The older I got, I came to realize that life never got easier. I always appreciated Pa not trying to protect me from the tougher side of life, but then sometimes when I was right in the middle of that side of life and feeling the pain, I wished the comfort of my father’s arms could erase the hurt that settled in my heart. The truth was, though, that nothing could take that away. Pa told me once that I should feel happy about the pain, because it’s when that pain doesn’t come that we should feel worried and sad – that meant we missed out on something really special: Love.
I suppose that’s why this death hit me about as hard as every other death I ever experienced. Then while I was trying to deal with that, another disaster happened that…well, maybe I should just start at the beginning.
First of all, I know it seems mean that my Pa wouldn’t let me have any candy in Miss Hattie’s store that day, but he had a pretty good reason to deny me candy. It happened the day before when I was on lunch recess. My friend Joey stopped by to see some of the kids, and mainly rub it in that he wasn’t going to school anymore. I ran up to him. Since he had finished school I didn’t get to hang out with him much anymore. “Hey, Joey!”
Joey smiled at me. “Mark, you getting all your school work done there, boy?” He grinned at me.
“Oh shucks, cut it out, Joey!” I sat down and opened my lunch to see what I had. I wrinkled my nose at what was inside. It was another ham sandwich for the third day in a row!
Joey waved at some of the other kids. “Well, I need to get going. I’m supposed to be picking up some supplies for Pa. Hey listen Mark, suppose that when I get back into town, if maybe you and me go fishing? We could go really early in the morning and fish all day. We’ll go down to the lake. What do you say?”
“Alright, Joey!” I smiled. “Saturday good?”
Joey nodded and waved as he left the schoolyard. That certainly excited me! I loved fishing with Joey. He was like a big brother to me – someone I could talk to when I was in trouble at home or when I had a problem I didn’t want to bother Pa with. He never judged me and always gave me good, sound advice.
I looked at the sandwich and shook my head. There’s no way I was going to eat that! Besides, I had a whole bag of candy in my pocket, and with the dime I still had, I could fill up on candy instead of eating lunch.
That’s just what I did! And then Jeff had another bag of candy he shared with me later. I was happy….
…until later when I was riding home. My stomach suddenly felt sick and I didn’t think I was going to make it home. When I rode into the yard, I simply tied Blue Boy up and started inside. I walked inside and lay down on the bed.
Pa came in soon and called for me. I suddenly sat up but the room began spinning around. “Why are you in here, son?” Pa asked.
“Oh, I’m just a little tired,” I answered.
Pa put a hand to my forehead and frowned. “Well, you don’t have a fever. What’s wrong with you, boy?”
“Nothing, Pa. I’m fine,” I answered.
Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “Mark?” he said quite sternly.
“Okay. But if I tell you, you promise you won’t force anything into my mouth that will make the problem worse?” I asked as I lay down on the bed and drew my legs up to my chest as I held my stomach.
Pa sighed. “You have a stomach ache,” he answered. I nodded. “When did this happen?”
I closed my eyes. “A little before school let out.”
“Did you eat the lunch I packed you?” I stayed silent. “Mark?”
I moaned. “No sir,” I answered.
“You didn’t eat lunch? Well no wonder-“ Pa started.
But I groaned again. “I ate something. It’s just not what you gave me.”
“What was it?” Pa asked suddenly.
I groaned as I held my stomach. “Candy.”
“I had a whole bag of it from yesterday and ate it. Then I went to Miss Hattie’s and spent my dime on candy. Then Jeff shared some of his candy with me.” I groaned again.
Pa shook his head and stood up. He crossed his arms. “Well Mark, if you ain’t something!” he declared. “What am I going to do with you?” He left the bedroom and I rolled over against the wall, groaning some more. Pa walked back in and ordered me to sit up.
I did. But as I turned to look at him, I saw him dumping that disgusting stuff from that dreadful bottle on the spoon. “I don’t need caster oil, Pa! Honest!” I argued as I groaned.
Pa sat the bottle down and cupped his hand under the spoon. “Mm Hm.” He lifted the spoon up and began moving it towards my mouth. “Open up, Mark.”
I stared at the medicine for a minute as I swallowed. “Now, Mark,” Pa commanded. I opened my mouth and swallowed the dreadful stuff. I started to lay back down. “Wait, son. One more,” Pa said.
