The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Haunted House
by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1
 
Mark hurried out of his room and sat down at the table.  He kept his head down so he didn’t have to see the look his Pa was giving him. But Lucas cleared his throat and Mark had to look up. “Mark, I get tired of going through this every morning,” Lucas started.
 
Mark nodded. “Yes, Pa. I’m sorry. “ Mark started eating his breakfast. “Pa, what are you doing today?”
 
Lucas took a sip of his coffee before answering. “Well,” he said, “I’m going to work on clearing the brush in the North pastor this morning. This afternoon, I have a meeting in town.”
 
Mark looked up hopefully. “Well now, that sounds like a two-man job!” Mark declared.
 
“The meeting in town?”
 
“No!” Mark gave Lucas an impatient look. “Clearing the brush.”
 
“Oh. It sure does!” Lucas agreed.
 
“As soon as I finish eating, I’ll get ready and we can ride over there,” Mark stated.
 
Lucas held the fork full of scrambled eggs up to his mouth, then slowly sat it down. “What about school?”
 
Mark shrugged. “It’s a small sacrifice I’m willing to make to help you, Pa.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Well, you best hurry. I don’t want you to be late for school. And plan on going to bed early tonight since you had trouble getting up on time this morning.” Lucas raised an eyebrow as Mark opened his mouth to argue. Mark closed his mouth and ate in silence.
 
He had a math test that day he was not ready for, and he knew that if he brought home another bad grade he’d be in trouble. Mark stood up and took his dishes to the sink. He turned around. “Pa, are you sure that I-“
 
Lucas held up his hand. “I’m sure that you best get out that door right now, young man!”
 
Mark jumped on Blue Boy and raced off. He wasn’t up the trail too far when he ran into Billy Davis. Billy slowed his horse down so he could ride with Mark. “Ready for the test?”
 
Mark gave a short laugh. “I shouldn’t have gone fishing with you after school yesterday. Not only was pa sore with me for staying gone too long again, but I also didn’t have enough time to study for my math test. You and your ideas!”
 
“Well, we could play hooky today!” Billy suggested.
 
Mark turned in his saddle to look at him. “You are joking, I hope. Do you know what my pa would do to me if I was caught-“
 
“You are such a fraidey cat!” Billy declared. “You never do anything wrong cause your afraid of your Pa!”
 
“I’m not afraid of Pa!” Mark argued.
 
“Then play hooky with me today.” Billy stopped riding. “You know that old house that sits up on the hill in the canyon over yonder?” Mark nodded. “Well, we could explore it.”
 
“The house that was suddenly abandoned? My Pa said-“
 
Billy rolled his eyes. “There you go again! Your pa said you can’t go near it. Mark, haven’t you ever wondered what’s inside? No one’s ever been in there. It was abandoned three years ago. People were living there one day, and gone the next. Don’t you want to see inside?”
 
Mark turned to look behind him. “Well, I’m sure my Pa played hooky from school before too. I reckon one day won’t hurt much.” He turned his horse towards the canyon. “Okay, let’s go!”
 
They rode towards the house. “Why did your Pa say not to come here?”
 
Mark shrugged. “He said that it’s none of my business and the owners don’t want it bothered.”
 
“Who owns it?” Billy wondered.
 
Mark just shrugged his shoulders. “They left before we got here.”
 
They rode into the yard and Mark stopped. Billy went to tie his horse up to a tree. He turned around. “What’s the matter?” Mark shrugged. “You chicken?”
 
Mark didn’t want to tell the truth. He was a bit shy about going into someone’s yard uninvited, much less someone’s house. He was about to tell Billy he changed his mind when two older boys rode up. “You two playin’ hooky?”
 
Mark turned and saw Tim and Scott. They didn’t have to go to school, though they were only 13. “We’re gonna explore this house!” Billy declared.
 
Mark was still sitting on his horse at the edge of the yard. He stared at the boys and narrowed his eyes at them. “What are you two doing here?  Do you…come here often?”
 
The boys laughed. “No, this place is haunted! No one’s ever been inside there!”
 
“Well, Mark and I ain’t afraid!” Billy declared. “Right Mark?”
 
The boys narrowed their eyes and stared at Mark. “Are you, McCain?”
 
Mark swallowed and shook his head. “N-no, of c-course not!” he managed to answer with as much confidence as he could muster.
 
He jumped off Blue Boy and tied him to a tree. “Well,” Mark started as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Let’s go!” He wasn’t going to let the others think he was scared. No matter what, he was going in that house.
 
As he slowly walked towards the house, he heard Tim state, “You know, a friend of mine came here one day about a month ago. Says he heard screaming comin’ from the bedroom.”
 
Mark stopped and turned towards Tim. Tim smiled. “Well, McCain is scared!”
 
“Am not!” Mark argued. “You just hush your mouth!”
 
Billy stood beside the two older boys as Mark kept walking. Mark stopped at the edge of the porch and turned. “Well? Billy, you are the one who wanted to come here in the first place!” Mark accused, very annoyed at his friend.
 
Billy started forward. “Well, we want to make sure you’re brave enough,” Billy explained.
 
“Billy!” Mark shot a warning finger at him. “You better get up on this porch with me!”
 
He did. Mark put his hand on the door and slowly turned the knob. He heard a sound “Whhhhhhhhhooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
 
Mark shot his hand back. “What was that?” he asked suddenly.
 
He and Billy looked at each other. They heard the sound again. “What is that?” Mark asked.
 
Scott suddenly burst out laughing. “You’re gonna wet your pants, Mark!” He pointed to Tim. “He was making that noise!”
 
Mark rolled his eyes and turned back to put his hand on the door. His hand froze in mid-air and he swallowed hard. “Never knew McCain believed in ghosts!” Tim sputtered as the two older boys started laughing.
 
“I don’t!” Mark argued again. Then to prove it to them, he quickly opened the door. What met their eyes, however, was enough to scare them all. It felt like an icy wind suddenly leapt at them from inside the house. Mark and Billy stared in disbelief as they slowly stepped forward.
 
Chapter 2
 
The cobwebs were so thick, Mark could hardly see what was in front of them. He saw an old broom on the porch and dusted some of the cobwebs away. He started inside. He stopped after each step to dust away more cobwebs. He felt Billy grab his arm as he stepped forward with him. Turning, he saw the two older boys still standing in the middle of the yard. “Well, you  comin’ in?” Mark questioned them.
 
They just shook their heads and stared.
 
Mark allowed himself to look around the room. On the table were plates with dried out food on them. Bowls of food sat around the table. Forks laid on top of the plates with dried food still laying on the forks. Cups sat in front of each plate. Walking toward the stove, he saw a pan still sitting on the stove with some dried up food in it as well. He turned to see a cake pan with something dried up in it. It was obvious that the family had been sitting down for supper, but never finished it for some reason. Billy and Mark stared at each other. Both boys had wide eyes and fear on their faces.
 
“I don’t like this!” Billy whispered.
 
“Me neither,” Mark said.
 
