The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

Waste Episode 143 & 144
Mark’s story

“He’s not testifying, Micah, and that’s final!” I heard Pa shout as I started to go into Micah’s office. I heard extreme anger in his voice as I paused outside the door.

“Shouldn’t you talk this over with Mark?” Micah asked in a calm voice. “After all-“

“After all…, this does not concern you!” Pa interrupted him loudly. “Mark is my boy – not yours!”

I cringed at that. Pa was always telling me that I said things I’d soon regret. But the truth was, Pa could do the same. I continued listening, trying to figure out what he should talk over with me. “As far as Mark’s concerned, the man’s dead, Micah. I’d just as soon keep it that way!” I heard Pa bang a fist on the desk. “Or have you forgotten how terrified he was when he was eleven…and again when he was twelve? Well, have you?!”

I drew a hand to my mouth and gasped. “No…no, I haven’t forgotten,” I heard Micah say. “But he’s two years older now. Perhaps…”

“Perhaps! Perhaps nothing! As far as my son is concerned, Masters can stay buried!” Pa shouted.

You want this man to go on killing Lucas?!” I heard Micah shout then. “Do you realize how many more people he’s killed since he escaped from my jail two years ago?”

I barely heard Pa’s next words. “I know, Micah. Don’t you think I know?” I again heard him pound on the desk in frustration. “You don’t understand the…the torment I feel, Micah…I have to decide between putting my son through a living hell again or…or…” Pa sighed. “Or allowing that man to go free to murder again.” I heard a sound like Pa stomping his boots. “How do you expect me to decide and choose between the two like that?”

I closed my eyes as I remembered the smell…the sound…the look…Everything again. My heart beat faster and I felt beads of sweat break out on my forehead. I laid my head against the door and sighed. Then before I could change my mind, I opened the door and walked in. “I’ll save you the trouble, Pa. I’ll decide,” I said in a shaky voice.

Pa turned and stared at me. I looked from him to Micah. “Mark, I-“ Pa started.

I raised my hand. “Pa, I remember how terrified I was back then. I’m older now and you’ve allowed me to make more of my own decisions. I can’t say that it will be easy, but I have a responsibility. A responsibility that I should have lived up to three years ago.”

“Son, listen-“

“Is he here?” I asked, hesitantly.

Micah frowned as he looked from Pa to me. Pa glared at Micah. “He’s in a town down by the Mexican border. I’m trying to make arrangements to get him here.”

“No!” Pa yelled again. He pointed a finger in Micah’s face. “Over my dead body will that…that…animal come to North Fork! He’s in jail, I’ll not have you give him the chance to escape again by transporting him here!”

“He has to! Mark’s the only witness.”

“A change of venue, Micah!” Pa was clinching his jaw. “Change of venue right now!”

I jumped forward and grabbed Pa by the arm. “Come on, Pa. Let’s go outside and talk about this.”

Pa stood there staring at Micah. His finger was still in Micah’s face. He said nothing. I pulled harder on his arm. “Come on, Pa,” I said quietly.

Pa hesitated, but finally turned and walked out the door. I heard him heave a big sigh as he hit the hitching rail in frustration. I knew he was remembering back. So was I. “So…” I sighed as I sat down in the chair. “He was alive after all.”

“It took a lot of convincing, son…” Pa sighed. “But under the circumstances, I felt…at the time…that it was the only thing I could do.”

“You lied to me.”

“I was protecting you,” Pa tried to explain.

“Pa,” Pa sat down next to me. He didn’t even look at me. “You told me he was dead.”

“Mark, the nightmares…they were so bad. Two…three a night. You would wake up screaming and shaking so much that…I couldn’t stand it anymore, son. I had to take you to school every morning and someone had to drive you home. You are my son! You were twelve years old and could hardly function. The fear – it was so painful to watch. I couldn’t get through to you.”

“So…” I sighed. “You thought it would be better…for me to believe he was dead.”

“It was, Mark. It was. You got better.”

“He could have come back, Pa. What if he had come back?” I asked.

“With a thousand dollar bounty on his head?” Pa shook his head. “There was no way!”

“A thousand-“ I gasped. “Who-“ Pa turned and looked at me. “Where would you have EVER gotten the money?”

“Son, I would have done ANYTHING to protect you. Don’t you understand?”

I stood up and walked away from Pa. I had to think. Pa had always taught me to be completely open and honest with him. I suddenly didn’t feel like he had done that with me. “I’m not perfect, Mark. You are my weakness. When it comes to protecting you…”

“Then don’t take it out on Micah!” I suddenly exclaimed.

“What?” Pa was shocked at my tone of voice.

I narrowed my eyes as I studied him. “You…” I slowly walked toward him. “After all this time…you still blame him, don’t you?”

“What are you talking about?”

The day…the day I woke up after I was shot and almost died…You were angry at Micah for letting that man get away.” Even after all this time, I couldn’t bring myself to say his name. “You blamed him.”

“No, son. No.”

“You did!” I stared at him. “You did, Pa! I heard you and Micah. You never forgave him for doing that.”

“No, son.” Pa turned away from me. I heard him sigh.

“You don’t know…You don’t remember the thoughts Micah thought on.” I walked up to him. “Pa, you remember when you were in Wyoming?” Pa turned and nodded at me. “Micah took me fishing a lot. We spent a lot of time talking. Once when we were fishing, he almost started crying. Micah…Micah, Pa…”

Pa turned and stared at me. “Pa, Micah carried that pain around with him for three months! He held so much guilt and it’s because you blamed him. He apologized to me that day. He said he could never forgive himself for…” I stopped. Pa was staring at me.

I watched as he looked toward the door. I turned and saw Micah standing in the doorway. He held a piece of paper in his hand. His face held a deep, sorrowful frown. “I should have killed him when I had the chance!” Micah mumbled. Then he stepped off the porch and walked to the telegraph office.

I watched Micah disappear into the telegraph office. “I’m going to testify,” I announced.

“No!” Pa shouted.

I whirled around. “Yes!” I clinched my fists at my sides. “You can’t stop me, Pa! I’m gonna be at that trial! I’m gonna make sure this man never…every hurts another person again. I’m gonna see him hang!” I didn’t wait to hear Pa say anything else. I hurried to Blue Boy. “I’m sorry, Pa.” I turned and looked at him. “You were wrong to lie to me. And you’re wrong now. It’s time I face reality. I’m going to face that man…and I’m gonna watch him die!”

I rode for home. I had every intention to go straight home and start on the chores, but then I paused at the water hole – the same one where the whole thing had started. I tied Blue Boy to a nearby tree and went to stand by the water. As I peered out, I remembered that day. I felt myself jump into the water. I remember diving deep down, feeling the bullet hit my scalp. I remember someone pulling me up by the the shirt and…I remember those eyes that stared back at me.

“Amelia…” I suddenly heard that name. I gasped. Her name was Amelia! She was from High Butte. That’s what the man had told me that day.

I don’t know how long I stood there staring out over the water. Pa came to stand beside me. He held Razor’s rein in his hand. “We’ll leave for Rosetown tomorrow, son.”

I turned and looked at him. “Rosetown?”

Pa nodded. “That’s where the trial will be. It’ll be three days hard riding. The trial will be Saturday morning.”

I nodded. Then I turned back toward the water. “You angry with me?”

“Of course not, son.” Pa sighed. “I’m…angry at myself. At the time…lying was the only thing I could do.”

I lowered my head to the ground. “I’m…sorry Pa.” I turned and looked at him. “I…I should have never said those things to you.”

“They were true.”

“No.” I shook my head. “As I stood here, I remembered the fears and the nightmares. You did the right thing. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same for you. I mean, lie to protect you.”

We stood there together looking out over the water. “It won’t be easy, Mark.” I turned and looked at him. “Seeing him again. I…worry about it.”

“I know.” I nodded. “But, it’s one of those things…you know?”

“Manhood?”

I nodded. “Manhood. A man can’t run just cause he’s scared.” We smiled at each other. Then we turned and looked back over the water. “Amelia.”

“What?” Pa turned and looked at me.

“Her name was…Amelia.” I turned and looked at Pa. “That’s what he told me. She was from High Butte. You think that maybe…”

Pa nodded. “We’ll…stop there on our way home, son.”

“I can still see that horse, Pa. You reckon the reason that horse was so special was cause he looked like Ma’s?” I looked at Pa. “Milky?”

“You remember his name?”

I nodded. “I always thought it was a silly name.”

“You named him that, you know.” Pa smiled at me. “When you were three. Your mother was brushing him in the barn. You walked up to him and said “‘Milky.’ She was trying to come up with a name. That’s the name you chose.”

“Hm.” I laughed. “Pa?” Pa turned back to look at me. “You still miss her?”

“Every day, son.” Pa patted me on the back as we started for home. “Every day.”

************************

I remember that day. It had been another rough night. For an entire month, I had awaken wet with sweat from the horrible nightmares. That night had been filled with nightmares, and I remember Pa weeping the last time he held me in his arms as I fell back to sleep. I felt ashamed that morning. Here I was a twelve year old, and I was terrified of everything!

I would be okay around the ranch most of the time, but Pa had to stay close by…just in case. That morning was Saturday morning. I watched Pa all through breakfast as he ate quietly and sipped his coffee. I played with my food, not really eating it. “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment to you, Pa.”

I watched as Pa slowly sat down his coffee cup. He stretched out his hand and touched mine. “Son, you aren’t a disappointment to me. I just wish…” Pa looked away.

“I know I’m acting like a little kid, but I…” I sighed.

I watched as Pa stood up and walked over to his desk. He began looking through some papers. I watched as his eye focused on one of them. He closed his eyes and sighed. Then he slapped his hand on the desk and stuffed the piece of paper in his pocket. “Son, I have to go in town and talk to Micah. Will you be okay here for a couple hours?”

