The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
This short story is based on characters created by
Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions for The Rifleman television
series. (The citizens of Red Rock Creek are purely from my
imagination.) This was my first foray into writing fan fiction.
It is a prequel to the fifth season episode of The Rifleman
entitled, The Debt. It is written as a first person narrative
through the eyes of young Mark McCain, however, somewhere in the
middle the story needed to change to the third person narrative,
before returning back to the first person.
In The Debt, 15 year-old Mark McCain and his father, Lucas
McCain, are enroute to the county fair only they have to make a
side trip to give a message to Marshal Micah Torrance regarding
the prisoner he is transporting. Upon meeting up with Micah,
Mark recognizes the prisoner as the man who had saved his life
several years prior when he was bitten by a rattlesnake. Mark
feels guilty that Mr. Renolds is going to hang for a crime, with
no consideration that he had once saved a young boy’s life; Mark
struggles with how it’s so unfair. During the night, a cougar
harasses the horses, drawing Lucas and Micah from their
bedrolls, and in the process, Micah drops the keys to the
handcuffs. Renolds manages to convince Mark to let him escape,
asking him to keep quiet for a few minutes, “You would have died
if it weren’t for me.”
Upon returning to camp and finding the prisoner gone, Lucas
verbally berates Mark for knowing right from wrong and he had no
business in allowing Micah’s prisoner to escape. Lucas takes
Mark to Abe Merar’s place and leaves the boy so he can return to
Micah and help track down Mark’s ‘friend’, the escaped prisoner.
Unbeknownst to Lucas, Mr. Renolds was listening in the barn.
After taking supplies, two horses, and Mark as a hostage,
Renolds sets course for Mexico. Only to have to detour to a
ghost town upon finding out Mark had filled the canteens with
kerosene instead of water.
Following Renolds’ trail of footprints to Abe’s place, Lucas and
Micah are informed Mark is now a hostage.
Hoping to make better time, and feeling Lucas and the law will
give up the chase, Renolds decides to leave Mark tied up in the
ghost town saloon. With Mark tied up, Renolds dumps the contents
of the canteens as he exits the saloon. Mark, in an attempt to
get away, tries to reach the candle on the table to burn through
the rope that binds his wrist. Ultimately, Mark knocks the table
over, the candle falls to the floor, and ignites the kerosene.
As Renolds is filling the canteens across the street, he smells
smoke. Turning around, Renolds runs back into the saloon,
calling out “Where are you boy? Don’t worry, I’m gonna save
As Renolds carries a sorely coughing Mark from the saloon and
drops him to the ground, he takes off running as Lucas and Micah
race into town on their horses. As Lucas kneels beside his son,
Mark declares, “He did it again, Pa. He saved my life.”
In the episode, we never found out why it was that Lucas wasn’t
there to rescue his son once he was bitten by the snake; thus,
the idea for my story. I felt the need to delve into why Lucas
was not there, and why Mark McCain felt as he did towards Mr.
Renolds. This story was written purely for fun with no intent
for a profit to be made.
Before The Debt…
Pa and a few other cattlemen were taking a small herd of
three-year-old cattle to the Army Post to help supply the
soldiers for the upcoming winter. It had been about a week
before when a telegram came in from the Army asking if any of
the ranchers in the area would be willing to sell a few head
from some of their herds. Pa immediately called a meeting of the
North Fork Cattlemen’s Association. I was so proud of how Pa led
the discussion and took the tally on how many cattle each
Rancher would contribute and then called for volunteers who
would ‘man’ the cattle drive. All told, thirty beef cows were
going to make the trip to the fort; it had been a good year for
all the ranchers around North Fork. Since Pa was the chairman of
the Cattlemen’s Association; the other ranchers stated it was
only fitting that Pa should make the trip, along with Mr. Merar
and a couple of other ranchers’ hands. Can you believe that in
the short amount of time we’d been living in North Fork, the
other ranchers thought that highly of Pa?
Since school was in session, Pa said I couldn’t come along
because I needed to tend to my studies. He always said that it
was important that I receive a proper education. Before he left
he told me, “Be good, mind your manners, and do everything that
Micah and Miss Hattie tell you.” I gave him a big hug around the
neck and didn’t want to let go. I was proud that I didn’t cry as
I watched Pa and the others head out.
After school, I had to tend to the stock and do my homework. On
the weekend, Pa expected me to do my regular chores around the
ranch. Pa also asked that I ride the fence line on Saturday and
if any section was down, to tie up a rope across the opening to
keep our cattle from straying; we’d fix it proper, together,
when he got back. Each evening I was expected to be back in town
before dark to spend the night with Miss Hattie.
