The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Rattlesnake
by Michelle Palmer
The saloon in Indian Bend was now closed. Everyone had stumbled home to their houses to get a good nights sleep after a hard night of drinking. It had been a typical Saturday night, and Reynolds had had too much to drink, as usual. The past months were catching up to him. He couldn’t stand the stares anymore. His best friend had stabbed him in the back by taking his ranch, his girl, and now his reputation. Reynolds no longer cared what happened to him as long as he got even.
He watched in the darkness as the man stumbled out of the saloon – he was always the last one to leave. He saw her sitting atop the wagon waiting to drive him home. Reynolds watched as the wagon pulled away. It silently rode out of town. Reynolds mounted his horse and slowly followed them at a distance.
He and his friend had been partners in a ranch. He still remembered the day his friend had dropped the news that the money was gone, forcing Reynolds to sell out to him. Then when Charlotte had discovered he lost all his money, she dropped him and married Roger.
Tonight was the night Reynolds would pay him back!
Reynolds watched the wagon stop outside their ranch house. He watched Charlotte help Roger down from the wagon, both of them toppling to the ground as he fell off. Then he heard their laughs. Their laughs were sickening! She used to laugh with him that way.
He climbed from his horse and slowly walked over to them. He took the gun from his holster and cocked it. Roger turned and saw the pistol. He threw a hand up. “No!” he cried.
“Bang, Bang!” Two shots dropped Roger to the ground, obviously dead.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Charlotte screamed. She bent down beside her husband and cried. Reynolds didn’t even stop to think. He cocked the gun again.  Charlotte looked up. She gasped.
“Bang, Bang.” She fell on top of her husband.
A pool of blood ran from the couple and mixed in the dirt. Reynolds slowly lowered his gun and turned from the couple. He suddenly looked down at the gun in his hand. His eyes grew wide as he realized what he had just done. Then he turned and ran away.
A shadow emerged and rushed over to the mound. He bent down beside the bodies only to realize they both were dead. “Your gonna hang for this, Reynolds.”
Lucas and Mark McCain, father and son, were on their first hunting trip since they had recently settled in North Fork. They had come up to Rabbit’s Glen two days ago. This was the last day Lucas would try his luck at hunting.
Lucas stood and stretched as the sun began to rise high in the sky. He looked down at his sleeping boy and smiled. It was funny how sweet and innocent he looked in his sleep. But Lucas couldn’t help but shake his head as his boy’s mouth twitched in his sleep. “I wonder what schemes you’re planning for today,” he mumbled.
After building the camp fire, he called to his son. Mark mumbled but turned onto his side and grew quiet. Lucas turned to build the fire. Again he shook his head. It had taken quite a bit of doing to get his boy to settle down and go to sleep the night before. Now it would take some doing to get him up.
Lucas started to fix breakfast over the camp fire, thinking that would wake up his son. After all, his boy was ALWAYS hungry! But even that didn’t cause a stir.
So finally, Lucas stood and walked over to his sleeping son. He crossed his arms and in a firm voice, declared, “Mark, I’m not telling you again to wake up.”
He got another mumble from the bed roll. Lucas loudly cleared his throat and lightly nudged the boy with his booted foot. That was the final warning, and Mark knew it. He watched Mark slowly sit up and rub his eyes.  “Do we have to go home today, Pa?” he mumbled in his sleep.
Lucas nodded as he bent down beside him. “Don’t you think three days of hunting is enough, son? We’ve got chores waiting for us in North Fork. Not only that, son, but you need to get back to your lessons.” There was a school in North Fork, but Lucas didn’t want to send Mark until they were settled in their new home. So for now, he continued with his lessons as best he could.
Mark sighed. “School!” He shook his head. “There’s more to learn out here in the woods with you than in some stuffy hotel room where I have to sit all day, Pa!” Mark crossed his arms and did a mock pout.
“That may be so, son.” Lucas agreed. “But now days, book learning is as important as learning to ranch. You’ll appreciate my making you do all this book learning someday.”
“Yeah. That’s what you keep telling me!” Mark mumbled.
Lucas raised an eyebrow at his boy. Then he grabbed his arm and stood him up. “Get dressed, Mark”
Lucas watched his ten-year old stretch again. “Breakfast will be ready soon, Mark. Why don’t you go fetch some water and wash that face of yours?” Lucas turned back to the fire. “Looks like you’ve been having mud pies for breakfast!”
