Genre: family, gen, adventure
14 chapters, 34,000 words, Written in April 2009
Synopsis: The Lancer brothers do a good deed and find themselves stuck in a snowy, hostile location.
Note: I'm adding some of my stories here at FF, those I wrote many years ago. I'm not going over them thoroughly as I know I would feel compelled to re-write them. So here is another of my early tales, about the Lancer brothers. I appreciate comments, even after all this time, so please review!
Johnny removed his hat for the umpteenth time and shook off the snow that had accumulated on its brim. After shoving it back on his head, he pulled his thick wool scarf up over his nose and mouth and exhaled damply into the fibers. It was so cold that his hands ached, but he gave his horse a light kick with his heels to encourage him to plow through the drifting snow that blocked the narrow road. Once he was moving, Johnny looked back to see if his brother was doing okay but was alarmed to see that Scott was slumped over the saddle. He quickly turned his horse and rode back to Scott's side.
As soon as Johnny's gloved hand touched Scott's arm, the blond man's head jerked up. Looking at Johnny through bleary eyes, Scott made a feeble attempt at a smile. He croaked out, "I'm fine," but then teetered to one side.
"Hey, hey!" Johnny reached out and steadied his brother before he fell off his horse.
Scott's eyes flew open. He blindly reached for Johnny's shoulder, righted himself in the saddle then shuddered. "I'm. . .so c…cold. I think I caught something. . .the grippe."
"Damn it! I knew we shouldn't have made that delivery to High Pass. We shoulda just kept on goin' and we'd have been back home by now." Johnny tore off his glove and felt Scott's forehead. It felt hot, but what with his fingers being so cold anything would feel warm in comparison. "Just hang on and we'll find shelter."
Scott nodded but his desultory glance around and the wide-open expanse of nothing but the stark whiteness that surrounded them showed he wasn't too hopeful. He wore his hat low on his forehead and had a long knitted muffler wound around his face, which provided some protection from the cold. He squinted against the icy snowflakes that felt like needles as they hit his cheeks and nose. "Small flakes, big storm," he mumbled.
Johnny tipped his head back to look at the snow falling steadily from the slate gray sky. His muffler slipped down and a clump of snowflakes landed on his lips. It was indeed coming down in small flakes and had already coated the brim of his hat once again. He sniffed and swiped the back of his gloved hand across his nose before pulling his muffler back up to protect his lower face. "C'mon, we can't sit here any longer or they won't dig us out 'til Spring." He took hold of Scott's horse's reins and led the reluctant animal through the snowdrift that blocked the trail. Every now and then he looked over his shoulder to check on Scott, but it looked like his brother was holding his own. . . for now.
They had been told it wouldn't snow so early, and even if it did, it would surely be only a dusting. So much for expert advice, Johnny thought bitterly.
It was getting dark even though Johnny was sure it wasn't much after noon. The open terrain soon gave way to woods. What had been a wide road narrowed into a trail that ran straight between the pale gray trees on fairly level ground. Within a short time the woods became so thick Johnny couldn't see more than a few feet on either side and at some points the snow-laden branches hung low over the riders. As they progressed there were more pines, crowding them so close Johnny's arms brushed against the dark green boughs, dislodging clumps of chill snow that spilled onto his legs.
The thick forest offered some protection from the wind, but Johnny was heartily tired of the snow that was being driven into their faces and down his neck. He didn't like having cold feet or a runny nose, either. Hell, he didn't like anything about this situation and he yearned for some hot sun and green grass under his feet. He wondered if he'd ever be warm again.
After a while, when the wind picked up, Johnny stopped to pick the impacted snow out of the horses' hooves. He then untied his bedroll and wrapped the blanket and ground sheet around the shoulders of his shivering brother.
"Johnny, I don't know how far. . ."
With a tug Johnny adjusted the waterproof tarp until it shrouded Scott's head as well as his shoulders and fastened the edges together with fumbling fingers. "You'll be fine." He gave a confident smile, but Scott wasn't fooled. They both knew they had to find somewhere to wait out the storm if they were going to survive. Johnny remounted and said, "Just tell me if you're gonna fall off the horse so I can catch you."
