The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Gift
Written by Michelle Palmer

Introduction.....

Mark had met the boy in town one day. He introduced himself as Abe Jackford. “Jackford?” Mark had questioned suddenly. “Would you be related to Oat Jackford?”

“He’s my grandfather,” Abe had answered. “Please come to my grandfather’s house this afternoon!”

He had gone. He never thought he’d be able to go Mr. Jackford’s house. The first thing Mark noticed when he rode into the Jackford Ranch is that The McCain Ranch house was a shack compared to their elaborate barn.

Later that evening, Mark and Abe had been invited by Abe’s Father, Walter, to go see a new calf that had just been born. “He’ll make a fine seed bull someday!” Walter stated.

Mark had sat down next to the calf. “Fine stock, Mr. Jackford has! Yes sir.” Mark petted the bull calf some more and smiled. “What’s gonna happen to him?”

“My father will probably sell this one,” Walter answered with a smile.

Mark petted the calf some more and shook his head. “Boy, I wish I had the money to buy this calf. My Pa would be so proud.”

“You love your father, don’t you?” Walter asked as he patted his own son on the back. “If your relationship is anything like mine and Abe’s, I’d say you two are pretty close. You see, Abe lost his mother during childbirth.”

Mark apologized for that. Then he looked down at the calf. “My father is worth whatever that calf would cost and then some.”

Walter bent down next to Mark and put an arm around him. “Well, if you feel that strongly, I’ll speak to Father. I just bet that he can find some odd jobs for you to do to earn the money for that calf.”

“Oh, I don’t think-“ Mark started, but then stopped.

Walter laughed. “Oh, believe me young McCain, I know my father is a hard, hard man. But he always did have a soft spot in his heart for me. Let me talk to him.”

Mark had been thrilled when the answer was yes. He would come every morning before school and help with the milking. Then in the afternoons, he would stack the wood. He would do these chores for a whole month, then the bull calf would be his.

They even shook hands on it.


Chapter 1

Lucas jumped from his horse and started inside the General Store. “Hi there, Lucas!” Hattie greeted him. “How’s Mark?”

Lucas smiled at her. “Growing,” he answered. “I need to get him a couple more pairs of pants. We better get the next size this time.” Lucas walked over to the candy jars and smiled at the candy as he thought on which flavor he should surprise Mark with tonight.

“Hello there, Lucas Boy,” Micah patted Lucas on the back. “Hattie, I need some more shotgun shells.” He turned to Lucas. “Getting a sweet tooth?”

Lucas smiled. “It’s for Mark.” Suddenly, Lucas got a worried frown on his face. “Sort of a…peace offering.”

“Oh?” Micah asked.

Lucas nodded. “We sort of had a…steamed argument, you might say, this morning. He left for school with those ugly words still between us.”

“Did he do something?” Micah asked.

Lucas sighed. “I don’t know what’s been wrong with him lately, Micah. He’s been acting odd the last month – going to school early, coming home late…he always seems to have a valid excuse, but…” Lucas sighed. “This morning, he did everything wrong. We had such a bad morning that I was actually happy to see him go to school.” Lucas sighed heavily. He hated having that feeling, and he’d felt guilty about it all day.

Hattie handed him the pants. “Can you give me a bag of licorice too?” Lucas put the nickel on the counter. He looked toward the door. “It’s almost 4:00. Have you seen Mark?”

Hattie shook her head. “I told him to meet me here right after school,” Lucas mumbled to Micah.

Micah laid a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “He’s just going through a phase, Lucas Boy. Don’t let it get to you. I’m sure you went through something similar as a child.”

Lucas suddenly looked at Micah and narrowed his eyes. “Micah, I remember when I was a child. Let’s hope he doesn’t get THAT bad!”

He walked toward the school, hoping he had just forgotten and was playing in a ball game with some of the kids. But when Lucas got there, he saw no sign of Mark. Lucas walked back into town and looked around. He saw Jeff and Freddie tossing a ball back and forth in front of the church. “You boys seen Mark?” he asked.

“We haven’t seen him all day,” Freddie answered.

Lucas stared at him. He grabbed him by the arm and turned him around. “All day? Wasn’t he in school?” Freddie shook his head. Lucas had a look on his face that couldn’t quite be described as any one emotion. It was a mixture of fear, worry, anger, hurt, and some other emotion.

Lucas crossed his arms as the two boys stared at him. “You two know where he goes before school?” The boys looked at each other, both afraid to say anything. “Boys?”

“He hasn’t said much about it, Mr. McCain,” Jeff answered. “But he is late for school a lot.”

Lucas turned from them. He hurried off to look for his boy. The sky was growing dark and he heard thunder in the distance. Lucas knew a spring storm was fixing to come their way. But he had no idea how bad the storm would get

Chapter 2

Mark flinched again. The ropes tied around his wrists were really starting to cut into his skin. He continued struggling, though, hoping he would be able to get free. The gag in his mouth wasn’t helping much either.

