The Rifleman
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A Growing Up Time
by Donna Hume

 1 -

The cold wind leached all the heat out of the air which the bright sun was showering upon the ranch. Lucas was walking out of the house, stretching then going back inside for his coat. The air smelled like snow and Lucas shivered as he walked to the barn. Once inside, he opened his jacket a little, just a little because it was still cold. He threw some corn to the chickens, mucked out the stalls and gave both Blueboy and Razor some fresh oats. He milked the cow and started looking around. Something wasn't right, but he couldn't fathom what was wrong.

Lucas walked back into the house, put the milk bucket down, than he called to Mark, "Hey, are you gonna' sleep all day!" Then he went back outside to get more firewood, when he re-entered the house he walked straight to the fireplace to stoke the fire. After he got it really blazing, he took off his coat and gloves and rubbed his hands together. He called again, "Mark, the work is all done this morning, you can get up now, the only thing left to do is make breakfast and eat it." No sound came from the bedroom; Lucas went over and stood silently in front of the door, listening, hesitant to enter. He opened the door and Mark was missing.

Now he started to look around, things were out of place. The chair on the far side of the table was tipped on its' side, lying on the floor. All his things seemed to be here, his hat was still here, he even left his rifle, there was a gnawing in his gut. Lucas opened the door and started shouting, "Mark, are you out here? Mark, where are you? Mark, answer me." The only answer he received was the wind lashing at him. What happened, where was his son, how could he have just disappeared?

2 -

Lucas didn't even bother to put on his coat, he ran to the barn yelling "Mark, you answer me son, do you hear me?" Still no response. Lucas was cold but he saddled up razor and took him out to the front door, He went inside and looked around again. When he grabbed his coat he realized that Marks' coat was still on the rack, as was his hat. Lucas put his coat and hat on, grabbed his rifle and extra shells, he left so quickly that he even left the door open as he jumped on Razor an rode off towards town.

There was a gamut of emotions running through his head, everything from fear, worry, anger, loss, and guilt. Why did he stay so long in the barn, he knew Mark never slept that late, why didn't he hear anything? This was not like when Mark ran away, he would not have been stupid enough to run away in this weather without his coat. There had been no harsh words between them, who would have taken him and why?

Lucas rode Razor hard, harder than he had ever pushed him before. It was his fault Mark was missing, he felt something was amiss when he was in the barn; he should have come in sooner. Mark was his only reason for having the ranch, for living. Too many thoughts, he needed answers.

By the time he got to town, Razor was in a real lather, Lucas didn't care. He rushed into the Marshals' office but Micah wasn't there. He needed help, now, he didn't have time to go searching for Micah so he did the first thing he could think of, he grabbed his rifle and shot three times into the air. Almost everybody in town came running out, they stood and looked at this man, their friend, but now he looked like some deranged person and they all stepped back.

Micah went over and asked, "Lucasboy, what is going on?" "Micah, I don't have time for civilities, Mark is missing!" "Lucas, he has run off before.." "Micah, I am telling you someone took him, he didn't run off, are you gonna' help me or just stand here wasting my time?" "Lucas, calm down. Tell me what happened while I saddle my horse. Nils can start gathering up some people to help but we need to know what you know!"

"Micah, I only know that he is gone. He was asleep when I went out to the barn. When I came back inside, a chair was turned over and Mark was not there. Micah, he didn't take his coat, hat, not even his rifle. You know if he had left on his own, he would have at least taken those things and he would have taken Blueboy. Micah, what am I gonna' do without that boy? He is my life. I have never been this scared!"

3 -

Lucas was pacing, why was everyone so slow? He went to get up on Razor, he was gonna' go find his son, he couldn't wait anymore, he wasted too much time just coming into town. Micah put a hand on Lucas' shoulder "Lucasboy, calm down a minute" "Calm down, calm down, my boy is out there somewhere, probably freezing, if, if... and no one is doing anything."

"Lucas, you can't ride Razor like that, you will kill him and that won't help you find Mark. Everyone is willing to help find him, give them a chance to get their horses and they'll be here. Come on, let's get you another horse ready to ride."

