The First Annual Green River Trick Or Treat by Vicki L. Nelson

 2nd in Small(er) Matters Series

With Thanks to my Beta, Raian

Word count: 2,560 words

Murdoch Lancer trudged down the main street of Green River through the gloaming with two very overtired little boys. Both sons had December birthdays when Scott would turn six and Johnny three.   

“Papa, I’m tired,” came a whiny little voice to his left.  

Murdoch turned to his youngest who was wearing an adorable pout with his arms up in the universal ‘Carry me’ sign known to young children. “Johnny, we’re almost to the carriage. Can’t you be a big boy and walk?” 

Big tears welled up in the toddler’s eyes and his bottom lip quivered. “No, I been walking foevah! I’m tired. I wanna go home!” Sighing, Murdoch gave in as he knew this was a battle he wasn’t going to win. Stooping down, he picked the solid little boy up in one arm while towing his eldest boy along by his hand. 

Not to be outdone, Scott made the same protest. “Papa, I’m tired too. Pick me up?” 

“Scott, you’re a big boy and we’re almost to the carriage. I’m already carrying your brother; I can’t carry you, too.” 

Tears welled up in Scott’s eyes and he sat down in the middle of the street and refused to go any further. 

“It’s not fair! Johnny always gets his way! You love him more than me!” A meltdown was imminent and Scott’s wailing and whining was like fingernails on a chalkboard to his father’s ears. 

Drawing a deep breath, Murdoch tried to remain patient. Both his children were cranky, overtired and loaded up with sugary treats of all kinds. Looking down at Scott, Murdoch wished he could wring the necks of the Cattlemen’s Association and Green River Business Association members who thought Trick-Or-Treat was a good idea.


It all began a few months ago. Both associations had decided to try an experiment, hoping to replace Mischief Night, also known as Devil’s Night, with a new Halloween tradition to alleviate the damage done by local youth on the last day of October. Murdoch could agree with the idea, in theory, but he wasn’t keen on the idea for his two young sons. However, said young sons had heard about the new event from other children on the rancho whose papas were allowing them to Trick-Or-Treat in Green River on the 31st of October.. Reluctantly, he gave in to two sets of pleading blue eyes. 

“Yay,” crowed Johnny, dancing around and swinging his arms wildly, nearly connecting with his brother’s jaw. 

“Watch it, Johnny. You almost hit me!” groused Scott who soon got over his pique and gave in to the excitement as well. “We have to wear costumes. Mia said she’d make one for Johnny and me. She thought Johnny should be a little devil.” 

Great typecasting, thought Murdoch. “Does Johnny want to be a devil?” 

“Yup, me wanna be a devil with horns and a tail and a pitchfolk,” crowed Johnny. Turning to Scott, Murdoch said “What did Mia think you should be?” 

“Well, she thinks I should be an angel since Johnny’s going to be a devil.” 

Murdoch did his best to hide a smile behind his hand. Scott, being three years older than Johnny and of a less choleric temperament, would make a better angel. Not that Scott was always angelic. He had his moments of deviltry, too. “Do you want to be an angel?” 

Scott pondered the question. “Well, not at first because I thought it was kinda sissy but Mia’s gonna make me wings with lots of white feathers and a golden halo.” 

“Swat has to be an angel ‘cause I’m a devil,” demanded Johnny. 

“My name is Scott, not Swat! You know that, so stop it, Johnny, or I’ll swat you,” proclaimed Scott with the stamp of a foot. He then made to push Johnny down but caught the glowering look his father gave him. 

“If anyone’s handing out swats, it will be me! And, if there’s any more of that kind of behavior, we’re staying home!”

Scott’s eyes grew wide and he was properly cowed. Johnny, however, not liking the threat of his Halloween fun being curtailed, let out a bellow that could be heard for miles around. “Dat’s not fair! Scott was being bad, not me! I wanna go Trick-Or-Treat!” Loud sobs shook the little boy’s body. 

