The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Blue Boy
by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1

“I can? Oh boy!” Mark shouted at the table one morning. Lucas sat his cup of coffee down and watched his son’s eyes twinkle like stars. Mark’s face lit up as if he was just told school had been canceled for the rest of his life and he would spend every day fishing from now on.

Lucas laughed at his son. “Providing that you can be good until then?” He teased Mark. He knew Mark was a pretty good boy. Outside of the usual boy mischief, he had no problems with Mark. Lucas’s eyes twinkled none the less as he teased his ten year old son.

Mark jumped out of his chair so fast that the chair fell to the floor with a loud crash. Both him and Lucas jumped at the noise and Mark stopped in mid-stride. “I’m sorry!” he said, his face still aglow with excitement.

Lucas stood up and hugged his son. “I said ‘good,’ Mark.” His voice rang with laughter.

The golden sunlight shone inside the window as Mark picked his chair back up. He started to race out the door to start on his chores. But his father was still quicker then him and he grabbed his arm to stop him. “Why do I still see oatmeal in your bowl, boy?”

A look of impatience screwed up Mark’s face as his father pointed to his chair. “Oh, yeah…” Mark sat down and started eating his oatmeal as quickly as he could.

Lucas sat back down. “Next time, I’ll save the good news until I know you don’t have anything important to do!”
“I can’t believe it! I can really ride Duster to school?”

Lucas smiled. “Well, I know you don’t want to start school when it opens next week. And I know you probably don’t want to walk the five miles and back every day. So, I thought Duster might be a good way for you to get to school without tiring you out, and great company for the dreadful trip into town everyday.” Lucas grinned as Mark shot him a disgusted look. “Duster’s doing really great! I’ve watched you and him together for a while, and I feel safe on you riding him by yourself.”

“So, when my chores are done today, can I ride him to school and back?” Lucas raised his eyebrows as a grin turned the corners of his mouth up. “Just for practice, so I’ll know how far I have to go…”

“Oh,” Lucas leaned back in his chair and cocked his head to one side. “You won’t be doing anything today if you get sick, so slow down, boy!”

Mark sat down his spoon as he picked his milk up. “I’m done now. Can I go do my chores?”

Lucas nodded his head. He shook his head with a grin on his face as Mark rushed out the door.

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

White, puffy clouds hid the corners of the sun, throwing shadows on the ranch house. Lucas stood on the porch as he watched Mark mount Duster and ride toward the house. Lucas looked down at his feet, a prideful smile played on his face. Mark stopped when he got up close to the house. “Thanks, Pa! Thanks a million!”

Lucas patted Duster’s shiny coat. “I don’t want you to stay gone too long, son. Just ride Duster to the school and back. Understand?”
Mark smiled. “Sure, pa.”

Lucas stood back and smiled as he watched Duster gallop off. There was nothing he liked more then to see his boy happy and excited.

Mark smiled as he rode. He watched this pony grow. Duster was special to him because his Uncle Johnny had broken him for him. Mark had wanted to ride Duster ever since that day he saw Uncle Johnny settle him, and now the moment was here. Mark laughed out loud as he felt the wind as they galloped across the range. “Yahoo!” he shouted.

He did just as his father had ordered and only rode Duster to the school and back. “My very own horse! I can’t believe I have my very own horse, Pa !” Mark declared.

Lucas smiled. His face lit up like a candle in the middle of a stormy night as he watched his son jump off his horse. “You unsaddle him now, son. We need to take the wagon to cut some brush in the North Pasture.”

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

Mark got up the next day and went to sit at the table. “Pa?”

Lucas turned from the stove where he was making pancakes. “What is it, son?”

“Um…Can I ride Duster again today?” Mark sat with his hands folded in his lap, trying to look as calm and indifferent as he possibly could. But Lucas could see right through him and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Mark asked, a bit annoyed that his father was so chipper this early in the morning.

“Now, don’t you sit there and act all calm! You are about to bust out of your seat if I say the word ‘yes!’”

“Oh.” Mark sat up straighter in his chair. “Well?”

Lucas put the pancakes on the table. “After you eat and do your chores, son!” Lucas declared.

Mark saw his father watching him closely, so he ate slowly. He never thought he’d eat enough to his father’s satisfaction, and he never knew being patient and obedient could be so hard. Finally, Lucas dismissed him to do his chores and he made sure to take his time in doing them.

Finally, Mark went to his father, who was chopping wood. Mark stood beside him until he stopped and looked at him. “Um…do you want me to stack this wood?”

“Yes, son. That would be nice of you.” Lucas didn’t turn from the wood he was splitting, but moved his eyes so he could see Mark’s expression. Mark held a disgusted look on his face.

“You would?” Mark asked, a bit of impatience in his voice.

Lucas laughed. “I’m only joking, Mark. You can stack it when you get back from your ride.”

“Oh boy!” Mark shouted. “See you later!”

“Mark-“ Lucas stopped him. Mark turned and Lucas drew a finger towards him. “Be back in an hour!”

“An hour?” Mark cried. He watched his father draw a stern look on his face. “Yes sir.”