I knew I’d be afraid, but I wasn’t going to tell Pa that. Not when I could see the agony in his eyes. “Yes sir.”

I had counted the minutes until he would be back while I worked on chores inside the house. I’d seen outlaws come and go since I was almost killed, and yet this one outlaw stuck in my head.

Suddenly, I heard a horse whinny. I jumped as I ran to the window. I peered out and saw an unfamiliar form on a horse rapidly approaching the house. I gasped and ran into the bedroom. I crouched down and hid between Pa’s bed and the closet.

Banging sounded loud on the door. I threw my hands to my ears. “Go away,” I whispered. “Oh, please, go away!” My heart started racing. The pounding stopped. I listened, expecting to hear the footsteps slowly creep across the floor. But there was only silence.

I heard another horse and gasped again. There was mumbling outside. I couldn’t understand what was going on. “Mark?” I suddenly heard Pa’s calling me from the other room. He opened the door to the bedroom. “Mark?”

He started to leave thinking I wasn’t there. But suddenly, I stood up. “I’m here, Pa,” I answered. My hands were still shaking and my heart still racing like a stallion.

Pa rushed over to me and fell to his knees. His eyes filled with tears. “Oh son…my boy!” He touched my cheeks and looked into my eyes. “Mark, you…” Pa swallowed as he continued looking at me. “You don’t have to run anymore. Your safe now.” Pa grasped me and hugged me tight. “Your safe, son. It’s all over.”

Pa raised his head back up to me. “Here. Read this.”

I slowly opened a note Pa was holding. I read out loud. “Marshal Torrance, this is to inform you that I shot and killed suspected killer, Willie Masters, outside Santa Fe. Sam Buckhart, Deputy Marshal.”

I read through it several times. “He’s dead?” I swallowed. “You mean…he’s really dead?” Pa nodded. “Really…truly, Pa? He’s truly dead?”

“Yes, son. He’s really dead!”

“How do you know it’s him, Pa?” I asked. “I mean…”

“Mark! Son, Buckhart and I are friends. You know that he wouldn’t say this unless he was really, truly sure…He’s really dead, son.”

My fingers suddenly weakened and the letter fluttered to the floor. I lifted my eyes to Pa’s. “Is he REALLY dead, Pa?”

Pa looked me straight in the eye. He put a hand to my cheek. “Yes, son. He’s dead. He can never hurt you again.”

I fell to the floor and wept.

************************

I stood outside the Marshal’s office and looked around. Pa was at the General Store buying a few supplies we would need for the trip. “Who caught him, Micah?” I asked. I bent over the hitching post and looked sideways at Micah who was carving something from a piece of wood.

Micah turned and looked at me. “A bounty hunter,” he answered.

“A thousand dollars…” I shook my head. “Gee, at that price, I’m surprised he didn’t kill him.”

“Not this bounty hunter,” Micah answered. “He’s likes to bring them in alive.”

I looked to the store. When I saw that Pa was still occupied, I turned back to Micah. “Micah?” Micah looked up at me. “Where did Pa get the money?”

“What money?”

“For the bounty.” Micah just kept carving. “Where, Micah?”

“You…uh…know the truth?” Micah asked.

“I think so.” We looked at each other for a moment. Then I sighed and looked away. “I know Pa lied to me about Masters being dead. I also know that on that same day, he took something out of his desk and came into town. I know he took a thousand dollar bounty out on Masters. Dead or alive?”

I turned to look at Micah. He gave me a short nod. “Your father came into town that day and told me he was going to tell you Masters died. I wasn’t sure if it was right at first, but when I realized how bad it really was, I agreed to go along with it. I spread the word and a little money was donated. Your father only had to come up with half.”

“I’m surprised he allowed that.”

“He didn’t,” Micah answered. I raised my eyebrows and waited for him to go on. “I told him the territorial governor put up $500.”

“But he didn’t?” I asked.

“Nope.”

“And now…the bounty hunter will be a thousand dollars richer.”

“Looks that way,” Micah answered.

We saw Pa coming. “Ready?” We nodded and mounted up. Then we were on our way.

*************************

The closer we got to Rosetown, the more nervous I became. I could feel Pa watching me closely for any sign of anxiety. The first day wasn’t too bad. The second day, Pa had to slow down and pull on Blue Boy’s reins to hurry him along because I had allowed Blue Boy to slack and do his own thing. Finally, in a stern voice, Pa said, “Don’t spoil that horse now, boy. A spoiled horse won’t do you any good. Keep the reins tight and don’t let him do his own thing.” I knew that was an order to keep my mind on my business at hand.

Blue Boy usually did really good at following Razor’s lead. I was surprised he was being so disobedient, even though I wasn’t being stern with him. Pa said he could sense my mood and he knew something was wrong. He was acting out because I was. “I sense your mood too, son.”

That second night, Micah and Pa talked by the fire as I looked into the fire. I heard Micah mention that it was only a couple hours away now. I stared into the flames and remembered back…

The woman riding on the horse…rearing her horse back and laughing. The woman…Amelia and Buttermilk laughing together by the water hole when suddenly…I let out a gasp.

“Mark?” Pa crawled over to me from where he’d been sitting. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” I answered shortly. “I’m…fine.”

Pa put an arm around my shoulders. He turned and looked at Micah. “Micah, I don’t like it. Maybe we should-“

“No!” I said it a little too forcibly as I shot my head around toward Pa. I quickly cleared my throat and turned back toward the fire. “I mean…I’m going to testify.”

“Son, look…” Pa started.

“No sir! If I don’t testify, he won’t be punished for what he did to Amelia.”

“Amelia?” Micah questioned.

“Forget it, Micah,” Pa ordered. He turned back to me. “Son, I will not stand by and watch you go through that fear…the nightmares and-“

“Pa, I’m older now! I won’t-“ I started in a loud, angry voice.

“Don’t raise your voice to me, Mark!” Pa said sharply.

“I…I’m sorry.” I turned back and looked into the fire again. I never did understand why he could yell at me and Micah, but I couldn’t yell at them…He said I’d understand when I was older. I was now 14, and still didn’t understand. I just knew I could get in trouble for it and he couldn’t. I sighed. “Pa, please don’t worry. But understand that this will be hard for me and it’s something I have to do…for Amelia..and for all those other people he killed.

I felt Pa’s eyes on me as he studied my words. Finally, he nodded. “Alright, son. You turn in. I’ll be over in a while.”

I turned and looked into my father’s eyes. I saw the worry and the pain in there. I wanted to remove it, but I had no idea how. So with a nod, I did as I was told and went to bed.

But I didn’t go to sleep. As I laid there, I continued remembering back. I felt so much closer to it now. I remember seeing the man standing over that poor dead woman as I hid in the bushes. I remember seeing the branded H and still wondered why he had it. I remember the smell…the stink. I remember the sound he made. I remember…everything.

I turned over and closed my eyes. It was his face I saw as he looked towards me with that evil laugh and as he tried to kill me that day by the watering hole. It was a sight I’d never forget. That’s the image I saw as I drifted off to sleep.

**************’

I tried to keep them from coming. It was the last thing I needed with Pa’s already worrying about me. But from the deep recesses of my mind, I watched as Amelia rode her horse through a large field. Her hair hung over her shoulders as she laughed and giggled. Then I saw Ma on Milky riding beside her. Ma was laughing too. At least it was a pleasant dream. But suddenly, the man with the red hair was there. He laughed evilly as he rode between my mother and Amelia. Then he pointed a gun at each of them. In the darkness I heard the gunshots. “No! Leave my mother alone,” I screamed.

“Mark!” Pa was there beside me. I realized I was sitting straight up in my bedroll. I turned and looked toward Pa as sweat broke out on my face. I watched as Pa’s eyes filled with tears. He lifted a hand to my face. “Oh Mark!” he cried in a lonesome, fearful voice. “Oh, my son.”

I just stared at him. Micah walked over. Pa opened his mouth to say something, but Micah suddenly called his name. Pa turned and looked at him. Micah motioned with his head for Pa to come over to him. I watched as Micah took Pa aside and spoke to him softly. With a sigh, I laid down and was soon back to sleep.

*************************

My heart pounded as we rode into Rosetown. As we rode down the Main Street, I saw the jail where Willie Masters sat. without realizing it, I stopped my horse in front and stared at the jail. My hands became sweaty. I could hear his laugh, but I wasn’t sure if that was really him or from my memory. “Mark,” I heard Pa call in that soft, worried voice of his.

I turned and looked at Pa. “I said let’s go to the hotel and freshen up first.”

I turned and stared at the jail again. I couldn’t quite make Blue Boy move. I felt Pa tug on Blue Boy’s reins. “Come on, Blue Boy,” Pa said softly. “He’ll be okay.” I felt Blue Boy move as he obeyed Pa. When he stopped, I slowly climbed down, but continued staring at the jail. “Come on, son. The trial’s tomorrow. Then it’ll all be over.”

After freshening up, we went to the dining room for lunch. I tasted my food, but that was about it. My mind was back in North Fork reliving the incredible fears I felt when I was eleven…and again when I was twelve. Not only that, though. I remembered my Pa and his struggles. I hated putting either of us through this again. I felt the same old familiar fears grip me as I realized that tomorrow morning, I’d have to face Masters. I’d have to look into that face and tell-

“Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “Uh…remember after Micah captured Masters and he told me that I was a minor and wouldn’t have to have him in the room?” Pa nodded. “Well, uh…am I still a minor?”

Pa and Micah looked at each other. “Until you’re 18, Mark,” Micah answered.

I put a fist to my forehead and closed my eyes in desperation and shame. I wanted so much to be mature about this, but…Pa knew what was bothering me. “Son, your facing childhood fears. No one expects you to act like a man right now. I’ll see that he’s not in the courtroom with you.” Pa looked toward Micah. “Right Micah?”

