The Midnight Sky
by Donna Hume
What a great Halloween Story
It must have been around midnight, the moon was high in the sky and the wind was blowing ever so slightly. Everything was quiet, so quiet it was almost eerie. The trees were stripped of their leaves as winter was approaching. Mark woke up and looked out into the darkness and saw the sway of the trees against the moonlight. As he sat up to get a better look, he saw something fly past the moon that made his heart jump. “Pa, wake up Pa,” but he never took his eyes from the window.
Lucas was startled by the alarm in Mark’s voice, “What is it son?” He walked over to the window, trying to see what Mark had seen. “Son, there is nothing there, you must have been dreaming, c’mon, let’s get you back to bed.” “No Pa, I wasn’t dreaming, I saw it.” Lucas took his son by the shoulders and gently turned him back to the direction of his bed. “We can talk about it in the morning, let’s get back to sleep,” he told his son.
In the morning, Mark couldn’t wait to tell his father what he had seen. Lucas tried to get his son to sit down and eat breakfast, this was a school day and Lucas had a lot of work to do on the ranch. Between bites of food, Mark explained what he had seen, “I’m telling you Pa, it swooped down like this,” and he rose to his feet, spreading his arms out from his side and moved around the table tilting from one side to the other. “Mark, it was probably just an eagle,” Lucas tried to assure his son. “Pa, there hasn’t been an eagle around here since we first moved here.” Lucas tried to hide his amusement; Mark always had an active imagination, “Mark, what do you really think you saw?” Mark stood in front of his father, a look more serious on his face than Lucas had ever seen on his boy, “Pa, I think it was a witch.”
Lucas had been drinking his coffee when Mark spit out the words, Lucas tried so hard not to laugh that he swallowed wrong and started spitting coffee from his nose. “A witch, a witch? Mark, there is no such thing as a witch.” “Pa, I’m telling you what I saw, don’t you believe me?” Once Lucas regained his demure, he tried to assure his son, “Mark, I believe you think you saw something but I don’t believe in witches.” Mark stared into his father’s eyes, “I didn’t either, until I saw her last night. She was on a broom and her skirts were flying…” Lucas put his hand up to stop his son, “Mark, there is no such thing as a witch. You better sit down and finish your breakfast, you don’t want to be late for school.” “Pa, if it wasn’t a witch, what was it?” “I don’t know son, but we’ll try to find out, OK?” Mark seemed satisfied with that answer, at least for now.
Mark was telling his schoolmates his story when Mr. Griswald came into the classroom. “Mr. McCain, what nonsense are you telling your friends?” Mark hesitated, Mr. Griswald still frightened him. “Mr. McCain, did the cat catch your tongue?” “No sir, it’s just that I wasn’t telling them any nonsense.” Freddy spoke up as he pushed Mark forward, closer to Mr. Griswald, “Mark saw a witch last night.” Mr. Griswald did not laugh, he stared into Mark’s eyes as he told the rest of the class to sit down. “Mark, what makes you think you saw a witch?” Mark told him exactly what happened, he spread his arms like he did with his father, he swooped around the room, and he explained how the witch’s skirt was carried by the wind as she rode her broom. Mr. Griswald told Mark to take his seat.
The whole class was surprised that Mr. Griswald didn’t call Mark a liar. Instead, Mr. Griswald told them a story, the story of the Salem Witch Trials. The entire class sat, enthralled with the story their teacher was telling them. Why, they could almost hear the screams of the people condemned to die for witchcraft. When Mr. Griswald was finished, he turned to Mark, “Are you sure you saw a witch?” Mark looked down at his desk, he didn’t want anything like the Witch Trials to happen in North Fork but he also knew what he saw, “Yes sir, I’m sure it looked like a witch.” Mr. Griswald walked over to Mark, “I do believe I will give you a ride home after school, I need to speak to your father.”
Lucas was back at the house, figuring Mark would be returning soon from school, he had no idea of how to dissuade his son’s belief in what he saw but he knew he had to try. Sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, he heard the sound of a buggy approaching. Placing his cup on the table, he walked to the door and picked up his gun before he opened the door.
There was a look of relief on his face when he saw Mr. Griswald, however that look quickly changed to concern when he saw his son. Lucas replaced his rifle in its holder and went out to greet Mr. Griswald; he already had an idea why Mr. Griswald was there and Mark knew that look in his father’s eyes.
“Mr. Griswald, what brings you out here?” came the words but Lucas continued to stare at Mark. “I just thought I would enjoy a cup of your coffee, Mark, would you please see to my horse while I speak with your father?” Trying to sound optimistic, “Sure thing, Mr. Griswald,” but he was anything but optimistic, pessimistic would be closer to reality.