Mark smiled as he made his way down to the creek with bucket in hand. Being out here with his Pa reminded him of all the adventures they had recently taken. They had wondered from place to place since he was six years old. Only recently had they ridden into North Fork to settle in the town. They now had a place to call home. This made hunting trips exciting again. His Pa said he got stir-crazy living in a town again, and hunting was a good excuse to live rough again.
They actually didn’t even live in their house yet. Pa said there were a few loose ends that had to be tied up, and they were sending for a lot of their possessions from their house back in Oklahoma. Mark knew the day they arrived would be a hard time. He watched his father lovingly build a shelf to put Ma’s dishes on when they arrived. The dishes had been very, very special to his mother. She and his Pa had gotten them as a wedding gift and they had made his Ma so very happy. He knew his father could never, ever part with them.
“Mark!” Lucas called. “Come on, son!”
Mark gasped and dunked the bucket in the water. Then he turned and carried it back up the hill. He had allowed his daydreaming to take over. Lucas shook his head as Mark came over the hill. “Daydreaming again?” Lucas asked with a raised eyebrow.”
“I’m sorry, Pa.”
Lucas laughed as he put the flapjacks on a plate and handed them to Mark. Mark stared down at the plate silently. Lucas started eating, but paused when he saw his boy’s face. He nudged his shoulder with his elbow. “It’s okay, son.”
Mark’s voice sounded so bothered that Lucas stopped eating and looked at his young son, barely ten years old. “What, Mark?”
Mark continued looking down at the plate in his hand. “When our stuff from Oklahoma gets here…I mean…” Mark swallowed. Lucas heard the pain in his son’s voice. Mark looked up at him. “I mean…are we gonna use the dishes?”
Sadness suddenly came over Lucas’s face at the pain his question caused. “I thought we would. Your mother would want us to.”
“We haven’t used them since she…” Mark swallowed hard, but stayed quiet.
Lucas nodded. “I know, son.” He lifted his eyebrows as he asked in a soothing voice, “What do you think we should do?”
Father and son sat side by side. They suddenly looked up into each other’s eyes. Both spoke volumes to the other, but neither said a word. They knew it would be hard, but having his Ma’s things close by would be a comfort – sort of like having her there again. “Then that’s what we’ll do, son.” Lucas scraped his plate as he took another bite. “Your mother would cringe if she saw us eating out of these ol’ metal pans all the time and drinking out of metal cups! We’ll cook from her pans, drink coffee from dainty coffee cups, and eat our bachelor cooking from her fine china because that’s how your mother would want it to be. You’ll grow up with proper table manners just like your Ma would have taught you.”
Mark swallowed his last bite of flapjacks as he looked up at his Pa. “And we’ll…have lace curtains in the windows? The one’s Ma made?” Lucas nodded. “And have her things around? Like the…like the lamps she so loved…and the pictures on the wall?” Lucas nodded again as he smiled down at his son.
“And one more thing,” Lucas said as he looked down at his son.
“What’s that, Pa?”
Lucas put a hand on his young boy’s shoulder and looked into his eyes. “Flowers around the porch.” Mark suddenly looked down at the ground. Lucas reached over and lifted his head with his hand. He smiled into Mark’s eyes. “She loved her marigolds, son.” Mark nodded.
“It’ll be hard.”
Lucas smiled, though his eyes deceived his true feelings. “It’s because we love her.” Again, they looked up into each other’s eyes. Yes, it would be hard, but they would do it. They’d do it because Margaret still loved them and because they loved her so much. She would forever stay alive in the McCain house.
Lucas stood and looked up at the sun. “Well, it’s nearing 9:00, son. I think I’ll go on a quick hunt for some game to take back to North Fork with us. Maybe I’ll bring down a big buck this morning, son.”
“Gee, I sure hope so, Pa!” Mark declared with a shake of his head. “I’d love to eat venison.”
Lucas picked up his rifle and studied it. “While I’m gone, I want you to STAY HERE and get us all packed up.” Lucas paused and pointed at Mark. “You hear me?”
Mark was still deep in thought from their earlier conversation. He stared off into the distance, never answering his Pa. “Mark?”
Mark didn’t even turn to look. He merely nodded his head. “Okay, Pa.”
