It was a rather cool day, but I sure was working up a sweat! I had been riding the range since early morning with Pa. Last night, I was assigned the chore of checking the fence, and I found a break. I also found that some of our cattle had gotten out through that break. So instead of doing our regular Saturday morning chores, all those had to be put aside to find those cattle. We located the two cows and calf quite a ways away and I pointed them out to Pa. “You push them that way, I’ll lead them home, son!” Pa hollered.
I got my lasso out just in case one of them decided to get feisty on me. “Yaw! Yaw!” I called to them. Pa got on the other side to block them from going. “Yaw! Yaw!” We both hollered together, working and sweating. They stopped at the broken fence and wouldn’t budge. “Keep them together, son,” Pa ordered as he jumped off is horse. I blocked them from going anywhere. Pa went up and gave one of the cows a hard slap. She mooed but refused to move.
“Can I rope her, Pa?” I asked excitedly.
Pa turned and shook his head. “Go on now! Get!” Pa demanded in a really mean voice. The cow moved and slowly stepped over the broken down fence. “You too!” Pa ordered the second cow ad she moved over the fence. The calf naturally followed.
I rode my horse through the fence, then ran for the tools. Working together, we had the fence repaired in short order! “Thanks for the help, son!” Pa patted me on the back. I looked up at him as I took my hat off and wiped at the sweat. “We make a good team!”
“Yes sir!” I declared happily. “McCain and McCain! Partners in crime!” We looked at each other and laughed.
“Well, we best get washed up, boy! We gotta get into town!” Pa declared as we rode our horses for home.
“Yes sir,” I answered as I shook my head. “If you plan on seeing Milly, I’d suggest you jump in the creek! You want to get all slickered up for her!”
Pa stopped riding. Blue Boy stopped when Razor did. Pa turned and looked at me. “What’s that?”
“Oh…uh…I think I’ll ride on ahead! See ya Pa!” I could hear him laughing as I dug my heels into Blue Boy’s flank and took off at lightning speed!
It took awhile to get all cleaned up and ready to go. Pa would have saved a lot of time if he had jumped in the creek. I reckon he washed every inch of his body and spread some of that cologne on that Milly had sent for him. I shook my head. “Never seen the lot of it!” I declared.
“Lot of what?” Pa asked as he put the expensive bottle up.
“Oh…uh…You’re the one wanting to spend time with Miss Milly. How is it that I have to get all slicked up too?”
Pa laughed as he combed his hair. “Well, they say your kids are a reflection of yourself. Wouldn’t do me much good to get all clean and let you go looking like you were rolling around with hogs all morning, would it son? What would Milly say?”
I folded my arms and smiled. “Well Pa, it just so happens that I know just what Milly would say!” Pa turned and looked at me, raising an eyebrow as I spoke. “Well, one day when I did go straight into town looking like a…Well, all dirty…Milly asked me ‘Can’t your father get you to clean up?’”
Pa shook his head at me. “And yet she still allows me to court her!”
We rode together into North Fork. The conversation was light and happy as we laughed along the way. I even teased Pa when we rode into town and rode straight to the General Store. “Used to be we’d stop in to see Micah first,” I stated. I wanted to add something about what Micah’s greeting was like compared to Milly’s, but I figured I shouldn’t press my luck.
Sure enough, we walked inside and Pa saw Milly walk into the storeroom. I looked up at Pa, trying not to be too obvious I was looking, and Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “Wait here, son. I’ll be back.” I saw the smile on his face as he said that.
I remember that stuff now. It’s day one of my horrible experience. I had been obeying Pa by coming home after helping Milly in the Store. I had been awarded extra candy and was happy as I rode for home to work on the chores. But a man – his name was Carl, I found out later – stopped me in the road. The minute he stopped me, I got to feeling uneasy. There was something about him that scared me. I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t want to stick around. I wanted to go home.
But then he started threatening me – telling me something would happen to my father if I tried any funny business. I realized there was nothing I could do but follow him.
