The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Who is Ben Hurt?
Written by Klara's Boy

Micah was an experienced lawman, who could rely on his instinct and his wits. But the letter his hand made him feel sick for a moment. He had to do something! He had to ride out to the ranch and warn them. Right now! His trembling hands took the shotgun and he checked if it was loaded. Then he saw a rider coming down the street and dismounting on the other side of the street. Micah thanked the Lord and left his office in a hurry. He had to stay calm now, no matter what!
“Lucas! I have to talk to you, right now!”

Lucas turned around smiling at his old friend.
“Sure, Micah, what is it?”

Micah was afraid. He knew how Lucas would react in a second after reading the letter. And he hoped that he could keep his best friend from doing stupid things.
“Read this …”

The rancher's face became hard. The few sentences on the paper sparked something that was more than hate and fear, something worse …
Lucas looked down on the old lawman and his voice was like blade hammered out of steel.
“When was that sent?”

Micah tried to keep his mind together. Now was no time to lose nerves.
“I just received it this morning, a couple of minutes ago. It was brought here by stage.  I´ d say that letter needed three days to be delivered so they can be already close to North Fork. I was just about riding to your place to tell you. Where is Mark?”

Lucas shivered. His expression was that of a man who became aware of the fact that he had made some fatal mistake, something he could never change again no matter what.

“He is somewhere with the cattle on my land, checking on some cows with their new-born calves. I sent him there because we have heard some coyotes last night and so he is out there now on his own and … it is entirely my fault if they … please Lord … don't let that happen …”

Micah nodded. Now it was clear. They had to find the boy under all circumstances and bring him back to safety. Mark was now fourteen years old and was surely capable of taking care of himself but that short letter had changed everything.  Micah turned around to get his horse.
“So we better hurry. We have to find Mark before they do.”

***

The old man looked around and watched the steep walls of the canyon. It was a mighty unpleasant place to make camp but the old man seemed to have poise despite the fact that he only had one arm. The right sleeve of his brown jacket hung empty by his side. But the left arm seemed enough for him. He spread his blanket on the sandy ground between the rocks and placed his saddle as a pillow at one end of it. His brown mare was nibbling on the desiccated grass nearby.
The old man looked up. His face was covered with hundreds of wrinkles but the short white beard gave it the flair of dignity and wisdom. Now the old man's left hand slowly opened the buckle of his gun belt and put the long-barreled Colt 45 next to his saddle. Before lying down on the blanket he put some more dry wood on the fire and soon the nice scent of fresh coffee filled the air in the narrow canyon. Now he was resting on his blanket and closed his eyes.
“You can come out now, gentlemen. Coffee is ready. Help yourself.”

Without lifting his head he seemed to being waiting. Everything was quite and he was all alone.
“I heard you ten minutes ago when you rode into that canyon. No need to be shy. If you are hungry I can also offer you some fresh biscuits. Or maybe you would like one of my cigars. I brought them all the way from Texas. It's mighty good tobacco I can assure you.”

Again only the icy wind could be heard as it blew over the white rocks that covered the ground of the canyon. But now two men emerged out of the tense bushes below the walls of the canyon, guns in hand. The old man watched them as they came slowly closer. Both were able-bodied fellows, tall and handsome, wearing white hats, black shirts and dusty pants. Each of them was armed with two revolvers. For a moment they seemed unsure what to do. The old man raised invitingly his hand.
“You can put those shooting irons away, gentlemen. It's just me. How about that coffee now?”

The two men looked at each other, before slowly holstering their guns. One of them was a man in his late forties, lean muscular and clean shaven. He politely tipped his hat and smiled.
“Thank you, Mister. We didn't expect running into somebody in here. Mighty grateful for your offer. I am Richard Rover and that morose fellow over there is my younger brother Ron.”

He pointed to the other man, whose eyes were dark and cold. Ron was a little smaller than his older brother, but his shoulders were broader and his voice was much deeper.
“We are the Rover Brothers. Ever heard of us, stranger?”

The old man shook his head. He was still lying on his blanket, relaxed and calm, enjoying the scent of the coffee on the fire. The long-barreled gun was lying right next to him. A cold wind moved over the three travelers like the creepy fingers of a dead hand.
“I hope I don't trigger any open hostilities between us when I have to tell you that I have never heard of the Rover Brothers before. But that doesn't mean anything. Be my guests, gentlemen. You look as you could use a little refreshment. Please sit down. Come a long way?”

