Word Count 1,586
Murdoch sat on the couch enjoying the scene before him. Scott and Johnny were locked in a fierce game of chess. Teresa sat in her chair beside the fireplace sewing and laughing at them. A deep sense of peace and contentment flowed through him as he watched his family be just that—a family.
The flickering firelight, the warm feeling that had little to do with the flames, and the happy voices lulled him into a relaxation he rarely felt. His eyes drifted shut…
Murdoch jerked awake. Since when did any of his children call him that? He looked into Scott’s eleven year old eyes. Eleven. Where had the time gone?
“You were dreaming, Father,” he said in his serious voice. “And talking in your sleep.”
“Was I?” he smiled an apology.
“Yes, you were, dear,” his wife agreed.
He turned to look at Catherine, part of his mind boggling at the sight of her, and part accepting this reality. “What did I say?”
“I couldn’t make it out. I think it was something about the children.”
The children. He turned back to look at them. Scott had returned to being engrossed in his newest book sent from his grandfather. Teresa sat near the fire, dressing her china doll. Murdoch looked at the blond and brown heads bent over their respective favorite activities. But the black haired head was missing.
“Where’s Johnny?” he asked.
Three pairs of eyes stared at him.
“Who?” Teresa asked. “Papa Murdoch are you still dreaming?”
Murdoch frowned. Dreaming? Was Johnny a dream? He turned to Catherine and… Catherine. If Catherine was alive, then there was no Maria, and… “No!” he exclaimed and jumped up from the couch, hurrying up the stairs to the room across from Scott’s.
He stood in the door and stared at the empty room. There was no rifle in the corner, no saddlebags hanging on the chair. No wrinkles in the bedcover. Nothing to show that anyone lived in it. “No,” he moaned. “Johnny. It can’t be.”
Catherine followed him, frowning in worry. “Murdoch, who is Johnny? And why are you talking to yourself in the guestroom?”
Murdoch faced her with a grief stricken expression. Then something on the nightstand caught his eye. A small blond wooden horse. He picked it up tenderly.
“What is that?” his wife asked. “It looks like the one you carved for Scott when he was little, but his is brown.” She looked at it more carefully. “ I would swear those are teethmarks on it.”
“Yes,” Murdoch smiled in memory. Johnny had chewed…He frowned again.
Suddenly a child’s voice pierced the air. “Papi!! No! Papi!”
Murdoch rushed to the window and pressed his face to the glass just in time to see a buggy drive away in the dark. A small black haired face leaned out the side.
“Papi!!!!” A hand reached out and struck the face before pulling it back in out of view.
No!! Murdock screamed inside. He was desperate to go save his boy in this ever changing reality. But his voice was silent and his feet immobile. All he could do was watch helplessly as the buggy drove through the arch and disappeared, taking his son to the life of horror and deprivation he knew awaited him. “Oh, Johnny,” he moaned. “Maybe it would’ve been better if you were never born…”
He jerked awake, sitting once again on the couch. He looked at Scott.
“You were dreaming, Sir,” he said seriously. “And talking in your sleep.”
“Was I?” He turned to look next to him at the empty couch, wondering for a second why he thought someone should be there. “What did I say?”
Three pairs of eyes stared at him.
Then Johnny got up and walked out of the room and up the stairs. After a moment they heard his bedroom door slam.
Murdoch looked at Scott for an explanation.
“Sir, you said you wished Johnny had never been born.”
“No!” he exclaimed and jumped up off of the couch and hurried upstairs to the room across from Scott’s. He stood in the door and stared at the empty room . The rifle was gone from the corner. The saddlebags were gone from the chair. There was nothing to show that anyone lived in it.
“Murdoch?” Scott followed him into the room.
He faced his son with a worried expression . Then something on the night stand caught his eye. The small blond wooden horse he had carved for Johnny when he was little. It still had the teethmarks on it from…
Suddenly the sound of galloping hooves broke the silence. He rushed to the window and pressed his face to the glass just in time to see Johnny ride under the arch and disappear.