Micah knew that wasn’t a question. He knew that was something he would see too if he was to stay in Pa’s good graces. “Right,” Micah answered.

“Well, Lucas McCain, the Rifleman!” we heard from behind us.

We turned. I gasped as I stared up at a familiar face. “I remember you!” I declared “You saved my life once when I was trapped in that cave after some cattle rustlers kidnapped me.” I also remembered there was another red head involved.

“Josh Randall.” Josh held out his hand to me. “You’ve grown a bit, Mark!”

“I guess I have,” I stated. “At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me.”

Pa stood up and pulled up another chair at the table. “Please, sit down!” Pa invited him.

Josh took off his hat and sat. “Much obliged.” He held out his hand. “Hello, Lucas.”

Pa smiled as they pumped their hands up and down. “Hello, Josh! Good to see you again!” Pa waited while Josh ordered something to eat then asked, “What brings you here?”

“Business.” Josh turned and looked at Micah. “You didn’t tell him?”

“No. I thought you would want to,” Micah answered.

I gasped. “Don’t tell me he’s the bounty hunter that caught that animal!”

Josh looked sideways at Pa, then back at me. “Now Mark, don’t’ be calling him an animal! Even the snake would be offended!” Josh shook his head. “Don’t see many like this one, Lucas. He’s a disease that needs squashed.”

“Then why did you bring him back alive?” I suddenly shot a hand to my mouth. But it was too late.

“Mark!” Pa declared. Then he sighed. “Well…I can’t say that I would have brought him back alive.”

“A man…or beast…or disease – what ever you want to call this Masters fellow…God still made him a man, so he has the right to a trial, son,” Josh answered. “He sure ain’t denying it, leastwise – not to me.”

Josh pulled out the Watned Poster from his pocket and laid it on the table. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I came up on this. I picked it up and read it. “Wanted Dead or Alive: Willie Masters. $1,000.00. Red hair, last seen wearing a long, red mustache, H brand on right cheek. See Marshal Torrence or Lucas McCain in North Fork, New Mexico Territory.”

As I finished reading, Josh cleared his throat. “When I saw this…I had this feeling there was more to the story. So I wired Micah.” Josh handed me another piece of paper. “Wanted for murder of a woman while in North Fork three years ago. Mark McCain is the only witness. Last time in North Fork was 1 ½ hears ago when he almost killed Mark McCain. Micah Torrance, Marshal.”

I looked up at Josh then. “So you went after him?”

Josh folded the papers up and stuffed then back in his pocket. “I did.” He sighed. “I actually went through North Fork one day to talk to Micah. He told me all about what happened to you, Mark. He told me how hard it had been for you and that…that you thought he was dead.” Josh turned and looked at Pa. “That’s when I knew that I had to find this man. I count you as my friends and couldn’t see him do this to you two.”

“He told me he wouldn’t rest until he found this man, Mark.”

“And I didn’t,” Josh answered.

“Her name was Amelia,” I whispered then.

“Yes. Amelia Andrews from High Butte,” Josh answered. “She was traveling through North Fork on her way to Santa Fe to get married. Her fiance…he never heard about what happened to her. He didn’t take my news very well.”

“He should have been riding with her,” Pa mumbled harshly.

“Well, she had a mind of her own,” Josh declared. “She was supposed to wait for him, but set out on her own. He said she’d always been high strung.”

“Will you be there tomorrow? For the trial?” I asked.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Josh answered as he popped the last bite of food in his mouth and picked up his hat. “I’ll be moving on.”

“I…have the thousand dollars for you, Josh,” Micah announced.

Josh paused and looked at me. “Uh…say, that’s a mighty smart boy you have there, Lucas. You sending him to college?”

Pa smiled. “Well, I don’t know, Josh. He’s thinking on settling in North Fork and ranching himself.”

“Well…I reckon he could use a thousand dollars to get started…whatever he decides,” Josh nodded.

Pa stood then. “Oh no…that money – it’s for you. You deserve it.”

“I couldn’t.” Josh held up his hands. “I was doing a favor for a friend of mine. Three friends, actually. I don’t want the money.” Pa started to say something else. Josh just nodded and hurried out quickly.

I stood up and shook my head. “He sure comes and goes, don’t’ he, Pa?”

Pa nodded. “He sure does, son.”

“You…suppose we’ll ever see him again?”

Pa looked over my head at Micah. “Well son, thinking on the two occasions I’ve seen him, I have to say I hope I don’t!”

We all laughed at that.

**********************

I sighed as I looked at the Bible. Pa turned from the window in our hotel room. “Son, you need to get to sleep now. We have to get up early in the morning to meet with the judge.”

“I know,” I said. “Just a little while longer, Pa.”

Pa walked over to me and sat on the bed. “What are you looking for?”

I shook my head. “Some place in here that tells me everything will be okay tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Pa took the Bible from me and sat it on the table. He tapped on my chest. “God’s in here, son. He’ll be there with you tomorrow. Just say an extra prayer and ask him for peace. He never said it would be easy, but in time you’ll find it.” Pa lifted the covers. “Now, you’ll do less worrying about it if you go to sleep.” He motioned for me to scoot down under the covers. I laid down and Pa tucked me in.

He blew out the lantern and walked back to the window. I watched in silence as Pa stared down onto the street. I knew he would stay up all night worrying. I closed my eyes, hoping for sleep to come.

I felt Pa lay down in the bed next to me. He tucked the covers tight around me. Even at the advanced age of 14, Pa still did that. He soon fell asleep. I dozed off, feeling safe with my Pa right beside me.

But suddenly, I woke up with a start. This time it wasn’t my nightmare that woke me. I got up and slowly made my way to the window. The street was dark and quiet. I walked to the table and looked at the clock as the moonlight shone in. It read 3:00. Quietly, I dressed then made my way downstairs and out the door.

From the porch of the hotel, I could see the jail. Slowly, I walked toward it. I heard a pounding in the distance and looked toward the sound. In the distance, I saw a gallows being built. “What are you doing out here, boy?”

The sudden noise in the quiet darkness made me jump. I gasped as I whirled around. Then I threw a hand to my chest. “Oh, Marshal!” I closed my eyes and swallowed. “I’m sorry. I…I couldn’t sleep.”

“Marshal Richards.” He held out his hand to me. “And you would be?”

“Oh!” I held out my hand. “Mark. Mark McCain.”

“McCain? Oh, you’re here for the trial.”

“Yes sir.” I heard the pounding and a distant sound of voices as they laughed. I turned in the direction of the noise.

“We don’t get many hanging’s here, so when there’s a chance for one, they waste no time.”

“They’re expecting him to be hanged tomorrow?” I asked suddenly.

The Marshal nodded. “Like I said, the judge in this town waste’s no time.” The Marshal looked toward the jail. “That man in there…” he pointed toward the jail. “He’s a mean one! Yelling and cussing…He’ll be dead within 24 hours. Yes sir…swift justice is what I always say.”

I had been hoping the man would be hung, but it bothered me to hear talk like this. I turned and slowly walked back into the hotel. Pa was coming down the stairs as he buttoned his shirt. “What are you doing, boy?” His voice sounded annoyed. “You know better than to up and leave like that in the middle of the night!”

“I…I’m sorry, Pa. I couldn’t sleep and something was pulling at me.”

“Come on son, let’s get back to the room.” Pa stated as he put a hand on my shoulder and led me up the stairs.

**************************

There was no courthouse in this town. Pa said they used the saloon for court when the rare occasion was needed. He didn’t much like me having to sit in a saloon, but he was assured there would be no drinking inside during the trial. Pa kept his arm protectively around my shoulders as we walked inside and took a seat. I looked around, surprised at how many people had shown up. When I mentioned it to Pa, he whispered that these folks were here for the entertainment more than for the seeing justice properly performed.

The room suddenly hushed as a big man filled up the entrance to the saloon. The Marshal cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Due to the nature of this trial, and due to the fact that a minor is involved, please refrain from calling out, cursing, or any other rudeness during the proceedings. Anyone who steps out of line will be removed promptly.”

The Marshal stepped back and allowed the judge to walk inside. I heard myself gasp as he walked up to the bar and sat down. He opened his satchel and took out his gavel and a tablet to write on. He opened the tablet and read as the room got so quiet you could hear a butterfly flutter. I turned and looked at Pa questionable, but he slowly shook his head and put a finger to his lips.

Then the judge cleared his throat. He suddenly rapped his gavel on the bar which made me jump. “This court will now come to order!” His deep voice bellowed. “This case involves the accused…uh…Willie Masters. He is not currently in the court since a minor will be testifying. Will the defendant be represented?” The judge looked around.

“No, your honor,” the marshal answered. “He says he has nothing he wants to defend.”

“Will he be speaking today?” The judge asked then. “In his own defense?”

“The prisoner…er…defendant will make a statement when he’s allowed to come into the room, your honor,” the Marshal answered.

The judge nodded. “Very well.” He studied his notes. “Will Mark McCain step forward?”

I looked towards Pa who nodded his head. I stood and stepped forward. I was so nervous. My palms were sweaty and I was having trouble breathing. My legs felt like jelly. I slowly walked to the front. The Marshal held out a Bible for me. “Place your hand on the Bible, son.” I was sworn in. Then I sat down.

I told the judge about what I saw that day he murdered Amelia. I told him about Master’s attacking me a year later and trying to kill me. I told him everything to the best of my recollection. At times I couldn’t prevent myself from crying. I apologized, stating that I knew 14 year olds shouldn’t cry. The judge assured me there was no law against a man crying. In fact, he’d done it from time to time himself. “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” the judge questioned.

