The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Struggling
by Michelle Palmer

 Chapter 1
 Enid, Oklahoma
 
Mark sat down at the grave and hung his head. Tears welled in his eyes. Lucas said good-bye to his brother, Abraham, and sadly walked towards the grave. Mark wouldn’t look up. “I can’t stand it, Pa!” Mark declared with tears in his voice.
 
Lucas bent down. His own heart hurt so badly that he could hardly stand it. His eyes were red from crying for the last week. He bent down and laid a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “The wagon’s ready to go, son,” Lucas choked out.
 
“I’m not going, pa!” Mark declared.
 
Tears again filled Lucas’s eyes. “We have to go now, son.”
 
“I want to stay here with her. I don’t want to leave!” Mark threw his whole body down onto the grave. He buried his face in the dirt and shook with sobs. “I can’t, son.” Lucas said in broken words. “I….just…can’t.”
 
Lucas lifted Mark up from the grave. Mark started fighting, trying to struggle out of his father’s arms, but Lucas held tight. Finally, Mark wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and sobbed. “Please don’t leave Ma here by herself, Pa!” Mark sobbed.
 
Lucas stood and carried his son who was tightly wrapped around his neck. “Let’s go, Mark.”
 
Lucas gently sat Mark on the wagon seat. Mark had been at the grave all day. At the age of six, it was hard for him to understand exactly what death meant, much less how to deal with it. Lucas picked up the reins and started to start the horses in motion. But he suddenly stopped and looked back at the grave. He was crying again. “My sweet Margaret…” He mumbled. Then he turned around with a very heavy heart and got the horses moving. As they slowly rode away, Mark sobbed in the seat beside him. Lucas knew part of his heart was still back there at that grave.
 
They drove through town. Lucas saw several people he knew, but he didn’t want to talk to them. He couldn’t stay here.
 
Not when there were so many memories.
 
Not when the pain was so fresh.
 
Not when his heart was breaking for his sweet Margaret.
 
Mark still had his head buried in his hands next to his father. He sobbed uncontrollably, but Lucas no longer had the strength to comfort him. He didn’t know what to do anymore.
 
He felt nothing but pain and grief
 
But he loved his son, and that made the pain and grief that much greater.
They were almost out of town when Lucas saw her. She sat on a bench outside the general store crying. He knew her husband and son had died, and his heart went out to her. But he couldn’t think clearly through the bitterness. So he left Ann sitting on the bench alone as he kept moving.
 

Chapter 2

 
Desert Flats, Texas
 
Lucas looked out the window of the house they were renting as Mark worked on eating his breakfast. It had been months since they rode their wagon out of Enid, Oklahoma. But the pain was still as real that day as it was the day they left. They had come here, he wasn’t sure why. Lucas knew there was ranching land in the area, but his heart wasn’t there. He didn’t have the money to buy a ranch. He was helping out with cattle drives to get them through, but their lives seemed so empty…so hopeless.
 
Mark coughed again. Lucas turned around and looked at this son. His nose had been running all morning. Lucas was so afraid Mark was getting sick, and he had no idea what to do about it. “Hurry up and finish eating, son.” Lucas came to the table and sat down.
 
Mark obeyed. Then he laid his head down on the table. “Son, are you okay?”
 
Mark sighed. “I want my Ma.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes. “Please son, don’t start that again today. I’m too tired.”
 
Mark coughed again. Lucas put a hand to his little boy’s forehead. “Oh no!” He moaned as he picked Mark up and held him close. “I’m afraid you are getting sick. Let’s get you back to bed.”
 
He settled Mark into bed as Mark again coughed. Fear wrapped around Lucas’s heart as Mark started shaking. “I’m cold, Pa!”
 
Lucas knew what that meant. He put another blanket on Mark and told him he’d be back. Then he closed the door to the bedroom and went to the living room. He put his hand on the wall and leaned down, allowing the tears to come.
 
He cried.
 
Margaret, I don’t know how to care for him! You always took care of this. What do I do?
 
Mark called for him, but he wasn’t ready. Lucas wiped his eyes and took a deep breath. “Pa!” Mark called again.
 
“I’ll be there in a minute, Mark!” Lucas snapped out harshly. Then he closed his eyes to regain composure. He didn’t feel adequate enough to care for Mark. He felt fear, because it could be something bad.
 
But then, it could be just a cold. Lucas told himself.
 
Lucas went back into the bedroom when he could trust himself from showing any emotions of fear or sadness. “How do you feel?”
 
“My head hurts a bit,” Mark answered.
 
Lucas sat down on the bed and smoothed Mark’s hair back from his forehead. “Well, you’ll be fine, son. Everyone gets colds sometimes.” He took Mark’s hand. “Why don’t you go to sleep?”
 
“Will you sing to me?”
 
Lucas fought back the tears. That’s what Margaret would have done. Lucas wasn’t any good at singing, and he didn’t feel too comfortable with doing it. He had sung to Mark right after Margaret’s death, to calm the boy and help him sleep. So Lucas smiled and nodded to Mark.
 
The cows are all in bed
The chickens in their nests
Lay down my sleepy head.
Get you some peaceful rest.
 
As he sang, he remembered Margaret’s beautiful voice singing this lullaby to Mark. Mark closed his eyes as his father sang, and was still asleep.
 
Lucas heard thunder. He went to the window and looked out. This was the first rain they had gotten since settling here – that is if it rains. But he didn’t need to worry. By mid-afternoon, it was raining. Mark woke up coughing harder. Lucas tried to feed him some broth, but Mark shook his head. Lucas just sat with his boy, worry lines lying on his face.
 
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Lucas reached for his rifle before opening it. After opening it, he found a man soaked through and through. “I’ve been ridin’ through and just need a place to stay. Could I use your barn?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “No, come right in here!” Lucas answered. He pulled the man in and closed the door. “Get out of those wet things, sir. I’ll get something for you to wear while you dry your clothes by the fire.”
 
Lucas helped the stranger get warmed. Lucas stroked the fire a bit. It was still pretty warm outside, but the fire gave him something to do. “You lived here long?” the stranger asked.
 
“About a month.”
 
“Plannin’ on settelin’ here?”
 
Lucas turned and looked at the stranger. The stranger had a warm smile on his face. Lucas smiled. “I don’t think so. I think we’re just…here until I figure out where we’re gonna go.”
 
The stranger nodded. “Where you come from?”
 
Lucas lifted some of the beef stew from the pot and handed it to the stranger. “My sons sick in the other room. I’m gonna try to feed him.”
 
But Mark wouldn’t eat. Lucas came out of the room, again, with a deep worry expression on his face. “Wouldn’t eat?”
 
“No,” Lucas stated.
 
“Is he very sick?”
 