Lucas stood still staring at his son. He put a hand on his hip and cocked his head to one side. “You remember my rule about not wondering off by yourself?  You are to stay put, you hear?”
At the sound of his Pa’s voice, Mark knew he had to look at him. “Sure, Pa.”
Mark hadn’t been working on breaking camp for too long before he heard a nose behind him. He quickly turned and the sight that met his eyes made him freeze in his spot. A big buck lifted his head and stared right at Mark. Somehow, he knew Mark didn’t have a rifle to shoot him with, so he didn’t feel threatened.
Oh, if only Mark knew where his Pa was! Why, he’d LOVE to see his father take that big buck down! The deer turned and started to walk away, but he was in no hurry as he paused and took a nip of grass every now and then. Mark looked down at the pan he was holding and dropped it in the dirt. Without even thinking about the consequences, he began following the buck.
The buck walked upstream for quite awhile, making it pretty easy for Mark to follow. Mark was so mesmerized over the deer that he forgot EVERYTHING his father had told him about leaving camp without his permission.  And it was for the very thing that was about to happen that Lucas sat that rule in place for his ten year old son.
Mark was so interested in following the deer that he didn’t even pay attention to the direction he was going. Nor did he realize that the footprints he was leaving behind were being washed away by the water flowing in the creek. Mark didn’t even realize that two hours had passed.
Suddenly, the deer turned and ran off into the woods. Mark started to go after him, and it was then that he realized how far way from camp he had wondered. He turned around to go back. But it didn’t take long for him to make a terrible discovery.
Mark had NO idea where he was!
Mark looked up at the sky. He had come East, then South…or had he gone west and North? He had been so interested in the deer that he didn’t even know the direction he had come from.
Mark started following his own boot prints, but again…it didn’t take long to realize another terrible truth: his prints had been washed away in the water. They were gone…forever!
Mark had no idea where he had come from at thist point. How could he have let himself get into a situation like this? When his father found out, he would be furious. Mark knew that either way he would be in for some words from his father.
Lucas sighed as he walked into the camp. He was disappointed he hadn’t had better luck in hunting. In the three days he and Mark had been out here, he had yet to find one single deer! Lucas shook his head as he stepped foot onto the camp where Mark should be. “Mark, I hope you got everything packed up. We’ve got to…” Lucas allowed his voice to die as he came to the realization that Mark wasn’t there.
Giving his son the benefit of the doubt, Lucas told himself that perhaps Mark had gone down to the creek.  “Mark, where are you?” he called. But he got no answer.
Lucas looked around. Nothing was packed up. It looked exactly the same as when he left. Lucas shook his head. “That boy! Just wait until I get my hands on that boy!” He put his hands on his hips as he started toward  the creek. But when he got there, he found no sign of his son.
He had ordered that boy to stay put, but like any typical ten-year old, adventure had trumped his orders.
Lucas looked around for tracks, but they were everywhere. It was going to be hard to figure out which way he had even gone. He looked closely, and found that Mark may have gone up the river, so he decided to try that theory. Lucas walked for awhile, not finding any sign of his son. It seemed he may be on the right track to find him, however.
Lucas sighed and shook his head, thinking of what he was going to say and do to Mark when he finally caught up with that boy.
Mark looked up at the sky. It was now noon and his stomach was letting him know it was time to eat. He looked toward the sun and knew that the camp had to be north of there. If only he had paid more attention to his surroundings. How many times had his father lectured him on the importance of paying attention so that if he got lost, he could find his way back?
Mark looked ahead and saw a small campfire burning. Someone was there cooking some lunch. He hurried forward, not thinking that he could be walking into a dangerous situation.
The man heard his footsteps. He slowly sat down his plate, stood up, and whirled around with his gun drawn.
Mark let out a gasp. “I-I’m sorry, mister. I didn’t mean to startle you!” He stepped forward as the man continued pointing the gun at him.
Boy and man stared at each other for a moment. Finally, the man nodded his head as he uncocked his gun and holstered it. “It’s okay, boy. But you should be more careful. What are you doing out here by yourself?” The man turned to walk back to his campfire.
Mark came forward and extended his hand. “My name’s Mark McCain. Me and my Pa have been hunting and I saw a big buck. I went to follow him and sort of got lost.” Reynolds smiled at Mark’s rambling.
“I…I’m sorry, Mister. I…reckon I disobeyed my Pa.”