I looked toward the jury as I spoke. “Yes sir.” I swallowed hard. Then I looked at Pa and Micah before turning back to look at the judge. “I heard tell that if he’s found guilty today, a hanging will take place right away. Your honor, I ask you that he will be allowed 24 hours…Since tomorrow’s Sunday, then 48 hours…to make any peace with God he wishes to make. I was reminded by a friend that he was a man and not an animal” I sighed. “Though I don’t know why, God saw fit to make him human. And because of that, God also gives him the same rights as any man. Today he’s getting a right to a trial thanks to Josh Randall. I also ask that he’s given the right to make peace with God before his execution. I…I won’t sit here and say I don’t want to see him hang, because I do…more than anything! But I do ask that you please don’t carry out sentence right away.” I looked toward the jury and nodded. “Well, that’s it I guess.” The Judged excused me from the chair and as I walked back to Pa, I saw many of those in attendance leaning over and whispering to each other.

“Thank you, Mark.” The judge looked down at his tablet as I took my seat. “I believe the boy’s father…Lucas McCain wishes to speak.”

I watched as Pa walked up to the judge. He swore on the Bible then took his seat. “When my son was barely eleven years old, I watched him one morning do little boy things. That morning, he argued with me on going to school. He lost his pencil…his reader…He said goodbye to me and raced off to school.” Pa stopped speaking and looked down at his lap. The room was quiet for a moment as Pa composed himself. “Three hours later, I brought another boy home…frightened…terrified… and hurt. Not physically hurt, but emotionally. I tended to his wounds with God’s help the best I could, but it was quite awhile before he was my little boy again.”

Again, Pa bowed his head. I knew he was asking God for strength. “Then when he was 12 years old, the nightmare happened all over again. My son again left home on his way to school and that broken, frightened, hurt little boy was home. He’d was shot and half-drowned. It was twenty-four hours later when he regained consciousness that I realized his life was again, full of terror. For weeks, he couldn’t sleep without having nightmares. He’d have two…three a night. He could hardly leave our house without being terrified that man…Masters…was out there. The only way I could get MY son back was to…” Pa’s voice again broke. He wiped his eyes then went on. “Was to lie to him. I had to convince my son that Masters was dead if he was to have any chance to live a normal life. But there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t lived that fear for him. A father will do most anything to protect his son, I didn’t want to lie to my boy, we don’t keep secrets, but this time I had to. I…Today, I want to see justice.”

Pa stepped down and hurried back to me. We hugged as the judge began speaking. “I have a signed statement from an Abe Merar that he witnessed Masters attack on Mark McCain. And I have a heard the testimony from Mark McCain that he was present when Masters attached and killed a woman…er…Amelia Andrews…for her horse.” The judge cleared his throat. “Now Mark, I understand that this has been a very traumatic experience for you, but I need to you identify him for me today. Can you do that?”

I nodded as I reached for Pa’s hand. Pa squeezed it as the judge nodded toward the marshal. The marshal motioned for some men to follow him. “They aren’t taking any chances, son. He’ll have armed men surrounding him,” Pa whispered.

The minutes ticked by as the room remained silent. I felt Pa squeeze my hand every once in a while. Finally, we heard their footsteps sounding as the men made their way inside with the prisoner. My eyes were glued on the doors as Willie Masters, surrounded by the Marshal and his deputies, walked into the room.

I felt myself suddenly tremble and my heart started racing as He walked inside and stood in front of the crowd. His face held a smirk. His eyes bore into mine. I could see into his soul – and what I saw was purely evil, there was no soul.

I suddenly turned my head. I felt like that little eleven year old kid who ran and hid deeply inside himself. That’s what I wanted to do now. “Mark McCain?” I looked up as the judge called my name again. “Would you come up here please?”

I stood up on shaky legs. Pa stood up, holding my arm. He helped me walk to the front as I stood on the far end of the bar, opposite of the prisoner. “Mark, as you’ve probably not been a part of a trial before, I need to remind, you, you still are under oath. You must tell the truth. Is this the same man you saw that day on August 13, 1884 at 7:45 in the morning along the old mining road in North Fork, New Mexico Territory?”

I looked at the man. I saw his mouth as he curled up into a grin. I saw his mustache as it twitched. I saw those eyes stare inside of me. And I saw the branded H on his cheek. My throat suddenly went dry as I stared at this man who had caused so much pain in my life. “Mark? Mark McCain?” the judge questioned. I couldn’t answer, fear gripped my body as I remembered, I backed away from him, right into Pa. I felt Pa’s hands on my shoulders, trying to reassure me.

I swallowed the lump that arose in my throat. My eyes filled up with tears. “It’s him,” I said in a little more than a whisper. “It’s him!” I turned and clung to Pa. “Oh, Pa, that’s him! Kill him! Oh, kill him!” I cried out.

Pa looked toward the judge. “Can I take him out now?” I heard Pa ask through my fearful cries. The judge must have nodded, because Pa took hold of me and led me away. I turned toward Masters as I heard him chuckle. Then his chuckle turned into hysterical laughter.

“Out of the mouths of babes! Kill him, oh Pa! Kill him!” He continued to mock my fears and hysterically laugh.

Pa started to drag me out when he realized my fears had froze me in place. Had I still been eleven, I’m sure he would have picked me up and carried me outside. When we were just outside the swinging doors, Pa stopped. He looked down at me as my eyes asked why. “I’m sorry son, that’s why I lied to you. I didn’t want you to have to go through this.”.”

We stood there as the judge rapped his gavel. “Do you have anything to say before the jury makes a decision, Mr. Masters?”

“Yeah, lets see who’s more afraid, that little kid or the men of this town! Are you ‘men’ enough to find me guilty?” Masters responded with another evil laugh. It made me shake with fear and I again clung to Pa like I was that eleven year old frightened boy.

The judge rapped his gavel again. “This case rests. The jury will-“

“Your honor?” From outside, I heard another voice say. “The jury already knows how to plead. We don’t need any time. We the jury, find the defendant, Willie Masters, guilty of murder and attempted murder.”

The room roared with cheers. The judge again rapped his gavel on the bar. “Order! Order in this court!” It took a while, but when it was quiet, he ordered Masters to stand up. “Willie Masters, this court has found you guilty as charged. I sentence you to death. You will be hanged by the neck until dead Monday morning at 7:30 am. Mr. Masters, I think I should tell you that it is the boy’s wish that you have two days to make peace with your maker before your death. If it weren’t for that boy, you’d be swinging within the hour. May God have mercy on your soul.” The judge rapped his gavel one last time. “This court is adjourned.”

I turned and looked at Pa. I suddenly felt a rush of tears. “I…I…” I raced away from Pa and to the only other being who I knew could help me. I raced to the livery and to Blue Boy. I entered his stall and laid down and cried.

*************

“No! Absolutely not!” Pa was yelling Sunday night after I announced that I would be attending the hanging. “I forbid it, Mark!”

“Pa, I have to! Don’t you understand?” I asked.

“No! You are 14 years old, son! That is too young to go to a hanging! No! No, no, no, no, no! No more discussion!” Pa boomed.

“Pa, I have to know he’s dead!” I yelled back at Pa. “I can’t trust you or Micah to tell me he’s dead.”

We were in our hotel room. Micah came rushing in at Pa’s booming voice. “Lucas! What are you yelling about?” Micah demanded to know.

“What am I yelling about?!” Pa rushed over to Micah. “I’ll tell you what I’m yelling about, Micah. This BOY wants to go to the hanging! Can you believe that?” Pa pointed at me as he spoke.”

“He needs closure, Lucasboy. Maybe-“ Micah stopped.

“He’s 14 years old, Micah! Hanging’s aren’t pretty sights! He’s too young!” Pa declared.

“Now Lucas, I-“ Micah started.

“No!” Pa hurried over to the door and picked up his rifle. “No, no, no! Mark, you will stay in the this room tomorrow.” I hung my head. Pa walked up to me and grabbed my arm. “Do I make myself clear, boy?”

“No!” I said defiantly

“No backtalk, boy! End of discussion!”
I hung my head as Pa pushed me towards the bed. I knew that he meant for me to get to bed. I slowly started to unbutton my shirt as I watched Pa and Micah leave the room. I sat down on the bed and pulled off my boots. My mind was racing on how I was going to get out of the room in the morning. How could I go against my father’s wishes to watch to make sure he was dead?

************************

Pa woke me early the next morning. We went down to the restaurant and had a seat and waited for Micah. When the waitress came to take our order, Pa spoke, “Coffee for me and milk for the boy.” Then motioned her away.

I looked at Pa, not understanding why he hadn’t ordered more for us. A few minutes later Micah came in.

“It’s settled Lucas.”

I looked back and forth between them.

“Pa?”

“Mark, Micah and I had a long… discussion last night after we left the room. He made me understand what you were thinking last night. And though it goes against every fiber in my body, I’m going to let you be present for the execution. If you don’t see for yourself that he’s dead, there’s always going to be my lie, between us. I can’t let you live with these kinds of fears any longer.” Pa hung his head, regretting what he knew what I was about to experience.

My stomach got all queasy in hearing Pa’s words. The waitress set my milk down in front of me.

“Mark, drink your milk. It’ll help settle your stomach,” Micah stated.

It was nearing 7:15 when the three of us left the restaurant. We walked towards the gallows, but stopped a good distance away. Pa stood behind me and had both his hands on my shoulders. I could tell he was trying to let some of his strength flow into me. I watched Masters being led down the street, and then prodded up the steps. The look on his face; wasn’t as if he was scared, he was actually… enjoying this. Toying with the crowd.

The Marshal positioned him, just so, on the gallows. I watch as the hood was put over his head and then the noose. I watched the hangman walk over to where the rope, holding the trap door, was tied. The crowd quieted as the Marshal raised his arms, then stated "Willie Masters, you have been found guilty of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to hang until dead."