“Oh,” Lucas gave a short laugh. “It’s just a cold. But I’ve never dealt with the sickness before. That was my…” Lucas swallowed hard…”my wife’s specialty…one of them, anyway.”
 
“When did she die?” The stranger asked gently.  Lucas jerked his head up in surprise. “Grief is all over your face. It must still hurt.”
 
Lucas nodded. “It does. The boy is torn to pieces over this. He’s only six.” Suddenly, Lucas felt the urge to talk. He told the stranger about the small pox epidemic that struck Enid and killed so many people. He talked about the hard grief he and his son still felt. He talked about the overwhelming power of loneliness and the loss he felt staying at home, causing him to pack him and his son up and getting as far from Oklahoma as he could.
 
“What did you do in Oklahoma?” the stranger asked.
 
Lucas looked up at this stranger. He didn’t know his name. He didn’t even know a thing about him, but he had so many thoughts and emotions built up that he had to get out. “I was a rancher.”
 
“Oh,” the stranger looked into his coffee cup. “Do you want to leave that behind too?”
 
Lucas stood and stared out the window. “I can’t think. Sometimes the pain is so raw that…I have to remind myself to breathe.”
 
“You have a little boy who needs you.” The stranger reminded Lucas.
 
Lucas turned and looked toward the door. “He’s my whole world now. I love him dearly, and perhaps I cling to him too much, but…”
 
The stranger nodded in understanding. “Can’t you see past the pain?” Lucas shot his head around and stared at the stranger. “Is it going to be just wondering around for the next…what…fifty years? Don’t you have dreams?”
 
Lucas nodded. “Oh yes. I have dreams. I want to settle down and get a ranch of my own. I don’t need a big ranch, but one that will provide for us, and one steady enough that I can pass it on to my son.”
 
“What about the boy?”
 
Lucas sighed. “I want him to have the best education he can get. That’s important now days. My Pa made sure I got my school certificate, and there were times he struggled to make that happen. Right now, I’m teaching him the best I can. If Margaret were here…” Lucas’s voice trailed off again.
 
“So, you want a ranch. You want your son to have an education so he can be the great man you are. What else?”
Lucas shook his head. “That’s enough. We had a small ranch back in Oklahoma. When we settle…wherever we settle, I just want a home for me and my boy in a valley with crests around us. I want to be able to sit out on our front porch in the evening and watch the sun set…listen to the birds sing in the morning as we eat breakfast…I want a ranch with cattle my son and I can raise together. And I want-“ Lucas stopped and took a deep breath.
 
“What?”
 
“Flowers. Flowers around the porch.” Lucas smiled. “My wife loved flowers.” Lucas sighed. “But, I’ll have to get my hands on some cold hard cash.”
 
“And the boy?” The stranger asked.
 
“Well of course I want him to grow up to be a rancher like me – be my partner. But…I want him to be happy. I want him to do whatever he wants to do as long as it’s honest.”
 
Lucas heard a small sigh from the stranger and turned around. The stranger’s eyes held regret and wishfulness. “What about you?”
 
The stranger smiled. “Lucas,” he stood and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I wish I could go back twenty years. I’d do so many things differently.”
 
“Don’t you have dreams?” Lucas asked.
 
Suddenly, the man’s eyes held a deep sadness. “Not really. I never looked past tomorrow.” 
 
Lucas wanted to ask this stranger what he did, but he was afraid to. He needed this man’s company too much. So for once in his life, he allowed the secrets to stay between them and for the man to remain nameless. Mark started calling for him again. He went to him. It was like this all night. The boy couldn’t sleep. He had nightmares when he did. It was the same one as always – that Lucas walked away and never came back.
 
Lucas came out of the room again. The stranger sat at the table. “It’s almost 4am. You should get some rest,” Lucas stated.
 
“No,” the man smiled. “I’m enjoying watching this normal life you have.” The stranger walked to the window and looked out. Then he turned from the window. “The rain’s stopped. It’s time for me to move on.” The stranger picked up his hat. “Lucas,” he patted Lucas on the shoulder. “Someday you will get that cash you need.” With that, he walked out the door.
 
Lucas never saw him again.
 
 
Chapter 3

 
Near Wyoming
 
Mark sat by the campfire silently. His eyes were glazed over as he stared into the campfire. Lucas sat down next to him and watched him in silence. “Mark?” Lucas broke the strong silence.
 
Mark said nothing, but continued to sit in silence. He had nothing he wanted to say. Lucas watched his face. It held a hard, cold line. His eyes were sad. So very sad. “Mark?” Lucas tried again.
 
Mark stood up. He started to walk away. Lucas reached out and grabbed his arm. “You can’t walk away from this, son.”
 
Mark didn’t turn, but lowered his head. “I want to go home!” he declared.
 
“Mark, you know we can’t.”
 
“I want my Ma!” Tears suddenly wailed up into his eyes. His mother had been gone now for six months, but it still seemed like yesterday. “I want to go home and see my ma!”
 
Lucas tried to keep the tears from filling his eyes. He allowed those to come at night after Mark was asleep. “Son,” Lucas swallowed. “Son, she’s gone.” It seemed like every day he had to say those words out loud. It never got easier.
 
Lucas still held his hand around Mark’s arm. “I don’t want to leave!” He declared. “I want to stay there.”
 
Lucas got on his knees. He put his arms on both of Mark’s shoulders and turned him around to face him. But the image that met Lucas was too much. He wasn’t prepared for that look. A deep sadness traced every line of his newly seven-year-old’s face. His cheeks were wet with tears. His lips were trembling. All the words that Lucas was going to say left him. He drew Mark into his arms and held him, both of them crying.
 
When would it get easier?
 
Lucas asked himself this every day, and everyday he told himself “Never.”
 
Lucas closed his eyes as he held his son. He knew why today was harder than all the other days. Today was Mark’s birthday, and he hadn’t even acknowledged it. Margaret had always greeted him warmly with a big birthday smile. Lucas thought back to a year ago when they were all happy.
 
***
 
Lucas sat at the kitchen table, taking another sip of his coffee. He was reading the newspaper he had gotten in town the day before. “Should I wake him, Luke?” Margaret asked as she looked towards Mark’s bedroom door.
 
Lucas folded the paper and sat down his cup. He leaned back in the chair. Cocking his head to one side, he allowed a slow, easy grin to spread across his face until dimples were buried in the sides of his cheeks. His eyes crinkled as he chuckled. “It’s his birthday, honey. Not yours!”
 
Margaret stopped stirring the scrambled egg mixture in the pan mid-stride and turned toward Lucas. She sent him a mock glare. “Lucas McCain,” she warned.
 
Lucas stood up and strolled over to the stove. He put his arms around her and kissed her softly. “You know I’m only teasing!” He said. Then the bedroom door opened. “Well, who have we got here?”
 
Margaret smiled, still in Lucas’s arms and turned her head to the side. “It looks like a little lost kitten looking for some milk.”
 