They turned towards the fireplace and saw only old ashes. It looked like the fire had been allowed to burn out itself, no one there to stoke it and keep it going. They looked down at the floor. One of the chairs had been turned over. Dried, red spots lay on the floor. There was one big red stain on the rug in front of the fireplace, and smaller spots elsewhere in the room. Mark knew what it was but he couldn’t say it out loud. He swallowed hard, his hands shaking with fear. He was sure Billy could hear his heart beating. He certainly could.
 
Suddenly, Billy let out a gasp. Mark turned to him and saw that his face had turned white. Billy was pointing at the wall opposite the fireplace near where the table sat. There were dried, red stains on the wall, as well as several small holes that looked to have been made with a gun. Mark started to go closer to investigate, but Billy grabbed his arm to keep him from moving. “I…I wish I…was…in s-school…” Billy whispered with a shaky voice.
 
Mark thought the same thing. This was definitely very scary, but he couldn’t help wondering what this all meant. Mark turned and saw two doors that led into other rooms. He started walking toward the first one, but Billy grabbed his arm and shook his head. “Oh, Billy!” Mark suddenly complained. “You stay right here. I’m going to go look.” Mark walked over to the door. He slowly lifted his hand to rest on the doorknob. Then he slowly turned it. As he began pushing the door open, they heard a loud squeak. Both boys jumped at the noise.
 
Mark pushed the door open and peered in. This room was also full of cobwebs. He opened it a little further and told Billy to hand him the broom. He did, and Mark immediately started knocking the cobwebs out of his way. He walked in to investigate. It was obviously the adults’ bedroom. He saw dresses hanging on hooks around the room. A man’s pair of overalls hung behind the door. On the dresser set a lady’s hairbrush. The bed was neatly made, but a shirt was thrown on the bed, as if the man had come in from a hard days work and freshened up for supper. Mark walked further into the room. He noticed a cradle at the end of the bed. There had been a baby.
 
He quickly walked out and shut the door behind him. Then he started for the other door. He heard a noise behind him and swung around. Tim and Scott were standing in the doorway , trying to take in their new discovery. “It’s like they just stood up half-way through supper and walked out the door!” Scott commented.
 
Mark nodded. “Yeah, but…I don’t think they all walked away.” He pointed toward the stains, which he thought was probably dried blood. “I think they had company…or something.”
 
Billy swallowed nervously. “I wonder who they were.”
 
“Well, so far it looks like a man, woman and baby.” Mark answered. He went to the other door and opened it. Like before, there were cobwebs that he had to remove before he could go inside. As he walked in alone, he let out a loud gasp, which sent the others back out the door.
 
“What is it?” Billy called from the porch.
 
Mark couldn’t talk. All he could do was stare.
 
Chapter 3
 
“What is it, Mark?” Billy asked as he started to step forward. Mark’s face was as white as a sheet. He slowly backed out of the bedroom. This scared Billy and he ran out the door. “Mark, what do you see?”
 
Mark shook his head and swallowed. “I…I…” But he could say no more. He continued backing up, but couldn’t take his eyes off what was in the bedroom. Mark slowly made his way for the front door. Then he turned and walked out. “Water!” Mark stated. “I…need…water!”
 
One of the boys had a canteen and gave him a drink. Mark gasped after he put the lid back on. His face was still white as a sheet. “What is it, Mark?” Billy whispered.
 
Mark only shook his head. “It’s a bedroom.” He said after a long silence. “There are t…two beds…in there.” Fr-from th-the stuff on the wall…” Mark swallowed. “I’d say it’s a boy’s room…maybe two! Both beds were made.”
 
Scott and Tim were sitting on the grass in front of Mark. Billy was sitting beside him. “What else did you see?”
 
Mark looked up and stared at each boy in the eye. “I…I…” he started. But he couldn’t finish.
 
“You what?” Tim asked.
 
“I…s…saw a…a…a…” Mark swallowed. “Skeleton!”
 
Tim jumped up. “You did not!”
 
Mark only nodded. “It…it had cl-clothes on. Th-there were sh-sh-shoes on it’s-it’s feet…” Mark shook his head, trying to get the image out of his head.
 
Tim and Scott looked at each other. “I think it’s time for us to go!” Scott said. “You are loco!”
 
Mark watched them leave. Then he turned to Billy. He saw the doubt in his eyes. “You go look for yourself!” Mark ordered him.
 
Billy stood up. “Um….” He started towards his horse. “I-I think I’ll go fishin’ this afternoon!” He started to leave. “Mark, don’t snitch on me!” Then he rode off, leaving Mark alone in the yard of a truly haunted house!
 
He couldn’t move. He was frozen in that spot. What was he going to do?  He saw what he saw, and no one could tell him different! Something terrible had happened in this house! What, he didn’t know. But he knew one thing: he and his Pa were going to get to the bottom of this! Mark knew that the truth of his playing hooky would have to come out. He didn’t care. The truth had to be told!
 
Chapter 4
 
Mark ran into the Marshall’s office. He saw Micah, but not his Pa. “Micah, where’s Pa?” Mark practically shouted, scaring Micah.
 
“Well, he just got into town. I think he want to the café to get something to drink before the meeting.”
 
Mark ran out as fast as he ran in, leaving Micah in wonderment. Mark raced over to the café. He didn’t pay attention to where he was going and ran smack into a horse and rider coming down the street. “Watch where yer going, kid!” The rider was annoyed with him and let him know it.
 
“Sorry!” Mark raced into the café. He saw his father sitting at a table. He raced up to him. “Pa, Pa!” He was yelling.
 
Lucas looked up in surprise. “Mark, lower your voice! And take off your hat!”
 
Mark took his hat off. “But Pa, I have something im-“ he started.
 
“Mark, wait outside!”
 
“But pa, I-“ Mark tried again.
 
“Mark!” Lucas said his name in a very irritated way. Mark said nothing but waited outside. When Lucas finally came out, he said, “Why aren’t you in school?”
 
“I’ll explain later, but Pa I’ve something important to tell you!”
 
“I have to go to the council meeting. Can it wait?”
 
“No! It’s IMPORTANT, Pa!” Mark insisted. “Pa, I saw a skeleton!”
 
“You what?” Lucas stopped walking and stared at Mark in disbelief.
 
“It’s true, Pa. In the haunted house. I-“
 
“Haunted House? Skeletons?” Lucas rolled his eyes. “Mark, I’ve got to get to this meeting! “ Then he stopped. “Why aren’t you in school, son?” He folded his arms.
 
“Pa, I’m trying to tell you that there’s been a murder!”
 
“A murder?” Lucas turned to Mark and bent down so he was eye-level with Mark. “What are you talking about?”
 
“I played hooky today and went with…a friend…to the old abandoned house at the top of the ravine. We saw the house like they left it and-“ Mark stopped. He saw his father’s face turn from concern to anger to…disappointment.
 
“Mark,” Lucas stood up and put his hands on his hips. “I want you to go to the Marshal’s office and sit down in his chair and don’t move from that spot until I get back, ya hear?”
 
Mark stared at him. “You don’t believe me!”
 
