Rating: PG - or T
Genre: family, gen, kidfic, AU, horror
Written: March 2008, 4400 words, 2 chapters
Note: As you can see, I wrote this a few years ago, but I have dusted it off and made some minor edits. I hope you enjoy it!
THE COOKIE MONSTER - CHAPTER 1
"Pa?" Johnny looked up at his father, but when the tall man didn't respond, he tugged at his corduroy jacket to get his attention. "Pa?" Johnny craned his neck to see the faces of the two men who were in the middle of a conversation.
Murdoch Lancer was talking to Slim, a new wrangler, and wasn't paying any attention to his own son. "Paul won't be back until tomorrow, most likely, but I want that holding pen to be secure before dark. Understood?"
His father was using that voice again - the one he used when he was being the Boss. The tone he used when he was mad at his boys was sort of the same, but not quite. That one was gruff, with an underlying tone that gave warning of an impending punishment. Johnny wondered if the ranch hand was going to be whomped with a switch if he didn't do exactly what Pa told him to do.
Slim touched the brim of his battered cowboy hat. "Yessir, Mr. Lancer."
That was when Pa nodded, as if he was done with the man. Johnny knew his father would wait for the job to be completed before showing he was satisfied. Only when the ranch hand walked briskly away to get right on the task, did Pa finally look down at his small son from a great height. "And what do you want, young man?" He sounded mean but he was only fooling, Johnny knew.
"I need a gun, Pa."
His father threw his head back and laughed. But when he saw that Johnny was serious - standing still with a frown on his face, biting his lip - the big man squatted down to talk to him. "You need a gun, do you?"
"Uh huh." Pa scratched his chin, deep in thought. "I've taught you the difference between wanting something and needing it, haven't I, Johnny?"
"So what you mean is you want a gun. Correct?"
Johnny looked at his father, meeting his gaze directly. "No. I need one. Scott has one and-."
"Scott is ten years old, son, and when you're a little older you'll get a squirrel rifle. One just like your brother has." He stood up as if that was the end of the conversation, but Johnny wasn't about to let his father walk away without another try.
He planted his legs wide apart and just about shouted, "I need a gun!" His father's look of displeasure would have made many a man around the ranch quake in his boots, and although Johnny's knees trembled a little, he wasn't about to give an inch.
"Young man, if you don't improve your tone immediately, it's up to bed early, with no supper."
Johnny inhaled and exhaled a few times, looked down at the dusty tips of his little cowboy boots, then peeked up at his father. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, his father said sternly, "You think very carefully about what you're going to say before you speak, son."
Johnny shuffled from one foot to the other, but his father waited patiently. In an exaggeratedly calm tone, Johnny fixed his eyes on those of his father and said, "I. . . need. . . a gun."
This time his father frowned with concern. "You want to tell me why you need one?"
Johnny knew it was going to come to this. He'd have to say something and he wasn't practiced with lying. What's more, he didn't want to lie to anyone. Lying, he knew, was WRONG, and besides, the penalty of being found out would be no supper. Johnny didn't think for one minute that he'd get away with anything but telling the truth, but out here in the daylight, even he would have trouble swallowing the real reason why he needed a gun.
When the little boy didn't speak, but screwed up his face and squirmed around a bit, his father gave him a pat on the back. "Johnny, get inside if you've finished your chores."
"We'll continue this later. I have work to do. You know why?"
Johnny had heard this question many a time before and it had become like a game between him and his father. "Because one day-."
"-one day the ranch will be-."
"-will be one third mine," Johnny finished up. He grinned. He liked it when he shared silly things with his Pa.
"That's right, and if we don't keep our noses to the grindstone, there won't be anything for me to give you and Scott when you're old enough to run this ranch." Murdoch smiled fondly at Johnny, but he soon turned his back on him and made for the barn.
The little boy knew he wouldn't see his father until the next morning. One of the women of the house always put the children to bed. Defeated, Johnny went into the hacienda and headed for the kitchen, dragging his feet most of the way.
The kitchen was a hive of activity, with the two women readying for the return of the men from a cattle drive. They bustled about, giving orders to the two young kitchen girls. One of the girls stirred the stewpot boiling on the stove while Maria, with flour up to her elbows, leaned into the rolling pin to level out some dough.
The other woman, Mrs. O, was busy cutting up meat and vegetables on the table. She smiled at Johnny when he came up to her and asked what she was doing. There were dishes and pots and utensils strewn over every countertop, and from the smell of it, some freshly baked cookies were ready to be removed from the big wall oven.
Scott rushed in, ducking between the two teenaged girls who were carrying jars of fruit from the pantry to the already over-laden table. The blond boy, tall for his age, grabbed a plate of food and accepted a glass of milk from Maria. He said, "Hi squirt," to Johnny and then left just as fast as he'd come in.
Maria shook her head. "That boy studies so much his eyes will be tired long before he's a man." She seemed to be scolding, but Johnny thought she sounded proud of Scott for doing so much studying. Johnny didn't mind reading if the book had pictures in it, but there were plenty of other things to do around the ranch that interested him a lot more than books did. Maria handed Johnny a plate of cookies and pushed him towards a chair. "Sit."
"His eyeballs are gonna fall out." Johnny bit into a gingery cookie and laughed at the image that came to mind of Scott's eyeballs dropping onto his empty plate.