Pa had been gone since Monday and I missed him something awful.
Each night when I got into town, Micah took me to the hotel and
made sure I ate a good meal, including my vegetables. While I
ate, he told me stories of his marshalling when he was younger.
He also wouldn’t let me order any chocolate cake until my plate
was clean. After dinner, he’d walk me over to Miss Hattie’s
before he left to walk the town. In the morning, Miss Hattie
made sure I got up early and had a clean face and hands, and was
properly washed behind my ears. She’d fix me a good breakfast
and then shoo me out the door to get to school earlier than the
Miss Adams met me at the school door and asked how I was doing
and if I had done my homework. She checked my work first thing,
since she knew that Pa wasn’t home to check it for me. And if I
had gotten any of my math problems wrong, she’d sit with me and
work me through them until I understood where I made my mistake.
During lunchtime, she’d work with me on my grammar studies. I
guess since Pa wasn’t around to watch over me, Miss Adams felt I
needed a little more attention than her other students.
Finally, it was Saturday -- no school. I got up early on my own
and surprised Miss Hattie as I jumped down the stairs.
“Oh, Mark, I was just getting ready to call you to breakfast.
My, you’re already dressed,” stated a startled Miss Hattie.
“Yes, ma’am.” I replied, “I want to get to the ranch and get my
chores done early so Freddie and I can go fishing later this
afternoon. That is, if it’s okay with you?” I guess it would
only be proper for me to ask permission to go fishing since I’d
of had to ask, if Pa were here.
“Why sure Mark, I’ll let Micah know your plans, however, you’re
still to be back here before dark.”
With that, I quickly ate my breakfast, and ran out the door to
go get Blue Boy from Nils at the livery.
“Whoa, there pardner.” I heard Nils call out, “Where’s the
“Oh, hi Nils, just in a hurry to get to the Ranch, Pa said I had
to do my Saturday chores and wanted me to check the fence line
today.” With that, I saddled and bridled my horse and jumped in
the saddle and rode out of town. As I left, I yelled, “See you
It was a pretty day, the only way it could be any better was if
Pa was riding Razor beside me. The sun was just above the hills,
the sky was a beautiful shade of blue with big, white, fluffy
clouds floating along in the breeze.
When I got to the ranch, I turned Blue Boy and the wagon horses
out in the paddock and went inside the barn, cleaned the stalls,
put hay in the mangers and filled the water buckets. After I fed
the chickens, I took some of the firewood I had stacked earlier
in the week and put it inside the house next to the fireplace. I
wanted to show Pa that I could take care of our ranch while he
was gone. Once I was done with my chores around house and barn,
I got Blue Boy saddled and headed out to check the fences.
I’m not sure how long I’d been out riding, but I found myself
daydreaming of me and Pa out riding on a big spread with
thousands of head of cattle and it would take days to finish
checking the fence lines. It was well past noon, when I realized
I hadn’t kept track of time or packed a lunch and I was hungry.
Just then, I spotted a break in the fence line up ahead and some
of our cattle had already made their way through the fence. I
kicked Blue Boy into a lope to round up the cattle and get them
back on our property. Unfortunately, the cattle decided to run
away from me.
“Dang them cows, if Pa were here…” I stopped myself. Pa wasn’t
here and we had a partnership, so it was up to me to figure this
I realized that if I stopped chasing the cows they would settle
down and then I could ride around them and get them heading back
in the right direction. I brought Blue Boy to a walk and soon
the cows stopped running and began to graze. I decided to get
off Blue Boy and walked him over to a stand of trees on a small
hill and wait in the shade. Once I got to the hill, I realized
there was a ravine with a trail on the other side that I hadn’t
seen before. My curiosity got the best of me; I tied Blue Boy to
a tree branch and decided to go exploring while I let the cows
settle down a little more before I drove them back home.
I had just come to an outcropping of rocks when I heard the
noise and knew it was too late; I felt a pain in my leg and
looked down to realize I had just been bitten by a rattlesnake.
I was so far away from home and no one knew where I was. I was
surely in a predicament. I had to get back to Blue Boy. I had to
go slow. Don’t run. I tried to keep from panicking, tried to
remember what Pa had said about snakebites, but it was hard. I
was scared. I wanted my Pa there, to pick me up in his strong
arms and tell me everything was going to be all right. I
remember getting back to Blue Boy, but didn’t have the strength
to climb up out of the ravine. I fell to the ground right there.
