The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Thirteen
Written by Michelle Palmer

A Mark’s Memory Production

I studied my paper carefully.  Everything looked in order, but I knew Pa would want to check it for accuracy.  I stood up and ran into the bedroom where Pa had been for quite sometime.  I saw him going through one of our memory boxes that was usually kept under the bed.  “Pa, my essay’s done.”  I got no response.  I bent down next to Pa.  “Uh, Pa?” I reached out and touched his shoulder.

Pa jumped, startled by my sudden touch.  He stared at me then threw a hand to his chest.  “Mark,” Pa breathed a sigh of relief.  He gave a short laugh.  “You startled me, son.”

I sat down on the floor next to him and looked over his shoulder.  “What’s that?  It looks like scribbles on a paper.”

Pa’s smile widened as he put an arm around my shoulder.  “This, my dear son, is a work of art.  You were only three years old.”  Pa sighed as he thought back.  “Ten years ago.  Your mother was working on the laundry outside and you had a little cold.  There was a coolness in the air and she didn’t want you outside.”  Pa studied the paper in silence.

“Pa?”

Pa picked up where he left off as if he didn’t even hear me.  Maybe he hadn’t.  “You were so hurt because you couldn’t go with me on my chores.  I told you to stay at the table and draw me a pretty picture of your favorite thing, then I’d come in and look at it.”

“That’s it?”

“Hm,” Pa nodded proudly.  “This is it.”

I leaned my head on his shoulder. He squeezed me closer to his side.  “What is it?” 

Pa looked down at me and grinned.  “Well, this line here is you, son.  And this is me.  Over there is your mother.”  I looked up at Pa and smiled. “We’re out on the range herding the cattle.  You’d always sit on the saddle in front of me when your mother would allow you to go.  That was your favorite place – up on the saddle with me.”

Pa sat the picture down and picked up something else.  It was a picture of the three of us.  I was six years old.  “Two weeks before your mother died.”  Pa turned and looked at me.  “We’ve been alone for almost seven years now, son.  More years then you had your mother.”

“Thirteen’s a big year, huh?”

“Yeah.”  Pa swallowed.  “You’ve become a real man, son.  I’m proud of you.  In the last two weeks, I’ve watched you really get serious about your studies.  You haven’t gotten into trouble in about that long either.”  Pa put a hand on my face.  “My boy’s growing up.”

I looked around the floor.  “Are you reflecting on happier days gone by?”

“No, no, son.  I’m reflecting on my life as a father of a small boy.  In two days, I’ll be a father of a teenager.  I…” Pa stopped and swallowed.  “It just went so fast.”

I suddenly put a hand to his back.  “Well, if it’s all the same to you, Pa, I think I’ll stay a boy for a while longer.  I’m not ready to be all mature and grown up just yet.”

Pa smiled at me.  “Thanks, son.”  He stuffed the papers back in the box and shoved it under my bed.  “Now, about that essay you want me to read.”

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

“Mark, this is your final warning!” I groaned, hearing the firmness in Pa’s voice.  Pa stood in the bedroom with his arms crossed.  I saw him as I opened one eye.  “You’ll be late, son.  Now, get up.”

I groaned and stretched.  Then I slid out of bed.  My bare foot hit something on the cold floor.  I bent down and picked it up.  It had a bunch of three letter words written on it.  At the top, it had a great bit smiley face.  “Mark, I said-“ Pa stopped and walked over to the bed.

“What is this?” I asked, holding out the paper to him.

Pa grabbed it and sat down on the side of the bed.  He put a hand to his mouth as he grinned proudly from ear to ear.  “This, my son, is a paper from your second week of school.”

“My second week?”

“Hm,” Pa nodded.  “You teacher worked with you and the other children on the first day of school to learn reading and spelling.  She gave you a list of words to write down.  This is the list.” 

I looked down at the paper.  “But Pa…You said this was from the second week.”

“So I did,” Pa answered.  “You see, you weren’t too keen on the idea of going to school.  If you think back, you might remember the fits you threw that first week and the final trip to the barn we took to get you started back on track.”  Pa shook his head as he stared at the paper.  “You were a stubborn, stubborn little boy!  You refused to do your homework, and you tried to run and hide every morning.  Your mother took everything from you she could, but you didn’t’ care!  You wouldn’t give in.  I finally took you to the barn and tanned your britches.  The next day, you willingly went to school.”

I thought back to that time.  I reckoned that was the first and only time I ever did get my britches tanned.  I remembered Pa telling me it wasn’t a laripin or hitting – it was a spanking out of love.  “That weekend, we again told you to write your words.  You did.  This is the paper you turned in on Monday.”  Pa smiled.  “You were such a cute little boy!  Those sunken dimples on your cheek as you handed us the paper.  Your Ma threw her arms around you and squealed so loudly.  Then you said, ‘Ma, I get a cookie now?’”

Pa continued staring at the paper.  “Well, you best go eat your breakfast.  I’ll be in there in a minute.”