The crowd cheered.

There was a preacher standing to the side, holding a bible, asking God to forgive this man’s mortal sins.

From under the hood, that Man gave out a vile laugh and I saw him throw his head back.

The Sheriff stepped to the back of the gallows. I watched as the hangman raised the hatchet, but before he could bring it down to chop the rope, I couldn’t watch anymore. I turned around and buried my head in Pa's chest and grabbed hold of his shirt. I felt my father’s arms wrap tightly around my shoulders in an effort to stop my body from shuddering at the sound of the trap door dropping and the crowd cheering even louder. I felt Micah’s hand on my back and heard his words, “It’s all over Mark. Let’s get you back to the hotel.”

We didn’t get very far before I pulled away from both of them. I ran to the back of the building we were passing, I fell to my knees and started retching. I heaved until my sides hurt. But the whole time, I felt two sets of strong hands supporting and comforting me.

********************


I spent most of that afternoon alone, thinking…praying…coming to terms with what I’d seen. Every death I’d experienced before was different somehow – I mean, those deaths that occurred by my father’s hands. They were cause through self-defense and my Pa always tried to avoid killing the man. But today, I witnessed a man die by my hand. My words had condemned him to die. And for that – I was sorry. But my words only confirmed to the law, his actions. And it was his actions that condemned him to hell.

I finally felt free. – free to live without fear. Free to breathe – free to run. It felt good…really, really good. It was getting near supper when Pa found me down by a pool of spring water. A waterfall was nearby and I listened to the rushing sound in comfort. Pa sat down beside me without making a sound. We just sat there – each of us in our thoughts. Finally, I spoke. “Well…it’s all over,” I breathed.

“How does it feel?” Pa asked as he turned and looked at me.

I looked toward the waterfall. “Like that waterfall.” Pa raised his eyebrows. “It’s flowing – nothing’s standing in it’s way. Now I bet that if you go up to the top there…you’d find something in the way where the water has to flow around like a rock…That rock was removed from me today and now I can flow freely.”

“How are we?” Pa asked then in a quiet voice as he looked out over the water.

“We?” I raised my eyebrows at him now.

“You know…” Pa sighed. “Son, do you remember when you were oh…ten I think…and you lied to me about some older boys picking on you. You had a bad cut on your arm that you didn’t tell me about and you snuck into town after I told you not to. Do you remember that?”

“Yes sir. I could never forget that, Pa.”

“And do you remember after the gunfight was over and you were up in the hotel room? I came up there to talk to you.”

I looked away from him then. “You said I lost something very important that day – trust. And that trust would have to be earned back,” I remembered.

Pa nodded. “So, I’ll ask the question again, son. Are we okay?”

I was quiet for awhile as I thought on that. Pa wanted to know if I trusted him. I asked myself – if he told me something right now, would I believe him. The truth was…I didn’t know for sure. I turned to Pa. “I was angry with you at first. I mean, you always taught me to always be honest no matter what. Then I found out you lied to me about something very important. But I’m beginning to understand why you did it, Pa. But to answer your question…honestly…I trust you to do your best to be my father, but…I don’t know.” I let out a deep sigh. I really didn’t know.

I turned and looked at Pa. He stared into my eyes. “Thank you for being honest, son.” Pa shook his head. “Like I said, son, I’m human. Did I make a mistake in lying to you? I don’t know. But at the time, it…” Pa stopped and sighed.

Just then, Micah came by. “I’ve been looking for you two.” Micah sat down on the other side of me. “How you feeling, Mark?”

I smiled. “I feel good, Micah. Really good.”

Micah nodded. Well, we’ll be going home tomorrow, right Lucas?”

Pa nodded. “Mark’s missed so much school already. I would like to get home quickly so he can get back to his lessons.”

I groaned as Pa tapped me on the head. “Well, I was talking to some folks in town and they were telling me about a shorter way we can go. If you like, we can go that way back. He said it’s rougher, but it’s a lot shorter.”

“Let’s, Micah. I think we could all use some of the normal routine back in our lives.”

“Sure.” Micah stood up. “Well, I’m hungry! How about if I treat you two to steak dinners at the restaurant?”

“Yes sir!” I declared.

****************************

And that’s how we came to be here. “Which way, Lucas?” Micah asked as we stood at a fork in the road.

Pa turned and gave me an annoyed expression – as if this was all MY fault! Then he turned back to Micah. “Why are you asking me? You’re the lawman!”

“So?” Micah said. “You’re the Rifleman! Besides, you’re always bragging about how good of a sense of direction you have…”

I rolled my eyes. These two could go on forever like this! “What direction are we even going, Pa? I can’t even see the sun among all these rocks!” I complained.

This time, both Pa and Micah turned and gave me an annoyed look. Pa turned back toward Micah. “Look…I told you while ago that it was a bad idea going south. Let’s just pick this road.” Pa pointed to the right one.”

“Why that one?” Micah asked.

“Well, I don’t know! We have to go down one of them!” Pa declared. I saved another argument from happening by starting on down the trail. Now Micah and Pa would have to go down this road!

But after we traveled for awhile, it became obvious that we were really lost. I listened to Micah AGAIN apologize to Pa for dragging us away to attend a trial. I was the one who should be apologizing – not Micah! But Pa and I just allowed Micah to have his say. Maybe it made him feel better about getting us lost.

As we rode I sensed the mood of Pa and Micah changed. I could tell as I rode between them that they were worried…anxious. There was some sort of eerie silence between them. I tried to tell myself it was the stress of what happened at the trial, but I knew better. “Where are we, Pa?” I asked at one point, but Pa said nothing. He just kept looking around. Every once in a while, Pa stopped and looked around. I watched as he and Micah exchanged glances. Then we’d start back up again. I knew that staying quiet was the best thing for me to do right now.

Finally, Micah asked Pa if we’d make North Fork by nightfall. Pa was honest. I could tell he hated admitting it. “No I don’t, Micah,” Pa said. I could hear the worry in his voice. “I don’t recognize this country at all, to be truthful.” Now, my Pa has been in a lot of places. And the fact that he didn’t recognize this place worried me, to say the least.

Suddenly, the horses stopped. Micah thought we were headed south. He figured we were in Old Mexico by now.

Now, I don’t have anything against Old Mexico, but I couldn’t help remembering the last time Pa and me were there. The memory wasn’t a fond one. Some Mexican bandits had attacked my Pa and kidnapped me. I actually thought my Pa was dead. Involuntarily I shivered as the mere thought of that scared me. This time I was older and bigger. This time I’d fight – if it happened again!

Pa sent Micah up on the ridge to get a better look. While we went on down the road. But as we traveled, Pa grew quiet again. “What are you thinkin’, Pa?” I asked.
I saw the answer on Pa’s face. My Pa had pretty good instincts, and I could tell that his instincts were telling him something was very wrong. Pa decided we should go back and meet up with Micah. Pa was suddenly worried about Micah. When we got back to where we split up, he hollered for him, but Micah didn’t answer. Pa told me I could go up onto the ridge to look for him. I rode up there and looked around, but saw no sign of him.

Now I was getting worried. I felt nervous and wanted to stay close to my Pa. We rode on down the road as we looked for Micah.

As we traveled, we came to a ghost town. I had been in a few ghosts towns in my life, but this one held an eerie feeling to it – worse than any of the other ones. “Are we in New Mexico, Pa or Old Mexico?” I asked as I scooted my hat back on my head.

“Old Mexico, son.” The way Pa said it told me he was having the same eerie feeling I was. This could be bad. I sensed something else in his voice also…

“You think Micah’s…” I was afraid to ask the question. I had a feeling Micah was hurt really bad, but if Pa held that feeling it would make me more afraid. Instead, I asked, “Well, he wouldn’t come here, would he?” Pa decided we should take a look.

We looked around the ghost town as we rode down the street covered with tumbleweeds. There was something there. Not only did I sense it, but Pa sensed it too. The further into the town we went, the harder my heart beat. I watched as Pa grabbed his rifle. He too felt that something was there.

The town was quiet…too quiet. We stopped and I turned and saw an old woman standing in a doorway. My heart jumped. “Pa?”

“Get down, son.” I had a bad feeling about us stopping here. I had an even worse feeling about us getting off our horses. But I had to trust my Pa. I had to believe that he was doing the right thing. I stayed quiet as he called out to the old woman. Suddenly, the old woman disappeared and another woman came out. Pa tried to speak to her but she said nothing. Pa handed me his rifle, hoping it would help him talk to her. He tried to ask her where Micah was, but she didn’t seem to understand.

I looked around. Suddenly, I saw a man with a rifle. I touched Pa’s arm. He looked in the direction I was looking and he saw him too. My heart jumped at the sight of him. Pa turned and I turned with him. We saw a second man with a rifle. “Hello guy!” We turned sudden-like to see two other men by our horses.

My heart leapt. Bandits – just like before!

The man looking out our horses spoke. My worry increased as I discovered he had seen Micah. So, Micah had come here after all! But he wasn’t here now – and that worried me something awful. I stood in silence and listened as this bandit and Pa talked. But then he said hello to me. I wanted to cooperate with him. Maybe he’d let my Pa go if I cooperated with him. So I said hello.

Then he started admiring the rifle in my hand. He asked to see it. He said he wanted to buy it. “It’s not for sale!” I boldly answered. Pa put a warning hand on me and called my name, but this time I wasn’t going to stand by and watch them hurt my father. This time, I was going to fight back. “It’s my Pa’s rifle, mister and he won’t sell it so you just try and take it!”

But he kept insisting he needed the gun. He said they were fighting a great cause. I could only imagine what that great cause was! It didn’t take long for me to realize that these bandits were crazy – as crazy as the bandits I had met a year ago. But these seemed different – meaner, maybe…or maybe more evil…

The bandit became more angry and said that he’d buy Pa’s gun. “Put it down, son.”