The old man tossed them two tin cups so they could pour themselves some of the hot beverage.
Richard nodded as he sat down next to the small fire, stretching his long legs in the grey sand.
“We sure did. We left our horses at the other end of the canyon when we spotted your camp, sir. But we will soon be on our way again. Ron is no exactly what you would call a patient man.”

After a few seconds his brother joined him and soon the three men were drinking the strong coffee. Ron never took an eye off the one-armed man, gazing at the old man with uneasy suspicion. While drinking his left hand was always near his beautiful Colt 45 with the expensive buckhorn grip.
“Where are you heading, stranger?”

The old man looked up and after taking another sip of the coffee he closed his eyes.
“I took the way through that canyon because it's the shortest way to North Fork. I intend to meet a sodbuster called Lucas McCain there.”

Richard lifted his head and exchanged a swift glance with his sturdy and taciturn brother.
“It seems to me that you want to do business with that gentleman, sir.”

The old man revealed some of the vim and vigor that once must had been in him.
“You can call it that. I have two personal scores to settle with McCain. First of all: I spent a couple of years in prison because of him and I will never forget that.”

Ron frowned. He put his cup down and his dark eyes looked at the frail body of the old man.
“Let me guess: the second reason to go there is the loss of your right arm. That sodbuster is responsible for that too? I would not be surprised at all, stranger.”

The old man's eyes met his. The howling of a lonesome coyote could be heard in the distance.
“You are right about that, Mister Rover. Yes, I have to thank him for that too. That bone in my arm was shattered by a bullet and it hurt real badly. So I intend to get even with him no matter what.”

Richard's interest was sparked. He slowly got up and tipped his hat again. Unlike Ron he seemed a man of good manners. His handsome face showed a charming smile.
“In that case I would like to have a word with my brother, if you excuse us, sir. Come with me, Ron.”

The old man didn't answer and closed his eyes again, sinking back on his blanket.

Richard and Ron walked over to the brown undergrowth that had hid them a few minutes ago. Here the old man could not hear their talk. Cool shadow covered their lean bodies under the white rocks. Now a gust of wind howled over their heads in the steep cliffs. But it was just a breeze, hardly perceptible. But almost all tribes of the proud Apache nation had known that canyon all too well and it was the only place they would have avoided under all circumstances. Now it was just a weak breeze and nothing explained the fear of the Indians. Not now …

The brothers looked back to the fire: the old man seemed to be drowsing on his blanket, thinking of a sodbuster called Lucas McCain. Again the coyote howled, closer this time. Richard casually put his palms on the guns at his sides and turned to his grim brother.
“We will ask him to come with us. An additional gun can be really helpful. After all we have to deal with the man whose Winchester is faster than any pistol.”

Ron shook his head, biting his lips. A tender gust of cool wind was playing with his brown hair under the sweaty hat. Still it was just a gentle breeze smooth and silent.
“Have you gone completely loco, Richard? I have never believed all those stories about McCain. There is no way that sodbuster can be faster than I am. You know very well, how quick on the draw I am. And now we should rely on some one-armed man who cannot even hold a gun anymore? You have no pride anymore, I tell you. You are a stinking yellow coward, that's what you are, nothing but a disgrace. You have lost your touch if you seek help from that measly fellow over there.”

Richard scratched his chin as his charming smile disappeared. That provocation was just too much.
“Ron, I know that you are the fastest gun around. But that is about all that speaks for you. I am the one in our outfit that does all the thinking. Remember what mother always used to say: you were born under a stupid star and so we do things my way as always.”

For a couple of seconds the tension between the two men showed deep-buried hate that reached back for years. No man liked to be called stupid and Ron was surely not the man, who took an insult that easily. Richard knew that and for a second he looked ready to draw his guns. Ron's hands also touched the holsters at his side. His deep voice was now like a stone: hard and heavy.
“At least I am not the one who lost her farm at the poker table.”

Richard's eyes revealed his sudden intention to hit his brother for that unfriendly remark.
“Ron, I told you never to bring that up again. You see: nobody would expect any danger from a one-armed man so we can use him as a distraction. If he wants to take on that sodbuster, that's fine by me. In the meantime we can see our plan through. And if McCain should really kill him … better him than us, I'd say. Just think about that. And I tell you: that sodbuster's rifle is really that fast.”

Ron seemed to contemplate for a moment. Again he looked over to their host who still seemed to be sleeping near the fire. But then he had to admit that Richard had a point.
“Alright, we do it your way. I can't wait to get to North Fork. And once we are there you let me do things my way just like back in Salinas. I hope you remember that night, Richard.”