I got out my pocketknife that Micah had given me and cut my pant
leg to see how bad the bite was. And, I guess I must have passed
Next, I felt strong arms picking me up and talking soothing
words. I couldn’t open my eyes, I just wanted to sleep. It had
to be Pa, he knew I was hurt and came for me. I drifted in and
out of sleep. Once, when I woke up, I realized I was in a bed,
but it wasn’t mine. I remember hearing strange voices ask, “Who
is the boy?” “Where’s his family?” “Such a nice looking boy,
it’s such a shame,” another said. “The boy is fevered and
delirious, and needs family,” a woman said. Then another voice
said, “It’s a miracle that the boy was found at all. A stranger
passing by, seeing a saddled horse tied to a tree, then looking
and finding an unconscious boy in the ravine. Not too many
strangers would go out of their way as that man had.” Stranger?
But it was my Pa who found me. The words they were saying didn’t
make sense anymore. As I fell back into a restless sleep I kept
hearing that snake and calling for Pa to shoot it!
Back in North Fork, it was getting near to be evening when Miss
Hattie saw Freddie with his fishing pole walking on the other
side of the street and called out, “Freddie, where’s Mark?”
Freddie came over to the porch in front of the general store.
“Gee, Miss Hattie, Mark never showed up. I thought maybe you
kept him in town to keep an eye on him since his Pa’s gone.”
A worry crept into Hattie as she ran over to the Marshal’s
“Micah,” Hattie tried to keep the fear out of her voice.
“Something’s wrong, Mark didn’t meet Freddie and its almost
dark. He left early this morning to go to the ranch to do his
chores and then was going to check the fences. He knows he’s
supposed to be in town before dark.”
“Now, Hattie, you know Mark, he probably lost track of time or
fell asleep, he’ll be here soon enough.” Micah responded.
“But you don’t understand, he planned to go fishing with Freddie
this afternoon, after he finished his chores. When Mark didn’t
show up, Freddie said he thought I had kept him in town to keep
an eye on him.”
“Now, that doesn’t sound like Mark to miss an opportunity to go
fishing. I think I’ll ride out to the ranch and take a look.”
With that, Micah headed out the door.
Micah arrived at the ranch to find it quiet, except for the farm
animals moving about. Micah hollered, “Mark….Mark.” No reply.
Micah checked the barn. Then he walked to the dark house to see
if Mark might have left a note. Nothing. Micah got back on his
horse and headed back to North Fork as fast as he dared to go in
the dark. He had to get a posse together to go looking for Mark.
Word went out to all the town folk to meet Micah at the McCain
ranch early Sunday morning.
Sunday morning, most everyone from the town was waiting at the
McCain ranch for the sun to come up. The women folk brought food
and since the circuit preacher was already in town, he came to
lead a prayer vigil for Mark’s safe return. Micah separated the
men folk into small groups. Not knowing which direction Mark
went, he wanted as much terrain covered as possible.
Micah was telling everyone, “We have to find Mark before Lucas
returns. That boy is his life and he left Mark in our care.”
As the riders returned throughout the day, the dejected looks on
their faces told the story, no one asked any questions.
“Micah, we’ve looked everywhere.” Nils said.
“Then we’ll just have to look harder tomorrow,” a tired Micah
Monday morning dawned and the town folk returned to the ranch.
Miss Adams canceled school; the children were too concerned
about their schoolmate and couldn’t focus on their studying.
Everyone knew that Mark wasn’t just a part of the town, he was
part of its heart; everyone felt an obligation to find him. Not
just for Lucas, but for themselves. Just as they were about to
head out, a small cloud of dust could be seen on the horizon.
Everyone held their breath that it was Mark coming back, safe.
As the cloud of dust moved closer everyone realized that it was
Lucas and the others returning. How would they explain to Lucas
that Mark was missing?
As Lucas rode up, a look of concern was on his face. “Micah,
what’s this all about?” Looking around, “Where’s Mark?”
“Lucas Boy, we’re just about to head out to search for him. He
left town Saturday morning to do his chores, and …” Micah
continued to tell Lucas what had happened and that they had
spent all Sunday searching for Mark, and they were just about to
head out for the second day. Lucas filled his canteen and then
got back on Razor. He thanked everyone for coming; it meant a
lot to him how much the town cared. Lucas headed out with Micah
next to him. He knew the route that Mark generally took when he
rode fence, so he had a good idea where to go.