“I want to, Mark. All I know right now is that you are in a lot of trouble. Don’t move from that chair. Now go!” Lucas pointed straight at Mark. Mark had no choice but to obey.
 
They must have had a lot to talk about. Mark started squirming in his seat after about fifteen minutes. He wanted to stand up and pace the floor, but he was already in enough trouble, and he was convinced that no matter where his father was, he could always see him. Somehow, he’d find out if he got out of the chair! After about an hour, the door to the Marshall’s office opened. Lucas and Micah walked inside. Micah sat down behind his desk and Lucas came to stand in front of Mark. He had his arms crossed, his eyebrows raised, and was looking straight into Mark’s eyes.
 
Mark lowered his head. “All right, let’s go home, son.”
 
Mark lifted his head. “Pa, I’ve somethin’ important to tell you and Micah.”
 
Lucas let out a big sigh, then sat down on the edge of Micah’s desk. He folded his arms and waited. Mark licked his lips but said nothing. “Well, out with it, boy!”
 
Mark nodded. “Yes sir. Okay, like I said, I was on my way to school this morning when a…friend…”
 
“Billy,” Lucas answered.
 
“How’d you know?” Mark was surprised.
 
“I saw Miss Adams at the council meeting. You and Billy were absent today.”
 
“Oh.” Mark shrugged. “Well, Billy and me…we were riding towards the school. Then Billy said we could play hooky. Now mind ya, Pa, I said no at first! I knew I’d be skinned alive if you caught me!”
 
“Good thinkin’!” Lucas answered.
 
Mark nodded. “But, he started telling me I was scared of ya and all…Then he said that you probably played hooky when you were a kid.” Mark took this moment to look back up at Lucas. “Did you…ever play hooky?”
 
Lucas looked at Micah. They grinned at each other. Lucas folded his arms. “I sure did! Once.”
 
“Once?” Mark asked.
 
“Yeah. It seems I had spring fever and wanted to go fishing that day. So me and a friend of mine played hooky.”
 
“And did your Pa ever find out?”
 
“That very day. You…uh…wanta know what my Pa did?”
 
Mark sighed. “I’m afraid to ask.”
 
“He took me on a trip…to the woodshed.” Lucas answered. “It wasn’t fun, but I never played hooky again!”
 
Mark sat up straight and stared at his Pa. “Oh, well, so I agreed. Billy said he wanted to go to that old abandoned house. I told him that you told me to stay away from it, but…well, we ended up going.”  Mark jumped up and ran to his Pa. “Pa, it looked like the people that lived there just stood up an’ walked out the door in the middle of supper! There was food still on the table. An’ there was even food laying on the forks on the plates.” Mark stopped to catch his breath. He licked his lips. “Only, I don’t think they walked away, and I don’t think it was their own free will.”
 
Mark looked from Lucas to Micah who both had their arms crossed and frowns on their faces. He licked his lips again. “There was…red stains on the rug in front of the fire – a big one. Then there were red spots all around the floor and on the wall. An’ Micah, there were bullet holes in the wall!”
 
Micah and Lucas again looked at each other. “Are you sure you aren’t imagining things?”
 
Mark shook his head. “Billy saw it too!” he declared. I went in one bedroom and saw a big bed and clothes – I think the Ma and Pa slept in that room. Then there was a…a cradle at the end of the bed. Then I went to the other room…” Mark’s voice trailed off. His eyes grew big just thinking about that room!
 
Lucas reached out and touched him. Mark jumped a foot when he felt his father’s hand. “Son, what did you see?”
 
“I saw a skeleton, Pa! It had clothes on an’-“
 
“Now Mark, did anyone else see it?” Lucas asked with doubt in his voice.
 
“No sir. But it was there, Pa. Honest! Why the others were too scared to come inside. I was the only one who went into that bedroom!”
 
“What do you think, Lucas Boy? Is this a boy’s over-imagination or you think it’s something real?”
 
Lucas looked at Mark and sighed. “Son, I want you to go home.” Mark started to argue, but Lucas held up his hand. “We’ll talk about your punishment when I get there. But, I know there’s wood that needs cut and stacked after you get your regular chores done.” Lucas pointed towards the road.
 
“Pa, I want to go with you!”
 
“Go with me where?” Lucas asked.
 
Micah cleared his throat. “We won’t be going there…at least not tonight, boy. We’re just going to talk about it.”
 
“You think I’m crazy!” Mark exclaimed suddenly.
 
“No son, but I think your imagination may have run away a bit. We’ll talk more when I get home.” Lucas put a stern look on his face. “Now, when I get there you better…uh…have some wood chopped!”
 
Mark stood in his spot and looked from Micah to Lucas a few times. He saw the stern look on his Pa’s face and knew he’d get nowhere but more punishment if he argued, so without saying another word he walked out the door. Mark slowly rode home. A million questions were going through his head. Who did that skeleton belong to? What happened that last night the family was there? Where were they now? Was any of them alive? Were the people responsible still in the area? Who were the killers?
 
Mark did his chores and he thought more on the subject matter. He chewed his lip as he put fresh hay down in the stalls. Tomorrow was Friday. After school, he would go back there and see if he could find some clues. After his chores were done on Saturday, he would go back and continue his investigation. He was going to get to the bottom of this!
 
Mark had only been chopping wood for about 15 minutes when his father rode into the yard. He watched Lucas take the saddle off Razor and disappear into the barn. When Lucas came out, Mark stopped chopping and looked at him. But his father was headed for the house. When he realized Mark wasn’t chopping, he stopped and turned toward him. “Keep chopping, boy!”
 
Mark started the sweaty work again and shook his head. He knew he was in a lot of trouble, and his father was probably inside thinking up a really good punishment for him! He was just hoping it didn’t involve any trips to the woodshed or, in his case, barn. It wasn’t until an hour later that he saw the door to the house open and his Pa step out onto the porch. “All right Mark, you get that wood stacked and then come on inside.”
 
Mark did as he was told. Then he started inside. Lucas was sitting at the table working on the books when he came in. He stood in the doorway and looked at Lucas. Lucas didn’t even look up from his work. “Come on in and shut the door, son.”
 
Mark did as told. He reached up and took his hat off. Then he came to stand by the table. “Have a seat.” Again, Lucas said this without looking up from his books. Mark sat down and watched his father. “I’ll be with you in a few minutes, son. I just have to finish this ledger.”
 
Mark let out a big sigh, but his pa continued working. He saw a smirk on his father’s face and knew he was enjoying watching him squirm. Finally, Lucas closed the books, stood up and took them to his desk. Then he slowly walked back over to the table. He sat down, leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “Well son, you certainly have managed to get yourself into some big trouble this time!” Lucas commented.
 
“Yes sir,” Mark answered. Sometimes the time before the punishment was worse then the punishment.
 
“Playing hooky, going to a house I have forbidden you to go to, and uh…Lucas sat up and looked into Mark’s eyes. “Going fishing the night before a test.”
 
Mark let a huge sigh escape him. “Yeah. I sure did it!”
 