As I rode with him along the trail, I got to thinking on our morning. Pa and I had rode herd on those cattle most of the morning. We had worked together. We were partners. I wanted to be his partner now. That’s why I tried to think of what I could do to help Pa. I didn’t understand anything that was going on. I didn’t know who this man was, why he had me, where he was taking me, if my Pa was really in danger…or anything else!
“Come on, boy!” Carl called.
I hurried up the pace of my horse. He had pointed the gun at me once earlier already as we traveled and I almost refused to go with him. I’m sure he would gladly show me the gun again. “Where are we going?” I asked again. It seemed like I’d already asked that question twenty times since we started riding.
“None of your business, kid,” Carl answered. “Just keep riding.”
“We’ve been riding for nearly four hours now!” I declared. “Where you taking me!”
“You’ll know when we get there!” Carl’s voice was getting agitated. I moved my horse away from him a bit, thinking I could maybe escape without him realizing it. He grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and jerked my horse back beside him. “Now boy, you keep remembering your daddy! If you care anything at all for his life, you’ll do exactly as I say!”
“I care a lot for my Pa!” I answered harshly. “I care a lot more for him then…then you care for anybody!” We continued riding. “My Pa finds out I’m missing, you’ll be sorry! He don’t like nobody messing with me! Not for any reason! So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll-“
“Shut up!” Carl hissed as he jabbed a finger in my face. “Shut up and pick up the pace! Unlessin’ you want me to whip ya, you best just keep quiet and ride!”
I did as told. I didn’t know what else to do. Before long, we were galloping up a hill. Suddenly, I realized where we were – an old relay station. He told me we were going to live there for awhile. I didn’t understand what he meant! “Why won’t you tell me what this is all about?” I asked. He told me we were going to stay here as long as necessary – that’s not what I wanted to know!
I wanted out of there. Pa had no idea where I was! Carl insisted I get off my horse and go inside. He threatened to kill my Pa if I didn’t obey him. I wondered if he was bluffing or not. I had no idea – but I knew I was no help to Pa stuck here in this deserted station where nobody goes anymore! I sat on my horse, refusing to get down.
I thought about escaping. It would be pretty easy since he wasn’t on his horse and I was. I could spook his horse then ride like the devil. But it would be dark soon – and I didn’t know my way back in the dark. I had no choice. We went to put our horses in the barn. I took the saddle off Blue Boy and stroked him softly. “It’s okay, boy. We’ll get out of this somehow. Pa will find us.” Maybe it sounded silly, but he was the only one I could trust at the moment!
“Come on, let’s get you inside!” Carl said. “I gotta go take care of some business.” He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside. I shook my arm off. He grabbed the sack from me that Pa had bought in town. “Let’s see what you got.” He dug through it. “Why, it’s fresh vegetables! And pepper…” He looked up at me. “For bachelors, you don’t have much for bachelor cooking in here!”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Well…like these!” He picked up a tin can of beans.
“My Pa cooks. He don’t like that canned stuff – says that’s for those too lazy to turn on a stove!” He started to hand it to me. “I’m not hungry!” I yelled at him.
“Fine.” He grabbed me by the arm. “Let’s go then.”
“Where?” I asked.
“In the closet.”
I turned and stared at him. “Mister, it’s gonna get dark here soon! There ain’t no light in there! I-“ The mere thought of being trapped in that closet for no-telling how long just scared me something awful!
“I’ll be back. Just got business to take care of and I’m all out of baby sitters!” He shoved me toward the closet. “Now get in there!”
“No, please!” I begged. “Please…no!” I grabbed on to the side. I didn’t like pitch darkness – never did. “I’ll be good, I promise!” I begged.
He shoved me in the closet and locked the door. I couldn’t see anything. There was a little light cracked under the doorway, but not enough for me to see anything. There was barely room for me to even sit.
“Please, Mister! Please!” I banged on the door. “Please somebody, let me out of here!”
But he was gone. I was all alone in a locked closet – soon to be pitch-blackness.