After a while, Lucas and Micah came to the break in the fence.
Lucas dismounted from Razor and searched the ground for any
signs indicating which way Mark went, he saw Blue Boy’s hoof
prints in the dirt and was able to follow the tracks and
eventually found where Mark had tied him up to the tree. Then
Lucas followed Mark’s footprints down into the ravine and saw
Mark’s pocketknife and an impression in the ground where Mark
had laid down. Then Lucas realized there was another set of boot
prints, tracks from a stranger, it looked as if someone had
knelt down next to Mark. Lucas realized the tracks leading back
to where Blue Boy and another horse had been tied were deeper;
someone carried Mark… Lucas and Micah got back on their horses
and slowly followed the two sets of hoof prints, away from North
Fork, the Ranch, and away from his Pa. Someone had Mark.
“Whoever has Mark, if he’s harmed in any way…?” Lucas couldn’t
say anything more.
It was late in the afternoon when they finally came to a small
town. They headed for the Sheriff’s office. As they dismounted
and prepared to tie their horses to the hitching rail, the
sheriff came out to greet them. “Good day gentlemen, what brings
you to Red Rock Creek?”
As Lucas searched the faces of the town folk walking along the
street, Micah made introductions and said they were looking for
a boy, “He’s almost twelve years old. His name is Mark McCain,
he was supposed to return to North Fork Saturday night, and
we’ve been looking for him for two days now.”
At that point, Lucas interrupted and said it was possible that
someone had taken the boy and described how they had followed
the tracks to the town. “Please, could you round up a posse to
help me find my son?!” Lucas pleaded.
Seeing the worry in Lucas’ eyes, the sheriff said, “I don’t
think it’s necessary to get a posse together. Late Saturday
afternoon a stranger brought a young boy into town; said he’d
found the boy out on the trail and that he’d been snake bit.
Right now, the boy’s over at doc’s. He’s been fevered, but the
doc’s made sure he hasn’t been left alone.” As they headed for
the doctor’s office, the Sheriff described how the boy keeps
talking in his sleep about his Pa and a rifle and then yells,
‘Pa, Shoot it! Shoot it!’ “I guess he’s talking about you and
that”, as he pointed to the rifle Lucas was carrying.
The town doctor was closing the door of a side room as they
entered the office. “This here’s Doc Hayden,” the sheriff said
towards Lucas and then looked at the doctor, “Doc, I think this
here might be the boy’s pa. Let him in to see the child.”
As Lucas opened the door and entered the darkened room, he saw
the outline of Mark, unconscious in the bed.
“Mark….” Lucas strode over to the bed and sat down.
The look on his face couldn’t hide the pain he was feeling,
seeing his boy like that. He took Mark’s hand in his and then
swept Mark’s hair from his face. “Doc? He’s… he’s going to be
alright, isn’t he?” Lucas asked with a hesitation in his voice.
“I believe he made a turn for the best earlier this afternoon
when his fever broke. He’s been quieter and is asleep. With a
little more rest and the medication I’ve given him, he should
make a full recovery,” Doc Hayden replied.
Lucas then asked, “Doctor, thank you, how can I ever repay you
for saving my son’s life?”
“It’s not me you need to thank; the man who brought him into
town saved his life.”
“Is he still here?” Lucas asked.
Doc Hayden replied, “Why, yes, I think he said he was going to
stay at the hotel for a while, at least until he found out if
the boy was going to recover.”
As Lucas sat next to Mark, Micah told Lucas that he was going to
go back to the ranch and to North Fork to let everyone know that
Mark was found and what had happened, “Don’t worry about the
ranch; just stay here with Mark. We’ll take care of everything
It was almost lunchtime Tuesday, when I finally opened my eyes
to see my Pa sitting next to me in a chair with his eyes closed
and his hands folded in prayer. I thought I saw tears on Pa’s
face. “Pa?” I whispered. When Pa didn’t stir, I said it a little
louder. “Pa?” With that, my pa’s eyes opened and he was holding
me in his arms. Those strong arms, the arms I dreamed about,
holding me close and Pa saying that I was going to be okay.
“Pa, I knew you’d come for me and find me; that you’d make
everything right.” Then I saw a strange man enter the room,
wearing doctor stuff. “Where’s Doc Burrage?” I asked.
Pa told me that I wasn’t in North Fork, that a stranger had
found me out on the trail and brought me to Red Rock Creek.