“Since you played hooky to avoid a test you weren’t prepared for, Miss. Adams will be giving you the test special in the morning. On Saturday morning, you will walk down to the school. Miss Adams will let you inside. You are going to scrub the floors, clean the wood stove, cut and stack some wood, clean the chalk board, and dust off all the seats,” Lucas saw a look of agony cross Mark’s face.
 
“All because I played hooky?” Mark asked with a moan. Lucas nodded. “I think I’d rather go to the woodshed!”
 
Lucas smiled. “As for your going to a house that I had told you not to go to, your punishment will be extra chores for the next two weeks everyday right after school.”
 
Mark sighed. “Yes sir.”
 
“Now, I want you to get started on studying for that math test. I’ll start supper. You’ll also have extra homework this weekend for what you missed in school today.”
 
Mark nodded. “Pa?”
 
Lucas had stood up and walked into the kitchen. “What is it, Mark?”
 
“Can I please take you to that house and show you what I saw?”
 
“Micah and I are going there in the morning, Mark.”
 
“What about me?” Mark asked.
 
“You,” Lucas turned and pointed straight at him. “You are going to school!”
 
Chapter 5
 
He couldn’t concentrate on the test. He couldn’t concentrate on the history lesson, the grammar lesson, or the reading lessons. All he could think about was that house. Miss Adams made him stay inside during morning recess to do some work he had missed the day before. This made the morning very long! He didn’t think lunch time was ever going to come. Miss Adams finally announced that they could break for lunch. Mark jumped up out of his seat and practically flew out the door. “Mark!” Billy called.
 
Mark turned around. “You snitched on me!”
 
“I didn’t, Billy. My Pa ran into Miss Adams at the meeting yesterday afternoon. She told my Pa.” Mark started to leave the schoolyard. There was only one place he wanted to be right now. “Did you get a lickin’?”
 
Billy nodded. “My pa was awful sore! He said your Pa told. I know that you snitched, Mark!” Billy gave him a shove.
 
Mark didn’t have time for this. He turned around and shoved Billy so hard that he fell flat on his backside. Then he hurried and ran into town as fast as he could. Mark made a bee-line for the Marshal’s office. When he hurried in, he was disappointed to find Micah sitting calmly by himself with a sandwich in his hand. “Did you go?” Mark asked as he ran up to the desk.
 
“Go where, son?” Micah asked. Mark screwed up his face. “Oh, yeah we went to the house.”
 
“And?” Mark leaned way over the desk and said this so loud that Micah rubbed his ear.
 
“What were we supposed to find, Mark?”
 
Mark let out an impatient sigh. “There was a skeleton in the bedroom and blood on the rug in front of the fireplace!”
 
“Mark, we found everything just as you described.” Micah started. Mark smiled a knowing smile. “But, there was no skeleton or bloody rug.”
 
“What?” Mark practically screamed. “There WAS, Micah! I swear there was!”
 
“Mark, your father and I both went in there. There was no skeleton. I think you were imagining it. Our minds-“
 
Mark shook his head. He ran around the desk to stand right by Micah and said, “Micah, you’re wrong! There WAS a skeleton! And there was a rug with lots of blood on it!”
 
“Mark!” Lucas shouted from the door. Mark turned and saw his father drawing his finger towards himself. Mark slowly walked over to Lucas. “That’s no way to talk to Micah, son.” Lucas toned down the anger in his voice then. “Mark, we looked at the house. There was something that happened there, we believe you on that. It does look like the people living in that house were interrupted while eating supper, and we did see some small spots of blood around. But there was no bloody rug or a skeleton.”
 
“There was Pa!” Mark insisted. “There was! I saw it!”
 
“Our minds play tricks on us and-“
 
“It wasn’t my imagination, Pa! I SAW it there!” Mark insisted.
 
“Micah’s checking into this, son. Just leave it at that.” Lucas’s voice held harshness in it. Mark knew his father was wrong though. “You should get back to school now.”
 
Mark slowly walked towards the door. He put one hand on the doorway, then turned back around. “Pa, do you remember those Surveyors?”
 
Lucas had a coffee cup in his hand now. He stopped lifting it to his mouth and closed his eyes. “Yes, Mark. I do.”
 
“You didn’t believe me then, and I was right. Why don’t you believe me now?”
 
“Son, I want to,” Lucas stated as he turned around. “But what you saw was not there.”
 
“Billy was there. He saw it,” Mark stated. “Ask him.”
 
Lucas cocked his head to one side and studied Mark’s expression. “All right. I’ll walk with you over to talk to him. Will that satisfy you?”
 
“It’s a start,” Mark stated.
 
Lucas stood beside Mark as they walked back towards the school. “Did you eat lunch?”
 
“I was too excited to find out about what you found out, Pa.”
 
Lucas sighed. “When we get to the school, I want you to eat your lunch while I talk to Billy.” Mark obeyed. He watched his Pa put a hand on Billy’s shoulder and bend down to talk to him softly. Mark watched their conversation intently and bit his lip. Billy was frowning and shaking his head. There was no telling what he was saying.
 
Lucas patted Billy on the back and came back to the bench to sit down beside Mark. “Well?” Mark asked.
 
“He said he thinks there was a rug in front of the fireplace.”
 
Mark smiled. “That’s great!”
 
“But,” Lucas held up a hand. “He doesn’t think there was a skeleton in the bedroom. He thinks you imagined it!”
 
Mark stood up and clenched his fists. “I told him to come in and see it because he didn’t believe me!” Mark exclaimed.
 
Lucas lowered his head and sighed. “Mark, we’ll talk more about this tonight, son. Okay?”
 
***
 
Mark pushed the food on his plate back and fourth and let out another sigh. “Pa, can we just go there so I can show you where it was?”
 
Lucas looked up from his plate and threw up his arms. “I give up, Mark! You get the dishes washed before dark, and we’ll ride over there.”
 
Mark suddenly started eating faster. “But slow down, Mark!”
 
Mark had the dishes washed and put away in record time. Lucas had the horses saddled, and they quickly galloped over to the house. Mark opened the door and went inside. Suddenly, he grabbed he father’s hand. “See in front of the fireplace. There used to be a rug there. Look!”
 
Lucas bent down to examine the floor closely. “How did we miss it this morning?” He nodded his head. “You’re right. There was a rug here recently.
 
Mark grabbed his father’s hand and led him to the bedroom. “Okay. Open the door.” Mark turned and closed his eyes.
 
Lucas opened the door. “I’m sorry, son. There’s nothing here.”
 
Mark turned and looked. “It’s gone! It was right there!” Mark pointed toward the bed. “It was laying there on the bed! I swear, pa! It was there!” Suddenly, Mark gasped. “Wait!” He ran over to the bed. “There were blankets on this bed. Both beds were made.” Mark turned around, but saw the doubt in his pa’s eyes. “I’m going out back to take a look!”
 
“Son-“ Lucas started.
 
Mark ran out the back door. He stopped and looked down on the ground. “Pa, look! There’s tracks!” He pointed.
 