Mark stayed outside while his teacher and father talked. He thought of listening at the door but knew he would be in more trouble if he were caught. Why was he so stupid by sharing his story?
Finally, Lucas and Mr. Griswald came out of the house; neither of them looked angry, in fact they were laughing. Mr. Griswald never laughed; Mark wondered just what they had planned for him.
Lucas waved to Mr. Griswald as he rode off, then he turned to Mark. “Looks like we have some talking to do son,” he said as he gently touched Marks’ shoulder, directing him into the house.
Mark sat at the table, waiting to hear his punishment, waiting was sometimes worse than the punishment. Lucas was cooking supper as he started talking to Mark; his voice was calm as he reminded Mark about the Mescalero Curse and the fear created by talking about it. After Lucas was through talking he looked at Mark, “Are you sure you saw a witch?” Mark thought deeply, “I know it sure looked like a witch. Maybe you’re right; maybe it was just my imagination. I’ll stop telling people.” “Good son, now let’s have supper.”
That night, after he went to bed, Lucas stared out the window, wondering what Mark had really seen.
About midnight, Lucas was awakened once again when Mark started calling for him. Lucas quickly jumped the few steps to his son’s side, seeing the fear in his eyes, Lucas looked in the direction of Marks stare, he stood and walked to the window, his eyes narrowing as he too saw what appeared to be a witch. He rubbed his eyes, trying to focus better but that did nothing to change the image. How would he be able to convince his son that there was no such thing as witches when that was clearly the likeness he was seeing right before his eyes?
Mark was calling for him, terror in his voice, Lucas turned and went to his sons’ side. “Pa, what was that?” “I don’t know son, I just don’t know.” He tried to ease his sons’ mind, tried to reassure him that all was fine, but he wasn’t very convincing. Eventually he calmed Mark enough that his son could fall asleep, he wasn’t so lucky.
The next morning, Lucas rode to school with Mark. During the ride, he advised Mark not to share the visions of last night. Once at school, Lucas waited for Mr. Griswald, they were going to have to talk.
When Mr. Grizwald arrived, he saw Lucas waiting for him and his face was askew with his unasked question. He and Lucas walked away from the school entrance, Mark watching their every move.
Lucas was waving his arms, he looked agitated. When Mr. Griswald turned, Mark could see a look of fear in his eyes though his face showed no sign of expression. All right students, what are you doing standing out here, you should be in the classroom. Mark started to ask if something was wrong but the leer from Mr. Griswald told him it was wiser not to ask.
Lucas went to see Micah, after his discussion with Mr. Griswald. There was something out there alright, but whatever it was, it wasn’t natural. Lucas told Micah what had happened two nights ago, and then what he himself witnessed last night. Micah looked at him like he was a candidate for Bedlam. “Look Micah, I know this sounds crazy, but if you had seen it, well, you would wonder yourself.” “Lucasboy, are you trying to tell me you believe in witches?” “I don’t know what I’m trying to say Micah, I’m only telling you what I saw.”
Micah listened as Lucas conveyed the plan Mr. Griswald suggested. It was a good plan. The three of them would sit at the window later tonight, waiting to see if the ‘so called’ witch showed herself again. Just as they finished talking, Oak Jackford came in ranting about someone killing his cattle, “Whoever it is, they are sick.” “What makes you say that?” asked Micah. “Cause they’re not taking the meat, they’re just taking the hearts. What kind of sick person does that?” Lucas just looked at Micah. Micah assured Oat that they would investigate and put a stop to it. Oat wasn’t easily swayed, “Micah, you catch these sickos’ or I will,” and with that he stomped out of the office and got up on his horse, riding away with half his men following him.
“We better find out something tonight before Oat and his men lynch someone,” Micah told Lucas. Lucas sat looking at his gloves, “What if this is witchcraft, Micah?” “Then we’re in for some hard times Lucasboy, some real hard times.”
At school, Mark told Freddy and Tommy about last night. “Pa told me not to say anything but I want to find out what is going on. Can you sneak out of your house after your folks fall asleep?” Freddy and Tommy were both scared but they didn’t want to admit it to Mark so they both agreed to meet Mark out by the livery about 10:00. Lucas had asked Millie if Mark could stay the night with her, he knew she wouldn’t look in on him after she sent him to bed. He wasn’t sure how he would prove there was a witch but he knew that’s the only way his father would believe him.
It was a little after 10 when Freddy and Tommy showed up. “What took you guys so long?” Mark asked them. Freddy was squirming a little, “It wasn’t that easy to get out of the house.” “Yeah,” said Tommy, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Mark got up on Blueboy and the three of them rode out to where Mark thought the witch would be riding up on her broom in the sky.