Lucas took his foot out of the stirrup. Micah had never seen him with tears in his eyes before. He could only imagine the pain. Nils returned to the barn, said there were about 20 men getting ready and would meet them here at the barn. "Lucas, you want me to saddle up that stallion over there for ya? He's only green broke but he's a good horse." said Nils as he was taking the saddle off of Razor. Lucas didn't even realize what Nils was doing, he couldn't seem to focus, once he realized what was happening he said "Thanks Nils, I just don't know what I'm doing, all's I know is I need to find my boy!"

Lucas was just standing against the barn door, head down with his hand over his eyes. He knew he had to be strong but it was hard, he felt so guilty. Why hadn't he checked on Mark sooner, why? Once Nils had the stallion saddled, he brought him over to Lucas, Lucas looked up, wiped his nose on his gloves, grabbed the reins and jumped up on the stallion. After a moment, he looked down "Thanks Nils". "Lucas, I can go stay at the ranch if you want, you know, in case Mark comes back." "That would be fine Nils." Lucas knew Mark wouldn't be coming back on his own, he just couldn't say it aloud. As Lucas turned the stallion to head back to the ranch, he saw his neighbors there and ready to help find Mark." Too choked up to say anything, fearing his voice would break, he just nodded his head and headed for the ranch. There was a cloud of dust as they all rode off to the ranch.

Micah forced Lucas to ride a little slower, returning to the ranch. They need the horses to still be able to run, not to have them already run out. When they got to the ranch, Lucas jumped off the stallion and ran into the house, it was then he remembered he had not closed the door. "Mark, Mark, are you here?" he shouted as he ran through the house. Silence was his answer. John Hamilton came into the house, told Lucas that Mark was not in the barn or the shed. Lucas just pushed past him, he needed to see for himself.

Now, knowing Mark was not there, he started looking for tracks. If someone came in and took Mark, there had to be signs, tracks. So many horses here now, where does he start looking. Finally, off to the side of the house, he saw foot prints, two sets of men's boots and it looked like they were dragging someone along, someone who was fighting, someone with the same size boots as Marks'.

4 -

Meanwhile, from the time Lucas left to go into town for help, two men struggled with a gagged Mark, he was kicking and twisting, trying to get out of their grasp. It was useless; they were both big men with big hands and held him tightly in their grips. Once they were out of hearing distance, they wrestled him down to the ground, Marked kicked again, striking the bigger man in the groin; this angered Joe and he kicked Mark in the gut. Mark groaned and this seemed to entice Joe to be more vindictive, he pulled Mark up off the ground and started punching him in the face. Before Bob could convince Joe to stop, Marks’ face was bruised and bloody, his left eye was already so swollen it was obvious he would not be seeing out of it for days. Joe hit him one more time, for good measure, he said, and Mark lay on the ground unconscious.

Bob pulled Joe away “Great Joe, how are we gonna’ get him on that horse now, you know we can’t wait around, McCain will be on our trail with blood in his eyes.” Joe glared at Bob, “If he can’t ride sittin’ up, he can ride draped over the saddle, just tie him on, after all, if this is gonna’ work, we gotta' keep him alive.” “Maybe you shoulda thought of that before you started beatin’ on him.” “Hey, all we gotta’ do is keep him alive, nobody said nothin’ about keepin’ him hale and hearty.”

Bob and Joe threw Mark over the saddle and threw a light blanket over him before they tied him down. Bob said, “Maybe we oughta put another blanket over him, it is mighty cold.” “Bob, I don’t care if the kid gets frostbite, I want him to suffer, I want McCain to know there is nothin’ he can do for this brat. I want him to know what we have done and how much more we can do. I want him hurt, hurt real bad, before we start on him. Maybe he can even watch this wimp die, crying. Won’t that be a sight to behold?” “Joe, this ain’t exactly what I signed on for.” “Well then, maybe you can stay here and tell McCain how sorry you are.” With that, Joe pulls his gun and kills Bob. “This is gonna’ be better that I had hoped, when McCain sees I am capable of killin’ my partner, it’s gonna’ drive him crazy, he’s gonna’ become reckless. Oh yeah, this gets better by the minute.”

