The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Someone to Call Pa
Chapter 1
Written by Morgan



"Mark, I won't call you again, get up!" A woman yelled from outside the room.

As Mark slowly opened his eyes and looked around, he realized this wasn't his bedroom or a room at the hotel. Mark had no idea where he was, but there was something about that room... it was so familiar… Mark thought for sure he'd been there before. Mark got dressed and slipped on his boots. He saw the wash stand and began washing his face when he heard the door open.

"Mark Warren! Breakfast is on the table, getting cold," the woman declared, placing her hands on her hips.

Mark looked up and couldn't believe his eyes. He jumped, accidentally knocking over the wash stand, and started slowly backing up.

"Mark, what is it?" The woman said with concern as she walked closer. "Mark?"

"You-you're supposed t-to be... it's n...not possible..." Mark said as he backed as far into the corner as he could.

"Mark, you look like you've seen a ghost, are you alright?" She asked, placing a hand on his forehead.

"You're alive?"

"Yes, I'm alive, why wouldn't I be?" The woman laughed.

When Mark didn't answer, concern showed again on her face and she became serious.

"Mark?"

"B-but you died..."

No longer able to hold back his tears, Mark leaned forward and gave her a long hug.

"Mark, I don't have a clue what you're talking about. I'm alive and kicking, thank you very much."

"Almost ten years ago... the smallpox... Pa and I buried you..." Mark answered in confusion.

The woman's demeanor changed to one of sadness and grief.

"Mark, I don't know if you've been dreaming or what... it's your Pa who died ten years ago, not me."

"But... tha-that's not possible..." Mark stated as he stepped back.

"Mark, come on, let's get you something to eat and wake you up a little bit more."

"But Pa couldn't have died! It can't be true! We were working on the south pasture yesterday!" Mark said as the tears began falling harder, no longer tears of joy.

"South pasture? Mark, it's alright, just try to forget whatever dream you had and come on."

"I...I'm not hungry..." Mark said, trying to comprehend what was happening.

"Mark, please come on. You're going to be late for school."

Mark tore out of the bedroom and looked around. It looked like his and Lucas's house... but there was another room. He ran outside and began to vaguely remember the street he stood on.

“NO!” Mark yelled.
 
He ran down the street, ignoring his mother's calls. He didn't know exactly where he was running, but he didn't care... he needed to be alone.

Before long, Mark found himself at a cemetery. The sign read, “Enid Cemetery est. 1800”. Not really wanting to know, but knowing he needed to find out, Mark slowly headed past the sign. As Mark walked around the cemetery he was praying he wouldn't find...

"Lucas McCain, The Rifleman,” Mark read aloud, before he burst into tears once more.
Mark’s knees buckled and he fell to the ground, begging for his Pa to come back.

******


It wasn't until nearly dark that Mark was making his way up the porch steps. As he entered the house, he heard a man talking to his mother.

"I'm glad I was supposed to come over tonight, I'll get some men together and we'll-"

"Mark!" Margaret exclaimed as she ran to her son.

Mark embraced his Ma... it felt good to be in her arms again, just to be in her presence again... but the arms that wrapped around him weren't strong; they weren't his Pa's.

"Where have you been all day? Are you alright?" She asked worriedly.

"I'm fine. I... I went to the cemetery."

"I'm sure you’re hungry, let's get you something to eat and then we'll talk about this."

"Actually I'm really not hungry, I'd like to just go to bed please."

"I don't think that's a good idea," the man, who Mark realized was wearing a sheriff's badge, interjected. "Your mother told me what you said this morning, and I think you may be having a delayed concussion from your riding accident this week."

"Riding accident?" Mark asked curiously. "What riding accident?"

"Don't you remember? Tommy Fulton was giving you riding lessons and-"

"What on earth would I be doing getting riding lessons? Pa taught me to ride when I..." Mark's voice trailed off. Again, he was hit by the pain of loss as he remembered his Pa was... wasn't there any more. "Please tell me this is a joke... Pa... He can't be..." Mark couldn't finish the statement.

The sheriff and Mark's mother looked at each other with concern on their faces.

"Mark, I'm sorry but your Pa died almost ten years ago. As much as I wish I could, I can't change that..." Margaret gently told her son.

"Come on, Mark. Let's get you over to the doctor's and have him look you over," the sheriff suggested.

Mark reluctantly agreed. He didn't really want to go, but was too confused to argue. He tried telling himself that it all had to be a dream, that it couldn’t be real...


******


The doctor confirmed what the sheriff had suggested and simply told Mark to take it easy and that his memory should soon return. He was surprised to hear that Mark wasn't experiencing any headaches or nausea, but came to the conclusion that it was just a rare case. Mark walked back to the house accompanied by his Ma and the sheriff, but quickly went to his room once they arrived. He saw the way they had looked at each other... He wasn't ready to see his mother look at someone like that. Not yet. Not when it was like he had just lost his father.

As Mark sat on his bed, waiting to hear the front door close, he realized Lucas had been... or at least in what the doctor said was a dream, had been, more than just a father. He had been Mark's partner. His strength. How was he going to live without him? ...Yet apparently, he had been living the past ten years without him... but how do you dream ten years of a relationship? Mark wondered how he could just dream his father, his best friend... his Pa.

Pa... it was only true way to tell what Lucas meant... had meant... to him. Often Mark had felt the relationship he had with his Pa was almost too good to be true... the deep bond they had shared for as long as he could remember sometimes felt too deep to be real... but again, Mark asked himself how he could just dream that.

Mark heard the front door close, but didn't move. When his mother came into his room, he stood out of habit.

"Where did these manners come from?" Margaret jokingly asked.

She sat down on the bed and Mark sat next to her. The start was slow, but they eventually had a conversation going. They talked for several hours, neither of them realized the time.

Mark so enjoying talking with his mother, asking questions, listening to her tender voice as she replied. Margaret enjoyed listening to her son talk as well; it was as if she had an older, matured son now, not the one she had the day before. Mark spoke with such passion and conviction, she almost questioned if it was her son next to her.

They did talk about, what Margaret referred to as, Mark's dream. Mark told her of the life he... thought... he once had with Lucas. As Mark talked he began to cry more tears, as if he were grieving all over again. Margaret thought this was curious, but didn't press to get answers to her questions. She rather comforted Mark and tried to get him to accept that his life was with her.

******



As Mark lied in bed, waiting for the sun to come up, he tried to get himself to accept this new reality. But he couldn't... or maybe it was that he didn't want to.
 
Mark felt guilty, wanting his life back with his Pa so much... he had accepted his mother’s death, but how was he supposed to accept his Pa’s? Mark then realized that he didn’t have a choice... but... to just move on? He couldn’t. A dream or not... he had lost the father he loved.

He laid in bed for a few more hours, sleep unwilling to take him. eventually Mark looked out his window and saw that the sun was beginning to come up, so he dressed and headed outside, only to find nothing to do. No cow needed to be milked, there were no stalls to muck, no chickens to feed. He started to cook breakfast and realized that after school, there would be no stop at Micah's office or fence line to ride. There wouldn't be BlueBoy to ride to school, either.

The kitchen looked like the one at the ranch... or in his dream... but everything was in the wrong spot. Mark grew frustrated with how long it was taking him to find everything, but eventually had biscuits in the oven and gravy from leftover chicken juices from his Ma's dinner the night before on the stove. Mark sat down at the table and putting his head in his hands, tried to make sense of it all.

Mark didn't try to stop the heavy flow of tears, he knew he needed to cry, he felt no shame in the tears and didn't care if the whole world saw them. His Pa was gone, and wasn't coming back.


******


That day in school, Mark's classmates all noted that Mark wasn't being his normal, rambunctious self. He didn't talk in class and as one boy told his parents later, "He was actually paying attention!"
During recess, one of Mark's friends proposed they collect rocks and then use their sling shots during class.

"It'll be a blast!" He insisted.

" No! And if you go through with it, the teacher won't be the only one tanning your hide," Mark said, authoritatively.

"What's wrong with you Mark? You're always game for a little fun!"

"Well I might have let you talk me into trouble before, but not anymore. It's not right, and besides that, we'd get into massive trouble if we went through with it."

"Well look at Mr. goody-goody over here. Let's go, Floyd," He said to the other boy next to him.

After school, things only got worse. Mark saw Josh, the boy with the sling shot idea, taunting one of the girls and pulling at her braids.

"Leave her be, Josh,” Mark ordered, but that only encouraged him more. Mark stood between the girl and Josh, and continued in a stern voice, "If you're going to pick on someone, pick on someone your own size."

"If that's the way you want it," Josh said before sending a fist through the air.

Mark easily blocked it, and instead of punching Josh like he could and wanted to, he just pushed him enough to make him lose his balance and fall to the ground. Josh made a few more attempts to hit Mark, but Mark either dodged or blocked it; pushing Josh back down every time.

"You keep this up and I'll start punching back,” Mark stated.

Josh sat on the ground for a short moment, thinking. He had never actually been in a fight with Mark, they'd always gotten along great. But he'd seen Mark unload on other kids before, and didn't want to explain a black eye and bloody nose to his father. Josh stood up and walked home.

