The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Stranger
 Written by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1

The first thing Mark noticed about the strange young man walking up the trail was that he was limping terribly.  As he came closer, Mark noticed that his pants were torn. As Mark slowed Blue Boy down, the young man continued walking. Mark stopped just behind him. “You need help?” Mark called out to him as he continued walking, total oblivious that Mark was behind him.

The young man turned around and smiled weakly.  That was when Mark noticed the young man was more of a boy than a man and was probably around sixteen or seventeen.  Mark smiled his eleven-year-old smile and jumped off his horse.  “You need help?” He asked again.

The boy nodded as he ran a hand through his hair.  “I lost my horse back there somewhere, son.  I’m not sure what happened…He stumbled and then he threw me and bolted!”

Mark took him by the arm and led him off the road.  They sat down under a tree and the boy began gasping for breath.  “You okay?”  Mark watched the boy close his eyes and lean his head against the tree.
 
“Maybe,” the boy answered.

“Should I go for the doc-“ Mark started.

“No!”  The boy said this word so forcibly that Mark jumped.

“Can I get you some water?”

The boy shook his head.  “I’ll be okay.  Just leave me be.”

Mark looked toward the road. His father had told him to get right home after school.  He was already running late because he had to wait for Nels to get finished shooing Blue Boy.  Mark wasn’t sure what was wrong with the boy, but he knew he had to do something.  “Um…what’s your name?”

“Scott.”

“Scott what?”

The boy lifted his head and stared at Mark.  “You ask too many questions.”  He closed his eyes and licked his lips.  “Listen, the truth is, I’m in a lot of trouble here, son.  I could use some help.  Can I trust you to help me?”  Mark nodded, waiting for the boy to say more.

“Okay.  Promise it will stay between you and me?  No one else can know.”  Scott waited a few moments and studied Mark’s face.  
 
“Honest, Mister, I won’t tell anyone! What’s wrong?”
 
“I’m in a lot of trouble, and I need you to believe me.”  Scott sat up straighter.
“I’m from a town about 100 miles away.  It’s called Willow Springs.”  Mark nodded, acknowledging that he knew of that town.  “Well, about a week ago, a woman and child were murdered.  I had heard a woman screaming while riding my horse home, so I stopped to see what the problem was.  When I got in there, I found them both dead and a knife lying between the bodies.  I picked the knife up…don’t know why I did it, exactly.  That’s when this other man walked in and saw me holding the knife.  He pointed straight at me and told me I would be hanged for what I did, so I ran. “

Mark licked his lips.  “Well, we have a really understanding Marshall here who-“

“NO!” Scott shouted.  “Don’t you see my problem, boy?  It looks like I did it!  No one can ever know about me!”  Scott sat against the tree.  “I was wondering if you know of a place I can hide out?  I’d need food and water to stay alive.  Perhaps if I hide out for a while, I can keep traveling west.  The posse will eventually give up on me.”

Mark looked around as if he was expecting someone to come sneak up on them.  “I don’t know if I can do that.” He knew his father would never approve of such a thing, But Mark’s heart was heavy. He believed the boy and wanted to help him.

Scott closed his eyes and sank back.  “Oh, I’m so tired of running.  The good Lord’s been watching out for me.  You know I was just finishing school back home?  My folks were gonna give me a nice little piece of land to start building a house.  Now, I’m just on the run.  I’m so hungry – haven’t had a bite to eat in days.  And…”  Scott sighed.  “Okay son, I understand.  I’ll oblige you if you let me just sit and rest here for a spell, then I’ll keep moving on.  Maybe I’ll find someplace to hide on my own.”  He turned and looked at Mark, who seemed to be deep in thought.  “Listen, son, don’t be sorry that you can’t help me.  You are a young child, and I’m sure your folks have taught you not to trust strangers.”

Mark nodded.  “My Pa has, yes.”

Scott nodded in keen understanding.  “Your Pa teaches you well, boy.  I’m a stranger with a sad tale, and you can’t just believe it.”

Mark turned to look over his shoulder again.  Then, he stood up and turned around to look at Blue Boy.  “Listen, Scott.”  Mark bent down next to him again.  “I can’t promise that I can help you until you are ready to move on.  But I’ll help you for as long as I can.  There’s an old barn you can stay in outside of town.  I’ll bring you food and water when I can.  That’s the best I can do.”

Scott patted Mark’s hand and smiled.  “That’ll be just fine, boy.  What’s your name?”

“Mark.  Mark McCain.”

***

Mark galloped home.  He had gotten the man settled for the night.  He gave the man half a sandwich to eat – Mark had it left over in his saddle bag from lunch.  Mark promised he would bring him something to eat on his way to school the next day.

He could see the ranch in the distance and knew his father was worried sick about him by now.  He was supposed to be home by 4 o’clock, and it was already 6:30 in the evening.  He could tell by the sun.
Mark galloped into the yard and saw his father rush out of the house.  Lucas’s hands immediately went to his hips and he watched Mark dismount from the horse.

“Mark-“ Lucas started.

“Pa, I’m really sorry!  Nels wasn’t done with the shooing so I had to wait awhile.”

“It took two hours?” Lucas asked, his voice lined with anger.

