The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Poem
Chapter14
Written by Morgan

 “And Lou, don't be afraid to give her a good swat if she gets outta line,” Lucas teased.

“I'm sure Rachael and I'll get along just fine, Cowboy. You two have a good time!”

“Thanks, Lou.”

“See you in a week,” Milly added as she and Lucas headed out the door.

Husband and wife walked to the station and boarded the train shortly before it pulled out of the station.

“Lucas, should we really be doing this?” Milly asked as she anxiously glanced out the window.

“Milly, relax. I was going to have to make the trip anyway to take care of ranching business, and you need to get away. Mark and Cassie can handle the ranch fine… and I'm sure they'll appreciate having some time together, as well. I thought you were looking forward to seeing Cora again?”

“I am… there's just something tugging at me. It’s like…” Milly's voice trailed off as she shook her head.

“It's like what?”

“...Never mind. Like you said, we're supposed to enjoy this trip,” Milly replied as she forced a believable smile on her face.

Lucas seemed to be satisfied with her answer and stretched his long legs out as he leaned against the seat. It wasn't long before Milly realized Lucas had fallen asleep and wished she could do the same, but she couldn't shake this feeling.

 

Milly remembered back over a year ago when she woke with same sensation running through her being. A short while later, they were working to save Mark’s life. He'd been out to check the cattle when a light snowfall turned to a blizzard. By the time he finally found his way home… he'd been out in the cold too long.

Milly tried to put the memory aside, but it refused to leave her alone. Milly hoped this was one time her intuition was wrong.


Several hours later, the train pulled into another station and the McCains stepped onto the platform with the other passengers. Catching sight of the Severs, Lucas offered Milly his arm before the two made their way over.

“Lucas, Milly, good to see you again!” Ben Severs exclaimed as he and Lucas shook hands.

“It's been too long! We've missed you in North Fork!” Lucas replied.

“We miss North Fork, too. That hoof and mouth did quite a number, I'm glad to know you made it through.”

“It was difficult, but we did. You should see North Fork now, she's really grown up!”

“We’d love to make a visit one of these days,” Ben answered.

“Why don't we get your luggage in the buck board and get you over to the house? I'm sure you're tired from your trip.” Cora suggested.

“Thank you again for putting us up,” Lucas replied.

“We owe it to you,” Ben stated. “Besides that, we're friends and it's our pleasure.”

After Lucas and Milly changed, Ben took Lucas to see his new herd while the women worked on supper. Milly enjoyed catching up with her friend, but Cora could sense there was something Milly was hesitant about.

“Milly, would you please come out and say whatever it is? We're good friends; I won't take anything wrong.”

“... I don't know how to ask this, so please don't think me rude, but… are you-”

“Is it that obvious?” Cora laughed.

“...I thought you couldn't have children?”

“That's what they told me after I lost our first baby, but here I am.”

“Have you told Ben?”

“No, I've been waiting for the right time. He's been under a lot of stress and I don't think him worrying about the baby and me is going to help matters.”

“Cora, you're starting to show. Not much, but it won't take long for a man to start noticing. He's going to figure it out if you don't tell him.”

“I think I might tell him tonight… then he can talk to Lucas on the way to Spring Junction if he needs to. I know Ben appreciated being able to talk to him when we lost our first child, and if he has any worries about losing this one...”

“Lucas has been through it, I’m sure he'll be able to put Ben at ease.”

“I'm glad you're both here…” Cora hesitated for a moment before continuing. “...Am I mistaken, or are you carrying a secret, as well?”

“...I'm not certain. Cora, I've longed for a child since Lucas and I were married. I love Mark as if I carried him… but I have a yearning to hold my baby in my arms and raise them. I've wondered if I'm pregnant… but I don't want to get my hopes up.”

“How long have you been suspecting it?”

“About a month.”

“Well have you been to your doctor?”

“I'm probably imagining things...”

“You can’t be imagining everything. Tell you what, I have an appointment tomorrow morning with my doctor, why don't you come with me?”

“I don't know, Cora…”

“Milly, there's no harm in asking him to check. I'm surprised you haven't been to Doc Burrage already.”

“I suppose I'm afraid to find out that God's answer to my prayer is no.”

“But it could be yes. Let Him give you His answer, and even if you're not pregnant now, it doesn't mean He's not telling you to wait.”

“Are you sure you want me at your appointment?”

“Of course I do, it will be nice to have a friend there. And I think it's about time you put your wondering to an end.”


Before long, the men had returned home and they all had a well enjoyed evening. Neither couple stayed up late, seeing as how Lucas and Ben had an early morning.

...A much too early morning. Sooner than they would have liked, Lucas and Ben were kissing their wives goodbye and mounting up.

It wasn't a terribly long ride to Spring Junction, about five or six hours, but it gave them the time they needed to discuss things as Cora had anticipated.

“Lucas, you know Cora and I had a miscarriage back in North Fork, and I appreciate how open you were and that you let us talk about it with you.”

“I understand the pain that comes with losing a child, I'm glad I could help.”

“... I don't mean to bring up painful memories for you, but when Margaret told you she was pregnant with Mark… were you…”

“Scared?” Ben nodded in reply. “You better believe it. I was elated with the possibility of having a child, but I was fearful of losing another child. But it grows your faith, and you learn to appreciate the time you have while you wait for your child to make their entrance.”

“Cora and I were talking after we went to bed last night and… she told me she is pregnant.”

Lucas looked over to his friend. On one hand, it looked like Ben was ecstatic; on the other, it looked as though he was petrified.


“Well I'd say congratulations are in order! Ben, enjoy it. I know it's hard; the memories from the last pregnancy will return. But you just have to remind yourself that this isn't the previous pregnancy and that the Good Lord will see you through.”

“I can't tell you how hard it was to leave this morning…”

“She'll be there when we get back, Milly will take extra good care of her, and the baby, I'm sure.”

“Do you think she knows about the baby?”

“Ben, you have two extremely close friends who haven't seen each other in years, alone with nothing better to talk about. I'm sure she knows,” Lucas laughed.