Mark laughed as he rode Duster. Every time he rode his horse he thought of his Uncle Johnny. They had gotten a letter that said he wouldn’t have to be in jail for too long. Mark hoped he had learned his lesson and would straighten up.

They rode for quite awhile. Then Mark turned the horse to head back home. He decided to take a shortcut across the range so he wouldn’t be late in getting back. Suddenly, Mark saw a fallen tree, but he nor the horse could stop in time and the horse tripped over the tree with a loud whinny. Both Mark and the horse fell.

Only a few seconds later, Mark was sitting up. He looked at Duster who was struggling to stand. He tried to help him, but he cried. Mark looked at his leg and let out a cry. “Oh Duster, it can’t be broken! It just can’t be broken!”


Chapter 2

Mark hugged the horse’s neck. “What do I do, boy? If I tell pa, he’ll shoot you. He can’t shoot you. You are my friend!” Mark just sat and hugged him for a long time. He heard a horse riding down the road and looked up.  A man on the horse asked him if he was okay. “Um…yeah.” Mark called back.
 
But the man turned his horse off the road and galloped to where Mark and Duster were sitting. “What’s wrong, boy?”

Mark swallowed. “We fell.”

The man looked the horse over.  “It’s broken, son.”

Tears popped into Mark’s eyes. “No, it can’t be broken! He’s my friend. My uncle broke him for me, so he’s really special.”
“I’m sorry, son.”

Mark sat back down and put the horses head in his lap. He laid his head on the horse’s head and hugged him. “He’ll be okay. I’ll take care of him.”

“What’s your name, son?”

“Mark. Mark McCain.”

“Your folks own a ranch?”

“Yes sir. My pa and me do.”

“I’m sure he’s teaching you all about ranching. Am I right, son?”

Mark swallowed, not moving from his position. “Yes sir. My pa teaches me everything he does.”

“Then I’m sure he has taught you about horses with broken legs.” The man stooped down and put a hand on Mark’s back. “He’s taught you why a horse can’t live with a broken leg?”

Mark nodded and licked his lips. “He did. But-“

“A man has to make hard choices, Mark. It’s part of being a man. We have to put our own feelings aside and think about the good of others. If you want to grow up to be a good man, that’s the way it’s got to be.” Mark didn’t move. “That your ranch at the bottom of the hill?” Mark only nodded, then laid his head back onto Duster’s. “I’ll go get your father. I’ll be right back.”

The man stood up, but mark didn’t move. “No, please don’t, sir. He’ll kill my horse.”

“I’ll be right back, son.” He mounted his horse and turned it towards the road. “By the way, my name’s Chuck.”

Mark hardly heard him as he hugged Duster even tighter. He heard the horse whinnying and knew he was in pain, but he can’t allow them to shoot his friend. There just had to be some other way! Mark sat in silence and talked softly to his horse, promising to protect him. But he knew he was fighting a loosing battle. Too soon, he heard approaching horses. He moved his eyes upward and saw his father and Chuck dismounting. Seeing them only made him hug Duster tighter.

“Mark,” Lucas said his name with a heavy emotion. “Mark, son.”

Mark didn’t move. He just stayed and held onto Duster with all his might. “Mark.” Lucas sat down next to him. “Son, Duster’s leg is broken. You know what-“

Mark’s head shot up. Tears streamed down his face as he looked into his father’s sorrowful eyes. “No! We can’t!”
Lucas sighed. “Son, I know how you feel.”

“You don’t know how I feel! Pa, Uncle Johnny broke this horse for me and I’ve grown to love him! You can’t kill him.”

“It’s for his own good, son. A man has to put others before himself.” Mark had just heard those words from Chuck!

“If I break my leg, would you shoot me?” Mark suddenly shot out. He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. But it was too late to do anything about it now.

“That’s not fair, Mark. Don’t make this any harder than it already is.” Lucas said sternly. Then his eyes softened and he put an arm around Mark. “I know it’s hard, son. This horse is special to you and you love him, but he’s suffering. A bad break like that can’t heal and it would do more harm to make him lay here crying like this for weeks while you learn that lesson. This is one time I can’t let you figure it out for yourself.” Mark looked up at him, a deep sadness in his eyes. “I have to shoot him, son.”

“No pa, please don’t! Please don’t kill my horse!” Mark cried as he put his arms around his neck.

Lucas turned toward Chuck. “Would you take him back to the ranch? I’ll wait a few minutes before I do it.”

“Please pa! Please don’t do this!” Mark cried.

Chuck came and lifted Mark up into his strong arms. Then he carried him down the hill. Mark clung to him and cried as they hurried away. “Wait!” Mark shouted suddenly. Chuck stopped. “If it must be done, I’d rather it not be with my pa’s rifle!”

Chuck turned and nodded to his saddle where a rifle stuck out of the boot. Lucas nodded as they turned and walked away.

Chuck and Mark made their way to the ranch. They were almost to the yard when Mark froze at the sound of a gunshot. The blood drained from Mark’s face and he closed his eyes. Instant tears came to his eyes. He turned toward the direction where he had left his friend, Duster. Then he looked at Chuck who was giving him a look of encouragement. Then he raced for the barn, climbed into the loft and buried his head in the hay to muffle his crying.


