’t make any sense at all.
Johnny grinned. “Then, uh, you don’t think it’s a good day for it?”
Scott sighed. If only one word could be used to describe his brother, persistent would have to be it.
“Well, do you or don’t you?” Johnny sounded impatient.
Scott folded one arm over the other. “It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good day for a nap. It’s that we don’t have time for one . . . unless you want to explain to Murdoch why we didn’t finish even one of the jobs he put on that list.”
Johnny tilted his head and looked upward. “We could tell him . . . somethin’ come up.” He lowered his gaze and grinned at Scott again.
Scott felt an urge to wipe the exasperating smile from his brother’s face. “Like what! A fishing trip on Tuesday, a trip to town on Wednesday, a checker and chess tournament on Thursday, another fishing trip on Friday, and . . . oh, by the way, we were so tired from all of that work that we had to spend Saturday catching up on our sleep?” He stared at his brother for a moment. “Now do you really think he’s going to buy that?”
The grin faded and Johnny shrugged. “Not in those exact words, no. We’ll have to add a little here and there.”
“Add a little?” Scott shook his head. “Johnny, we would have to add considerably more than a little! We would have to change our story completely if we want to convince him we had a legitimate reason for shirking our duties.”
“We didn’t shirk nothin’.” Johnny picked at the cuff of his faded red shirt. “We just had . . . somethin’ more urgent to do.”
“Urgent?” Scott laughed. “You call fishing and playing games, urgent?”
Another grin lit up Johnny’s face. “They must’ve been.”
Scott scowled. “And what makes you say that?”
Johnny shrugged. “If they hadn’t been, you would’ve made sure we did all that other stuff first.”
“Me?” Scott’s voice pitched upward. “You’re putting the blame on me?”
The exasperating grin returned. “You’re the older brother, aren’t you? Murdoch did leave you in charge . . . if I remember right.”
“Indeed he did.” Scott smiled as he nodded. “Thank you for reminding me. Since I am in charge, I’m ordering you to get up there and get started on the roof.” He pointed upward at the top of the barn.
Johnny’s brows pinched together. “What are you going to do?”
“See if I can come up with a valid explanation for why everything else isn’t done.”
The furrows in Johnny’s forehead deepened. “And just how are you planning to do that?”
“By dreaming, that’s how.”
“Dreaming?” Johnny continued to scowl.
Scott nodded. “Yes, dreaming. It’s the only way I know of to come up with a story wild enough to satisfy Murdoch that we did our utmost best to comply with his orders.”
“Utmost best, huh?” Johnny rubbed the back of his neck. “Whatever that means, don’t you think you could do some of that dreamin’ while you helped me on the roof?”
“I’ll be right inside on that pile of hay.” Scott took a step toward the open doorway of the barn. “It’ll take you a while to set up a ladder and get the shingles, nails, and hammers up on the roof. If I have this figured out by then, I’ll come out and help.”
Johnny’s grumblings followed Scott as far as the inside of the barn. Then there was silence.
Scott settled onto the bed of loose hay and closed his eyes. What were they going to tell their father? He considered several different options, but none of them seemed satisfactory.
There was a thump against the outer wall of the barn. Then something scraped on the roof. Scott figured it was Johnny getting the supplies into place.
Bang. Bang. Thump.
That didn’t sound good. Scott jumped up and ran outside. He darted around the corner of the barn and came to an abrupt stop beside his brother.
Johnny lay on his side, his body sandwiched between the ground and a broken ladder.
Fear clutched at Scott’s chest. He dropped to his knees, tossed the ladder to one side, and leaned closer to his brother. “Johnny?”
“Where are you hurt?” Scott held his breath, fearing the answer.
“My back . . . and my leg.” Johnny sounded like he was in pain.
Scott’s heart raced. “Can you sit up?”
“I can try.” Johnny moaned pitifully as he slowly got propped up on one elbow.
“Take your time.” Scott gently laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Does anything feel like it’s broken?”
Johnny shook his head. “No. Don’t think so, but I might need help getting’ up.”
Scott slipped his hands under his brother’s arms and helped him sit upright. Then he slid his hands far enough to clasp them against Johnny’s chest. “Bend your knees. As I lift, try to lean forward and straighten your legs.”
Johnny moaned and groaned as Scott pulled upward until they were both on their feet and standing with Johnny’s weight on one foot and his body leaning back against Scott.
Scott frowned. This was not what they needed. “Can you walk at all?” He hoped so. It would be a long walk to the house if he had to carry Johnny all the way.
“I think so . . . if you’ll let me lean on you. Not sure I can put my weight on this one leg.”
Scott didn’t like hearing that and wondered how long his brother would be laid up. This wasn’t the time to worry about that. He shifted around to where he could get under one of Johnny’s arms and support him.
Johnny hobbled a couple of steps and stopped. “Can you help me to that pile of hay in the barn? Don’t think I can make it to the house.”