1MC1

Mark rolled over and looked at the timepiece to see that he had way overslept. He looked to the other side of the bed and now realized that Cassie wasn't there. Mark quickly dressed before making his way to the front room and found Cassie cooking breakfast at the stove.

“How long have you been up?” Mark asked as he started helping his wife.

“Not long. I just ran down the hill for eggs and milk before starting this.”

“You should have woken me up.”

“You looked exhausted last night, I figured you could use a little extra sleep.”

Mark gave Cassie a kiss on the cheek before he began to set the table.

“Do you have much to do today?” Cassie inquired.

“The usual, I'll be back about five.”

“I'll be sure to have supper ready about then.”

“What's on the menu tonight?”

“Chicken pudding.”

“...Maybe we should have dinner in town tonight...” Mark teased.

“If you're offering,” Cassie quickly shot back.

“Why not? I can cut my day a little short.”

“I can cook, it's no-”

“We can have chicken pudding anytime. It's been a while since I've treated you to dinner, and we could stop by your Ma’s afterwards as well.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I'll swing by the house around four-thirty to change and then we can drive into town. ...Just don't burn my breakfast!”

Cassie suddenly looked down and stirred the eggs a little more before taking the pan off the stove.

Husband and wife enjoyed their usual morning routine before Mark left to get some work done.

That morning and afternoon Cassie spent a little extra time getting some much needed cleaning done. It had been a while since she'd been able to scrub the floors or clean the stove, and she was glad she was finally able to get the tasks done.

As promised, Mark took Cassie to town for supper that night. They both immensely enjoyed the evening and went to Catherine's afterward. Cassie knocked before letting herself into her mother's home, Mark close behind.

“Ma?” Cassie called after not seeing Catherine in the front room.

“Maybe she's-”

Mark’s statement was cut short by a crash from Catherine's bedroom. Mark and Cassie hurried across the room and entered the bedroom to find Catherine on the bedroom floor, clutching her chest and coughing severely. The night stand was turned over and the lantern was shattered on the floor.

“Ma!?” Cassie exclaimed as she carefully stepped past the glass and made her way towards her mother. “Mark-”

“I'm going for Doc!” Mark said, reading his wife's mind.

“Ma, what happened? Can you hear me?? Ma!?”

“I'm- I'm fine. Just… lost my balance,” Catherine finally stated between coughs and ragged breaths.

Cassie sat behind her mother and tried to help her sit up, and could instantly tell Catherine was running a fever.

“Just lost your balance??”

“Cassie… I'll be fine…”

“Let's get you into bed and we'll let Doc tell me that.”

Catherine simply nodded as Cassie helped her up and into bed. After Catherine was settled, Cassie went for a broom to clear away some of the glass before Doc Burrage arrived. The constant coughs Cassie heard from her mother were concerning her, especially when she saw that Catherine was coughing up blood.

“Ma, how long has this been going on?” Cassie asked as she pointed to the blood-stained handkerchief.

“A few days, but…” Catherine's sentence was again interrupted by a fit of coughing.

Cassie got a glass of water, as well as a damp cloth and continued to tend to Catherine until Doc Burrage finally arrived.

Mark and Cassie stood back as they waited for Doc to finish. Mark wrapped his arms around Cassie as she anxiously watched the doctor.

By the time Doc Burrage was done with his questions and began putting everything away, Catherine was asleep.

“Doc?” Cassie worriedly asked.

“I'm afraid it's tuberculosis,” Burrage solemnly replied.

“How bad is it?” Mark inquired.

“She should have been in to see me two weeks ago. I've started her on some medication… it should help, but she'll be in a bad way for some time. I don't think it would be a good idea to move her to the office right now, but I don't want to leave her alone, either.”

“I can head back to the ranch and grab you a few changes of clothes, Cassie,” Mark suggested.

“Thank you, Mark.”

Cassie gave Mark a loving kiss before he left for the ranch. While he was gone, Doc gave Cassie specific instructions on how to care for Catherine, and when to give her medication.

“I'll be back in the morning, but you know where my office is if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

Cassie vigilantly sat at her mother's bedside, trying to keep her as comfortable as possible. Catherine's coughs wouldn't let her sleep long, but Cassie knew Catherine wasn't up for conversation when she was awake. Cassie simply tended to her mother and softly sang as her mother had done so many times for her during her childhood.

Catherine had again drifted off to sleep when Mark returned with a bag for Cassie.

“How is she?”

“Doc said the medicine should help her sleep, but the coughing keeps waking her up. Although the time she stays asleep is getting longer.”

“I wish I could stay here with you, but-”

“I couldn't ask you to stay, the cattle have been causing too much trouble. I'm sorry our week is-”

“Don't think a thing about it. We'll have our time, but your mother's well being is a priority right now. If things take a turn for the worse, have Johnny or someone ride out for me.”

Cassie nodded as a tear fell down her cheek.

Mark wrapped his arms around her as he kissed the top of her head.

“I've practically lost my father… I can't lose her, too…”

“I know it hurts, but it'll be alright.”

Cassie gave her husband a long kiss before walking him to the door.

“I'll be by Saturday, hopefully. Sunday morning at the latest.”

“Be careful out there, and steer clear of Trouble!”

“I will… I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Cassie watched her husband head down the road before she returned to her mother's bedside and quietly prayed over her.


2MC2

“Aunt Lou? What are you doing here?” Cassie asked as she opened the door to let Lou inside.

“Mark asked me to check in. How is Catherine?”

“Worse. Doc was here a little while ago and gave her something to help her sleep, so she's finally asleep again. It was a hard night.”

“And how are you?”

“Hanging in there.”

“Well I brought ye some breakfast, and I'm under strict orders from yer husband to see that you eat it.”

“Thank you.” Cassie gently smiled at her husband thoughtfulness.

Lou sat and visited with Cassie as the young woman ate and tended to her mother. After Cassie was finished, Lou collected the dishes and headed for the door.

“I have to be going, but if ye need anything, don't hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you, Aunt Lou.”

“I'll never get tired of hearing you or Mark call me “aunt.” I love ye both dearly.”

“And we, you. Thanks again.”

“Anytime.”

Lou left Catherine's home and headed to the hotel for the day, but on her way there caught sight of two young ladies in an alleyway.

“Rachael Davis, I thought I sent ye to school hours ago!”

Both girls turned around and looked up to see Lou sternly glaring at them with raised eyebrows.

“We… well… you see…” Melissa stammered.

“Mr. Griswold was just taking the class to see the mill today…” Rachael began.

“Ah, I see, and he said the two of ye could have the day off, is that it?”

“Well, not exactly…” Rachael replied.

“Then I suggest ye high tail it out of here and back to the mill!”

“Yes ma'am!” Both girls exclaimed before running off that direction, but Rachael suddenly stopped and turned around.

“... You're not gonna tell Uncle Lucas, are you?” She nervous asked.

“I don't think I need to.” Rachael relaxed, but all too soon. “I think your teacher will take care of that for me. Now run along.”

“Yes ma'am.”

Lou held in her chuckle until Rachael was out of earshot. That girl reminded Lou so much of herself.

When Lou reached the hotel, she found Maddy just about to run out the door and swept her daughter up in her arms.

“Now, just where do ye think you're going?”

Maddy simply giggled and smiled up at her mother.

“Why don't we find out where yer father is?”

Lou checked the restaurant and front desk before making her way to the office where she found Johnny sitting at her desk.

“You have an escaped prisoner, deputy,” Lou teased as she made her way towards Johnny; but once she saw her husband's face, Lou could tell something was wrong. “What is it, Johnny?”

“Micah just dropped by. Joseph Allen escaped prison again.”

“How?”

“Attacked one of the guards, I guess.”

“Do they have any idea where he is?”

“... That's the thing. He was seen heading into New Mexico territory.”

“I hope they arrested him soon. There's no telling what that man could-” Lou suddenly stopped as she realized there was more. “What aren't you telling me, Johnny?”

“The Marshals Service is getting marshals from all over the territory to ride in the posse. Micah's getting too old for that kind of thing… I volunteered to do it for him.”

“Without talking to me first!?” Lou suddenly demanded as she put a squirming Maddy down. “Deputing our quiet town is one thing. Chasing after criminals- asking for trouble- is something entirely different!”

“They would order Micah to do it if I didn't volunteer. What was I supposed to do? Let Micah go out there??”

Lou turned away from her husband and took a step towards the door.

“Lou,” Johnny called as he walked after her and put his hands on her shoulders. “Sweet heart, if it could be any different it would be. But Micah’s my… our friend. This is something I have to do.”

Lou turned around and sank into her husband's arms.

“When do you have to leave?”

“...As soon as I can.”

“I'll help you get packed… you just better come back.”

Johnny planted a kiss on Lou's forehead just as Maddy started pulling on his pant leg.

“Papa… up!”

Johnny reached down and picked his daughter up before putting an arm around Lou and starting out of the office.

“I’ll always come back.”

The Gibbs walked to their home where Lou helped Johnny get his things together. The two cherished the short minutes they had together, and suddenly realized just how much they had taken for granted their time together as of late.

 

*****


From the moment Lou had said goodbye to her husband, she tried to keep herself as busy as possible in attempt to distract herself from her worries… yet they still came. Rachael did her best to comfort Lou, but her attempts were futile.

Sunday morning brought a little change in Lou’s demeanor, and Rachael was glad to see Lou continuing her Sunday tradition and still invite everyone over for dinner. It was a smaller group than normal with both of the McCain couples, Catherine, and Johnny gone; nevertheless, everyone enjoyed themselves and Lou seemed to relax a bit.

Shortly after lunch, Lou asked Rachael to take some food over to Catherine's. Rachael happily obliged, and was soon knocking on Mrs. Osborne's door.

“Come in!” Rachael heard from the other side.

“Cassie?” Rachael called as she entered the home.

A few moments later, Rachael saw an exhausted Cassie come from the bedroom.

“Sorry Rachael, I was expecting Mark.”

“... That's alright…” Rachael slightly paused before continuing. “Cassie, are you alright?”

“I'm fine.”

“You don't look alright… maybe I should get Doc…”

“He was here this morning and agreed that I was just tired from getting such little rest. Do you know when Mark’s coming over?”

“...We assumed he was here with you; he wasn't in church this morning.”

“...He wasn't?” Cassie asked with concern.

“...He probably lost track of the days again.”

“No… not with Ma the way she is. He should be here.” Cassie thought for a moment before going on. “Could you get Uncle Johnny and ask him to ride out-”

“Uncle Johnny isn't in town, didn't anyone tell you?”

“No… where is he?”

“He had to join a posse out looking for an escape prisoner.”

“Could you ask Micah to ride out?”

“Of course. I'm sure Mark just overslept or something.”

“Now that I would believe…” Cassie slightly chuckled. “I hope you're right.”

“How's your Ma doing?”

“She's not getting worse anymore, and I'm thankful for that. I wish she'd start getting better.”

“We're all praying. Lou sent lunch over, make sure you eat something.”

“Thank you, Rachael.”

Rachael left the home and ran back to the Gibbs’. She knew this was out of character for her cousin and was concerned as to why Mark hadn't been in town the last few days.

Just as she was running up the porch steps, Micah came out the door.

“Slow down there, what's the hurry?” Micah asked.

“Micah, Mark's not at Mrs. Osborne's and wasn't in church. Cassie is worried something is wrong at the ranch… she asked if you could ride out there and check on him.”

“...The boy probably lost track of the days. I'll head over there after-”

“Micah, Mark hasn't been into town since they found Mrs. Osborne that first night. I haven't known Mark very long… but I don't think he'd go that long without checking up on Cassie.”

“I don't think so, either. I'll  head out there now. Keep this quiet… for the time being.”

“Yes sir.”

Rachael watched Micah mount up and head for the McCain ranch. After a few moments she went inside and asked for permission to take Liberty out for a ride.

“Of course,” Lou replied. “Where are you thinking?”

“Maybe out towards the ranch.”

“Don't stay out too long, you know how the weather likes to change.”

“Yes ma'am.”

Rachael quickly saddled Liberty and followed after Micah. It didn't take her long to catch up with him and found that he wasn't too pleased with the fact that she had followed him.

“Rachael, I don't think we'll run into trouble, but I don't want you there if we do.”

“I'm worried about him, and I have just as much right to go to the ranch as the next person. More, actually.”

“Go back to town, Rachael.”

“I can take care of myself, I don't care what you say, I'm going to find out if Mark’s alright. I can go with you, or by myself.”

Micah looked into Rachael’s eyes and saw the determination he had seen in Mark’s eyes so many times.

“You're too much like him.”

“Like who?”

“Your cousin. Stay close.”

Rachael silently followed behind the marshal the rest of the way to the ranch. An eerie feeling came over both of them as the homestead came into view. Things were quiet. Too quiet.

“Look!” Rachael exclaimed as they rode into the yard.

Micah watched the girl jump off her horse and run towards the barn doors where Mark's rifle and hat lied in the dirt.

“Stay here,” Micah ordered before he carefully went into the barn. The few moments Micah spent in the barn felt like hours as Rachael waited for him to come back out.

“Well?” Rachael asked when he reappeared.

“All the animals are in there, including BlueBoy. ...Looks like things haven't been taken care of for a few days. Why don't you feed the animals while I check inside the house?”

Something stopped Rachael from arguing and she quickly did as she was told. It only took a few minutes, and she soon was standing in front of Micah inside Lucas and Milly’s home.

“What does it say?” Rachael asked, seeing the note in Micah's shaking hand.

Micah slowly looked up at Rachael, his face nearly white. He slowly handed her the paper which she silently read.

“I gave you a warning as plain as can be,
But you didn't listen and antagonized me.
One wasn't enough; you had to take two
So what's coming to you is long overdue.

You don't have much time, this is no joke
For a very close relative may soon croak.

Only one week I give you, McCain,
For my mind may be overtaken by my pain.

Come alone, or your time will be even less,
But one thing I will say to ease your stress:
I'm not taking him too far away,
To Belen, your ride is just over a day.

Do not try my patience, for it easily is lost,
And the life of your son could be the cost.
This is your one and only warning...
Come, lest you join me in my mourning.”


3MC3

“Put the books away for once!” Brooke laughed as she closed the book Anna was trying to study from.

“You know I have a big test this week. I've got to study.”

“You need to let your brain relax or you won't remember anything. Fifteen minutes.”

“Brooke…”

“Ten?”

“Keeping good grades is how I pay for school!”

“Five? Just five minutes?”

“Alright. Five minutes. Who’s the talk of the school today?” Anna asked, knowing Brooke was there to talk about some new transfer student or something.

“You didn't meet the new doctor?”

“No- oh, you mean the one from New York? Dr. Carr?

“Who else?”

“Yes, I met him.”

“Isn't he simply amazing? So sophisticated, so young, so-”

“Stuck up?” Anna suggested.

“You can't be serious!”

“Did you talk to him?”

“No… someone like me can't just go up to someone like him and-”

“That's just it. He assumes you need to earn the right to talk to him. I had a very short conversation… and we didn't exactly get off on the right foot.”

“Sometimes we get bad first impressions.”

“Well I hope that's all it is. I'm assigned to work his wing at the hospital tomorrow.”

“Oh, I wish I was in your shoes!”

“If you can get Doctor Clayton to swap our assignments I'll happily trade you.”

“Really?”

“If you let me get back to studying, that is.”

Without another word, Brooke opened Anna's text book back up and left to find the doctor.

To both of the girls’ disappointment, the doctor denied the request, and Anna found herself working in Dr. Carr’s wing.

After checking on one of her patients, Anna found herself reading a letter to the elderly man from his son… until the doctor entered the room.

“Nurse, are you on break?”

“No Doctor, I-”

“This is a hospital, not a social club. I need you to continue on with your duties.”

“Doctor, I was just-”

“Now.”

“...Yes, Doctor.”

The Doctor and patient watched Anna leave the room. Dr. Carr began examining the patient as the old man spoke up.

“Don't be angry with the nurse. She asked me if she could come back later and read the letter, but I asked her to read it now. You see Doctor, I haven't heard from my son in over ten years. This letter is the first thing I've heard from any of my children in the last five years. Your nurse has compassion; an important quality in the field of nursing.”

“A dangerous one, as well. Keep your arm elevated.”

“And what made you lose yours?”

“My what?”

“Your compassion. Must have been something serious, seeing as how you can't be more than twenty years old.”

“If you must know, my parents were killed in a train robbery and the uncle who raised me used his belt all too often.”

“So it falls into place. School became your escape, then. Your parents must have invested a lot in your education for you to be so advanced at your age. What-”

“Good day, sir.”

The doctor quickly left the room and made his way down the hall before slipping into a linen closet. He wasn't there long before the door swung open.

“What do you want??” The doctor demanded.

Anna took a step back as shock shadowed her face.

“I… I need a new set of sheets… please.”

The doctor quickly handed her a whole stack and shut the door in her face.

Anna stood there for a moment, blankly staring at the door. Finally, she shook her head and went on to the rest of her responsibilities.

The end of the shift couldn't come fast enough. Anna felt like she was walking on eggshells and was relieved to escape back to the dorm. Her peace and quiet didn't last too terribly long, however. Brooke soon came into the room, something was obviously on her mind.

“So how'd it go?” Brooke excitedly asked.

“I think I made him dislike me even more,” Anna sighed as she let herself fall onto the bed.

“It couldn't have been all that bad.”

“Believe me, it was. Enough about that. How was your evening?”

“Same old thing. Although, I did catch wind that Ol’ Doc Stanley is retiring.”

“I'll believe it when I see it,” Anna laughed. “I think he lives for correcting everything we do.”

“I think in some ways, I'll miss him.”

“He can have a pretty hard exterior, but he cares about people, you can tell. Everyone will miss him.”

“We'll especially miss finding him asleep in his office!”

“It won't be the same.”

“Do you think that's why they brought Dr. Carr on?” Brooke suggested.

“...Maybe, but it'll surprise me if he's here long. I'm not the only nurse that doesn't get along with him very well. Even some of the other doctors seem a mite annoyed.”

“He's a Harvard graduate though…”

“How old was he when he started school? Twelve??”

“Fourteen from what I hear.”

Anna shook her head as she laughed.

“Harvard graduate or not, you need a heart to practice medicine or you won't understand your patients. He may know how to care for people. But he certainly doesn't know how to care about people.”


4MC4

Cassie stared at the note in horror as she sat across from Micah. The marshal watched as she slowly swallowed and her eyes lost all life… Cassie's shoulders slumped as she realized what this horrid message could mean.

“...What are you going to do?” Cassie finally asked in a faint whisper.

“I'm afraid I'm going to have to wait for Lucas and Milly to get back tomorrow afternoon. There's no possibility of me making it out there before the train leaves.”

“But Micah…” Cassie began as she looked up at the man. “Mark… Mark could be-”

“I know, Cassie, but whoever it is that's done this isn't playing around. We have to be careful and I'm afraid we can only wait for Lucas to return.” Micah stood up and slowly placed Mark's rifle and hat on the table. “I'm sorry, Cassie.”

Cassie gently reached out and ever so carefully put her hand on her husband's rifle, wanting it to bring him to her. But all she felt was cold steel.

“...Thank you Micah,” she finally managed to say.

“Cassie, if there's anything you need-”

“I'll be fine.”

Micah looked over Cassie one more time. She was completely defeated, and Micah could do nothing except helplessly watch as the young woman began building walls about herself. She was shutting down… and there was nothing he could do about it.

The Marshal slowly walked himself to the door and left the home as he replaced his hat on his head.


News of Mark's disappearance spread like wildfire across town, giving everyone a restless night. Micah didn't know how he was going to break the news to Lucas and Milly and spent the night trying to figure how to do so.

Finally, Monday afternoon came. Micah waited impatiently on the platform for the train to settle. As soon as he caught sight of Lucas and Milly, Micah quickly made his way towards them, trying to make sure none of the other townsfolk could talk to the couple first.

“Well, good to see you!” Lucas exclaimed with his charismatic smile. “Where's that son and daughter-in-law of mine? We were a bit surprised to not see… them…” Lucas’s voice trailed off as he saw Micah's expression.

“What's going on?” Milly asked.

“Let's get to the office,” Micah simply replied.

“Let me get the bags-” Lucas began, only to be interrupted.

“The bags can wait, we need to talk.”

Without hesitation Lucas and Milly followed Micah to his office where he made them take a seat. Micah let out a long sigh before he began to explain.

“Catherine’s taken ill; Doc says it's tuberculosis-”

“Is she alright?” Milly worriedly asked.

“It's slow, but she's recovering,” Micah replied. “...Cassie has been staying with her for the past few days to tend to her. Mark was supposed to be in town Saturday afternoon… or Sunday morning at the latest. Sunday afternoon rolled around and no one had seen him, so Rachael and I rode out to the ranch. We found Mark's hat and rifle on the ground outside the barn… and this in your house.”

Micah handed the crude poem to Lucas and waited for him and Milly to read it.

“...What is this Micah, some kind of joke?!” Lucas suddenly demanded.

“This is a long cry from a joke, Lucas. If Johnny wasn't out on a territorial posse, I'd have left to start the search for Mark myself-”

“No, Micah. They want me, they'll get me- and me alone! I'm not taking any risks!”

“It's too dangerous!”

“This is my son's life we're dealing with!” Lucas yelled as he started out the door.

Milly was close behind, trying to keep up with her husband.

“What are you going to do?” Milly asked, trying to keep her composure.

“I'm borrowing a horse from Nils and getting to Belen just as fast as I can!”

“I'll get you some things from the general store.”

“I don't have time, Milly-”

“Lucas!” Milly grabbed her husband's arm and waited for him to look at her. “I'm scared too, but you have to think rationally. It'll take you two days to get to Belen, you have to have food and water! You'll be no use to Mark if you don't.”

“... I'll meet you in front of the general store in five minutes.”

Lucas and Milly separated and set to their tasks. Within ten minutes, Lucas had everything he needed and was starting to mount up, but suddenly stepped down and gave Milly a long, passionate kiss.

“Be careful, Lucas.”

“I'll do whatever it takes to bring him home.”

As Lucas rode away, Micah walked up beside Milly.

“I'm sorry, Milly,” Micah offered.

“It's… it's not your fault.” Milly said with a weak smile. “Cassie… how's Cassie?”

“Not too well, I'm afraid. She was pure exhausted from caring for her mother and then getting the news about Mark… she's in a bad way, but won't admit it. Maybe you can reach her, Milly. Doc's the only one she'll let into the house… Lou tried this morning, but the girl's completely shut out the entire world.”

“She's at Catherine's, I'm assuming?”

“Yes. I'll walk you over there, if you'd like.”

“Thank you, Micah, but I think I best go alone.”

Milly quickly made her way to her sister's home. She didn't bother knocking, but found that the door was locked. Milly went around to the back of the house and retrieved the hidden key for the back door.

“I told you-” Cassie stopped short as she came out of the bedroom and saw Milly standing there. “Aunt Milly…”

Milly wasted no time in closing the gap between herself and her niece. She lovingly put her arms around the girl, and waited patiently for her to say something.
Yet Cassie never returned the hug.

“...Micah told you?” Cassie finally asked as she took a step back.

“Yes. Lucas left right before I came here… he'll find him Cassie, he will.”

“Excuse me, but I've got to take care of Ma.”

Milly looked at her niece with concern as Cassie walked towards the sink and began to fill the bowl with water. Milly was soon by her side again, but unsure of what to do.

“Cassie, stop for a moment…” Milly said as she put her hand on Cassie's.

Without looking at her aunt, Cassie pulled away and headed towards her mother's bedroom.

“I can't.”


5MC5

Mark had fought to regain consciousness for over an hour, and finally succeeded. However, that was just the beginning. His mind was working extremely slowly and he could hardly make sense of what was going on.
Mark finally was able to acknowledge that he was sitting on a hard surface… his arms...felt numb. Mark slowly realized his hands were tied to something above his head.

A wagon. He was in the back of a covered wagon… and they were moving. Yes, they were definitely moving; every bump in the road sent excruciating pain through his head.

Eventually, Mark could separate the noise of the wagon from voices; yet he couldn't understand what they were saying. Mark continued to work at understanding his situation, and finally it dawned on him that this wasn't normal. He was tied up- this meant he was in danger.
But why? Who had tied him up, and where were they going?

Mark tried to think back… but his brain didn't want to cooperate; he couldn't think back.

One thing he did remember… telling someone he loved them. His wife, that's who it was- Cassie.

Mark suddenly felt the wagon come to a stop. The fabric covering the entrance of the wagon was soon pushed aside and the light from outside only increased the intensity of his headache.

“Well, look who's awake!” A voice declared.

“We was getting worried, you've been out for a few days!” A second voice stated.

Mark opened his mouth to reply, but it was almost as if he couldn't talk. He concentrated, long and hard as the men came into the wagon and began untying him.

“Who…” Mark finally began. “Who are you?”

“I'm surprised you don't recognize us!” One man said. “After all, we did just 'bout kill your Pa. 'Course, there won't be any “just about’s” this time. No siree, this time, we have got you.”

Mark blankly stared at the man as they half drug, half carried an almost limp Mark out of the wagon. It ever so slowly sunk in that this man intended to kill Lucas, and Mark tried to figure out what to… and how to reply to the man.

“...What for?” Was all Mark could manage to get out.

The man Mark was just now realizing to be the older of the two suddenly gave Mark a blow across the cheek.

“What for?!” He demanded as the men dropped Mark to the ground. “I'll tell ya what for!” The man continued to yell as he sent a fist into Mark's face again. “That father of yours took everything from me!”

The man gave Mark a good kick in the ribs before going on.

“My boys! My life!” The man yelled as he continued to beat on Mark.

“Now calm down…” The other man began. “There's no reason to-”

“No reason?” The older man demanded. “No reason?! Don't you remember what that McCain did to your own cousin and brother!?”

“Well sure I do, Uncle, but that doesn't mean we have to torture his son… what's your plan when McCain gets here? He won't be too happy about the state his son's in!” The nephew exclaimed.

“I'll give him a choice. He can choose which way he watches his son to go… I had a son die by a gun and a son die by a hangman's noose. It's only fair to give McCain a choice.”

“Now wait a minute. You said we were killing McCain, not his son!”

“I said we were destroying McCain. But we will kill him, right after he watches his son die.”

“I won't shed innocent blood!”

“He's McCain’s son- a part of McCain! And I'm going to make McCain regret what he did!”

As the two men argued, Mark attempted to follow the conversation, but he could hardly stay awake. He tried to sit up, but the pain kept forcing him back to the ground and Mark finally felt one last blow before he fell unconscious again.

“Now look what you did!” The younger man stated.

“You better pick a side a stay with it, boy!” The older man declared. “You turning your back on me? Your own Uncle who took you in when you had nowhere else to go??”

“Killing McCain is one thing. From what you told me, McCain made his choice. His son didn't!”

The younger man turned around and began walking away.

“Just where do you think you're going!?” The uncle demanded.

“I’m going to try to figure out where I went wrong. ... I'm no murderer. I don't think I could even kill McCain.”

“You come back here! You hear me??”

“No, Uncle. Not this time.”

“If you're not with me…”

The man's nephew turned around to see a handgun in his uncle's hand. He only felt the pain for an instant... before Death took him by the hand.

“... You're against me.”

The man drug the body to a nearby river. His wild eyes held no remorse as he watched the body float down the river, bobbing up and down until it was out of sight.
He returned to the cabin where he drug an unconscious Mark inside. He pushed the prone body in front of the back door and tied his wrists to the door knob.

He took a seat at the table as rage, anger, and bitterness welled up inside of him. With surprisingly good aim, the man picked up a glass from the table and threw it at Mark's head; pieces of glass soon lying all around Mark’s body. Blood could be seen dripping from his forehead.

 

The deranged man broke down as he continued to mourn the deaths of his sons. The only thing that kept him from killing Mark then and there was knowing what it would do to Lucas if he watched his son die. That was the sole reason this man lived.


6MC6

Lucas had left North Fork with dozens of questions plaguing him, and when he finally made camp for the night, he still had no answers. He had a few ideas as to who had his son, but wasn't certain on who it was… which made him even more concerned. He knew some of the men he had in mind wouldn't actually kill Mark, but one or two of them wouldn't think twice about it.

Another thing that was eating at him was a line of that absurd poem...

“One wasn't enough, you had to take two…”

Two of what?

Suddenly, it hit Lucas.

“...Come, lest you join me in my mourning.”

Frank Hazlitt… that had to be the one!
Lucas had watched Corey Hazlitt kill a man one day and wasn't backing down on his testimony, even when Frank Hazlitt sent his son and nephew out to threaten Lucas and a, “very close relative.” After the trial was said and done and Corey was found guilty; Hazlitt, his other son, and his nephew tried to murder Lucas. In the end, Hazlitt ended up losing both of his sons. And apparently all those years in jail had warped the man's mind even more. Lucas knew for sure Hazlitt had it in him to kill Mark, and prayed that he would make it in time.

Lucas got little sleep that night; he felt like he was wasting valuable time… but there was no moon and if something happened to the horse, it would put him even farther behind schedule. Finally, Lucas saw the first rays of light peek over the hills and he mounted up once again.

 

He rode hard and fast… a little too hard and fast. Lucas’s horse tripped over a large stone causing him to damage and throw one of his horseshoes.
Lucas was so desperate to reach his son, he almost didn't want to take the time to deal with it, but he knew he needed to.

 

Lucas stopped in the first town he came to and found the livery, only to not find anyone there. He made his way to the sheriff's office, and found a man asleep in his chair.

“Excuse me?” Lucas impatiently asked as he knocked on the desk.

“Sorry, must have dozed off,” the sheriff replied. “What can I do for you?”

“I need to find your livery man or blacksmith, it's important and I don't have time to waste.”

“Well, they just so happen to be the same person.”

“Well could you tell me where he is?”

“You're talking to him. What can I do for you?”

“My horse threw a shoe, I need to get a new one on there as quickly as possible.”

“No trouble, long as you have a new shoe or have the old one so I can fix it.”

“I have the old one, but I'm in a hurry, don't have time to wait for it to be fixed. Can I buy one off of you?”

“I don't have any at the livery, you'd have to get one over at the general store, but-”

“Can you tell me where that is?”

“Two streets over, but I can save you the time. I don't have none there, either.”

“You own the general store, too?”

“Yes sir. Now, give me that old shoe and I'll see what I can do.”

“I don't have time to wait. Do you have any horses I can buy off of you?”

“Sorry, sold my last ones day before last. Man came through and needed a new team for his wagon. Seems he was in a rush, too.”

“Is there anyone in this town I can buy a horse from?” Lucas asked, losing all patience.

“Everyone's gone to some big event in Santa Fe who's got one.” Lucas sighed and tossed the shoe on the man's desk. “While I'm fixing this shoe and putting it back on the horse, why don't you get yourself a good meal at the cafe?”

“You run that I suppose, too.”

“No, of course not,” the man replied. “My wife does.”

“Thank you,” Lucas said as he shook his head. “Please, I'm in a hurry.”

Lucas went over to the cafe and got something small to eat. The sheriff's wife could tell Lucas was extremely agitated and was staring at him in confusion when she suddenly remembered something she had seen in her husband's office a week back. She quickly ran to the livery to find her husband, but he wasn't there. Suddenly she saw him coming out of his office.

“Ralf, you remember that wanted poster that came in last week?”

“I know, I was thinking the same thing.”

“And you sent him over to the cafe!? I'm alone over there!”

“He wouldn't do anything to draw attention to himself. I needed an opportunity to look at the poster again.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

“Arrest him, I suppose.”

“You suppose?? Ralf Weber, there's a known criminal sitting in my cafe!”

“I'm going!”

The sheriff made his way towards the cafe and carefully approached Lucas’s table.

“Done already?” Lucas asked with surprise.

“I'm afraid you're not going anywhere,” the sheriff said as he pointed his gun at Lucas.

“What is this, Sheriff?”

“I think you know. Coleman, I'm putting you under arrest.”

“Coleman? What are you talking about?”

“Don't try to pull that on me. I have a wanted poster in my office matching your description with the name Matt Coleman. You're wanted for bank robbery and attempted murder!”

“Sheriff, you're sorely mistaken and I don't have time for this! My name is Lucas McCain, and I have to get out of here! My son's life is in danger!”

“You expect me to believe that, Coleman?”

“That's not my name! I'm Lucas McCain and I own a ranch just outside of North Fork. Several days ago my son disappeared and someone left this note for me!” Lucas said as he pulled the poem out and showed it to the Sheriff.

The man carefully read it, but wasn't phased in the least.

“You could’ve written this at any time. If your story’s true, we'll be able to get someone to verify it. But why would someone take your son?”

“Because the man thinks I'm responsible for his sons’ deaths!”

“So you admit that you're a murderer?”

“No! Sheriff, I don't have time for this!” Lucas began to reach for his rifle, but the sheriff cocked his gun.

“Don't touch it. You're going to have a nice stay at our jail until we get someone to verify your story.”

“Sheriff-”

“I'd stop talking if I were you. Seems you get yourself into more trouble every time you open your mouth.”


7MC7

“Anna, I want you to go with Dr. Carr on house calls today.”

Anna stared blankly at Doctor Stanley as her assignment sunk in.

“Did you hear me?” The doctor politely asked.

“...Yes, Doctor...”

For once, Anna was dreading the house calls. She usually enjoyed them and liked helping patients in their own homes. When she went with Dr. Stanley, she was allowed to do quite a bit. Yet she had a feeling that wouldn't be the case with Dr. Carr.

 

...And she was right. The afternoon drug on as they went house to house and Anna practically just stood there handing the doctor different instruments. If she was lucky, he'd get lost and she'd have to help him find the way to the next home.

After leaving one of Anna’s favorite homes, Dr. Carr turned to her and began another reprimand.

“We're there to treat people, not fill them in on the latest news.”

“She asked me a few questions, and I answered. Dr. Stanley always takes a few moments to visit with his patients… he says it's good for a doctor or nurse to develop a relationship with their patients.”

“That’s his opinion, not fact. We don't have time to waste and we have to keep moving. Most importantly, we don't want people feeling uncomfortable. She was about ready to invite us to stay for tea!”

“The only time she looked uncomfortable was when I was coming back from the kitchen and there was dead silence! There's no harm in treating a patient like a human being!”

“Nurse Osborne-”

The doctor's statement was interrupted by a call for help behind them. Anna and the doctor turned around to see a young girl running up behind them.

“Nurse Anna, it's my mother… she's going into labor and something's wrong!”

“At your house, Katie?” Anna asked as the three began to walk.

“Yes, she's in the bedroom.”

The three ran back to the Gunter’s home, which they had been to earlier that afternoon.
Katie stayed in the living room, but directed the doctor and nurse to the bedroom Mrs. Gunter was in.
Anna reached the mother first and started examining her before Dr. Carr was ready and assumed Anna's position. Anna moved to the head of the bed and took the woman's hand.

“It'll be alright, just breathe…” Anna assured.

It wasn't long before Dr. Carr was done with his examination.