“On the dirt?” I argued. I knew why he was doing this, and again, I hated being the reason he gave in to these men. After all we’d been through recently, Pa wasn’t going to take any chances with my life. He never did. Oh why did I have to be his weakness, I asked myself. Why couldn’t I be older and more able to help my father in these types of situations.

“Put it down,” he said firmly. I obeyed him. I knew giving them his rifle was asking for trouble. Pa couldn’t fight the four of them without his rifle. I watched as the bandit picked it up.

Pa questioned him again about Micah. As I listened, I knew something had happened to Micah. I became worried as I listened to him and Pa talk. Finally, he agreed to take us to Micah. In my heart, I prayed that he was okay. I prayed we would find him alive.

As we followed the bandits, Pa grabbed me and kept me close to him. The bandits laughed as they led us behind the buildings and up a hill. My heart began beating harder as I wondered what we would find on top of the hill.

Then, I saw him! “Pa!” I saw Micah. He was buried alive – only his head was sticking out. He looked badly hurt. I hurried over and bent down beside Micah. My heart began beating even harder.

Suddenly, the bandit spoke. “Gringo!” He threw Pa a shovel. “Now you dig the hole!”

That’s when I knew that this was worse than before. A year ago, some bandits had hit my Pa and hung him from a tree to die a slow, painful death under the scorching sun. Today, they were going to bury him alive!

I gasped and shook my head. “No!” I cried out as I started forward. “No!”

But the bandit pushed me down hard onto the dirt. “You sit.”

“He’s my Pa! You can’t do this!” I screamed at the bandit.

“Mark!” Pa stopped digging. He pointed to a spot behind him. “Get over there and sit down!” He spoke to me as if I were a five year old needing a trip to the naughty chair.

“But Pa, he’s gonna kill you!” I cried out.

Pa just looked at me sternly and pointed to the dirt behind him. “Yes sir,” I answered as I slowly walked over and sat down. Pa turned and went back to digging.

Silently, I stared as the sun continued sinking lower and lower in the sky. I was so frightened as I sat there and just watched. I looked at Micah who, for the moment, was passed out in the dirt. I stared at Pa who continued digging as if it was a hole for a well. I then turned and looked at the bandits as they watched, drinking whisky and playing cards. I was scared…so very scared. How were we going to get out of this mess?

The bossy bandit came over to sit by my Pa and talk to him. He told Pa he’d take good care of me. I was so scared! I knew my Pa would die protecting me. This was just like a year ago – they were going to kill my Pa and take me. They would put me to work as their slave. This time, though, I would be forced to watch my Pa and Micah die.

I watched as the bandit – named Alphonso – picked up a rock. I wanted to cry out and warn Pa that he was going to hit him over the head. But before I could, the old woman called to him. They said some things in Spanish and all but one of the bandits ran off.

Now it was one bandit against Pa and me. I sat behind Pa and listened as Pa stopped digging and started talking to the lone bandit. I was horrified as he told the bandit he had $40 in his pocket. I sat up, shocked at what Pa was saying – he told the bandit to come over and get it. “And when you do, I’m gonna kill you as dead as you’ll ever get!”

“Pa!” I pleaded desperately. Pa assured me that the bandit couldn’t understand.

Pa and I had to find a way out of this! We just had to! Pa’s next words told me the time had come. He was about to do something and ordered me to hit the dirt when something happened. I knew he wanted me out of danger. I didn’t have to ask why. But then Pa started telling me he was going to send me for help – to go back to North Fork and find the judge. I was worried for him and Micah, though!

I’d lost him a year ago in Mexico. At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. I would not be separated from him again! I would fight with him! I would stay with him and help! “Pa, they’ll kill you. You come with me!” I demanded. But Pa told me he couldn’t. He couldn’t leave, not without Micah. “They…They’ll do you like they did Micah,” I cried.

“Now Mark, you listen to me!” Pa ordered.

But I wouldn’t! I was fourteen years old and I wouldn’t have Pa dying just to protect me! I wanted to fight with him. “We can take this fella, Pa, we can do it!” I declared. “Let me get around the other side of him.” I started to go. I knew I could help Pa with this. But Pa stopped me and ordered me to sit still. He ordered me to do exactly as he told me and not to argue.

“But Pa,” I started. Didn’t he know it would kill me to lose him?

“Mark!” Pa shouted. “Exactly as I tell you.” I knew I would never…ever get on that horse and ride out of there. But I also knew that now wasn’t the time to argue. We had to get rid of this guy. And we would do this together!

I sat there and waited for Pa to do something. Pa tried to get up and bring me the canteen, but the bandit wouldn’t let him. He ordered my Pa to stay in the hole. I told Pa I’d get him. I knew I could! But Pa said no. For the time, I had to obey him. His life depended on it.

Pa went back to digging. Soon, the bandit told Pa to give him his boots. I watched as he did it. There’s an old saying about cowboys dying with their boots off. It wasn’t a good omen. No cowboy wanted to be caught dead with his boots off. Boots define a cowboy. But as I sat there, I watched Pa take them off and hand them to the bandit.

Now it was only a matter of time! I became more frightened.

But as I sat there, I watched as Pa stepped out of the hole. Slowly, he walked over to the bandit and hit him over the head with the shovel. He hit the bandit hard! The man screamed as the shovel came down, then everything was quiet. I stood there and stared as Pa bent down beside him. He felt for the man’s pulse. “He’s dead, son,” Pa said quietly.

I stood and ran over to Micah. I desperately grabbed hands full of dirt and started scraping the dirt away. “Hold on, Micah!” I cried as I desperately dug deeper and deeper. “Hold on!”

He was barely alive. Pa bent down beside me and helped me scrape pull away the dirt. I was crying desperately. “Hurry, Pa! Hurry!” I cried.

Pa suddenly grabbed my shaking hand. In a gentle voice, he said, “Calm down, son. Just stay calm. A man has to be calm in a tough situation like this.” He stood and went to Micah’s head. He reached down and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Keep digging, son!” Pa grunted as he started dragging Micah’s body out. “Keep digging!”

Finally, I was able to get enough dirt out that Pa was able to pull Micah free. Pa grasped Micah around the shoulders. “Grab his feet, son. Let’s go!”

It was awkward and slow, but we finally made it back to the old saloon. We hurried inside and laid Micah down behind the bar where he’d be safe. Pa put a hand to Micah’s face then checked his body for wounds. “He’s been cut up bad, son,” Pa said worriedly.

“Is he gonna live?” I asked fearfully. Pa lifted his head and stared at me. “Oh Pa, he can’t-“ Pa held up a hand to hush me. He told me to get something for his face.

Micah needed me! I would stay beside him and take care of him.

But just then, Pa brought out Micah’s horse. It was time for me to go – so Pa said. Actually, what he said was, “Good luck, son.” I hesitated. “Come on, up,” Pa ordered sternly as he gave me a light pat How could I leave him? How could I leave my father? I knew I couldn’t…But I was so afraid – not only of the bandits, but of defying my father.

I climbed up on the horse and watched as my Pa opened the doors. Just then I decided on something. I would die with my father and Micah. I would not – I could not – leave them to die without me! I would fight with them…I would die with them…

I couldn’t leave! Pa turned and asked me what was wrong. I swallowed hard as I mustered up the courage to tell him of my decision.

“Pa, I can’t do it. I just can’t go off and leave ya. I ain’t gonna do it and you can’t make me.” I looked him in the eye. He stared into my face for a few moments, saying nothing. But I didn’t miss the look he sent me. If a stranger were watching us, they would have thought Pa was very disappointed in me. Honestly, I knew it weren’t that Pa was disappointed in me, he was disappointed that this situation was making me grow up faster, before my time, so to speak. Pa wanted me to have my growing up years, and maybe he knew, deep down, I didn’t have that many more years left for being a child.

I realized this situation was worse than any other we had been in, but too many times, Pa had sent me away or left me, while he faced the danger. He went over and closed the doors. He never said another word.

That was the worst part of all, seeing the look on his face.

I got off the horse and ran back to Micah. He groaned. I ran my hand through his hair. “It’s okay, Micah. You’ll be okay. I’m here.” Micah groaned again. “I’m here.”

I could feel Pa’s eyes boring into me. I turned and looked up at me. Again, he gave me a look then turned away. I suddenly wondered if we were okay. Only yesterday, Pa had asked me that question and I couldn’t answer. Today, I stood against Pa’s wishes to keep me safe. I could tell he resented my defiance, since it was a sign that I was growing up. Yet, I could see the hurt in his eyes. He had given in to my need to testify at the trial, had given in to my need to see Masters hung, and now he had given in to my need to defy him. If he spoke, I was sure I’d hear the irritation in his voice.

I quickly turned away from Pa and gave Micah my attention again. “Don’t you worry, Micah. Pa and me will take care of these bandits.” I looked up to see Pa holding two rifles. He had taken them from that bandit he’d killed earlier. “I can take one of those, Pa.”

Pa turned and gave me a hard stare. “You know how to shoot a rifle, do ya, boy?” he asked in a gruff voice.

“N-No, but-“

“You stay out of this, Mark! Clear out of it!” Pa yelled at me. Guess that was his way of letting me know that even though I felt I was grown up enough to help out, he wanted me to know I was his child and expected to obey. He went back to working on the rifles as I tended to Micah. But I began to worry. I wondered if Pa had a plan. He was so riled at me, though. He was riled at the whole situation.

Finally, I mustered up enough courage to ask him what would happen when the bandits found the dead one on the hill. He quickly told me they’d come after us. He told me to keep an eye out for them.