The man nodded his head in understanding. “Well, did you catch him?” Mark raised his eyebrows. “The buck you were following. Did you catch him?” The man looked Mark up and down. “Exactly what were you hunting with?”
“Oh, my Pa doesn’t let me hunt yet – except with rabbit snares and such,” Mark answered quickly as he walked further into the camp and Reynolds sat back down. “He let’s me come hunting with him, but I can only watch him. He left me at the camp to pack up and…I wondered off after he told me not to. I was kinda foolish with it too, cause I didn’t leave any marks to find my way back. My Pa’s gonna be awful soar with me!” Mark sighed as he lowered his head in regret. “I’m…sorry I bothered ya, mister.”
“Name’s Reynolds, boy.” The man took the pan off the fire. “I…uh…don’t reckon you’d want to share this rabbit stew with me?” Mark saw a hint of a smile playing on his face.
Mark smiled himself, trying not to let Reynolds know just how hungry he was. “Well…if it’s okay.”
They started eating in silence. Reynolds took a big swig of coffee, then asked, “Where were you camping at, boy?”
“A place called Rabbit’s Glen. I think we’ve figured out why it’s called that too. We’ve been eating lots of rabbit on this trip!” Mark shook his head as he drank some water.
Reynold’s gave a short laugh. “Yeah. Well, what ever keeps you going, I guess.”
“Are you on a hunting trip too?”Mark asked innocently.
Reynolds suddenly jerked his head up and glared at Mark. But he knew Mark’s question was in innocence. Instead of answering, he changed the subject. “If you give me just a minute, I’ll show you the way back. You’ve wondered quite a ways away, boy! I don’t think you realize just how far from Rabbit’s Glenn you really are!”
Mark finished his lunch then helped Reynolds clean up the dishes. As Reynolds stood, Mark noticed the gun in Reynold’s pants. “Don’t you have a holster, mister?”
 Reynolds stood up and whirled around. “Do you always ask so many questions? Just let me be, boy!” Reynolds commanded. Mark gasped at the harsh words and turned away. He knew he was being nosey.
Reynolds sighed. He put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, boy.” He bent down next to Mark. “The truth is…” he sighed. “I’m sort of…lost too.”
“Ya are?” Mark wrinkled up his face. “How can you help me get unlost if you are lost?”
Reynolds squeezed Mark’s shoulder. “No, son. I’m not that kind of lost. I’m…lost in another way…I’ve done things I regret – things I’m sorry for. Ya know what I mean?”
“Yes sir.” Mark nodded. “I think so.”
“That’s why I’m here, son. I’m sorry for what I did and I guess I’m…running away from it. Have you ever done anything you regret?”
“Oh, yes sir!” Mark answered without hesitation. “I’m gonna regret getting lost today when I get back to camp and my Pa starts yelling and punishing!”
“You think he’ll give you a whipping?” Reynolds asked.
“Oh, Pa never whips me. He gives me a good smack on the back side and an ear-pulling, but he doesn’t whip me.” Mark sighed. “Course…the punishment he gives me is usually worse than any whipping he can possibly give me!”
“I wish my problem could be taken care of that easily.” Mark saw regret come over Reynolds’ face. “Well…we better go!”
Reynolds wanted to get rid of this boy as fast as he could. If the posse caught up to him, he wanted to be the only one in the line of fire. He didn’t want to be the reason an innocent child was gunned down.
It was now almost 2:00, and Lucas was heading back to the camp to see if Mark had returned. He didn’t know where that boy could be, but every minute he was gone was putting more worry on Lucas. Not only that, but if that boy was okay, he sure was in for some punishment!
“Mark! Mark, where are you!” Lucas yelled. His voice was getting sore from calling so much. He was worried. He hated not knowing where his son was. He just had this dreadful feeling that something was terribly wrong!
When he returned to the camp, he realized that Mark hadn’t been back. The horses were still grazing where they had been left that morning..
The longer Mark was gone, the more convinced Lucas was that something definitely was amiss.
Lucas headed north to see if Mark had wondered off that way.
Mark and Reynolds were getting closer to the camp. Mark stayed ahead of Reynolds as he led the boy in the right direction. He had to stop and let Reynolds catch up. At one point, his new friend laughed and said he wished he were Mark’s age again so he could go as fast. “How does your father keep up with you?”