I sat down and started crying. “What do I do now, Pa?” I put my head in my hands and wept. My shoulders shook with sobs. “Oh God, help me!” I screamed. “Please…help me!”
Where did he go? Was he going to go take care of my Pa? Was he meeting up with a gang to rob the bank, using me for protection? I’d been used in that means before. Did he have some personal grudge against my pa? Perhaps he needed to get me out of the way to kill Pa. Or perhaps he was…
I heard a noise – a creaking sound. “Help me! Somebody please help me!” But no one was there. It was pitch-black now – pitch black in a closed closet. I was scared.
At the age of thirteen, there wasn’t much that scared me. I’d often hated being in the darkness by myself. There was something about it – about pitch black where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face – that scared me.
I sat in the darkness for a long time. I tried to remember today. Pa and me rounding up cattle together – sitting at the table at breakfast arguing about why I should be allowed to go fishing tomorrow. Tomorrow…Tomorrow was Sunday! Pa and I would be going to church. The good preacher would be there – the one I like to listen to. He wasn’t as dry and boring as our regular circuit riding preacher.
Another tear slid down my cheek. I wouldn’t be there. I was stuck here – in this closet – in the darkness. “Oh Pa, please find me! Please!”
I leaned my head back against the wall and closed my eyes – not that it mattered. I was in total darkness now. We hadn’t gone to church last Sunday. We had been working so hard on Saturday night that we plum forgot what day it was. Come around noon on Sunday, Milly was at the ranch. She saw us hard at work in the barn and stood in the doorway with her arms crossed. “What’s going on here?” She asked in that voice of hers that told my Pa he was in trouble.
Pa turned and smiled at Milly. But he had lost his smile when he saw the disapproving look she shot him. “What’s wrong?”
Milly slowly walked into the barn. Her arms were still crossed. “Well, I feared that Mark was sick or you were…” Milly shook her head. “Yet, here I found you hard at work.” Milly swept her hand across in a swift motion. She was angry.
“I’ll…go get you some coffee.”
“Oh no you don’t, Mark.” Pa stopped me. “You’ll stay right there.” I knew Pa was too smart for my plan. He started toward Milly. I watched as he put an arm around her shoulders. “Did I have some plans with you, honey?” he asked in a rather sugary voice.
“Oh no, not with me,” Milly answered with a click of her tongue. “With Him.” She pointed toward the sky.
“With-“ Pa sucked in his breath. “Wait a minute…today’s Sunday?” I had known that but didn’t mention it to Pa. Pa turned and stared at me. “Today’s Sunday?” I nodded.
Pa closed his eyes in total confusion. “I can’t believe today’s Sunday! Today’s Sunday…” He studied Milly’s face. “Oh now, Milly…You know how sacred church is to me! Why, I don’t normally work like this on Sunday, and we are almost always at church when the doors are open – you know that! I’ve taught Mark to stay close to the Good Book every day, and when there’s no church, we often spend time in the Good Book right here.”
Milly narrowed her eyes at Pa. “You really didn’t know?”
“I really didn’t know.” Pa answered. He placed his arms around her neck and looked deep into her eyes. I brought my head forward so I could see what came next. “Mark, uh…” Pa turned and nodded toward the house. “You can go get that coffee now, son.”
That’s why earlier today, Milly had called out to Pa not to forget church. I had smiled at her and she shook a finger at me and ordered me to never let my Pa go without knowing what day it was again.
“It’s Saturday Night,” I whispered in the darkness. “Pa’s hollering for me to get the bath water fetched so I could take my back. He reminds me to wash behind my ears…between my toes…And I say ‘I’m not a kid anymore, Pa.;” I sighed. “God, help me!”
The darkness was beginning to get to me. I tried to keep my mind on happy thoughts, but I just couldn’t bare it! I began remembering when I was really little and my mother would sit with me until I was really sleepy. Then she’d turn the light down really low and let me go to sleep with the lamp. After Ma died, I slept with the lamp on for months.
Suddenly, I heard a horse. I began banging on the door again, screaming for somebody to help me.