Mark wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked at his parents. The scene in front of him was a scene he was used to. His folks were always hugging and kissing each other. Mark got lots of hugs and kisses himself. Both of his parents were physical expressers of love, and today was no different. “Oh Ma, I’m not a kitten!”
 
Lucas reluctantly broke the embrace and went to ruffle Mark’s hair. “Of course he’s not a kitten, Ma!” Lucas teased. “He’s a calf.”
 
Mark rolled his eyes, but laughed. Margaret bent down so she could look into his eyes. “Happy birthday, my little calf.” She said this so lovingly and with so much emotion. Lucas and Mark both looked at her and smiled.
 
“Where’s my present?” Mark asked.
 
Lucas put his hands on his hips and raised his eyebrows. Mark swallowed, knowing the answer. “But it’s hard to wait all day!” he declared.
 
Lucas bent down next to his wife so he could look into his son’s eyes. He put on the most serious expression he could muster. “Well son, we all need to learn patience!” Lucas let another grin spread across his face. “Your mother’s fixing her famous scrambled eggs though.”
 
“Oh boy!” Mark proclaimed. “And I don’t have to do chores today. Do I?”
 
Margaret smiled and gave her son a kiss on the end of his nose. “Today is your day. I want every birthday to be filled with joy and memories of birthdays past.”
 
***
       
Lucas was still holding Mark close to him. He could fill his heart beating. Suddenly, he pulled away. He took Mark’s face into his hands. “I know it’s hard,” he said with a cracked voice.
 
Lucas sat down on the ground and sat Mark on his lap. He wrapped his arms around Mark. “I love you so much. I’m sorry that I forgot this special day. Happy birthday, my little calf.”
 
Mark lowered his head. He couldn’t look into his father’s eyes. But Lucas put his hand under his chin and lifted it up. He forced a small smile on his face. “I want today to be filled with joy and memories of birthdays past.”
 
Mark tried to look away, but his father’s hand remained firm. He watched his father’s face for a minute, seeing the small smile that played around the mouth. But he saw the deep sadness in his father’s eyes. “How can it be filled with joy?”
 
Lucas allowed another tear to slip from his eyes. Only a year ago the three of them were sitting on the floor in their house hugging this little boy. They thought they had so many birthdays left to spend together. “We have to try.”
 
Mark suddenly folded his arms around his father’s neck and laid his head on Lucas’s shoulder, sighing. There was silence for awhile. “We won’t travel today, son. There’s plenty of time before I have to be in Claypool. You want to go fishing?”
 
Mark shook his head. “I just want to stay right here, Pa.”
 
Lucas sighed. He knew their hearts had loose fitting bandages around them and the bandages had slipped off again. But he also knew they couldn’t sit in self-pity. If they did, they would fall into a pit and never find their way out. “Mark, you know I love holding you in my arms and giving you hugs and kisses. And I will continue to do so as long as you let me. But son, we can’t sit here. We must do.” He said this firmly. Then he pulled Mark from his arms and stood him up beside him.
 
Of course he didn’t expect this little boy to understand something he didn’t understand himself. He wasn’t even going to try to explain it. “I guess we can go on to Claypool today then.” Mark answered. “Forget about my birthday.”
 
“Mark-“ Lucas started.
“I want to go back to Oklahoma, Pa. I want my mother. But if I can’t have that, I want to keep going. I don’t feel like having fun.”
 
Lucas shook his head sadly as they climbed onto the wagon seat and started toward Claypool.
 

Chapter 4

 
Claypool, Wyoming
 
They drove slowly through the town. Mark kept his eyes down. He didn’t want to take in sights to a strange town. He wanted to be home on their ranch, back in Oklahoma. He heard his father beside him telling him things would be good. Then the wagon stopped. Lucas nudged Mark with his shoulder. Mark looked up and saw Lucas’s stiff smile. “We’re gonna be okay!” Lucas declared.
 
Mark nodded slowly. “Well,” Lucas jumped down and stretched his arms. “Let’s go see the Sheriff.”
 
They walked into the Sheriff’s office together. Mark held tight to his father’s hand. Sheriff Browning stood up as soon as Lucas walked in and grinned. “Mr. McCain?”
 
Lucas nodded. “This is my boy, Mark.”
 
The Sheriff nodded at him. “Listen, we have a lot to talk about, son. Would you like to go play?” Mark looked toward his father and shook his head.
 
The sheriff looked at Lucas. Lucas patted Mark’s back. “Why don’t you go across the street to the general store, son? I bet they have candy.”
 
Mark took the nickel from his father’s hand and walked out. He was over there for awhile before he finally saw his father walk out of the building. “It’s all set, son. I’ll be deputy here for awhile.”
 
“Where are we gonna stay?” Mark asked.
 
“There’s a house right outside of town. It’s a small house.”
 
“Not a ranch,” Mark hung his head.
 
“We’ll find it when the time’s right, son.”
 
They made their way to the house. Mark was still sad. Lucas was beside himself trying to find a way to help the boy move on. He missed his mother something terrible. He’s lost so much at such a young age, but he had to make Mark understand somehow that they still had each other.
 
They spent the next couple days settling in to the house. Lucas fixed supper on the second night there. As they sat down at the table, he said, “Tomorrow, we’re gonna catch up on your schoolwork, son.” Mark moaned, but Lucas held up a hand. “We haven’t done any schoolwork for the last three days. I want you educated, boy. Come Monday, I’ll see about enrolling you in school.”
 
True to his word, as soon as their chores were done, Lucas and Mark sat down at the table and worked on his lessons. He had been out of school ever since his mother died. But his father had made sure to keep up with his lessons. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. We’ll go to church.” Another thing they hadn’t done in awhile.
 
The McCain’s put on their Sunday best and headed for the Claypool Community Church. They smiled at the friendly members who greeted them as they walked by. As they walked up to the steps of the church, a man came forward. He had a wide smile on his face and held out his hand. “My name’s Tom Michaels. I’m one of the deacons at this church. Welcome.”
 
Lucas grinned as he shook the man’s hand. The man had such a warm smile. He seemed to turn a lamp on in Lucas’s dark heart. Tom bent down to greet Mark. “And what’s your name?” He asked with his warm smile still in place.
 
Mark swallowed and looked at his father. His father nodded his head. Mark answered, “Mark. Mark McCain.”
 
“How old are you, Mark?”
 
“I’m seven, sir.”
 
“Ah, a wonderful age! Do you go to school?”
 
Lucas nodded. “I’ve been keeping him up on his lessons as we traveled here from Oklahoma. I’m planning on enrolling him Monday.”
 
“Well now, that’s just fine!” Tom declared. “Just fine, indeed!” Tom pulled a piece of candy from his jacket pocket. Again, Mark looked to his father for guidance. Lucas nodded his head with a wink. “Now, if you come with me, young man, I’ll show you where the kids have Sunday School.”
 