Mark simply shrugged. “My father’s awful tall – and he’s fast! He can do anything!”
Reynolds nodded. “Most fathers can, I reckon.” Mark didn’t miss the regret in his voice. He wondered what Reynolds was lost from.
They weren’t far from Rabbit’s Glen when Mark stopped to let Reynolds catch up. But as Reynolds came toward Mark, he suddenly froze. His eyes grew wide. “Mark…” he said slowly and deliberately. “Don’t move!” Mark was turned away from Reynolds and didn’t understand what he was saying. So he turned to look at him.
That’s when Mark heard the unmistakable sound of a rattle. Only a second later, he felt a sharp pain in his leg. Mark let out a cry and reached down for his knee. The snake scurried away.
Reynolds wasted no time. He rushed over to the boy and knocked him to the ground. “Stay still, boy!” Reynolds demanded as he tore the pants back from the bite. He reached in his pocket and grabbed a knife.
Mark’s eyes grew big. Reynolds had no time to waste. He couldn’t even explain to Mark what he was doing. As quickly as he could, Reynolds grabbed a firm hold on Mark’s leg and cut an X in it.
Mark let out a blood-curling scream. But Reynolds ignored it as Mark cried. Blood oozed from Mark’s leg. Reynolds bent down and began sucking the blood out. He sucked and spit…sucked and spit…over and over until he thought he was going to be sick.
Mark cried loudly. Not only was he crying from the pain, but he was also crying from fear. “I want my pa! Pa, where are you?” Help me!” Mark cried. “I want my Pa!”
“Okay, boy…okay!” Reynolds said while he continued the task.
Mark was shaking from fear. “Am I gonna die?”
Reynolds stopped. He lifted his head and looked into the boy’s eyes. He knew what he had to do. Reynolds knew what the sacrifice meant, but he’d rather be dead than cause his selfish acts to kill this gentle, sweet boy. He placed a hand on the boy’s cheek. “You’re not gonna die!” Hs picked the boy up in his arms and stood up. Reynolds took off toward the camp as fast as he could.
When he got there, he saw a horse tied to a tree and grazing. Without a word, he untied the horse and jumped on him bare-back. He straddled the boy in front of him and wrapped his arms around Mark as he grabbed the reins. The boy was weakening. “Hold on to me if you can, boy,” Reynolds said. “Wrap your arms around me and hold on tight, son.” He commanded. “We’re going to get you to the doctor fast!”
Reynolds dug his heels into the horse’s flank and raced off as fast as he could.
Lucas was desperate. Mark had been missing for several hours now. He knew he needed to get some help. As he rode down the street, he desperately looked around for Mark’s horse. His heart sank as he realized the horse simply wasn’t here!
Common sense told Lucas that Mark wouldn’t have come this far alone, but perhaps someone had taken him or found him hurt. He hurried over to the Marshall’s office. The Marshall was busy talking to a group of men, so he waited, pacing the floor. Suddenly, Marshall Wilson walked over to Lucas. “Can I help you?”
Lucas nodded. “My name is Lucas McCain. My son, Mark, and I have been camping a few miles out of town on our hunting trip. He’s been missing since 9:00 this morning. I need some help finding him and-“ Lucas’s voice became desperate as he spoke. Every man could see the worry and heartache in the man’s eyes.
But Marshall Wilson shook his head. “We have every available man working on a posse right now, Mr. McCain. A man killed a man and his wife a couple nights ago and we have to find him. This man is dangerous. We think he may be camping around Rabbit’s Glen-“
Suddenly, Lucas McCain’s eyes grew wide and he gasped. “Rabbit’s Glen? That’s where we’ve been camping!” Lucas suddenly felt like his legs were giving out. He sat down and placed a hand on his forehead in desperation. “Why did I leave him alone?” He felt his heart sinking.
“How old’s your boy?” The Marshal asked sympathetically.
“He’s barely ten years old, Marshall. He’s only ten. I’ve got to find him!” Lucas put a hand to his forehead. “My little boy is out there all alone! It’ll be dark in just a few hours and it’ll be even harder to find him! I’ve got to…” Lucas swallowed. “You’ve got to help me! He’s all I have!”
A horse raced into town and didn’t stop until it got outside the doctor’s office. Everyone stared and started walking down the street. They whispered and pointed fingers at the man climbing from the horse with a boy in his arms. The boy’s arms weakly laid around the man’s shoulders. Reynolds felt the stares and heard the whispers, but he was too busy to pay any attention.
