Word Count 882
(Written for Rat-catcher’s Day, July 22, 2007 and posted to the Lancer groups on Yahoo on that day. Revised August 2014 for adding to files of the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook. )
On the twenty-second day of July of 1870, less than three months after arriving at the home of his birth, Johnny Lancer walked into the kitchen. Hearing what sounded like a battle going on in the pantry, he stopped short beside the breakfast table.
Wham. Clatter-bam-tinkle. Crash!
Whop! Whop! Whop!
Johnny gazed at the closed door to the pantry where the noise seemed to be coming from. He cocked his head to one side and called out. “T’ree-suh?”
The noises continued.
Johnny Lancer called out Teresa’s name several more times, hoping she would hear him. He wasn’t about to go into the pantry to get her attention. From the sound of the ruckus in there, he’d be safer facing a dozen guns.
Finally the door swung open, and Teresa came out looking like she’d been caught in a Texas whirlwind–hair a tangled mess and shirttail hanging loose. She leaned against the door casing, her face aflame, and sucked in great wheezing breaths. “What?” she hoarsely asked.
“What were you doing in there?”
Teresa straightened, put her hands on her hips, and spoke between gasps. “I saw . . . a rat.”
Johnny covered a grin with a cupped hand. “A rat?”
Her breathing slowed. “Yes, a rat.”
“So, why didn’t you whack him with the broom?”
“What do you think I . . . was trying to do?”
“Oh . . . missed, huh?” A smile tugged at Johnny’s lips.
Teresa’s eyes narrowed to slits. “No! I didn’t miss.”
“Then what was all the racket about?” Johnny struggled to keep a straight face. It wouldn’t be wise to laugh at her. She’d be taking the broom to him.
“He was hiding.”
Johnny nodded a couple times. “And you had to dig him out.”
“How else was I going to–“
The kitchen door burst open, and Scott strode into the room. He halted beside the cooking island. His tanned cheeks were red and his words also came between gasping breaths. “Has everyone . . . on this ranch . . . gone crazy?”
“I haven’t,” Johnny replied.
“Well, everyone else has!”
Teresa swept stray strands of hair out of her eyes. “What makes you think that?”
Scott almost shouted. “Go out there and see for yourself. Jelly’s tossing everything that isn’t nailed down out of the tack room. Frank and Walt are behind the bunkhouse swatting at the ground with blankets, and it sounds like Cookie’s bouncing pots off the cookhouse walls.”
Johnny chuckled. “You Harvard boys sure don’t know how to count. That’s five out of . . . how many?”
“That is what’s going on right now. This morning, Murdoch quit forging a new shoe for Zanzabar to beat the dirt with a rod. After that, I saw several of the hands stomping around in the corn patch, and an hour ago I heard gun shots when I rode by Maria’s place. Cipriano came out with a shotgun in his hand just as I stopped to see what was going on. He said he was rat hunting.”
“Rat huntin’, huh?” Johnny glanced at Teresa.
She smiled and shrugged. “We have to get rid of them somehow. They’d overrun us if we didn’t.”
“Get rid of what?” Scott’s voice pitched upward and ended in a wheeze.
Scott gaped at Teresa. “You mean everyone is killing rats?”
She nodded. “Uh, huh. The one who gets the most wins a prize.”
“From who?” Johnny scowled. He hadn’t heard of any bounty being paid for rats.
Teresa’s chin jutted upward. “Murdoch, of course.”
Scott cocked his brows. “And how long has our father been doing this?”
She shrugged. “As long as I can remember. According to my father, at one time, you couldn’t go anywhere without stepping on a rat. They were everyplace: in the barn, the bunkhouse, the smokehouse, the cellar. Every room in the house was infested. Murdoch got fed up one day and declared a Rat Catcher’s Day. Everyone was paid a nickel for each dead rat he brought in. Whoever brought in the most that day got a whole week off . . . with pay.”
Scott’s mouth skewed. “Then today is–“
“Rat Catchin’ Day,” Johnny concluded for his brother.
Johnny slapped Scott’s arm. “Come on. Let’s join the fun. Bet I get more rats than you.”
“Not a chance,” Scott replied. Out the door he went on a dead run with Johnny close on his heels.
Thus began an annual contest of wits, skill, and determination between the brothers that carried on until they were feeble, old men. For years, both claimed to be the overall rat-killing champion in the family. The truth of that was anyone’s guess. Neither would admit defeat, and each one always accused the other of taking some of his rats. Murdoch, and later on his grandchildren, said it was quite likely both were padding their count from the other one’s catch, or perhaps both needed a lesson or two in counting.
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