I knew Pa was again walking down memory lane.  On the way out, I saw my slingshot sitting on top of the dresser.  I wasn’t allowed to take it to school with me, but today, while Pa was distracted with my paper from seven years ago, I grabbed it off the dresser and hurried out the door.

Pa walked with me out to my horse.  He suddenly felt uneasy – like I was leaving to never return.  “You be careful now, son.”

I had one foot in the stirrup and froze at his words.  I turned and cocked my head to one side.  “Pa, I’m going to school like I always do.  You act like I’m going off to war.”

Pa smiled and slapped my shoulder with his hand.  “Just uneasy this morning.”

“Oh, by the way, Pa, I think everyone in my school will be here for my birthday party tomorrow night.  I told them we’d have plenty of cake and ice cream.”

“Ice cream?” Pa put a hand on his hip and stared at me.  “I never said anything about ice cream.”

“Oh, but Pa, we have to have ice cream!” I stated.  “Besides,” I cocked my head to one side.  “You make the best ice cream in the world and uh…I only turn 13 once!”

Pa narrowed his eyes at me as a grin spread across his face.  “Oh, you!” He gave me a smack on the back side.  “Get to school!”

I laughed as I mounted my horse. “Now, remember Pa, this year I want a rifle for my birthday.”

Pa shook his head.  “You already know the answer to that!”

“Well then, a dog?”  Pa sternly pointed toward the road.  “Yes sir.”

I didn’t turn around to look as I rode away.  I didn’t have to.  I knew Pa was shaking his head at me.

I smiled happily as I rode to school.  But when I was half-way there, I stopped my horse and peered down the path.  The stagecoach was coming down the lane at a high rate of speed.  They usually didn’t come this far out toward the ranch unless something was wrong.  I sat there on my horse and studied the cloud of dust as the stagecoach got closer and closer.  My instincts told me something was wrong.

Suddenly, I heard gunshots.  I saw horses running along side the stagecoach.  It took a minute of my studying on it to figure out what was going on.

The stagecoach was being held up!

I turned my horse and started back towards home to get Pa.  But the driver in front suddenly shouted, “You stop, boy!”  I kicked my heels into Blue Boy’s flank and he neighed a protest, but ran faster.  Suddenly, a bullet whizzed right past my ear.  Blue Boy startled and reared back on his hind legs with a loud cry.  I held tight, but held Blue Boy at an abrupt halt.

I was soon surrounded by three men on horses.  Two more had the stagecoach pulled over on the side of the road.  I swallowed, suddenly terrified for what they were going to do.  “What…what do you want?” I asked in a shaky voice.

One of the riders – the one with the long, bushy mustache and a scar that ran clear across his forehead, smiled really big as he looked me up and down.  “Well, it’s jut a kid!” He laughed.  He saw my books on my saddle horn and lifted them up.  “On his way to school.  Too bad you didn’t decide to play hooky today, kid!”  He looked behind me at another man who was grinning from ear to ear.  “Ain’t it, Mole?”

Mole laughed.  “It sure is, Lizard!”  Mole reached out and smacked my face a few times.  “Yep, still wet behind the ears alright!  Hey, you know how to use a gun?”

I turned and stared at all three men.  “N-No,” I answered.

“Oh, too bad,” Lizard exclaimed as he ran a hand across his sunken cheek.  “Never played shootout with a boy as young as you.”  He leaned forward.  “How old you, boy?”

I swallowed as I looked around again.  “What do you want?” I asked again.  This time I asked it a little more forcibly. 

Mole grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me toward him.  I had to hold tight to the saddle to keep from falling out.  “We want you dead,” he sneered.  “Now, get down off that horse!”

I swallowed hard as I obliged him.  After I got down, I turned and looked at the other men.  “Why don’t you take the money and go?  You done shot the driver and got the money.  What else do you want?”

“I done told you, we want you dead!” Mole smiled at me again.  “You see, nobody’s ever been able to identify us.  We don’t want no pictures on our Wanted Poster!  Nobody knows who we ‘er, but now…now you’ve seen us!”

I gave Blue Boy a hard smack on the rump and he took off at lightening speed.  Lizard took out his gun and shot at Blue Boy as he raced down the lane.  Blue Boy cried out in pain, but kept going.  “Get after that horse, Shark!” Mole yelled to the third man.

“Run Blue Boy, Run!” I cried out.  Silently, I prayed he’d make it home to Pa in time.

“Fool Boy!” Mole smacked me hard across the face.  I winced, but made no sign of pain as I continued staring at him.  He drew out his gun and stuck it under my chin.  “Say yer prayers!”  He cocked the hammer.  I closed my eyes as a tear ran down my cheek.

“Mole, put it away!”  I heard another voice order. 

Mole looked up with a grunt.  “But boss, he-“

“I said put it away!”  Mole jammed the gun into my chin.  I kept my eyes closed.  “Now!”