5 –

Mark wavered in and out of consciousness; grateful to know he was still alive, grateful when the pain finally brought him back to an unconscious state. Now, it was dark, and finally, thankfully, he was lying on a bedroll. The pain was still intense but al least it was not aggravated by the bouncing on the saddle or the saddle horn. His throat was dry and his stomach ached from the beating and the lack of food. Joe noticed him, awake. “So kid, ain’t the man your Pa is are ya?” “What do you want?” Mark managed to speak in his scratchy voice. “Can I have some water, please?” “You want water, huh kid?” With that, Joe threw a canteen at Mark. “Your Pa sure taught you some good manners, too bad he didn’t teach you how to fight.” “I can fight, alright, but it was two against one, I didn’t have much of a chance.” Joe glared at Mark; “You think you can take me, huh kid? I don’t think so, you can’t even stand. We’ll see what you’ve got when we get where we’re headed.” Joe threw some food at Mark, gave him a chance to eat and then tied him to a tree. Mark asked for another blanket, it was mighty cold, Joe just laughed at him and covered himself with the extra bedroll that was Bobs’.

As cold as it was, Mark drifted into sleep. Morning brought the sun but very little warmth. Joe walked over to Mark and kicked him in the leg, “Hey kid, you feel like doin’ a little ridin’ today, or do you want to be slung over the saddle again?” Mark opened his eyes, still groggy from the lack of sleep and the reality of pain. Joe was impatient, he kicked Mark again, “Hey kid, I’m talkin’ to you!” “Yea, I can ride. Where are we goin’ and what do you want with me?” “We’re goin’ to meet some friends of mine, and you, you’re just the bait.” With that he put out the campfire, hoisted Mark up on the horse, tossed him the bedroll and off they went.”

6 –

Mark had a hard time sitting in the saddle, everything hurt. His sides ached from being kicked and his face and head hurt from the beating he took from Joe, but he knew if said anything, Joe would just sling him over the saddle again. He forced himself to sit erect and look past the pain. He could barely see from one eye and everything was blurred out of the other but he maintained his balance. He had to think, think of what was going on, how he could escape. Who were the rest of Joes’ friends and what did they want with his Pa? He never met Joe before, why was Joe so angry with him?

Back at the ranch, Lucas was ready to get up on the horses and start chasing after whoever took Mark. “Lucasboy, it’s getting dark, you can’t follow those tracks sitting up on that horse.” “Micah, what do you want me to do, wait till morning? Look at the weather, there is a storm coming, the tracks will be gone soon.” “I’m not saying we should wait until morning, I’m just suggesting we walk the horses, let them recover from the ride here, and you can track at the same time. We’re ready to walk all night, if that’s what it takes.” “I know you’re right Micah, we’ll take it slow, for now.”

Lucas followed the trail, watching carefully for any and every sign. Then he saw something that enraged him. “Micah, look over here, there was a struggle. That’s blood. What did they do to him?” Lucas started up on the stallion, John stopped him “Lucas, you still have to follow the tracks, you can’t just go riding blindly. I know you want to find him.” “You don’t know anything, it’s not your son who’s missing, it’s not your son who they beat, get out of my way.” Lucas pushed past John and Micah, trying to mount the stallion but he was skittish and Lucas couldn’t get a foothold in the stirrup. Micah grabbed him “You’re right, none of us know how you hurt but we are here to help even if that means tying you down until you calm down and start thinkin’ straight.” Lucas was ready to strike at anyone but he knew he couldn’t take down 20 men. His rifle was on the stallion, even if it had been in his hands, he would not have been able to shoot any of them. “OK, we’ll walk the horses while I track but as soon as there is a trail I can follow from the saddle, I will be riding, with or without any of you.”

