Word Count 1,973
*A Lancer AR where Scott is six and Johnny is three. Murdoch was successful in bringing Scott home from Boston on his fifth birthday. He had also managed to track down Maria and bring Johnny back home to Lancer.
It was early December, the Cattleman’s Association meeting had finally convened, and none too soon for Murdoch Lancer. He missed his two little sons terribly and was eager to get home to them and celebrate their first Christmas together.
The proud father smiled as he thought about the two of them, different as night and day but thick as thieves.
Scott was a little man, tall for his age, with blond hair and steel-blue eyes, an intelligent child who was at the top of his class in his first year of school. Johnny had coal black hair, stunning blue eyes, and was a compact whirlwind.
Both of his children were usually good, but each had their moments. They had cried, pleaded, pouted and begged to go with him when he left for his trip. Murdoch barely fended off a Johnny tantrum when he mentioned that Santa kept track of who was naughty and who was nice.
Waiting for the stage, Murdoch had several hours to kill in Sacramento. Wanting to pick up a few more toys, and with a bigger and better selection in the city, he decided to explore a toy store near the stage depot.
Stepping inside Hill’s Toy Emporium, he held the door open for a woman laden with brightly wrapped packages. Trading knowing parental glances, Murdoch tipped his hat while she thanked him politely and continued on her way.
Immediately upon entering, the proprietor rushed to greet Murdoch warmly.
“May I help you, sir?”
“Perhaps. I’m in town on business and leaving on the noon stage. I have two young boys, aged 3 and 6 and I’m looking for something I can’t find in our small town. Could you suggest something?
“Well, have you heard of the Elf on the Shelf? It’s a brand-new tradition and flying off of the shelves. We have a hard time keeping them in stock, but you’re lucky; we just received in a new shipment. Let me show you.”
When the proprietor returned momentarily with a brightly colored elf in hand, Murdoch frowned.
“A doll? I have two little boys that would be highly insulted if I brought a doll home!”
“Oh, this is no doll. It’s a fun-filled Christmas tradition that’s captured the hearts of children everywhere who welcome home one of Santa’s Scout Elves each holiday season. The magical Scout Elves help Santa manage his naughty and nice lists by reporting back to him at the North Pole nightly with a little help from Mama or Papa.”
Thinking his children might need a little added incentive to stay on the “Nice” List, Murdoch decided to bring the elf home with him. In addition, he picked up a few more toys that weren’t available in the towns surrounding Lancer.
When the stage pulled into Morro Coyo, Murdoch’s Segundo, Paul O’Brien, was waiting with the wagon. When he spied the armload of brightly wrapped packages in Murdoch’s arms, he gave his boss a knowing look.
“Okay, okay…maybe I’m spoiling them a little but this is the first Christmas we’re all together.
So…were the boys good while I was gone?”
Receiving an inscrutable look from Paul, Murdoch groaned. “Oh no, what did they do?”
“No, they’ve been good for the most part but Johnny had a meltdown right after you left. However, Mia kept them busy baking cookies and the threat of the wooden spoon was enough to guarantee perfect little angels. I kept them busy, as well, helping me out with little chores in the barn.”
Placing the packages under a blanket in the bed of the wagon, Murdoch sighed. “Well, that’s a relief!”
Paul pulled up in front of the hacienda to let Murdoch out and then continued on with the wagon to hide the presents from prying eyes.
Before Murdoch could even step inside the door, he was nearly bowled over by two little tornadoes.
“Papa! What did you bring us?”
“Now, wait a minute…let me catch my breath, rascals!”
Plopping down on the sofa in the Great Room, Murdoch was besieged by a multitude of questions while little Johnny scaled one of his long legs. Successful at his quest, he plopped himself securely in Papa’s lap.
“How was your trip, Papa?”
Murdoch gave Scott his full attention. His firstborn shook hands with his father, tucked his hands behind his back and stood straight and tall like a little soldier. He then proceeded to ask Murdoch about his trip like a little gentleman. Murdoch shook his hand, struggling to hide a smile at Scott’s grownup behavior, then reached out and enveloped him in a hug.
“It was a very good trip, Son. I learned a lot of new information, but I’m glad to be home with my little men.”
“Did you brung me somethin’?” queried Johnny, peering up from Papa’s lap with puppy dog eyes.
“Now you know it is close to both your birthdays and Christmas, so I did not bring you home a toy. I brought you home a new friend instead.
Scott looked dubious and Johnny was wide-eyed in anticipation.
Pulling something out of his pocket, Murdoch showed Scott and Johnny the Elf on the Shelf.
Staring at it in dismay, they both chirped in disgust…”It’s a doll!”
“No, he’s not a doll. He’s an elf who helps Santa out since Santa can’t be everywhere while he’s busy making toys for good little girls and boys. His elves help by watching the children and leave every night to report back to Santa. He will be back in the morning before you wake up.
“Does he have a name?”
“No, you must name him.”
“B’ranca!” crowed Johnny while Scott snorted and rolled his eyes in derision.