Mark bowed his head.  “I…I guess I dawdled in town for a bit.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows at his son. “You dawdled in…” He stopped and closed his eyes. “Well, since you are so late, you can just get in that house and do your homework!” Lucas ordered in an angry voice. He turned to walk back toward the house. But he turned back around. Anger flashed in his eyes. “Oh, and you can forget about that fishing trip we had planned for this weekend.”

“Yes sir,” Mark said sadly in a little more than a whisper.  He had disappointed his father, he knew.  He started toward the house, walking behind his father. “You fix supper already?”

“I did.” That was all that needed said.  Mark made his way into the house and sat down to do his homework.

It didn’t take long for Mark to realize his homework wasn’t going to get done.  His father had always taught him to be completely honest with him.  He had also taught him that keeping shut up about a matter was the same thing as lying.  But Mark knew his father wouldn’t believe the story Scott had told.  So for now, Mark couldn’t talk about it.

“It’s 9:00, son.  Go to bed.” Mark looked up at his father, then he looked back down at his paper.  “254” was the only thing written on it.

Lucas looked down at the paper.  “Well, I don’t suppose there’s anything for me to check tonight, son.”

Mark lowered his head.  “Sorry, pa.”

Lucas nodded as he bent down beside his boy.  “Something’s on your mind.” It wasn’t a question and Mark knew that.

Mark licked his lips.  “Not really.”

Lucas sat down at the table.  “Mark?” He asked sternly. Mark looked up into his father’s eyes. “What is it?”

Mark shook his head.  “Nothing, Pa,” Mark answered as he looked back down at his math book. Then he slowly stood up. He could feel his Pa’s doubtful eyes staring at him. “Goodnight,” he whispered.

Lucas watched his son close his math book and walk to the bedroom.  He shook his head, wondering what storm was about to hit the McCain Ranch this week.


Chapter 2

Lucas stood up from the table the next morning and set his dishes in the sink.  “I’m going to go saddle your horse for you, son.  Hurry up and finish eating so you aren’t late for school.”

Mark nodded.  When Mark was sure his father was in the barn, he stood up and reached for bag to put the rest of his scrambled eggs and bacon in.  Then he placed the small container of milk in his saddle bags.  He quickly grabbed a couple slices of bread.  That should keep Scott filled until lunch time.  Mark noticed his lunch sitting by the sink and opened it. His father had fixed him a sandwich and put some vegetables in it.  Mark noticed some slices of ham still laying on the counter, so he grabbed them and stuffed them in his lunch.  That and the vegetables his father always insisted Mark eat would be a good lunch for this newfound friend.

Mark hurried out the door and mounted Blue Boy.  Lucas grabbed the reins to keep Mark from galloping off yet.  He pointed a finger right at Mark and stated, “Now, you get straight home after school, you hear me, boy?”

Mark nodded before galloping off.  He hurried to the barn outside of town.  Then he dismounted and got the food out of his saddlebag.  Mark hurried up to the barn calling Scott’s name.  Scott came to the door and reached out for the food.  “I-I can’t stay and talk right now.  But I’ll come back and eat lunch with ya, if you like.”

Scott nodded.  “You like school?”

Mark shook his head.  “Not really.  My Pa thinks school’s important.  He even thinks I should go to college if at all possible.  He says a good education is necessary now days.”

Scott nodded.  “He’s right, Mark.”  He swallowed some milk as Mark turned to mount Blue Boy.  “You’ll be back at lunch then, right?”

Mark turned around.  He saw a deep desperation in Scott’s eyes.  Mark had half a mind to stay so they could talk, but he knew his father would surely skin him alive if he was caught playing hooky.  “Yes.  I’ll be here.”

“Well,” Scott stepped forward.  “I was wondering if you could…” Scott looked around, and suddenly saw an empty bucket.  “…could fetch some water from the creek for me before you go?”

Mark turned and looked towards North Fork.  Then he nodded.  “All right.  But then I have to go!”  Mark hurried and filled the bucket up.  Then he mounted Blue Boy and hurried off to school.

He was late.  Miss Adams let him know of her disapproval about it when he got in.  “You’ll have extra homework tonight,” she stated.  Then when she realized that Mark hadn’t done his math the night before, he was given even more homework.  Mark moaned at the amount of work he was given for the night.  When lunch came, Mark hurried to his horse and raced off toward the barn to eat with Scott.

The two settled down.  “Was it scary being out here all by yourself?”

Scott ate the ham in tiny pieces so he could make it last longer.  Mark watched in utter surprise as his heart began beating faster.  He hadn’t realized just how hungry the boy was until just now.  “I’m getting used to it.  I don’t like hearing the wild cats and wolves and such.  One night, there was a rattlesnake not 20 feet away.  I was lucky that he crawled off in the other direction.”

Mark handed Scott his tomato and carrots from his lunch box.  Then he took a big bite of his cookie.  “You miss your folks?”

“I do.”  Scott stopped eating and looked off into the distance.  “My mama was the best cook in the whole world!  Her cherry pie was the best you’d ever taste.  My Pa…seems he can do almost anything.  He worked hard building up the farm.”  Scott looked down at the meat in his hands.  “I was just going home when this happened.  I wish I could take those moments back…”

Mark watched Scott turn the tomato over and over in his hand.  Then he sat it down on the ground ever-so-lightly.  “Mama is probably crying herself to sleep every night.  I’m sure they were told I killed that lady.”