Lucas nodded. “Yes, there are. Did you boys come out here yesterday?”
 
“No sir!” Mark promised.
 
Lucas looked up at the sky. “It’s getting dark. Let me get a couple lanterns. We’ll see what we can discover, son.” They went back inside. Lucas grabbed the lantern sitting on the table, only to discover it had no more fuel in it. He went to the master bedroom and grabbed the lantern in there. Mark grabbed a lantern from the other bedroom. He turned to leave, but suddenly saw a piece of paper on the floor. He picked it up. It was yellowed from age. A pencil sat right next to the paper. Sloppy printing on the paper made it hard to make out the words. He raced into the other room and showed the paper to Lucas. Lucas held the paper up to the lit lantern.
 
“M-O-R-R-I-S” Lucas spelled the letters to the first word. He moved to the next line. “Got K-I-D-S” Lucas frowned and looked at Mark. Then he looked back down at the paper. “Wife shot.” Finally, he looked at the last line. “S-H-E-D. W-R”
 
 
Chapter 6
 
With lanterns in hand, Mark and Lucas cautiously made their way to the shed. Lucas had to pry the door open. He told Mark to wait out there while he peaked inside. He had no idea what he was going to find. Lucas opened the door to shine the light inside. It was not completely dark yet, so he was able to see quite a bit. He saw another lantern on a work table, and he quickly lit it. Looking around, he saw nothing. “Okay Mark, it’s clear. Come on in here.”
 
Mark came in and moved his lantern around. With three lanterns, they could see pretty much every corner. Mark suddenly gasped and pointed to a corner. Lucas looked over there. They saw a cot with blood on it. Lucas hurried over and bent down to investigate. Mark shone the light on the wall. That’s where he saw a message that had been carved in the wall. “W-H-I-S-P-E-R R-“ Mark shook his head. Then he looked again. There were dashes. “It looks like whoever it was carved a dash for everyday they were in this shed. If that’s true, they were here  for…” Lucas counted the hash Marks by 5’s. “They were here for sixty days!”
 
“There’s somethin’ here, Pa. I can feel it!” Mark felt the bed covers. Suddenly, he lifted the blanket up and found three letters. They had been gripped by bloody hands. “P-pa!” Mark exclaimed.
 
Lucas shown the light over the letters. “Matthew Peterson” was the name on each envelope. Lucas shone the light on the bed. He suddenly stopped as he reached out and grabbed a knife laying in the blankets. He held it in his hand. “Is…is that the murder weapon?” Mark asked.
 
Lucas nodded. “It could be!” Lucas suddenly felt like they were in a lot of danger. “Mark, we’ll come back here and investigate more tomorrow when it’s light. I don’t feel right about being here right now.” Lucas nudged Mark toward the door. They walked back towards the house. Once inside, Lucas started looking around for something.
 
“What is it Pa? Whatcha lookin’ for?” Mark asked.
 
“A Bible.” Lucas went into the bedroom and found one on the nightstand by the bed. He opened it up to see the family history. Here’s what it read:
 
Matthew Peterson and Samantha Morrison married August 2, 1870.
Son born: Scott Morrison Peterson: August 1, 1871.
Son born: Matthew Perry Peterson: January 23, 1873.
Daughter born: Angela Peterson: April 3, 1880.
 
“Pa, that paper we found said “Morrison” on it. Could be…” Mark started.
 
Lucas nodded. “I know.” He started to put the Bible back when something fell out. He picked it up. “Jack Morrison Freight Company” was written on the card. Under it, it said “Whispering Rocks, NM.” Lucas turned the card over. Someone had written on the back “Shed.”
 
Mark knew now that whatever the problem was they had to go to Whispering Rocks and talk to Jack Morrison. Lucas told him not to get ahead of himself – that he needed to investigate further. “Are the letters the clue in the shed?” he wondered. Or is there something else out there?
 
“Let’s go home, Mark.” Lucas stated.
 
“But Pa!”
 
Lucas turned to look at him. “We’ll come back tomorrow.”
 
“What about the trail? Don’t we wanta see where those tracks lead?” But no matter what Mark tried, he found himself to be soon home and in bed. But he couldn’t sleep. He could only think of those letters sitting on the table. His father hadn’t wanted to read them just yet, but Mark couldn’t stand it any longer! He had to know!
 
The first letter he removed was dated “April 16, 1879. It read:
 
Matthew,
 
Your time is running out. The $50,000.00 you took is mine. I have warned you what would happen if you don’t return it to me. Your family’s life is in danger. If you keep that $50,000.00, you will be considered as guilty as I am.
The man in North Fork that you are bribing has contacted me. It would be in the best interest of your family to give it back. The life of your family is in danger.
 
Morrison
 
Mark read the short note over and over. He eyes were wide. $50,000.00? Mark swallowed. Did the killer find it? Is the killer Jack Morrison? Or is it someone who lives in North Fork? Mark removed the second letter. It was dated “November 13, 1879.”
 
Matthew,
 
My patience is running out. I have not seen you since you contacted me about returning the money. I know the $50,000.00 is buried on your property in North Fork. Your “friend” in North Fork has been out looking for it. If I don’t have the money by the beginning of the year, I will come looking for you.
In your letter, you told me the money belongs to the bank. Well, that’s none of your concern. That money belongs to me and I want it back. Your children’s lives are in danger. Be in Whispering Rocks with the money before your time runs out.
 
Morrison
 
Mark took the last piece of paper out of the envelope. The note was short and sweet.
 
Matthew,
 
Time’s up. Clemons is coming.
 
Morrison
 
Mark’s hand froze. On the letter beside Morrison was written “my evil brother.” It was in a different writing then the other. Mark suspected it might have been left as a clue. But the biggest clue of all was that this was Scott Clemons’ father named in the letter. Scott had been at that house the day Mark discovered the missing skeleton!
 
Chapter 7
 
Mark let the letter drop to the floor. Than he ran into the bedroom. “Pa, Pa!” Mark shook Lucas awake.
 
Lucas jumped out of bed. “What is it, Mark? Is there trouble?”
 
“Yes. Pa, George Clemons is the murderer! I bet Scott told his Pa what I found, and he came over here to get him! Pa, George is the killer!”
 
Lucas moaned. “Son, have you been dreaming again? Go back to bed!”
 
“No, Pa! I read the letters!” Mark explained. “Pa, they took $50,000.00 from her brother and hid it somewhere on the property! He had stolen it from a bank robbery!” Suddenly, Mark’s eyes grew wide. He snapped his fingers. “Pa, that money is hidden UNDER the shed!”
 
Lucas moaned again. “Son, we don’t know that anyone was murdered!” Lucas exclaimed. “And I told you not to read those letters until tomorrow!”
 
“But Pa, I know that-“ Mark started.
 
Lucas tried to rub the sleep from his eyes. “Okay, okay son. We’ll check it out tomorrow!”
 
“But Pa!” Mark protested.
 
“In the morning, son!” Lucas took Mark by the arm and led him over to his bed. He pushed Mark into the bed and tucked him in. “Now, don’t get out of this bed until morning!” he ordered.
 