By this time, Cassie, the girl Mark had been defending, had gotten the teacher and explained. He had been out there most of the "fight" but hadn't intervened because this new behavior of Mark's had him intrigued. He was actually quite impressed by the way Mark had handled himself, definitely not the way he would have a week ago.

"Mr. Gibbs?" The teacher called, looking in Mark's direction.

Mark didn't answer to the first call because he was looking around for a relative, but after the teacher called again, he figured the teacher must have been talking to him. This didn't settle well with Mark, but it was something he had to take up with his mother.

"Yes sir?" Mark replied.

"I'm quite confused by your behavior, but must commend your example today. I just hope you aren't up to anything. Please take this note home to your mother." The teacher finished the note he had been working on and handed it to Mark.


******


"Ma?" Mark called as he stormed into the house.

"Yes dear?" His mother sweetly replied.

"Why did the teacher address me as Mr. Gibbs today? Why is this letter addressed to Mrs . Gibbs?"

"...We talked about this years ago, Mark. Grandpa and Uncle Johnny moved to town, it just sort of happened... and it's the way I wanted it,” She slowly replied.

"Lucas McCain is my father. Your husband. You and I are both McCain's!" Mark said... a little harsher than he had intended to.

"Was, Mark. He was your father. Was my husband. But he isn't any more..."

"We can't just forget him like that!"

"Mark, I have not forgotten him! But it was time to be done grieving, to move on. New comers started using Mrs. Gibbs... and I was ready to have a fresh start. I thought you were, too." Margaret said, hurt evident in her voice.

"I'm sorry Ma... I just... I just need a minute."

Mark walked out the back door and sat on a tree stump in their backyard. It wasn't anything like the spot he had so often retreated to in his... in his dream, but it would have to do. Mark crossed his arms over his legs and put his head down. Once again, the tears began to flow. It was like she was completely over Lucas, and ready for any suitor to come marry her. Maybe he wasn't being fair to his Ma. After all, he had been fine with the idea of Lucas marrying... but then again, it had just been a dream.

“Pa... is... dead.”

1MC1

When Mark woke up, he found himself in his mother's room. He had no idea how he had gotten there, or even when he had fallen asleep. It was just like the room in his dream, the second bed was even still up since his aunt had visited them a week prior. Knowing he should probably help his mother with supper, Mark got out of bed and headed for the door.

He opened the door, but didn't step through the doorway. Sheer shock was written all over his face when he saw two men sitting at the table, and one man pacing the floor in the front room. One of the men at the table was, without a doubt, Micah. The other had to be Doc Burrage. Mark looked up at the third man, who was now right next to him and reaching to embrace him. Mark stood speechless as if talking would take him out of... or put him back into... well was it a dream or was this a dream?

"Mark, how do you feel?" The man... who was his Pa, Mark finally acknowledged, asked.

"Somebody slap me,” Mark stated without any emotion in his voice.

"Well if ye're askin' fer volunteers," Lou, who Mark saw standing at the stove, began. "I wouldn't mind a bit. Puttin' us all through all that worryin', refusin' to wake. Ye had yer father worried sick! And then there's Oat. My, what a scare ye gave him! I'm sure he wouldn't mind givin’ ye a slap, either."

"Seriously... someone slap me," Mark said as he stared blankly at his father.

"Mark, what's wrong?" Lucas asked.

Seeing no one was actually going to hit him, Mark first pinched his cheek then slapped his face. Confused and concerned, Lucas grabbed Mark's wrist and held it away so Mark couldn't hurt himself.

"I'm not dreaming...? I'm... not dreaming." Mark slowly stated.

Mark then leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his Pa. Lucas returned the hug.

"No son, you aren't dreaming." Lucas assured.

He didn't know why he needed to say it but knew it was something his son was needing. Once father and son finished their embrace, Lucas got Mark to sit down in a chair and told him to let Doc examine him.

"Mark, what's the last thing you remember?" The doctor asked as he listened to Mark breathing and checked his pulse.

Mark put aside what he knew was a dream, and tried to think back.

"Pa and I were leaving the house to ride the fence line... Saturday morning? I remember racing Pa up the first hill, but that's it."

"I'm glad to hear you haven't really lost any memory. Maybe about a minute or two but that's to be expected. Do you have a headache?"

“Yeah, a pretty bad one, actually,” Mark replied, noticing the severity of the pain in his head for the first time.

“Alright. I'll leave some medicine for the headache and let Lucas explain what happened. Lou and I need to go over to the Humphrey's, I need to check up on her and the baby and Lou is helping out until Jack gets back,” Doc Burrage explained as he gathered his things, and then gave Lucas instructions for the medicine.

As the doctor and Lou where leaving, Micah stood to go as well.

"If Mark's doing fine, then I can help you Friday, Micah," Lucas said as he walked the guests to the door.

Lucas returned to the kitchen and handed Mark a glass of water and a pill.

Mark took both, but put the pill on the table.

“I might take it later, but right now I need to feel the pain,” Mark said.

"What do you mean?" Lucas asked, confusion written on his face. "And why did you start hitting yourself earlier?"

"Well, while I was asleep I had a pretty confusing... and honestly, scary dream... I needed to
make sure this was real. And that's why I don't want the medicine. I need to know this is a real... reality."

"Do you need to talk about it?" Lucas asked, wanting to be there for Mark, but also understanding that his son was becoming a man.

"Naw, but I do kinda want to know what happened. And what was Lou saying about me refusing to wake up?"

"You and I went racing up that hill, but at the top a rattler spooked BlueBoy and he threw you. You banged your head pretty good on a rock. I didn't really want to move you far on Razor, and with Oat borrowing the buck board, I got you situated in the house and rode for Doc. You were out for three days. Lou came in with Micah this afternoon and started cooking," Lucas said, gesturing to the pot on the stove.

Lucas was trying to hide the emotions he was feeling, but Mark looked straight into his Pa's eyes and saw them.

"Pa, are you going to be alright?" Mark asked.

"I'm fine-"

"Notice I didn't ask if you were alright."
 
"You're getting too observant," Lucas said with a smile. "I'll be fine... I'll be honest with you, though. Mark, you scared me. I thought I might lose you..."

Mark knew what his father was feeling, it was something he had felt too many times himself.

“Pa, I...”

"You're my whole world, son, I wouldn't know what I'd do without you. For three days I thought I might actually have to figure that out."

"Sorry I put you through that..." Mark started.

"Mark, it wasn't your fault. Put aside what Lou said; she was just relieved."

"I know. But it doesn't change the fact that I'm sorry you had to go through that... I've put you through those thoughts a few times too many."

"You never caused anything though, and if I remember, I've done the same thing to you a time or two."

"Well I'd say most of those I actually did cause..."

"Mark, we've talked about this."

Mark suddenly started laughing.

"What is it?" Lucas asked, staring curiously at his son.

"This happens any time anything goes wrong."

"What happens?"

"We “talk” about it... but what we really do is end up playing the blame game until the other at least verbally stops blaming themselves. It's funny the way we take credit for someone else's misfortunes... but I guess it just shows how much we love each other, I guess it's a way of saying we wish there was something we could have done... even if it had meant taking the other person's place. I guess it's wanting to take the other person's place, isn't it?"

"In a way, I guess you're right."

"I beat you up the hill, didn't I?" Mark asked with a smirk.

"Oh no, I won. You just caught up to me and then the rattler came up on Blue Boy's left," Lucas answered his son with a smile.

2MC2

Wednesday evening, Lucas and Mark were riding home from seeing Doc before having supper at the hotel.

"Mark, Doc says you're doing fine and there's no sign of further injury, and if it could wait I wouldn't even consider it, but Micah needs help transporting a prisoner from White Oak back here Friday so some marshals can pick him up Sunday. Would you be alright handling the ranch Friday and Saturday?"

Lucas was having a hard time asking this of his son. It wasn't that he didn't think Mark could do it, Lucas knew he could, but that was just it. He no longer had a boy as a partner. He had a sixteen year old young man as a partner, who wasn't really that far off from becoming a man...

"Sure, Pa. I'll pack an overnight bag and head to town after I get my chores done Friday."

"You know, it would be cheaper if you stayed home..."

"Really Pa?"

"You're old enough. Just meet me in town Saturday night for a late supper. I don't think my body will be able to handle your cooking after two days in the saddle, cheaper or not."

Mark was excited that his Pa was finally allowing him to stay at the ranch by himself overnight. It was something that he had looked forward to for years, but as he had gotten older, he had seen and respected his father's ligament concerns. Over the past two years, Mark had seen even more of why his Pa didn't like to leave him alone. He knew it was tough for his Pa to let go, so he was patient and respected his Pa’s requests. But Mark was more than happy that this “request” showed that his Pa was starting to see him as a man.


******


Friday, Mark stood on the front porch and waved goodbye to his Pa and Micah, who were headed off towards White Oak. As Mark stood there, he felt a sense of pride; pride in the responsibilities his father had given him, pride in his father and what he stood for. It was a good feeling, one that didn't last long enough.