Carl announced he was coming. I quickly wiped my eyes. I didn’t want him to see that I had been crying! I would stay strong and brave in front of him! He finally opened the door and let me out.
“I…didn’t think you were gonna come back,” I stated as I walked out.
“I said I would, didn’t i?” He asked as he placed the candle on the mantle. I wanted to know where he went and what was going on, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. He told me to get to bed.
I made out my bed on the floor, but I wasn’t happy about it. I hated being here! I hated having no idea what was going on! But I knew one thing – I wouldn’t stay here another minute then I had to. I would wait until he was asleep, then I’d sneak out.
I couldn’t sleep. After being left in that dark closet, closing my eyes just brought all sorts of images. I knew that if I did go to sleep – which was unlikely since I was so afraid for my Pa – I’d have nightmares. But I pretended to be asleep.
Carl finally fell asleep and I lifted my head to look his way. Ever so slowly and quietly, I stood up and put my hat on. Then I crept lightly over to the door. If I could just get out and go – I’d find my way back. God would help me!
But I made a noise. Carl bolted up and pointed a finger right at me. “Hey!” I turned, afraid of what he would do. “You go out that door, it’ll be the same as pulling the trigger on your old man!” He screamed at me. “Now get to sleep!”
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I was afraid – afraid for my Pa. I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t run off. I couldn’t’ even do that right tonight!
It was a long night. I didn’t get any sleep at all that night.
Day two came. It was Sunday morning. I usually woke up to the smell of flapjacks and maple syrup. That’s what Pa always fixed on Sunday morning. This morning, I woke up to silence. I didn’t see Carl.
I stood up and walked around a bit. I was so tired. Where was my Pa? Was he looking for me? Was he tied up somewhere? Was he told I was safe in order to be more cooperative? I looked out the window and saw Carl getting his horse saddled. I hurried over and sat down on a crate as he started toward the building. “I have some more errands to do. It’ll take me nearly all day.” He opened the door to the closet. “I’m sorry, but I have no choice.”
“No,” I shook my head slowly. “Please…It’s so dark in there. I-“
“I said get in there boy! You’ll be safe. I’ll come back. Just call this a…well, a vacation!”
I turned from the closet and glared at him. “Being locked in a closet is a…a vacation?”
“Hey, I can’t take you with me! I have no choice. Now get IN the closet!” He gave me a hard shove. The closet door again slammed shut on me.
I was again in total darkness.
I listened as his horse rode away. He hadn’t offered me anything to eat – not that I would have eaten anything anyhow. My stomach growled. I reached into my pocket and grabbed a sour ball. I popped it in my mouth and sat down with a sigh. I was guessing it was around 8:00 right now. Pa would be hollering for me to get the dishes done so we could leave for church. He’d be getting his tie on right now, then arguing with me about the importance of wearing a tie.
“Oh God, help me again today,” I breathed the prayer. There was a little light that reflected under the door. I again put my head in my hands as the minutes slowly went by.
One hour…Two hours…Three Hours…Four…
I tried to remember where I was – what I was doing here. I was in a closet, but why exactly? Where was my kidnapper? Was he holding me for ransom? Was he…
Another hour passed. I thought I heard a noise. I stood up and banged on the door, but nothing came. Footsteps…I swear it was footsteps. “Hello?” I called again. “Anybody there?”
I remembered Pa’s voice when I was just a little boy. He told me that when it was dark, our ears became more alert and we could hear things we wouldn’t normally hear. Is that what I was doing now? Did I hear footsteps that just didn’t exist? I was going crazy being shut up in here! I couldn’t stand this!
Another hour passed. I’d been trapped in here for six hours. I closed my eyes and imagined my mother. She was in here with me sitting down beside me and holding me as I cried about things in the darkness.
“There there,” she said. “God’s here with you, my sweet calf. God’s right here with you.”
“Oh Ma, is he really? Is God here?” I whispered to myself. “If he is, I wish He’d bring me comfort.”