Suddenly he heard one of the three men laugh an evil sneer. “I’ll take the boy!” he said. “I don’t care who his old man is!”

Mark’s eyes grew wide. The three men were gathered around the campfire eating beef from a rustled cow that had belonged to Oat Jackford. Mark closed his eyes as he remembered back to that morning.

He had just left home. This was his last day he would have to do chores for Mr. Jackford. Mark was happy too. Any longer and his father would probably string him up for sure! Mark looked back over his shoulder toward the ranch and shook his head sadly. He may have told a few white lies along the way, but he couldn’t wait until Sunday morning to see the expression on his father’s face when Billy Lehigh and Don Mahoney brought over that new calf Mark had worked so hard for!

Mark turned his horse up the road toward the Jackford Ranch. He started to turn into the gate that led up to the stables when suddenly he saw two strange men leading a cow with Jackford’s brand on it out of the ranch. And tie it to the back of his wagon. Mark’s eyes grew wide. Someone sure had a lot of nerve to rustle cattle from Mr. Jackford! If he was caught, he sure wouldn’t be living to tell about it!

“Look at that kid!” one of the men shouted. Mark suddenly saw him pointing. He tried to turn Blue Boy around, but the two men were too quick and grabbed the horse by the reins. “Got something to say?”

Mark licked his lips. “Well…uh…you shouldn’t take Jackford’s cows. He don’t much appreciate rustlers.”

“I see,” the man with the long, scraggly beard said. He grabbed Mark from his horse and put him on his own horse in front of him. He held a hand to Mark’s mouth and put a gun to his head. “You say one word and I’ll pull this trigger!” He cocked the gun. Mark’s eyes grew wide from fear. “Now, what’s your name, boy?”

The man removed his hand from Mark’s mouth. “Mark. Mark McCain.”

“McCain?” The man groaned. “Not The Rifleman’s kid?” Mark nodded. “Of all the-“ Suddenly, he turned in his saddle. “Hey Roy, Commere!” Roy rode up to him. “Send that horse on it’s way. Listen to this, this is the Rifleman’s kid!”

“Oh, now you done it, Ed!” Roy stated as he slapped Blue Boy to run away. “That man finds out we have his kid and-“

“He’s not going to find out!” Ed exclaimed. “Because by the time he finds him, it’ll be too late!”

They had taken Mark back to their camp. There, Mark had met a third outlaw named Peter. They had tied ropes around his hands and sat him under the tree.

Mark hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day.

Suddenly, the sky grew dark. Mark saw the three men lift their heads toward the sky. “Oh!” Peter yelled. “It’s gonna be a bad one!”

There were suddenly huge crashes of thunder sounding in the sky. Mark looked up to see flashes of bolt lightning striking downward. The three men started yelling at each other. He could see them struggling. They were pushing each other and shouting. The wind suddenly grew stronger. “Just go kill the boy!” Mark heard the words as the wind delivered them to him.

Suddenly, he saw Roy walk towards him as another loud boom sound through the sky.

The wind blew harder. It seemed to Mark that with each step the man took toward him, the wind blew just a little harder.

Suddenly, the man was only a few feet away from him. Mark could see the evil look in his eyes as the man laughed evilly. He lifted his six-shooter, pointed it at Mark and cocked the gun. Mark closed his eyes as he began crying, suddenly waiting for the bullet.



Chapter 3

Dust was blowing everywhere in town. Lucas shielded his eyes as he walked the empty streets. He screamed Mark’s name over and over, but never got a response. “Mark, son! Please answer me!” he called again. All the way from the ranch into town he had yelled.

Micah walked out from his office and slowly made his way to Lucas. “I sent ten men out, Lucas Boy. No one has seen him all day.”

“Mark!” Lucas called again, but his voice was hoarse from yelling. “Where are you, boy?” he suddenly mumbled to himself. He climbed off the horse. His face was heavily lined with worry.

Micah grabbed him by the arm. “Come on inside, Lucas Boy.”

Lucas shook his arm off. “I have to find him, Micah!”

“We will, Lucas Boy.” Micah gently took Lucas by the arm and led him inside. “We will! But first you need some coffee.”

Lucas went inside, but he stared out the window. The building suddenly shook from the loud crash of thunder. “He’s out there somewhere, Micah. In this!” Lucas pounded the wall with his fist. “My little boy’s out there somewhere!”

Micah handed him the coffee. “He’s okay, Lucas. You’ve taught him how to take care of himself.”

“Yeah,” Lucas stared out the window. “How could I have let him go this morning when there was so much between us? How?” Lucas stared straight ahead as the words came back to him now.

***********************
It had been late – almost 5 o’clock – before Mark had gotten home the night before. When Lucas questioned him, Mark stated he had stayed after school and played with some of the boys. Lucas knew he wasn’t telling the truth. Mark’s eyes couldn’t lie, and normally Mark didn’t lie either.

“You’ve been hiding something from me for the past few weeks, boy. I want the truth now!” Lucas had stated this quite firmly and held anger in his eyes.

But Mark only shook his head. “I can’t, Pa,” he stated. “I just can’t!”

Lucas had felt the anger come over him. He closed his eyes and grabbed on to the back of a chair to calm himself. “I’m asking you one more time, Mark. Where were you?”

Mark shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Pa. I promise it’s almost over. Just a couple more days.”

“Go to bed.” That’s all he could say. He knew something was going on, and he didn’t like it. “Just go to bed.”

The next morning, nothing had gone right. It took Mark forever to get out of the bed. Lucas had to finally come in and pull the covers off of him and demand he get out of bed. When he did, he found a bag of hard candy there. It was half eaten and there was a piece of half-eaten candy in his bed. Lucas announced that Mark could have no more candy until further notice.

Then when Mark did get dressed, he took his time with his chores and sat down to gulp down his food. Mark had said he had to do “something” before school again. But this time Lucas had put his foot down. “I don’t know what’s going on here, boy. But I’ll put a stop to it! You will leave here in time to get to school, and you will meet me at the General Store at exactly 3:15 this afternoon! I won’t have anymore of this nonsense, Mark!”

Mark threw his spoon in his bowl and quickly stood up. “But Pa, it’s important!”

“What’s important?”

“What I have to do!” Mark exclaimed.

“And just what do you have to do?” Lucas demanded to know.

“I done told ya, Pa. I can’t tell ya. But I promise that soon-“

“I don’t want to hear it, Mark! I just don’t!” Lucas knew he was speaking louder then he should. He knew his tone of voice was scaring Mark, but he was upset…so upset!

“You don’t even know-“ Mark started.

“That’s enough! Just stop it!” Finally, Lucas went and opened the door. “Go on, boy! Go on to school!”

Mark walked slowly toward the door. Then he stopped and turned around. “Pa, I-“ But Lucas held that stern look on his face. “Yes sir,” Mark said before he left.

*********************
“The look on his face was…pure hurt. I was so angry, Micah. Maybe if I had stopped to listen. I didn’t even smile before he left. My last words were of my yelling at him”

“He knows you love him,” Micah stated from behind him.

Lucas sighed. “I should have told him that this morning instead of yelling at him!”

“He’ll be fine. He probably just went to hide somewhere while you cool off,” Micah stated. “And I hope that when you find him you give him a good old-fashioned-“ Lucas turned around and stared at him. Micah smiled. “-hug.”

“Well, I better get.” Lucas sat down his cup and started to leave. Suddenly, Jackford was calling Micah’s name through the wind. “Oh, I can’t deal with him right now,” Lucas sighed.

Micah walked outside and closed the door. But in another two seconds, he rushed back in. “Lucas, you better take a look!”

Lucas opened the door and gasped. “Blue Boy!”

“He was up in my yard today. I never saw Mark this morning.” A loud clap of thunder roared in the sky and the sky lit up.

Lucas had been examining Blue Boy, but his head suddenly popped up. “What do you mean, Jackford?”

“Well,” Jackford said. “Mark’s been doing chores for me every morning and after school for the last month.” Jackford looked and saw Lucas’s and Micah’s grim faces. “Is he missing?” The wind suddenly roared. Lucas took a step to steady his balance. Thunder again boomed overhead as drops of rain started falling.

Micah nodded. “Well, I guess we can rule out hiding,” he stated. Suddenly, ice fell from the sky.

Chapter 4

It was the ice that saved Mark’s life. As he tearfully stared at the gun pointed at him, the sky boomed once again with thunder. Ice began falling, small at first but then it grew larger. Roy dropped his gun and covered his head as the hail began falling. Mark was under the tree, but cried out in pain as a few hailstones smacked him on the head and in the face. The men started racing to find shelter.

Mark turned and looked towards the hills. If he remembered right, there was a cave just a little ways away that was hidden from view. Those men would never find it. Mark turned and looked. When they weren’t looking, he made a mad dash for that cave.

A shot rang out behind him and hit him in the shoulder. He cried out in pain but kept running. He could no longer hear the men. He couldn’t see anything, but he felt the pain in his shoulder and he cried out as larger hailstones began falling, hitting him even harder in the head, on the face, on his already sore shoulder, and everywhere else. He leapt through the brush, causing more scrapes.

But then he found himself in the cave.

He sat down shaking. He was cold. His shoulder hurt, and he knew the bullet was lodged inside there. How long could he stay this way? How long before someone found him?

He didn’t want to – it was the last thing he wanted to do, but the tears came so suddenly that he couldn’t stop them. He drew his knees up to his chest, put his head to his knees, and wrapped his arms around them. He shook with sobbs as he cried silently.

He wished his last conversation with his father hadn’t been ugly words. They never parted under such emotions before. Mark suddenly wondered if surprising his father with a new bull calf was worth all he had put his father through? His Pa would rather have Mark then that calf, and Mark knew it.

He lifted his head suddenly. He was still shaking, partly from fear and partly because he was cold…so cold! But the hail had stopped.

He put a hand to his shoulder as it throbbed. He looked at his hand. He was bleeding badly. He needed a doctor.

Suddenly, he heard voices. “I hit him, Ed! I know I did!” Roy was screaming.

“Well, you obviously didn’t kill him!” Mark heard a smack. “We need to find him! He can identify us!” Mark heard another smack. “You fool! You stupid fool! I told you not to take that cow. I told you to take it at night, but no! You had to show just how rough and tough you are!”

Mark heard a third voice then. It must have been Peter. “Did you find him?”

“No,” Ed answered. “Your fool brother lost him!”

Thunder cracked through the sky again. The rain became harder and the wind picked up again. “My brother’s the fool, huh?” Mark heard another slap. “Well, who’s fool idea was it to come to North Fork in the first place? Those Wanted Posters will be here soon, and there are several men at that saloon who will be happy to tell the Marshal exactly where we are for $2,000!”

Suddenly, the wind picked up again. Mark could no longer hear the talking. Mark grabbed his shoulder again as the pain shot through him. He was growing weaker. He laid down as his body shook. He closed his eyes and thought back – back to that day when this had all started.

************************
Walter came back into the barn with Mr. Jackford. Mark and Abe stood up as they entered the barn. “Well hello there, McCain.” Mr. Jackford grunted.

“Hello Mr. Jackford, sir!” Mark smiled at him. He knew his father would do some yelling if he had known Mark was in Mr. Jackford’s barn smiling at him, but he wanted that calf.

“Well, boy, my son tells me you’d like to earn that there bull calf,” Mr. Jackford bent down and started examining the calf.

“Ye-yes sir, Mr. Jackford,” Mark answered with a swallow.

“Well, it’s a fine calf. Yes, fine indeed! I’m sure your Pa don’t have a finer one on his whole ranch!” Mr. Jackford stood up.

“Yes sir, Mr. Jackford.” Mark gasped. “I mean, no sir…” He stopped.

Mr. Jackford stared into Mark’s face. Suddenly, a smile broke out on his face and he tossled Mark’s hair. “You are a fine boy! Yes indeed, a fine boy.” Mr. Jackford took out a kerchief and wiped his face. “Now, from the look on your face and the fear in your voice, I’d say you were expecting me to turn down this transaction.”

Mark just nodded. Mr. Jackford laughed again. “Well, I’m not nearly as gruff as your Pa and many other think I am. I just have to come off that way to keep my place, you know what I mean?” Mark only nodded again. Mr. Jackford crossed his arms. “The truth is I love my children very much, and regardless of what other’s think, I admire a good father/son relationship.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Jackford.”

Mr. Jackford turned around and raised his eyebrows at Mark. He laughed and shook his head. “Well boy, I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I will let you work milking my cows every school-day morning and stack my firewood every school-day afternoon if you will make me a promise.”

“Yes sir?” Mark said again.

“Promise me that it’ll be our little secret that I’m actually a nice old man!” Mr. Jackford smiled at him.

“Oh, I promise!” Mark said. “I surely promise!” They shook hands on it. Mark excitedly turned to leave. But then he stopped and turned back around. “Can you make me a promise?”

Mr. Jackford looked at his son and winked. “If I can,” he answered honestly.

“Will you promise that you won’t tell my Pa anything about this no matter what?”

Mr. Jackford looked from Mark to Abe to Walter, then back at Mark. “Well, I indeed promise you that, boy!” Mr. Jackford shook his head. “A lot of love this boy has for his pa. It makes me proud.”

Mark started to leave, but turned to smile at the group. Mr. Jackford turned to his son. “Don’t you have work to do?” His gruff voice was back. Walter smiled at Mr. Jackford and slapped him on the back.

*********************
Mark smiled as he thought on that now. He was shaking something awful, and he wasn’t sure if it was from the bullet in his shoulder or the cold air, but he suddenly smiled and said, “Pa will be so surprised.”

Another loud crash of thunder sounded, then he fell asleep.

Chapter 5

Lucas paced the floor of Micah’s office as they waited for the hailstorm to pass. “I don’t understand! Why was Mark working at your ranch, Jackford? He never asked my permission.” Jackford started to answer, but Lucas suddenly whirled around and pointed a finger in his face. “Do you often higher young boys without their father’s consent?” His voice boomed out so loud that the office shook. It was unclear rather the shaking was from Lucas or from the storm.

Jackford held up a hand. “Now you just hold on there a second, McCain! Don’t you be pointing fingers at me! I made a promise to your boy, and I aim to keep it.”

“My boy is missing!” Lucas shouted.

“I know he’s missing! And instead of you trying to find out some insignificant detail, why don’t we just try to find your boy?” Jackford boomed out.

Lucas hit the wall. “Where do we start? We don’t even have the tracks anymore!”

Hail began falling for the second time that night. The wind was blowing something awful just outside. Micah walked to the window. “Storm’s picking up again. Looks like we’re in for a long night.”