Mark swallowed the bite of cookie.  “But a Ma knows the truth, Scott.  You have to believe that.”  Mark heard the school bell ringing in the distance and stood up.  “I’ve gotta get back.”

Scott grabbed Mark’s arm.  “What about supper?”

Mark shook his head.  “I can’t.  Our ranch is about 30 minutes away from here…”

“Anything – anything will do!” Scott begged.

Mark licked his lips.  “I’ll see what I can do.” He hurried over to Blue Boy. “But no promises!”  Then Mark raced back to school.

***


Mark stared at the food on his plate and let another sigh escape him.  Lucas took a drink of his coffee as he studied his young son.  “Mark, what’s troubling you?”

Mark looked at his father.  “I have lots of homework.”

“That’s not what’s bothering you.”

Mark sighed and stared at his plate.  “I-I can’t tell you, Pa.  Not now.”

Lucas nodded. “Well, start clearing the supper dishes.  I’m going to go bed down the stock.”

Mark thought all night about how he could get some food to Scott.  His father kept a close eye on him and made sure he did his homework.  He had to check it twice, and made Mark do several problems over that he had gotten wrong.  After Mark finished his homework, Lucas suggested he go to bed.  “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to get out in the open, son?”

Mark nodded.  “Everything’s fine, Pa.  Goodnight.”

Mark waited until his father was asleep.  Then he got up and grabbed his saddle bag where he had stuffed the leftover food from supper.  Picking up his boots, he snuck out of the house and quickly rode to the barn.  Scott stepped out of the barn and watched Mark ride up.  “I’ve got to get back, Scott.”  Mark didn’t even dismount.  He just handed him the leftover food from the saddle bag, then turned to ride off.”

“Mark,” Scott stopped him.  Mark turned in his saddle.  “Thank you.”  Mark nodded and galloped home.
 

Chapter 3

Lucas put the last bag of feed in the wagon and made his way to the Marshall’s office for a cup of coffee and a talk with his best friend.  When he was about to go into the office, Miss Adams stopped him.  “What are you doing here?” Lucas asked.  It was only two o’clock in the afternoon.

“Oh, I left an older student in charge.  I was hoping I’d find you here.  Can I talk to you, Mr. McCain?”

Lucas nodded as he took off his hat and led her to a bench.  “Is it Mark?”

Miss Adams nodded.  “Mr. McCain, for the last week and a half, Mark has been acting strange.”

“Oh?” Lucas raised his eyebrows.  “How so?”

“Well, he’s late for school every morning, comes back late at lunch, and only has half his homework.”

“Late?” Lucas stared off into the distance, deep in thought.  “How can he be late?  I make sure he leaves at the same time.  He should be going straight to school.”

Miss Adams shook her head and folded her arms across her chest.  “He’s not, Mr. McCain. He goes somewhere every day at lunch too.  I don’t know what to make of it.  He’s short with me in class when I question him about it.  I’ve kept him after the past couple of days, but that seems to make him more anxious.” Miss Adams shook her head. “I don’t know what’s troubling him, Mr. McCain, but there’s something very wrong here. This isn’t Mark’s normal behavior.”

Lucas shook his head.  “I know something’s bothering him.  He won’t talk to me about it.  Is there anything else?”

Miss Adams hesitated. She looked over her shoulder, trying to decide on rather to tell Lucas or not. Then she slowly nodded. “I’m afraid there is. I hate bringing it up, because I trust you and know there are tough time when it comes to money, but...”  
 
Lucas wrinkled his brow and put his hands on his hips as his lips parted in puzzlement. “Well, go on.”
 
“He hasn’t turned in his weekly money dues.” Miss Adams looked down at the ground.

Lucas gasped as his eyes opened wide in instant anger at his son. “What?  I gave him that money Monday morning!”

“He’s just not acting normal, Mr. McCain.  Mark is usually on time and in good spirits with his homework done, thanks to you.  But-“

Lucas held up a hand.  “I’ve been trying to see that his homework is done.  I’ll nip this in the bud right today.  You can count on that.  Come Monday morning, he’ll be back to normal!” Lucas slowly shook his head. He’d have to take some firm actions against his son’s behavior, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
 
“I’m sorry I had to tell you...I…”

Lucas reached out and touched her arm. “Don’t be sorry. I have a right to know these things.” He put his hat back on. “Ask him to come to the Marshall’s office when he’s done, will you?”

Miss Adams nodded.  Lucas touched the tip of his hat and gave her a slight smile as she turned to leave.  Lucas shook his head as an uneasy feeling tugged at his heart.  Then he made his way into Micah’s office.  Right now, he really needed to talk to his best friend.

Lucas opened the door and stopped mid-stride.  His mouth popped open as he stared at the visitor in Micah’s office.  “Well, haven’t seen you around in a while!  What brings you down from Willow Springs?”
 

Chapter 4

Will Fulton stood up and shook Lucas’s hand.  “From the look on your face, I’d say there’s trouble.”

Will nodded.  “You can say that, Lucas.”  Micah stood up.  “There’s been some trouble in Willow Springs.”

Will turned away from Lucas.  “If you two don’t mind, I want to get some fresh air.  I’ll tell Lucas about it later.”

Lucas walked with Will outside.  “What about coming to the ranch tonight for supper?  You could sleep in the barn – remember the old times.”