I groaned as Pa poured a second helping on the spoon. I swallowed it as well. “Okay, get ready for bed. Later I’ll bring you in some soup.” I groaned again as I began unbuttoning my shirt.
Pa grabbed my night shirt and tossed it to me. “Maybe next time you’ll give serious consideration to eating the food I packed for you to eat instead of filling up on candy,” Pa stated as he dinged the spoon against the jar. I knew caster oil wasn’t only to “help” me, as Pa put it, but it was also a sort of reminder that I shouldn’t eat stuff like candy and pie in large quantities.
That’s why when I was in the store that next afternoon Pa wouldn’t let me have any candy. I can’t say that I was too sorry either. After all, instead of candy, Mrs. Avery was going to fix me cinnamon rolls! Who could argue with that? I saw Pa shaking his head. I guess he figured he’d have to stock up on more caster oil or something. But I loved cinnamon rolls!
But then everything changed. My mood was no longer joking as I walked out that door and into the street. There were people all gathered around a wagon and talking, and that could only mean one thing – something terrible had happened. I walked beside Pa as we walked toward the wagon. Micah lifted the sheet for Pa to see. I got a glimpse of the face.
I suddenly felt my stomach tighten and my heart skip a few beats. My legs were shaky as I saw the face. I couldn’t say anything, or even allow my mind to name the person lying under that sheet. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. “Joey Merrick,” my Pa said.
I couldn’t believe it. I replayed the conversation we had just the day before in my head. He was going to take me fishing next Saturday. I stared at the sheet as Micah explained he had been found…murdered.
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I stood beside my Pa as I tried to swallow, but there was a huge lump in my throat and I just couldn’t get it to go down.
Then when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. I watched Mr. Merrick slowly approach the wagon. Pa put a hand on my shoulder as a tear slipped down my own cheek. Mr. Merrick began crying – sobbing – for his dead son. The whole thing was so…tragic! I just stood there silently and watched this father.
Of course a million thoughts went through my head. Not only was I trying to accept the fact that Joey was never going to take me fishing again, but I thought about how sad I’d be if I lost my father. What if I had to walk into town and lift a sheet only to see my lifeless father lying under there? What if-
Mr. Merrick turned and walked away. I stared at him. That could be me someday as I left my Pa. Is that all there was to life? You die and then buried in the ground? How can it be that somebody is here talking with you one moment, and then the next moment he’s gone? How can I ever-
Suddenly, Pa was telling me to drive the wagon on home. He wanted me to start on the fence myself. I slowly walked away. I felt a sudden need to be close to my Pa, but I couldn’t or…Suddenly, I turned. “I sure feel sorry for Mr. Merrick.” Pa said something about him being alone, but I hardly heard him.
As soon as I was on my way I allowed the tears to flow. I remembered back to yesterday in the schoolyard. He always smiled and teased me about being a kid. But when we went fishing, it was special! I remembered the last time we had gone – it was just a few weeks ago.
He had just thrown his line in the water before he commented on what I just said. “So, you think your Pa was pretty disappointed in you, huh?”
“Oh, he was Joey. I had been so mean talking to Colley that way. I’m still ashamed of it. The worst part was…hurting my Pa. You should have seen-“
“Mark,” Joey stopped me. “You can’t take back those words. And you can’t live that day over again. I discovered a long time ago that making mistakes is all part of learning. God gave us a free will. He allowed us to make our own decisions, and just like the beginning of time…”
I nodded. “I know, I know. Adam and Eve committed the first sin and man’s been sinning ever since,” I answered with a sigh.
I suddenly felt tears flooding my eyes as I drove down the road. I could hardly see the road in front of me as I began crying. I quickly wiped the tears away as I remembered the day Joey stood in front of the kids at school and said his good-bye speech. He was so happy. He said he would be getting a piece of land from the money his father had been saving for him. Then he’d start out with a few head of cattle.
Now he was dead. Just like my mother and so many other people that had come into my life.
I pulled the horses into the yard and climbed down. I went to the back and started to lift the chicken wire out, but I just couldn’t. My hands were too shaky. I slowly walked to the barn and sat down in the hay as I touched one of my rabbit snares.
I had just come up on him that day. “Hi,” he greeted me with a smile.
“Hi,” I smiled back. “Whatca doing?”