***
 
“Mark, you need to hurry so you can get over to the school, son.” Lucas announced the next morning.
 
Mark’s head shot up from his plate. “Oh, but Pa! I have to solve the mystery!” he protested.
 
Lucas took a drink of his coffee. “I’m going to take our discoveries over to Micah. We’ll decide form there what to do.”
 
“But Pa, I-“ Mark started to argue. Then he let out a deep sigh. “Pa, I’m the one that discovered the mystery! Can’t I be the one to solve it?”
 
“This isn’t a game, Mark. It could be dangerous!”
 
“I have an idea where some more clues are, Pa. Can I please-“ Mark started.
 
“You will go to the school and do as we agreed on last night. I’ll talk to Micah.” Mark gave Lucas an impatient look. “That’s the way it is!”
 
Mark sighed. “Yes sir!”
 
Mark went over to the school and started working. He hurried as fast as he could, but it still took him until about 3 to finish. He had gotten out of walking the five miles into town that morning since his father was coming into town. Since then, though, Lucas and Micah were still discussing a plan in Micah’s office. Mark went out of town and walked toward the mysterious house.
 
He walked around the house to the back and saw that the tracks were still there. He was indeed happy about this! Mark started following the tracks. At times, he had to get down and really study them because they were too faint. No doubt, wild animals had trampled through, erasing some of the tracks. Mark followed them all the way to the barn. He cautiously walked around, looking for some clues. Then it occurred to him that while most of the hay was old, one section of the barn showed signs of fresh hay being laid down. Mark grabbed the pitch fork in the corner and began scraping away the new hay. Someone had buried something there!
 
Mark ran to the barn doors and closed them. He scooted a loose table over to keep the doors from being opened. Then he grabbed a shovel and started digging. Since the spot had only recently been dug, it wasn’t too hard to lift the dirt. After a few minutes, what was buried was revealed. Mark covered his mouth. It was the skeleton!
 
Mark immediately started scraping the dirt away from around it as he looked. The skeleton still had the clothing on. The shirt had holes in it – looked like the person had been shot, but his twelve year old mind couldn’t be sure. It made him sick to look at it, much less touch it, but he had to look for a clue! Mark looked in the pocket of the shirt but found nothing. Then he pulled out a leather pouch from the back pocket of the pants. Opening it, he found identification of the dead man. His eyes grew wide as he read the name. “Jack Morrison!”
 
Mark’s heart beat faster. Knowing who it was made the whole thing a lot scarier! He backed away from the skeleton. This man had really been murdered! And whoever murdered him was still in North Fork. Mark stuffed the leather pouch into his pocket and ran for the barn door. He had to know if the money was buried in the shed!
 
Suddenly, a hand grabbed him from behind. A snarly voice whispered in his air, “Now you done it, you nosey little brat!” That’s the last thing he heard.
 
Chapter 8
 
When Mark opened his eyes, everything was dark. He had no idea who had him or where he was. He could hear muffled voices far off. He knew he heard a man’s voice…maybe two. And he heard a woman’s voice. Mark kicked around to see if he could make some noise. He heard a loud crash as something tumbled to the floor. Then he heard footsteps. They came closer and closer. Mark’s eyes grew big and his heart started beating faster. He heard the door knob wiggle. The door slowly creaked open. He saw the shadow of a man step inside the door, but his eyes could not make out who it was. The door closed and he was in total darkness again.
 
It was so dark that Mark couldn’t tell if the person was inside the room or not. The answer came then, though. “Well, so yer awake!” Mark saw a flash as the man struck a match against the wall. Then the flame floated up to light the cigar in the man’s mouth. Mark saw the shadow of the face. It was George Clemons!
 
“You should have gone to school that day, boy! Don’t ya know thet playin’ hooky cen get ya in a mess of trouble?” The man’s breath stunk like old whisky and cigar. His face was only inches from Mark’s. “I thought moving’ the rug and skeleton would solve the problem, but I reckon you McCains are smarter then I thought!” He laughed eerily.
 
Mark wished he could talk, but the gag prevented him from doing so. The ropes around his hands were so tight that he could feel his skin being rubbed raw. His ankles throbbed from the pain the tight ropes caused. Mark’s eyes held total fear, and he wished he had let his father deal with the problem.
 
Mr. Clemons pulled up a chair and sat down. He lit a lantern and gave Mark a leery smile through his grimey beard. “Now boy, I’m gonna take this gag off so you can breathe easy for awhile.”
 
As soon as he removed it, Mark took deep breaths. “What…” Mark started. “What are you doing?”
 
Clemons sat back in his chair and chewed on the end of his cigar as he stared at Mark. “Well now, after three years, I thought my secret was sealed forever. I’m sure you’re thinkin’ I wasn’t smart to leave that house as is with all those clues, aye? Well, let’s just say thet it kept people away. You think you were the first one to ever go in thet there house? No! But you was the first one ta do anythin’ about it!”
 
“You killed Jack Morrison!” Mark exclaimed.
 
“Jack Morrison? Ah, yes! Jack, come on in here!” Clemons called.
 
Mark soon saw another man standing in the doorway. This man was tall and well-built. He was big enough to lift an ox! Mark stared at him. “I thought-“
 
“The skeleton is the sad remains of Matthew Peterson, ya see? Anyone finds that body will think that it was Jack Morrison.”
 
“What about his family? His wife and kids?” Mark suddenly shouted.
 
Clemons and Morrison looked at each other and chuckled. “Well now, his wife met a similar fate…You see, they had something that belong to me: $50,000.00.”
 
“You stole it from the bank!” Mark accused as he started kicking his feet to get loose.
 
Clemons chuckled. “Ah yes, I stole it from the bank! Morrison here is…well actually…” Clemons took off his hat and laid it against his chest. “He was the beloved brother of our late Samantha. He helped me steal the money. Only, Matthew and Samantha…they came for a visit, ya see.” Clemons put his hat back on. “The darn fool kids…” Clemons sighed and shook his head. “They found the money.”
 
Morrison laughed then. “We’s come back from th’ bank ta sleep, but I’s afraid we’s a lil’ drunk!” Morrison hit his hand to his forehead. “Duh! We’s used th’ money bags as pillows an’ were sound asleep. Kids found them.”
 
Mark narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side. “You mean…the kids took the money?”
 
“No! Their father found the money an’ took it. He said he was goin’ to keep it till he decided what to do. Ya see, Samantha loved me even if I was plain rotten! She made Matthew promise not to turn us in, so he took the money and said thet someday he’d find a good, sacred reason to use the money!”
 
Mark was beginning to understand. “So when they wouldn’t hand over the money, you came to kill ‘em?”
 
“I killed ‘em!” Clemons confessed. “They was one big happy family, they was! Well, I came in one night, soft as cen be, and I shot them! BOOM!” Clemons laughed as he took another slow puff off this cigar.
 
“What about the kids?”
 