Chapter 3

Lucas slowly rode into the corral and dismounted his horse. His shoulders sagged with weariness. One of the hardest things he ever had to do was take that shot of that horse. He had closed his eyes while he shot, because he couldn’t stand to watch it himself. Then he had gotten rid of the remains with a very heavy heart. Lucas sighed a deep sigh and ran a hand through his hair before putting his hat back on.

“Chuck,” Lucas called. Chuck came out of the barn where he had been grooming his horse. “Where is he?” Lucas asked with a choked voice.

“He’s in the hay loft. He’s trying to hide his crying, but I can hear it.”

Lucas looked toward the hayloft from outside the barn. He started forward, but Chuck laid a hand on his shoulder. “Let him be for awhile, Lucas.”

Lucas looked toward the barn.  “I need to work this out with him, Chuck. We don’t leave things like this.”

“I understand. My father and I were the same way, God rest his soul.” Chuck patted Lucas’s shoulder. “But for both of your sakes, I’m just saying that he needs some time alone. He’s blaming you right now. Just let him try to sort this out his own way.”

Lucas nodded. “I’ll get supper started.” He turned toward the house. “It’s really good to see you, Chuck. It’s been a long time! I was sorry to hear about Uncle Charlie’s passing.”

Chuck gave a small smile. “It’s been a long time, cousin! I’m sorry our initial meeting wasn’t more memorable.”

Lucas patted Chuck silently and went into the house to start supper. When supper was ready, Lucas called toward the barn. “Mark, it’s time to eat!”

Lucas waited, but got no response. He looked toward Chuck who nodded that Mark was indeed still up in the hayloft. Lucas sighed. “Go ahead and get washed up, Chuck. We’ll be in there in just a minute. Lucas stepped foot inside the barn. “Mark, it’s time to eat son.”

Mark climbed down the ladder without saying a word and walked passed Lucas. Lucas grabbed Mark by the arm to stop him. “Mark-“

Mark wouldn’t turn to look at Lucas. “I’m not ready yet, pa. You shot my horse, and that’s gonna take some time.”

Lucas stood frozen in his spot as he watched Mark walk away. Lucas hated it when things weren’t right between them. He felt like part of his soul was missing every time they quarreled. Lucas hoped that Mark would accept the truth before long. And he knew that this was something Mark had to understand – the horse was a horse and risks are taken when you allow your heart to be wrapped around something.

After the blessing was said, supper was eaten in silence. Lucas missed Mark’s ramblings, and the silence was bitter. Lucas could hardly swallow the food on his plate, and Mark hadn’t eaten two bites, but just pushed the food around on his plate. Lucas cleared his throat. “Son, this is my cousin, Chuck McCain. My father and his father were brothers.”

Mark didn’t even raise his head from his plate. Lucas sat down his cup and cleared his throat. “Mark-“ he warned.
Mark lifted his head. “Nice to meet you, Mr. McCain.”

Chuck smiled. “Just call me Chuck, Mark.”

Mark lowered his head back to his plate. “Son, you need to eat something.”

“I can’t, pa. I just can’t.” Mark said quietly.

“Mark, we did what we had to do! You are ten years old – old enough to accept the facts and move on. I know this horse was special to you but-“

Mark leapt from his chair. His chair fell over with a crash, but he didn’t even flinch. “Pa, you don’t understand! That was more than a horse! My Uncle Johnny-“

Lucas stood up also. “Mark, do not talk to me like that!” he ordered.

Chuck sat quietly with his head lowered. “I won’t stay in this house with you, pa. I can’t stand to be here right now!” Mark ran out the door.

Lucas started to hurry after him. Chuck jumped from his chair and grabbed Lucas by both shoulders from behind. “Stay put, cuz!” he warned. “You both are too upset to talk right now.”

Lucas punched the side of the door. “You don’t understand!”

Chuck chuckled. “I don’t, huh? You remember how close my pa and me were, what with pa loosing my ma when I was only six? You remember that we were everything to each other?”

Lucas turned back towards his cousin. “Yeah. You and me were like brothers too.”

“Do you remember when my dog Silver died?”

Lucas nodded. “You were eleven or twelve years old.”

Chuck nodded. “My mother had insisted that my pa let me have him. She said that every boy needs a dog on the farm. I got that dog when I was six, right before my ma got the disease that killed her. Luke, do you remember what I said about that dog?”
Lucas nodded. “That dog was something special. You said that he helped you remember your mother, and that as long as you had that dog, you could hold on to her.

Chuck nodded. He went to the door and looked outside. “One day, my dog got in a bad fight with another animal. We never figured out what it was exactly. I looked for Silver for hours, and when I finally found him, he could hardly walk. He had bites all over him and was crying. I wanted to take him back to the farm and tend to him. But my father told me that the cuts were too deep and that he would eventually die. I still remember the cock of the rifle.”

Lucas sighed. “I remember you were crying.”

Chuck nodded. “I begged my pa not to shoot that dog, Lucas.” Chuck turned from looking out the door back to Lucas. “I begged him.” Lucas sighed and looked down at the floor. “My pa sent me back to the farm so he could shoot the dog. I had to walk back slowly, and I heard the shot go off. It broke my heart.”