Mark held back. He hadn’t been away from his Pa hardly any since his mother died. He didn’t rightly take to the idea of separating from him now. Lucas put a hand on his small shoulder and nodded. “Go on, son. I’ll come get you right after church.”
 
Mark swallowed and nodded his head. Tom led him to the back of the church where there was a small room off to the side. Mark heard children laughing. He walked in, staying right beside Tom. “Bobby, come here, son.” Tom spoke to a little boy, who looked to be Mark’s age. “Bobby, this is Mark McCain. He’s new here.”
 
Bobby smiled and welcomed Mark in without any questions. Tom turned and walked out the door. “We’re going swimming later, Mark. Wanta come?”
 
Mark smiled as a small light seemed to come on in his own heart. “Um…I’ll hafta ask my pa!” Mark answered.
 
Nothing else could be said because the teacher was talking. She began telling the children a story about Daniel in the lion’s den. She told the story so well that Mark was listening to her every word. She put such emotion into the story. Suddenly the exciting -story was interrupted by a bell ringing. “Oh my, well, church is letting out. We’ll see you all next Sunday!”
 
Mark turned to Bobby. “Does she do that every week?”
 
Bobby nodded. “She’s my aunt. Aunt Janet always tells wonderful stories from the Bible.” Mark smiled a big, genuine smile. Bobby was so welcoming and didn’t ask him any questions. This made him happy because Mark didn’t feel like answering any questions.  “So, you going swimming with us?”
 
Mark saw his father standing behind Bobby. “Can I Pa?” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Oh Pa, can I please?” Mark begged. Lucas wrinkled his face as if he was thinking really hard. “I’ll remember your rules about swimming! I promise!”
 
Bobby’s father walked in then. “Bobby, you can swim for one hour, then I want you back at the house for lunch. The McCain’s will join us.” He turned to Lucas. “He’ll be fine, Luke. I promise.”
 
Lucas finally nodded and Mark ran off with his new friend. Tom gently laid a hand on the worried father’s arm. “He’ll be fine.”
 
“Oh, I’m not worried…exactly,” Lucas stated. “It’s just that your son…” Lucas sighed. “His mother died six months ago and he’s been so upset. But in one hour, your son was able to bring a smile to his face.”
 
Tom smiled. “Well, let’s go find my wife then we’ll go home.”
 
***
           
 Mark laughed as they raced toward the Michaels’ house. Mark was just a bit faster and did a victory dance at the steps. “We’re having fried chicken!” Bobby declared as he gave a big sniff in the air. Come on.”
 
Mark chased Bobby in the house. Lucas smiled at his son’s laughter. His heart leapt for joy as he saw the light in his son’s eyes. Lucas stood up to go towards Mark.
 
That’s when the smile on Mark’s face froze and went ice-cold. He saw Samantha Michaels placing the big plate of chicken on the table. In that instant, she was his mother. He watched her lay a hand on her husband’s shoulder as she filled his glass with milk. Then he watched her sit down in the chair next to her husband. Mark was frozen in his spot. He couldn’t move.
 
He turned and ran out of the house, not looking back. He ran all the way home and climbed into the hayloft of the barn, burying his face into the fresh hay. No telling how long he had been there sobbing. She looked just like his mother. He was jealous…so jealous…of his new friend, and he never wanted to leave the barn again.
 
“Mark McCain!” Mark lifted his head and turned around.  Lucas stood on the ladder. A very stern look sat on his face. He was looking at Mark through narrow slits in his eyes.
 
Mark turned back around. “Just go away!” he moaned.
 
“Come here, Mark.” Mark didn’t turn around. “Mark!” his father’s voice got a bit more stern.
 
Mark stood up and wiped his eyes. Then he slowly walked toward the ladder. He hung his head, knowing his father was upset with him. He came to stand before his father. “Yes, pa?”
 
“Come on down here,” his father ordered as he climbed down the ladder.
 
Mark did come down. But he didn’t turn from the ladder. Lucas firmly placed both hands on his shoulders and turned him around. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
 
Mark swallowed. “Pa, why you bein’ so mean?”
 
“Mark, when you walked into the house you had a face full of laughter. It made me so happy. Why did it suddenly go away?”
 
“It was…her,” Mark swallowed.
 
“Who?”
 
“Her-“ Mark sniffed. “Ma.”
 
At the sound of “ma,” a pain hit Lucas’s heart. “What about Ma?”
 
“She-she was there in the kitchen. It was her!”
 
Lucas sat down and stood Mark in front of him. “Son, that was Mrs. Michaels.”
 
“She looked just like Ma,” Mark tried to explain.
 
Lucas only stared at his son for a moment. He suddenly felt heartsick. He thought his son was getting better, but he wasn’t. He closed his eyes to gain composure. “Son, Mrs. Michaels' looked nothing like your mother. Your mother had beautiful, long black hair that would hang down her back at in a long braid at night, and all beautifully fit on top of her head during the day in that same braid. Your mother had the softest ivory colored skin and beautiful blue eyes-“
 
He heard Mark crying. Lucas turned around. “You wanted it to be her, son.”
 
Mark turned away. “Mark!” Lucas suddenly shouted in frustration. “I don’t know what to do anymore!” Lucas slammed his fist against the barn door and then rubbed the throbbing  his action caused. “God help me! I don’t know what to do!”
 
Mark turned and stared at his father. He had never seen his father so upset. Lucas suddenly rushed to Mark and got down on his knees in front of him. He grabbed Mark by the shoulders and looked into his eyes through his tears. “Oh, forgive me, son! I just don’t know how to help you anymore!”
 
“I wanted it to be her…” Mark mumbled. Then he collapsed into his father’s arms and shook with sobs. After awhile, Mark stood up. “I don’t want to go to his house anymore, Pa. I just want to be friends with Bobby.” Then he ran out of the barn.
 

Chapter 5

 
Lucas got Mark enrolled in school the next day. Now that Mark had met Bobby, he was happy to get to see him in school. As Lucas drove the buckboard to school, Mark was excited about the fact that they would have all day to spend together. That’s when Lucas cleared his throat. “You just make sure you are getting to know each other at recess, not in the classroom, ya hear?”
 
Mark nodded. Lucas got him registered then left, seeing that Mark was fitting in with the other kids. He caught Mark’s eye as he sat at his desk and talked to some of the boys, and pointed his finger at him. Mark knew what it meant – be good!
 
Mark had raced home after school that day, begging his father to let him go fishing with Bobby and “the boys.” Lucas nodded, but stated he was to be home in an hour to do his chores. Mark did as told, chatting throughout supper about how much fun he was having with Bobby. Lucas was amazed at the change he had gone through in only two days. Maybe Mark was finally making progress.
 