Lucas, Micah, and Mr. Griswald were sitting in the bedroom, watching the clock and looking out the window. Lucas sat on Marks bed, that was where Mark had been when he saw the apparition, Lucas wanted to see it first. Micah had asked Mr. Grizwald why he was involved, “Because I don’t want history to repeat itself. You have a nice town here, I wouldn’t want it to become the next Salem.” Micah nodded, he didn’t like what was happening in his town right now either.
Lucas started talking again about the Mescalero Curse and although not easy, he did dispel the curse and with it the fear, he didn’t want something like that starting up again. Lucas was grateful that his son was safe at Millie’s while they tried to solve this mystery.
Tommy kept talking while they hid under the trees, in the tall grass. Mark told him to be quiet, “Do you want the witch to know we’re here?” “Mark, what if there’s more than one?” asked Freddy. Mark confessed that he didn’t know. Tommy wanted to know what they would do to catch one witch, let alone more than one. “I don’t know but I think they are afraid of water,” Mark told them. “Then why are they flying here above the lake?” asked Freddy. “You mean there is more than one?” asked Tommy. “Just be quiet, it will be midnight soon,” said Mark.
Thoughts started running around inside Marks head. What if there was more than one witch? Are they really afraid of water and if they are, Freddy was right, why would they be flying above a lake? Mark forgot to bring matches, they couldn’t even try to burn the witch. He should have thought this through more before he brought Freddy and Tommy with him.
It was midnight, Lucas started looking out the window. A storm was coming on, the sky had a purple tint as the lightening streaked across it. Suddenly, from behind a cloud, there it was. Lucas pointed and the window, he couldn’t make the words come out of his mouth. It was Micah who first noticed Lucas pointing, he nudged Mr. Grizwald. All three walked to the window and stared out at the sight of the flying witch. It was time to go, time to find this witch and put a stop to her, whatever she was up to.
The boys looked up and saw the witch flying above them. They just sat there, quietly, watching and hoping they were not seen. The bushes started moving by someone or something. All three boys were looking around their surroundings, trying to see what was stirring things up around them and hoping it was just the wind.
Mark looked up, the witch was still there but the noises surrounding the boys became louder. Mark shouted to Freddy and Tommy to follow him as he started to run away from the noises but just as they started, there was a loud cackle and it froze them in their tracks, just then a tree branch cracked above them and the witch fell from the sky and landed right in their path.
Lucas and Micah rode out towards where they thought the witch was flying in the sky, over towards the lake. Mr. Grizwald was riding to town, to get some help. Whatever they had seen, it was real. He was not a good rider, he was not a fast rider but tonight he was an important rider; his success would mean life or death for his friends.
Oat Jackford and his crew were out looking for the maniac who was killing his prime beef when Oat saw the witch. All his men heard him swear when he spotted her. Grizwald heard him and started riding in that direction, it was closer than town and that meant help was closer at hand.
As he drew nearer, he started shouting. Oak and his men spotted him and started shooting, Griswald fell from the horse. Oat got to him first, Griswald was lying on the ground and moaning. Oat yelled out, “It’s the school teacher.” He got down off his horse and started prodding at Griswald, searching for wounds. “What ever are you doing?” Griswald growled at him, pushing Oat’s clumsy hands from his body. “I’m looking for bullet holes,” said Oat. “Well, thankfully I am a worse rider than you are as a shootist, I fell off before you shot.”
Oat wanted to know what he was doing out there and what it had to do with the witch. Griswald told him everything he knew, including the fact that Micah and Lucas were riding that direction by themselves. Oat helped Griswald back up on his horse and told him to go to town before he got hurt, Griswald agreed. As he headed to town, Oat and his men headed for the lake.
Oat and his men caught up to Lucas and Micah just before they reached the lake. “So Marshall, what do you think it is?” Oat was not happy and for the first time since they met; Lucas heard what sounded like fear in Oats’ voice.
“I don’t know, that’s what were riding to find out. Listen to me Jackford, I want this done legal, do you understand?” Micah’s voice held that quality of authority Lucas always admired about his friend. Jackford stared at Micah, “It’ll be legal alright, just as long as you burn that witch on the spot.” That being said, Oat spurred his horse into action, leading this mob on a witch-hunt.
Mark, Freddy, and Tommy yelled out when the witch appeared in front of them, they didn’t stop to take in details, the just turned and ran toward the lake, hoping the witch wouldn’t follow. The cackle grew louder behind them and they ran faster, each yelling to the other, their voices being cut short for the quickness of their feet. Running with all the speed they could muster, finally reaching the water and jumping into it, still yelling, until each was caught in the grasps of these anomalies and their screaming stopped.