As the first of many concerns crept into Mark's mind, he tried to push them away but they refused to leave him alone. This was going to be a lot harder than Mark thought it would... he hadn't anticipated the fears that were starting to over take him. As he had gotten older, Mark had become more and more aware of the fact that his father was in no way, shape, or form, invincible. He had realized the true dangers of living on the frontier, but even more so, was given a better idea of just how many men wanted to see his Pa dead. Mark shivered as he remembered standing in the barn doorway, staring at who he thought was his Pa, dead. Daniel Malachi hadn't even met his Pa and almost killed him because of what his sons had said, how much more dangerous were those who had years to plan, “revenge,” as they might call it.

Shaking his head, trying to rid his mind of the painful memories starting to creep into his brain, Mark reached inside the front door, grabbed his .22, and headed for the barn. Mark's gun was something both Lucas and Mark never hoped he would never have to use, but his Pa had taught him to keep it at the ready, how to use it as a tool, and helped him get into the habit of carrying it with him. It had been difficult for Mark to adjust to having it with him all the time, but now it was almost as much a part of him as Lucas's rifle was a part of Lucas. Mark did keep it in his scabbard while in town and at school though; father and son had agreed that this was best.

As Mark was milking the cow, his thoughts turned to the dream he had while unconscious. He wondered what his life really would be like if things had turned out the other way. Would they really have stayed in Enid? Would he really have been a city boy who couldn't ride?

Mark missed his Ma, but had accepted that she had died; he embraced the life he now had with his Pa, and was realizing how grateful he was that his Pa had raised him on a ranch, taught him good work, and-

"Really?!" Mark exclaimed as he tried to pick up the pail before he lost any more milk.

Mark realized he had gotten really distracted and not been working that quickly, and the cow was starting to get skittish. He set the pail in the right spot and began to quickly finish the milking.

"Sorry girl, we'll be done in no time," Mark told the cow.

After Mark had finished and put the milk away, he began mucking the stalls and then fed the animals. As he spread chicken feed across the yard, he saw a rider approaching in the distance. Mark grabbed his rifle, which was leaning against the chicken coop, then went back to feeding the chickens until the rider entered the yard.

"Howdy, Mark."

"Hi Mr. Jackford, what brings you out here today?"

"I was needing to talk to your Pa about the fence dividing our properties. Both our cattle have been busting through it, and I'd like to see if he'd be interested in getting some better material, instead of us fixing it every other week."

"Pa's not here, he went out of town with Micah, but he'll be back Saturday night."

"Really? Well I'll be sure to talk to him Sunday then. Make sure you don't leave church until I talk to him."

"So'd Pa ask you to check up on me or is this what I get for “refusing to wake” for three days?"

Oat just sat in his saddle, not wanting to make the boy think his Pa already had someone checking up on him, because he didn't, but also not wanting to admit why he was out there.

"The buck board would have been a much better excuse. I put the order in at the general store for the fence materials after Pa and I talked about your proposal. If you remember, this ranch is run by two," Mark said in a joking, but respectful manner.

"I'll bring the buck board tomorrow afternoon, thank your Pa for letting me borrow it."

"I will, it wasn't a problem," Mark said as he waved to the rancher as he began riding back towards his own land.

Oat couldn't help but chuckle at McCain's bright, observant son, and once he was out of earshot, Mark laughed at the gruff exterior of such a caring man.

Mark put the chicken feed away, then realizing it had been quite some time since the coop had been cleaned, starting to clean it out.

It was late morning when Mark had finished the rest of his chores and headed out to ride the fence line. As he looked out on the vast prairie, his thoughts turned to his Pa and Micah who were out there somewhere riding as well. Mark knew they were in a hurry because instead of taking the roads, which Mark would've preferred them to do, they took off riding cross country. Mark knew the dangers of traveling the wide open land, but told himself that his Pa would be fine. Micah and his Pa made a great team, and Mark told himself that his Pa would be back home tomorrow night, safe and sound.

Mark found two calves that needed help getting out of some bushes, but other than that he was glad to find everything in order, except the fence between their and Jackford's land, of course. Mark dismounted and tried straightening the fence, fixing it as best he could without any tools.
 
“Boy, it sure is going to be nice when we have more than wire up. I'm getting tired of fixing this fence!”

Mark rode back into the yard late afternoon and saw a couple of his friends getting ready to mount up and leave.

"Hi fellas." Mark said as he stopped Blue Boy in front of the house.

"Glad you showed up when you did, we were just getting to leave," One boy said. "We're heading out to the lake to go fishing, wanna come?"

"Sure! Let me grab my pole from the barn."

The boys spent a few hours at the lake. As always, the fishing trip had turned into a competition to see who could catch the most fish. Mark was the clear winner, catching seven trout, three more than second place. As Mark was riding back to the ranch he realized he was going to be the only one for dinner, and even if his Pa was home, they couldn't eat that many trout. Mark turned BlueBoy around and back tracked a short ways until a small road branched off to the right. He took it and headed to the Donalds’.

"Hi, Mark!" Lilly, the youngest Donalds, said as she looked up from her mud pies.

“Hello, Lilly,” Mark greeted with a smile as he got off Blue Boy and squatted next to her. "My, those are some good looking pies. Mind if I have one?"

“Sure,”’Lilly said as she handed Mark a small one, expecting him to pretend to eat it. Mark took the pie, and when it had just touched his lip she exclaimed, "They're pretend! You're not supposed to actually eat it!"

"Oh," Mark said as he smiled and put it back down. "Well you make some pretty realistic looking pies. Have you had supper yet?"

"No, Ma was waiting for Tim to come home from hunting. I hope he brings home something besides rabbits tonight."

"Well how would you like some trout?"

"That would be great! ...Except Tim doesn't have a fishing pole. It broke," Lilly said as she frowned.

"Well how about you and I take these into the house," Mark began as he walked back to his horse and took the string of fish off the saddle horn. "And give them to your Ma so she doesn't have to wait any longer to start supper?"

Lilly's eyes widened as she saw the string of fish and nodded quickly as a smile spread across her face. She took Mark inside where he was greeted by Mrs. Donalds and her oldest daughter, Emma, who were quilting.

"Hi, Mark," Emma quietly offered with a soft smile.

"Good evening, Mark. Something I can do for you?" Mrs. Donalds asked.

"Could you take some fish off my hands? Pa isn't going to be home for supper and I don't think I can eat all of these."

"Why, thank you Mark. We'd be happy to," Mrs. Donalds said. "Would you like to stay?"

"No thanks, I need to get home and do some evening chores. I hope you enjoy them."

"Well, I'm sure we will." Mrs. Donalds stood to walk Mark to the door.

As Mark rode off, he waved to Lilly who was hard at work, making more mud pies.

Once Mark arrived back at the ranch, he unsaddled Blue Boy, gave him a good brushing, and let him out in the paddock. Mark didn't really want to make a whole meal and just made a sandwich for dinner. It felt strange not having his Pa there... the ranch felt so lonely and empty without him. Everything was so quiet.

After eating, Mark went outside to do the few chores that remained. After completing them, he stood on the porch looking over the land. Six years of hard work had built the ranch; six years of love had made it home. Mark already missed his Pa, who had only been gone for a little over twelve hours. He didn't think of it as childish or immature as he once would have, he knew he missed his Pa because he loved him, and there wasn't anything wrong with that.

Mark lied in his bunk that evening, not able to go to sleep. Lying alone in the bedroom made him think about that dream he had, which made him worry about losing his Pa. The dream was starting to get to him more than he would've liked to admit, and he was starting to wish he would have taken his Pa's offer to talk about it.

Mark threw off the covers and walked into the front room where he lit a lamp and sat it on the table. He got a pencil and sheet of paper before sitting down at the table and began writing. Mark spent a few hours trying to put his thoughts into words, writing and rewriting what he was trying to convey. Finally he understood his own thoughts and was at peace. Mark burned the pieces of paper with scratched out paragraphs, but kept the paper that held the answers to his questions. Mark put it in the dresser before blowing out the lamp and crawling back into bed before finally falling asleep.

3MC3

When Mark got up the next morning, there was something tugging at him. He didn't feel like something was wrong, just... something different about the day. He did his chores and had breakfast before saddling Blue Boy and heading off for the range. After the cattle had been checked on, Mark headed for the pond on their property. Mark thought that maybe taking a swim would help him relax and get rid of the feeling he had.

Although going to the pond didn't get rid of it, it helped him understand why he was feeling the way he was. The pond brought back one of the few memories he had of his home back in Enid, going to the lake one day with his parents.
Mark realized that today was the tenth year anniversary of his Ma's death. Instead of going for a swim, Mark headed for the woods and sat down in the spot he often retreated to. This was the first time Lucas and Mark had been apart for this day, and Mark realized that this day was going to be a lot harder than normal without his Pa around. Mark didn't understand why he seemed to miss his Ma more on this day than the others, she wasn't any more or less gone than she had been the day before.