“Where ya from, Mark?” Arch Quinn asked one day as they got ready to swim.
 
Mark stopped taking his socks off and looked up at him. “Around.”
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
 
“That’s means it’s none of your business, Arch Quinn! And if you say another word about it, I’ll whip ya again!” Bobby stated. He had both hands on his hips, just daring Arch to start something.
 
Arch went to jump in the water. Mark smiled his thanks to Bobby. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.” Mark nodded. “My Pa tells me to mind my own business. I could see in your eyes yesterday that you are sad.”
 
Mark bit his lip as he took his shirt off. Bobby ran and jumped in the water. They played for quite awhile, splashing and racing. Mark had lost all track of time. He looked up at the sun and gasped, “It’s getting late. I best go.”
 
Arch got dressed with him and they started off together. “So, I wanta know where yer from!”
 
Mark stopped and turned to look at the nosy boy. “And I don’t want to talk about it,” Mark said quietly.
 
“Yer Pa running from the law or something?” Arch laughed. “Or maybe yer Ma is-“
 
Mark stopped at the sound of “Ma.” He turned back to Arch. “Don’t ever say anything like that again!” He raised up as tall as his seven-year-old body would let him. Then he held up a fist.
 
“What’s wrong with ya? Don’t you have a Ma and Pa?” Arch laughed.
 
Mark reared back his fist and punched Arch right in the eye. Arch cried out in pain, but came back to push Mark down. Mark and Arch fought, rolling in the dirt. Suddenly, a strong arm lifted Mark up. Mark turned to stare into the angry eyes of his father. “Is this how you make friends, boy?” Lucas asked.
 
Mark’s eyes suddenly filled up with tears. He hugged his Pa close and cried. “I don’t have a Ma anymore!” Mark suddenly cried out.
 
Arch was frozen in his spot. He watched Lucas pick Mark up and hold him close. Lucas started to walk away, but then turned to look into the boy’s concerned eyes. He tried to give a smile and almost succeeded. “He’ll be okay tomorrow.”
 
Bobby came up to stand beside Arch while they watched Lucas carry Mark towards their house. “He’s so sad.” Bobby said. “You shouldn’t have teased him like that, Arch!”
 
Arch felt guilty. “I didn’t mean no harm. Honest.”
 
Bobby nodded and walked home sadly. His father was in the yard grooming one of their horses. Tom saw Bobby’s head hung low. “Your late. Your Ma almost has supper ready now.” He saw that Bobby was upset and laid a hand on his shoulder. He kneeled down on the ground in front of him to look into his son’s eyes. “What’s wrong?”
 
Bobby sadly told his father what he saw and what Mark had shouted out before they left. “His voice…” Bobby mumbled. “It was so sad.”
 
Tom lifted Bobby up and sat him on the wagon bench. “Well, he is sad, son. You see, his mother died just seven months ago. They lived in Oklahoma. Mark’s father had a big hurt and had to leave Oklahoma. Mark’s world has been turned upside down.”
 
“He doesn’t talk about it.”
 
“I know. His father and I talk a lot. We’ve become good friends. His father’s carrying around a world of hurt as well. You know what’s best for them right now?” Bobby lifted his head to look at his father. “We have to love them – to show them that they can be happy again. It’ll take time, Bobby. But it’ll be okay.”
 
Bobby nodded. “What do I say?”
 
Tom smiled. “Nothing. Tomorrow when you see him, just act like today didn’t happen. My talks with his father are doing some good. Let me continue to talk to Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain will talk to his son – he’s a good father.”
 
Bobby nodded. Then he climbed onto his father’s back and they went inside.
 
***
          
The nightmare was back. Lucas heard Mark screaming in the bedroom and ran in to wake him up. Mark clung to his father and cried. “You left again, Pa!” Mark cried.
 
“I’m not going anywhere. Not for a long, long time! I promise.” Lucas closed his eyes as Mark clung to him. “I’ll be right here by your side until you fall asleep.”   Lucas pushed Mark away from him and laid him down. Mark hadn’t had a nightmare since he met Bobby. But now the nightmares were back. “What happened today?”
 
Mark lay quietly, but Lucas knew he wasn’t asleep. “Son?”
 
Mark sighed. “Arch was just saying some things about you and Ma.”
 
“Like what?”
 
“I don’t know…He asked me where I’m from. I told him it was none of his business.”
 
Lucas sighed. “I see.” He stood up and walked over to the window. “Mark, what can I do? What can I say?”
 
Mark didn’t answer. Lucas turned from the window. Mark was fast asleep.
 
***
           
 When Mark went to school the next day, he was surprised that no one made fun of him for acting like a baby the day before. Bobby simply sat down beside him and smiled, asking him if he got all his homework done. Mark nodded and said something about his Pa telling him that homework was very important, and he’d get into trouble if he didn’t do his homework.
 
Every day after school, Mark and Bobby would go swimming. Sometimes Mark would stay swimming too long, then he would get “the look” when he got home and was assigned extra chores. It only took a couple times of that before he started paying more attention to coming home on time.
 
Bobby and Mark became inseparable over the next few months. Lucas was so happy to see the light in Mark’s eyes. His nightmares were gone. Lucas tried to tell himself that Mark was getting better, but they both still had deep, open wounds on his heart. Every Sunday, Mark refused to go near Bobby’s mother. Lucas did everything he could, but there was no budging.
 
Lucas and Tom became very good friends. Tom was the person Lucas went to when he needed to get his frustrations out. Lucas felt he could reveal his wounds to Tom. Tom would simply sit and listen, then pat Lucas on the back and walk away. Lucas needed that and Tom knew it. He told Tom he was worried for Mark, and Tom agreed that Mark still carried some very deep wounds. Tom simply suggested they both pray about it. That’s what they did – together.
 
When they had lived there for six months, Lucas decided to approach the subject with Mark one night. “You and Bobby are really good friends, son.”
 
Mark looked up from his plate. “Yeah. Hey, can we go fishing tomorrow? Bobby and me?”
 
Lucas shook his head. “We have chores tomorrow. I’ll need you here to help me do some repairs on the house.” Mark started to protest, but Lucas held up his hand. “Listen son, I have to deliver a prisoner Monday. I’ll be gone overnight.”
 
Mark looked up from his plate. “I’m staying here by myself?”
 
“Of course not,” Lucas answered. Lucas took a long sip of coffee. Then he sat down his fork and folded his hands. “I thought you could spend the night with Bobby.”
 
Mark slowly looked up at his father. “No,” he stated.
 
“Mark-“ Lucas started.
 
“Pa, I can’t!” Mark looked into his father’s eyes and saw the sternness. “You…you aren’t asking me.”
 
Lucas shook his head. Mark stood up and started to run out but Lucas grabbed him by the arm. “Pa, how could you do this to me? You know I can’t stand to look at her!”
 