“I’m setting my rabbit snares. I got several all along this line,” Joey answered with a smile.
“Oh. I’m Mark McCain. Pa and me just moved into North Fork. We’re building us a new house down there.”
“Ah. Your house got burned down by those Jackford Dudes,” Joey smiled at me. “It’s not funny, I know. But I heard your Pa really put them in their place.”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I’d like to learn how to catch some rabbits in snares.”
Joey smiled. “Tell you what, Mark McCain. You come here tomorrow and I’ll help you build your own. We’ll put them on your very own path. How’s that?”
I hugged the remainder of a snare to me and allowed the tears to flow as I cried. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I soon heard the door open. “Mark?” Pa called quietly as he bent down next to me. I kept crying. “Son?” He laid a hand on my back.
I looked up at him through my tears. “I’m sorry, Pa. I don’t want to cry!”
Pa looked at me for a second. Then he said those words. “Come here, son,” as he held his arms out to me.
I suddenly leapt into his arms and began crying even harder. He patted my hair and shushed me just like my Ma would have done if she were here. I suddenly felt safe…secure…in his arms. “I’m sorry!” I cried again.
When Pa spoke, I could feel his words in my ear because his mouth was right there. “Don’t ever be sorry you’re hurt so badly you have to cry, Mark.” He pushed me away so he could look at me. “As long as you feel in here,” he tapped my chest, “you are still alive. I want you to always feel in there.”
I suddenly smiled at him, realizing it was just the comfort of his arms I needed to feel. I wiped my eyes and nodded. Pa stood and reached out his hand to me. I looked at it only for a second before reaching out and taking it. He lifted me to my feet. “Now, how about if we get started on that fence, huh?”
We worked on it side by side for awhile, but I got to thinking on it again. There were so many questions…so much confusion…” Still thinking about today?” I nodded but remained quiet. “I kinda figured,” he said.
His silence told me that I could talk about it. Now that my tears were gone, I could ask the questions. "Joey never hurt anybody, why did it happen to him?" I felt like I was about to cry again, but I choked down my chairs as I thought on this.
His senseless murder was hitting me hard, and Pa knew it. He was just a kid starting out his adult life and someone had to stab him in the back! Knowing Joey, he was probably helping him or something at the time. "I don't know Mark.” Pa’s voice sounded broken. I knew he was hurting for me.
But I wanted – no, needed answers! I needed to know just why…what reason a man could possibly have to stab a…a BOY in the back!
“Well, there should be some reason to it, not just folks getting hurt or killed without no cause, loosing the one’s that mean the most to them like we lost Ma and-“ I gasped. I suppose she had been on my mind all along. That was another senseless act – taking a wife and mother away from those who loved her. My mother had never done anything to deserve death at such a young age. I suddenly apologized. I had included Ma in the same category as this back stabbing incident. She deserved more respect then that!
“That’s alright, Mark,” Pa answered. His voice held a deep sadness. I knew I was the cause of that sadness, but at the moment I could think on nothing else. Suddenly, Pa stood and came closer to where I was. He bent down right next to me. I suddenly felt a calm…a peace come over me just by having him near. "Listen son, it's just human nature to wonder about things. Don't ever be scared to ask questions. But you gotta remember one thing. There are questions we don't have the answers to. That's the way it is and we just have to do what we can and, well, try to get along with the answers we do have."
Right now, I didn’t have any answers to my questions. I didn’t understand why, and I so desperately needed to. Perhaps if my questions could be answered, I could look at this more calmly. I knew, though, that it was saddening Pa that he couldn’t give me the answers I so desperately sought.
Suddenly, I began thinking on Mr. Merrick. He was so sad – in tears from loosing his son. I knew that they were the only one each other had, just like me and Pa. If Pa were to die suddenly, I knew I’d be all alone without a mother or a father. Fear suddenly gripped my very being. The fear was so overwhelming that I suddenly said, “I can’t forget the way Mr. Merrick looked. Pa, if anything were to happen to you-“
But then I suddenly turned and saw Pa’s eyes. “It won’t,” he said in a calm voice. “It won’t.”
But no matter how calm his voice was, it didn’t change the facts. Pa couldn’t guarantee me he’d be here tomorrow anymore then Joey could guarantee me that yesterday. Suddenly, Pa reminded me of the cinnamon rolls. A little bit of excitement entered me as I thought on this. Pa told me to go get cleaned up and ride over to fetch them.