My heart calmed when the metal was no longer pressing to my chin.  I opened my eyes to see the boss of the gang glaring at me.  “What’s your name, boy?”

looked around.  “Ma-Mark.”

“Mark?  Mark…what?”

“Just Mark!”

The boss slapped me hard across the face.  I closed my eyes as pain shot through my stinging jaw.  “Mitchell!” I lied.  “Mark Mitchell!”

“Want me to finish the driver off?” The fifth rider walked up to the group.  “He’s still breathing, but he’s shot bad.”  The boss didn’t say anything.  “Boss?”

Boss turned around and slowly shook his head.  He looked up at the sky.  “No,” he answered.  “I reckon the buzzards’ll get him soon.  Maybe they’ll do some peckin’ afore he meets his maker!”

I gasped as I turned my head toward the wagon.  Mr. Cole laid there.  I’d known Mr. Cole for a long time – he’d been the very first stagecoach driver I ever knew.

Shark came back without my horse.  “Sorry, Boss.  I don’t know where he went.”

The Boss cursed.  He took out his gun and held it in his hand.  Wiping his forehead with his gun hand, he walked back and fourth as he thought.  “Okay, let’s get the boy in the coach and-“

“No Boss, we need to kill the boy right now!” Mole argued.

Boss came over and smacked Mole hard.  Mole cried out in pain as his nose began bleeding.  “I give the orders round here!  No one else!”  Mole nodded.  “Now, we’re gonna have an angry Pa following us shortly, and I hear tell that an ugly cuss lives here with the name a McCain.  I don’t want to tangle with him.  I done had my run-in with him back in Oklahoma a few years back.”

I closed my eyes in relief.  I was so glad he didn’t know McCain was my Pa.  I know they would have shot me on sight!  They dragged me over and put me on the stage.  I asked them to get the driver, but they said he was as good as dead anyhow.  I listened as Boss turned toward the other members of the gang.  “Shark, you ‘an Skunk ride on ahead to the next town.  We’re gonna hit Bannick day after tomorrow.  You two be there.”

I watched them ride off.  “Who are you?” I shouted.

Lizard walked up to the Coach and grinned.  “Ever heard of the Snake Gang?”

I had from my Pa.  He told me some wicked stories on them from Oklahoma.  I couldn’t let them know who they were though.  I shook my head.  “Don’t look like much, though!”

Lizard slapped me hard.  I felt blood ooze out of my mouth.  “Shut your trap!”

Boss ordered Lizard to ride along the stage on his horse.  “I’ll take the other side.  Mole, you drive!”

I was the only one in the coach.  Apparently there were no passengers aboard this stage, and I was glad.  The stage took off at a fast speed.  I began digging in my pockets to see what weapons I had to fight with.  I was no longer a child.  Tomorrow I’d be thirteen.  I was old enough to fight now.  I was old enough to go up against the outlaws.

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

We had been traveling for a solid two hours.  I looked out the window.  Nothing looked familiar to me.  I leaned my head against the back of the seat and closed my eyes.  Oh, how I wished I was in school right now day-dreaming about my party I was having tomorrow night!  My birthday’s tomorrow.  My head suddenly banged against the side of the coach as the stage ran over a rock.  I began to wonder – would I live to see my thirteenth birthday?

I felt tears filling my eyes, but I pushed them back.  I knew there was no time for tears at the moment.  I had to stay focused on my task at hand.  I had to get through this.  I looked down at the seat.  I had my pocket knife and my slingshot.  I also had a couple nickels I had been saving for candy after school.  Those are all the weapons I had to work with.

I knew Boss was on one side of the coach and Lizard was on the other.  Driving the stage was Mole.  That gave me three outlaws to fight.  I looked down at the slingshot and knife.  I didn’t have much to fight them with!

I sat back and remembered the story from the Bible Pa had read last Sunday – it was one of my favorites about David killing a Giant that threatened his people with just a slingshot and three stones. 

Three stones.  There were three men…I didn’t want to kill anyone, but if I could knock them unconscious long enough to get them away, I-

“Oh Pa, do you even know I’m missing?” I whispered.  “Do you think I’m at school?  I wish I was!  Oh, how I wish I was!”

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

I opened my eyes.  The stage was slowing down.  I leaned over out the window and saw the Boss holding up his hand toward Mole.  I reckon we would be stopping for a spell.  I sat quiet as a mouse in the coach and listened to what was about to be said   “Let’s get rid of the boy here, take our horses, and go!” Lizard suggested with a gruff voice.

I peeked out the window.  The three men were standing together talking.  “Have you forgotten I make the rules round here, Lizard?” Boss sneered at him.  He folded his arms.  “Now, we’re still undetected.  Nobody knows where we are.  This road isn’t used that much except by dumb sodbusters who don’t know no better!”

“Boss, there’s tracks and dust following us all the way from North Fork!” Mole argued.  “We have no choice but to kill the boy and ride like the devil on our horses.”