"I'll try to give you a warning next time. Look, we could go back," Scott suggested in a lifeless voice.
Johnny looked back the way they had come but there was nothing to be seen but the white-out of the blizzard. "No, it's too far," he said brusquely. "The storm's coming up behind us and we'd never make it." The thought of turning back had crossed his mind, but Johnny knew in his gut the odds weren't good. He might make it on his own, but in his worsening condition, Scott would not. He had to get him somewhere warm and dry. And fast. There was no way Johnny wanted to camp out on the trail, and even if he could rig up a shelter, it wouldn't afford enough protection for a sick man.
"It's my fault. . ." Scott leaned forward and coughed, but recovered. "I shouldn't have told O'Dwyer we'd be good Samaritans."
"Well, next time one of your old friends asks you to deliver some medical supplies to an outpost, we'll know better."
"We should have made a beeline for home as soon as we finished Murdoch's business," agreed Scott.
"Maybe," agreed Johnny. In truth, when he had met Scott's friend Dr. O'Dwyer for the first time, back in the little town of Mount Corey, he had liked the personable young man a lot. It was the doctor's first practice and although O'Dwyer assured the Lancers he liked the growing mountain town he had settled in, it was still far away from everyone back East. He had welcomed the Lancer brothers like the family he was missing. They'd had a good time together, laughed over a dinner and enjoyed playing cards at the man's home. The brothers were pleased to repay the Doc by doing what had seemed, at the time, to be a simple favor.
"Just take these two boxes to High Pass," O'Dwyer had said. "They really should have the serum on hand in case the influenza that's been around spreads out their way."
The Doc expected to give the Lancer boys a dose of the serum before they left, but Scott said how he'd heard that the side effects could be as bad as the disease, and Johnny had backed away with hands raised. "You ain't stickin' any needles in me, Doc. Not in Scott, either. We'll be fine." Nothing the Doc said would make them change their minds.
And so the boys had agreed to take the serum to the mountain town of High Pass. After all, it wasn't too far out of their way and the good weather looked like it would hold for a while. It was a warm autumn and the scenery along the way was breathtaking, Scott pointed out. A ride along the high country would be a nice change. It was when they got to their destination that they discovered that the isolated town had already been struck by the disease. The Lancers made the delivery to the town's overworked barber and left hurriedly.
Ten miles along the road home they saw a storm was coming up behind them, the temperature dropped, and Scott swore that he could smell snow in the air. They were lucky enough to come upon a small mining camp shortly thereafter, and bought heavy coats and some extra gear from one of its well-equipped residents.
"I guess we should thank Teresa for packing extra socks in our saddle bags," Johnny had said, meaning it as he pulled the second pair over the ones he already wore. Scott paid for heavy coats and mufflers and some food to take along.
When they set out from the mining town the brothers were confident they could reach Mariposa, situated halfway down the mountain range, in a couple of days if they took the fastest trail down the pass. Then it would be on towards home - an easy ride along the valley. It seemed like a good plan . . . until it started to snow. Now they were stuck on the snowy side of the mountain range and could only go forward.
Johnny knew there was no point in second-guessing their choice to deliver the supplies, so he pulled up the collar of his heavy sheepskin coat, picked up the reins of Scott's horse and they surged ahead.
~ • ~
They were out in the open once more. The snow was falling so heavily that Johnny couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him. He kicked himself for not making a stand back in the pine forest, even though it might have been the death of his brother. But now, under worsening conditions, with the wind howling at their backs, they were surely both going to perish. Frozen, with his feet blocks of ice in his boots, Johnny turned to check on his brother. It took him a second to realize that the saddle was empty and Scott was gone.
Johnny's heart jumped and in a flash he was off his horse and running, stumbling back along their trail, feeling around, scanning the snowdrifts for any sign of his brother. "Scott! Scott!" The wind stole his voice away, but he continued to call out his brother's name at the top of his lungs. It seemed like an hour, but only a few minutes later Johnny spotted Scott, unmoving, his body already covered with a layer of snow.