Will smiled.  “I’d like that, Lucas.”

Lucas leaned onto the hitching post.  “So, how’s married life?”

“Well, it has its moments.”  Both men laughed.  Lucas saw Mark and Blue Boy come around the corner and he frowned.

Will noticed his change in mood.  “Is there trouble between you and the boy?”  Lucas nodded.  “Maybe I shouldn’t come then.”

Lucas watched Mark dismount and walk towards them.  “No. It may do us some good to have you there.”

Mark stopped as he started toward his father. He gasped. “Will?” He ran forward. “Will!” Mark raced up and shook Will’s hand.  “Whatcha doing here, Will?”

“I’m afraid it’s not good.”  Will answered. Lucas turned towards him and Will shrugged.  “There’s been trouble in Willow Springs.”

Both men turned when Mark let out a gasp.  Lucas stared at him, but Mark shrugged his shoulders.  “You haven’t gotten in trouble again, have you Will?”

“No.  It’s not me, Mark.  You see, my wife’s best friend was murdered.  She had lost her husband right after we moved there six months ago.  She had a five year old little boy and he was found murdered with her.  I was riding across the prairie when I heard her scream.  When I got there, there was a boy holding a knife over the body.  We are looking for him and have tracked him here.  I’d say he came here about a week and half ago, but we can’t figure out where’s he’s gone.”

Lucas knew Will had been deputized to work with the Sheriff part time in Willow Springs.  “Do you know why he did it?”

Will shook his head.  “He can’t be more than 17.  He may have had some interest in her or something.  I just don’t know.”

“You don’t know that he did it though!” Mark suddenly shouted out.  Both men turned and stared at him.  “I mean…” Mark licked his lips and closed his eyes for a second to regain his senses.  “I mean, you didn’t actually see him do it.”

Lucas watched his son with much interest.  “How do you know Will didn’t see him do it?”

“Well,” Mark looked from one man to the other, trying to come up with an explanation.  “I mean…Will said he came in and saw him holding the knife.  He may have heard the screaming and came to investigate – same as Will.”

Will and Lucas looked at each other.  Lucas shrugged his shoulders.  “Son, I want you to ride on home.  Will and I will be there directly.  I want you to get started on your chores.  Then you and I will have a talk after supper…in the barn.”

Mark didn’t like that tone in his father’s voice.  He knew that meant he was in trouble, and anytime the talk took place in the barn, it was big trouble.  Mark mounted his horse and rode down the street.  He watched Lucas and Will go back into the Marshall’s office.  Mark had to hurry if he was going to bring Scott some supper.  He quickly dismounted Blue Boy and hurried into the café.  “Can I have another one of your sandwiches?” Mark asked as he anxiously looked towards the door.  He laid the coin on the counter, than hurried out of town.

When he got to the barn, Scott came out with a big smile on his face.  But after he saw Mark’s solemn look, his smile disappeared.  “There’s trouble in town.” Scott stated.

Mark handed Scott the sandwich and nodded.  “I’m afraid that the person who saw you do it is an old friend or ours.”

Scott lifted his head with a puzzled look on his face.  Then he looked into Mark’s eyes.  “What are you going to do?”

Mark just stared into Scott’s eyes for a few moments.  Scott finally lowered his head.  “We’ve done a lot of talking over the last week and a half.  Do you really think I could do that?”

Mark sighed.  “I don’t want to think you could, Scott.  I mean…I can’t think you did.  After all you’ve shared with me, I feel like you are my friend.” Scott looked up into Mark’s eyes again.  “But, Will’s my friend too.  And my Pa…we are really close and I love him.  Keeping this from him is tearing me apart.  I’m afraid my teacher’s talked to him, so he knows I’ve been late for school and all…I just can’t-“

Scott turned his head away again.  “Then just go, Mark.”

Mark leaned toward Scott.  “Scott, you are my friend.  You can’t just hide out forever!”

“I said just go.”

Mark licked his lips.  “You know what my Pa’s always taught me about the truth?  He says that a lie will kill you faster than it’ll set you free.  When I was seven, I broke a vase that was very special to my mother.  I told him my friend did it, and I kept up that lie for a whole two weeks.  That was the hardest two weeks of my life.  That vase meant a lot to my Pa because he had given it to my Ma on her birthday before they were married.  My father found out and licked me.  He told me that if I had just told the truth in the first place, it would have been chalked up as an accident and we would have moved on.  But I let it fester inside me so much that the licking actually made me feel better.”

Scott sighed.  “I don’t think a licking will fix this.  But a lynching will.”

Mark didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he nodded.  “I’ll…” Mark stood up.  “Okay.  I’ll bring you some breakfast in the morning.  But this can’t go on much longer.  That dollar my father gave me Monday morning is almost gone.”

Scott nodded.  “Okay. I’ll be here.”

Mark turned from Blue Boy and looked into Scott’s eyes.  “You promise?  I mean…you won’t try to run?
If the deputy is here, then you know that the posse isn’t far behind.”

Scott’s eyes narrowed.  “The deputy?  He’s the one that saw me?”

Mark nodded.  “Didn’t you know?”

Scott shrugged. “I’ll be here, Mark.”