Reynolds held the boy in his arms and hurried up to the door. “Open it!” he demanded. “Now!” The man standing closest to the door opened it, but he didn’t take his eyes off the killer for a second. Reynolds rushed inside. “Dr. Samson, this boy’s been rattlesnake-bit!” He shouted. “I cut the bite and got out as much of the poison as I could!”
Dr. Sampson hurried up to the boy as Reynolds laid him down. He looked up and stared at Reynolds, but didn’t say a word. Suddenly, he felt men grab him from behind. They dragged him out the door and onto the street.
Hearing the commotion down the street, the men meeting in the marshal’s office hurried out the door and down the street. A moment later, one of the men stuck his head back into the Marshal’s Office. “Marshall, Reynolds just rode in bare-back on this horse with a boy. He took him to the doc!”
At the sound of this, Lucas turned and pushed past the crowd slowly gathering outside. He ran down the street and stopped as he saw the horse. ‘
“That’s Mark’s horse!” He rushed up to the horse. “This is Mark’s horse!” He looked toward the doctor’s office. “Mark…Mark!” Fear gripped his very being as he hurried toward the office. But just then, two men cam out. They were dragging Reynolds. Reynolds was flinching from the rough treatment.
Lucas watched as a man pointed a gun at Reynolds’ head.  “I’m going to kill you!” he shouted.
Lucas cocked his rifle, ready for a fight if anyone asked for it He looked at Reynolds, unsure yet if he was going to allow the man to live or not. If he was the reason his son was hurt, he’d kill him! “You brought my boy in?” he asked in a demanding voice.
Reynolds nodded. “I-“ One of the men grabbed his arm and bent it back so Reynolds couldn’t say anything else. Lucas pointed his riffle at the man. “Let him go! I want to talk to him now!” He pointed his rifle at the man and stared hard into his eyes.
They let Reynolds go. Reynolds gasped as he rubbed his arm. “Your son wondered into my camp, lost and hungry. I was taking him back to your camp when he was bitten by a rattlesnake.”
“A rattle-“ The blood drained from Lucas’ face as he looked toward the doctor’s office. He could only imagine what was waiting for him inside.
Lucas bolted forward but Reynolds placed a hand on his arm. “I cut the bite and sucked the poison out. Since he seems to be coherent, I think he’ll be okay.”
Lucas looked into Reynolds’ eyes. He gave him a small smile. “I don’t know what you did to deserve the treatment you’re getting…But I want to thank you.” He didn’t wait for an answer, but rushed inside.
The doctor was bending over the bed wiping Mark’s face with a moist rag. “Doctor?” The doctor turned away. “I’m Lucas McCain. This is my son.” Lucas swallowed. His eyes filled up with tears as he walked toward the bed and looked down at his son. “How…how is he?” Mark’s face was white and his lips pressed firmly together.
“It’s hard to tell, Mr. McCain.” He turned and looked at Lucas. “But I’ll tell you this much….He has a heck of a chance since Reynolds found him and cut out the poison. If he hadn’t been there…” The doctor shook his head. “He would have had no chance of survival at all. That snake really lit into him.”
Tears fell from Lucas’ eyes. “So you mean…” Lucas swallowed. “He’s not going to die? He’s…” Lucas closed his eyes. “He’s going to live?”
“I’m saying that I don’t know if he’s going to live or die. Only God in Heaven knows that.” The doctor shook his head. “There’s just not much we can do for snakebites – except what’s already done. By the time they get to me, it’s too late.” The doctor patted Lucas on the shoulder and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Lucas pulled up a chair and sat right beside his son’s bed. He swallowed hard as he looked down at his son’s hand. “Mark…” he whispered. He picked up the boy’s hand and pressed it to his cheek. “Son, I…I love you…You cannot die.” He closed his eyes and wept. “You…You cannot die…”
Lucas stared at his sleeping face. Beads of sweat laid on his forehead. Lucas picked up the rag and washed it. “We’ve come so far together, Mark. We finally have our ranch. When we get back to town, it should be about time to settle in it. Your mother’s dishes should be here. You know how much you’ve been looking forward to seeing them again…” Lucas sighed as rubbed his son’s cheek. “Oh son, don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me!”