Clemons stopped laughing and took the cigar out of his mouth. A frown crept to his face. His eyes narrowed and he bent down until his nose almost touched Mark’s. He practically drilled his eyes into Mark’s. Mark saw pure hatred there. “Ya actually think I killed the kids?”
 
Mark blinked and looked away. Clemons grabbed Mark by the mouth and turned his head back around. “You think I killed ‘em? Huh, boy?” he screamed.
 
Mark closed his eyes in fear and started breathing rapidly. Clemons slapped him across the face as hard as he could. Tears sprung to Mark’s eyes. “Rotton kid!”
 
He sat back in his chair and called for some whisky. Mark watched as a woman came in. His eyes grew wide. “Mrs. Clemons!” he gasped.
 
She smiled a creepy smile as she handed her husband his whisky. She started to leave but Clemons grabbed her by the arm. “Hey! You tell the boy what happened to the kids!”
 
Mrs. Clemons stood in the doorway and shrugged. “Don’t ya worry none, sonny! They’s all getting’ fed! We’re teachin’ ‘em ta work hard!”
 
Mark started kicking with his feet. Clemons grabbed his legs and drew out his gun. “Now, one more kick, and I’ll shoot you right in the leg!” He threatened.
 
Mark stopped. “You’re keepin’ the kids as slaves?”
 
Mrs. Clemons shook her head. “No sir. Ya see, we’s nice folks. We’s come along that night and found three poor kids all alone in this world with no ma or pa, so we’s took ‘em in!”
 
Mark stared at her. Then he turned and stared at Mr. Clemons, then at Morrison. “You mean-“ Mark swallowed. “Ya mean Scott is-“
 
“’Faid so.”
 
“But-“ Mark was confused. “But he came to the house with us the other day. He-“
 
“Oh, yes, thet poor boy! He didn’t remember anything until that very afternoon. He couldn’t even remember the house! But when you went inside, he started rememberin’.” Clemons laughed. “He’s been in his room since it all happened. I told him he cen come out when he calms down!” Clemons laughed a wicked laugh. “He was such a good boy!”
 
Mark shook his head. “You’re just evil! Plain evil!” he stated. “Never seen anyone like you! Where are the other two kids?”
 
“Hm?” Clemons looked back at Mark. “Oh, ya mean Matthew and Angela? “ Mark nodded. “Well, they live en Whispering Rock with Morrison! We thought it best thet way!”
 
“What about Mrs. Peterson?”
 
Clemons turned and looked at Morrison. Morrison rushed up to Mark and grabbed him by the shirt. “You ask too many questions, boy!” He shouted. “My sister died, God rest her!”
 
“You killed yer sister!” Mark sputtered out. He had never been so afraid in his life, but he was angry that such people could live among the fine citizens of North Fork.
 
Morrison slapped Mark again. Mark cried out in pain, but closed his eyes. He thought of all the times he had watched his father tortured. He knew that his father always stood up for what was right. No matter what they did to him, he’d be just like his Pa. He’d be tough! Mark opened his eyes and he mustered up all the courage he could. “Where’s the body?”
 
Clemons sighed. “Well, I tried to kill her, boy, but she jest wasn’t willin’ ta die. Since we didn’t know where the money was, we…” Clemons turned and looked at Morrison who was sneering at him. “…Thet is I…locked her in the shed. I gave her 60 days to tell me, but she never did.” Clemons stood up and took another cigar out of his pocket. He lit it and took a long puff off of it. Then he went over to the wall. He punched it as hard as he could. “Fer 60 days, I gave her food and water. Fer 60 days, I asked her ‘Where’s the money? Where ya hide it?’” Clemons punched the wall again. “I hit her and punched her! But nothin’ I did to her would make her tell me!”
 
Morrison stood and stared at Clemons. “You did what?” He suddenly grabbed Clemons by the neck and pushed him against the wall. “You never said nothin’ bout hittin’ her! You said she tried to escape an’ you kilt her!”
 
Clemons shrugged and smiled. “What’s it matter? She’s gone!”
 
“What you do?” Morrison asked. Clemons wouldn’t answer. “What you do?” Morrison slapped him over and over. Clemons let his cigar drop to the floor. He drew his arms up to his face and started screaming as Morrison continued to beat him. Then Mark watched in horror as Morrison took out his gun and shot Clemons. Clemons let out a moan, then slumped to the floor.
 
Morrison threw down his gun. “Now kid, I wanta know where thet money is!”
 
Mark was so afraid now that he could hardly move, much less talk. He sat silently on the bed staring at Clemon’s dead body. Morrison punched Mark in the jaw. Mark felt the pain shoot through his entire face. “I don’t know!” he screamed. “I don’t know!”
 
Morrison grabbed Mark by the ear and stood him up. He took out a knife and cut the ropes from his feet. Then he held the knife to Mark’s throat. “I’m gonna only ask one more time! You lead me to that money!”
 
Mark nodded as he started walking forward. He moaned something under his breath. “What d’ya say?” Morrison asked.
 
Mark didn’t answer at first. He waited for Morrison to threaten him to make sure he didn’t suspect a trick. “Tell me before I cut off yer ear!” He threatened.
 
Mark nodded. “I was just saying that I wish I had told my Pa! If I had, maybe he’d be looking for me. I should have never kept quiet!”
 
Morrison laughed. “Ya mean yer Pa ain’t lookin’ fer ya?”
 
“N-no sir!” Mark answered. “M-my Pa thinks I’m at my friend Billy’s house!”
 
Morrison started laughing. “Perfect!” He held the knife to Mark’s back as they walked out the door.
 
Mark closed his eyes. He was going to lead the man to the shed. He hoped he wasn’t wrong about his father’s moves. Please be at the house looking for me, pa. Mark said silently.
 
Chapter 9
 
They were almost to the abandoned house now. It was such a dark night – no moon was in the sky. Mark saw a starless night and realized a storm was approaching. A distant rumble of thunder could be heard. Mark rode cautiously on his horse. He was afraid the man was too trigger-happy and wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him. He was smart enough to know that the man wasn’t planning on letting him live anyways – not with him knowing the whole story. “Clemons never did say what he did with your sister’s body,” Mark stated. He wasn’t trying to anger the man, but simply trying to get him off guard.
 
Morrison pressed the gun into Mark’s back. “It doesn’t matter! She’s dead now!”
 
Mark nodded and kept riding. He could see the house in the distance. Suddenly, a loud clap of thunder sounded. They watched lightening strike across the sky in front of them. He rode in silence until they got to the house. Mark started walking towards the house. “It’s not in there!” Morrison sneered.
 
Mark closed his eyes and sent up a quick prayer. “Have you been in there? Do you know?”
 
Morrison narrowed his eyes and stared at Mark. “I ain’t goin’ in there!”
 
Mark smiled. Maybe he had another plan. This man was afraid to face the demons. So be it. “The fireplace! The money…it’s in the fireplace!”
 
Morrison looked towards the house. Thunder boomed. Suddenly, the wind began picking up and drops of rain was falling. “Well, do you want the money?”
 
Morrison looked at the door. “Okay. Go on!” Mark walked slowly. He put his hand on the door and opened it. The house was dark – too dark to make out anything. “Get over to the fireplace!”
 