Richard nodded gleefully. For a second he could not help grinning.
“Salinas was your masterpiece, you are right: one whole family in less than two minutes. Only you can do such a thing without batting an eye. You are right: you are the best with any gun and mother would be proud of you. I need you. You know that, Ron. With you I take on any sodbuster.”

Richard obviously knew how to handle his ruthless brother. Ron smiled for the first time but there was no warmth his face. For a moment his wicked mind remembered that night in Salinas: the sound of screams came up again, the heat of the blaze and black smoke that covered the pale moon …
“And no sodbuster will ever stop me from doing what we have planned. So we take that crazy old-timer with us just as you say, Richard. Let's see how he can be of use to us.”

Richard playfully slapped his brother like a little boy, showing how proud he was of him. The old truce between the two hostile brothers was restored for now.
“Now we are talking, Ron. Come on. We have to finish our coffee.”

The two men stepped out of the shadow under the weathered rocks and walked over to the fire. The cool wind refreshed their faces. Richard Rover smiled once more as the one-armed man looked up. Richard sat down next to the smoking fire and refilled his cup again.
“I must say: you make a very fine coffee, sir. It seems to us that we share certain common interests. That's good. In this cruel world we have to rely on each other. As a matter of fact we are also on the way to North Fork and my brother and I would be most pleased if you could join us.”

***

“He is not at my place and he is not out here. Where can he be, Micah?”

Lucas was fighting his tears. Sitting on his sweat-covered horse he overlooked the lovely landscape from a hill, looking for any sign of his beloved son. But to no avail: Mark had disappeared without a trace. Micah was also deeply worried but he tried his best to keep his feelings under control. Maybe it was his professional pride as a seasoned lawman to stay calm under all circumstances. But the situation was more than dire.
“Well, the way I see it, LucasBoy: it's the best we split up. I go back to town and raise a posse. You ride back to your ranch. When they try to make their move there you are prepared to defend your property. Maybe Mark has returned in the meantime. As soon as I have enough men we come straight to you. Either we find Mark or them: in any case we have the upper hand.”

Lucas turned around and started shouting.
“The upper hand?! That's easy for you to say! You don't know what it feels like to be a father! They have already found him. I can feel it! My son is dead and it's my fault. I was the one who sent him out to take care of my cattle. And now he is dead! Go back to town and stay there, Micah! I don't need you! I don't need anybody! That whole town can go to hell! You can go to hell! Mark is dead!”

Micah didn't say anything but for a moment he looked at the Winchester in the hands of his best friend and suddenly he felt something he had not felt for a long time: fear for his own life.
“It will take me about two hours before I will be back with the men, LucasBoy. Until then stay at home and wait for me. You have stay cool now. And don't you forget: we have one important advantage: those killers have no idea that we already know about their arrival. So their element of surprise is gone. We will take them on before they know what hit them.”

Lucas steadied his breath and wiped the salty sweat from his forehead. Although it was just early spring it was unusually hot already. Birds were up in the blue sky and the grass was lush and green. It was a beautiful day. Lucas lowered his head and his voice was just a desperate whisper.

“Maybe you are right, Micah. I am … sorry. I didn't mean to … but I have no idea what I will do … if …”

Micah nodded thoughtfully before turning his horse. Deep inside he was not at all convinced that he was right. Mark could be dead by now and he didn't allow himself to think what would happen when Lucas would found the body. But he knew better than to tell Lucas about his doubts. The father was worried enough. But before the lawman galloped down the green hill his friend's voice stopped him.
“Micah … thank you.”

The old lawman even managed to smile before he rode back to North Fork.

***

Mark lied motionless near the creek on his back. Flies were circling over his face and his bare chest. His eyes were closed. A crow has spotted the boy while flying over the hills. The black bird came down and sat on a branch of an old tree a few meters away. Its dark eyes gazed at the body. But when Mark woke up the crow left the tree and flew away. The boy yawned. After taking a short bath in the creek he had felt sleepy. The shadow under the majestic tree had looked inviting and so he had taken a nap. Mark looked up to the sun: it was almost noon, time to get something to eat.
“I hope Pa has already finished his business in town …”

His horse was grazing next to him, enjoying the warmth after the long winter in the barn. Mark put on his shirt and … he saw the uncanny figure behind the bushes only when the man started walking towards him. Mark shadowed his eyes. Mark didn't know the stranger and since he was all alone he could not help but feeling a little scared.
“Howdy, … sir.”