I was confused, “It wasn’t you who found me and comforted me?” I
asked. I knew my words had hurt Pa, not that they were mean
words, but he answered me with his eyes down, “No son, I wish to
God I was there to protect you when you needed me, but I
I tried to tell Pa how I had taken care of the ranch and what
had happened when I was out checking the fences, but he just put
his hand to my mouth and hushed me. He said I could tell him
later, right now he just wanted to hold me.
Then another tall man came into the room, he had a sparkle in
his eyes and a funny smile on his face, he was happy to see me
and my Pa together… I didn’t understand. I didn’t know him. At
that point, the doctor introduced us to Mr. Renolds -- the
“Glad to see you awake boy, you sure gave me a scare when I came
upon ya. If you hadn’t cut your pant leg, I wouldn’t have
realized what was wrong. Saw the puncture marks and realized you
were snake bit, I took the pocketknife from your hand, cut your
leg a little. Then sucked and spit out as much of the venom as I
could. Then I carried you up onto my horse and rode with you in
front of me until we got to this here town. Sorry for the rough
handling, not used to caring about someone.”
Pa got up and reached for Mr. Renolds, strongly shook his hand
and thanked him for saving my life.
Then the doctor said I needed to rest some more, “But Doc, I’ve
been asleep. And Pa just got here, and Mr. Renolds…”
“I said you needed more rest, and that’s what you’re going to
get!”, as I watched the doctor move Pa and Mr. Renolds to the
other room. The doctor hesitated by the door, “Your Pa’s seen
that you’re going to be okay and he needs to eat. He’s not ate
since he arrived yesterday.”
I was startled by those words, “Pa!”
“Son, the doc’s right. You need your rest and since I know
you’re going to be okay, I’ll go get something to eat. I’ll be
back soon and bring some broth for you to eat and if the
restaurant has any fresh baked bread I’ll bring that too. Mr.
Renolds, would you care to join me for lunch?”
“Thank you all the same, I just stopped by to see how the boy
was before I headed out. I just can’t seem to stay in one place
long… I’ve been here too long as it is.” After a moment he
continued, “Never cared about anyone else before, funny… Finding
your boy in that ravine brought out a feeling in me. Never felt
that way before. Always looked out for number one, me. I can see
that the two of you have something that I never had with my own
father. Guess I shouldn’t ramble on. Mr. McCain, take care of
that boy, he’s mighty special.”
“Yes, I thank the good Lord every day that he gave him to me.
And thank you for giving my son back to me.”
They shook hands again. Mr. Renolds turned away, walked out of
the doctor’s office, got on his horse, and rode out of town.
It was two more days before the Doc said I was well enough to
return home; however, he refused to let me ride Blue Boy. Pa had
sent a wire back to North Fork and Nils came with our wagon and
team. Pa propped our saddles under the blankets and pillows he
placed in the back of the wagon for me to lie on, since the doc
didn’t want me sitting up on my own for the trip home. After Pa
and I said our goodbyes to the doctor, he carried me to the
wagon, tied Blue Boy and Razor to the back of the wagon and we
headed home. Pa and Nils talked a lot, but I didn’t pay much
attention to what they were saying. I couldn’t get Mr. Renolds
out of my mind. He’d saved my life.
When we arrived back at the Ranch, Miss Hattie and some of the
women folk had gone out of their way to fix a big meal to
welcome me and Pa back home. Tables and chairs were set up
outside. Micah, Sweeney, Mr. Hamilton, Miss Adams, Doc Burrage,
and everyone who had helped search for me was there. I was
embarrassed for causing so much trouble; I tried to apologize to
everyone. Pa lifted me out of the wagon and carried me into the
house; Doc Burrage stated he wanted to take a look at my leg to
make sure it was healing proper before he gave me a “clean bill
of health.” Nils unhitched the horses with help from some of the
other folks and got the wagon and harnesses put away before Pa
came back outside with me to enjoy our homecoming meal.
Later that evening, after everyone had left, I was sitting on
the porch when Pa came out from tidying up inside and saw me
looking past the hills. He sat down next to me and asked,
“What’s on your mind son?”
“Pa, Mr. Renolds, he didn’t have to stop and help me. He could
have just kept on going to wherever it was he was going.” I was
quiet for a few moments, “I could have died out there. I owe Mr.
Renolds my life.”
“I know son. Sometimes it’s not just family and friends who show
compassion... Sometimes, something stirs inside a stranger that
makes them want to help. I’m thankful that he cared enough.”
“Pa, how does one repay that kind of a debt?”
The Debt episode
Be sure & check our the sequel
The Rattlesnake by
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch