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Delay by Jennifer B.

Word Count 2,112

A Halloween Story

Johnny Madrid knew he was hallucinating. He’d awoken in his small prison cell to find a strangely-dressed young man. The man had short blond hair and blue eyes but wore clothing the gunfighter had never seen before: his shirt had short sleeves, was open at the neck and sported a collar, but had no buttons. And what was that design on the chest? An man on a horse with some kind of a stick in the air? What was with that?

His pants were different, too. He recognized them as denim jeans, but they were worn to a faded blue and the material sort of gathered around his ankles, as if they were too long and he’d not been able to get them altered. 

And those shoes! He’d never seen anything like them. They had laces, but were in a strange color combination—grey and blue—and they seemed to be made of some kind of cloth and what was that other material? It kind of shined. They looked comfortable, though, and like the man wearing them could run quite a ways in them.

The young man kneeled onto the dirt floor, shuddering at the rats and roaches, but grimly determined. He looked Johnny straight in the eye.

“I know what you’re thinking,” the strange man began, “But don’t. Don’t think at all. Just do as I say tomorrow and you’ll be all right. You’ve got to trust me.”

Johnny could not find his voice. He didn’t even react.

“Tomorrow, you will be taken to the firing squad. Delay, Johnny Madrid, as much as possible. If you delay enough you will be saved. Please do this!” 

Johnny tried to speak, but the man was gone even before the words came out. He shook his head to clear it.


Johnny was unable to sleep after his midnight visitor. He tried to fathom it all. Finally, he came to the conclusion that the man hadn’t been real at all, just a dream, a nightmare. He lay still, hoping for either dawn or sleep, hearing the scampering of the rats and roaches and whatever else occupied his cell.

Dawn broke and Johnny’s day began. It was the same thing. The same infested gruel shoved under the bars, the same loud banging as the guards made their rounds. The only thing different was his nighttime vision. He couldn’t get it out of his head.

Finally around two in the afternoon something changed. A guard came to his cell and unlocked it. He shoved Johnny to the ground and tied his hands behind his back. “Today you die, Madrid,” the guard laughed. He shoved Johnny out of the prison and into the bright sun.

Kneeling alone, Johnny gazed at his captors as they formed the line for the firing squad.  Once in place, it would begin. Johnny Madrid would breath his last. He didn’t know whether to pray or curse but he didn’t have time to make up his mind. In just a few seconds they took their place in line and he was jerked to his feet. The capitan was smiling as he raised his sword.

“Viva la—” was all Johnny got out before the report of rifles stilled his voice. Forever.

The capitan laughed and the men from the firing squad sauntered to the body. They dragged the former gunfighter to a pre-dug ditch and tossed the remains of the once-feared man into the shallow gully. At that moment, a wagon roared over a rise. A man in a suit shouted “Wait!” He thundered to the scene.

“Johnny Madrid?” The man asked.

“In the ditch, señor. Dead. Just this moment.” He laughed. 


Scott Lancer sighed. It had been a challenging month, his first days at Lancer. He’d come at his father’s offer and did what he could to save the ranch from Day Pardee. Their plan had worked, but at a high price. Lancer lost many of its men, including the brave Cipriano and the patron, Murdoch Lancer himself. His father had been shot during the last battle when Pardee’s men attacked from all sides of the hacienda. Scott had known him for all of four weeks.

The ranch was his. Teresa was still there and she helped, but it would be a struggle, he knew, to continue the legacy his father had began without the older man’s guidance.

Everyone had attended the funeral. Even Harlan Garrett arrived for the event. He tried to convince Scott to return to Boston, but the blond was determined. If this land meant so much to Murdoch Lancer to die for it, then he could at least give it his best effort.

And he had. It had not been easy, but he made friends in the valley and kept Lancer going for as long as possible. In the end, he’d had to sell, but he was proud of his efforts. 

Scott had married a San Franciscan girl and raised five children, the first two had been born at Lancer. 

His youngest granddaughter, fifteen-year-old Darlene, was interested in all the old stories and was writing a book, she said. It was at her request that he sat in their Boston garden today, reliving those first days.

He told her of the epic final battle where her grandfather died, and of finding evidence of a brother in his father’s papers after his death, but the young man had died at the hands of a firing squad before his arrival at Lancer. He’d never known the man.


“You have a great legacy,” Darlene Lancer Evans told her and her brother’s grand-children. “Your great-grandfather Scott went out to California and against great odds, fought for Lancer.” She told them the old stories, about their great-great-grandfather’s death, about the great-uncle they’d never known, and of Scott’s work at the ranch. 

Lancer continued for some ten years but in the end, it was too much for Scott. He sold out to neighbors and returned to Boston, bringing his family with him.

“Tell me more about the gunfighter,” John Lancer asked. He was her brother’s youngest and quite the scientist. Only sixteen, he’d already won awards at MIT for his efforts in the realm of physics.

Darlene laughed. “You know the story, John. I’ve been telling you about him since you were five.”

John shrugged. “I want to hear it again.


Johnny Madrid awoke with a start, sweating profusely in the stifling Mexican summer night. A strange man was there, dressed in the oddest clothes. Some shirt with a man on a horse holding a stick on it and the weirdest shoes he’d ever seen. 

“What?” was all he could say.

“I know what you’re thinking,” the stranger said. “Just listen to me. Trust me. Tomorrow will be the firing squad. Delay. Do whatever it takes to stay alive just a few minutes longer. Please.” Then he disappeared.

Johnny could not get back to sleep, disturbed by his midnight visitor. He finally chalked it up to the rotten food in this place. He’d had a number of sleepless nights due to stomach ailments; this had to be another manifestation of one.

The next day progressed as usual. Johnny ate the same infested gruel, heard the same loud banging of the guards’ weapons on the bars, but around two in the afternoon, he was roused, roughly, and brought outside. The capitan smiled evilly as he ordered his men to form a firing squad. Johnny was shoved on the ground until the men came into line. 

At the proper time, someone jerked him up and pushed him aside. Johnny looked up at the sky, trying to decide if he should curse God or pray to Him when he heard the order. “Viva la—” was all he got out before his body was ripped to pieces from the rifle shells.


“It didn’t work,” John Lancer frowned. “I’ve gone back to the right night, the right place, several times now and it doesn’t work. Madrid still dies.”

“Maybe it’s just not to be,” his sister Kim said. “You know the old stories, Madrid died before our ancestor Scott Lancer even came to the ranch. Just because you’ve solved the question of time-travel, John, doesn’t mean you should go back and try to change the past. What if it’s your future that changes? What then?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got to try. I know how things work for Scott Lancer and Gamma always told us that he was saddened that his father died and he never knew his brother. I’ve got to do what I can.”

“Well, you need to try a new strategy,” Kim offered. “Whatever you’re doing isn’t enough. Do more.”

John Lancer nodded. “You’re right. I do.” He left the lab. He had shopping to do. He needed different clothes.


Johnny Madrid awoke at dawn, having spent another restless night listening to the cockroaches and rats and whatever other filth infested his cell. He was given the same disgusting gruel, treated the same by the cruel guards until two in the afternoon. Then he was taken out of his cell.

Along the way another prisoner yelled at the guards, taunting them. He called them vile names in Spanish. Angry, one of the soldiers grabbed the man, jerking him out of his cell and shoving him along. “You die today, filth!” the soldier said.

They brought Johnny and the other man into the bright sunshine. Johnny had a chance to get a look at his co-conspirator and startled. The man was clean-shaven; Johnny’s beard had been growing for the three months he’d been here. The other man’s clothes were clean too. He must have been brought here recently. But Johnny hadn’t heard of any raids on the civilian population.

Then again, this other man, kneeling by his side, wasn’t Mexican. He was blond. A gringo. Why was he here?

The capitan formed his firing squad and the soldier from the prison jerked the newcomer up first. “You first, gringo scum!” he spat on the man. Johnny watched in amazement as the man merely smiled.

What kind of man smiled when spat on?

The firing squad lifted their rifles and took aim. As they began to fire, the young man shouted, “Viva la—” His body crumpled in the dirt. 

“—Revolution,” Johnny finished softly. Next it would be his turn.

Johnny turned his head as wagon roared over a rise. A man in a suit shouted “Wait!” He thundered to the scene.

“Johnny Madrid?” The man asked.

“That’s me!” Johnny stood. The man nodded and climbed down from the wagon. He approached the capitan with a large wad of money.


“Did it work?” Kim asked the lab assistant. “John was going to try again last night.”

The man shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t see anyone today. The time machine was on, but I did not see Dr. Lancer.”


Scott and Johnny Lancer sat on the back patio at the hacienda. They were reliving the old days, when they’d first came to Lancer and fought off Pardee. Scott’s youngest granddaughter, Darlene, took down every word. “I’m going to write a book,” she said. “About how you all came to be, about how you and Great-grandpa Murdoch fought off all the other challenges, and about how Lancer came to become the grandest rancho in all of California.”

Johnny laughed, his old eyes sparkling. “You will, huh, Darlene?”

“Oh! Yes, and I’m going to tell the stories to my own children, to my grandchildren and even all my brothers’ grandchildren. Everyone will know how Lancer became what it is today.”


Fifty years later, Darlene read her book to her and her brother’s grandchildren. She told the old stories, about how Murdoch brought Scott and Johnny home and how together they built Lancer to an even greater force than it had been before. Young John Lancer, just five years old and already a budding scientist, listened attentively.

October 2012


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4 thoughts on “Delay by Jennifer B.

  1. This was a nice slant on what could have happened. I kept waiting for Dr. Lancer to have been actually Dr. Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap.


  2. Wow! What a flight of I don’t know how to describe it. Johnny’s life was saved and Landed history righted itself because of Scott’s descendant. Whew!


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