For the next few hours, Lucas stayed at his son’s side. He just stared into his son’s pale face and prayed. Mark began mumbling about hurting. The doctor gave him something to sleep. After leaving the room, Lucas suddenly felt he needed to be closer to his son. He took his boots off and crawled up onto the cot. Then he pulled his son up on top of him and held him close.
As Lucas stroked his arms gently and pressed his lips to the top of Mark’s head, he spoke softly. “Remember the turkey shoot?” Lucas sighed.  “I threw that match to save your life. I have no regrets. I just wish I could have taken that bite for you, son…” Mark felt so hot in his arms. Lucas started weeping again. “When I walked out of the saloon and saw those tears in your eyes…it broke my heart. Oh son, I love you so very much!”
Lucas again pressed his lips to his son’s head and kissed him. Suddenly, he remembered back at the camp and his orders to Mark. “Oh….why did you have to disobey me???” he cried out.
The sun was shining in the only window of the room as Mark slowly opened his eyes. He felt really weak and groggy. At first he didn’t know where he was, but as he opened his eyes he saw his pa sitting beside his bed, his head in his hands. Mark weakly lifted his hand and placed it on his father’s.
Lucas jerked and looked up. Mark saw that his father’s eyes were red and swollen. “You found me. I knew you would,” Mark mumbled weakly.
Lucas leaned forward and placed his hand on his boy’s flushed cheek. “Don’t you know that when you’re lost I’ll never stop until I found you?” Father and son looked into each other’s eyes. Finally, Lucas lifted his head toward the ceiling. “Oh Dear God, thank you for giving me my boy back!” Lucas cried out.
Lucas just stared into his son’s eyes silently. There was too much emotion for him to speak.  “How are you?” He finally asked.
“I don’t feel so good, Pa,” Mark answered as he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Mark…” Lucas swallowed before he asked the question. “Son, what happened to you? Why did you leave?”
Mark closed his eyes as they filled with tears. “Oh Pa…I saw the biggest buck and I…I…I’m sorry I disobeyed, Pa.”
Lucas nodded. “We’ll talk about that later, when you are feeling better. I’m just glad you are okay!”
“He saved my life, pa.”
Lucas lifted Mark from the bed and cradled him in his arms. “Oh son, I thank God he was there!”
“Is he here? Can I thank him?” Mark looked around the room.
Lucas forced himself to look into Mark’s eyes. “He’s in the jail, son.”
Mark lifted his head from his Pa’s arms. “In jail?” Mark shook his head. “No, Pa! He didn’t hurt me! He saved my life.”
“And I’ll always be grateful to him for that.” He hugged Mark again, not being able to find words to say.
“Then why is he in jail?” Mark asked quietly.
Lucas laid a kiss against his son’s cheek. Then he put his son back on the cot and covered him up. “You must be hungry. I’ll run to the café and get you some soup.” He started to stand up.
Mark held tight to his hand though. “Pa, why’s he in jail?” He demanded.
“We can talk about it later.” Lucas answered.
But Mark shook his head. “You told me you don’t want to keep things from me…ever. Why’s he in jail, a?”
Lucas didn’t want to tell his son. He so wanted to protect Mark from this. But Mark was right – they didn’t keep things from each other. “Mark,” Lucas sighed and took both Mark’s hands in his. “He killed a man and his wife two nights ago. He’s in jail for murder.”
Mark let out a gasp. “He couldn’t have, Pa. He just couldn’t have.”
“He doesn’t seem to be denying it, Mark.”
Mark lay back on his pillow, suddenly feeling very weak. He remembered their conversation from earlier about him being lost and running from something. He wished he could take it back. “He’s sorry he did it.”
“You knew?” Lucas asked, surprised.
“He said he was lost. He said he had regrets.”
“Well maybe so, son. But he’ll be held accountable for his actions.
“What will happen to him, Pa?” Mark asked suddenly.
Lucas lifted his head and looked up into his son’s eyes. “You know the answer to that as well as I do, son.”
Mark gasped. “But…he SAVED my life, Pa!!!!”
Lucas squeezed Mark’s hand. “He killed two people, son.” Mark stared as Lucas stood up and walked toward the door. He didn’t turn back to Mark. He knew Mark was upset, and he’d leave Mark to come to terms with this himself. “Someday you’ll understand, son.” He opened the door and lifted his head. “I’ll go get you some soup. Stay there until I get back.