Mark shook his head. “N-no! I need some light!”
 
“No light!” Morrison boomed. He jabbed the gun in Mark’s back and Mark flinched from the pain. “Now, move!”
 
Lightening flashed across the sky. Mark quickly looked around the room. He quickly made a plan of escape. “To the fireplace!”
 
Mark shook his head. “Just let me light a match! Just a match!” Mark insisted. He remembered his Pa laying some matches on the table when they were there the day before. A clap of thunder sounded so loud that it rocked the house. Lightening flashed across the sky. He saw pure fright in the man’s eyes. The ghosts from his past were catching up to him. Mark reached for a match. “What was that?” Mark suddenly said.
 
Morrison gasped from behind him. “I didn’t hear anything!”
 
Mark lit a match. Then he threw it into the fireplace. The man turned for just a second in surprise. Mark grabbed the lantern and hit him smack in the face. The man groaned and fell to the floor. Mark reached for the gun. Grabbing it, he ran out the door. The wind was blowing. The lightening flashed. Mark ran towards the horses only to realize they were gone! “Pa!” Mark screamed. “Pa, help me!”
 
Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him. “Pa!” he screamed.
 
Nothing could be heard. Another clap of thunder rocked the sky. Lightening flashed. Mark turned around. He saw Morrison’s bloody face not very far away from him. He suddenly turned from his path and raced toward the barn. “Help me!” he screamed.
 
“Get back here, kid! I’m gonna kill ya!” Morrison was screaming.
 
Mark felt branches cut his face as he ran. He could see the barn ahead. “Pa!” Mark screamed. “Pa, help me!”
 
“Yer Pa don’t know where you are!” Mark kept running. He saw the barn ahead. “Please be there, Pa! Please be there!” Mark said as he ran.
 
He turned around and saw Morrison right on his tail. “Pa! Help me!” he screamed again. “Oh Pa!” Suddenly, an arm grabbed Mark. He felt a sharp pain. Then everything went dark.
 
Chapter 10
 
“Thanks for coming by. I’ll tell him you said hello.” Mark heard this as if it was an echo. He tried to open his eyes, but the pain was too much.
 
He let out a groan and tried to raise a hand to his head. Suddenly, he felt a familiar hand grab his hand. “Just lay still, son. Just lay still.” It was the voice of his father. Was he alive? Were they both dead? Everything seemed so far away – so unreal. He let out another groan.
 
“It’s all right, son. You’re okay. Just lay still.” He heard that soothing voice again. “Everything’s okay!”
 
Mark still couldn’t open his eyes. He tried to move his lips, but they would hardly move. “The docs given you something for the pain. You got a good beating, but you’re alive. The swelling will go down in a few days.” Mark heard his father crying. What was he talking about?
 
“Pa,” Mark said. He was finally able to get the word our. “Pa.”
 
Lucas laid a gentle hand on Mark’s swollen cheek. “Just lay still now. Shhhh. God was with you. He brought you back to us.” Lucas’s voice held tears in it. Mark could hear his tears. He had so many questions.
 
“Here, let me give him another shot. He’ll go back so sleep.”
 
Mark felt a stick. “Go to sleep, son. Rest. I love you, Mark.” Those were the last words he heard before slipping out of consciousness.
 
It only seemed like moments, yet it seemed like an eternity, before he once again became aware of his surroundings. “The swellings gone down, Lucas. It shouldn’t be too long now,” Mark heard another echo. He couldn’t make out the voice.
 
“It’s been two weeks!” Mark heard his father’s voice. It held hope and longing. No longer could he hear tears. Mark slowly tried to open his eyes. This time he could. Everything was fuzzy – as if he was looking through a window on a rainy day. Then things came clear. He saw his father’s face staring down at him. A small smile played at the corner of his lips. “Welcome back, son!” Lucas said.
 
Mark tried to move his head around, but the pain was too intense. “No, no.” Lucas laid a gentle hand on his cheek and smiled. “Don’t try to move, son. Just lay still.
 
Mark licked his lips. “Water,” he whispered.
 
Lucas reached for some water. He gently put his hand behind Mark’s head and lifted it from the pillow. It hurt to do so, but he needed a drink so badly. Mark forced a few sips down before laying back. “What-“ Mark tried.
 
“You’ve had yourself quite an adventure, young man!” Lucas declared.
 
Mark saw the tiredness in his father’s face. He saw deep bags under his father’s eyes. “I-“Mark licked his lips. “I’m sorry!”
 
Lucas shook his head. “No, no! Don’t.” He placed a finger to his lips. “We’ll talk later. You rest now.”
 
Mark nodded and closed his eyes. Just that little bit had made him exhausted. As he lay back on the pillow, Mark once again slipped into unconsciousness.
 
This time it didn’t seem to last as long. When he woke up again, he felt less pain in his head. But he again saw his father’s face. He was sitting in a chair reading from the Bible. “What happened?”
 
Lucas sat down the Bible and leaned forward. He took Mark’s hand in both of his and rubbed it. Lucas then drew his hand to his face. He allowed Mark’s warm hand to touch the whiskers on his face and he closed his eyes to savor the moment. “What happened?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “We don’t need to talk about it now, son.” Lucas replied.
 
Mark shook his head. “I have to know. I’ll rest better knowing.”
 
Lucas nodded and leaned back in the chair. “Do you remember running through the storm?”
 
Mark nodded. “He hit you over the head with the butt of his gun. I ran from the barn and saw him beating you. I killed him.”
 
Mark sighed. “It’s so sad.”
 
“Yes. It is.” Lucas continued to hold Mark’s hand, but he leaned forward to place a kiss on his forehead.
 
Mark savored the moment. He hadn’t had a kiss on the forehead from his Pa in a long time. He smiled. “That’s nice, Pa.” Then he remembered the family from the house. “The kids?”
 
Lucas nodded. “We found them. Scott was locked up in his room. The other two were being taken care of by Morrison’s wife. She was in on it and is now in jail.”
 
“The kids okay?” Mark asked.
 
“We found some family back east. They hadn’t heard from the family in a long time and had no idea things were so bad. The children will need a lot of love.”
 
Mark closed his eyes and sighed. “Pa, I thought I was gonna die!”
 
“I know.” Lucas answered. “When I saw him beating you, I wished it was me there.”
 
“They started slapping me…Clemons and Morrison. You know what got me through?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “I kept telling myself that I wanted to be just like you. I was gonna stand up for what I believed in – no matter if it killed me.”
 
Lucas’s eyes filled up with tears. He touched Mark’s face. He saw all the bruises and cuts. “You could have given them what they wanted, but you didn’t,” Lucas stated.
 
“You taught me to always stand up for what I believe, Pa. I remembered all those times I watched you take a beating, and you never gave in. At times you knew it could kill you. Pa, the whole time I was being hit and beaten, I said: “Just like pa. I want to be just like pa!”
 
Lucas lifted Mark up from the bed and hugged him. “I’m so proud of you, Mark. So very proud!”

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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