Boss took out his gun and pointed it at Mole.  “Like I said, I’m the boss.  You wanta do more arguing?”

“Boss, you’re crazy!” Lizard argued.  “Supposing that McCain fella gets in on the posse?  Will we have a chance?”

“Mmmmm…” Boss thought as he scratched his head with his gun hand.  “Not much of one.”

I knew I was just about to die.  I had to act fast!  Their backs were all turned to me.  I quietly opened the door of the coach and snuck out.  I peaked around the corner.  “Alright Lizard, you do it,” Boss ordered.

“Me?” Lizard asked.  “Why not Mole?  He was all set to do it!”  There was silence.  I slowly began walking off the road and toward the woods.  “I’ve never gunned a kid!”

“Oh, you coward!” Mole shouted as I continued making my way into the woods.  “Alright, I’ll do it.”

I darted behind a tree.  I couldn’t see the coach from my position, but there was no mistaken Moles angry growl.  “The kid’s gone!”

“Well, he couldn’t have gone far!” Boss replied angrily.  “Lizard, you go that way, Mole that way.  I’ll look in the woods.”

I looked around me.  There was no where to go without being a sitting duck.  I grabbed my slingshot from my pocket and picked up a small stone.  Aiming for some bushes across the way, I shot it.  My plan worked perfectly!  Boss turned and shot at the bush where my stone had landed.  “Alright, you stupid kid, come on out!”

Stupid!  Ha.  I’d be stupid if I thought I stood a better chance standing in front of him then hiding behind this tree!  For now, I was safe!  I looked behind me and saw a big rock I could hide behind.  Chances were I had more bullets for my weapon back there.  I started running.  Just as I landed behind the rock, I tripped over the root of a tree.  My ankle twisted as I went down.  I put a hand to my mouth to keep my cry from sounding too loudly.

Pain shot through my ankle.  I knew it was a bad sprang if not a break.  Oh, why had I been so clumsy?  What was I going to do now?  I knew I had no choice – it was me or them!

They searched the woods for a long time.  By looking at the sun , I could tell that it was getting to be afternoon.  About 2:00.  I was supposed to meet Pa in town when school let out at 3.  If he didn’t know I was missing, he soon would.

I suddenly gasped.  I heard footsteps quickly approaching.  I peaked around the rock and saw Lizard looking around.  He would soon be by the rock where I was hiding.  I closed my eyes and prayed to my Protector. 

“Pa, how old you reckon David was when he killed that Giant?” I remembered asking as I sat on the floor at Pa’s knees last Sunday morning.

“Well, the Bible doesn’t say son, but I’m figuring he might have been around your age,” Pa had answered as he smiled down at me.

I thought on that for a minute.  “Supposing that I come up on a giant, Pa.  You thinking that maybe I could slay him with a slingshot?”

Pa bent down and looked at me.  He smiled and placed a hand on my cheek.  “It wasn’t the slingshot that saved David that day, son.  It was his faith in God.  He was fighting for the Truth – He stood up for his God.  You remember what he said, ‘You come to me with a sword and a spear; but I come to you in the name of the Lord.’”

I had looked down at my own Bible and read those words again.  “You suppose I’ll face a giant someday, Pa?”

Pa had sat back and sighed.  “I hope not, son.  As your father, I pray you will never have to face a giant.  But if you ever do, remember that you’ll always have me and God backing you.  Have faith in that son.”

I looked down behind the rock.  I stared at the man.  He was closer now, but his back was turned.  I looked up at the sky and prayed for God to help me.  Then I looked down at the ground.  I found a large stone.  If I aimed just right, I’d be able to hit him right between the eyes.  Pa had done some yelling about me practicing my target shooting on the playground at school.  I’d even had this slingshot taken away from me at times.  But today, I was glad for my disobedience to the school rules.  Pa was right – this was a weapon as dangerous as his Winchester!

I looked up at the man.  Taking a deep breath, I whispered, “You come to me with a sword and a spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord.”  My shaking hands brought the sling back as far as it would go.  I closed one eye and aimed it right at his head.  The man turned and started to draw his gun.  I let go.

The man grunted as he fell to the ground.  I had rendered him unconscious.  Painfully, I scooted over  to him and looked down.  He had a pretty bad head wound.  I knew he’d be out for quite a spell.  I took his six shooter and winced as I scooted back behind the rock.  I stared at it.  I’d never be able to use it, and Pa told me that a man with a gun he didn’t know how to use was more dangerous then a man with a gun who knew how to use it.  I emptied the bullets from the chamber and pocketed them.  Then I threw the gun back toward the man.

I knew my odds of escaping alive had decreased considerably.  As soon as Boss and Mole found Lizard, they’d be after me!  I sat down behind the rock and closed my eyes.  What was I going to do now?