Lucas nodded. “I helped Uncle Charlie burry him.  I had never seen your father cry before, but he cried that day.”

Chuck’s head shot up and he and Lucas looked into each other’s eyes. There was a silent communication going on there. Chuck hadn’t realized his father had cried over that dog’s death. Lucas had also cried that day, and he indicated so with a small nod of his head. Then he closed his eyes as he heaved a deep sigh that came from deep within him. “You got over it though.”

Chuck gave a short laugh. “Eventually. I didn’t talk to my father for days though. There was this silence between us. My pa thought we should talk about it and we did. I told him I would never forgive him for what he did. Then I told him that… I hated him.” Lucas spun around at those words. “We say crazy things when we are angry, Luke. I will never forget the look of hurt on my father’s face.”

 Chuck laid a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “That’s why I’m telling you to wait. Mark is very angry and upset with you right now. I don’t think pa and I ever did settle that difference. We never did talk about it again after that night. Eventually we came close again, but never as close as we were before I said those words.”

“Mark would never-“ Lucas swallowed and went to the table to start clearing off the dishes. “He’d never…” But Lucas knew the sad truth was that when a person holds anger and bitterness in their hearts and it’s forced out, things are said that can never be taken back.
 
Chuck suddenly let out a small cry and grabbed hold of his stomach. Lucas ran over to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. “I’ll be okay in a minute. It doesn’t last long.”

Lucas helped him to the table and they sat down together. “What’s wrong with you?”

Chuck swallowed hard. “There’s another reason I came here. It wasn’t just to visit my cousin.” Chuck looked up with tears in his eyes and tried to force a smile on his face, not quite succeeding. “I came to die.”


Chapter 4

Lucas stared at Chuck as realization sat over his face. His eyes grew even darker than they were before. The blood drained from his face and he slowly put his head in his hands as he silently allowed to words to sink in. “What is it?” Lucas finally choked out.

“The doctor said something’s eating my insides, Luke. It’s pretty painful, and I’ve learned to bare it, but sometimes the cramps make it almost unbearable.”

“Isn’t there anything they can do for you?”

Chuck shook his head. “There’s medicine I can take for the pain, and I do when it gets really bad. But nothing can stop a beast from eating your insides. It’s pretty bad, Luke. I only have a short time to live.”

Lucas laid a hand on his cousin’s shoulder “How long?”

Chuck shrugged. “Maybe a couple days, couple weeks, or a couple months. Who knows.” Chuck looked down at the plate still sitting on the table. “The truth is that I rented a farmhouse close by. I have a few horses that I brought with me just to make myself feel like I’m still useful for something.”

“You could have stayed here. You know we were like brothers. I could take care of you, Chuck.”

“No thanks, Luke! You know how proud I’ve always been. No, I can care for myself for now. Later, we’ll see what happens…”

The door opened and Mark walked in. “I-I’m getting my things to sleep in the barn tonight, pa.” Mark stated.
They watched Mark walk into the bedroom and close the door. Chuck stood and started toward the bedroom door. He turned before opening it. “Lucas, do you trust me?”

Lucas nodded. “Why?”

“I want to talk to Mark – try to help him through this. Can I do it in my own way without asking your permission?”

Lucas looked at Chuck, puzzled. “Luke, I know how he’s feeling. And I know how to help him. He may get hurt more in the beginning, but I think in the end it’ll be better for him.”

“I don’t know, Chuck…” Luke hesitated.

“Let me do this one more thing. Please?” Chuck begged. Lucas nodded and watched Chuck go into the bedroom and close the door.

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

Chuck saw Mark sitting quietly on the bed. “Mark?”

Mark turned toward Chuck, a look of question in his sad eyes. “Your father and I were like brothers when we were growing up. My father and me…we had a close bond like you two do. That’s why I want to help you.”

Mark snickered. “Your on his side. You let him kill my horse.”

Chuck rolled his eyes. “Oh, give me a break! If you really search yourself, you know that we did what had to be done. The fact that you lost your horse – “ Chuck stopped and cleared his throat. “I want to tell you a story, boy.”

Mark listened as Chuck told him about loosing his dog and the hurt he felt, the words he said to his father, and the consequences those words brought. “I don’t want to hurt my pa. I’m just angry and can’t forgive him.”

“It’s hard to forgive a person when they didn’t do anything wrong,” Chuck stated. He stood up. The pain was coming back and Mark could see it.

“Is something wrong?” Mark asked.

Chuck nodded. “I’m dying, boy.”

Mark sucked in his breath and stared at Chuck. “The earth turns, boy. We live and die. God only guarantees this second and the past to us. The future is his, and we may not be included in it.”

Mark nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

Chuck cleared his throat. “Listen, the truth is that I have a farm house close by and I’ll need someone to care for the horses for awhile. I was wondering if you would help me out. There will be chores to do and such, but I’ll let you stay with me. It probably won’t be more then a couple weeks.”

Mark’s eyes grew sad at those last words. “Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I’ve made peace with it, son. I’m going to be in Heaven with my ma and pa, and with your ma. I only met her once, but from what I remember, she’ll be a joy to see again!”