“Mark McCain, am I right …?”

Mark didn't answer. Suddenly his tongue was tight. And now an uncertain fear sank into his heart and he sure wished that his Pa was with him that very moment.

***

Hamilton was busy with his ledger, setting the numbers right. But now everything was in good order again. Lucas would be happy to hear that the interest on his account had …
Micah rushed into the bank, his shotgun under the arm. Hamilton looked up and smiled.
“Howdy, Micah. What brings you here? Do you have any idea where Lucas is? We had an appointment today about his new account and I wanted to tell him that the bank can grant him even more …”

Micah shook his head. There were surely other things on his mind.
“John, I hereby deputize you as  … you know the rest: just raise your right hand and say: I swear. Come on now. I need you! You will get one of my extra rifles in the office.”

Hamilton was a true gentleman, honest and polite. Somehow the citizens of North Fork regarded him a harbinger of the East, a man of civilization and progress, of law and order. They liked him and what's more … they trusted him with their hard-earned money. Hamilton was a man of quick thinking always keeping a clear head but now the good banker was obviously surprised.
“Well, Marshal, I don't know what to say. You see that I am very busy. What is going on? You need deputies, you say?”

Micah nodded. He took one of the badges out of the breast pocket and put it on the desk.

“More than ever! The Rover Brothers are on their way here and they mean business.”

Hamilton looked down on the badge and then back to the thick book on his desk.
“Never heard of them. Is somebody planning to hit my bank?”

Micah was tempted to say that money was not everything not even if you were a banker.
“Worse than that, I am afraid. It happened long before you came here. We had a serious series of rustling in these parts. Ron and Richard Rover didn't bother to pay when they were after somebody's cattle and when they met resistance …  well, I helped burying some of their victims. They were some of the most ruthless killers I ever saw: totally without any qualm. One evening they tried to steal horses after shooting three cowboys in the back to get rid of any witnesses. At least that's what they figured when they rode off. But there was one witness who could identify them.”

Now Hamilton was all ears. He tried to ask a question but he kept listening to Micah's words.

“Mark McCain had hidden behind some rocks and he saw the whole thing. His observation helped a lot when I lead a posse to catch up with them. Well, we did and arrested them when they were on their way to Mexico. First the judge was not sure about hearing Mark. Mark was a mere boy back then and the jury argued about that point for quite a while. But the kid's testimony was so clear and free of all contradictions that it was enough to sentence those rustlers.”

Hamilton arched an eyebrow. And suddenly he understood why the old lawman was so excited.
“Well, they were sent to prison but right after the verdict, Ron came up to Lucas and …”

“Yes …?”

“Your boy has spoken like a man and like a man he will die when we come back one day. If he is old enough to testify against us he is old enough to suffer the consequences. We will kill him as soon as we are out again. You can rely on that, sodbuster: we will kill that little brat of yours.”

Hamilton was clearly shocked. Now he could understand. He slowly closed the ledger. Micah's word sounded like the speech of a preacher at a funeral: slow, sad and trying to sooth overwhelming emotions among the mourners. He took a certain sheet of paper out of his pocket.
“If you know Lucas you can imagine his reaction, John. We needed three men to hold him back. And now the Rover Brothers are free as birds again. Their slick lawyer pulled some legal trick and they were released. I received a letter from the Marshal in Silverton today and he warned me that they were seen there in the saloon before heading for North Fork. He could not do anything against them since they are not wanted there. All he could do was sending me that letter to warn me. If there was a telegraph connection between our two towns we could have used the time to get ready for them but now we have every reason to believe that they are already out there somewhere. “

Hamilton nodded. He took up the badge and pinned it to his grey vest. The ledger was pushed away.
“So that's why Lucas didn't show up here today. Where is Mark now?”

“We have been looking for him all morning but he is gone. We need to find him before they do”.

***

His prayer had been in vain. Mark had been not at home when Lucas had returned to his ranch. Now the towering man was standing on his porch all alone. His right forefinger touched the trigger of his Winchester. He tried to think clearly, tried to remember Micah's comfort. But all his thoughts were suffocated in tears. Now his knees could not carry the weight of his body anymore. Lucas sat down on the porch and somehow he didn't believe that he would ever be able to get up again. He was so tired and weak and even his rifle failed to give him the feeling of power. He gathered all his strength and dared to look at the hills again, praying for any sign of hope. But not a soul could be seen on the hills around the house: not an armed posse and most of all not his son …

Again he heard that terrible voices in his head, torturing his mind like hot blades forged in hell.
(You can rely on that, sodbuster: we will kill that little brat. He will die as soon as we are free again. We have the upper hand. Go back to town and stay there, Micah. Go to hell. My son is dead.)