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

I closed my eyes and listened carefully for any sound of footsteps.  Pa had taught me and taught me well.  He taught me how to listen like an Indian for the slightest movement.  He taught me to listen to my senses deep inside me to tell when I needed to come on guard.  I had looked around for a better hiding place.  I’d even thought on running deeper into the woods.  But Pa told me never to run into a situation blind.  That’s exactly what I’d be doing if I ran deeper into the woods.  And with the way my ankle was aching and swelling, I didn’t figure I had much of a chance anyhow.

I thought back to all the times Pa had to get himself or me out of scrapes.  Many times, he had to use his rifle, but he said he never shot to kill.  Sometimes, a quick shot couldn’t be aimed right – and many times, shooting at vital organs was the only sure way to know that you would not be killed yourself.

I remember one time as we rode home after such a shooting, I told Pa I was actually proud of how great he was as using the rifle.  He had just killed a man.  Pa suddenly stopped the wagon and jumped down.  “Jump down here, boy!”

He took my hand and walked me into the woods.  “It wasn’t long ago that the whole New Mexico territory was just like these here woods.  Oh, I don’t mean the trees and grasses – I mean the wild wilderness.  There was no law and man had to use weapons to stay alive.  It’s not like that anymore, but here I am still having to use this.”  Pa held the rifle out to me.  “Touch it, son.”

I reached out and touched it.  “This is a weapon.  A deadly weapon.  What you are touching isn’t what makes it deadly though.  It’s the man behind it.  Son, whatever weapon you have, remember that it’s another human being or animal – another one of God’s creatures – standing in front of you.  God made that person or animal on purpose.  There are no accidents in God’s nature.  I didn’t know the man I killed or what demons he faced.  But I had no choice.”

I stared into Pa’s stern eyes.  I was only ten at the time.  Pa kneeled down in front of me and laid a hand on my shoulder.  “Mark, after the killing, never, ever be proud.  Allow your heart to cry.  Allow your hands to shake.”

My eyes suddenly popped open and I looked around.  There was no sound coming from the woods.  It was quiet.  Too quiet.  I had complained many times about hearing the same old lectures over and over and about getting the same stern teachings over and over.  But I was beginning to see why Pa had done it.

My stomach growled.  I’d been stuck behind this rock for hours.  I looked down on the ground and picked up another large stone.  I wiped the tear that came to my eyes.

Suddenly, I heard two voices in the distance.  I strained to listen.  I looked behind me and heard the man moaning.  He had moaned a few times and was bleeding to death.  But there was nothing – absolutely nothing – I could do about it.  I was prepared to shoot him again, but only if I had to!

“Because he’s a blazing idiot, that’s why!”  I couldn’t tell which man that was talking.

“He’s probably lost here in the woods somewhere!”  The voices were getting closer. 

“Oh God, what am I going to do?” I prayed.

Pa’s words echoed in my head.  “Have faith…have faith…have faith…”  I took out my pocket knife and opened it, ready to use it if I had to.

I often wondered if I’d actually be able to hurt another man.  My first use of a deadly weapon against a man showed me I had the courage to protect myself.  I suddenly found I didn’t need a rifle – at least not yet.

“He’s just a little kid!  He’s only – what – eleven?  Twelve at the most?” That was Boss and he was getting awfully close.  “You go back and watch the road.  I’ll just walk down to this rock, then go looking somewhere else.”  The sound of a wild cat was heard.  “If he went deeper into those woods, he’s a goner anyhow.  These woods are full of Cougars.  This is Cougar Canyon.”

I swallowed hard.  We were far from North Fork!  I had no idea how to even get back.  I hid behind the rock and held tight to the knife.  I began breathing heavily as the footsteps got closer and closer!  I looked up from the rock and saw Boss.  His gun was drawn and he was walking straight toward me.  I’d be discovered in another minute.  I grabbed my slingshot and aimed it at the man.  If he turned, I’d be able to get him right between the eyes.

My hands were shaking something awful as I again whispered, “You come to me with a sword and a spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord.” 

He heard my whisper and whirled around.  I let the sling go and again, he toppled over.  But he moaned and reached for his gun.  I stomped on his hand and held it down.  The wound on his head was worse then the other man’s, and he soon leaned back and went to sleep.  I grabbed the gun and pocketed the bullets.  Now I only had one man left.

But I had another problem.  The other man was coming to.  Oh, what was I going to do?  I didn’t want to hit him again.  The man sat up slowly looked around.  I grabbed another stone and aimed it at the man.  He held up his hands.  I turned and looked at Boss.  He was still out cold!<

Again, I repeated, “You come to me with a sword and a spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord!”

The man slowly stood.  He painfully smiled at me and started toward me.  My hands were shaking as I again let the sling go.  He fell to the ground but wasn’t out.  I stared at my knife.  My hands began shaking as I reached to pick it up.  I didn’t know if I could use it on a man or not!  “Help me God!” I cried out loud.  “Help me!”

Suddenly, I grabbed a big rock and bashed the man on top of the head with it.  He fell to the ground, cold.