I slowly made my way to the door and opened it a crack. I stayed calm as I peered out the door. It was so dark and quiet…too quiet…I waited and waited and…

Then, I saw them. They were headed toward our horses. I ran back to report this to Pa. Pa was checking on Micah. He said Micah was bleeding just enough to keep the wounds clean. He quickly told me to check out the front window. I took out my knife to scrape away some of the painting from the window. Then I kept a watch out for the bandits. Right now, that’s all we could do…watch and wait…

As I stood there watching, I suddenly felt an urgency to be near my father. I walked up behind him as he peered out the door. Pa turned and peered at me for only a second, before turning back. Just thinking on these men gave me the creeps. I couldn’t help asking the question. “What are they, Pa? What kind of men are they?”

“Bandits, son. The worst kind,” Pa answered me. He told me they were dirt poor and stupid. The only thing they could do was knock a man on the head for his horse, or his gun, or his boots. They’d tried to get all three from my Pa. They still had his horse and rifle.

His rifle…Pa’s prized possession! If he had it, he would already have killed those other three bandits. But something made him give the bandit his gun. That’s why we were in this predicament. “Pa, you didn’t have to give them the rifle! You didn’t have to!”

“I couldn’t start a fight with you in the middle, Mark.”

I apologized. I knew I came first for Pa. I knew he’d protect me no matter what. Perhaps that why I didn’t go – because I felt Pa would take risks that could kill him. Perhaps I didn’t completely trust that he was telling me everything – that he was sending me away to get help – not so I wouldn’t have to watch him and Micah die. Perhaps that’s why I stayed. I apologized, again.

But Pa was still plenty upset with the whole situation. “You know, having you here is like both hands tied behind me. You’re not a child anymore, Mark. You must know that.”

As I heard my Pa’s words, I thought to myself, ‘yes, I know that I’m not a child any more, but did he?’

I didn’t want to have this argument with him again. I knew the real reason for him to send me away – and I wasn’t going to fall for it. “If we do get outta this it’ll be together or…not at all.” I could tell Pa was still really riled with me. I wanted him to understand my reason for being defiant. It wasn’t out of some immature, boyhood whim. This was out of love not only for my father, but also for Micah. “Pa, they cut up Micah something awful...someone's got to take care of him!"

I had to be blunt. "You can't do it alone! And even if you do send me off, I'll come right back and jump one of them with a rock. I swear I will!"

"You never talked to me like that before son,” Pa commented quietly.

“I've never had to. We've never been in such a fix before,” I admitted.

"No, I...” Pa sighed heavily. “I guess we haven't."
“Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. “Pa, what are we gonna do?” Pa didn’t answer. I watched him look around. “We gonna jump them, Pa? We have to kill them.”

Pa turned and looked at me. He stared straight into my eyes and jabbed a finger in my face. “There is no ‘we,’ son. I will do something about it! You will obey me! That’s an order, son! Don’t defy me on this…too!”

It hurt the way Pa said ‘too.’ I wished I could get him to understand that I was no longer his little boy. I was now a man and needed to act like one. But now wasn’t the time to argue with him on this. Now was the time to get out of this dangerous situation. It was only a matter of time. I could almost hear the clock ticking in my head.

Pa stood up and started looking around. “What are you doing Pa?” I asked. Maybe I could help him.

“Nothing, Mark,” Pa answered hurriedly as he continued to look around and study the room carefully.

“Pa, what are you-“ I started again.

“Mark!” Pa’s voice was harsh. He turned and looked at me. “You keep your eye out that window and stay quiet! You hear me, boy?”

I went to the window. But I watched Pa more then I looked out the window. He started dusting off a mirror. But suddenly, Micah called to him. I didn’t dare leave my post at the window as Pa went to talk to Micah. Finally, Pa stood up and started rushing around the room. He found a lantern and sat it on a table. I watched as he positioned the table just so. I didn’t understand. “Pa?” Pa didn’t answer me but continued with his strange task. “Pa, what are you doing?”

It bothered me that he wasn’t discussing his plan with me. “Just a minute. Let me work it out,” Pa answered quickly.

“Tell me what you’re doing!” I argued. I wanted to be in this with him!

Pa put a chair at the table. Frustrated, he turned to me. “Just a minute, son. Just a minute!” he insisted. I watched as he then went to adjust the mirror. He took some matches from his pocket and sat them on the table. After getting everything adjusted, he said, “All right, that should be right.” He told me to sit down and light the lamp. I went to the table and started to move the chair. “Don’t move the chair! Just light the lamp!” Pa ordered harshly.

I lit the lamp. “What’s this all about, Pa?”

“All right, good.” He told me to turn the wick up all the way. I didn’t like that idea – thought they would see the light and know we were here, but Pa ignored my argument. He walked to the door and looked at the mirror. He then told me to blow it out. “It just might work if they’re drunk enough!”

I walked up behind him. “What’s this all about?”

Pa turned to him quickly. “Quiet and sit down!” he ordered again. He reached for the rifles. “Now you stay there.” I slowly lowered myself back into the chair. “Sit down, son. You get ready to light that lamp.” Pa looked out the peeping hole to watch for the bandits.

I must admit that by this point I was more than a little upset with my father! Here I was a 14 year old man…I had stayed here to help my Pa, and he wasn’t even telling me what the plan was. Maybe if he talked it over with me, I could give him some ideas on how to improve it. But asking him just got him more frustrated! I could not believe Pa was treating me like a child! All he did was give orders and keep me out of danger.

“Mark, set a couple of empty bottles on that chair near the back door, huh?” More orders with no explanation, but I did it anyhow.

As I was on my way back to the table, Micah called to me. I hurried over to him. He wanted some whisky. I promised him we’d get some soon. I hoped we’d all be free very soon. I started to get up and go back to the table, but Micah grabbed my arm. I was surprised at the strength he held it with. “Stay with me? Keep me company?”

I turned and looked towards Pa. Pa nodded. “You stay there son. But when I tell you, go to the table. You’ll light the lamp on my say so – not before.” Pa looked really worried. He tried to sound tough with me, but I could tell that he was unsure on us getting out of this alive.

I sat down next to Micah and wiped his face. “Does it hurt bad?” I asked.

Micah sighed. “I…I don’t know, Mark. It’s all pretty…pretty numb,” Micah admitted. Micah was a bit out of his head at the moment. He began remembering back. “I remember when I was about your age, Mark. I got myself tangled up in some barbed wire…It was still considered pretty evil where I came from and for good reason.” Micah groaned. “My…Mama, she was there through the whole thing. She never left my side – not once. It doesn’t matter how old a man gets, Mark, there are still times when he could use his Ma.”

“Yes sir,” I answered with a sigh.

“I’m…sorry, Mark.” Micah said slowly. “You lost your mother way too early. Do you remember her?”

I smiled. She was there with me during my nightmares and dreams I’d had over the past three years. She rode her white horse with Amelia. I thought she was in danger too – but she was there to protect me. She’s always there to protect me.”

“But do you remember her?” Micah asked.

I smiled. I remembered how Ma used to kiss me good night. I remembered how we baked together and played together. I remember watching my mother ride her horse along beside Pa. I remembered waving at her as I walked with Pa to the barn, or as Pa rode me into town toward school. I remembered watching her and Pa together laughing and kissing…I remembered so much. “Mark?” Micah asked.

“Yes, Micah. I remember her. I remember how she looked, how she sounded and…” I smiled. “How she smelled. Pa keeps a picture of her on his desk. He looks at it often, even now. Ma’s still a part of of our family. Though I was only six when she died, I still remember her like yesterday. My Ma gets me through the hard times.” I swallowed. “I…I miss her.”

“It’s hard,” Micah stated. “And so is…everything else. Funny thing, I’ve always had a notion that nine out of ten people in North Fork who’ve never even saw a picture of your Ma could give an accurate description of her just from knowin’ your Pa.”

That made me proud. I knew he was right.

Suddenly, Pa announced the time had come. I took my place at the table. After I lit the lamp, everything happened so fast. As soon as Pa fired his shots, I blew out the lamp and ran over to Micah. I had to keep him from crying out. Before I knew it, it was over.

I watched Pa throw down his gun after killing the last bandit. He looked so tired – no, more than tired. He looked like he had been scared to death. I can’t quite describe what I saw. But it ended so fast. Micah needed his help. I stayed there while Pa went looking for some whisky.

Micah groaned. I sat down beside him. “You alright?” I asked as I laid a concerned hand on his shoulder.

“I wish…I wish I could remember…” Micah gasped.

“Don’t try, Micah. It’s okay!” I urged him.

I stood and shuddered as I looked at the three dead bodies on the floor. Pa was in such a hurry to get the whisky that he didn’t even stop to think about these bandits he’d killed. I walked toward one of them and stared as my mouth went dry. I began to think on the face that at one time, they used to be kids. How did they get to be so rotten…so stupid? I began to wonder if perhaps they didn’t have children to care for them. I began to wonder if maybe they were good at the age of five…six…seven.

I missed my mother something awful! There were some days when it hurt because she wasn’t there for those special events in my life. But just now, I was so thankful to have a father who loved me enough to tell me what to do…to punish me when I was bad…

Then I got to thinking on something else – something I never imagined I would ever think about. I started thinking about the red headed killer who had haunted me for the last three years. I wondered when his life took a turn for the worse. Was he good at six…at seven…at eight? Was he good at my age? Did he grow up to be a nice young man before turning bad? Once – even he and these bandits were good…

“Mark? Mark?” I turned to see Micah looking up at me. “What are you looking at?”

“Nothing…anymore,” I answered. I suddenly wanted to give these dead bandits some respect. I looked around the saloon and finally found three large tablecloths. I laid one over each of them then made my way back to Micah.