Lucas closed his burning eyes and started praying again.  His lips moved when he repeated the ancient words over and over again.
“Our Father, Who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name …”

He was still praying when a rider appeared on the ridge and galloped down to the ranch and before he could say “Amen” he heard a timid voice behind that curtain of tears in front of his closed eyes.

“Pa?”

***

Nils, Hamilton and some other citizens had gathered in front of the Marshal's office, silently talking with each other. Some had brought their own guns, others were handed a rifle or a pistol. More and more men joined the posse eager to go on the hunt. Most of them remembered the ruthless brutality of the Rover Brothers and now they had the chance to get rid of those dangerous rustlers once and for all. But all of them shared also Micah's worries about Mark.

***

Mark was at a loss: the hug of his father seemed endless and also a little embarrassing. He was no kid anymore but almost a man and men don't get hugs and kisses like that. But his Pa didn't seem to care about a man's pride. Tears were still running down his face.
“Mark, I was so worried! I thank the Lord that you are alright!  You never go out there alone again! Never! You hear? Thank you, Lord!”

Finally Lucas released his bewildered son. Mark still could not understand that weird behavior of his father. Yes,  he was late for lunch and he felt bad about that but his Pays reaction was strange indeed.
“I am sorry, Pa. I didn't want to scare you like that. I fell asleep and …”

Lucas hugged his son again. All came up again for a horrible second, sparking new tears:
(Go to hell Micah! My son is dead! It's my fault! He is dead! We will kill that little brat.)
“Never mind, Mark. Everything is alright now. I love you so much!”

Now Mark had enough. Of course he was happy to hear that but he also had a story to tell.
“Pa, I met a man out there at the creek. He wanted me to tell you something.”

Lucas frowned. With his rifle still in his hands he looked down on the boy. That whole thing was far from over. The Rover Brothers were still somewhere out there, ready to strike.
“A man? What did he look like? Did you know him? What did he say?”

They were still out there, two lurking shadows, ready to murder an innocent child.
(You can rely on that, sodbuster: we will kill that little brat.)

“Pa, does the name Ben Hurt mean anything to you?”

***

“Men, you are all under oath now. You are under my command and you will faithfully fulfill your duties and follow my orders. You know who we are after. All of you can remember what those rustlers did to our town some years ago. And now the life of a young member of our brave community is at stake as well. I know I don't say that very often but now I have to: when we catch up with them: shoot to kill. We move out now and maybe some of us will not come back.”

Micah's voice had sparked bravery and determination in the hearts of the 14 men in front of him and nobody would have questioned his authority. The hunt was on.

But then john Hamilton pointed to the end of the street and all heads turned in that direction. Two riders appeared there: a towering man with a Winchester in his hand and his son. When they dismounted they were surrounded by all their friends. Mark was surprised by the affection he was greeted with. Hands were put on his shoulders, encouraging words of relief and happiness were spoken. One or two ladies even kissed his cheeks and he blushed. Smiling faces were everywhere.

Lucas looked around, truly touched by all the tokens of friendship before he turned to Micah.
“Thank you, Micah. Mark could escape them but they are still out there somewhere. Mark will stay in the hotel until it is over. From now on I am on my own. There is one thing I have to take care of and I will do that alone. There is no need to put so many lives in danger.”

Micah shook his head. Now he spoke with all the authority of the law.
“I am mighty glad to see you and Mark again. But you should not go anywhere alone. The danger is not over. And we will bring them in, dead or alive, although I prefer the later, I must confess.”

Lucas nodded. He could understand his friend very well.
“Yes, but that is something that only concerns me. Mark told me a story and I have to find out what it's all about. I can do that on my own. I have to deal with that part of my life today.”

All the men of North Fork could hear what he had to say.
“Mister McCain: I have to remind you that I am still the Marshal of North Fork and I am responsible for the life of all the citizens here. So you better tell me what's on your mind.”

Mark admired Micah when he spoke his words with great dignity and authority, true to the letter of the law. And again he decided to become a lawman one day. His father turned around and mounted his horse again. When he looked around he saw many men wearing badges and guns and waiting for new orders.
“Thank you, my friends, that you all were willing to help me to find Mark. But now I would like you to stay here and take care of him. Please protect him when I am gone. I will soon be back. There is something I have to take care of and I will do that on my own. There is no need that you jeopardize your lives for me. Many of you have families you have to think of. But our Marshal is right: he is responsible for my safety so if he decides to come with me I would appreciate that.”