Lucas helped Mark button his shirt the next day. The bite on his leg still hurt, but the doctor had put a clean dressing on it and gave Lucas some balm to put on it . Both were ready to get home.
Lucas offered to carry Mark to the waiting wagon he had rented for the trip, but Mark insisted he could walk. Mark wanted to ride his horse back, but Lucas shook his head, stating Mark’s cut could reopen. The doctor had agreed.
As Mark limped toward the waiting wagon, he looked up to see the Marshal’s office. “Pa?” Mark stopped walking.
“What is it, son?”
Mark silently looked at the jail. “Let’s go, son,” Lucas said firmly.
“I just…I want to thank him and…and say goodbye.”
“I did that for you, son. There’s no need to…” Lucas’s words died on his tongue as he looked into his son’s eyes. He nodded. “Alright, son.”
Father and son walked toward the jail. Lucas kept a firm hold on Mark’s arm as he tried to walk. They went inside. “Marshal…” Lucas nodded.
“Marshal Wilson…” Lucas looked down toward Mark. “This is my son.”
The Marshal stood up. “Ah, yes…the missing boy has returned!” The marshal folded his arms. “Well, young man, don’t you know better than to leave camps and go running so far way without telling anyone?”
“He sure does!” Lucas declared. “And when I get him home, he’ll understand it even better.” Mark groaned. “We’d like to get home before dark. Mark wanted to say goodbye to Reynolds.”
The Marshal suddenly looked up at Lucas. He sighed and shook his head. “I’m afraid that will be impossible, Mr. McCain.”
“But I have to! He saved my life!” Mark argued.
Lucas squeezed Mark’s shoulder. Marshal Wilson held up a hand. “It’s not that I won’t let you, son…It’s just that…” The marshal’s eyes lifted and looked into Lucas’s. “…he’s not here.”
“Where is he?” Mark asked hopefully.
“He broke jail last night, son.” Marshal Wilson shook his head. “Clobbered my deputy really good with his own gun. The deputy got too close to the bars…”
“But…he wouldn’t do that!” Mark argued. “He’s a nice man! He was helping me get back to camp when I got bit by a rattlesnake. He brought me here knowing that…”
“Mark!” Lucas gave his son a warning. He shook his head gently. Mark lowered his head. “Let’s go, son.” Lucas shook the Marshal’s hand. “I hope you catch him.”
“We will…one way or another.” The Marshal put his hands in his back pockets and walked the McCain’s to the door. “I’m putting out a Wanted Poster…Dead or Alive.”
“No…” Mark shook his head. “NO! You can’t!” he cried. “Pa, he saved my life.”
Lucas put a firm hand on his son’s shoulder. “Let’s go, son.”
“But Pa, you’ve got to make him understand what he did!” Mark turned around and looked at the marshal. “Sir…he SAVED my life! He’s not bad! He…”
“Mark McCain!” Lucas’ voice was sharp. “That will be all from you, boy!” Mark silently turned and limped out the door. He stood on the boardwalk, remembering all that Reynolds had done for him. Lucas stepped out and closed the door behind him. “Let’s go home, son.” Mark just stood there. He was upset that they would hunt his friend down like an animal. Lucas bent down and lifted his son up into his arms. “I said…let’s go home.”
Lucas laid Mark in the back of the wagon, much to his protest. He sat up as Lucas put a blanket around him for the trip home. Lucas started to push him back down, but he stopped when he saw a defiant look on his face. “Well…I hope he runs far and fast!” Mark declared. “I hope nobody catches him!”
“What about the man and woman he killed, son?” Lucas asked impatiently. “Don’t you think he deserves to be punished for what he did? Do you know he followed them home one night and shot them in cold blood?” Lucas raised an eyebrow at his boy. “I don’t want to hear no more about it.”
Mark lay down in the back of the wagon. He remembered Reynolds’ smiling face as they talked. He remembered how Reynolds’ had wasted no time in helping him. And he remembered him rushing to the doctor, knowing he’d be captured. No man who did that for a stranger was all bad. He didn’t deserve to be shot down. “I hope he runs far away!” Mark mumbled as the wagon started up. “I hope they never find him!”

The Debt episode #133

 Be sure & check our the prequel to this episode - Before the Debt by Deanne Bertram

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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