“Well, I’ve dawdled long enough. I’m going to go-“ Lucas started as he headed for the door.

Jackford suddenly walked to the door and slammed it shut right in Luca’s face. “Now hold on, McCain! Just hold on!”

Lucas cocked his rifle. “Out of my way, Jackford!”

“Lucas!” Micah suddenly put his hand on the barrel of Luca’s rifle. “Give it to me, Lucas Boy.” Lucas looked angrily from Jackford to Micah. “Now, Lucas. That’s an order!”

Lucas let go of the rifle. Jackford stood straight in front of Lucas. “Now, before you go out there half-cocked, listen to what I found out, will ya?”

“I’m listening,” Lucas stated angrily.

“I did trace the horse’s steps, and I found several hoof prints just outside my gate. I had my hands check the stock. One of my best cows is missing. There was a break in the fence, and it wasn’t done by cattle!”

Lucas suddenly got a fearful look on his face. “Rustled?”

“It looks like it. It also looks like your son must have come up on the rustlers.” Jackford came forward. “I found this.”

Lucas took the saddle glove from Jackford’s hand. He closed his eyes and sighed. “It’s Mark’s. He should’ve been wearing it.” Lucas turned the glove over in his hand. “It’s a clue!”

“I also found this.” Jackford handed Lucas the kerchief.

The colors were odd, not one of Mark’s. Lucas shook his head and handed it to Micah. Suddenly, thunder boomed again. The door opened and a man walked in. He quickly closed the door behind him. “Man, it’s rough out there!” The stranger took off his hat and shook the water off of it. “I’m looking for the Marshal.”

Micah nodded. “You found him. What can I do for you, Sonny?” The man took a piece of paper from the brim of his hat. He shook it out and handed it to Micah. “Hm,” Micah said. “And you think these men are around here?”

“I do,” the stranger answered.

Suddenly, Micah gasped. “Lucas, take a look at this!”

Lucas grabbed the piece of paper and read. “Wanted Dead or Alive, the capture of the Carter Gang for cattle rustling and murder.” Lucas looked at the pictures and read each name. “Roy Carter, Peter Carter, Ed Stevens.” Lucas looked up. “Micah, that kerchief! The design’s the same as-“ the words died in his throat.

Micah nodded. “You a bounty hunter?” The stranger nodded. “Well, we think he has a kid with him. An 11 year old boy.”

The stranger played with the hat in his hand. “You his father?” He asked Lucas.

“I am,” Lucas answered. His voice was broken.

“Well, I must tell you that if they have him, your son’s in danger,” he stated.

Lucas banged his fist on the table. “I know that!” he shouted. “I know that!”

“No, I’m afraid you don’t understand, Mr…?” the stranger started.

“McCain. Lucas McCain,” Lucas answered.

“The Rifleman? Ah, I’ve heard a lot about you. I have a lot of respect for you, sir. But I have to tell you that these men…they are wanted for murder. They are wanted for at least ten murders – 7 men and 2 women.”

Lucas and Micah looked at each other. “What about the other?”

“A ten year old little boy.”

Lucas suddenly grabbed the desk he was standing beside as his heart seemed to stop. . Micah sucked in his breath and immediately put a hand to Lucas’s back to steady him. “We best get out there, Micah,” Lucas said. Everyone heard the tears in his voice. “We need to find him.”

The stranger put his hat on. “I’ll help. I’ve been trailing them for a long time. I’m familiar with their habits.” The stranger shook his head. “I’ve hunted down a lot of men, but these are different…rutheless..scum!”

Micah held up a hand. “Now just a minute mister. We don’t much care for bounty hunters.”

The stranger held out his hand to Micah. “Name’s Randal. Josh Randal.”

Chapter 6

“This storm’s getting pretty ugly! Are you sure you can get us to the end of the trail?” Josh yelled to Oat as they rode in front.

A sharp bolt of lighting hit just in front of them, causing the horses to cry out. Oat steadied his horse and nodded. “I can get us to where they left the trail.”

Oat stopped the horses and pointed when they got there. “Here’s where their trail ended. It looked like they went off that way.” Oat pointed.

“Okay. Let’s go,” Josh stated as he started through the field.

Lucas rode up beside Oat. “Listen, Oat. You don’t have to come along.”

Oat sighed. “Lucas, I told your boy to keep a secret. I told him not to let anyone know that I’m really a nice old man. You ask him when we find him and he’ll tell you it’s true. I feel responsible, and I’m in this to the end.”

Lucas nodded. “Thanks!”

Josh was leading the group. He suddenly held a hand up signaling the others to stop. They looked around. “What’s going on?” Lucas asked.

Josh slowly took his gun from his hip and cocked it. “Just ride easy,” he said. “Be ready.”

Lucas cocked his rifle. Oat and Micah did the same. They slowly rode ahead. The thunder boomed so loudly that the ground shook. A tree just ahead was struck by a deadly bolt of lightning. The horses whinnied. Josh reached out and patted his horse and the others did the same.

They slowly rode forward. Lucas and Micah looked at each other as Josh immediately turned the horse toward a group of trees. He headed for a group of rocks.

The thunder boomed louder. Josh pointed to the rocks, then put a finger to his lips. Lucas didn’t understand how Josh knew this, but somehow, he knew that these men had taken shelter there.

Suddenly, the sky opened and rain poured down in sheets. The men raced their horses for the shelter of the rocks. Lucas suddenly remembered a cave that Mark had shown him here one day. They jumped off their horses and ran to the rocks, their guns still cocked.

Suddenly, Josh pointed his gun to a set of rocks a bit away from them. “Alright, boys,” he shouted over the storm. “Waked up, you got company!”

Lucas came to stand beside Josh. “How do you know they’re in there?”

“Lucas, you probably won’t believe it, but I can feel them. Every inch of my body feels sick – they’re so close!” Josh looked toward the rocks again and shouted, “Come on out, now.”

All four men stood side by side. They were drenched from rain, but they all stood firm. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Lucas could feel the bullet just pass his ear. “There’s no way out, boys! Come on!”

“Josh,” Lucas whispered. “There’s a cave right over there. If a couple of us hide out in there, we can get a better aim. Maybe take out one of them. I see his head poking up.”

Josh nodded in agreement. Micah and Josh started for the cave. Lucas and Oat kept their aim. “I’m gonna kill ‘em! Everyone of ‘em!” Lucas sneered.

Oat turned to Lucas. “You’re gonna do what you would do in any other situation! Take them alive if you can!”

Lucas shook his head. “They took my boy!”

“Lucas!” Oat suddenly grabbed him by the arm. The rain poured down as they faced each other. “Now, I don’t know if we’re gonna come out of this alive. I don’t know if your boy’s alive! But I know one thing: I…” Oat stopped and swallowed. “I’ve come to love that boy of yours over this last month! I don’t want him growing up without his father. If you kill these men when you could have taken them alive, you won’t be the same…ever!”

Lucas stared at Oat. He knew Oat was right. He had to stay strong for Mark.

******************
Micah pointed to a bush along the rocks. “Looks like someone was here. The bush is all broken.” They ran for the bush.

Josh bent down and examined it closer. “It’s the cave Lucas was talking about,” he announced.

They crawled inside. Micah had to use several matches before getting the lantern lit again. “Oh, good Lord in Heaven!” Micah choked out. Josh suddenly turned and saw a boy lying down. He wasn’t conscience. “That his boy?” He asked as he felt for a pulse.

Micah nodded as he ran the lantern up and down Mark’s body. “He’s been shot,” he choked out. Josh could tell Micah was crying. “He’s in bad shape.”

Josh went to the edge of the cave. “Take your coat off and cover him up. Then get over here,” he ordered.

Micah did as Josh suggested. Josh saw one of the men poke their head above the rocks. He took aim and fired. A scream erupted with a clash of thunder. The man fell from the cliff and laid still at the bottom of the cliff.

Lucas fired a shot and took out another one. There was only one left. “Cover me, Lucas!” Josh shouted as he ran out of the cave. He ran over to the first body. It was Peter. The other one was Roy. Josh ran over to Lucas. “Ed’s still up there. He’s the worst of them.”

He turned to Oat. “Can you help me with this one?” he asked. Oat nodded. Josh turned to Lucas. “Your boy’s in the cave. He’s hurt.”
Chapter 7

The words echoed in his head. Mark was in the cave? Lucas forgot about everything else. His heart beat hard as he ran for the cave. Mark was there! Lucas felt like rejoicing! He crawled inside. “Mark! Oh, Mark, I-“ he suddenly stopped when he saw Micah gently caressing Mark’s hair as his head laid on his lap.

Lucas suddenly felt a lump swell in his throat. “Is he-“ he started.

“He’s been shot in the shoulder,” Micah said. “Lucas, he’s lost a lot of blood.”

Lucas bent down beside Mark. He caressed his hair. “Oh son.” His eyes filled with tears. Suddenly, he looked towards the entrance. “We’ve got to get him to the doc’s! He needs the doc now!”

Josh poked his head inside. “We have the last one in custody.”

Micah gently lifted Mark’s head so he could crawl out. Lucas picked his son up into his arms. “I’ll take him back to town,” Micah said. “I’ll lock him up and throw away the key!”

“I’ll help, ya hear?” Josh said. He and Micah looked at each other. Micah nodded his thanks.

“Take the boy to your ranch, Lucas Boy. I’ll send doc there,” Micah shouted as he raced off.

Lucas crawled out of the cave, careful not to shake Mark too much. Oat ran up to Lucas. “He’s been shot!” Lucas said. “I’ve got to get him to town!”

Oat ran to his horse. “I’ll go back for a wagon. You stay here.” He looked up at the sky. “The rain’s stopped. Looks like the storms finally over.”