As I ran in to get cleaned up I couldn’t help shaking my head at the whole thing Just a few hours ago, Pa was a bit leery about me getting all those cinnamon rolls after being so sick yesterday from eating too much candy. But now, he welcomed the opportunity for this pleasure that he hoped could make me feel better.
But the older I got, the more I understood – these things cannot be appeased with a piece of candy or some other sweet food I may enjoy. Only time could fix this.
By the time I came out of the house, Pa had Blue Boy saddled. He helped me up onto the horse. Then he allowed his hand to linger on my leg as he looked at me and smiled. “Have a good ride, huh?” he smiled at me. I nodded as we continued looking at each other. “And um…don’t forget your manners.”
“Yes sir.” Pa patted my leg as I started to leave but I suddenly stopped and turned back to him. With a smile, I said, “Pa?” Pa turned back to look at me. “Thanks.”
Pa gave me a slight nod as he looked into my eyes again. He suddenly came and laid a hand on my cheek. “You know that when you hurt I hurt. I’m trying to make us both feel better here.”
I gave him a short laugh as I started off for the Avery’s. I didn’t care what he said, I knew that there wasn’t a selfish bone in his whole body and everything he did he did it for me. But when Pa took time to talk to me or to give me those light touches, they meant something so special to me – they were so healing in their own special way; and I think I’d be safe to say that the power in his hands along with those prayers he sent up for me, did more healing then any doctor or any medicine could do.
I was suddenly happier, more relieved as I rode my horse. I knew I still had the funeral to deal with and I suddenly decided that I wanted to do something special for Joey’s father.
When I got to the Avery’s, I hollered for them outside. They quickly appeared. Mrs. Avery had the whole pan in her hand and they told me I could have them all. I was happy to take them, but I didn’t feel right in taking the pan. But then she said she didn’t need it and Mr. Avery ran to put it in my saddle bag.
Pa had told me to remember my manners, and I had watched Pa’s kindness to the neighbors to know what that meant. He had often sent me over in the past to do chores for them. So today, I decided to see if there’s anything they needed fixed up. Pa had also taught me that when it came to chores to insist to them that I would help them. They were proud and usually tried to simply tell me they were okay, but the truth is Pa didn’t like the idea of Mr. Avery chopping wood or doing some other hard labor. He said he’d done his years of hard work and deserved to have those who were younger to take some of the load off since God hadn’t blessed them with children of their own.
I ran to check the wood pile and saw that it was getting pretty low. I knew I didn’t have very long to work, and Pa would expect me home by sundown. I hurried and got the ax from the chopping block. But as I started to go back to the wood, something happened. A horse made a noise and I glanced toward the barn on my way towards the wood pile. But then I stopped dead in my tracks.
Inside was Joey’s saddle and horse! I sat my ax down as my heart suddenly started beating and I began shaking again. I slowly walked in with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I stared at the saddle as I ran my hand across it. I wasn’t imagining things. It was Joey’s saddle. I went to look at the horse.
I was suddenly filled with questions. What was my friend’s saddle doing in the Avery’s barn? I hoped there was a very good reason for this – that the Avery’s had a very good explanation why Joey’s missing saddle and horse were in their barn. I swallowed the lump that was again growing in my throat. “Does that bother you boy?” I suddenly heard. I whirled around and saw a strange man standing in the doorway. Fear gripped my heart.
I knew I was looking straight into the eyes of the murderer.
I couldn’t say anything. I was too afraid – too shocked. I simply stared at him as he walked inside towards me, trying to tell me his parents used to be good friends with the Avery’s. I knew he wasn’t their friend. I looked at the horse and saddle. The evidence was there. I wasn’t stupid. "You figurin' I killed that fella? Maybe I took his horse and saddle?”
I stayed quiet. I couldn’t find my voice even if I had wanted to at the moment. He leaned in toward me. His face held pure evilness. I was frightened. “You know, it could be that the killer stopped me too. Could be he made me swap horses with him. There’s a lot of things you gotta think on, boy.”
I was getting more frightened by the moment. He leaned in further towards me. His face was only inches from mine now and I could see the pure hatred for everything in his eyes. I’d never met such an evil, hateful man in my life.
“Now, let’s suppose that I did kill him. That would make it kinda tough on them harboring out a criminal.”