“Because you have hatred in your heart for someone you don’t even know. I won’t stand for it anymore.”
 
Mark started to cry. “And I won’t listen to that either, son!” Lucas stated. “You are 7 ½ years old now. I won’t comfort you for crying because you aren’t getting your way. You must learn to get past this. I’ve given you a whole year to mourn. You must move on.” Lucas said these words as firmly as he could.
 
Mark knew the matter was closed. “Pa,” Mark said looking straight into his eyes. “If you make me stay there tomorrow night, you are mean.”
 
A look of hurt crossed Lucas’s face, but he simply stood up and grabbed Mark by the arm. He marched him to his room and put him to bed. “I love you, son.” Lucas stated before shutting the door.
 
Lucas sat in his chair and read his Bible. He needed strength. It wasn’t Mark’s words that hurt as much as the tone he used. Suddenly, he heard screaming from the next room. Lucas put his head in his hands and let his tears flow. He didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. “Why did you take her, God? Why?” Lucas cried. Then he stood up on shaky feet to go help Mark through another nightmare.
 

Chapter 6

 
Mark sighed as Mrs. Whisker passed out the math test. “I don’t want to stay at your house tonight though,” he stated to Bobby.
 
Bobby nodded. “I know. But Mark, my Ma is a real nice lady!”
 
“MY Ma was a real nice lady!” Suddenly, he heard his name and sat up straight in the seat. He picked up his pencil and started working the math problems.
 
After school was dismissed, Mark asked Bobby if they could go fishing. “My Pa said we were to come straight over,” Bobby stated.
 
Mark shook his head. “I can’t.”
 
Bobby took his hand in his. “You can, Mark.”
 
Mark pulled away. “I-I’m goin’ fishing!” Then he ran away.
 
Mark sat down on the bank, but he couldn’t fish. He sat and stared into the water as tears wet his face. His father didn’t understand. No one understood the pain he was feeling right now. How could they? It wasn’t just the fact that his mother was gone…not anymore, but now when he closed his eyes he could no longer picture her. The day he saw Bobby’s mother, he imagined his mother’s face – the way he thought she looked, not the way she looked. He felt like he was betraying his mother, his father, and himself. If he loved her, he would remember what she looked like!
 
“Mark.” It was a woman’s voice.
 
Mark turned and looked at the woman. He had only seen her once before, but her face was an image that he could never get out. “You look like her,” he whispered through the tears stuck in his throat.
 
“I don’t,” she stated. “This is your mother.”
 
Mark looked at the picture in her hand. “Where-“ he started.
 
She smiled and she sat down beside him. “When your father moved here, there were things he wasn’t ready to unpack. He didn’t want you to run across them until you were ready, so he stored them in our barn. He told me there were pictures of your mother out there.” Mark stared at the picture as tears streamed down his cheeks. Mrs. Michaels smoothed her dress over her legs as she put an arm around his shoulders. “He also told me how you feel about me.”
 
Mark bit his lip as he stared at the picture. “You look like her,” he stated. She sat quietly, allowing Mark to have his silence for a time. “You really do look like her.”
 
“I want to be your friend, Mark.”
 
A stream of tears ran down the little boy’s face. Mrs. Michael’s watched him cry for awhile. Then she hugged him.
 
Hush my boy, now don’t you cry,
The birds in the sky are gonna fly.
The bees in the tree are gonna sting.
The bells in the church are gonna ring.
 
Hush my boy, now don’t you sob,
The honey, that bear is gonna rob.
The fish in the sea are gonna swim.
The leaves on the tree will fall off the limb.
 
Mark turned and stared at her. The tears stopped flowing down his face. She wiped the remaining tears from his cheeks as she sang the final verse:
 
Laugh my boy, now dry those tears.
Smile that smile for years and years.
Show your love from deep inside.
Until that joy you cannot hide.
 
“You,” Mark swallowed. But only a whisper could come out. “You look just like my mother.”
 
Mrs. Micahels smiled. “I know. You are talking about my heart. You saw my heart that first day, didn’t you?” Mark nodded. “I’m glad. She must have been quite a lady.”
 
Mark looked back over the water. Then he turned and threw his arms around her and cried. “Thank you,” he cried. She held him for a long time. Then she stood up and stretched her hand out to him with a smile. “Well, shall we go?”
 
Mark nodded. “You look just like her,” he said once more. “Mrs. Micahels?”
 
Mrs. Michaels stopped and turned toward Mark. “I-I’m sorry. It’s just that I loved my Ma so much and-“
 
She shook her head. “No need to explain, Mark. I understand.”
 
“You think…” Mark looked down at his feet. “You think she can see me?”
 
Mrs. Michael’s bent down to Mark’s level. “I do. And I think she’s proud of her little boy.”
 
“My heart…” Mark said softly. “It still hurts.”
 
“Now that you allowed that hurt to truly come, it’ll start healing,” They walked home hand in hand.  
 

Chapter 7

 
Claypool, Wyoming  (around 1880)
 
“I dare ya!” Arch was saying to Mark. They were standing behind the barn at Arch’s house. Arch held a bottle of whisky in his hand, daring Mark to take a swallow.
 
“My pa would tan my hide if he ever found out!” Mark declared.
 
“So, you ARE scared!” Arch stated.
 
Mark grabbed the bottle from him. “All right!” he stated. He lifted it to his lips and took a great big swallow. Mark suddenly felt sick. He sat down behind the barn and moaned as he held his stomach. “Ow no!” he moaned.
 
Arch sat next to him. “I can’t believe you really did it!”
 
“Mark!” Lucas called an hour later. “Mark, where are you, boy?”
 
Mark stood up. His feet were still a bit unsteady, but he didn’t feel as sick anymore. “What are you up to, boy?”
 
Mark shrugged. “We’ve been playin’.”
 
“Well, we have to get over to the Michaels’ house. They are waiting for us.”
 
“Yes sir,” Mark jumped on his horse. “See ya, Arch!”
 
Lucas stared at his son’s retreating figure. He turned back to look at Arch. Then he waved his hand and shook his head. He really didn’t want to know. In fact, it was better if he didn’t!
 
*******************
        
“New Mexico?” Tom repeated Lucas’s announcement.
 
Lucas nodded. “There’s land a plenty there. Good ranching land! Cattle country, I tell ya!”
 
Mark could hardly contain his excitement. “Ya mean we’re gonna ranch again?”
 
Lucas nodded. “You like the idea, son?”
 
Mark and Bobby looked at each other with a big smile. Then Bobby said, “That’ll mean you’ll be leaving.”
 
“Oh, well not for several months yet, son.” Lucas promised. “And you can always come visit.”
 
The boys went out to play and Samantha started clearing the dishes. “Well, I think you are making a good decision, Lucas.” Tom stated.
 