He wasn’t breathing!

I sat back against the rock.  My hands were shaking and my eyes were burning with tears.  I brought my knees to my chest and buried my face in my arms as I wept for what I had done.

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

“Boss?  Hey Boss?” I heard the last man holler.  It was Mole, and he was the meanest of them all.  I looked up at the sky.  It was getting close to 6:00 now.  The sun was almost down and I would soon be here alone with a mad man and a man who would be mad when – and if – he came to.  I scooted over to Boss and looked at him.  His wound was bad.  He had lost a lot of blood.  I wasn’t sure if he’d live through this or not.

I winced as I stood.  “Please God, give me strength!” I cried out.  I stood, but couldn’t put much weight on my ankle.  I was afraid I would be doing more damage to my ankle, but right now I had bigger problems.  I picked up my knife and slingshot and cautiously made my way to the front.  I painfully hobbled and hid behind the tree I had hidden behind at my first escape. 

“Boss!” Mole screamed again.  “It’s getting dark!  We’ve got to get out of here!”

I turned and looked on the ground for another stone.  But then I looked down at the weapons in my hands.  I had killed a man today.  Could I ever use these again?  “Hey kid, if you’re out there, you better show your face afore them cats come out after ya!”

 I closed my eyes to regain strength.  “Have faith…have faith…have faith…” Pa’s voice echoed loud and clear again. 

I couldn’t stay out here very much longer.  My shaking hand picked up the stone.  I took the slingshot and got it ready.  Then I stepped out from behind the tree.

There he was – right in front of me.  Tears flooded my eyes as I pointed the slingshot at the man.  His gun was still holstered.  I sniffed loudly as tears filled my nose.  “You…You come to me with a sword…and a…” I swallowed.  “and a spear…” I drew the sling further back, closed one eye, and aimed.  “But I come to you in the name of the…Lord!”

 I held my fire.  Mole stared at me and suddenly started smacking his hands and laughing.  “A slingshot and God?” he asked.  “That’s all you think you need?”  He laughed.  “Oh, let me guess! You are David and I’m Goliath!”  He backed away as he laughed.  Then he stood up straight and started toward me.  “Okay, boy, I-“

I kept my aim and fired.  The stone was rather large and hit him right between the eyes.  A grunt escaped him as he fell to the ground.  His eyes were open and he stared up at me.  “I’m thirteen!” I shouted as I wiped the tears from my eyes.  “I’m thirteen tomorrow!”

I grabbed his gun as his eyes closed.  I emptied the bullets from it then threw the gun down.  I didn’t wait around to see if he was alive or dead.  I closed my eyes and cried out in pain as I quickly ran as best as I could to the road, got on a horse, and raced off in the opposite direction as the last rays of sun sank behind the mountain.

**********

It was pitch black now.  I had no idea where I was, nor did I know if I was even going in the right direction.  I heard the cats screaming from the woods.  “Have faith…have faith…have faith…” Pa’s voice kept tune with the clip clop of the horse’s hooves.  With my good foot, I kicked in on the flank for him to go faster.  I had been riding for a long time and was so tired, I was about to fall out of the saddle.

 Suddenly, I heard a noise.  It was another horse – two or three more horses – and they were coming this way!  I stopped the horse and fell off of him.  I cried out as pain again shot through my broken ankle.  “Oh God, help me!”  I crawled off the road and into the woods.

Suddenly, the horses stopped.  I stayed quiet and hid my face.  I prayed it wasn’t those men returning for me.  My shaking hands once again opened my pocket knife and readied the slingshot.  I began feeling around in the grass for a stone but couldn’t find it.

The footsteps were silent but stepped off the road.  They were getting closer. 

More desperately, I began feeling around for a stone.  Tears burned my eyes.  My face was soon wet with tears and sweat as I heard the footsteps come even closer.

“Mark!” I gasped.  That was my Pa’s voice.  “Hello?  Who’s out here?”

I wanted to call out, but was afraid those men were there.  This could be some sort of a trick.  My heart pounded in my chest.  My throat closed up.  I couldn’t speak.

Tears again wet my cheeks. 

“Mark, if you’re here, it’s okay, son. It’s Pa and Micah.  It’s just us.  Mark?” Pa’s voice called out.

I whispered his name.  Then I closed my eyes and screamed, “Pa!  Over here!  Oh Pa, I’m over here!”

I lifted my head and saw Pa’s shadow run toward me.  A light lit his way.  “Over here, Pa!  I’m over here!” I cried.

Pa found me.  He fell to the ground and picked me up into this strong arms.  “Mark!”  He cried.  I suddenly felt wet tears on his own cheek.  “Oh Mark!  Thank God you’re alright!”

Pa lifted his head from shoulder and looked into my eyes.  “Blue Boy came back shot and I’ve been looking for you, son.”