Mark gave a small smile. “I guess I could.”

“Okay. But first, you have to talk to your pa.”

Mark’s head shot up. “I can’t right now. I’m too angry.”

Chuck shook his head. “You can. You must. Your father is being torn apart by this, boy.”

Mark swallowed and looked towards the door. “I’ll send him in,” Chuck announced.

Chuck left the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He saw Lucas stroking the fire, his thoughts were on the small boy in the next room, he knew.

“Luke,” Lucas turned around. “I asked the boy to come stay with me at the farm for a couple weeks.”
“You did what?” Lucas practically shouted.

“Luke, I asked you to trust me. I know that’s your boy in there, but I also know that I don’t want to see your relationship hurt. Please let me do this.”

“Well, I-“ Lucas looked toward the bedroom.
 
Chuck came and laid a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “Please, Luke. I promise it’ll all be okay. I told him just a couple weeks would do.”

Lucas cocked his head to one side. “A couple weeks?”

Chuck nodded. “I’ll be lucky if I last that long, Luke. But it’ll be a joy for me to go out of this world knowing I helped my…brother”
Lucas couldn’t keep a smile from turning the corners of his mouth up. “We used to call each other that.” Suddenly on impulse, he reached out and hugged Chuck. A tear sprang to his eye. “As long as I can come out everyday and check on you two.”

They held each other in the embrace and Chuck slapped Lucas on the back as they hugged tight. “You bet.” Chuck unlocked the embrace by pulling away. “Now, go talk to him.”

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

Lucas opened the door and saw Mark stuffing some clothes into his bag. He cleared his throat. “I heard you are going away for a few days.”

“I’ll be back,” Mark said, trying to sound nonchalant.
 
“Of course you will. I’ll be out to check on you two every day.”

Mark turned to face his father. “A young boy and a sick man alone…a father can’t help but to worry.”

Mark nodded. “I know, pa.” He turned back to finish packing his bag. “What about school?”

Lucas sighed. “I think Chuck has a few lessons to teach you. One week of school isn’t going to hurt…much.”

Mark nodded. “He’s going to die, pa.”

“I know.”

Mark zipped up his bag and started toward the door. He stopped in front of his pa. “I’ll be back.” He assured him.

“I know you will, son. Mark,” Lucas put a finger under his chin and lifted his head towards him. “I love you.”

Mark nodded. Then he started to walk away. He turned. “Pa, I’m still very angry. I can’t pretend I’m not.”

Lucas nodded. His heart sank at the sound of his voice. “I know.”

“But,” Mark stopped and dropped his bag at his feet. He wrapped his arms around his pa’s waist. “I love you too.” Mark didn’t allow his father to take him in his arms, or to even hug back. He quickly walked out of the room and out the front door.

Lucas stood in the middle of the bedroom and stared at the empty room. He listened to the silence. Then he sank down onto the bed and buried his head in his hands as he let all the emotions of the day drain out of his body.


Chapter 5

Mark woke up and stretched as the golden rays shone through the window. It had taken him a long time to get to sleep that night. He was sad that his horse had died, but he couldn’t sleep because of the wall that had been built between him and his pa. Mark knew that anger still laid in his heart, and eventually he would have to find away to burry that anger. But for now-

“Mark, you need to get up and tend to the stock, son.” Chuck called from the other room.

Mark jumped out of bed and quickly dressed. He came into the living room, still buttoning his shirt. He saw Chuck sitting in a leather chair, rubbing his middle and sighing. “Is it bad?”

“I just took some medicine, so it should be better soon. Listen son, the truth is that yesterday was probably my last good day. They say that right before you die you have a good day, and I think that was yesterday. I hadn’t been able to ride a horse that comfortable in weeks! So, I’m going to really depend on you to do the work around here.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Mark asked as he put his boots on. Chuck nodded. “Why did you rent this place?”

“I didn’t want to stay with your father’s house to die, son. I wanted to die here tending to some of my horses.” Chuck stood, cringing from the pain. “Let’s go meet my horses. Then you can fix some flapjacks.” Chuck stopped with his hand on the front door. “You…do know how to cook?”

Mark smiled. “Yes sir. My pa doesn’t think much of my cookin’ – says he hopes I marry a fine lady someday so I don’t have to eat my own cookin’ – but I can cook.”

Chuck smiled. “Well, your father is good at almost anything he does. I remember him cooking back home.”

“He what?” Mark stopped mid-way to the barn to stare at Chuck.
 
Chuck laughed. “Don’t tell him I told you that. But my pa taught him to cook when he’d visit us at our bachelor cabin.”

They walked to the barn and Chuck showed him the horses. Mark knew how to care for horses as much as he could care for himself. Chuck led him toward the back of the barn where a Chestnut colt was. “This is the newest member of the family.”

A hand shot out and Mark rubbed his soft coat. “He’s beautiful!” Mark declared.

Chuck watched Mark as he stroked it. “He’s newly broken. He’ll need some riding everyday – sort of a frisky colt, if you ask me! The other’s will be let out in the pastor every day to run. But the colt…I want him ridden.”

