I had been looking for this deer for quite some time. Now he was here…right in front of me! I smiled a joyful smile! I could already smell the meat as Pa cooked it. Pa was really good at cooking deer meat! I smiled to myself as I lifted the rifle up and aimed my sights on the head of that deer. I closed one eye as I aimed. “Mark!”
I pulled the trigger and Ol’ Spike ran off. “Oh!” I groaned! I turned to see Micah hurrying up to me. “Now look what you went and made me do, Micah! Do you know how long I’ve been trying to-“
“Nevermind that, Mark! I think your father’s life is more important.” Micah looked around as if he were looking for somebody.
“My…my father’s life?” I cocked my head to one side. “Did something happen to Pa?”
“No. No, not yet,” Micah said. He cleared his throat. “Have you seen him lately, Mark?”
“Well I…” I narrowed my eyes and stared at Micah. “Why would you ask me such a thing? I saw him at 4:00 this morning, then he went back to bed. I did my chores. He came out a few times but he didn’t say anything. Then he got on his horse and rode into town.” Micah avoided my eyes. I could tell something was really, really wrong. “Micah, what is it?” Micah just stayed silent. “Micah, where’s my Pa?”
“I…I don’t rightly know, son.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I uh…locked him up this morning. Then Lou let him out and-“
I interrupted Micah again. “Micah, you ain’t making no sense! Why’d you lock him up? What’s going on?” Micah just stared at me as he tried to find a way to explain. “Just tell me, Micah!” I demanded. My voice rose. “What’s going on?!”
Micah put a hand on my shoulder and nodded his head. “Alright, son. There’s a man…a man who your father hates more than anybody could ever hate another person. He hates him for something he did ten years ago.”
“Hates?” I shook my head. “No…my father…he could never hate another person…not really.”
“Trust me, Mark.” Micah took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. He leaned against a tree to catch his breath. “Okay…your father would kill me if he knew you and I were talking about this, but you’re 14 years old now. I think you’re old enough to understand that…this is something you need to know – but never speak of it to your father. He doesn’t want you to know. You may be the only one who can save him, Mark.”
“What is it?”
Micah nudged his head toward the horses. “Let’s mount up and ride, son. I’ll tell you on the way.” I put my rifle back in it’s boot as we started down the road. “A long time ago, back in Oklahoma Territory, your father had many friends. One particular man was a friend of his. He looked a lot like your father, was about the same age, and fell in love with your mother the first time he laid eyes on you.” Micah looked at me. “The man’s name was Reef Jackson. I believe you were two when he and your father met. He never hid the fact that he was in love with your mother, but he and Lucas had an understanding. Your father loved your mother and there was nothing that could ever change that.
“Well, one day something changed. Reef had been courting another girl, but she didn’t feel he could devote a hundred percent to her…felt that there was someone else he may love more, so she left him. Reef was very upset. He was so alone. The friendship between your father and Reef changed that day. He became jealous of your father, but your father wanted to be his friend. He no longer allowed him to come to the ranch – not with your mother there.
Micah sighed. “It happened when you were four years old. “
“Pa was shot.” I remembered that part. I remembered playing on the ground outside as Pa worked near the barn and Ma was doing laundry. I remembered seeing a familiar face in the distance. He just sat there and stared at Ma. He saw him come up to the house. He walked over to Ma and grabbed her. She started screaming. I was so scared…I didn’t understand what had happened – not at all!
I saw Pa come out of the barn. He started yelling. “Mark, go in the house!” he screamed. “Go in the house!”
All I could do was cry. “Please don’t hurt my baby!” That’s the only thing I understood Ma screaming. “Please don’t hurt him!”
“Mark, go inside!” I heard Pa cry again. “Obey me!”
But I stood frozen. I was so scared. The man turned and looked at me. “Get inside!”
The look on his face scared me. I ran to the house screaming. “Get inside, son! Get in-“
Suddenly, a gunshot sounded. I heard Pa scream. Then everything was quiet…absolutely…completely quiet.
I sat on my bed and cried. I could still hear Ma screaming. I was shaking – I was so scared. “Mama!” I cried. “Papa!” I cried. “Mama! Mama!” My cries grew louder, and so did hers. Finally, everything was quiet…too quiet.
I don’t know how long I sat on my bed crying and shaking from fear. I heard the door open and close. Then my mother was there. She picked me up and rocked me back and forth. “Everything’s okay now, baby. Everything’s okay.”
I looked up to see them carrying my Pa inside. Ma said he was sick, but that he’d be okay. And he was – eventually.
“What else do you know?” Micah asked as he brought me back to the present.
I heaved a heavy sigh. “Not much. My folks kept everything from me. I was really too young to understand much. All I remember is that he tried to kill my folks – and they both survived. I never heard if they got him or not.” I hung my head. “I guess they didn’t.” I slowed Blue Boy down. “There was a lot of whispering among the adults for quite some time. My father…he was distant for a time. My cried every time he left. And then he was back. It was as if he’d taken a trip somewhere and it took him a long time to come back. Then we were happy again.” I looked at Micah. “Is he here? This…Jackson fella?”