7 –

Sweeney was stumbling around; this really wasn’t something he was used to doing. He kept tripping over branches, never quite falling, until he came upon something bigger. He reached out to see what he tripped over and found a body. “Oh my God”. “What?” yelled Lucas. “I think I found a body.” “Mark, Mark” Lucas was shouting as he ran towards Sweeney, he bent down and felt a coldness that only comes with death. He stumbled backwards, afraid to know but more afraid not to know. He reached out again, this time looking harder, it was not Mark. He looked around at the signs indicating the struggle. There had only been two men, this had to be one of them. Tears filled his eyes, grateful the body was not Mark but knowing that if one man could do this to his partner, there was no telling what he could do to Mark.

Sweeney said, “Lucas, I’m just holding you back, I’m no good at this.” Lucas stared him down, “You tellin’ me you ain’t wantin’ to help me find my boy?” “No, no Lucas, I’m just sayin’ that I am holdin’ you back. From this point on, mark your trail, I’ll go back to the ranch and see if Mark is back yet. If he is, I’ll send Nils back to get ya.” “Sweeney, you see this? Mark ain’t back at the ranch and you know it, some madman has my boy. Are you gonna’ help or not?” John stepped between Sweeney and Lucas “Lucas, you know better than that, every man here is willing to stay as long as it takes to find Mark. Sweeney isn’t used to this kind of tracking, he will slow us down and you know that as well as I do. Let him go back to the ranch, if we mark the trail for Nils, he can follow us with more supplies while we keep looking. It takes a brave man to admit when he is in over his head. Sweeney is thinking of what is best for you and finding Mark.” They did need more supplies; they really hadn’t brought much of anything, who knew they were going to be out so long? Lucas just nodded his head, Sweeney got up on his horse and headed back to the ranch. Lucas hung his head and walked on, following the trail.

Marks’ face felt funny, not just because of the swelling and bruising, something was really different. He reached up to his face and found the dried blood. It was around his mouth and nose, even a little next to his swollen eye. He tried to determine if it was just dried blood or actual wounds, he would have to wait until they stopped again, if they did, and what was Joe gonna’ do to him then. It started raining, more sleet than rain. Mark tried to wrap the bedroll around him a bit more, Joe just laughed at him. Joe said, “It’s time to stop for the night kid, you ready to take me on yet?” “I’ll take you on, if you think that will make you a big man.” With that, Joe got off his horse and pulled Mark off his and beat him some more. Once Mark fell on the ground, Joe just kept kicking him until sometime after Mark lost consciousness.

8 –

Lucas and the rest of the men kept following the trail. Lucas never slept; he just kept walking, following the trail. Some of the other men rode their horses, dozing as they could. They all wanted to find Mark, find him safe, but they did not have the same tenacity as Lucas. Once it was daylight, he followed the trail from atop the stallion. Micah had to force him to stop, at least long enough for some coffee and food; nobody would last if he didn’t give them some type of a break, not even him. Lucas consented, grudgingly, but only stopped long enough to drink some coffee and eat a bite of food, then he was back on the stallion. By nightfall, he believed they were gaining ground, that was when it started raining. He was beginning to lose his resolve. How could he follow a trail if it was washed out? John said, “Lucas, I know you want to go on, but you have to get some rest, so do we.” “You sleep if you want, I’m goin’ on.” Micah grabbed him again, “Lucas, you can hardly stand on your feet now, what good are you gonna’ do Mark if you fall on your face?” Again Lucas agreed, he lay down until everyone was asleep, then he saddled the stallion and started off on his own. He knew he had to follow the trail while there was still a trail to follow. The rain was so cold, it really wasn’t washing out the trail, it was hard to follow but follow it he did. Around midnight, the others awoke, they all saddled up, they needed to catch up to Lucas. Sam, a U.S. Marshal who also happened to be a full blooded Indian, was in a nearby town and had heard about Mark missing so went out to join the posse. He found Lucas, wavering in his step while tracking Mark and the man who took him. Lucas was so tired; it didn’t take much to knock him off his feet. Once down, Lucas was so sleep deprived that he couldn’t get up though he kept trying, eventually he was fast asleep. He started to wake just as the rest of the posse joined up. Sam told Lucas to stay on his horse, doze if he could, Sam could track just as good as Lucas, “Let me take the lead for a while, I’ll ask for help if I need it, meanwhile you can get some of your strength back.” Lucas knew Sam was a good tracker, maybe better than himself but Sam didn’t have the same investment in this search as he did, still, as hard as he pushed himself he found little strength to resist.