Mark sat thinking, almost not believing it had been ten years that he had lived without a mother... without his mother. He thought that maybe by now he should be used to it, but he knew life just wasn’t the same without his Ma. He knew it wasn’t a bad life... he loved his this life with his Pa... but he couldn’t help but want to feel both his Pa and Ma's love. He wished he could tell his Ma he loved her, that he could come home and show her how her dream for his education was coming true. He wished... he could just see her again.

“I miss you Ma,” Mark said out loud before thinking, 'I miss you too, Pa.'

Mark spent the rest of the afternoon in the woods thinking and reflecting. Mark was somewhat enjoying the solitude, but he couldn't wait until he could talk with Lucas that night.

Mark mounted up and headed for town, not really sure what time it was, but figuring it was getting close enough to sunset he should head out. When Mark came up to the turn off for the short cut, he started to take it, but decided against it. He knew his Pa didn't like it, and knew it was dangerous. Mark continued on the main rode, nodding at the few people he passed.

As Mark entered town, he noticed the strange look on many people's faces as they stared at him in silence. Mark rode up to the hotel and tied BlueBoy's reigns to the post. The sun was nearly gone as Mark entered the hotel and looked around, hoping to see his Pa or Micah in the restaurant. Seeing one of the waitresses, Mark stopped her and asked if she had seen his Pa or Micah come into town yet.

"No Mark, but I just got here. I was on a ride with David," Alice replied as she blushed.

' Yuck,' Mark thought before replying, "Have you seen Lou?"
 
"No, but you could check her office."

"Thanks." Mark made his way to Lou’s office. He knocked and didn't hear a reply, but right before he turned to go, Mark thought he heard someone crying. He entered the office without knocking and found Lou crying at her desk.

"Lou?" Mark said as he walked towards her. Lou's head shot up and she stood to give Mark a hug.

"Oh Mark, how are ye?"

"...Fine, why? What's wrong?" Lou let go of Mark and put a hand to her mouth.

"...Nils didn't find ye?"

"No, I just rode in. What's going on?"

"Oh, Mark... I'm so sorry."

"Sorry about what? What's wrong?" Fear was making its way into Mark's voice as he thought about the possibilities. "Lou, talk to me."

"I didn't want to be the one ta have ta tell ye... Mark I'm sorry, they found Micah and yer Pa on the road fifteen miles from town... shot."

"Where are they? Are they alright?"

"Over at Doc's." Mark turned to leave, but Lou grabbed his arm. "Mark... they're... gone."

Mark shook Lou's hand of his arm. The words slowly sunk in.

"No..." Mark quietly said as he tried to comprehend it.

"Oh Mark..."

"No!" Mark shouted before he ran out of the office, then tore down the street towards the doctor’s office. Lou, quickly followed.

Mark entered the back room just in time to see Doc Burrage finishing pulling the sheet over a body. Mark stopped dead in his tracks before falling to the floor.

"NO!" Mark screamed as he pounded the floor. "NO, PA! Pa please! You can't die!"

Doc Burrage made it to Mark just before Lou, and the two of them helped Mark get into the front room, away from his Pa's body. Mark's body wracked with sobs as he slipped out of the chair and landed back on the floor.

"Pa, please..."

4MC4

Mark sat in the chair of his hotel room, staring blankly at the wall. After about a half hour of begging his Pa to come back, Mark had realized his Pa was gone, forever. After gaining back a little bit of his composure, Lou had helped Mark walk back to the hotel where she gave him a room as far back as possible. Mark had tried to decline the room, saying he couldn't afford it and it wouldn't be right not to pay her.

"Mark McCain, ye listen ta me! March yourself into that bedroom right now! For the hundredth time, ye are practically family. I won't accept payment, and I certainly won't accept a no!"

Mark had finally listened, too emotionally drained to argue any more.

As Mark sat, he felt numb to the world. He wished it was all a dream, some terrible nightmare, but he knew it wasn't. Mark still had a steady flow of tears streaming down his face. He kept replaying the scene in his head.

Running down the street, opening the door to the doctors' office, entering the back room, and seeing the sheet covered body of the tall rancher he had called “Pa”. Soon, his thoughts were redirected to memories he had made with his Pa. Working together, laughing together, crying together. Mark realized he would now have to cry alone.

Mark thought about how tightly Lucas' arms had wrapped around him when he rode into the yard, hours overdue. How tightly his Pa had hugged him when he stepped out of the bedroom earlier that week. Now, there wouldn't be strong arms to comfort him or even pull him aside when he was in trouble. The eyes that where always filled with love when looking at him... were never to open again.

"How? How do I live? How do I go on?!" Mark yelled as he took his hat and threw it across the room. He could almost hear his father's voice reprimanding him.
“Now that, young man, was a very childish thing to do. Did throwing them make you feel better?”

Mark remembered the long lecture Lucas had given him after throwing some books around when he got mad a year ago. It'd been a long time since Mark had thrown anything in anger because of that lecture, and now he felt guilty for not minding his father's wise counsel.

Mark got up and picked the hat up off the floor. He held it in his hands before putting it on his head. It just didn't feel the same as when his Pa would do it. Mark laid on his back across the bed and stared up at the ceiling. The tears kept flowing as Mark continued to grieve the loss of his Pa.

Mark did eventually fall asleep, and thanks to Lou keeping guests away from Mark's room and townsfolk from disturbing him, he slept through the night.

*****


Mark woke the next morning to the sound of someone knocking on the door. He didn't want to face people yet, but knew he would eventually have to. He stood and opened the door.

"Mornin' Mark, how are ye?" Lou asked.

"I... I don't know." Mark replied.

"Well I'm glad ye didn't say ye were fine, I'd hate to give ye a lecture tabout lyin'." After a brief silence, Lou continued, "Well... I brought ye some clothes, church will be startin' about fifteen minutes. Ye best get dressed, and if ye like, I'll bring yer breakfast up here so ye don't have to eat it in the restaurant."

"Thanks, Lou, but I'm not-"

"Don't ye dare say it! Ye missed supper, I'm not going to have ye starve while ye are under my roof. Now get dressed and breakfast will be up in a minute." Lou said as she walked away.
Mark closed the door and changed as instructed. He knew Lou meant well, but he really wasn't hungry. In fact, he felt sick. He tried to force a little oatmeal down once Lou brought it, he simply didn't have the strength to argue or try to explain.

Mark didn't want to go to church. It wasn't God he wanted to avoid, it was the people. He'd rather go to the ranch and read from the family Bible, but he knew what Lucas and him would have been doing that morning, so he tried to prepare himself the best he could before stepping out of his room, walking down the stairs, and out of the hotel.

Mark avoided talking to as many people as he could, but the undertaker was one person he knew he needed to speak with.

"Mark, how are you holding up?"

"I'm not sure, really. Is everything ready for...?"

"I have your Pa and Micah both ready. We'll hold the services this afternoon at the cemetery."

"Can... can we bury Pa out on the ranch?"

"...If that's the way you want it." He knew he wasn't dealing with the ten year old Mark McCain who had arrived six years prior, and if Mark wanted his Pa buried on his land, then he had a right to bury him there.

"We'll hold their memorial services at the church first, bury Micah in the cemetery, then I'll head over to the ranch."

"Thanks." Mark knew the undertaker was purposely keeping people from the ranch, and was grateful for that.

Mark sat in the very back of the church and stepped out during the final prayer. He had tried to pay attention, but his Pa was all he could think about. As he crossed the street and headed towards the hotel, he got the strange feeling that someone was watching him, again. He looked around but didn't see anyone.

'Must just be from all the stares at church,' Mark thought as he entered the hotel and headed to his room.

As Mark sat it the chair, he tried thinking about what he was going to do. He knew his Pa was gone, but he didn't know how to accept it and move forward... He didn't want to. Mark figured he could keep the ranch going until it was time to sell the cattle, maybe get some help from some of Mr. Jackford's hands with the cattle drive. But what then? How could he run the ranch by himself? He'd probably have to quit school... something he actually didn't want to do. But even then, he wasn't strong enough... emotionally or physically, to run a ranch by himself.

But Mark didn’t want to be thinking about it. He was trying so hard to be strong, level headed, and mature. He knew he needed to be, but all he wanted to do was run away from everything and everyone.

5MC5

"Mark?" Lou called as she knocked on the door for the third time.

Finally she had enough and opened the door to find Mark asleep in the chair. She gently shook him awake.

"Next time I'd appreciate it if ye would tell someone where ye were headed. I was worried about ye!"

"I couldn't handle the stares anymore, and I didn't want to talk to anyone after the service."

"Mark those are yer friends, they just want to be there for ye."

"They can be there for me by not being there. Everyone stares at you, wanting to do something, but there's no way they can help. It just makes me feel worse when they feel obligated to say or do something."

Lou didn't know what to say, she wanted to comfort Mark so badly, but didn't know how.

"Are ye hungry?"

"No, thanks."

"Mark, ye can't not eat."

"I'll eat when I go back to the ranch."

"Why would ye be going there?"

"Because Mr. Toomey is helping me bury Pa out there, then I need to get chores done."

"What time will ye be back?"

"Lou, I appreciate the room and the concern, but I need to go home... I need to stay
home. I need time to be alone and I need to run our... my ranch."