Micah nodded. “I think so.”
“Have you seen him?” I asked then.
“Nope. But I’m pretty confident he’s here. If he is, Mark.”
“He tried to kill my mother. If Pa finds him, he’ll kill him.” I knew that. Nobody ever missed with me or my Ma and lived to tell about it.
“Mark…” Micah stopped. “We may already be too late.”
“Do you have any idea where my father is, Micah? I’ve got to find him!” Micah frowned and shook his head. “Does this Jackson…have any relatives around these parts?”
“Yes. I believe he has an aunt. Your father…he…Well, he goes out there every now and then to see if she’s heard from him.”
I shook my head as I thought on this. “And yet…he’s hidden this from me all these years…He’s suffered alone.”
We were almost to town now. Micah shook his head. “No, son. He hasn’t suffered alone. Men…and women…they go through things – hard things. These are things that are difficult to share with those they are closest to. He didn’t want you to know. It means a lot to him to suffer through this without you. But he’s come to many many times. He’s prayed over it…struggled over it…cried over it. He believes you wouldn’t understand. That you would…Well, he’s ashamed of his hatred, Mark. The only reason I’m telling you is because I think you can help him – whatever happens.”
“If he kills him…he’ll hang.” I mumbled.
“You think your father’s capable of murder Mark?” Micah asked.
“I…I don’t know, Micah. Under the right circumstances, I’d say any man is.” I dismounted my horse. “He loved my mother, Micah. Very, very deeply.”
“Any sign of him yet, Lou?” Micah asked as we hurried into the hotel.
Lou nodded. “He just left, Micah. Out to Granny Mede’s place.”
“That’s Jackson’s aunt!” Micah declared.
I gasped. I ran and jumped on my horse. “Mark!” Micah called. “Mark, come back!” But I didn’t listen. I had to help my Pa – any way I could!
I took a shortcut through the woods. It was one Pa told me I must never take – Blue Boy could get injured badly – but I had to risk it. I raced as fast as I could to the Mede farm. I dismounted Blue Boy just off the property and tied him to a tree. He’d be out of sight. Then I snuck in to the back of the barn. I found a ladder there and climbed up it – into the window and got in the loft. I saw a man there. I watched him slowly light a cigar and pace. It was almost as if he was waiting for somebody.
Then I heard a horse approach. I held my breath and waited. I was prepared to stay there through the whole exchange. But if it looked like Pa was about to shoot, I’d stop him.
Pa’s figure appeared in the doorway. He stood there in the shadows, but I could see his face. It held such agony – such rage. I was beginning to think that I would be needed. I knew Pa wanted to keep this from me – that he wished for me never to know, and I wanted to respect that – but not if it meant hanging for killing this poor excuse for a man. I’d rather have his knowing that I know the truth then watching him kill.
Pa walked into the barn and twirled his gun. I closed my eyes and prayed that God would change his heard…that He’d open Pa’s eyes and help him to see the mistake he’d be making.
Then the man spoke.
"Lucas...changed haven't ya' Lucas? The McCain I knew would have pulled that trigger and been cleaning the rifle by now. I heard you've been waitin' for this moment for years. Well...here I am. Let's get at it." They stood there in the dark looking at each other. Pa didn’t make a move to shoot him though. “I'll make it easy for you as it was for me." He turned and had his back towards Pa. I held my breath again. "Well...aren't you gonna shoot?"
"I wouldn't shoot a pig in the back." Pa’s voice was filled with hate. But I was a bit more relieved.
"No I guess you wouldn't. Lucas you may not believe this, but when Margaret died I lost as much as you did. Except I never had her." Those words made me angry. How could he say that? My father loved my mother. He tried to kill her – to steal her away from my father! How could he say such a thing.
Yet I was proud of my Pa in that moment. Words like that made me want to kill the man myself. I too had hidden my memories from Pa. I remembered the agony we all went through. He had no right – no right at all to say such things about my mother.
“Alright, you’ve been looking for me, you found me. So let’s get the shooting over with before it’s too late, we wake up the people.” Still, Pa just stood there and stared at him. He yelled and told Pa to get on with the shooting. But he didn't. “You want to get a better look? You want to see what ten years of running and jumping at shadows will do?”
Suddenly, he came out of the shadows. I put a hand to my mouth to stifle a gasp. He looked so old…so worn out. He looked like someone who’d been hunted. He was a worn out old man who probably only had a short time to live.
“Remember how I was, Lucas? Strong as you…ten pounds heavier and a year younger. What’s happened to me? Why am I like this? And you’re still like that? I’m not a man anymore!” He cried. “I’m just a barrel of pain and fear and I want to die. You’ve got every reason in the world to use that rifle. Do it!” Pa shook his head. I was in such shock at what I was looking at. He got down on his hands and knees in front of Pa. “Lucas, you’ve gotta do it!”
"I'm sorry Reef...I can't help you!" Pa turned and walked away.