Pa came back soon with whiskey. Micah wanted to drink it. Pa said he had to go deliver the bandit’s wife’s baby. While we waited, Micah and I sat against the wall together. I wanted to go find a good burying place for these bandits, but I also wanted to stay with Micah. As I sat there, I listened to Micah breathed and drink. The room was quiet, but it still felt weird to be in there when three dead men laid on the floor.

My worry was overcome by extreme tiredness though. There was nothing to worry about, so I soon fell asleep.

I vaguely remember my Pa coming back. He announced it was a boy, but I hardly remember. When I woke up, Pa was sitting on the other side of Micah. He was fast asleep. I slowly stood up and walked to the door. The sun was beginning to rise on the ghost town. It was quiet. In the distance, I heard a baby crying. I smiled in spite of everything I was feeling at the moment. Even though three dead bodies laid on the floor behind me, Pa helped bring a new life into the world.

I walked outside, enjoying the freedom of being able to walk out without fear. I began to wonder if there was anything to eat. No, first the bodies needed burying. I made my way up the hill where Pa had been digging just the night before. The shovel still laid where Pa had thrown it after killing the first bandit. The bandits hadn’t even bothered burying him – he still laid there.

I began digging in the hole Pa had been digging in earlier. It was something I had to do. I had a yearning deep inside that told me this was right. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, I dug. I remembered times when I listened to my Pa dig for some poor unfortunate soul that had been killed. It was an eerie sound. But as I dug, I felt like I was restoring some sort of peace to the land.

I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see Pa slowly walking toward me. “What are you doing, son?”

“Finishing the grave,” I answered. “We have four bodies to bury.”

Pa came towards me. “Here, I’ll do this-“ He reached for the shovel.

“No, Pa. I’m doing it. You did enough digging last night.” I tried to control my voice, but it broke at the end.

Pa turned to look behind him. Then he grabbed my arm. “Alright, son. But first, let’s talk.”

I sat down. I didn’t look at Pa, though. I didn’t dare. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I answered.

“Mark?”

This time, I did look up into his eyes. I didn’t see what I had expected to see. There was no disappointment. There was only concern. “I saw something last night…something I wasn’t quite ready to see.”

Pa nodded. “So did I.” We looked at each other. “What did you see, son?”

I sighed. I looked down at my hands. “I…I saw those bandits dead on the floor and I wondered about their childhoods. I wondered when they went bad and I started to…well, I started to feel sorry for them.” I looked up at Pa then. “That’s not all I saw though…” I sighed as I turned from him. “This is so hard.” I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. Pa gently turned me back toward him. His eyes told me to go on. “I…I saw Willie Masters as…as a human being instead of an animal.” I lowered my head. “I wondered about him as a child and wondered where…where he went wrong. I…” I closed my eyes. “I felt sorry for him.”

Pa smiled. “You want to know what I saw last night…that I wasn’t ready to see?” I nodded. “Delivereing that baby made me think of you when I held you in my arm for the first time. Your mother…She…She was so sick for months. I took care of you solely – by myself during that time. Your mother almost…” Pa swallowed as he remembered back.

Pa put an arm around my shoulders. “When I came back, I saw you and Micah sitting there. Now, I won’t pretend I wasn’t very angry at you last night for defying me and refusing to leave. But…” Pa heaved a big sigh. “Well, you are a young man, son. Your mother would be so proud. I guess I wasn’t ready for you to take charge – tso determined to help me – to refuse to allow me to protect you.”

“I know, Pa.”

“No…” Pa held up his hand. “There’s more. Son, some day you will become a father and understand better why I argue with you in dangerous situations. It literally kills me to see you in danger. You’re a man, son, but you are still very wet behind the ears. You talk too much. You ask questions when you should be acting. You watch me and learn – that’s how you gain wisdom…by watching and learning.”

“Really?” I shrugged. “I have to ask questions, don’t I?”

Pa nodded. “But not during the situation. I didn’t have time last night to explain. Your job was to watch and do as you’re told – no questions asked. You could have been killed, son! If I had stopped to explain things to you…Well, do you think I was born with my wisdom? I learned – just like you will IF you allow yourself to.”

We smiled at each other. Pa slapped a hand on my shoulder. “You are growing up to be a wonderful young man! I saw that last night, and I wasn’t ready for it. When I looked in your eyes while you were on that horse – I saw me in you and I knew you were no longer a boy. This is a proud moment, son.”

Pa took the shovel from me. “Listen Mark, I know you want to be a man and do man things, but be kind to your old man. Let me do the burying while you care for Micah. Then I’ll fix some breakfast – we still have enough stuff for flapjacks this morning.”

Somehow, I knew that Pa needed to do the burying. He didn’t want to see me go through too much at once, and deep down inside, I was happy. Because I wasn’t too anxious to grow all the way up…just yet.

Pa did the burying. He did it quite quickly, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many holes he dug. I knew the answer, but the thought of it sickened me, so I kept the question to myself. After breakfast, we heard Micah moaning. He had a hum-dinger of a hangover this morning! “Son, let’s get Micah sobered up so we can get started out of here, huh?” Pa suggested as he helped Micah to his feet. Micah groaned loudly but stood. Pa gave me a pitcher full of water. “Drown him, son. It’s the only way to sober him.” Pa started to leave. “Oh, but don’t kill him, huh?”

We laughed as Micah groaned louder. Pa started for the door. “Where you going?”

Pa paused without turning. I watched his shoulders slump. Slowly, he turned and looked at me. “To send the woman on her way home.”

“How do you know where to send her?” I asked.

We just looked at each other. Pa said nothing, but turned and slowly walked out the door.

I went to work on sobering Micah up. He groaned and protested my drowning him. But by the time Pa came back, he was feeling better. “How do you feel now, Micah?” I asked as I dumped on last pitcher of water over his head.

“You know something? I shoulda died when I had the chance,” he complained. I laughed. “Instead of drinkin’ all that bad whiskey!” He shoved the bottles out of his way. They fell with a crash. I laughed. As I looked up at Pa, I saw him with a strange expression on his face. He was shaking his head.

“What are you thinking, Pa?” I asked.

Pa smiled. “About how lucky I am to have two best friends like you,” he answered. “A man couldn’t ask for more.” Pa found a towel. He began wiping the water off Micah’s head. “We need to get you to a doctor, Micah. We’ll head north back into New Mexico. Then we’ll head back to Rosetown. We’ll get you to the doctor there.”

I shook my head. I couldn’t help thinking this was all my fault. We would have never gone to Rosetown if Pa hadn’t insisted the trial wasn’t in North Fork. “This is all my fault, Lucas,” Micah said just then. “If I hadn’t dragged you and Mark all the way down here-“

“Forget it, Micah,” Pa said again. “I’m the one that insisted on a change of venue.”

“Yes,” Micah agreed. “But I could have requested Santa Fe or some other town closer to us instead of-“

“No, Micah!” I declared. “This is my fault. If I hadn’t been so afraid of that man, I-“

“Alright!” Pa suddenly boomed out. Micah and I gasped and stared at Pa. “Both of you stop it! The next one to blame themselves for this trouble is liable to get a smack from me!” Pa raised his eyebrows as he looked first at Micah, then at me.

“You…think he’d do it, Micah?” I asked.

“What do you think, Mark? You’ve gotten in trouble with him many times.”

I folded my arms. “Well…I’ve seen that look in his eye plenty of times, Micah. I’ve only tested him on that look a few, but those few times learnred me that…he MEANS it!”

Pa shook his head. “What am I gonna do with the lot of you?” He smiled proudly.

I shrugged. “Looks like you’re stuck with us, Pa. Can’t get rid of us it seems. So I reckon you’ll just have to keep on loving us!”

“Come on, boy!” Pa said as he grabbed my neck and pushed me toward the entrance of the door. “Let’s go make this old man of ours a travoytravois so we can get on our way!”

*************************’

You should have seen the stares from the town folk as we rode back into Rosetown that day! Micah laid on the travoytravois behind Razor as I held the reins to Micah’s horse. I watched as Marshal _______Richards slowly made his way out of his office and hurried over to us. “Well, fancy seeing you three here! Looks like you ran into some trouble.” The Marshal hurried to Micah. “Marshal, you’re in a bad way! Somebody go get the doc! Hurry!” Marshal Richards________ turned back to Pa. “Well Lucas, want to tell me how you got yourselves into this mess?”

Pa tied Razor to the hitching post and groaned. “I think the Marshal will survive. He’s hard as bedrock…I don’t think anything can kill him! As for me and my boy…once we get Micah settled, we’d like a nice hot bath and-“

“We would?” I asked. “Pa, I think I’ll just stay with Micah and-“

Pa grabbed me by the ear. “WE will take a nice hot bath! Then you are going to take a nap!1”

I gasped at his over-fatherly protection. “Pa, you just said I’m a man!”

“You’re still growing, boy. Now,” Pa folded his arms. “I can cause a little more growing to happen on that backside of yours and teach ya another thing about manhood if you don’t do as I say!”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That men, no matter how old they get, always respect their elders!”

I shook my head. “I reckon your that alright.” Pa gave me one of those famous looks. I held up my hands and defeat. “Alright, Pa…I mean…SIR…I’ll take my bath and go to bed like your good boy on ONE condition.”

“What’s that?” Pa asked.

“You promise me right here and now that we’ll NEVER go into Old Mexico EVER, EVER again.” I looked at the Marshal. “I’ve been there twice, and twice bandits have tried to make a slave out of me!”

“Oh,” Pa took my hat off and rubbed my hair. “That’s just cause they know you’re the best little worker they’ll ever find!” Pa gave me a swat on the backside. “Now get a move on, BOY!”
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

The Escape: Prequel to Waste

part 1 & 2 credits & piddlin' stuff.....

Lou Mallory

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

The Executioner

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around The McCain Ranch