"But ye can't stay out there by yourself!"

"I'm sixteen Lou, I can and I am going to. I'm not a little boy, and I'm not going to let what my Pa and I have built get destroyed,” Mark calmly explained.

"...Fine, but Mark please come into town every couple days, just to assure me you're alright."

"I will. I'll see you at the church when the services start," Mark said as he stood to escort Lou to the door of his room. He was glad she wasn't treating him like a child, and was listening to him like she would his Pa.

'Pa...' Mark thought as the tears started flowing yet again.
 
6MC6

As Mark was giving another fake smile and looking past about the tenth “I know how you feel” comment, a man with a marshal's badge walked up to him and began speaking when Mrs. Hines finally walked away.

"You must be Lucas McCain's boy," the man said as he extended his right hand and shook Mark's. "I'm Marshal John Osborne."

"Pleased to meet you sir... how do you know me? I'm sorry, I don't recall us meeting before."

"I found your father and Marshal Torrance, your father mumbled some about you and from seeing the way people interacted with you, I just put two and two together."

"Well, sir, I'd like to thank you for making sure my Pa and our marshal were returned home."

"Just doing my duty and what any up standing person should do."

"Well there are a lot of people around here that would disagree with you about the first part, but thank you again. Sir... do they know who... did it?"

"Not right now son, but they're working on it. Following a few leads."

"What do they know?" Mark asked.

"I'm sorry, but I'm not at liberty to say at this moment." The Marshal sensed that Mark wanted to know more about it, but the boy didn't ask anymore questions pertaining to his father's death.

"Are you going to stay in North Fork for long, sir?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. I'll be here until another Marshal is appointed for the town, my superiors say it will probably be about six months. I work on special assignments and fill in where needed, I was on my way back from an assignment when I found..." the Marshal immediately regretted his choice of detail, he could tell this young man was dealing with extreme pain and grief, and a tear could be seen developing in Mark's eye.

"Do you like your job? Moving around all the time, never settling down or married?"  Mark asked as he wiped the tear away.

"Oh, I didn't say I wasn't married," the man said as a smile crossed his face. "My wife and daughters live with my wife's parents when I'm on assignment, they will be joining me here in a few weeks. My son is in law school, he wants to become a lawyer."

The circuit preacher then began calling for people to find their seats, Mark made his way to the back row, despite people telling him to sit up front. The marshal stood in the back corner of the room, watching Mark closely. There was something different about this young man. Perhaps it was in the way he carried himself, or the air he had about him. Whatever it was, the marshal was intrigued by it and kept his eyes glued on Mark the entire service, watching how he dealt with the emotions he could see him struggling with.

As the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery, Mark avoided eye contact with anyone and kept his distance from the crowd. Marshal Osborne kept even farther away, gaze still kept on Mark, who still had a steady flow of tears streaming down his face.

Mark slowly made his way to Micah's grave as people began dispersing. After the men were done covering the grave, Mark walked right up next to it to say goodbye.

"You know, Micah, I never thought about having to say goodbye like this. Even with all we've been through together I had never thought about standing next to your grave." After a moment of silence and the wiping away of a few tears, Mark continued. "You've been like a grandfather to me... you were my grandfather. I don't know what else to say besides thank you for all you've taught me... and make sure you keep Pa in line," Mark said with a laugh as the tears began to come harder. "Goodbye, Micah..."

As Mark walked away, he tried using the back of his hand to wipe the tears away, but the tears kept rolling. Eventually, Mark just let them flow. Mark mounted up and led Mr. Toomey to the ranch. Marshal Osborne almost followed, but knew the young man needed some privacy.

7MC7


Mark's heart died just a little bit more with each shovel of dirt he threw on the coffin. As the realization that his Pa really was gone sunk deeper and deeper, the tears fell harder and faster. Finally when they where done, Mr. Toomey collected his gear and got in the seat of the buck board.

"What do I owe you?" Mark asked.

"No charge, Mark."

"Mr. Toomey, that's not fair to you. This is how you make a living. I have the money-"

"Mark, your father died in the line of duty as North Fork's deputy. Please, let this be my small way of thanking him."

"...Alright... thank you, Mr. Toomey."

"Mark, if you need anything, we're all here for you." Mark nodded as the man drove away.

Mark turned back towards his father's grave and spent several minutes blankly staring at it.
'This... is... Pa's... grave...' Mark thought.
Finally, Mark's emotionless appearance broke.

"PA!" Mark screamed as he dropped to his knees and began sobbing.



*****


Mark had no idea what time it was, the sun had been down for a long time. He still felt pain in his heart, he didn't know how he would go on without his Pa, but he finally came to terms with the fact that Lucas was dead.

'I can't keep playing games with myself,' Mark had thought. 'I need to take this like a man... It would be childish and foolish to try to tell myself that he's still alive.'

"Lucas McCain... my Pa, is dead." Mark said aloud.

The tears had finally stopped and with those words, Mark accepted his Pa's death.

The young man stood up, mounted BlueBoy, and rode down the hill towards his home... towards a life with no one to call Pa.

8MC8

Mark woke Monday morning and looked at the time piece. It was nine-thirty and the day was wasting away. Mark knew he needed to get up and get going, but he no longer had a drive, will, or... reason to get out of bed. The reason he had every other day of his life was gone.

When Mark did finally get himself out of bed, he skipped breakfast and started on the chores right away. Mark realized he had forgotten to milk the cow the night before, and was expecting her to be all out of sorts. When he arrived though, she appeared to be doing fine. It was then that Mark noticed the buck board, and that the stalls where cleaned out, and that the livestock had been fed. After looking around, he finally found a note.

Mark,
Sorry I didn't get the buckboard to you yesterday, morning chores are done and I'll have my men check the cattle. Be a boy for a day.  - Oat

Had the note been from anyone else, Mark would have been furious, but he knew Mr. Jackford's heart. He knew Mr. Jackford wasn't treating him as a child, simply giving him probably one of his last opportunities to be a boy, not a grown-up.

Mark spent late morning to late afternoon at the pond on the ranch. He swam for the majority of the time, climbed the trees for a short while, and sat on a rock just enjoying the peace and quiet... the chance to think about good times with his Pa. Mark found himself looking around all afternoon, he constantly felt like someone was watching him. As he was starting to ride BlueBoy away, he saw something from the corner of his eye, but when he turned, it was gone. Mark pulled his .22 out and fired it in the air.

"This is your one and only warning!" Mark yelled. "Get off this land!" Mark kicked Blue Boy's flanks and headed for home.

Mark was finally hungry enough to eat something. He still felt sick when he thought about eating, but he hadn't had anything since Sunday morning. Mark put a pot of stew on the stove and went outside to do the evening chores.

As Mark ate, he thought about how strange it had always felt when he hadn't had supper with
his Pa... how strange it was going to be to never eat with him again.

Mark finished dinner, did the dishes, then went to bed.

"Am I always going to feel this alone?" Mark wondered. "This empty?"

*****


Tuesday morning came early for Mark; once he woke up he couldn't fall back asleep. He went about doing his chores, then hitched up the team for a ride into town. Mark tried thinking about the questions he would probably get and tried thinking up a good answer. Mark's first stop was the Mallory House, and for the first time, he carried his gun as he walked inside.

"Oh Mark, it's good to see ye!" Lou said as she looked up from her books.

"You too, Lou," Mark said with a faint smile.

"How are ye doing? Are ye getting along alright?"

"Getting there... how have things been in town?"

"About normal. A few visitors on business came in on the stage and Mrs. Humphrey's sister arrived to help her until the baby arrives. Are you doing alright without anyone else out there?"

"I'm doing fine." Mark wasn't really, but he didn't want to talk about it.

"I want ye to come back to the hotel for lunch."

"Lou, I love the hotel's food, but I can't afford-"

"No sir, ye are eating a good sized meal before ye leave, and if ye try to get out of it I'll come out to the ranch and feed ye myself."

"...Alright, I'll be back after I run my errands," Mark replied in a defeated tone.

He didn't feel like eating, didn't want to be stuck sitting down where everyone could find him and ask him annoying questions, and definitely didn't want to keep being fed by Lou. She was sweet, but it wasn't her responsibility.

Mark's last stop before returning to the hotel was the marshal's office.

"Afternoon, Marshal Osborne."

"Afternoon, Mark. What can I do for you?"

"Well... I was wondering about my Pa's things. His hat... horse... rifle? They weren't at Doc's, and I was wondering if you had them."

"Sorry, son. None of those things were where I found them. But I'll tell the men tracking the criminals who did this to look out for those if you'll describe them for me."

"You said criminals... more than one? Are they actually following a trail?"

"...Yes. You see, your father and Marshal Torrance were escorting that prisoner," Osborne said as he gestured to the cells. "When some men came and tried to spring him. I came along as your Pa... sorry, Mark." Again, the Marshal realized he was letting his mouth tell all without taking into consideration just who he was talking to.

"Please, I need to know."

"...After your Pa was injured, I helped Marshal Torrance fight off the rest of the gang, but he took a bullet as well."