Lucas looked down at his son. His breathing was shallow and he was fading fast. “I hope so, Oat. I certainly hope so!

*******************
Lucas paced the floor outside the bedroom as he replayed those last few words he had said to Mark over and over in his head. “Go on, boy! Go on to school!” But he didn’t just remember the words. He remembered his tone of voice. He was angry…so angry…

Lucas sat down and buried his head in his hands. He wished he could take the whole morning back. He wished he had hugged him and told him he loved him instead of those ugly words.

He looked toward the door where the doc and Micah were working. Oat and Josh sat at the table drinking coffee, waiting…

Lucas wanted to be there to help the doc, but Doctor Burrage ordered him out the door, telling him Micah would help. He didn’t want Lucas in there while he dug the bullet from his shoulder.

Suddenly, the door opened. Lucas jumped up and grabbed Doc Burrage by his shoulders. “How is he?” He didn’t even let him answer. “Can I see him?”

Micah gently took Lucas by the arm and led him over to the table. After they sat down, the doc answered. “He’s in bad shape, Lucas. I’ve seen a lot of men die that weren’t as bad off as he is.” Doc shook his head. “He’s just so…weak!”

Lucas looked towards the door. “He’ll live, doc. He’ll live.”

He stood up and hurried inside, closing the door behind him. Slowly, he pulled a chair up to the head of Mark’s bed and sat down. He took Mark’s hand and held it tightly between both of his. Lucas stared at his son. He was so quiet…so still! He swallowed.

“Mark.” His voice was only a whisper. He swallowed again.

“Mark,” he said louder this time. “Son, I-“ Tears filled his eyes. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled like that this morning. I’m so…” He suddenly couldn’t go on. He sobbed as he laid his head down on Mark’s chest.

“I love you, son. You can’t die. Do you hear me, son? You can’t die!” He laid silently for a long time. “I love you,” he whispered again.

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

The sunlight peeped in through the window. Lucas suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Josh. “I fixed some breakfast. Go out and eat. I’ll sit with him.”

Lucas shook his head as he looked back at Mark. “He’s no better.”

“He made it through the night,” Josh stated. “That’s a good sign.”

“Why?” Lucas suddenly asked. “Why are you still here?”

“Well, when I start a job I see it through. I helped catch those men, now I’m staying to pray and…offer my assistance to clean up the damage they caused.” Josh motioned for Lucas to go.

Lucas stood. “You aren’t like any bounty hunter I’ve ever met,” he declared quietly. “You’re just like I heard, though. You are a good man.”

Josh smiled. “Much obliged. Now, get going, ya hear?” He sat down in the chair.

Lucas looked down at his sleeping son. “He hasn’t waken up. I-“ His eyes started filling up with tears. “I’ve prayed so hard!”

“Well, you just keep praying,” Josh smiled. He pointed at Lucas. “And take care of yourself.”

Lucas hurried through his breakfast. Then he came back inside carrying his Bible. Josh stood and walked to the door. Lucas sat down and touched his son’s hand again. He ran his hand from the top of Mark’s head to the bottom of his toe. His heart rejoiced. He seemed warmer. He would change the bandage this afternoon.

He opened the Bible and began reading in Psalm. He read for hours, even though his voice was suddenly scratchy. He continued reading until Josh came in and told him lunch was ready. Lucas looked back at Mark. “He’ll be okay,” he said.

Hattie came over that afternoon. She hugged Lucas before going in to sit with Mark. Micah announced that the living outlaw was being transferred to Yuma where he would be executed. He handed Josh the $2,000.00. Josh wouldn’t take it. “Mark found them, not me,” he replied.

Lucas stared at him. “You mean…you did all this and aren’t taking the money?”

Josh smiled. “I’d say that can go towards his education or whatever he chooses to use it for.”

Lucas smiled. He had a lot to be thankful for. He also found out that Oat Jackford was sending his ranch hands over in shifts to take care of the ranching duties.

Lucas walked back into the bedroom. He sat down in the vacant chair and took Mark’s hand. He was breathing easier.

It happened that night. Lucas had dozed off at Mark’s bedside. He was bent over the bed with his head lying next to Mark. But suddenly, he felt a hand brush his hair. Lucas slowly raised his head and looked at Mark. His eyes were open. “Well, hello son,” Lucas smiled.

Mark tried to smile, but only groaned in pain. Lucas rubbed the back of his hand against Mark’s cheek. “You’ll be okay, son. It’ll just take some time.” Mark just stared into his father’s eyes. “Do you remember what happened?” Mark nodded.

Lucas suddenly looked away as his eyes filled up with tears. Mark lifted a hand to touch his father’s cheek. He could tell Lucas was hurting. “I-“ Mark licked his lips. “I’m s-so-sorry, P-pa.”

“You’re sorry?” Lucas suddenly ran his hand through Mark’s hair. “You have nothing to be sorry about, son!” Lucas quickly wiped a tear from his cheek. “I’m sorry! I should have never…yelled at you like that.”