The morning brought bright sunlight, this time it even brought warmth. Mark was cold but could barely move from the beating that Joe gave him. He forced himself to stand steadfastly against Joe. “So kid, you got some stamina after all. Your old man will be proud of you, if you’re still alive when he finds you.” “What did my Pa ever do to you? Why do you take such joy in hurting me?” said Mark with all the strength he could muster. “You are part of your Pa, that’s all you need to know, now get on that horse or I’ll through you over the saddle.” As Mark tried to get up in the saddle, Joe started towards him, Mark knew he had to get up or Joe would lay him across the saddle and he didn’t think he could survive the bouncing on his ribs. With every inch of strength he could muster, he hoisted himself up into the saddle, at the dismay of Joe.

Lucas and the rest of the posse were back on the move. Sam had convinced Lucas they needed to rest, at least a couple of hours. Both Sam and Lucas knew they were getting closer. Lucas was getting edgy, again he got that feeling in his gut, something ominous was gnawing at him.

Around noon they came upon the spot where Mark had been held captive for the night. More signs of a struggle, more blood, Lucas could only see red. He was starting to ride off when Sam yelled to him, “Lucas, your boy” he didn’t get a chance to say anymore before Lucas was next to him and off the stallion, looking on the ground. “Lucas, he’s not here, but he is leaving a trail of his own. He must know you would be looking and with the weather as it is, well, he’s a smart boy.” Lucas looked around a little more carefully now, he had been in such a hurry to go off and find Mark that he didn’t pay attention. “I guess I’m just not thinkin’ clear.” “Lucasboy, how could you be thinkin’ clear? You ain’t hardly rested or ate.” John said, “Lucas, we are gaining on them, just try to stay focused a little longer.” Again Lucas just glared, he knew everyone was there to help but he felt so useless, so guilty. He was supposed to protect Mark, what kind of a father was he? Micah knew what he was thinking, “Lucasboy, you know I couldn’t love that boy more if he were my own grandson. You did everything you could do, you taught him everything you could.” “Yea, well apparently I didn’t teach him how not to get beat.” “Seems to me you’ve been beaten a time or two, you lived through it, so will Mark, he’s of the same stock.” “I was a man before anyone started in on me, Mark is still a boy. He takes more after his mother, gentle like. I never really taught him how to fight, to protect himself; I always thought I would be there to protect him. Then I go off and let somebody, some animal, do this to him.” “You didn’t let anybody do this to him, they took him.” “I was supposed to be there and I wasn’t.”

Mark was in some major pain; he never felt anything like this in his life. While he was riding, and marking the trail, he realized how much his Pa had protected him from all this and he never loved him more. He wasn’t gonna’ give Joe any reason to beat him anymore. He decided what his Pa said about a time to fight and a time to walk away applied in this situation. He may not be able to walk away, but he didn’t have to antagonize Joe either. He may have thought he was being a man when he tried to face up to Joe but he now realized that there was more to being a man than fighting, you had to use your head for something other than a punching bag. He was making sure he broke branches, making sure the horse stepped heavy every now and then, along with every other trick his Pa had taught him when tracking.

9 –

Harry Chase was pacing in the shed, waiting for Joe, Bob, and Mark. It wasn’t a great place to stay, the roof leaked but from the looks of the outside, it was better than anyone else was experiencing. Harry began to question whether he did the right thing, having Joe and Bob kidnap Mark. He wanted Lucas to feel the loss he felt when Lucas let Millie know about him. She came to see him after he left town, just to slap him in the face. Harry loved Millie, probably the first time he ever really felt anything and she wanted no part of him. He lied to her about her brother, now she told him she never wanted to see him again. Yes, Lucas needed to feel that kind of loss but not by taking Mark. Harry knew that Lucas would try to kill him, just for taking Mark. There wasn’t much he could do about it now. Maybe he could just send Mark back home and he could run. Maybe Lucas would just be grateful to have Mark back and take him back home. “Yea, and horses will fly too!”

A Growing Time - part 2

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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