"But none of Pa's things were there? He would never go anywhere without his rifle."

"Maybe they were, and I just overlooked them while trying to get them to a doctor. When I came back to examine the area, nothing was there."

"Did you happen to notice who... killed my Pa?" The Marshal shook his head. "When they find out will you tell me?"

"Mark, I don't think..."

"Please... I have to know."

"Why? You don't want to waste your life trying to get revenge."

Mark straightened up and looked in the marshal's eye.

"It's not revenge I want, Marshal Osborne... I almost took part in my Pa's death trying to get that once. I need to find out who killed my Pa. Talk to him if I can... write him or something if I can't. I need to be able to tell him I forgive him."

"That you what?" The marshal couldn't believe he heard this boy right.

"Yes, forgive him. My Pa spent too much of his life trying to raise me right for me to let something destroy me now or in the future. When my Pa... was alive... we met more bitter people than I can count. Some of them were harmless bitter old men, some would kill their own families, a few tried to kill Pa... one or two tried to kill me. It always seemed to boil down to some deed left unforgiven, one small, thoughtless act that was left festering in their hearts for decades. I'm not going to let this one act fester, even though it wasn't a small one. My Pa gave me the best building materials possible to make myself a man, a good man, and I'm not going to give anyone the opportunity to destroy me because I let bitterness destroy the foundation my Pa laid for my life. My Pa gave so much to me... I can't disrespect him and everything he stood for by disregarding what he taught me. He didn't just tell me how to be a man, either; he showed me. I pray the man I become will be at least half the man he was. I hope I will become a man that would have made him proud. I know the first step in getting there though, is humbling myself to tell the man that killed my Pa that I forgive him. That, Marshal Osborne, is why I need to find him."

Marshal Osborne sat speechless for a moment. He couldn't believe this was coming from the mouth of a sixteen year old boy.

"Mark... I'd say you aren't becoming a man; from what you just said, I'd say you are one. It would be my pleasure to help you contact this man once we find him, and we will."

"Thank you, sir."

Mark and the Marshal talked a bit more before Mark left to go to the hotel. Mark enjoyed talking with the Marshal, he was the only one in town who talked to him about something besides his Pa or how he was getting along. He also seemed like the only person who took him seriously about staying with the ranch and keeping it going. It only took one answer to a question to convince him.

"Do you think you can run it by yourself?" Osborne asked.

"I'm a McCain, sir. McCain's can do anything they set their mind to."

9MC9

Friday, Mark was headed back to town to pick up the supplies for the fence between his and Oat's properties. After loading the supplies onto the buck board, he walked over to the hotel to talk with Lou, who was at the front desk when he entered.

"Howdy, Lou," Mark called as he removed his hat.

"Mark, are ye feeling alright?"

"Fine, why?" Mark knew he wasn't, but didn't want to talk to Lou about it.

"Ye look horrible."

"Thanks."

"Mark, ye look like ye haven't slept in days."

"Well I've been sleeping."

"Are ye eatin' proper?"

"Yep. Lou, I gotta get going, I've a lot to do at the ranch. See you next week."

Mark turned around and walked out of the hotel, ignoring Lou's calls to come back.

When Mark entered the marshal's office, he received the same reaction from Osborne as he did from Lou. He almost gave the same response, but knew he needed to talk with someone.

"Mark, are you feeling alright?"

"...No, not really."

"Well, what's wrong?"

"I've just felt sick since last Saturday... when I found out."

"There's more to it than that. Out with it."

"...And I haven't been eating that much because I've felt sick, and I don't get to sleep until about one in the morning."

"Why not?"

"There's so much to do around the ranch..." Mark knew Osborne could tell he was lying. "...I do fine during the day. I have so much to do it kind of keeps my mind off things. But when I'm alone at the ranch, in the dark, I... I know it must seem childish, but..."

"Mark, grieving the loss of a loved one is not childish. My father died last year and I was crying myself to sleep for several nights. I'm impressed by how well you've held yourself together."

"Well I don't think you would if you had seen me at the doctor's office Saturday," Mark answered as he dropped into a chair.

"Whatever it was, I'm sure it was only natural for someone who was so close to their father. Mark, you were extremely close to your father, weren't you?"

"Yes sir... he.. he was my whole life, my whole reason for getting up everyday..."

"Don't feel ashamed for having the emotions that come with losing someone that close to you, it's better to cry than to keep it up inside. Doing that makes a man callous and bitter, and I know you don't want that."

"No sir." Mark then noticed the prisoner was still in the cell. "Wasn't there supposed to be marshals from Denver to pick them up at the beginning of this week?"

"Yes, but with everything that happened, plans changed. They'll be here next weekend."

"Oh. When does your family arrive?"

"They should arrive on the twenty-first."

Mark still didn't feel like eating much, but the talk had helped.

"Would you join me for supper at the hotel and tell me a bit about them?" Mark felt a little awkward asking an adult to supper, but Marshal Osborne felt like an old friend, one who treated Mark like an adult himself.

"I would love to Mark, but I think it's best if you get back to the ranch... and stay away from town for a few days."

"Why...?"

"Some reporters came into town on the morning stage, looking for the “Rifleman's” son to interview... I guess word has gotten out."

"I shouldn't really be that surprised... Pa had quite a reputation. Thanks for the warning... you couldn't come to the ranch for supper? It would be nice having someone else out there for a change..."

"Sure. Let me get someone to watch the office, and I'll meet you...?"

"The buck board is in front of the general store. Micah usually had Nils take over when he had to leave, Nils is the blacksmith."

"Thanks, I'll be over in a minute."

Marshal Osborne tied his horse to the back of the buck board and sat next to Mark for the ride to the ranch.

"My wife, Catherine, and I grew up in Bloomington, Oklahoma. We were mortal enemies until our late teens, when our hate for each other turned to love. We married when I was twenty-four, and moved to Denver where I first became interested in law. We have three children; Ned is nineteen, Cassie is turning sixteen in a few weeks, and Anna is thirteen."

"We lived in Enid, Oklahoma... before my Ma died... then traveled around for a while before we moved out here. I've met my Ma's father and brother, don't remember much of my Pa's family, but I think I have a few uncles and aunts, and my Pa's father."

"Have you thought about trying to contact them?"

"Not really... I could maybe try to find Uncle Johnny, my Ma's brother, but he's always moving around. I don't have any way to contact anyone on my Pa's side… due to old family problems. Beside, it's probably better that way."

"Why do you say that?"

"If they knew they had an orphaned nephew, they'd probably try to get custody and get me to live with them. I'm staying here, and that's that."

Once they arrived at the ranch, Mark unhitched the team and let them out in the paddock. He and Marshal Osborne walked inside and Mark began frying up some pork chops and potatoes as they continued talking. Marshal Osborne told Mark of his life as a marshal, which intrigued Mark very much, and Mark told the marshal about the life he had once enjoyed with his Pa.

It was bittersweet talking about his Pa, it felt good to remember what they had gone through together, but it was also a struggle to keep the tears away as he did.

After dinner, Marshal Osborne and Mark were standing on the front porch talking when a rider could be seen riding up in the distance. Osborne noticed Mark reaching into the house to grab his rifle.

"It's my partner, Mark, you can put the gun away," Osborne said once he recognized the man.

"John, they're here! We need to move, NOW!" Osborne straightened up and a look Mark couldn't identify crossed the Marshal's face.

"Head back to town, I'll be there as soon as I can."

The man nodded and rode away, and Osborne turned towards Mark and placed his hands on Mark's shoulders.

"Mark, I need you to go inside and stay there. If anyone rides up that you don't know, bolt the doors and don't let them in."

"Why? What's going on?"

"I don't have time to explain, just do as I say and under no circumstances come into town until I send someone to get you or come myself."

"But-"

"Mark, I need to go. Please, do as I say."

Mark nodded and went into the house as the Marshal mounted up and rode away.
“What in the world is going on?” Mark asked himself as he started to wash the dishes.

Who were “they” and why were “they” here? Why did they have the marshal and his partner so worried? Mark wanted to go work on the evening chores once he finished the dishes, but knew he should listen to the marshal and stay inside. Mark sat at the table just waiting for quite some time before finally picking up a book and starting to read, but he couldn't focus. He wanted to know what was happening, and was concerned about Marshal Osborne's safety.

As the sun began to set and darkness began to cover the land, Mark once again realized just how alone he was, how much he wished his Pa was there with him. Hoping to find some comfort, Mark opened his Pa's Bible and began reading as he sat in his father's chair.

10MC10

Mark woke up as a clap of thunder shook the house. He closed the Bible and returned it to its spot, then went to the bedroom to change. Mark was glad to hear the rain, he had noticed the water holes were starting to get dry.

Mark lied in bed, trying to get back to sleep. He looked at the timepiece, which read one-thirty. His thoughts wandered from his Pa to his Ma as he thought about when Mr. Wingate had tried to claim Mark as his own son. How his Pa had opened the Bible to show him...
'The Bible!' Mark thought. ' I didn't write it in the Bible...'
 
Mark slowly got out of bed and walked into the front room. He lit the lamp and got the Bible from its spot. He gently placed it on the table, and got a pen. Slowly, Mark opened the front cover.