Suddenly, I found my voice. It was shaky and held fright in it, but it came out. “Well, not if it was against their will!”
But that was the extent of my bravery. I knew my father wouldn’t want me to act brave right now. He’d want me to get myself out of this situation as fast as possible. But I knew that I was currently in a great deal of danger.
“Well, I like that! Speaking straight out – I like that fine! Alright – Alright, not if it was against their will.” He suddenly leaned in even closer, putting his hand on the back of the post I suddenly felt more frightened – intimidated – I was afraid he was going to hurt me, to kill me like he did Joey. He continued talking in that hateful voice of his.
“Only you’re not gonna tell anybody, because if anybody comes riding up here, you know what I’m gonna have to do to them two in the house! You know, boy! And it’s gonna be just the same as if you murdered them yourself!” I was suddenly shaking, I was so scared. But I wasn’t just scared for me – I was scared for the Avery’s and what this man could do to them and me. It wouldn’t bother him to kill the Avery’s. It wouldn’t bother him to kill a kid. We were all in terrible danger.
“And you don’t want to do that, do ya'? So you’re just gonna forget that you ever saw me? Ain’t you?” I was suddenly gasping for breath, I was so scared, and I knew I had to go against everything my Pa had taught me about telling the truth. It was a matter of life and death. I also knew this man wouldn’t hesitate to kill me – he’d hunt me down after he killed the Avery’s, and it was my job to protect both them and me.
“Ain’t you?” He suddenly yelled again. I nodded slowly and fearfully.
I saw Mrs. Avery at the door. She was frightened…perhaps even embarrassed that she was being treated in such a manner. I felt bad for them, but I didn’t know what to do. I promised her I wouldn’t tell, then I ran away as fast as I could.
I jumped on Blue Boy and raced out of the yard. I saw the sun going down and climbed down from Blue Boy when I was on the road, walking slowly towards home. I looked back behind me in the direction the Avery farm was. I wondered who this man was and if he would kill them anyhow. I wondered about so many things.
Part of me wanted to tell Pa, but how could I? I knew that whatever I said would send him running over there, and my heart told me that if this man could stab an 18 year old kid in the back, he could kill my father. I knew that if Pa knew what this man had done to me, he’d become angry, and I didn’t want my father killing or getting killed because of something I told him. So I told myself I had to keep quiet.
I slowly walked back into the yard. I bedded down my horse for the night, then looked towards the house. The lights were on, and looked inviting but my heart was beating too fast. I decided to go ahead and lay down fresh hay.
That’s just what I was doing when Pa walked out. “Mark, supper’s ready.” He stopped when he saw me putting down fresh hay. “Well, I didn’t even have to tell you to clean the barn, son.” Pa crossed his arms, but I stayed in the stall with my back towards him. “Or would you rather do this then your homework?” I continued working silently, not looking at him.
“Mark?” I suddenly heard the sternness in my father’s voice. I stopped raking and turned to look at him. His eyebrows were raised in that questioning stare. “What is it?”
I looked away from him. I couldn’t look into his eyes. “Nothing,” I answered.
Pa walked up to me and took my chin in his hand. He turned my face towards his. “I thought you were feeling better when you left here.” I shrugged. I didn’t trust my voice. “Well, where’s the cinnamon rolls?”
“The cinnamon rolls. That’s what you left for, remember?” Pa cocked his head to one side.
“Oh,” I answered as I sat down the rake. I went to my saddle bags and handed them to him. Then I turned to go back to my raking.
“No, son. I’ll finish it after supper. Come on in and eat. I made fried potatoes and pork steaks.” Pa put an arm around my shoulders. I knew they were tense. He looked at me strangely as he lifted an eyebrow. I quickly turned my head from him.
“I’m not very hungry, Pa,” I answered.
“I want you to eat anyway, Mark. I went through a lot of trouble fixing you a special supper tonight.” I nodded knowing that was the truth. “After supper you can eat your cinnamon rolls.”
I slowly sat down at the table. Pa gently took my hand in his and closed his eyes to pray. I listened to his prayer tonight. He asked God to help me. The way he said it was so moving. He said it with so much sincere emotion. The moment he said “Amen,” I opened my eyes and stared down at the table. Pa filled my plate and handed it to me.
I spent the next few minutes moving the food back and forth on my plate. I couldn’t get Brud Evan’s face out of my head. I could still hear his angry words echoing. “Mark, don’t play with your food, son. Eat it.” I heard his words, but didn’t acknowledge him. Instead I let out a giant sigh and continued pushing the food around on my plate.
I felt Pa’s gentle touch as he laid his hand on mine. I looked up to see his eyes searching mine. “Son, you need to eat.”
“I can’t,” I mumbled. I laid down my fork. “I just can’t.” I looked up from the table. “May I be excused?”
Pa looked at me for a minute with a worried look on his face. Then he barely nodded his head. I stood and quickly walked out of the cabin, closing the door behind me. I walked to the side porch and sat down, my back to the post. Then I looked up at the stars.
Everything was so peaceful here, but how was it at the Avery’s? Was Brud hurting them? Why did he choose them to pick on? Why did he come to North Fork of all the places in the world he could go to? How long would I have to keep this secret?
I closed my eyes suddenly. I was keeping a terrible secret from my Pa, but I knew I had to. I wasn’t so much concerned about saving my own life as I was saving the life of the Avery’s and my Pa.
Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I gasped and jumped a foot off the porch. Then I heard a startled laugh from my Pa. “Easy, son.” He sat down beside me and just looked at me. I didn’t say anything, so he cleared his throat and spoke. “Son, life is full of disappointment. You can’t let what happened to Joey eat at you like this. Do you remember how long it took you to get over your mother’s death? It took months, and I thought that was going to destroy us. Don’t let this stay between us, son. If you need to talk-“
“Pa, I’m awful tired. Can I turn in?” I suddenly asked.
Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “Please?” I was almost crying. I knew I was shaking, but Pa didn’t say anything about it.
Pa nodded. “Alright, Mark.” I stood and hurried inside. At the door, pa called my name in a broken voice. I turned and looked at him. He had tears shining in his eyes. “Whenever you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.” I nodded and started to turn away. “And,” Pa suddenly stopped me. “I just want you to know that I love you very, very much.”
I just looked at Pa and nodded. “Night, Pa.” Then I quickly went inside and went to bed.
As I laid in bed in the darkness, I listened to the dishes rattling. I knew Pa well enough to know that the sound the dishes were making meant Pa was upset. I suddenly felt very guilty as I remembered that Pa had fixed me a special supper. Then I hadn’t even touched it! He must think I’m horrible. That was just another burden I had to carry for the time being.
I began thinking again about yesterday when Joey came into the schoolyard with a smile on his face. Was that just yesterday? Just last night he was at home with his father – or maybe working on the house he had been building for himself on his newly purchased land. Now, tonight he laid still in a pine box in town waiting to be put down in the ground tomorrow.
Then the evil face of Brud Evans came to me. His evil voice echoed in the darkness. I wanted it to stop. I couldn’t stand listening to such things.
The door opened and Pa came in. I was happy to see him. He sat down on my bed and looked down at me. We just looked at each other for several moments. Then he smoothed my hair from my forehead. “How ya doing, kiddo?” Pa asked with a tight smile.
“Pa, I’m…sorry I ruined your good supper. Please don’t be mad.” I couldn’t stand this thing that was between us.
“Oh, I’m not mad, son.” Pa sighed as he patted me. “I’m worried…very worried.”
“Pa?” Pa looked down at me. “Will you…sit here with me until I fall asleep?”
Pa smiled. “You know I will, son.” He pulled a chair up to my bedside and sat down with his Bible. He pulled a lightly lit lantern toward him so he could read. “Would you like me to read out loud?”
I nodded. He began reading from Psalm. His reading the Bible always put me to sleep. It was soothing…comforting. I was soon asleep.
But then I saw him. He had a knife and he was running toward the Avery’s. “No! Leave them alone!” I cried. “Please leave them alone!” He had that evil look on his face and laughed at me. I flinched, not knowing what to do. He lifted the knife toward Mrs. Avery. Then-
Suddenly I was awake. Pa was there holding me. It was only a dream. I threw my arms around him and cried. I was shaking from fear. I don’t really remember much, but I heard my Pa’s voice as he told me a story or something. But his voice calmed me and put me back to sleep.
Later that night I woke up with a start. I got a bad feeling in my gut suddenly that my Pa was in danger. Quickly, I threw the covers back and leapt out of bed. In the darkness I could see that Pa was sound asleep. It felt so real – like Pa’s life was in danger!
I went into the other room and grabbed a cinnamon roll. My stomach was suddenly growling from lack of food. Then I grabbed a glass of milk and went to sit on the porch.
I looked out across the land. Everything was so dark and eerie. I leaned my head against the post and took another bite of the cinnamon roll.
If only it would remain this peaceful all the time!
“Mark?” I turned to see Pa standing in the doorway. He was buttoning his pants. He came over and sat down next to me. “Woke up hungry?”
I looked down at the cinnamon roll and laughed. “Yeah, I guess I did. What time is it?”
“It’s about 4:30.” Pa sighed. He put an arm around my shoulders. “It’s about time for the sun to come up. Then he looked at me. “Are you feeling better this morning?”
“I guess so,” I answered. To tell the truth, sleep did seem to put a little distance between me and that problem.
We sat in silence for a long time. I watched the sun come up over the hills. “Funny,” I mumbled, sort of to myself. “No matter what, that sun always comes up. It just…keeps on going…” I felt Pa’s arm tighten around my shoulders. “Watching the miracle of a sunrise should make me happy. But it only…” my voice drifted off as I allowed yet another sigh to escape me.
I think Pa knew what I was thinking. But after only a few more moments of us looking up at the sunrise, he said, “Well, you best go get dressed. Then you can have a couple more of those cinnamon rolls for breakfast.”
I nodded. Pa started to stand, but I stopped him once again. I didn’t look at him when I asked, but I looked straight ahead as if I was watching something intensely. “Is the funeral today?” He nodded. “Can I go?”
Pa gently laid his hand on my shoulder. “Of course,” he answered. “It’s at 2 o’clock.”
“Pa?” I turned and looked at him. “Can I-“ I lowered my head for a moment. Then I looked into his eyes. “Can I stay home from school today?”
Pa shook his head. “Mark, the best thing for you to do is stick with your normal routine. If I allowed you to stay home today, I would be allowing you to dwell on what happened. You can’t do that. I want you to put this behind you and-“
I suddenly stood up. “Pa, he was a human being, not a dog!” Then I hurried into the house before he could say anymore.
Before I knew it, it was time for me to go. Pa gave me my lunch, stating he had put the last couple cinnamon rolls in there as well. I had finally calmed myself down enough to go to school when Pa suddenly asked me to take the baking pan back to the Avery’s after school. The mere thought of that sent chills up my spine. I suddenly felt the fears from yesterday come pouring back. I immediately began backing up, trying to think of what to say. “Oh, I can’t today Pa!” I answered nervously.
I began talking nervously about us having too many chores and such while I preoccupied myself with looking for a pencil. I couldn’t…I just couldn’t go over there now or never – not as long as that man was there!
I could tell Pa was concerned. “Mark, what’s wrong?” Pa suddenly asked me as he sat down on the table and looked into my eyes.
I wanted to tell him so bad, but I just couldn’t! I- “Just let me go to school now, Pa. Please?” School suddenly sounded good. I just couldn’t stare into those concerned eyes anymore. Pa picked up my pencil from the table and handed it to me.
I ran out the door, jumped on my horse, and raced away as fast as I could. The Avery’s were always nice folks! Why was this heartless killer staying at their house? Why would he come here to North Fork? How was I ever going to keep this a secret?
Suddenly, I heard Micah call my name. I stopped and rode back. I hadn’t even seen him on the road. “You must have money in the bank, the way you rode straight past!”
Oh if only that’s what it was! Micah said he wanted to stop by the house and have a cup of coffee. He had been up all night looking for Brud Evans.
He’d killed my friend Joey. Micah suddenly said something to me that really got me to thinking. “I was just thinking…You sound like he used to.” Then Micah rode away.
I slowly started for school. But I thought on that. It could have been me he had killed. Joey had probably stopped to help the man who didn’t have a horse. What if it had been me there? I would be dead right now. It would be my Pa sobbing and grieving, feeling completely lost.
I continued riding, but then I stopped the horse as I thought of something else. If he killed Joey for his horse, he’s not going to leave the Avery’s alive. He would surely-
“Kill them!” I swallowed as I said the words out loud. I suddenly turned and raced back, knowing I had a responsibility to tell – I would never forgive myself if he killed them then got away!