And all the good people of North Fork watched the two friends riding out of town.

***

After an hour of hard riding the two men had reached the entrance of the narrow canyon that looked like an ugly wound in the side of the rocky hills. Lucas and Micah stopped their horses. The old lawman shook his head in disbelief. It was still pretty hot and salty sweat burned in his eyes.
“So that's the place Mark wanted you to go? I rode once through that canyon and I don't like the idea to do that again. I suppose you know how the Apaches called it, LucasBoy?”

Lucas nodded and lifted his rifle. The sun was slowly sinking behind the barren hills.
“The place where the spirits of the dead dwell.”

Micah remained motionless on his horse but then he slowly pulled his deadly shotgun out of the scabbard at his saddle. It sure was good to feel the cold steel in his hands.
“That´s right. You can hear their voices in there, although I know it is just the wind howling between the rocks. But not even their medicine men would have gone there. And now of all places …”

Lucas remembered the many scary stories about that canyon, stories about hell and damnation.
“Mark told me that I should come here and I fully intend to do that.”

Micah's tried to look into the narrow path between the white rocks that looked like the skulls and bones of dead Apaches. But it was too dark in there. All the light was swallowed by the huge walls of the eerie canyon: a cave full of shadows and ghosts. Micah shook his head.
“Why? Because some stranger told him? Some man he met at the creek this morning?”

Lucas looked at his worried friend. None of them really believed that that canyon was haunted but they felt uneasy and worried. But Lucas was determined to find out what was hidden in there.
“That was not some stranger, Micah. It was Ben Hurt. He told my son his name: Ben Hurt. I will never forget that name as long as I live.”

Micah shook again his head. Crows were circling above them in the clear air.
“And who is Ben Hurt?”

The rancher's glance studied the dark entrance to the realm of the dead.
“I don't know yet.”

Lucas drove his horse to the weathered rocks and after a moment of hesitation Micah followed him sighing at the stupid stubbornness of his best friend …

***

“Any more apple pie, son?”
“Thanks but I am stuffed now. Mister Hamilton. But it sure was tasty. Thank you.”

Mark and the banker had spent the last two hours together in the hotel, having lunch together. Hamilton has closed his office for the afternoon and enjoyed his time with the Prodigal Customer as he called his young guest.
“Today it's all on the bank, Mark. We all are so happy that nothing happened to you today. Micah told me about that trial and I must say I was pretty impressed by your courage to testify against those killers. I sure could use an honest and brave man like you. If you ever need a job you come straight to me, son.”

For a moment Mark was stunned. He had never thought of becoming a banker. Among all his plans about possible jobs it had never occurred to him. But now his interest was sparked. That sure was some prospect.
“Thank you, Mister Hamilton, thank you. My Pa would really like that, I think.”

The young waitress came over and asked if she should bring anymore coffee and Mark could not resist. To become a banker … yes, he sure would like that: all the money he would be responsible for.
Hamilton smiled. He had entered the restaurant with a customer and a possible future coworker but suddenly he knew that he would leave it with a friend.

***

Normally a man would have appreciated the refreshment of the cold breeze after such a hot and exhausting day but Micah and Lucas just shivered as they rode deeper into the barren heart of the mountain. The cold air was a like a suffocating shroud as they directed their horses carefully over the rocky ground between the high walls of the narrow canyon. They constantly looked around but there was no sign of any danger. Desiccated trees and thorny shrubs framed their stony path.

Lucas held his rifle in one hand and the reins of his horse in the other. Micah followed him, prepared for anything. Who was Ben Hurt? Micah had never heard that name before. Another killer? He cursed himself for following his friend into that natural trap. The Rover Brothers were still out there waiting for their chance. But at least they would not dare to strike a whole town full with warned and armed citizens. But maybe they would hit the ranch or …

And now all hell broke loose! The gentle wind turned into a violent storm within a heartbeat and the terrible howling began. The two men had troubles to keep their shying horses under control. The cold wind drove through the canyon and formed unearthly voices that sounded like human screams, full of anguish and despair. The chilly air tortured the men like bony fingers gliding up and down their backs. Yes, now it was more than obvious: that place was haunted. Lucas looked around and saw ghostly movements between the rocks, fast and impossible to grasp and he tried to tell himself that there were just harmless lizards hiding between the white boulders that looked like human skulls.
Yes, of course it was just the wind: a natural phenomenon, explainable and logical. While he had a hard time driving his jumpy animal further down the canyon he turned to Micah whose face was now a dusty mask of exhaustion and fearful concern.
“When this is over I will write a letter to a smart professor at a university in the East to come here and write some book about this, Micah.”