Mark swallowed and took his hand away from the colt’s soft coat. “I don’t know if I can.”

Chuck shrugged. “I wasn’t asking you if you could. It’s part of your job while staying here.” Mark watched him walk back towards the house. “Come on in and start breakfast when your done.”

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

Mark finished the breakfast dishes and turned to look at Chuck. He was standing by the window, staring out. “It does bother you.”

Chuck nodded. “I’m just reflecting on my past, son.” He turned around. “Could you bring in some firewood? Check and see how much wood is left – some may need to be chopped. Then you can ride the colt.”

Mark nodded. “Do I have to? I don’t know if I’m ready to get back on a colt just yet.”

“You fall off a horse, you get right back on, boy. If you don’t, you may never get back on again. That’s not too practical for a boy living on a ranch.”

Mark nodded and went to do his chores. Mark worked on grooming the colt before he saddled him. His father was always teaching him about saddle sores and such, so Mark was always careful to brush the coat real good before saddling him. Just yesterday he was brushing Duster and now…Mark stopped brushing the colt as he remembered. A tear popped into his eye as he thought about his Duster. No one could ever replace his duster! Suddenly, the colt whinnied softly, as if to tell Mark that everything would be okay. He gave the colt a soft smile. “I’m just blue, boy. I’ll be better some day.”

Mark did saddle him up and rode out of the barn. Chuck was standing in the doorway and waved at Mark. “I’ll be back, Chuck!” Mark called.

“Take your time, son. Not much to be done around here. Just be back in time to fix lunch. If I’m asleep, don’t wake me up.”

Mark nodded in understanding as he and the colt trotted off. Mark rode for a long time. He allowed some more tears to fall as he remembered his Duster and how his Uncle Johnny had broken him.  He told the colt everything he was thinking – things he couldn’t tell another human being. But he was able to tell the colt anything he wanted, knowing that he would still respect him after it was all said. It was amazing what just voicing his thoughts did for him. He felt some release after it was all out, and the tears eventually dried up and he didn’t feel like crying anymore. He looked up at the sun and realized lunch would be approaching soon, so they walked slowly back to the farm.

The colt hinted to Mark that he wanted to gallop, but Mark held him in check. After what happened the day before, Mark was sure that he wouldn’t be galloping or running a horse for quite a while.

He saw Razor tied up outside the farmhouse when he got back. Mark dismounted the colt and walked into the house. He saw Lucas and Chuck sitting at the table. Chuck was laughing at some joke Lucas had just told. “I’m sorry! Am I late getting back?”

Lucas took a bite of his half-eaten sandwich. “No son. I came over to check on things as promised. Chuck told me you were out riding his colt, so I thought I’d help him with lunch.”

“Oh.” Mark looked at Chuck’s sandwich on his plate. He hadn’t even touched it.
 
“Well, don’t let it go to waste. Go ahead and eat it, son,” Chuck stated.

Mark shook his head. “You need to eat it, Chuck. You need your strength.”

Chuck frowned as another cramp hit him. “I’m having a really bad day, son.” He saw the look of sadness and worry wrinkled up Mark’s forehead. “Life and death are part of living. I told you I’ve made my peace. I’m glad I had yesterday. It was nice to go without pain for awhile, but I’m afraid living normal yesterday is speeding up the process.”

Lucas saw the look of sadness in Mark’s eyes. “Son, are you okay?”

Mark nodded. “Pa, the colt and I…we had a long talk. I got a lot out in the open, but I’m not ready to talk about it with you.”

Lucas nodded. “What about this?” Lucas nodded his head toward Chuck. “Do you have any questions?”

Mark nodded. “How do I keep it from hurting when it happens?”

Chuck smiled. “You don’t, son. Don’t ever try to stop things from hurting. As long as it hurts, you are alive and in your right senses. Understand?”

Mark nodded. “I’ll chop some wood for you. The wood pile is getting low.”

“Want some help, son?” Lucas asked, a look of hope on his face.

“Mark shook his head. I need to do this, pa…”


Chapter 6

While chopping wood, Lucas exited the house and got his horse ready to mount. Mark stopped what he was doing and watched his father mount up. He wanted to run to him – to cling to him and tell him he was sorry. But Mark didn’t think he was ready. He was still holding onto the fact that his father didn’t HAVE to kill his horse. Mark could have made him better. He didn’t understand why his father continued to treat him like a child instead of like the man he wanted to be.

Lucas sat on his horse and looked at Mark. Mark gave a short wave and went back to chopping wood. Lucas shook his head sadly, opened his mouth to say something then closed it. He started to turn his horse around to leave, but he hesitated. “Mark,” Lucas said, not looking at him. “Son, I just want to remind you that a man has to make hard choices everyday. A boy allows his heart to get in the way of the right choice. So do men sometimes. But, when it comes down to it, we have to do things we don’t want to do. I didn’t want to shoot that horse anymore than you wanted me to, but I had to make a decision based on what was best for the horse – not what was best for Lucas or Mark McCain.” Lucas looked at Mark, who went back to chopping. Then he turned his horse toward home and slowly trotted off.