Suddenly, I remembered what I had done.  I suddenly felt a deep sadness sweep through me and I began shaking uncontrollably.  I clung to Pa and wept bitterly for a long time.  Pa didn’t know what to think and just held me and rocked me back and forth.  He patted my hair.  “Sh, Mark.  Sh, son.”  He said over and over.  “Pa’s here.  You’re alright!”

 I couldn’t speak!  How could I admit that I…I killed a man – maybe more?  Is that what coming of age is about?  If not, I didn’t want my birthday!

Pa picked me up in his arms and carried me, but I continued clinging to him and crying.  My moans became less frequent, and I soon fell asleep.

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

When I woke up, I was riding in front of Pa on his horse like I used to when I was little.  For a minute, I didn’t understand what was happening, then it all came back to me.  “Oh God, no!”  I began crying again.  Pa’s arms was around me and he clinched as I began shaking.  “Oh God, forgive me!”

We were riding into North Fork now.  Pa stopped in front of the Doctor’s office and hollered for help.  I vaguely remember him handing me down to someone and hurried into Doc’s office.  I laid down on the cot, turned over and cried.  Someone touched my ankle.  That’s when I remembered that I had hurt it.  I cried out in pain.  “I’ll give him a shot,” Doc Burrage mumbled quietly.  “He needs to sleep.”

“No,” I cried.  “Don’t take the pain away!  Pa said I need to feel the pain!”  But I felt the needle go into my arm as Pa’s strong hands held me down.  Everything went black.

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

I slowly opened my eyes.  The room was bright with light.  I looked around to discover I was in my own bed at the ranch.  Milly sat at my side reading a book.  I groaned at the pain I felt in my ankle and she jumped up.  “Lucas!” she shouted.

 Pa hurried in from the other room and bent down beside me.  “Hello son.”  Pa smiled tearfully as he smoothed the hair back from my face.  “How’s your ankle?”

I stared at Pa., then at Milly.  I put a hand to my forehead as I tried to remember the events that had happened.  Suddenly, I remembered.  “Pa, what is today?”

Pa smoothed the hair back from my head.  “It’s Saturday,” he answered softly.  “It’s your birthday.”

“Bannock!” I shouted suddenly.  I sat up, but the room spun around.

“Take it easy, son.”  Pa grabbed me and pushed me back down on the bed.  “Doc has you on some medicine to help you sleep.  He said you shouldn’t move around on it too much.”

I wanted to cry out again about everything I remembered.  But first thing’s first.  “Pa, they’re planning on job in Bannock!  Shark and Skunk are there waiting for the others.”

 “Shark and Skunk are in jail, son,” Pa answered.  “They never made it to Bannock.”

I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.  “What about the others?”

Pa looked at Milly.  He motioned for her to leave.  Milly gave me a look of sympathy and told me she’d be just outside the door.  I watched her leave then turned back to Pa.  “Well?”

Pa lowered his head.  “Well, after Blue Boy came back yesterday morning, I took off looking for you.  But then I knew I needed help and raced into town for Micah.  Together, we looked for along time.  The coach left a pretty good trail, but we came up on Shark and Skunk..  I knew Boss from back in Oklahoma and knew they were part of his gang.  That’s when I really began to worry.  Well, we were finally able to head them off and Micah’s deputies took them back to North Fork.

“I also knew that you were in grave danger.  They’d have no trouble gunning a kid.  It was getting dark by this time, and by the time we found the coach, you’d already done your work.”  Pa pulled out the slingshot.  “You went up against a giant, son.  And you won.”

I stared at Pa as he spoke those words.  He wasn’t smiling.  He was looking quite grim.  I swallowed.  “I didn’t win,” I said. Tears began to fill my eyes again.  “Are they…”

Pa stood up and walked to the window.  He stared outside for a long time.  “Part of me wants to lie and tell you they’re fine.  I know what it feels like, and no man – or child – should have to live with this hurt.  I knew what you were feeling last night when you begged me not to take the hurt away.  You wanted to feel it, but I couldn’t stand it, son.”

“I want the truth, Pa.” I really did want the truth.  “I’m pretty sure that Lizard’s dead.”

Pa came back and sat down on my bed.  He took my hands in his and looked into my eyes.  “He is.”

I bent my head down and allowed the tears to come.  I wrapped my arms around Pa and wept bitterly.  “I didn’t mean to kill him!  Oh God, I didn’t mean to kill him!” I cried out.

Pa was crying too.  I heard him sniffing.  “I know you didn’t, son.  So does God.”  Pa lifted me up and cradled me like I was a baby.  “I hurt for you, son.”

After my tears were spent, I pushed back and looked into Pa’s eyes.  “Mole and Boss?”

Pa lowered his head.  “They are critically injured.  Doc doesn’t think Boss will make it.”

Again, I cried.  “Can I pray he does?” I asked.

Pa nodded.  “Of course you can, son.”  Pa put his hands on my face.  “Mark, I know this is something you’ll have to live with the rest of your life.  Every man I’ve killed has chipped away at my heart.  It’s hard to get over a killing.  But never…ever be sorry it hurts you so bad.  I love you for the pain you felt.  It makes me proud that you have such a tender heart.”