“He’s not a horse, Johnny! That’s a dumb name,” scoffed his big brother.
Hoping to head off a Johnny meltdown, Murdoch fixed his elder son with a disapproving look.
“Now, Scott, that’s not nice. If you disagree with the name Johnny picked, you need to come to an understanding.”
Scott looked abashed for a second or two, then pulled Johnny off of Murdoch’s lap and whispered into his ear. Johnny’s eyes grew wide, then shook his head once, twice and, finally agreed with an emphatic nod.
“Okay, Papa. We decided to name him Nick…”
“’Cause of St. Nick’las!”
“That sounds like a very good name, boys. Why don’t we sit Nick on the mantle until bedtime so he can feel like a part of the Lancer family?”
It had been a long day and Murdoch was growing tired. Finally, it was bedtime and Murdoch escorted his boys upstairs. They both shared a room now that Johnny had graduated to a big boy bed. After a story, kisses, and cuddles each went to sleep with Nick keeping watch atop the dresser that separated their beds.
In the coming days, Murdoch was kept busy trying to find different hiding spots for Nick. For the next few weeks, the little boys excitedly looked for Nick’s new hiding place each morning.
He was found in all kinds of places:
- In the cupboard
- Sitting on the model of the ship
- On the bookshelf
- Under Papa’s desk
- Behind the curtains of the French doors
- Sitting on the chessboard
- In the pantry on top of the sugar barrel
- In the chicken coop in one of the hen’s nest.
- Hiding behind a bottle of Glenlivet scotch.
However, the boys’ enthusiasm began to wane before Christmas. It seemed Nick turned out to be a bit of a tattle-tale, reporting on naughty deeds to both Santa and Papa.
One day, the boys had an argument. Scott pushed Johnny down and earned a scolding.
Another day, Johnny scribbled in Scott’s prized storybook and earned a swat on the bottom and a time out in the “naughty” chair.
Then, Scott wandered off to a forbidden area of the ranch and was soon discovered. He was escorted home by Papa, propelled along by a couple of well-aimed swats to the seat of his pants.
Then there was the day Johnny snuck cookies and got horribly sick, which Papa felt was punishment enough.
After a week, Johnny had had enough and began screaming in terror when Murdoch tried to place Nick in the boys’ bedroom. He would have no part of the elf and would snatch Nick up and run into Papa’s bedroom. He then proceeded to hurl the elf into Papa’s bed and run back out. Scott wasn’t afraid of Nick, but he began to resent the busybody elf.
It all came to a head one morning when Murdoch woke to find Nick wasn’t in the spot he left him in and seemed to be nowhere in sight.
At breakfast, he asked his sons if they’d seen Nick that morning
Scott looked at Johnny and Johnny looked at Scott.
Murdoch was suspicious because he knew guilty looks when he saw them.
“Boys, I’ll ask you one more time and remember how I feel about lying…have you seen Nick?”
“Um, well…you see, it’s like this,” hedged Scott.
“He got kilt!” crowed Johnny, interrupting. “We buried him.”
Murdoch nearly choked on his coffee.
Both boys fell silent. Fixing a look at his elder son, Murdoch asked Scott what had happened.
Taking a deep breath, Scott responded.
“Well, you see, we were outside with Nick and Buddy ran up and took him. We chased him and got Nick back, but he was covered with dog slobber and scratches…”
“He was dead,” said Johnny, solemnly.
Buddy was the ranch dog and a pet to the boys. Murdoch knew too well that Buddy could be a sneak thief.
“All right then, boys. Take me to Nick”
Taking him out to the garden, Nick’s grave was pointed out. Digging him up and shaking off the dirt, he turned around and pretended to revive the poor bedraggled elf.
“Papa’s cryin,’ Stott!”
Murdoch had his back to the boys as his shoulders shook, his laughter sounded like weeping. As he turned around, he wiped tears of laughter out of his eyes. His sons were none the wiser and stared up at him with big, round eyes.
“Boys, luckily, Nick wasn’t really dead and I was able to revive him. Can you imagine how upset Santa would have been about this? I’m afraid you boys and Buddy might have ended up with coal and switches in your stockings.”
The boys gasped and two pairs of blue eyes grew wide in horror.
Seeing that they were properly abashed, Murdoch decided to take pity on his boys. Tucking Nick into his pocket, he took each boy by the hand and led them into the house for a talk.
A compromise was finally reached. Nick would continue to sleep with Papa because Johnny still didn’t like him very much. Both boys promised to be better behaved so Nick would stop tattling on them. For the most part, they were able to keep their promises.
Christmas morning came and both boys were relieved to find candy and toys in their stocking instead of coal and switches. They also received several “little-boy” approved gifts from Santa. Buddy even got a ribbon wrapped bone.
And, so it was that Nick went back to the North Pole for another year.
Both Scott and Johnny were happy to wish him farewell and very glad that he wouldn’t come for another visit until Christmas rolled around again next year.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
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