Mark’s heart was heavy. He fixed stew that night, but Chuck stated he didn’t want any. Mark didn’t understand why Chuck had been so well yesterday that no one could even tell he was sick, while today he looked like he would breathe his last breath at anytime. After the dishes were done, Mark sat next to Chuck and listened to stories about his father’s childhood. He could not believe some of the things his father did as a boy. Mark was beginning to realize why he never got away with much – his father had tried it all himself as a boy and was wise about such matters.

They laughed and visited together until way past Mark’s bedtime. Chuck was getting weaker, and Mark made sure he had plenty of water by his bedside before turning in for the night.

The next morning, Chuck was no better. He was no worse either. Mark fixed him some broth mid-morning, and chuck was able to eat some of it, but he finally laid a hand on Mark’s and asked him to go ride the colt. “Why haven’t you named him?”

Chuck laid his head back on his pillow and closed his eyes. “That colt was born the day I found out I was going to die. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep him. He’s good stock, son. He’d make a good horse for a young boy or girl, and I wanted him to go to someone who could grow up with him. I wanted his new owner to have the pleasure of naming him.”

Mark nodded. That made sense. He stood to go saddle up the colt. “You should sit up for awhile.” Mark stated.

“Mark,” Chuck stretched out his hand toward the young boy. “Come here, son. Let me tell you something.” Mark came back to the bed. “Sit down here.” Chuck patted the bed beside him.

“You can’t run away from your fears. I told you yesterday about my father shooting my dog. Remember?” Mark nodded. “My father was right, son. As a child, I wanted to hold on to something special to me – my mother. But do you know what I found out? I had my mother in here.” Chuck patted his chest. “And in just a few days, I’ll see her again.”

Mark’s head shot up. “Few…”

Chuck smiled. “I know I’m allowing it to come faster than it has to, son. But the pain has been unbearable for so long now and…well, I’ve found my family.” Chuck smiled and laid a hand on Mark’s cheek. “Son, I want you to ride that Chestnut. I want you to love him.”

“No.” Mark shook his head and stood up. “I won’t! I won’t ever love something like that again!” Mark ran for the door.

“That colt out there lost his ma right after he was born. He was all alone in this world and I took him in. He’s a fine colt, son.”
Mark turned from the door. “Will you sit up for a while, Chuck?”
 
Chuck shook his head. “I want to sleep now. You go on. I’ll get up directly.” Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Mark did ride the colt. There was something about him that drew him to this fine Chestnut. Mark knew that everyone was right – he can’t stop loving things just because he may loose them. Mark rode over the range for hours, again telling the colt what he thought and felt. The colt simply whinnied softly every once in awhile, as if he knew exactly how Mark felt. Mark suddenly found himself at the spot where Duster had been shot two days ago. He dismounted his horse and walked over to the tree and sat down.

The colt munched on some grass as he waited patiently for his rider. “Chuck’s really sick, colt. I’m afraid that he won’t last the week if he keeps this up.” Mark looked toward the road where just two days ago, Chuck had ridden in. “I really like Chuck. I knew he was going to die, and I still allowed my heart to love him.” Mark stood and hugged the colt’s head to himself. He closed his eyes. “I guess you can’t stop a heart from loving.”

Mark mounted the colt and they started back for the range. He did his evening chores, then he again sat around and talked to Chuck. Chuck seemed to feel a bit better that evening, and Mark was hopeful that perhaps he would be up and around the next day. Mark laughed again at his tales of childhood with his father. Mark knew he had several things to tell his father when he got home. He suddenly grew really quiet. “What are you thinking, Mark?” Chuck asked suddenly.

“Did my pa come today?”

Chuck nodded. “He did.”

“Did he ask about me?”

“What do you think?” Chuck asked. “Don’t you know that you are the most important thing in his life? He is miserable right now, Mark.”

“The colt and I…we had another long talk today. You can’t stop a heart from loving someone. In fact, I’ve grown to love you these last few days, even though I know you are going to-“ mark stopped.

“I’m going to die.” Chuck smiled. “Very soon, Mark.”

Mark looked up at Chuck. “I’m beginning to understand so much. I see you laying here suffering, and I can’t hardly stand it. Are you really in a lot of pain?”

Chuck nodded. “It feels like my insides are being ripped apart. It hurts really bad, son. I guess since I have you and Luke here, I feel like I can allow myself to let it get me now. I can die, knowing I won’t be all alone.”

Mark turned his head away. “Don’t run from it, son. Let your heart feel it. That’s part of life. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of-“ Chuck took Mark’s chin in his and turned it to look into his eyes. “It’s part of becoming a man.”

Mark swallowed. “Duster would have suffered for a long time.”

“Until you came to your right senses and realized the truth. Your pa cared enough for the horse to not allow that to happen. He had the horse’s feelings in mind.”

“What does my pa think about this?”

Chuck sighed. “Your pa is really hurting. He needs to hear that you love him and that you aren’t angry with him anymore. He wanted to talk to you that evening – to work things out. But I told him to let you work it out on your own.”

Mark watched as Chuck again doubled over in pain. He closed his eyes and laid his head back on the pillow. “You aren’t taking the medicine anymore.”