"Lucas and Margaret McCain, married and the date.

Mark Warren McCain, born and the date

Margaret McCain, died and the date."

As Mark dipped the pen in the inkwell with a shaky hand, a clap of thunder drowned out the noise of a door opening behind him. Right before Mark put the pen to paper, he heard a very familiar voice behind him.

"You don't need to write anything, Son."

Mark jumped out of his seat, dropped the pen, and turned around. He didn't take long to look at the man in his home before running out the door and making his way into the barn.
 
'It's too much! I can't do this by myself, I'm going crazy!' Mark thought as he made his way to the hayloft, where he drew his knees to his chest, wrapped his arms around his legs and cried, head down.

Mark thought he heard his name being called from below, but told himself to ignore his imagination. When he heard footsteps coming up the ladder, he regretted not listening to Marshal Osborne about staying in the house, and also regretted not remembering what his Pa had taught him about keeping his gun at the ready. Mark looked up and saw a tall, blond haired man coming towards him. Mark didn't say anything, he just stared. He wanted to run, but where? And if this was his imagination... or a ghost... He wouldn't be able to get away from it. The man keeled down inches from Mark, with a look of love and sadness on his face.

"Mark...?" There was no reply to the man's call. "Son, please say something."

Mark blinked and shook his head several times, pinched himself, and before he could slap himself, the man had Mark's wrist in his hand.

"Yes Mark, I'm alive, and no, you're not dreaming."

"I buried you..." Mark barely whispered.

"I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do."

Mark reached out to touch the man's face, but before he could make contact, he had fallen into Lucas' strong arms.

"Oh, Pa!" Mark cried.

Mark sat up and repeatedly kissed Lucas on the cheek. He finally backed up a little and began
trying to wipe away the constant flow of tears.

"...You're alive...?" Mark stated and asked.

"Yes, Mark."

"You're alive..." Mark said again.

Lucas took his hands and put them on his son's face, using his thumbs to brush away the tears.

"Mark, I'm sorry."

"Marshal Osborne and Lou said you were shot... I saw Doc Burrage pull the sheet over you... I buried you on-"

"Mark, the only people in town who knew what was going on where Doc, Mr. Toomey and Marshal Osborne. Micah and I were ambushed trying to bring the prisoner back, he was the brother of the leader of the Mistil gang. Marshal Osborne happened along us, and helped us. By the end the three that had tried the ambush were dead. Osborne was on assignment trying to find and arrest Mistil, he came up with the an idea to trap Mistil and finally arrest him, but it included pretending both Micah and I had died in the ambush. News about our deaths was spread in the towns surrounding where Osborne was pretty sure Mistil was."

"I don't understand how you dying-"

"With Micah and I gone, Mistil would have easy access to his brother. Mistil took the bait and showed up in town with the rest of his gang tonight where Osborne's men, Micah and I waited until they tried to spring the prisoner and then arrested them."

"Was anyone hurt?"

"Osborne took a few bullets-"

"Will he be alright?" Mark asked with concern.

Lucas put a hand on Mark's shoulder, still holding his other hand to Mark's face.

"It will be a long recovery, but he will go back to his normal duties in about three months."

"Are you alright?" Mark asked as he looked over his Pa.

"I'm fine." Lucas assured him.

Mark breathed a sigh of relief.

Finally, Mark let himself get upset. He stepped back from his Pa, not knowing if he wanted to risk talking to his Pa like this, but knowing he needed to get everything out in the open.

"Where have you been this last week?"

"Kept outside of town for the most part, came to the ranch a few times."

"And you couldn't take thirty seconds out of your 'busy' day to say something to me? Write me a note? Something?"

"Osborne's superiors approved the plan, but said we couldn't tell anyone we were alive. If news got out..."

"So you don't trust me?"

"Mark, it's not-"

"Yes it is! If you trusted me, you would've talked to me. I could've played along just fine, knowing you were alive, I could've helped you! But instead you stood by and put me through the worst week of my life! Pa, I died last Saturday!"

Lucas kept silent, he didn't know what to say to his son... he had seen only a small part of what his son had gone through, but he had known he was miserable from what Osborne had told him. Why didn't he tell Mark?

"Pa, what happened to no secrets between us? What did I do to make you think I could handle your death?"

"Mark... I was wrong not to tell you. Orders or not I should have been there with you, I shouldn't have put you through that. I... didn't realize what it would do to you."

"Don't you know by now? Pa, you're my life! For this past week, I've had no Pa. For this past week, I've only survived. I came home to an empty house everyday, and every night I cried myself to sleep in an empty bedroom! I was alone, yes, I was scared. I had to take over a ranch and run it while still trying to grieve. You're my Pa, what do you think it would have done to me?!"

"Mark... I wanted to talk to you so badly, come to you, comfort you... I'm sorry I didn't."

"You know what was the worst part was? Do you realize what day you killed yourself off?!"

"What do you mean?" Lucas asked before Mark turned away from his Pa.

"June 3rd, 1887."

Lucas closed his eyes and let out a sigh of regret as he realized the mistake he had made.

"You couldn't have waited another day? I lost my Pa on the tenth year anniversary of my Ma's death. Do you realize how much harder that made everything?!"

"Mark... I am so sorry.."

"I don't want you to be sorry! I want... I... want... I..."

'What do I want?' Mark asked himself.

"Mark?" Lucas asked as he put a hand on the back of Mark's shoulder.

Mark turned around and looked his Pa straight in the eyes.

"I want to be in my Pa's arms."

Father and son embraced as Mark's tears kept flowing and Lucas's began. He realized how much pain he had caused his son, and wished there was some way he could make it all go away, but knew he couldn't.

"Mark I am-"

"I love you, Pa," Mark said as he squeezed a little tighter.

"Does that mean I'm forgiven?" Lucas asked.

Mark separated a little ways from Lucas so he could look up at his Pa, but not enough to let go.

"Promise me you won't ever do something like this again!"

"I promise," Lucas said as he pulled his son close and kissed the top of his head. "I love you."

Mark and Lucas walked back to the house, Mark's arm wrapped around Lucas who had an arm over Mark's shoulder. As they sat in the kitchen talking, Lucas realized that his son didn't look very good, and was acting like he did when he was sick.

"Mark, are you alright?"

"Still trying to get over the shock that you're alive, and-"

"No, physically. You don't look very good... and now that I think about it, you felt smaller than normal. Have you been eating right?"

"...Not really."

"Didn't Lou or someone notice?"

"Lou and the marshal both commented on how I looked today. Told Marshal Osborne that I've been feeling sick and haven't really been eating that much."

"Well how much is 'that much'?"

"A meal a day..."

"Mark,"

"Or less..."

"Less? Son, we've talked about this..."

"Really Pa, it wasn't on purpose. I guess I didn't make myself eat but I just felt so sick..."

"From what?"

"Pa, you had died. I was ready to die."

"What have I told you about thinking like that?"

"Pa, please try to understand. Everything you had always told me was under the understanding that you would be alive, be there for me, eventually. I had buried you, and you were gone. I felt sick from the pain of losing you, I guess. Eating just made me feel sicker, so I didn't unless I had to."

"Well, we're going to have to fatten you up over the next few days then, aren't we?"

Mark remained silent and Lucas sensed that his son was struggling with something more.

"What's wrong, son?"

"I'm sorry Pa, I'm just trying to grasp everything... and I guess I'm a little disappointed in myself. I had tried so hard to keep myself together, to take everything that was happening like you would've... but it was too much and I couldn't. I'm sorry I couldn't handle it like you thought I could, I'm sorry I wasn't grown-up enough yet."

"Mark, it wasn't you not meeting my expectations, I didn't think through any of it. I didn't think about how it would affect you. But when Marshal Osborne told me how you reacted..."

Mark was ready for his Pa to say that he realized just how much Mark was still a boy, but something else came out.

"I couldn't have been any prouder. You carried yourself like the man you are, didn't shove people away or use circumstances to lash out at people. He told me what you said about finding the man who had “shot” me, as well as what you said about becoming half the man I was. Mark, you're well beyond that point, and in some areas even more than a man that I am. Had the situation been reversed, I would've been ready to hunt the criminal down and make him pay. But you, son, were ready to tell him you forgave him. You hurt from losing me, but you didn't let your hurt turn to hate. This past week I've watched my son mature into a man, and even though I'm sorry it had to happen this way and for what I did to you, I'm proud to have such a man as my son."

"Pa, I'm sorry I talked to you the way I did out in the barn..."

"Mark, I won't say I can commend your tone, but I can understand why you were angry with me. Mark, this past week I put you through the lowest valley you've ever had to face, and I put you through it alone. All the emotions you've been feeling this past week came out, because you haven't had anyone to talk them through with. That's another place I failed you, and I'm sorry."

"But I shouldn't of..." Mark stopped mid sentence and started laughing through the tears.

Lucas wrinkled his brow in confusion.

"What's so funny?"

"We're going in circles again, playing the blame game."

Lucas joined his son in his laughter and pulled Mark into another embrace.