The old man struggled to steady his nervous horse. The animal's hooves raised grey dust.
“Tell him to bring a priest along so he can say a prayer for all the poor souls who dwell here.”

Lucas tried to say something but suddenly the wind died away as fast as it had started. The uncanny howling of the dead voices faded away. After a moment it was utterly silent and the two men were all alone again.  Micah looked around and his weary glance moved over the high walls of the spooky canyon around him. His horse was still nervously nickering. Dust was in the air and again tiny lizards ran swiftly over the rocks. The dried grass between the boulders moved with the gentle breeze.

Micah managed to give his voice a serene tone as he gradually lowered his shotgun.
“It seems to me it is over now. I hear that doesn't happen very often so we can count ourselves lucky, I guess. The Apaches showed some good sense to avoid this place. Are you sure that your mysterious Mister Hurt is worth all that, LucasBoy?”

“I don't know yet, but something tells me that we will find out soon enough.”

Lucas and Micah rode on and after a few minutes the canyon opened into a narrow valley surrounded by steep cliffs. The ground was now covered with fine sand and the air was a bit warmer. The men saw the little demon swiftly disappearing between the white crags at the same time. Both lifted their guns but when they heard the angry howling they relaxed.

“That was just some coyote, Micah, so nothing to be worried about. Come on now.”

But then they saw what had attracted the animal's attention. Next to the cold ash of an old campfire brown blankets covered two human figures lying side by side in the trampled sand. The friends exchanged glances and slowly dismounted. With their guns in hand they carefully walked over to the lifeless bodies, still highly alerted. What had happened here?

Lucas lifted up one blanket and looked down on the pale face of a handsome man. The blood that had run out of the three round bullet holes on the chest had already dried.
“This is Richard, alright.”

Micah nodded after slowly pulling away the other blanket that was covered with fine dust.
“And here we have his fine brother. Shot twice right into the heart at close distance. It seems to me that two more restless souls will haunt this place for all eternity. They had it coming.”

Again the howling of the hungry coyote could be heard somewhere between the white rocks that resembled human skulls with their empty eye-sockets. Lucas kneeled down in the soft sand.
(We will kill him as soon as we are out again. You can rely on that, sodbuster: we will kill that little brat of yours. He is old enough to suffer the consequences. We will kill him.)

Gazing down on Richard's pallid face Lucas allowed himself a short smile full of grim satisfaction.
“They won't bother Mark ever again.”
(Thank you, Lord.)

Micah looked around and tried to figure out what had happened in that eerie canyon of death. He studied the close vicinity, his shotgun still in hand. Everything was quiet and peaceful and even the hungry coyote was gone now. The majestic walls of the canyon were like unholy giants hammered out of rocks, older than mankind. Micah examined the deep tracks in the grey sand.  Then he turned to Lucas who seemed tense and worn-out, strangely not relieved or happy at all.
“Here is what I know: Richard and Ron were not killed by Apaches. Not even the bravest Indian would come here. This place is indeed scary, alright. Ron and Richard had no chance to defend themselves and their holsters are gone as you can see. Whoever shot those two rustlers took their guns and horses and rode off long before we reached this place. Do you agree?”

Lucas didn't listen. His mind was far away, still tortured by the many sentiments of the day. He could hear distant voices in his clouded head that haunted his troubled soul like ghosts of the past.
(Out there at the creek. We will kill that little brat of yours. Go to hell, Micah. Thank you, my friends. Hallowed be Thy Name.  Where the dead dwell. It is entirely my fault. My son is dead. I love so much, Mark. Many of you have families you have to think of. I love so much, Mark. Thank you, Lord)

But then he heard Micah's question again and it sounded like an order, hard as the bony rocks that surrounded the lonesome men, alive and dead.
“I ask you for the last time, Mister McCain: Who is Ben Hurt?”

The old man waited for an answer but Lucas remained silent. That very moment the lawman noticed the small piece of paper between Ron's cold fingers. The picked it up and read the few sentences on it. Then he looked into his friend's eyes. Lucas frowned, still agitated and suspicious.
“What is it, Micah?”

“I believe that's for you, LucasBoy.”