Suddenly, I felt something…something like an arm going around me and drawing me close. I sighed in the darkness.
The Seventh hour came and went. I heard hoof beats. He was finally coming back. I banged on the door, yelling for him to let me out. Again, I wiped the tears from my eyes and stood up, preparing to be strong when he opened the door.
The light blinded me when he opened the door. “Let’s eat,” he said. But I just sat there. I refused to eat. I refused to do anything. What was going on? Why had he been gone all day.
He told me Pa would come tomorrow. He also told me something else – he had business with him. I knew what that meant – I WAS being held for ransom and my father would have to deliver that money if he wanted to ever see me alive again.
I didn’t fight sleep that night. I didn’t sleep either. I may have dozed off and on, but I was too excited and worried. Would he try to kill Pa tomorrow when he dropped off the ransom money?
Day three came. Again, I woke up and didn’t see him there. I slowly walked to the window, hoping and praying that he wasn’t saddling his horse again. The mere thought of being locked in that closet again scared me something awful. I don’t think I could survive another day in that closet – it was too much for a person – being trapped in darkness like that.
I stepped out onto the porch. He was watching over the land. He had told me Pa would be here – but he held a gun in his hand. I didn’t want him using it on my Pa and assured him he wouldn’t need it. I knew he wouldn’t – that is until Pa had me back safe in his arms, then all the ammunition and weapons in the world wouldn’t help him. I knew I was looking at a dead man.
Suddenly, I heard a horse approaching I looked up to see the familiar form of a horse and rider coming.
“Pa,” I said quietly.
“Shut up!” Carl ordered.
“Pa!” I screamed suddenly. Carl told me to shut up again and grabbed me. He dragged me back inside.
Not the closet again! Not when my Pa needed me! I fought for dear life, but then he used the only weapon on me he could – he threatened to kill my Pa right then and there if I fought him. I went into the closet – I did it for Pa.
But I continued banging on the door, screaming for Pa. I wanted him to hear that I was in here.
But then, when the gunshots started, I stopped. I was terrified. My heart started pounding and I cried as I listened to the gunshots.
They stopped. Everything was quiet…too quiet. My body was shaking with sobs now as I cried against the door. I was afraid – afraid that Pa had been killed…or that they both had been killed…or that Pa didn’t know I was here…I was trapped in this closet. I held my fist against the door and cried, “Somebody help me,” in a whisper.
“Mark!” I heard. It was my Pa. Oh Glory be in Heaven, my Pa was alive.
“Pa! I’m in here!” I cried out. Joy filled my heart. Pa opened the closet door and I was greeted with the most handsome face in the whole, entire world! I leapt into his arms and hugged him tight. I knew I was shaking.
Pa lifted my head up so he could look into my eyes. “Thank God you’re alright son,” he said with much emotion in his voice.
As I looked into his eyes, I wanted to just cry and cry until I could cry no more. I wanted to tell him my fears – thank him for looking for me. But before I could say anything, we heard a horse approaching.
We ran to the window. I asked Pa who it was at first. Then we realized – it was Neff Packer. I didn’t understand what was going on. “Stay…Here…” Pa’s voice was forced. I looked up at his face and saw it – it was rage. It was a deep rage I didn’t often see.
“Pa-“ I started. Pa didn’t say anything. He opened the door and walked out. I stood at the window staring. The reality started to hit me, but I couldn’t quite believe it. Not Mr. Packer! Packer Everybody liked him! But it was true.
I walked out onto the porch and started to run up to Pa, but he motioned for me to stay there. He continued walking forward slowly…slowly…slowly…Mr. Packer started begging Pa to make a deal with him. I watched as Pa reached out and slapped him hard across the face. He fell into the dirt.
“Everybody liked him so much!” I said as I stared at the man who was always the friendliest man in town.
Pa was still very angry and hurt. “Everybody liked him so much,” he repeated bitterly.
Pa turned and stared at me. I stared at Pa. I opened my mouth to say something, but Pa shook his head. “Not now, son. I…I have some business to take care of. Alright?”