Chapter 5

Mark moved the beans on his plate back and forth as Lucas and Will began talking again.  He listened to Will talk about the murdered woman and her son, and each word made his heart beat even harder.  “Ann and Rebecca went shopping that morning together at the General Store.  They always laughed together.  Ann loved little Mikey…that’s what they called the little boy.  Ann wants to have a baby really bad, and she would watch Mikey when Rebecca had to do her farming stuff.  It’s not easy getting it all done by yourself and-“ Will suddenly stopped as his voice choked up.  “Ann needs me really bad right now, Lucas.  It broke my heart to tell her about the murders.  The doc had to give her something to make her sleep.”

Mark stared at the food on his plate.  His heart felt like it was going to beat through his chest.  “This boy that you saw…you know his name?” Lucas asked.

Will nodded.  “I…I think his last name’s Matthews.  He’s a seventeen year old boy that lives up the road.  His folks own a big farm. It’s a shame.  He was such a nice boy.  Never know what happens though, I guess.”

Lucas took a drink of his coffee.  “He’s a boy.  What happens when the posse catches him?”

“What do you think?” Will asked.  “That’s why I’m trying to get to him first.  A murder like that…he’ll be hung in the first tree they come to and-“

“Stop it!”  Mark cried.  “Just stop talking about it!”  Mark ran out the door and out of the yard.  Lucas ran to the door and watched him jump on Blue Boy and race away.

“What’s wrong with him?” Will asked.

Lucas sighed.  “Well, I suspect he has some information about that murder that happened.”

Will shook his head.  “How could he possibly-“ Will looked at Lucas.  “You think he’s met Matthews?”

Lucas nodded.  “I thought that in town earlier.  A father can tell these things.  I think I know where he went.  You stay here and I’ll bring him back.”  Lucas hurried to Razor and jumped on him to race off after his son.

***
Tears were blinding Mark.  He couldn’t even see where he was going.  He finally stopped by his favorite fishing spot and sat down.  He couldn’t believe his friend was the one who murdered that family.  It wasn’t possible!  Scott was so gentle and had so much love for his family inside him.  Mark stared at the water and studied it intently.  He had so many emotions inside him; so many questions, with no answers.  How could he decide what was the right thing to do?

“The answers are in your soul, son.  They are deep in your soul.  You have to stop your heart and listen to your soul.”  Mark remembered his father telling him that once when he was trying to work through another problem.  He closed his eyes and allowed himself to talk to God.  “Tell me what to do.”

“Mark?” Lucas called.

Mark didn’t even turn.  He opened his eyes and wiped the tears from his cheeks.  “I’ve got a problem, Pa.”

Lucas nodded.  “I know.  I happen to be a good listener, son.” He bent down behind Mark, but didn’t touch him.

Mark turned to look at his father.  Tears filled his eyes again.  He bit his lip and turned to stare at the water.  He felt his father’s hand touch his shoulder.  Tears fell from his eyes.  “I have this friend who’s in trouble.”

Lucas drew his arms around Mark’s neck and laid his chin on the top of his son’s head as he sat down behind his boy.  “I’m listening.”

Mark leaned back against his father’s chest. “This friend…He met someone who is accused of doing something horrible.  My friend has talked to him a lot over the last few days, and he knows in his heart and…and in his soul…that this friend is telling the truth.”  Mark lowered his head.  “Only, no one else believes him and his life is in danger.  So-“ Mark turned to look at his father.  “Is my friend wrong for protecting this friend?”

“Well,” Lucas put his hand under Mark’s chin to keep Mark’s face focused on his.  “This uh…friend…needs to remember one thing.”

Mark raised his eyebrows in question.  Lucas smiled as big as he could.  “This friend has a wonderful father who will listen to him and try to help his friend.”

Mark threw his arms around his Pa’s neck and let the tears flow.  “I’m sorry, Pa.  I’m so sorry about so many things!  I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you from the very beginning.  I’m sorry I didn’t come to you when it happened.  I’m sorry I ever promised Scott I would not tell anyone, because now I feel like I’m betraying him.  I’m sorry I got in trouble at school.  And,” Mark pulled away from Lucas to look into his father’s eyes.  “I’m really sorry that I took that dollar and spent it to help feed my friend.”

Lucas patted Mark’s back, then pulled him away.  “Now, start from the beginning, son.”

Mark told his father how he had found him half-starved on the road after being thrown from his horse.  He told him about how his friend was declaring that he did not commit the murder.  “I snuck part of my breakfast in my saddle bag every morning.  For lunch, I would sneak out food with my lunch.  A couple nights, I had to sneak out in the middle of the night to bring him food sometimes.” Mark hung his head when his father’s eyes narrowed at him.

“You don’t realize how much danger you were putting yourself in, son.” Lucas said, his voice held an edge of anger and disappointment.

Mark nodded.  “Yes sir.  But Pa, I know that he didn’t do it.  I know he didn’t!” Mark’s eyes pleaded for Lucas to believe him.

“Okay, Mark.  Where is he?”

Mark looked away.  The sun was setting behind the mountain now.  “I can’t tell you.  I promised Scott.”

“Mark, Scott is wanted for murder!” Lucas’s voice was sharp as he raised his voice.

“He didn’t-“ Mark started.

“Are you saying that Will’s a liar?”

Mark snapped his head around.  “Are you saying that Scott’s a liar?”