Lucas stepped closer and took the letter. All became clear now. The nightmare was over and again he thanked God. And even Micah relaxed as the cool wind caressed his smiling face.

***

Mark had finished his chores and stepped outside the house to join his father on the porch. The sun had disappeared behind the hills long ago and it was a peaceful night after a terrible day. Mark tried to find a proper way to start the conversation.
“So you would not mind if I became a banker, Pa?”

Lucas smiled as he held a match to his cigar.
“Of course not, son. I think it is mighty nice of Mister Hamilton to make you that offer. That shows that you are becoming a man folks can trust and nothing is more important than trust. So if your heart tells you work there go right ahead. But you know that people working for banks have to make many calculations all the time so you better pay attention at school.”

But Mark was not in the mood to talk about school right now: he was far more curious about the man called Ben Hurt.
“You promised me that you would show me that letter Micah found in the canyon.”
(I believe that's for you, LucasBoy.)

“Here you are, son.”

The rancher pulled the sheet of paper out of the pocket of his shirt and handed it over to his son. After a moment of hesitation Mark started to read.

“Lucas, when you find this I am already far away. After meeting your son at the creek I came back to leave you this message. I had eavesdropped on those men in the saloon in Silverton and I heard what they planned so I rode ahead and waited for them. They wanted to take the short way through the canyon and that's where I took care of them. I lured them close and won their trust. They never expected any danger from some one-armed man. I once told you that I would repay my debt some day and I did. May the Lord protect you and your son. Ben Hurt”

Mark lowered the paper and thought about his encounter with the strange man with the dark voice.

“Go and tell your father that he should come to the place where the spirits of the dead dwell, in the canyon. I repaid my debt there today. There is nothing he has to fear anymore. He will ask who I am and you will answer: Ben Hurt. Remember, Ben Hurt told you that. And he will know that the old Ben Hurt is a man who is as good as his word. Go now and find your father.”

Mark returned the message to his Pa. Still at a loss he was not sure what to make of that. Who was Ben Hurt? And so his father explained while his son sat down and listened to his story.
“Many years ago I came through Denver one day. I was young and foolish and had some money. And somehow I had the notion to buy a store and make my living as a merchant. I know that sounds strange today but back then it seemed to be a good idea. The town was growing fast and with any luck I could be a successful businessman. But on the very same day I opened my store a man came in and pointed a gun at me. I was so scared so I gave him all the money I had. But some people had seen what happened and the next thing I know … I was in a vicious gunfight. Bullets flew through the air and one grazed my left temple knocking me almost unconscious. In no time my whole face was covered with blood. But the thief was hit in the arm and lied in the street right in front of my place.”

Mark was fascinated. That was a story he had never heard before.

“In no time a lynch mob was there and somebody had already a noose in his hand. Although I could not see much and felt very weak I knew I could not let that happen. That man had to stand trial. He surely didn't deserve to hang without being brought to a rightful judge. So I did my best to keep that angry crowd back and I can tell you that was not easy. That noise in the street was so unbearable. The helpless man begged desperately for his life and I fought to keep him alive although I was the one he had tried to rob. Finally three deputies arrived and took him to the nearest doctor.”

Mark could not stand it any longer. After such a long and hard day he was so excited to learn all the facts about the old man at the creek.
“Yes, that's how Mister Hurt lost his arm, right?!”
Lucas nodded calmly and buffed his cigar, encasing his face with a tense wall of grey smoke.
“Yes, the doctor could not save that limp and sawed it off. When Mister Hurt had recovered enough he was brought to court and was finally sentenced to prison. But before he was taken away he came to me and apologized. He said that he would be forever grateful that I had saved him from getting lynched and he promised that he would repay that debt one day. I reckon he did today.”

Mark was stunned. He would have never expected that turn of events. Yes, Ben Hurst was indeed as good as his word. But now the boy grinned. Now everything made sense at last.
“We were lucky today. And you had been lucky in Denver. Had the doctor also taken care of you?”

Lucas shook his head and Mark saw a spark of love in his tender smile.
“No, son. He was far too busy with Ben but his young nurse bandaged my head in the meantime.”

“Well, in that case you were really mighty lucky, wouldn't you say?”

Now Lucas remained silent for a moment. The moon was like friendly face spreading its light over the lonely ranch. A blissful silence was in the air and the stars twinkled on the black sky.

“Yes, very lucky indeed, Mark. When I look into your eyes today I can see hers. You have the beautiful eyes of your mother.”

And when father and son hugged again Mark didn't feel embarrassed at all.

The End

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

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