I could see Pa from cracks in the barn. He walked up to the porch and said something to Granny. Then he got on his horse and rode back towards town. I closed my eyes in relief. Now maybe he could move on. But still, I felt like there was something else I could say…something I could do.
I looked down into the barn and saw Jackson standing there. I had to do something…say something…before I went home and prepared myself to help my Pa.
I slowly climbed down the steps and stared at the old man in front of me. He saw my shadow and lifted his head. Slowly, he stood up and began shaking. “You’re Margaret’s son.”
“Don’t you ever speak my mother’s name again!” I screamed through clinched teeth. “Don’t you ever!” I felt my heart race as I glared at him. “I remember that day. I remember my mother’s screams. I heard the fear in her voice. I remember.” I closed my eyes. “I remember,” I whisper.
“I’m…sorry.” Jackson said quietly. “I’m…sorry.” He walked away from me a bit. He took a puff off his cigar. “It’s just that…I loved her.”
“Love?” I questioned. “How can you DARE stand there in front of me and say those words about my mother???” Hot tears burned my eyes. “How could you say you loved her?” I heard someone come in behind me, but I didn’t turn. “I was there! I saw you hurting my mother. I saw you…”
“No…” Jackson shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no!” He shook his head harder. “I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I just…I just WANTED her!”
“She and my father were married! She was happy!” I swallowed. “Do you know what you did to my father? He was in bed for weeks after you shot him. He almost…” I closed my eyes as I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I knew it was Micah. “I was only four. They didn’t tell me, but I knew that he almost…” I shook my head. “Then he went away…somewhere for a while. He was still there, but he wasn’t still there. I missed him. Ma cried a lot. Do you call that LOVING my mother? To take away from her someone she loved deeply?”
“Mark, where’s your father?” Micah asked softly.
“He’s gone.” I turned. “He doesn’t know I know anything. And as far as I’m concerned, he’ll never know.”
Micah nodded as he looked me in the eyes. “Putting yourself through this won’t change anything.” Micah looked up at the man in front of us. “Reef Jackson is dead. I think he died the day he shot your father. I think your father realizes that now. He’s suffering more alive and on the run then any judge ever could.” He pointed a finger at Jackson. “Jackson, you get out of North Fork. If I ever see you around here again, I may forget I’m a man of the law and kill you myself.”
We stood there and watched Jackson slowly leave the barn. “I wish you would, Marshal. I wish you would.”
Micah walked me to my horse. “You think Pa will rest now, Micah?”
Micah nodded. “With a little help from his best boy, I’d say he’ll be just fine.” I turned to mount my horse, but Micah stopped me. “Listen, if you need to talk…you know you can always come to me.”
I nodded. “Micah, try to get Pa to eat something before he comes home, huh? I’m sure he hasn’t rested all day.”
Micah smiled. “I’ll do that.”
I rode home slowly. I wanted to think on the speech I was going to make to Pa. It had to be convincing, yet it had to be a message that would help him bring this whole thing to a closure.
I looked down at my rifle. I never did get Ol’ Spike. But then maybe he should just live. Maybe someone who tried to stay alive as much as he did…
I smiled to myself. I knew what I would say. As I rode home, I formed the speech in my mind and memorized it to perfection.
I started a roaring fire in the fireplace. Then I scooted Pa’s chair in front of the fire. Usually after a day like this, he liked nothing more but to sit in front of the fire and think. I wanted to give him that.
I waited for a long time. I began worrying about his not coming home. Maybe he’d changed his mind and…then he walked in. I was happy to see him. I offered to fix him something to eat, but he just wanted to go to bed.
I knew, though, that he’d be sitting there for a long time thinking on his day. That’s the way my Pa was. Maybe he’d finally be able to turn this over to God. Then he’d rest. I wanted to help him.
“That eight-point buck get away from you?" Pa asked.
"No, I found him,” I answered. I wasn’t just talking about the buck though.
"Couldn't you get close enough?" I asked.
"I got within fifty feet of him," I answered. I’d gotten a lot closer to him then that.
"What happened...did you get nervous?"
"I was as steady as a rock.”
"Don't tell me you didn't load your rifle," Pa teased.
"No it was loaded Pa...I just..." I stopped. I couldn’t tell him that something more important came up.
"Just what?" I asked.
This is where my rehearsed speech came in. "I just decided maybe I...I've been after him for too long. I wanted him until I got close enough to get him...then I saw him up close...he wasn't like I thought he would be...he was sorta raunchy lookin' and patches of hair out of him. He saw me...he looked right at me...but his eyes were sort of tired like...like as if he were trying to say...you wanna win? Well then go ahead and shoot 'cause it means an awful lot for you to win...and it means nothing to me to lose."
"So you decided not to shoot him too,” Pa said. I acted as if I hadn’t heard it though. I didn’t want to ask him about it. Maybe he wanted me to ask him what he meant, but I felt it best just to leave it behind. I felt it was time to close this painful chapter of our lives.
"I guess that doesn't make much sense to you...does it Pa?"
"It makes a lot of sense son, a whole lot!" Pa declared.
I knew the hunt was over.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
And the Devil Makes Five
around The McCain Ranch