Lucas sighed and stood up.  “Okay Mark, we are on the same side here.  Let’s try working together instead of against each other, son.  We’re a team, remember?”

“Pa, what will happen?”

Lucas kneeled down in front of his son.  He put a hand on his shoulder and looked straight into his eyes.  “Mark, you have done your part in keeping your promise to keep it secret.  But, I am the adult, and I know what’s best, son.  I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure he get’s judged fairly.  I’ll try to find the answers.”

“Can I help?” Mark asked.

Lucas nodded.  “We’ll work on it together, son.”

Mark looked towards the road, then back to his father.  “Okay, Pa.  He’s in the old abandoned barn outside of town.”

Lucas patted Mark on the shoulder.  “Okay.  Let’s go.”

They started to mount up, but Mark stopped his father.  “Pa, it’s okay, right?  I mean, I’m not in trouble?”

Lucas only looked into Mark’s eyes and shook his head.  “No son, things aren’t okay.  But we’ll talk about that later.  Right now, let’s go find your friend.”

Mark and Lucas rode to the barn.  Lucas stayed out of site so the boy wouldn’t run off.  Mark walked to the barn and called Scott’s name several times, but no answer was heard.  “Scott!”  Mark called.  “Scott, where are you?”

Lucas hurried up to Mark.  “He’s gone, Pa. He promised he’d stay when I left him this afternoon.”

“You told him about Will?” Mark nodded.  Lucas raised his eyebrows at his son.  “Well, let’s go look for him.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of a loud, piercing scream from a man.  Then a shot was fired and all was silent.


Chapter 6

Lucas cocked his rifle and started in the direction of the gun shot.  Mark started to follow, but Lucas shook his head.  “You stay here, son.  You stay right here.”

“But Pa, you said I could help!” Mark argued.

“Stay there, Mark.  Don’t disobey me again.” Lucas cautiously started forward. Lucas made his way up the hill.  He saw a boy standing over a body.  Lucas pointed his rifle towards him.  “Alright son, turn around nice and easy!”

The boy turned around slowly, his hands raised.  “I didn’t do it!” he shouted.  “I swear, I didn’t do it.”
Lucas came and grabbed the gun from his hand.  He examined the gun.  “It’s just been fired.”

The boy shook his head from side to side so fast that his head could have popped off.  “I didn’t do it!  The gun was laying here…right by the body!”

“You expect me to believe that…Scott?”

Scott’s head popped up.  “How d’ ya know my name?”

Suddenly, Mark came up behind his father.  “He made me tell, Scott.  I’m sorry.”

Scott looked at Mark pleadingly.  “Mark, you know I’m telling the truth, right?”

Mark looked from Lucas to the dead man, then at his father, who still held the weapon that committed the murder.  “He couldn’t have, Pa.”

“Mark!”  Lucas was growing angry.  He was in no mood to argue this anymore.  “I found him kneeling by the body with the gun in his hand!  What more do you want?”

“You didn’t see him-“ Mark started.  But Lucas shot a warning look at him that stopped him mid-sentence.  “What are ya gonna do, pa?”

“We’re taking him to the jail, son.  We have no choice.”  Lucas tucked the gun into his pants and kept the rifle trained on Scott.  “You go back to the ranch and get Will, then ride in with him.”  Mark only stood and stared at Scott.  Lucas jerked his head around and pointed at his son.  “Go on, Mark!” He ordered harshly.

Mark shook his head slightly. His eyes filled with tears as he slowly backed away.  “He didn’t do it, Pa!  I know he didn’t!” Then he turned, ran to Blue Boy, and rode back to the ranch.

***


“Who’s the dead man?” Micah asked for the third time.  But for the third time, Scott stated he didn’t know.

Lucas ran a hand through his hair.  “Scott, we just want to try to understand.  What were you doing up there?”

“After Mark left, I got scared and decided I needed to leave before the posse found me.  So I started up the hill.  I hadn’t gone far when I heard a man scream and a gunshot, so I hurried over in that direction and found this man dead.  I saw the gun lying beside him and picked it up.”

Lucas put both hands on the desk and leaned on it as he tried to take this in.  “I can’t believe your story, son.  You picked up the knife when you found in by the dead woman in Willow Springs and got caught.  Then you come here and picked up the gun?  A person would have to be stupid to make the same mistake twice!”

“Now, who’s the dead man?” Micah asked again.

Scott sighed “I didn’t do it!  I didn’t kill him!” he shouted.

Suddenly, Will hurried inside and looked at the boy.  “That’s him.  That’s the boy I saw hovering over the body.”

Scott tried to stand up, but Lucas pushed him back down.  “Why’d you kill the woman?” Will was in his face.  “Why, Scott?  She was always nice to you!”

Scott gave a laugh.  “Why is it so hard for you people to understand?  I didn’t do it.  I didn’t do it.  I didn’t do it!!!”  Each time he said those words, his voice got louder.  “I’m telling the truth!”

“Who is the dead man?” Will asked.  He suddenly grabbed Scott by the shirt and lifted him out of the chair.  “Who is he?” Will’s face was only inches from Scott’s.  “Tell me!” Will screamed.

Mark ran up to Will.  “Stop it!  He didn’t do it, he told you!”