"Don't you speak with your mouth full or you'll choke." Maria warned. "Coma su alimento lentamente. Usted crecerá hasta sea un muchacho grande."
Mrs. O rose and scraped the food she had diced up into a boiling pot, added spices to it, then bustled over to the oven and acted as if she owned the kitchen. Johnny was well aware that Maria considered this her territory, but both the women looked like they were too busy to have any time for bickering today.
"Johnny, come here," Mrs. O ordered.
Johnny grabbed a couple of cookies and shoved them in his pocket; a man never knew when he might need extra supplies.
Mrs. O asked the small boy to fetch some more flour from the pantry then smiled down at him when he returned to her side. Johnny thought her smile was beautiful and he liked her hair, which was the color of gold, just like his Pa had said once when he was stroking it. She used to look sad at times, and Pa always did his best to comfort her. Johnny figured she must be happier these days because Mrs. O had grown as fat as one of Mrs. Baldomero's sows that were kept in a big smelly pen behind the general store. As Mrs. O stirred the pot, she asked Johnny if he had any more chores to do.
"I did them all." She looked skeptical, so Johnny added, "I gave all the horses in the barn hay and helped Señor Cipriano water them and I scrubbed the buckets and I fed the rabbits and I. . ." He couldn't recall the rest so he smiled sweetly. "Trabajo duro, justo como mi papa."
Mrs. O cupped Johnny's chin in her hand, raising his small face so she could inspect it. She frowned a little as if she was weighing him up. "You, my boy, are becoming too much like your mother." Maria made a hushing sound from across the room, but Mrs. O made no sign she'd heard it.
Johnny asked a question he knew would elicit dark looks. It was worth a try, though. "Did you know my Mama?"
"I did indeed," Mrs. O replied. She ignored Maria's protests and waved a hand at her to tell her to keep quiet. "She was a lovely woman, with big brown eyes and long eyelashes that she batted at every rich rancher who passed her by." She smiled in a way that Johnny thought made her look like a weasel baring its teeth, and said softly, "But now she's somewhere far, far better. Somewhere peaceful. Do you know where that is, Johnny?"
There was something in the way the lady looked at him that made Johnny wonder if it was a trick question, but he piped up, "Sure I know where she is." Mrs. O raised her eyebrows and waited expectantly. Johnny smiled widely and said what he knew to be the right answer, because he'd heard Señor Cipriano and another man talking about Mama just the other day. "My Mama, she is in a place called Abrottle." He looked up at Maria and asked, "Is that near here?"
Maria choked and rushed over, demanding, "Where did you hear such a thing, mi niño? You put that right out of your mind." She made a fuss but Johnny couldn't figure out what he'd said wrong. Mrs. O thought it was amusing, Johnny could tell. The sound of her laughter reached his ears as Maria shepherded him out of the warm kitchen, saying it was time for his bath even as she sent dark looks over her shoulder at the blond woman.
Maria tutted as she pushed Johnny along the hall to the scullery with a firm hand on his back. She explained, "Your Mama, she is in Heaven, resting in the arms of God. You remember that, always."
Johnny didn't understand what all the fuss was about and he was confused about where his Mama was, but if Maria said she was in Heaven, then she must be there. Maybe he'd heard Cipriano wrong. Sometimes he really didn't understand grown-ups.
Maria called to the kitchen girls and ordered them to bring some jugs of warm water into the scullery, then she stood Johnny in a washtub and gave him a bath. The older lady hummed as she ran a washcloth down his small brown body, and in no time at all Johnny was enveloped in a fresh towel, scrubbed dry, then hustled up his room to get ready for bed.
They passed Scott's room where Johnny could see his older brother leaning over his desk writing something that looked very important down on a big pad of paper. He wondered if Scott ever had any fun now he was all grown up.
Johnny hated wearing a nightshirt, but as he'd had countless lectures about how he had to wear clothing at night as well as during the day, he put up with the offending garment. He'd carried his clothing upstairs and when he dumped the pants on the floor, he remembered the cookies. Hiding them under his pillow, he figured they might come in handy later on.
Maria did not know how to read, so she tucked Johnny into bed, despite his protestation that it was too early to sleep. After a hug and a warm kiss, she pulled the drapes shut and left him with a "Good night, little one."
Johnny did not want to be left alone, especially with the door closed and no candle alight, but just as he was about to get out of bed and run for the door, Scott came in.
Scott perched on the edge of the big bed and was easily cajoled into reading to his little brother. They had always slept in the same room until the previous week, when Scott's tutor had told Murdoch that the young man needed a room of his own so he could study seriously. Once Scott had finished reading the children's book aloud, he rose from the bed and headed for the door. Johnny didn't want him to go and asked for a glass of water - anything to delay being left alone.
Scott finally insisted he had to leave. "I have to finish one more chapter of my history book before I go to sleep, Johnny. You shut your eyes now."
"I can't. You have to stay with me."
"I have to go back to my own room, Johnny. Just lie back and you'll be asleep in no time."
Johnny sat up and pulled the covers up to his chest. "But. . . you don't understand."
Scott went back to the bed and asked patiently, "Tell me what's the matter, Johnny."
Looking sheepish, Johnny leaned forward and whispered, "There's a monster under my bed."
...*... ...*... ...*...