“No.” Chuck answered. “I’m allowing this thing to kill me now, boy. I’m tired of being sick. I’m ready to go home.”
Mark smiled. “I think you should. But, why does God-“

Chuck shook his head. “We have no right questioning the ways of God, Mark. God put us on this earth for a purpose. When that’s done, he takes us home.”

“Yes, but why not just take us?”

“I’ll tell you what, Mark. When I see him, I’ll ask him that question. Then you can ask him when you get there.” Chuck smiled. “God only told us what we need to know. Apparently, we don’t need to know the why of sickness and death – just that it happens to good and bad people.”

“Is pa coming tomorrow?”

Chuck nodded. “He’ll be here for breakfast. I think he’s planning on fixing it in the morning.” Mark smiled, with a question in his eyes. “I knew you’d be ready.”

The Final Chapter

Mark woke up that morning and heard Chuck’s shallow breathing. He ran to Chuck’s bedside and took his hand. They hadn’t had a very good night. Chuck had grown worse in the night and was now barely holding on. Mark couldn’t understand how he could grow so close to death in only three days. But then, he was beginning to understand that there were a lot of things he didn’t understand – and that was all a part of being a man.

Mark reached for the glass of water, but Chuck only shook his head. He reached out for Mark’s hand. “I can’t go on anymore, son. I think I hear Jesus calling my name now.”

Tears filled Mark’s eyes and he slowly shook his head. “Remember what I said about being a man, son? A man has to make tough decisions. You need to decide to accept this.”

Mark just looked into Chuck’s eyes and nodded his head. Chuck closed his eyes and allowed his breathing to slow down. He opened them half-way again and forced his eyes to turn toward Mark. “Mark, I want you to have the colt. I want you to grow up with him. He’ll make you a fine horse.”

Mark stared at him and nodded. He knew yesterday that Chuck would give him the colt, and now he was happy. “I’ll love him. I promise, Chuck.”

Chuck nodded. “You will be a fine man…just like…your pa.” Chuck closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m going home now, boy. “

Tears were now streaming down Mark’s face. “Yes indeed. A fine man, you are!” With that, Chuck breathed out a long breath, then there was nothing.

Mark only stared at the man for a moment. Then when he realized he was gone, he laid his head on the man’s chest and cried.

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

Lucas walked into the farm house and heard his son’s muffled crying coming from the bedroom. He went inside and realized that Chuck was gone. Lucas gently laid a hand on Mark’s back as he allowed his own eyes to fill up with tears. Mark turned. “I’m trying to be a man about this,” he stated.

Lucas laid his hands on Mark’s cheeks. “A real man cries, Mark. A real man grieves.” Then he allowed the tears to spill out of his own eyes, and they held each other and cried. After a few moments, Mark pushed away from his father. They looked into each other’s eyes. “I loved him, pa.”

Lucas nodded. “So did I, son. He was a very good man.”

Mark knew that he needed to talk to his father, but there was something else he wanted to do first. “I think we should bury him on our land, pa.”

Lucas let out a short cry. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.” He stood up. “I brought the wagon. I can put him in there.”
Mark nodded. “I’ll go saddle up Blue Boy.”

Lucas watched Mark exit the house and make his way to the barn. Suddenly a look of confusion stretched across his face. “Blue Boy?”

Lucas made his way to the barn and stood in the doorway as he watched Mark saddle up the colt. “Mark-“
Mark didn’t turn from his task, but did turn his head to the side. “I’ve been blue, pa. The colt helped me to see so many things the last few days. So, I decided to call him Blue Boy. Chuck told me to take him.”

Lucas smiled and walked over to Mark. “Where are you going?”

“I thought we could bury him on that crest on the range.” Mark answered. “I’m going to start digging the hole.”
Lucas nodded. “I’ll help.”

Mark turned toward his pa. “I’d love for you to help me, pa.” Then after a short smile, Mark mounted Blue Boy and galloped off.

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

Lucas sat down and stared at the grave. He was allowing sadness to sit in, and his heart was heavy. Mark sat down next to him. “He was like a brother to you, pa.”

“Yes he was. He was a great man, son. I loved him very much.”

Mark grew silent for a moment, allowing his father to his thoughts. Then he cleared his throat.  “Pa, he taught me that I was wrong about you and Duster. I’m so sorry, pa. I was trying to find it in my heart to forgive you, but the truth is…I’m the one needing the forgiveness.”

Lucas looked down at his son. “Seems like you’ve done some growing these past few days.”

Mark nodded. “Pa, I love you.”

Lucas smiled at him as Mark threw his arms around his neck. They held each other for a few moments. Then Mark pulled away and looked into his father’s eyes. “Pa, I figured out another thing along the way.”

“What’s that?”
“Well, I know that I’m beginning to think like a man, but I think I want to stay your little boy for a few more years yet. That is…if you’ll have me.”

Lucas tosseled Mark’s hair and smiled. “I think I’ll hold on to my little boy for a few more years.” With that they hugged. Then Mark sat down beside his father and Lucas laid his arm around Mark’s shoulders. They sat for a long time – silent, reflective, and in love.

 These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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