“It hurts that bad?” Scott felt a stab of fear. What if Johnny had broken a bone?
Johnny grunted something that sounded like an “uh, huh.”
Scott moved toward the barn doorway with Johnny hopping along beside him on one foot. Once they were inside and Johnny was settled on the hay, Scott stood looking down on him. Which leg was he favoring: the one that was against the ground or the one the ladder had landed on?
Johnny’s soft voice pulled Scott from his thoughts. “Hadn’t you better go fix the roof?”
Scott stood there in silence a moment longer. This was not what he had had in mind at all, but it didn’t look like he had a choice. “I suppose,” he muttered. Then he went looking for another ladder.
The only ladder Scott found was much too short. He inspected the broken one to see if he could fix it. He couldn’t.
Scott gazed up at the roof. Now what? He scowled and looked down at the ladder. Something about the way it was broken didn’t quite seem right. Johnny wouldn’t . . . would he?
A coiled rope hanging over a post in the corral fence caught Scott’s eye and an idea took shape. Could he get away with it? Would Murdoch buy it? Johnny wouldn’t dare protest as long as it gave them a pat alibi.
The more he thought about it, the better the plan looked. Scott retrieved the rope. He formed a loop, swung it overhead, and flung it up onto the roof. Then he gave it a jerk and quickly backed away from the building.
Scraping sounds were joined clunks and rattles as shingles, hammers, and the keg of nails slid down the roof and over the edge. There was a brief silence and then thumps and a crash announced their landing.
Scott grabbed up handfuls of dirt and rubbed his face and clothes. That should do it. He walked around the corner of the barn and limped through the open doorway.
Johnny looked up as Scott approached the pile of hay. “What happened?”
“I guess it just isn’t our day.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Scott groaned as he eased down beside his brother on the hay. “I was attacked.”
“Attacked.” Johnny grinned and let out a laugh. “By what? Jelly’s goose?”
Scott laced his fingers. He slid his hands over his head and down to the back of his neck, and then looked over at Johnny. “No. By a handful of shingles, two hammers, a full keg of nails, one brother, and a broken ladder.”
Johnny’s brows shot upward. “All that and a brother, too?”
“Yes. On Tuesday morning.” Scott gave his brother a knowing glance. “I figure we should be sufficiently recovered to clean up the mess behind the barn by say . . . about the time Murdoch gets home tomorrow.”
“Tuesday, huh?” Johnny rolled his eyes. “How do we explain that trip to town on Wednesday?”
Scott shrugged. “Maybe no one will mention having seen us there.”
“And if they do?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.” Scott closed his eyes. “For now, I’m taking a nap and I fully expect our legs to be sufficiently healed for us to walk to the house once I’m ready to get up.”
Scott heard a yawn followed by his brother’s voice. “You’re the boss. Wake me when you’re ready.”
An accusing voice in Scott’s head tried to make him feel guilty for plotting to deceive their father. He ignored it. He and Johnny had worked hard all winter long with no time to call their own other than an occasional Saturday evening and alternating Sundays. Murdoch had promised them some time off once spring arrived. They had merely taken it a few days early. What was he going to do if he did find out the truth? Fire them?
Slowly, Scott turned his thoughts to things of a more pleasant nature. He smiled. Johnny had the right idea. Everybody ought to have one day a year just for taking a nap.
Murdoch Lancer leaned his head back against the broad trunk of an oak tree and closed his eyes. His hand rested lightly on the fishing pole that lay across his lap. If a fish happened to take his line, he would know it. Not that he really cared whether he caught anything or not. He mostly wanted to take a nap now that he was sure that the hint of clouds to the far south appeared content to stay there.
Visions of his sons brought a smile. Murdoch wondered if they had completed any of the tasks he had put on his list of things for them to do. Hadn’t Jelly warned him that the mice were bound to play while the cats were away? Well, he didn’t care. Let them play all they wanted. They had worked hard without complaining the past few months. He would have given them the time off if they hadn’t been teasing him about getting old a few days before his trip.
Murdoch’s smile broadened. What sort of excuses would he hear about their unfinished chores? According to what the Addison’s had told him in Sacramento the day before, his sons had been in Green River all day on Wednesday and had been heard bragging about the big fish they had caught the day before that. Maybe he should just play dumb and let it go unless Aggie or Buck ever brought it up in front of Scott and Johnny. Then he could have a little fun at his sons’ expense for a change.
Ah. Now there was a satisfying thought. Almost as satisfying as taking an entire day to nap in the sun—something he had wanted to do for some time. Tomorrow it would be back to the grind. He had to meet up with Jelly and Teresa at Cross Creek Station at noon to give them a ride home. They would be full of questions, of that he could be sure.
Murdoch yawned and relaxed. That was tomorrow. Today was napping day. He wasn’t about to let any intruding thoughts spoil his bliss. Who knew when he would get another opportunity to do absolutely nothing but sleep for an entire day?
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