Will suddenly let go and sat down in a chair.  Scott had grown quiet, only staring at a wall.  He suddenly put his head in his hands and moaned.  Then he looked at Mark.  “Send him out.  I don’t want him here anymore.”

Mark looked from his father to Micah, and finally toward Scott.  “No, Scott.  I don’t want to go.  Please just tell them what you told me.”

“I said send him away.” Scott closed his eyes and lifted his head toward the ceiling.  “I won’t say a word until he leaves.”

Lucas took a silver coin form his pocket.  “Go over to the restaurant and get yourself some dessert, son.”
Mark stared at this father.  “No, Pa.  Please don’t make me.”

Lucas stood up and pushed Mark toward the door.  “Stay over there until I come to get you , you hear?”

Scott watched the door close.  “Okay, I’ll confess.  I did it.  I did it all.”

 
Chapter 7

Will shook his head as he and Lucas made their way to the wagon that contained the body of the dead man.  Scott still would not give any details, but just begged to be put in the cell and given something to eat.  “I don’t know what to make of it, Lucas. First he swears he didn’t do it.  Now he declares he did.

Why did he send Mark out of the room?”

Lucas sighed.  “I suspect it’s because Mark was his friend, and he didn’t want to hurt him.”

Will lifted the blanket and looked at the body.  “That’s Jeffery Peters!” Will declared. He was a neighbor of Rebecca’s.  “What’s going on?”

Mark came up from the restaurant.  “Pa, where’s Scott?”

Will bent down and laid his hands on Mark’s shoulders.  “He’s in jail, son.  I’m afraid he confessed.”

Mark looked towards the Marshall’s office.  “He’s wrong, Pa.  I know he’s lying.”

“Why?” Lucas asked.  “Why would he lie?”

“Pa, I’ve talked to him a lot.  I think he’s hiding something.  But I think it’s more out of protecting someone. “ He suddenly remembered something.  “He said that Will said he’d hang for what he did.”

“When?” Will asked.

“When you saw him in that lady’s house holding the knife.”

Will screwed up his face in a confused expression.  “He didn’t even know I was there, Mark.”

“What do you mean?  That’s why he ran – because someone told him he would be hung.”

“Mark,” Will kneeled down in front of him again.  “Mark, he didn’t see me.  His back was towards me.  I came through the front door.”

“But, he said a man came through the-“ Mark turned and looked at Lucas.  Lucas and Will looked at each other before hurrying to the Marshall’s office, leaving Mark in the middle of the road to scratch his head.


Chapter 8

“I asked if you have a brother?” Will asked.

“You know my family.  Have you ever seen a brother?” Scott asked without turning around.

Will stood outside the cell and heaved a long sigh.  “Get on your feet when I’m talking to you!”

Lucas couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth as he heard that. He looked at Will who looked at him.  Will had certainly come a long way since he stayed with the McCain’s.  Scott had been so surprised by such an order that he had obeyed.  “Now, do you enjoy being in that jail cell, son?”

“Of course not!”

“Mark said a man came to the back door and told you that you would be hung.  Is that true?”

Scott lowered his head.  “Yes.  It’s true.”

“Who was it?”

“I don’t know,” Scott declared.  But Will wasn’t buying it.  Neither was Lucas.  “Who are you protecting, boy?”

Scott leaned his head against the bars. “I done told you I did it.  Nothing else matters.”

Suddenly, the door opened and a woman looking to be in her 40’s walked in.  She hurried up to the jail cell.  “Blake!  Why are you in there?  Oh, I thought you were dead!”  The woman sat down on the floor and began crying.  “Where’s Scott?  Where is he?”

“Ma’am?” Lucas asked, helping her to her feet and into a chair.  “This is Scott.”

“No.  I borned those two boys!  I can tell the difference!”  Mrs. Matthews buried her face in her hands.  “No one can tell those two apart!  But I can.  I always can!”

“Twins!” Lucas declared.  “Why did you say your name is Scott?”

He closed his eyes and turned away.  Then he sank down on the floor, exhausted, and buried his face in his hands.  “I can’t do this anymore!  I’m too tired!”  Scott began rocking back and forth as the room grew silent.  Everyone watched him in anticipation, but nothing was ever said.  Will started to say something, but Lucas shot him a warning look and shook his head slightly to keep him quiet.

Suddenly, the mother spoke.  “I’ll talk if he won’t.”  Micah sat down at the desk and folded his hands.  Lucas and Will listened.  Mark stood at the door, but came in after gaining permission by a nod from his father.  He came and sat on his father’s knee as they listened to Mrs. Matthews.

“They were six years old when they watched their sister die.  She was only ten – much too young to be taken in such a sad way.  They were playing in the barn when she fell and…” Mrs. Matthews swallowed and waved her hand, stating she was moving on.  “Anyways, Scott blamed himself for what happened. He had sat the pitchfork there, and I don’t think he ever forgave himself.  As they grew older, Blake grew to be a wonderful child – well-mannered, well-behaved, and a great blessing to his father and me.  Scott…the guilt ate him up until there was nothing good left in him.  By the age of 13, he was too far gone.  No matter what we tried, he would return our efforts with hate and an evil wickedness.

“Anyways, he left home when he was 14.  I hate to say this, but it was a blessing, because we were terrified of him.  He came back about three months ago and started hanging out around the farm and at the neighbor’s…no one knew who he was because he tried to stay hidden.  He would stand behind the poor widow’s house and watch her as she did her work.  I was too afraid to tell anyone.