Lucas picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip. “Thanks.” Then he sat down the cup and leaned back in his chair. “Why do I feel a lecture?”
 
Tom held up a hand and chuckled. “Just a small one.” He promised. “Actually, I want to ask you a question.”
 
Lucas nodded. “Go ahead.”
 
“How are you functioning with your wife’s death?”
 
Lucas sighed. “Well, to be honest, I keep looking back.”
 
Tom nodded. “I know. Lucas, you can make New Mexico a fresh start. You can start by only looking forward. The past is behind you. Looking back won’t change things. You and your son need to start your own life now. If you don’t, you’ll always be wondering.” Tom stood up. “Okay, end of lecture. Let’s go play ball with the boys!”
 
**************
           
 Lucas sat at the desk in the Sheriff’s office. Suddenly, Fred Thompson, owner of the general store, came running in. “Luke, come quick! Ephraim’s drunk again!”
 
Lucas rolled his eyes. He grabbed his rifle and ran over to the saloon. “All right, all ya just sit down!” Ephraim was yelling. “First one moves get’s the first shot!”
 
Lucas slowly made his way through the swinging doors. Ephraim’s back was to him. Lucas twirled his gun. Ephraim turned at the sound. “Well, it’s the Rifleman! Comin’ ta pay yer ol’ pal a visit, Mr. Rifleman?”
 
Lucas pointed his rifle at Ephraim. “All right, son. Give me the gun.”
 
Ephraim took a step towards Lucas and laughed. “Ya can’t shoot me!”
Lucas fired a shot right above his head. It shot straight through the middle of a picture, taking off the poser’s nose. “You want ta bet?” Lucas asked.
 
Ephraim threw down his gun. “All right!”
 
Lucas grabbed him by the arm. “Don’t you ever get tired of spending Friday night in jail?” Lucas asked as he led him out.
 
The next day was Saturday. Lucas, Mark, Tom, and Bobby all went fishing together. They caught a big mess of trout and took them to the Michael’s house where Samantha cooked them. They sat around the table long after the last supper dish was washed, talking and laughing.
 
Finally, Lucas noticed that Mark had fallen asleep in his chair. Lucas laughed as he stood up and lifted his sleeping boy into his arms. Mark laid his head on his father’s shoulder and snuggled his nose into his neck. “Well, I don’t think he’s gonna wake up!” Lucas declared.
 
“Now, you just lay him in the bed in the other room. No use disturbing such a good rest!” Samantha demanded.
 
She had grown to love the boy like her own. They had bonded a very close relationship since that day by the river. That was about 18 months ago. Lucas knew not to argue with her. He tucked his son into bed, then left for home.
 
***

Sunday morning dawned clear and bright. It was going to be a nice day indeed!  Lucas enjoyed the sermon as usual, but an uneasy feeling had come over him. He kept looking at Tom. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like something was about to happen.
 
As he and Mark walked outside, Lucas knew something wasn’t right. He went to his horse and took his rifle. Suddenly, Ephraim was there yelling and cussing. “Mark,” Lucas turned to his son. “I want you and Bobby to go on to his house. We’ll be there in a little while.” Mark stood still and looked at Ephraim who was still in the distance cussing at the church attendees. “Did you hear me?” Mark nodded and left.
 
Lucas started forward. Reverend Collins put a hand on Lucas to restrain him. “Please, Luke. Let me and Tom go. We can calm him down without gunplay.”
 
Lucas shook his head. “He’s drunk.”
 
Tom came forward then. “Luke, we’ll talk to him. We’ll just ask him to leave.”
 
Lucas didn’t like the idea. His instincts said that this situation stunk, but he reluctantly nodded. He watched cautiously as Reverend Collins and Tom approached Ephraim. “Hello, Ephraim,” Lucas heard Tom say.
 
“Jest leave me be!” Ephraim shouted. “I don’t need no sermon!”
 
“Well, I did my sermon already,” Reverend Collins answered. “We just wanted to take you home.”
 
Ephraim shook his head. “No!” he shouted. Then he started cussing again.
 
Lucas twirled his rifle to get it ready just in case. “Listen, we want you to leave peacefully, Ephraim. We can talk this afternoon.”
 
Ephraim stood for a minute and thought about this. Then he turned to get on his horse. Suddenly, there was a gun in his hand. Before Lucas could even process this fact, Ephraim had shot off six bullets. Lucas lifted his rifle to shoot, but there were too many people. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. Ephraim got on his horse and rode away as fast as he could.
 
Lucas hurried forward. He saw Tom lying on the ground. His legs felt like jelly as he ran forward and kneeled down beside him.
 
He wasn’t moving.
 
Suddenly, Samantha was there. She fell to the ground and laid her husband’s head in her lap. “Thomas!” she said softly. “Oh, Thomas!” Blood oozed from his head onto her dress. She lifted her hand. It was covered with blood. She looked up into Lucas’s eyes – she knew the truth.
 
Tom was dead.
 
Lucas bowed his head with grief. “I’m sorry,” he choked out.
 
“Why?” Samantha suddenly shouted. “Why, why, why, why, why?” That’s all she could say as she rocked back and forth, Tom’s bloody head still in her lap. 
 

Chapter 8

 
“My daughter!” he heard a woman’s voice from behind him. Lucas stood up on shaky legs and turned. “My baby! She’s been shot!”
 
Lucas ran to take a look. “Someone go for the doctor! She’s still alive.” Then he ran to another little girl that was hurt. He was relieved to see that she had only been hit in the shoulder. This was a nightmare. Lucas shook his head.
 
Suddenly, common sense returned. He hurried to the Sherriff’s office. “Come on!” he shouted. “We need a posse to go after Ephraim Burton!”
 
Sheriff Browning stood up from his chair. “What happened?”
 
“He shot and killed Tom Michaels. He also shot two little girls.”
 
Ephraim grabbed his riffle. “Let’s go!”
 
It didn’t take long to get several men together. “There will be no lynching!” Sheriff Browning shouted. “The person that does will hang for murder! I want him back here to try and hang for this murder!”
 
The men rode out. Lucas knew how to trail and followed Ephraim’s well-left trail with no trouble. Sheriff Browning was with him. They went to a boxed canyon where they saw him sitting on a ledge. “I’ll kill him where he sits!” Lucas declared angrily.
 
“No you won’t, McCain!” Sheriff Browning declared. “We’ll do this legal. Let’s get him out.”
 
Lucas cocked his riffle and went closer. “Burton, you come out of there now!” he shouted.
 
Ephraim stood up. “No! You want to put me in that jail again!”
 
“You killed my best friend! I want to see you hang!” Lucas shouted.
 
“Lucas,” Sheriff Browning laid a hand on his shoulder. Lucas nodded. “Come on out of there, Ephraim.
 