“I’m sorry, Papa! I didn’t mean it!” The little blond was also close to tears. 

“It’s not me you need to apologize to, young man.” Murdoch looked down his nose at his older boy. 

Scott truly felt bad about making Johnny cry and about missing all the fun in town. Putting an arm around his little brother’s shoulders, he said, “I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t mean to make you cry and miss all the fun.” 

Johnny sniffed and wiped his runny nose across his sleeve, bringing a look of disgust to Scott’s face. He wisely held back his criticism. 

Murdoch relented and gave his sons a weary, but benevolent sigh. “Thank you, Scott, for your apology. Please try to be patient. Johnny sometimes mispronounces your name. He’s still very little and he doesn’t mean anything by it.” 

Scott harrumphed, “Okay, I’ll try.” 

“That’s okay, Swat,” giggled Johnny. “I fohgive you!” Murdoch knew Johnny was perfectly capable of pronouncing Scott’s name correctly so now he was just baiting his big brother. Scott gave a perfect imitation of his father’s glower, let out a deep sigh, and clamped his lips together. 

Lowering his voice so only Scott could hear, Murdoch said. “I’m proud of you, Scott. You’re a good big brother.” Scott smiled; it always made him happy when he’d earned his father’s praise. Murdoch also knew Johnny could pronounce Scott’s name correctly, but mispronounced it on purpose to bait his big brother. 

“Time for bed, boys.” This usually brought on howls of protestation and pleading for a little more time. Tonight, however, both boys went straight to bed without a peep, anxious to put a foot right and be allowed to go to Green River for the first Halloween celebration.

Shortly after both boys were asleep, Murdoch retired to the Great Room, poured himself a Glenlivet and sat down on the couch. He still wasn’t sure about this “Trick Or Treat” thing but he was willing to give it a try.

Murdoch had been born in Scotland and raised in the Church of Scotland faith. There wasn’t a lot of frolic and frivolity growing up. Sundays were meant to be spent in the Kirk and the Lord’s Day was strictly observed. Children weren’t allowed to play but had to sit quietly, reading Bible stories until the sun set on the Sabbath. Little girls usually stitched on their samplers. Children were to be seen, not heard. Murdoch would not tolerate disobedience, but he wanted his children to enjoy their all too short childhoods. 

When Murdoch married Catherine, Scott’s mother, she had been raised an Episcopalian and a proper Boston Brahmin. However, both Murdoch and his young bride had to convert to Catholicism in order to be able to purchase land for their rancho in California and their firstborn would be raised in the Catholic faith. To say Harlan was apoplectic about this state of affairs was putting it mildly. Tragically, Catherine died shortly after giving birth to Scott. To Murdoch’s everlasting sorrow, Catherine never saw her baby being baptized, much less the chance to know him. 

After a period of mourning, Murdoch felt he needed a wife and Scott needed a mother. As a result, Johnny was born several years later than Scott and was baptized in the Catholic Church as Maria was a Catholic. “Some Catholic, some mother,” scoffed Murdoch in disgust, taking a huge swig of scotch. She had run off with a gambler before Johnny turned two and tried to take Johnny with her. Fortunately, her plans were thwarted and Johnny was brought back to Lancer and his big brother. Maria had loved her son, but was lacking as a stepmother to Scott. She wasn’t mean to him; just didn’t pay much attention to him. Luckily their cook/housekeeper, Maria or Mia as she was dubbed by the boys, was a great substitute Mamacita. She loved those little boys with every fiber of her being and Murdoch thanked God every day for the blessing that was Mia.


The big day soon arrived and Murdoch had to admit that his two boys made an adorable pair of saint and sinner. Angel Scott wore a long white gown with feathered angel wings attached and a gleaming gold halo around his blond tresses. He carried a golden harp he could actually strum. He seemed inordinately proud of the costume Mia had made him. 

Johnny was equally proud of his costume. He wore a short red satin cape over his clothes, replete with horns, short tail and pitchfork. Squealing in delight, he raced around and around his father and brother until he had finally tired himself out and quieted down. 

