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The Battle Within A Young Gun
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

Chapter One — Get Ready For This

The late 1800’s brought many changes to Western life. Cattle ranching became modernized, small ranches gave way to larger concerns, and the entire country hungered for more and better beef. The railroads took over from the cattle drive, fences now dominated the landscape, and Indians that once roamed the plains were long gone. Those who stuck to the old ways rarely prospered, those who were willing to change could make great profit.

North Fork, New Mexico, was like many farming towns across the country. Just far enough away from a major city to preserve the Country way of life, yet close enough to Santa Fe to have access to modern things. Men who believed in their community fought hard to stay in such towns. They took what they needed of those modern ways in order to survive, but shunned the temptations of city life. They protected their children and many stayed home to work on their farms. But modern ways also gave rise to the opportunity for advanced education and pioneering of new frontiers.

Lucas McCain knew that his son, Mark, was one of those destined to become modern. Even though Mark was not fond of school at an early age, he eventually came to the conclusion that ranch life could only go so far. With so many adventures and trials behind him, he craved something different. He had met a famous writer and developed an intense interest in exploration from a guy named Huck Finn. His distaste for chores frequently lead him to explore his mechanical nature, ever mindful of how to save time for better pursuits. Lucas encouraged Mark to think for himself, to avoid following the crowd, and to earn his way. Mark was witness to his father’s bravery many times over. This bred in him a quality of leadership and willingness to stand up for himself. Mark had become a man and Lucas was proud as any father could be. In fact, prouder than most, because he had largely raised him on his own. That is why Lucas had such a huge smile on his face, and maybe a tear or two in his eyes as the train pulled out from the North Fork station with his only son on his way to college.

Lucas had a very full plate in his life, trying to keep the ranch going strong. He always knew the day would come when Mark would take off to see that modern world. There was little time to think of himself up until this point. Hard work was a way of keeping his mind off of earlier times when tragedy ruled his life. His wife, Margaret, had been gone for a very long time, but for a man alone most of his days since, it still seemed like only yesterday. Milly and other women of North Fork were great friends and helped to give Mark a sense of normalcy , but Lucas never felt a powerful enough urge to remarry. His bravery was strong because he saw his wife give her life to save others. He lived that principal as second nature from what he experienced during the Civil War, as well as from fighting Indians and outlaws.

Over the years Lucas tried to hire ranch hands, but nobody wanted to work as hard or be as loyal as he wanted. Ranch work was easy to find and the best men went to work for the larger ranches in fancier places. By this time, Lucas was a pillar of the community and a much beloved figure. North Fork appointed him honorary Sheriff status for life. If Lucas wanted something achieved in town, it was usually as good as done. Mayors and lawmen came and went, but Lucas was the rock that held fast. One day, soon after Mark left for college, Lucas had a brainstorm. Perhaps that hard working loyal ranch hand was not such a far off possibility.

The desert sun burned down on the prison yard in Santa Fe, making life especially unbearable, as Will Fulton toiled away making bricks and mixing mortar. The prisoners were charged with building new barracks for the ever increasing population of convicts.

Will was paying his debt faithfully as he promised Lucas so long ago. Even though he was suffering in the heat, the feeling of being right with the world in the future still gave him something to look forward to.

Bank robbery and involvement with murder could carry a lifetime sentence, however, the judge gave Will only 10 years to pay for his part in what was mostly his brother’s crimes. The rest of the gang was dead as well as Hank. Will was the only one left to shoulder the blame. There was much to answer for, but the judge found leniency due to the testimony of Lucas and a good word from Ann Bard. Will knew that his love for Ann would be a tough thing to preserve, but he kept her memory to fuel his desire to live past his debt to society. Ann wrote him letters several times a year and so far had resisted the idea of getting married. He had 2 years left to go on his sentence, the sun made him wish for time off for good behavior. Anything would be better than suffering in this summer heat. Just as he bent down to lift a batch of mortar, he felt a strong hand slap onto his shoulder.

“I’ve got a message for you Will. I think you better come with me.” Big John, the head guard, said in his deep gruff voice that usually instilled fear in a misbehaving inmate.

“What have I done now?” Will exclaimed dropping the bucket of mortar.