Mark shook his head and put a finger to his lips. . “P-pa, I have to say this.”

Lucas stopped and looked into his son’s eyes. “Pa, I’m so…sorry about…the…gift.” Mark closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Chapter 9

Lucas didn’t understand what Mark meant by the gift, but he knew Mark needed his sleep. He smiled and gently kissed his forehead. “I love you, son,” he whispered. “I love you so much!”

Lucas slept that night. Mark woke crying a couple times in the night. Once, Lucas gave him some medicine for the pain. The second time, he held his hand while he went back to sleep after having a nightmare. Neither times were opportunities to talk.

When Lucas got up the next morning, Mark was awake. He smiled at Lucas. “Morning,” he said.

Lucas hurried over to his bed and sat down, taking his hand again. He smiled. “Well, you’re feeling better, huh?”

“Some,” Mark answered honestly. “I don’t think I’ll go to school for awhile though.” Mark sighed. “The whole month – all I put you through and everything and it was a waste. I’m sorry.”

“Mark,” suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Lucas hurried and dressed. When he got there, Josh was talking to Don Mahoney and Billy Lehigh. “You’re out pretty early!” Lucas exclaimed as he buttoned his shirt. “I want to think you men for tending to my chores.”

“Well, that’s not why we’re here, Mr. McCain,” Don stated. He and Billy looked at each other and grinned. “I think you best come on outside.”

Lucas looked at Josh who only shrugged. He walked outside and saw a beautiful bull calf standing there. “Where’d he come from?”

“He’s yours.” Billy announced this with pride in his voice.

“Mine? What?” They only smiled. “The gift?”

“The gift,” Billy answered. “That’s a mighty fine boy you got there!”

Lucas was suddenly overcome with emotion. He looked toward the house and shook his head. “He’s the greatest son a man could have!”

Lucas slowly walked back inside and walked into the bedroom. He folded his arms as he grinned from ear to ear. “Well, I’d say you’ve been a busy boy this past month.”

Mark stared at him. “What do you mean, Pa?”

“I mean that you are the most sneaky, conniving,” Lucas sat down on the bed and put his hand around the back of Mark’s neck and smiled. “wonderful, blessed, sweetest, caring and loving little boy a man could ever ask for!”

“You mean it came?” Mark gasped.

Lucas smiled. “It came.”

“Yahoo!” Mark tried to sit up but groaned. “Only, you got one thing wrong, Pa.”

“What’s that?” Lucas asked.

“I’m not a little boy.” He smiled into Lucas’s eyes.

Lucas suddenly got a stern look on his face. “The doc said you should have died. I’m glad you didn’t. Son,” Lucas sighed. “I’m afraid I was wrong Friday morning.”

“Pa,” Mark stopped him. “I wasn’t mad at that at all. I knew what you were thinking, but I also knew you would love your gift.”

“Oh I love my gift. You know what my gift was?” Mark started to answer, but Lucas stopped him. “It was you.”

They smiled at each other. They both knew that regardless of how special this bull calf was, Mark’s being alive was the greatest gift of all!

Conclusion.....

“Oh, I have a surprise for you, son. I think there’s someone you would want to meet. He saved your life.” Lucas stood and opened the door. “Come on in here.”

Mark saw a stranger come in and walk to the bed. He smiled down at Mark. “Josh Randal,” he introduced himself as he held out his hand.

Mark slowly lifted his head from the pillow. “The Josh Randal? The bounty hunter?”

Josh smiled. “That’s me.” He wiggled his fingers, letting Mark know he was waiting for the handshake.

Mark gasped. “Oh…oh wow! You’re Josh Randal! Pa, this is Josh Randal!”

Lucas smiled from the door. “I know. I heard.”

Mark took the man’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you! I’ve heard about you! Why Pa, I heard a story about him rescuing a whole town from an elephant and-“

“Um, Mark,” Lucas held up a hand. “I think you best rest now, son. I’ll get you some broth.”

“Broth?” Mark groaned. “I want some eggs and bacon!”

Lucas shook his head and laughed. “Maybe later! Let’s see about the broth first!”

“Bye, Mark. It was nice meeting you.” Josh smiled at him.

Lucas closed the door to the bedroom. Josh grabbed his holster and put his hat on. “Well, I think my job’s done here.”

“Where will you go now?” Lucas asked.

“Oh, wherever my work takes me. There’s always plenty of work for a bounty hunter.”

Lucas nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry to say there is.” Lucas shook his head. “Listen, I could use an extra ranch hand around here if you’d like to stay.”

“No thank you,” Josh shook his head. “I gotta get going.”

Lucas walked outside and watched him mount his horse. “Thanks for everything.” He waved. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing more about you.”

“Right back at ya. Much obliged…for the hospitality, that is.” Josh waved and rode away.

Lucas wondered if he’d ever see this great man again. He had no idea that Josh was wondering the same thing about him!

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

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