Soon, it was time to leave for Green River and Murdoch’s Segundo, Paul O’Brien, came along to conduct some business in town as well as to help ride herd on the two Lancer boys. 

Green River was decked out with Jack-O-Lanterns, scarecrows, witches, ghosts, black cats and all manner of supernatural beings. The boys’ eyes were wide as saucers and even the adults were impressed. Mayor Higgs gave his usual long-winded speech, welcoming everyone to Green River’s first annual Halloween celebration. He did cut it short when he found out he was losing his audience of young children who were eager to get started on the fun. Truth be told, he had also begun to lose the attention of the adults, as well. “Big windbag,” Murdoch mumbled out of the side of his mouth to Paul. 

Paul threw back his head and laughed. “Careful, Murdoch. Little pitchers have big ears.” Murdoch stole a glance at his sons who hadn’t heard him. They were practically shaking with excitement, anticipating the imminent fun to be had. 

They began with the activities taking place in the park close to the business area. There was bobbing for apples, taffy pulling, cider and hot chocolate, mildly spooky stories being told, along with a costume contest for all the little ghosts and goblins. To his surprise and delight, both Scott and Johnny won for their age groups. 

“Careful, Murdoch,” crowed Paul. “You’re about to burst your buttons and put someone’s eye out!” 

“I’m thinking how proud Mia will be when she finds out, since she worked so hard on their costumes. They are rather cute, though, aren’t they?” 

“Not that you’re biased or anything,” chuckled Paul. “Say, I’m going to run some errands while the businesses are staying open late. Can you handle the Terror Twins by yourself for a little while?” 

“My children are little angels, I’ll have you know. You won’t be long, though, right? We should be heading home soon.” 

“Not long, Murdoch, but you’re forgetting one thing.” 

“Like what?” 

“Like Trick or Treating at the town businesses after the festivities have ended.” 

Murdoch groaned. “Do you think I could get away with taking them home and forgoing the trick or treating?” 

Walking away, Paul looked back over his shoulder. “You can try.” 

Just then the boys ran up to their father, brandishing their First Place ribbons high in the air. “Look, Papa, look!”

  “I see; Mia will be so proud so be sure to thank her.” 

“We will,” chirped the boys, swiveling their heads around to take in all the excitement. 

“Well, boys. Looks like the fun is winding down here. How about we head back home once Paul gets back?” By the look and howls of protestation emitted from his youngsters, one would think Murdoch had suggested killing the Easter Bunny! 

Costumed tykes were welcomed at all the local businesses who were handing out sugary treats, along with fliers for the accompanying adults. 

Murdoch sighed: this was a battle he would not win. “All right, but just for a little while. If I hear any screaming, fighting or whining, we go straight home!” 

“Yes, Papa,” they parroted back. Murdoch could tell by their wide eyes and rapidly swiveling heads, they weren’t listening. “Scott. Johnny. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you understand me.” 

The little boys reluctantly dragged their eyes away from all the excitement in town, looked their father straight in the eye and chirped, “Yes, Papa!” 

Murdoch sighed and took them both by the hand and walked them down to the business district where costumed tykes darted to-and-fro, screaming “Trick or Treat!” Murdoch kept a tight grip on his children’s hands so they wouldn’t or couldn’t get away from him. Business owners were handing out sugary treats. Widow Hargis handed out homemade popcorn balls, the saloon handed out licorice sticks, Andresen’s General Store handed out peppermint and horehound candies, Mayor Higgs handed out chocolate bars and the banker handed out bright shiny new pennies. Murdoch did his best to limit their sugary treats, but as soon as he took his eye off one boy, said child would shove a treat into his mouth while attention was focused on his brother. 

They both were tired, cranky and hopped up on sugar which led to the brothers’ very public demonstration when they returned to the Lancer carriage. 