I jumped off Blue Boy and ran into the house. “Pa, I’ve got something to tell-“ My words died in my throat when I only saw Micah there. I had a really bad feeling in my stomach – it was the same bad feeling I’d had since I woke up this morning. “Where’s Pa?” I asked.
Micah hadn’t seen him. I had told him he was here. “Well he was. He didn’t say he was going anywhere,” I suddenly stated. I needed to tell Pa what was happening. I suddenly felt so much guilt for hiding this from him.
“Well, could be you misunderstood him,” Micah answered.
“Well, he was standing right here holding the baking-“ Suddenly, I panicked. My Pa was so in touch with me. He always knew what I was feeling. It didn’t take a dummy to figure out that I was upset about the Avery’s, and because Pa loves me so much he would rush right out to see what the problem was so he could help me. Thinking on this, I ran over to the kitchen. The baking pan was gone!
“Pa must have taken it over to the Avery’s! Well don’t you understand, Micah, he might get killed!”
Micah stood and stared at me. “What are you talking about Mark?”
“Well, Brud Evans is hiding out at the Avery’s!” I suddenly yelled, panicked. I had to get over there – to save my Pa! He was in danger because of me! If I had told- “I saw him there! He’ll think that I told him!”
Micah put a hand on my shoulder to calm me, but I couldn’t calm down! “I saw him there! He’ll think that I told him!”
How could he be so calm when my Pa may be in trouble! “Honest! Please believe me, he’s over there!”
Micah raced out the door. I mounted my horse. “If he’d killed, it’s all my fault!” I screamed as we raced off toward the Avery’s.
We were almost there when we heard gunshots coming from their house. We stopped suddenly. “No!” I screamed as I started forward. “No, no, no!”
Micah suddenly grabbed on to my horse’s reins. “You stay here, Mark!”
Tears were coming. “I can’t, Micah! No!” I raced forward before Micah could stop me. I ran into the yard and jumped off my horse. Pa was stepping out of the house. He looked like he had just been through an ordeal. “Pa!” I screamed.
I jumped off my horse and raced up to him. “Oh, Pa!” I jumped into his arms and squeezed my arms around his neck. “Oh Pa, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” I cried over and over.
Pa held me tight. “It’s alright, son,” he whispered. “I’m alright.” I kept crying with my face buried in his shoulder. “Mark,” he forced my head off his shoulder so I could see his face. He smiled at me. He gently laid a hand on my cheek. “Hey, I’m alright, hon. You see? I’m okay!” He smiled at me. I smiled back.
Later, as we rode away from the Avery’s, I was quiet. Nothing was said all the way home. But then Pa turned our horses off the road and stopped them. He climbed off and lifted me down. Holding my hand, he walked me down to a brook and told me to sit down. “Now, we aren’t leaving this spot until we get everything out in the open, Mark. You won’t feel better until you do.”
“If he had killed you, it would have been my fault,” I said quietly. Then through tears, I told Pa everything that had happened. I told him all my fears and all the thoughts that went through my head. By the time I was done, I was in his lap hugging him again. “I was wrong…I was just…so scared.”
Pa stood me up in front of me at this point. “Mark, he is a vicious killer, and he knew how to scare you. That’s what he did. And if I had been killed it would have been his fault, not yours.”
I started to shake my head, but Pa put the sternest look on his face he could muster. “It would have been only his fault, son. You were confused…afraid…but when you straightened out your thinking, you tried to come for me.” Pa sighed. “Son, I knew there was something terrible wrong when I went over there. I shouldn’t have barged in their house like that. I put my own life in danger.”
I looked towards the brook and smiled. I thought on everything that had been said. “Pa? After the funeral can we…” I swallowed. “Can we go fishing?”
Pa gave me a strange look. I said nothing more about it, but had the look in my eye. “I would love to take my favorite boy fishing,” Pa answered. “But right now, young man, you’re gonna go home and-“ Pa looked at me and smiled. “Tell you what, let’s go home and work on chores until time to leave. Then we’ll take the rest of the day and go fishing!”
I hugged him one more time. Then we stood and walked back toward our horses. After that day, we never really talked about what happened again. We both knew that I had had more learning lessons, and the next time I would be wiser.
*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
The Horse Traders
around The McCain Ranch