“Beats me, Warden said come get you, important telegram. That’s all I know. You are safe as far as I’m concerned. I know you’re a good egg, take it easy, let’s go.” Will and Big John left the hellish yard and baking bricks.

Inside the Warden’s office, Will sat in a big leather chair usually reserved for visitors and dignitaries. Big John plopped him down and took off before the Warden could give him something else to do. Will saw the inside of this throne only one other time. That was after he was in a fight, putting one of the prison’s biggest troublemakers into the hospital. He thought he was in a real fix then, but the Warden took a liking to him and rewarded him for his effort by giving him a better cell and edible food. Will was on his best behavior ever since then and was very puzzled as to why he was in that chair now. The Warden walked into the office a few minutes later with a grin on his face.

“I’ve got something very important to ask you Fulton. I hope you only need a few minutes to think this over, because I’m not going to give you a second chance.” Warden Hughes walked around his desk and put a hand on Will’s shoulder, right where Big John’s had just been.

“What can you possibly mean sir? Haven’t I been a model inmate, a hard enough worker? You can’t pin anything on me. I can’t believe I’m even in your office!”

Will shuffled in the chair feeling confused and uneasy. “Don’t I make enough bricks?”

“Relax Fulton, you always expect the worst. Now, in the room next to us is a very important visitor. This person wants to know how you have behaved these last 8 years, says that they know you real well. Do you have any idea who that might be?” The Warden’s smirk grew wider, really making Will wonder.

“A girl I know, Ann, is the only one I can think of. Most everyone I knew when I was outside is dead or in prison. I have no friends or family left. Cut to the chase sir, I’m sweating more in here than in the yard.”

“Well, three days ago I received a telegram from North Fork. I was shocked to learn of this person being interested in you, and it’s not Ann. Does that give you a hint?”

“I can’t imagine why anyone else would want to see me! Lucas McCain is the only other person from North Fork I can think of” Will eased some upon this prospect.

“So you do know Lucas McCain?” Hughes face relaxed as he sat down behind his oversized desk.

“Of course I do, you must know he’s the one that convinced me to go straight. He testified at my trial. But I figure him to have more important things to do than to come so far to visit me.”

“Fulton, let me tell you something, Lucas has many important things to do. But according to him, he had to come here to visit you, get ready for this.” The Warden knocked three times on his desktop and the door opened to a tall figure with a wide brimmed hat.

“Afternoon Will, good to see you. You look as if you could pull a wagon all by yourself!” Lucas leapt into the room and the two men hugged. Lucas pulled up a chair and gave the Warden a firm handshake. “Thanks for letting me come here today.”

Warden Hughes sat back in his chair looking the two men over for a moment. Will was still confused yet happy to see Lucas after so long. “Son, how would you like to work the rest of your time off on McCain’s ranch?”

“I don’t need no minutes to think about that answer sir!” Will looked over to Lucas who was smiling so hard his hat almost fell off. “Are you for real Mister McCain? I must be dreaming.”

“As real as I can be Will. I’m in need of a ranch hand, one that can really work. And, one that won’t run off to greener pastures, at least not right away.”

“Mister McCain, I don’t know what to say, I’ll do the work of 5 men if it gets me out of that damn yard out there, anything, anything you say.”

“Well, the first thing I have to say is, no more Mister McCain. From now on, you refer to me as Lucas. And further more, wipe that grin off your face, we have a long hot hundred miles to ride and over 4000 acres to work. You know how to put up fence?”

“Well, I grew up picking my teeth with barbed wire, you know my family had a farm.”

“That I do Will. Kind of what made me think of you. Mark just went off to college and I can’t work the ranch alone. Can’t even hire a soul in North Fork right now. I have a much larger herd than back when, so you’re my only hope.”

Warden Hughes watched the two future partners with great delight. “Well then, I can go ahead and make arrangements for your release Fulton. I think you’ve learned your lesson here long enough. Although, I’m going to have to find me five inmates to take your place. I wouldn’t recommend doing anything to wind up back in here. Those five men will no doubt have long memories. This is going to be big news around here. I’m not even going to send you back out there. Is there anything you want from your cell?”

“Not a damn thing sir….. not one damn thing! Wahoo!”

Battle Within A Young Gun - Chapter 2 — Reckonings

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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