I nodded. He sent me to get the horses ready. Just then, Micah came galloping in. I hurried out and ran up to Micah. A huge smile played on his face as he patted my shoulder. “I’m glad to see you’re okay, Mark.” I saw his eyes shining with tears, but then Micah turned away.
“Get up!” Pa was demanding. “Get up you weasel!” Pa sneered.
Micah ran forward. “Lucas Boy, what-“ Then he stopped. “Neff? What-?”
“He was behind it, Micah!” Pa declared angrily. “He was behind the whole thing! Kidnapping Mark was the only way I’d ever give up that land and he knew it. That’s how greedy our so-called friend was!”
Pa was so tired. I was tired too. I sat down on a log and put my head in my hands as I waited. I was glad Pa was back, but I needed to talk to him . “Can you handle him, Micah?” I heard Pa ask. “I need to get my boy home.”
Micah nodded. “I’ll send some men out to bury the body, Lucas. You take care of your boy.”
I didn’t realize how tired I was until we started for home. Pa had to hold me up in the saddle to keep me from falling out. It was a long ride back, and I hardly remember the ride.
I remember stopping in front of the house and Pa helping me off my horse. He walked me inside and put me in bed – my bed! My stomach suddenly growled. “He didn’t feed you, did he?” Pa grumbled.
But I didn’t even answer the question that echoed in my mind. I was asleep.
When I woke up, I smelled something cooking. My stomach growled as I realized how hungry I was. I got up only to realize Pa had pulled off my dirty clothes. I opened the door and walked out. “Pa?”
Pa turned from the stove and hurried over to me. “I have a bath ready for you in the barn, son. Go ahead and get cleaned up. I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get back.”
“Dinner?” I narrowed my eyes and looked at him. “Have you slept?”
“I slept a couple hours after my bath. You’ve been asleep for about six or seven hours, son. You didn’t sleep the whole time you were gone, did you?”
I didn’t say anything. I was thinking more on all that had happened. I silently left to take my bath. Pa came out with fresh clean clothes and a towel. He watched me closely as I dressed. “You’re looking for bruises and marks, aren’t you Pa?”
“Huh?” I met Pa’s eyes. “I guess I am, son.” Pa sighed as he came toward me. “It’s a habit.”
I smiled. “I’m glad, Pa,” I said as I averted my eyes.
Pa studied me again. “You…uh…wanta talk?”
“Pa, I’m sure dinner is ready.“
“Dinner will keep, son.” Pa said as he sat down on a hay bale.
“But Pa, I know you need to get to town. I overheard Micah ask you to come into town. Said you had to swear out a warrant so he could legally keep Mr. Packer in jail. Besides, I’m sure you want to personally let Miss Milly know I’m safe.”
I wanted to talk to my Pa, let him know my fears, but I was thirteen. Almost a man. How could I let him know I felt as if I were five years old again and afraid of the dark?
But the look in Pa’s eyes said otherwise. I knew the look, “You’re my son and we don’t keep secrets.” Those eyes…
I hung my head and walked away a bit. “He didn’t hit me or nothing, Pa.” I heard Pa breathe a sigh of relief. “But he uh…” Thinking on it made me sob. I suddenly turned and ran into Pa’s arms. I cried as I let his arms wrap tightly around me.
“He did hurt you,” Pa cried suddenly. He just squeezed me to him. I could feel his heart pumping as we held each other. I pulled away from him and wiped at my face. “He…” I swallowed. “He locked me in a closet.”
I tried to pull away from Pa then. I felt ashamed. But he held tightly to my arm and turned me back toward him. “He what?”
“He locked me in a closet.” I allowed the tears to flow down my cheeks unchecked as I stuttered out the details. It scared me just thinking about it and I knew what I was saying hurt Pa something awful. “Oh Pa, it was horrible!” I clung to him and cried again.
Pa kissed the top of my head. “He can’t hurt you anymore, son.”