“Pa, God’s who did it.  Each time I went to face the giant, I said those words.  Each time, God fought for me – just like he did for David!”

Pa’s eyes again filled up with tears.  He held me close as he cried tears of joy.  “I’ll help you through this, Mark.  I promise you that!”

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

Pa wrapped my ankle up after he helped me get my pants on.  “I’m sure glad it wasn’t broken!” I declared.

Pa smiled nervously.  “Something wrong?” It was Saturday night and I had insisted on going ahead with my party.  It took some convincing, but Milly was finally able to talk him into having a short party.  She promised she would personally scoot the guests out the door if I started feeling the least bit overwhelmed.

Pa carried me out into the living room and sat me down at the table.  Milly smiled at me proudly and blinked the tears back from her eyes.  The cake sat in front of me.  Pa walked over and hugged her, thanking her for being here.  I smiled as he placed a quick peck on her cheek.

“They can come in now,” Milly announced.  Pa went to the door and called everyone inside.

We had cake and ice cream.  I got some curious glancings from some of my school friends.  I suspect Pa had a stern talk with them about not mentioning the events of the last two days.  I was glad, because I’d just as soon forget any of it ever happened.

But then Micah arrived.  Pa took a deep breath and looked at me nervously.  He grabbed Milly’s hand as if she was holding him up.  “Okay, Micah has an announcement!”

I stared at Micah.  “As you know, the Snake Gang has been on the run for years.”  Micah looked around the room as everyone grew deathly quiet.  “There was an award out for them, and the bank who’s money was on yesterday’s stage donated additional money.”  Micah took out a piece of paper from his pocket.  “Mark McCain, I’m giving you a bank draft in the amount of $3,500.00.”

The air left my chest as my mouth popped open.  There were gasps all around the room as everyone stared at me.  Micah held the bank draft out to me and my shaking hand reached out for it.

 I stared down at the amount on the check, but couldn’t believe the amount it was for.

But then I started thinking.  I remembered the man lying there with blood all over his head after I killed him.  I had taken that life from him.  I remembered those other two men who may never recover because of my hands.  I knew I had done the only thing – if not the right thing – I could do.  But I also remembered the pain and anguish it had caused not only me and Pa and Milly…along with others in this room; but also the families of those outlaws and their friends. 

I looked up at Pa, remembering times he was handed award money and rejected it with a shake of his head.  I was never able to understand how he could just give money away as if it was nothing. 

But at the age of 13, I now understood.  I understood better then anything!  I looked around at the group.  With tears in my eyes, I stammered as I tried to speak.  Suddenly, I felt Pa’s firm hand on my shoulder.  Milly came to stand behind him.  Pa put his arm around her as he kept his hand on my shoulder.  They gave me the strength to say what I had to say.

I cleared my throat.  “Last Sunday, Pa and I read from the Bible the story of David facing the Giants.  We had a long talk afterwards and Pa told me that, like David, as long as I have God on my side I too can face the giants.  Out of disobedience, before leaving for school yesterday I snuck the slingshot out the door with me.”  I paused and looked up at Pa who only smiled and shook his head.  “I could sit here and say that it was the slingshot that saved my life.  But that wouldn’t be true.  I-“  I suddenly felt tears in my throat and I bent my head down.

Pa bent down beside me and whispered in my ear.  “You can do it, son.  Have faith.”

I lifted my head and smiled.  “So many of the things Pa taught me about life and God went with me out in those woods.  It was God who saved me – not the slingshot.”  I looked around at the group.  “I’m sure most of you know that that weapon killed a man and fatally injured two others.”  I shook my head.  “But I never wanted that to happen.  I just wanted to get back to my Pa.”  I looked over at Pa who smiled.

I lifted my shaking hands.  “This is blood money.  It’s not an award.  I didn’t win anything.  Instead, they lost…everything.”  I bowed my head.  “I think this money should go into a special account so we can hire ourselves a right proper preacher and work at fixing up the parsonage that was damaged in the last storm we had.  And-“ I turned and looked at Pa.  “If those men who died had a wife and children, I would like this money to go to them as well.”  I handed the money back to Micah.

I looked around the room.  There were many stares.  Some were disappointed, some surprised, but only a few were proud.  I turned and looked at Pa.  He again had tears of pride in his eyes.  “Did I do right, Pa?”

Pa folded his arms around me.  “You did right, son! You did just right!”

Milly bent down beside Pa.  She looked at me proudly and scooted my hair back.  “Mark,” she sighed as her own ears filled up with tears.  “You are just like your father.  Happy 13th birthday!”

You know, I did get birthday presents that year, but I don’t remember what they were.  I knew that my best birthday present I ever received was a step into manhood that day, and seeing the pride in the faces of all who cared so deeply for me.

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

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