Mark and Lucas stayed up until four-thirty, talking about the past week and everything they had both gone through. When Lucas finally realized what time it was, they headed to bed to catch a few hours of sleep.

11MC11

Mark woke and saw that it was almost noon, when he turned to say something to his Pa, no one was there. Mark frantically looked around, then jumped out of bed and ran to the front room, calling for Lucas.

"Pa?!" Mark was praying it hadn't all been a dream... praying that his Pa was still alive. Mark ran out to the barn and let out a sigh of relief as he saw his Pa milking the cow. Lucas had heard Mark come into the barn and turned around.

"Mark, what's wrong?" Lucas asked as he stood and walked to his son.

"I'm sorry... I woke up and you weren't there... I thought..." Mark didn't want to say it.

"It's alright, son." Lucas put a hand on Mark's shoulder, knowing they both needed the contact. "Why don't you go inside and get dressed, get something to eat, and then we'll head to town."

"Alright Pa," Mark replied as he started to walk towards the house, but then stopped. "Pa?"

"Yes, Mark?" Lucas replied as he turned back towards Mark.

"I..." Mark ran the few feet between them and closed the gap between him and Lucas, giving his Pa a hug. "I'm so glad you're alive."

12MC12

The first stop the two made in town was the Marshal's office. Father and son walked into the office, both carrying their rifles. They found Micah asleep in his chair, boots on the desk. Mark looked at Lucas, who nodded, knowing what his son was asking. Lucas mouthed, 'One, two, three.' Before they both shouted, "Micah, they're getting away!"

Micah startled awake, grabbed his gun, and as he asked where they were headed, ran to the door.

Mark was the first to let out a laugh, followed by Lucas.

"It'll serve you two right if I die from a heart attack one of these days and you have to bury me."

Lucas and Micah both noticed Mark grow quiet, then they realized why.

"I think we need to take out some tombstones today," Lucas commented. 

"It's good to see you, alive, Micah," Mark said as he walked over to the Marshal and gave him a pat on the shoulder.

"Hope you didn't waste too many tears on me," Micah replied.

"What would make you think I'd cry over your death?" Mark teased. "How is Marshal Osborne doing?"

"Better, I saw him this morning. He was asking about you."

"He was?" Mark asked, surprised.

"He wanted to make sure you were doing fine with everything. I told him I hadn’t seen you yet. They're letting him stay in room nine in the hotel if you'd like to see him."

Mark looked up at his Pa in askance.

"We'll head over together in a minute, I need to talk with Lou..." Lucas sighed as he said the last part, knowing he was going to have to do a LOT of explaining and talking to get back in her good graces.

"Well, you have fun with that," Micah began. "I'd go with you to help, but I've got a jail full of prisoners to keep an eye on."

"Thanks, “friend”." Lucas teased.
 
"No problem, Lucas-boy."

Lucas and Mark entered the hotel, and to Lucas' dismay, Lou was standing right at the front desk and saw them heading over. Neither one had gotten their hat off before Lou began her lecture.

"Lucas McCain, I ought ta run ye out of here! How could you do this to the town? Yer friends? Ta Mark? Ye should've seen him, poor lad, sick with grief! Letting him go a week thinking he had no Pa!"

Mark snickered at his Pa's situation as he made his way up the staircase. Lou was probably going to talk his ear off and be giving him a hard time for several weeks. He'd put in a good word for his Pa, but he doubted that would help. Lou had a special spot in her heart for Mark and would take on anyone who threatened his safety or well being, even if it was Lucas.

Mark knocked on the door before hearing, "Who is it?" from the other side.

"Mark McCain, sir."

"Come on in!"

Mark opened the door and entered the hotel room. He hadn't quite expected what he saw. Marshal Osborne had a bandage around his head and ribs, his left arm was in a sling, and had a black eye.

"Are you alright?" Mark asked as he closed the door.

"Never been better," He answered with a smile.

"Haha," Mark said sarcastically. "What happened to your eye?"

"Just got in a fist fight with one of the outlaws. I'm getting too old for this outlaw chasing stuff. ...Have you seen your father?"

"Yes sir. He got home early this morning. We talked for a long time... after I was done yelling," Mark said with embarrassment in his voice.

"I'd probably yell too if someone I loved did that to me. Not saying you should have, but it is understandable."

"Yeah, I kind of lashed out at Pa. I let all the grief from last week come out as anger towards him. I... suppose I was mad at him, for a short while, but I love him so much... I'm just glad he is alive."

"I've seen how much you love your Pa, what you have is something special, don't let something come between you two."

"I won't, sir. I suppose you'll be headed back to Denver once you've recovered?"

"No, actually. Like I said, Mark, I'm getting too old for this chasing outlaws around the territory."

"You're retiring?" Mark asked with a little more alarm then he meant to.

"No, just changing what I do as a Marshal. Marshal Torrance sent in a request for a deputy a few months back, and I was considering taking the job before I was put on this assignment. After seeing North Fork, I think I will."

"So North Fork will have two Marshals?" Mark asked with excitement.

"Yep, as long as my superiors approve everything. It will be nice being able to live with my family more than a few months at a time."

"I'm sure it will, sir. I'm glad you're not leaving, and... I wanted to say I appreciate the way you've talked with me and helped me this past week, I don't know if I would've survived if you hadn't been here."

"Mark, it's been a pleasure getting to know such a fine, young, man. I know your Pa is proud of you."

"That he is," Mark heard from behind him as Lucas shut the door.

"How did you escape Lou?" Mark asked.

"She got distracted with a guest."

"Ahh."

"Marshal, I'd like to thank you for looking out for my son, as well," Lucas offered.

"It was my pleasure."

"Son, we need to get going."

"Before Lou figures out where you went?" Mark asked.

"No, we have errands to run and chores to do at the ranch."

"Uhuh," Mark and Marshal Osborne said in unison.

"...And that guest won't keep her busy for very long."

13MC13

After drying and putting away the last dish, Lucas stepped out onto the porch where his son was leaning against a post, looking out on the vast prairie.

"Mark, is there something else you're needing to talk about, Son? You've been deep in thought all night."

"Huh? I'm sorry Pa I didn't hear what you said, I've just been thinking."

"What were you thinking about?"

Mark hesitated, he didn't want to keep bringing this up, but he was still having a hard time accepting everything.

"Pa, please don't take this the wrong way. I can't tell you how glad I am that you're alive, safe, with me. Once I acknowledged it was you in the barn, I had life again, it's just... my mind keeps telling me you're still gone. I can't explain it."

"Mark, I understand. You went through the grieving process, you had accepted my death, and now your brain is confused."

"It's more than that, though... I can't put my finger on it... it's.. it's like..." Mark slid down the post as a tear rolled down his cheek.

Lucas sat next to his son and put a loving hand on his shoulder.

"Just think it through, slowly. What is it like?" Lucas asked.

"Pa, I'm confused and... and I think I'm scared." Mark admitted.

"Scared? About what?"

"You know when I woke up after my riding accident and I told you I had a dream, but didn't need to talk about it?" Lucas nodded. "Well, after you had left, I realized I did need to figure it out and move on. I stayed up late one night getting my thoughts together, I even saved the paper I wrote them on. It was done and in the past... until you died. I was back to a world with no one to call, “Pa,” except this time, I was an orphan."

"What exactly happened in your dream?"

"I woke up in a world where you had died in the epidemic, not Ma. It was great talking with Ma, living with her, but you weren't there and I grieved for you. I eventually had to accept your death, and it wasn't long after I did that I woke up here. Then you left... and died... and I watched Doc Burrage finish pulling that sheet over you… what I thought was you. I buried you up there, and that's where I accepted your death, again," Mark said as he gestured to the hill. "Then you show up again. I 'know' you're alive but it's like my mind is afraid to accept it... Pa... Pa, I'm scared of losing you again." Mark cried as he turned from Lucas, feeling ashamed.

Lucas loving wrapped his arms around his son and held Mark against him, tears falling down his own cheeks from seeing Mark in such pain.

"Mark, I can't promise you I'll always be there for you, death is a part of life. But I'll be here for you as long as I can. Son, there's a bond between us that my “death” didn't even separate. I could feel it as I watched you work or swim, I felt it when I first saw you leaning over the Bible,
ready to document my death... I feel it now, it's a bond that will never go away."

"I know Pa... but that only makes living with the possibility of losing you harder. Pa, I don't want to be scared, but I love you too much not to be," Mark said as tears continued.

"Mark, fear of losing you is something I have to deal with all the time. I have to shove it aside and focus. If I let it run my life, our relationship would be ruined. Son, you have to learn from it. Don't ignore your emotions, embrace them and redirect them. Use what you feel to remind yourself to be cautious and careful, to be aware. Mark, I don't want you to live in fear of anything, but rather use the love you feel to overcome the fear, and enjoy the time we have." There were a few moments of silence before Mark spoke up.

"Pa... thank you for listening, for understanding... and... Pa?"

"Yes, son?"

"Thanks for giving me someone to call Pa."

 

Cherishing the Time

Morgan's Corner

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

The Writer's Corner
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