It was starting to get dark now. Pa kept a protective arm around me as we walked into the house. I studied the night as it settled around the house. I had never been afraid of the dark as long as my Pa was near, but tonight, I involuntarily shivered. Suddenly, Pa walked up behind me and put his arms gently on my shoulders. “You’ll be okay, son.” I nodded. “You’ll be fine. We’ll get through this.”
The thought of staying in the house alone scared me, but I didn’t’ want to admit it to my father. Pa turned me around and bent down in front of me so he could look into my eyes. I turned my head away, not wanting him to realize how scared I was. Pa shook his head gently. “No, Mark. Don’t turn away.” Pa gently laid a hand on my cheek. “I know you’re afraid. I’ll help you through this.”
“I can’t help…help seeing the closet.” I shivered, again, just thinking on it. “I…I remember feeling so alone in there, Pa. It was dark and so…so quiet.” I turned to stare out the window. “It was darker then that. There was no light. I was locked in there for hours the first night, seven hours yesterday…I remember feeling so alone…just so…alone.”
Pa walked up to me again and put his hands on my shoulders. “After what you’ve been through, Mark, you have every right to be afraid. Just keep talking to me. Stay beside me when it’s dark for awhile. I’ll help you feel safe again. I won’t leave you for a second – not until you feel safe. And you will, I promise.”
“You’re not ashamed?” I turned around to look into my father’s eyes one more time.
“Ashamed?” Pa shook his head. “Mark, darkness is…it’s scary. You don’t know what’s there. What’s worse, you had no idea about anything and you were trapped like…like an animal. Considering all you’ve been through, I’d say that you came out very well. They’ll be nightmares. I’ll help you through them. They’ll be times when you feel afraid but I’ll be there. Don’t be afraid to be afraid. Fear is something we all have.
I nodded and looked out into the darkness. “I talked to Ma and God while I was in there, Pa. That last hour yesterday, I felt someone was in there with me. Trying to protect me, because you couldn’t be there.”
Pa smiled. “I had hoped she’d be there if you needed her. God sent her. I believe that with everything in me.”
The mere thought of going out there scared me, but not half as much as staying home all by myself. Yet, I was thirteen, and even though I knew Pa would help me, I wanted to try to be brave. “I think I’m ready now, Pa.” My voice was shaky. I looked into Pa’s eyes. “You head on into town. I’ll stay here.” I tried to put on a brave face. I tried to hold eye contact, but I couldn’t. Pa smiled down at me and picked up his hat. He toyed with it in his hands as he sighed. “No,” he said. “Let’s ride in together, son.” Pa looked out the window. I’m…afraid also.
“You’re…” I stopped and did a double take. “You’re afraid?” I asked as I suddenly stared at him.
Pa nodded. “Like I said son, we all have fears. My fear is…” Pa put his hand on my shoulder as he opened the door. “My fear is leaving you behind or sending you off by yourself. You’ll have to help me with that. Will you help me, Mark? Will you stay by my side until I’m ready?”
I looked into my father’s eyes. I smiled. “Yes,” I answered. “I’ll help you, Pa.”
I’m certainly glad Pa had that fear in a way, because I must admit that going out into the darkness was hard, yet, thinking of the alternative..staying here alone…that was even harder. It was hard riding through the darkness into town, but I knew Pa was there beside me. There were a couple points where it was really dark.
Clouds came in and blocked out the stars and the moon above. Pa took Blue Boy’s reins and led me through the darkness, speaking softly and quoting scripture.
After we returned home, Pa tucked me into bed. He left the lantern lit, turned down low.
That night, the nightmares did come. Pa would gently wake me and hold me until I felt safe again. We would talk through my fear, but it wasn’t as if I were that five year old little boy again. My Pa was leading me into manhood, by helping me understand and come to terms with my fear.
He was right – my fears did go away, in time. I knew that it was because Pa loved me and took them away from me the only way he knew how – through patience, understanding, and long, long talks.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
A bridge between A Friend in Need and Skull — This is told from Lucas's point of view.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The High Country
around The McCain Ranch