Ephraim stood up and backed up from the ledge. He started to leave. “Shoot him, Lucas.” Sherriff Browning stated when he realized Ephraim was going to run. “In the leg. Don’t shoot to kill.”
 
Lucas aimed his rifle and fired his shot. Ephraim fell in pain. Lucas was successful. “Let’s get him to jail.”
 
***

Lucas slowly rode into the Michael’s yard. He saw Mark inside the barn putting down fresh hay. Lucas jumped off his horse and walked slowly toward his son. “Mark?”
 
Mark didn’t turn around, but kept working. “Did you kill him?”
 
“No.”
 
Mark suddenly turned. “Why not? He killed Bobby’s Pa!”
 
“He’ll hang,” Lucas stated.
 
“You-“ Mark swallowed. “Pa, Bobby is so very sad! His mother is…she’s so angry!”
 
Lucas nodded. “How are you?”
 
Mark turned back to his job. “I want to get these chores done, Pa.”
 
Lucas came up to Mark and put a hand on his shoulder. “Let your feelings out, son.”
 
Mark threw the pitchfork down and ran into Lucas’s arms. He cried all over again for the senseless death of a good friend. “Why Pa, why?”
 
“I don’t know, Mark,” Lucas said as his voice cracked.
 
“He was a good man! He loved God. He loved his family…just like Ma.”
 
Lucas nodded his head. “I know.”
 
“Why does God do these things?”
 
Lucas sighed. “God didn’t do it.  God gave us a head to make our own decisions. He isn’t to blame for this.”
 
“He could have stopped it!” Mark protested. “He could have stopped Ma from dying too!”
 
Lucas sat down. “Mark, I can’t tell you why. But I’m telling you that God is a wonderful God. I loved Tom. He was my best friend and I’m so very sad.”
 
Mark clung to his father and cried. “I’m sick of this! I’m so sick of it all!” Then Mark wiped his eyes and looked up at his father. “Pa, Mrs. Michael’s is really sad.”
 
“I know. Let’s go see what we can do for her.”
 
***

Mark stood near the grave. He watched Mrs. Michaels and Bobby cling to each other and cry. He allowed his father’s hand to rest on his shoulder and he shed the tears. At one point during the funeral, he lifted his head to look at this father’s face. His heart broke as he saw those tears. He knew the tears weren’t all for Mr. Michaels.
 
The preacher ended the service and the families started leaving. But Mrs. Michaels sat in the chair and cried. They were leaving on the stage the next day to go back East. Mark knew it would be best for both of them. “Let’s go, son.” Lucas said.
 
Mark shook his head. “I need to talk to her, Pa.”
 
Lucas shook his head. “She’s full of grief, son. I don’t think-“ But Mark had already started over.
 
“Mrs. Michaels?” Mark called.
 
Mrs. Michaels looked up and saw Mark. “Oh, Mark!” she groaned. “How are you?”
 
Mark only nodded as he fiddled with his hat. “Mrs. Michaels, I’m awful sorry bout yer loss, ma’am.” Mark licked his lips. “But, I hope we can still be friends.”
 
She nodded. “I’ll never forget you.”
 
Mark nodded. “You helped me through a really rough stretch of grief. I’d like to help you.”
 
Mrs. Michaels stood up and nodded. “See me off at the stage tomorrow, Mark.”
 
He did. He was there, prepared to give her one final farewell. Mrs. Michaels sat on the bench. Her eyes were red from crying. Mark came to her and sat down next to her. “Yer so much like my Ma!” he exclaimed.
 
Mrs. Michaels nodded. “My heart is broken, but I’ll mend,” she stated.
 
“Well, you helped me, ma’am. And now, I’d like to help you. Mark licked his lips. Then he sang:
 
Hush my boy, now don’t you cry,
The birds in the sky are gonna fly.
The bees in the tree are gonna sting.
The bells in the church are gonna ring.
 
Hush my boy, now don’t you sob,
The honey, that bear is gonna rob.
The fish in the sea are gonna swim.
The leaves on the tree will fall off the limb.
 
 Laugh my boy, now dry those tears.
Smile that smile for years and years.
Show your love from deep inside.
Until that joy you cannot hide.
 

The Final Chapter

 
Lucas stayed long enough to speak at the trial. Then he and Mark packed up again. Mark was sad as he looked at the drawings he and Bobby did together. They still hung on the wall. Lucas sat on the bed beside his son. “It’s time for our dream, Mark.”
 
Mark allowed tears to run down his cheeks. “I miss her something awful, Pa.”
 
Lucas laid a hand on his son’s shoulder “I know.  Me too.”
 
They sat in silence for a while. Neither said anything. “What are you thinking, Pa?”
 
“About something that Tom said to me shortly before he died.” Lucas looked into Mark’s questioning eyes. “He told me it was time we let your Ma rest. There should be no looking back.”
 
“I can’t do that.”
 
Lucas nodded. “We’ve been running ever since she died, son. It’s time we start building our own future. The past is gone. The future is full of promise.”
 
Mark looked down at the picture in his hand. “Bobby gave this to me before he left. Look how sad it is.”
 
Lucas studied the picture. It was two boys hugging. One boy had tears on his face. The other didn’t. “Yes, Bobby will be sad for awhile.”
 
“That’s not Bobby. That’s me.”
 
Lucas stared at Mark. “His father was an amazing man. So strong, so…brave. He raised an amazing family.”
 
Mark nodded. “We were weak compared to them.”
 
“Well, not anymore. I suddenly feel very strong, son. So what do you say? Are you ready to start fresh? To build our own lives together?” They looked into each other’s eyes. “No looking back?”
 
Mark nodded. “Let’s go.
 
******************
 
North Fork, New Mexico Territory
 
Lucas and Mark rode swiftly over the range. Lucas took a big sniff in the air and smiled. “Well, it’s new and mighty fine country, son!” Lucas stated, hope lining his voice.
 
Mark turned and looked over his shoulder. He remembered his mother as she smiled at her two men in the morning. He remembered Bobby as he took Mark by the hand that first day and gave him hope. He remembered Mrs. Michaels as she sang joy back into his heart. He remembered Mr. Michaels as he gave Mark that piece of candy during their first meeting.
 
“There’s no looking back. We’ve come too far.” Lucas stated with an encouraging smile.
 
“I wasn’t really looking back,” Mark stated. “Just remembering back.”
 
Lucas sat in his saddle and allowed himself to remember back. He remembered the day he watched the light turn on in his son’s heart as Tom and Bobby took him under their wing. He remembered the day he came back from delivering the prisoner to find Samantha and him laughing together as they baked cookies. He remembered the smell of his sweet Margaret as he held her in his arms.
 
“Well, what do you say we start from here?” Lucas smiled at his boy.
 
“Fine!” Mark smiled. Then Lucas climbed from his horse to investigate what would become their new home.

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

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