“Murdoch, what is going on?” Scott demanded.
He closed his eyes for a moment, hoping that when he opened them he would be back on the couch and able to undo this nightmare. When he did, however, he was only looking at his reflection in the night darkened window glass. He rushed past Scott. “I have to go after him. I have to find him this time.”
Scott caught his arm. “Try the line shack,” he told his father knowingly.
Murdoch nodded , then practically ran to the barn to saddle his horse.
When he got to the line shack he nearly melted off of his saddle with relief at the light shining from the window and the sight of Barranca in the small leanto. He dismounted and walked up to the door. He hesitated before opening it, wary of startling an upset Johnny. He had a terrible feeling that his son was more in a Madrid frame of mind than Lancer right now. He rapped quietly on the door.
“Johnny?” He didn’t expect an answer and he didn’t get one. He opened the door cautiously and stepped inside.
“Get on your horse and go home, Murdoch,” Johnny’s voice said quietly from a shadowed corner.
“Johnny, son, it was a dream…a bad dream.,” Murdoch pleaded.
“Yeah, well, maybe this is too.”
“What do you mean?” He took a step closer, but Johnny remained in the corner.
“This whole thing. Bein’ a Lancer. Fittin’ in with people like Scott and Teresa. It just don’t seem real sometimes….and I guess maybe you feel that way too.”
“No, Johnny, I don’t . You’re making too much out of a bad dream.” He took another step and was at the small table and chairs . “Please, sit down and listen to me.”
There was a long pause, then Johnny slowly came over and sat on the cot. He pulled his feet up onto the bed, took a breath and looked at his father. “Okay, I’m listening.”
Murdoch sat in the chair and also took a breath. Would this make any sense said out loud? It barely made sense to him. “I remember sitting on the couch watching you and your brother playing chess and thinking how wonderful it was. Just seeing my family being so contented… I must have fallen asleep. And in my dream, Scott and Teresa were just children. And…and Catherine was alive. Right there with me on the couch. But it wasn’t right with only two children. Then I realized that if…” he trailed off, knowing how this was going to sound.
“…that if she was alive, then you wouldn’t have met Mama,” Johnny supplied in a too calm voice. “And I wouldn’t have been born.”
Murdoch nodded. “That’s right. And when I realized that was what was missing, I panicked. I ran up to your room to try and find you. But there was nothing there. Nothing except that little wooden horse. Then I heard…” this time he stopped because his voice broke with the memory of that pitiful cry. “I heard you and your mother leaving. You were crying for me and I couldn’t move, I couldn’t save you…” his voice dropped to a whisper.
“I couldn’t save you from what I knew was going to happen. I guess, in my dream I said what I did, because it was the only way to keep you from being hurt.”
He hadn’t realized his head had slowly been dropping down until he found himself looking at his own boots. He forced his eyes back up to meet his son’s. “I can’t explain the horror I felt when I thought you didn’t exist. And then the horror I felt when I couldn’t help you.” He couldn’t decipher the look on Johnny’s face, but he continued. “I don’t suppose this makes any sense. It was all so real, and yet, wrong. But one thing was true in my dream and true now. I never want to lose you again. I want you here where, yes, you do belong, with me and your brother and Teresa.”
Suddenly Johnny grinned. “It’s okay, old man. You can wake up now.”
“What?” he frowned at the unlikely answer.
He jerked awake and found himself on the couch, with Johnny shaking his shoulder.
“Hey, old man. You’re dreamin and talking in your sleep.”
Murdoch rubbed a tired hand over his face “I don’t even want to know what I said.”
“Couldn’t understand a word of it, but it was distractin Boston here from his game. It makes it too easy to beat him…”
“Beat me!” Scott replied, in a serious voice. “In your dreams, Little Brother! In your dreams.”
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