“Blake did everything he could to protect him.  Regardless of how rotten and evil of a boy Scott was, Blake did everything he could to love his brother.  I guess you can call it a Cain and Able relationship.  Anyways, anytime Scott did something wrong, Blake would try to make it right.  If Scott stole something from the store, Blake would go pay for it.  If Scott hit me, Blake would mend my wounds and make up a story as to what happened.

“I know that Blake is not responsible for that woman’s death.  I know Scott did it.”  Mrs. Matthews ran up to the cell.  “Blake, honey, you have got to stop protecting your brother!  He could do it to someone else!  Don’t you understand?”

Will stood up and came to stand beside Blake’s mother.  “It was Scott that I saw, wasn’t it?  He dropped the knife and ran out before I could get to him.  While I was chasing him in the woods, you came in.  He came back and saw you over the body.  That’s when you knew Scott had done it.”

Blake’s back was turned.  He refused to look at anyone.  “He couldn’t stand it.  She had a son about the age we were when the accident happened.  He said-“ Blake swallowed hard.  “He said that he didn’t want the same thing to happen to them.  He was falling in love with that woman, and he couldn’t let his heart feel those feelings.  Then when he saw her laughing with the little boy he snapped.”  Blake dropped to his knees and sobbed.  “He killed them!  He killed them!”

Mark and Lucas looked at each other.  Lucas put his arm around Mark, and Mark leaned his head against Lucas’s chest as he closed his eyes to fight his own tears back.  Micah sat at his desk, silent and hands folded.  Will laid a soft hand on the mother’s back as her heart ached for her son.

“What about the man in the woods?” Will asked quietly.

Blake lifted his head.  “Scott killed him.  He was part of the posse.  He actually found Scott – not me.”

Lucas spoke up when he felt his voice could be trusted.  “We need to find Scott before he kills again.”

Blake again put his head in his hands and sobbed.  “He’s dead.”

Every head in the room shot towards the cell.  Mrs. Matthew’s head shot up as she stared at her son.  “What?”

“I killed him.  The gunshot you heard, Mr. McCain wasn’t Scott killing that man.  He had already done that.  The gunshot you heard was me shooting my brother in the back!”
 

Chapter 9

The room grew silent again that night.  Blake’s last words seemed to echo over and over in the room.  Mark lowered his head and allowed tears to fall.  Lucas closed his eyes and sat his chin on the top of his confused son’s head.  Micah stood and silently walked towards the cell.  Mrs. Matthew slid down the bars of the cell to the floor. She clung to the bars, leaned her head against them, and wailed, as a mother in mourning, for her deceased son.  Will silently turned away from the cell, allowing Micah to take over.  Blake grew silent as he allowed everyone in the room to allow his words to sink in.
It was quite for a long time.  No one knew what to say.  The story was so tragic.  A whole family had been torn apart by a mere accident several years ago.  Today, the family was being ripped into small pieces and tossed into the wind.  Everyone knew what the outcome would be.  But no one wanted to speak of it aloud.  “Why?” This was the only word spoken to break the long, evil silence that was over the room.

Blake stood up slowly.  He laid a hand on his mother’s white hand.  “I couldn’t watch him kill anymore.”

“But, why did you shoot him in the back?” Mrs. Matthews spoke in a loud whisper.  The whisper could be heard throughout the room.

Blake swallowed as he laid his head against the cell.  His hand held his mother’s hand.  His forehead lay against his mother’s forehead.  He whispered softly, “Because I loved him too much.”

Mark’s head shot up. These words confused him, and he turned and looked at his father.  Lucas only shook his head.  “What”?” Mark stood up and walked toward the cell.

“I knew he had to die before he killed someone else.  I couldn’t turn my own brother in.  Nor could I let him see me point a gun at him.  So, I did the only thing I knew to do.”


Chapter 10

Mark lay in bed.  He was exhausted, but he could not go to sleep.  Suddenly, Lucas got out of his bed and came to sit beside his son.  He said nothing.  Most of the night had been silent, and now was no different.  Mark had to break the silence.  “Pa, I thought knowing the truth would bring me answers.  But it only brought me more questions.”

Lucas nodded as he took his son’s hand in his.  “I know son.”

“What will happen to Blake?  Will he have to spend the rest of his life in jail?”

“I don’t know, Mark.  There wasn’t a Dead or Alive order on his brother yet…But regardless of that – regardless of rather they free him or not...I know that he will carry what he did around with him forever.  He’ll never be free again.”

“Was he wrong?”

Lucas sighed.  “That’s a hard question to answer, son.  These aren’t questions I can answer.  What’s happened is tragic, but it’s part of life.”  Again, silence fell over the room.  Lucas knew Mark wasn’t asleep.  “Do you want me to sit here until you fall asleep?”

“Yes sir,” Mark answered.  He was silent for a few minutes.  Then he asked, “Pa, when are we gonna have that talk in the barn?”

Lucas smiled through his tears.  “I think we’ve had enough talking, don’t you?  I think we’ve all learned something from this experience.  In fact,” Lucas touched his son’s cheek.  “I think we’ll go fishing tomorrow.”

Mark didn’t hear him.  He had fallen asleep.

The End

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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