Lucas heard the cries of his son, he spurred Razor on, passing Oat and his men, his son was in trouble. Why was that boy always doing something to cause Lucas to worry so? Micah and the ‘hunters’ were close behind Lucas, none of them knowing what they were getting into. Lucas had to protect his son, Oat wanted to find out why that witch was killing his cattle, Micah wanted to make sure that whatever was going on, that there would not be a lynching, or a witch-burning.
Faster they rode until Lucas jumped from his horse, falling to the ground where Blueboy stood. The rest followed suit. They listened as they heard the sounds of water splashing, tinged with the fear of young boys, then all became quiet.
The silence was deafening inside Lucas’ head. The absence of his son’s voice distracted his usual sensibility. As Oat and his men headed for the water, the last sounds of innocence dying away, Lucas was right behind Oat. Micah was sure this had turned into the mob he didn’t want, a mob he couldn’t control, especially since Lucas was part of it.
They arrived at the lake, seeing the limp bodies of three young boys, still and unmoving in the darkness of the midnight moon. Lucas stopped, his feet wouldn’t move, his breath caught in his throat, tears ran down his cheeks, he dropped to his knees. Finally he could speak, “Mark, son…” and then his sorrow turned to rage as he stood, looking for the creature that killed his son. They would pay, they would pay with their lives.
Lucas started tracking, the moon was bright and the witch left an easy trail to follow. He had moved off about 15 feet when Micah yelled to him, “Lucas, the boy’s alive.” Lucas turned, running back to his son, thanking God. He dropped to his knees in front of his son and pulled the still limp body to his chest, “Mark, Mark, wake up son.” Mark started to stir and he started screaming before he opened his eyes, then he saw his father, “Pa, Pa, they tried to kill us.” “Who tried to kill you Mark, who?”
Three men and a woman stood out away from the mob, “We didn’t mean no harm mister. We didn’t hurt the boys, just kind of knocked them out so’s we could get away.” Micah knew he had to take control before Oat got his men all stirred up again. “What were you doing here that you trying to get away?” The woman did the talking, “We were planning on taking about a hundred head of cattle.” That put the fire in Oat’s boots, “You’re nothing but cattle rustlers. We hang rustlers in these parts,” and he and his men started for the trio. Micah shot his gun into the air, “We’ll not be having a lynching, Oat. Now stop or the next one won’t be in the air,” yelled Micah.
The woman had not flinched, she stood her ground. “Ma’am, what do you have to do with the witch?” questioned Micah. “That along with a few head of Mr. Jackford's cattle being mutilated would take the blame away from us. He would just be some crazy old man blaming a witch for his cattle missing.”
“Why such an elaborate scheme and how do you account for the witch?” queried Micah. “That were just a kite my boys put together, didn’t think no one would see it except for Mr. Jackford.” “Why?” asked Mark. “Cause Jackford discredited my husband, took our cattle and stole our ranch. Just wanted to get back what he stole and pay him back for being the cause of my husbands death.” “Lady, I don’t even know you?” shouted Oat. “You knew me ten year ago, that was when you stole our ranch, that was when you told everybody that my husband went crazy and tried to call you out.” “I never shot no rancher,” Oat exclaimed. “No, you didn’t shoot him, you beat him to within an inch of his life. Then you told us to get off YOUR land. It was ours, we paid for it, we worked it but you wanted it so you did like you always did, you took it. Well, me and my boys wanted back what you stole from us and that’s how we were gonna’ get it.”
Oat remembered, he remembered beating the man, telling his family they had till sundown to git. He and his men went in, under the midnight sky, and burned the ranch to the ground. “So you did all this to get back at me?” “Yes but I guess it didn’t work.” Oat laughed, not his normal vile laugh but one of lightness. “Mrs. Bruster, I was wrong back then and I’m sorry. I can’t bring your husband back but I can give you the cattle, you can pick any hundred you want, I’m just happy to know I’m not going crazy.”
As Mark and Lucas rode back to the ranch, Lucas was too happy to admonish Mark about sneaking out of Millie’s and getting caught in the middle of all this folly. So they rode in silence until Mark ventured to speak. “Pa?” “Yes son, what is it? “I was just wondering…” Mark left the sentence hanging. “Mark, what were you wondering?” Lucas responded in exasperation. “Do you think we will ever be able to fly? You know, glide in the air like that?” The look of astonishment and sheer incredulousness crossed his fathers’ face, “Mark, be serious. Flying?” Mark nodded his head, “Yeah, I guess that is pretty ridiculous.” Lucas stared at his son with that all-knowing look a father gives his son; the imagination of this boy was never ending.
This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
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