Scott, usually very mature for his age, was throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the street, and Murdoch was sorely tempted to haul him to his feet and give him a very public paddling. However, with Johnny asleep on his shoulder, a cooler head prevailed. Murdoch looked down at his big little boy and took pity on him. He was a sorry sight if he ever saw one, sitting in the middle of the street, tear tracks making muddy streaks down his grubby, not to mention sticky, face. His once pristine gown was stained and dirty. His halo had slipped over one eye, his wings had molted, and his golden harp was lost a long time ago. Murdoch sometimes forgot how young Scott really was as he was quite mature for his age. Murdoch pondered his options. Johnny was fast asleep, sticky drool collecting in the crook of Murdoch’s neck. He couldn’t put his toddler down, or carry Scott or make Scott walk.

Just then, his Segundo stepped out behind Murdoch and swept up Scott, who let out a startled squeak. 

“Come on, St. Pete. Let’s get you home.” 

“Not St. Pete; I’m an angel,” grumbled the little boy. 

“A fallen angel, more likely,” muttered Murdoch. Scott was sound asleep on Paul’s shoulder or the literal tyke would have protested. 

Walking to the carriage, little boys in arms, Murdoch said, “I’m telling you, Paul, have a little girl when the time comes; they’re less trouble. Or better yet, get a dog. They don’t answer back!”  

“You get what the good Lord gives you, Murdoch. You wouldn’t trade these two boys for all the tea in China.” 

“Hmm, true.” 

“There’s another celebration tomorrow, Murdoch. The Días de la Muerte celebration at Lancer. It should be a little more sedate than today’s First Annual Green River Halloween Festival.”

“Bite your tongue, Paul. First and last festival, if I have my say! As for tomorrow’s fiesta at Lancer, I have two words for you: Sugar skulls!”

.

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~end~

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Notes

I have used quite a bit of “poetic license” in the writing of this story and have included the historically accurate. 

The Spanish and Mexican governments made many concessions and land grants in Alta California (now known as California) and Baja California from 1785 to 1846. The Spanish Concessions of land were made to retired soldiers as inducement for them to remain in the frontier. These Concessions reverted to the Spanish crown upon the death of the recipient. The Mexican government later encouraged settlement by issuing much larger land grants to both native-born and naturalized Mexican citizens. The grants were usually two or more square leagues, or 35 square kilometres (14 sq mi) in size. Unlike Spanish Concessions, Mexican land grants provided permanent, unencumbered ownership rights. Most ranchos granted by Mexico were located along the California coast around San Francisco Bay, inland along the Sacramento River, and within the San Joaquin Valley. 

All Hallows’ Eve falls on 31st October each year, and is the day before All Hallow’s Day, also known as All Saint’s Day in the Christian calendar. The name derives from the Old English ‘hallowed’ meaning holy or sanctified and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Halloween. 

Trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930’s, with the first U.S. appearance of the term in 1932, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. 

Mischief Night is an informal holiday on which children, teenagers and adults engage in jokes, pranks, vandalism and/or parties. It is known by a variety of names including Devil’s Night, Gate Night, Goosey Night, Moving Night, Cabbage Night and Mat Night Note: An older Scott and Johnny participate in such an event in my Small Matters series. The story is titled “Mischief Night.” 

Swiss chocolate Daniel Peter is generally credited for adding dried milk powder to chocolate to create milk chocolate in 1876. But it wasn’t until several years later that he worked with his friend Henri Nestle and they created the Nestle Company and brought milk chocolate to the mass market. 

The Scottish Reformation was the process by which Scotland broke with the Papacy and developed a predominantly Calvinist national Kirk (church), which was strongly Presbyterian in its outlook. It was part of the wider European Protestant Reformation that took place from the Sixteenth Century. 

The Boston Brahmins or Boston elite are members of Boston’s traditional upper class. Descendants of the earliest English colonists are typically considered to be the most representative of the Boston Brahmins. They are considered White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS.) Most belonged to the Unitarian or Episcopal churches, although some were Congregationalists or Methodists.

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