“False labor,” the doctor announced.

“This feels very real to me!” The woman replied.

“It can feel like normal labor, but after a while, the pain will stop.”

The doctor began collecting his things as if he were ready to leave. While he was distracted, Anna did her own examination to confirm her suspicions.

“Dr. Carr, this isn't false labor, the baby’s breech!”

“What?!” The mother exclaimed. “Oh please, not again! This can't happen!”

“Don't scare her like that!” The doctor demanded. “I assure you, it's false labor!”

“Did you even consider the possibility?” Anna dared to reply.

“Nurse Osborne…”

“Dr. Carr, this could be serious! Please, consider the situation again! Katie was breech, and Dr. Stanley was worried that this baby might be as well!”

Begrudgingly, the doctor took his instruments out and re-examined his patient. He was more than annoyed with Anna at this point and was planning what he would say to Doctor Stanley when they got back to the hospital. However, the doctor soon realized that dealing with this nurse was the least of his troubles at the moment. With bruised pride, the doctor admitted that Anna was right and the two soon began to work to turn the baby around.

Anna put aside her dislike for the man she was working with and carefully followed every instruction the doctor gave her. When he didn't have something for her to do, Anna was whispering soothing words to Mrs. Gunter or giving her a hand to squeeze.

An hour later, Anna was placing the newborn in Mrs. Gunter's arms.

“Anna, could you get Katie for me, please?” The exhausted mother asked.

“Of course.”

Anna left the room to get the young girl, and as she entered the living room, she saw Mr. Gunter arrive home. He saw the nurse uniform and was immediately alarmed.

“Is everything alright?” The man worriedly asked.

“It is now. I was just coming to get Katie. You have a son, Mr. Gunter.”

Anna could see pride fill the father's face as what she had told him sunk in. The man picked up his daughter and went into the bedroom as Dr. Carr came out.

“You think they'll be alright?” Anna asked.

“I think so. I think the most damage done was the scare you gave her when you said the baby was breech.”

Fire flared in Anna’s eyes as the words hit her ears.

“Now Doctor-” Anna stopped short as she saw just a hint of sarcasm sparkle in the man's eyes… and then it was gone.

“Thank you for catching my mistake,” the doctor said as he headed for the door.

Anna stared after him in wonder as she realized the doctor had just said thank you… and admitted that he had made a mistake.

“Well are you just going to stand there all day, or are we going to finish these house calls?”

“... I'm coming,” Anna replied as she forced herself to take a step forward.

Maybe there was hope for him after all… maybe.


8MC8

“Cassie, you need a break,” Milly said as she entered Catherine's bedroom.

“I'm fine, I need to take care of Ma.”

“Cassie, I'm fine,” Catherine insisted. “You've been waiting on me hand and foot. How am I supposed to get any sleep with you bustling in and out of here all the time? You need to get out of the house… it's not good for you to stay cooped up like this.”

“Besides, I think you need to let Doc take a good look at you,” Milly added. “You didn't look well the first day I got back into town and I haven't seen any-”

“I'm fine!” Cassie finally snapped as she stood up and left the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

“Catherine, it's happening again...” Milly stated in concern.

“I knew something was wrong when I woke up, and it all started to make sense when you told me about Mark. It's like Aiyana all over again.”

“That’s what worries me. She changed so much when Aiyana was killed… she completely closed herself off. I remember when you came to visit… her eyes had lost all life as they have now.”

“Mark was the one that got through to her again… after so many years of her cutting herself off from everyone… he was able to break through. Now she's afraid that she's going to lose someone so close again. She's afraid of the pain.”

“I know… I just don't know how we're supposed to help her. Neither one of us were able to reach her when she lost Aiyana. I don't mean to minimize what Aiyana meant to Cassie, but she was just a friend. This is her husband we're talking about.”

“Please, Milly, will you try again? She won't talk to me about it.”

“I'll try, but I don't know if it'll do any good. You get some rest.”

Milly squeezed her sister's hand before leaving the bedroom. She saw the back door was open and walked outside to see Cassie by a tree, losing her breakfast.

“Cassie! Are you alright??” Milly knelt beside her niece and waited for Cassie to reach a point where she could sit up before asking the question again. “Are you alright?”

“I'm f…” Cassie stopped herself as she leaned against the tree. She closed eyes as and tried to stop the tears, but they flowed down her cheeks anyway. “No, Aunt Milly, I'm not!” Cassie cried as her aunt wrapped her arms around her.

There was a long silence before Cassie spoke again.

“I almost lost my mother last week. I almost watched her die!” Cassie sobbed. “My husband could be dead, and your husband could get killed looking for him! No, I'm not alright!”

“Oh, Cassie…” Milly tenderly whispered.

Cassie laid her head on her aunt's lap as she cried her tears. Milly could almost feel the burden that Cassie was carrying and wished she knew how to take it from her.
But she didn't, and simply sat there, lovingly rubbing her hand across her niece's back.

Finally, Cassie couldn't cry anymore tears. Milly helped her back into the house where she cleaned up a bit before Milly insisted Cassie lie down in the second bedroom for a while. Cassie insisted she would be fine, but Milly’s persistence won and before long Cassie was asleep. Just as Milly was shutting the bedroom door, there was on knock on the front door and she went o answer it.

“Doc, come on in,” Milly invited as she opened the door for the doctor.

“How's Catherine?”

“Getting stronger and stronger... I don't think she's the patient we need to worry about anymore.”

“Cassie?”

“I'm afraid so.”

“I was getting worried about her, but there wasn't much I could do. She refused to leave her Ma before you got here… and you know how she's been since you've arrived.”

“Between Catherine and Mark, her body is overwhelmed by stress and exhaustion. She finally opened up to me briefly, but her eyes are still so shallow, and she didn't keep her breakfast down this morning.”

“I was afraid this would happen. Where is she now?”

“I finally got her to lie down in the other bedroom… it didn't take long for her to fall asleep.”

“Good. Milly, I'm going to leave you with a little medication to slip into her water this evening, it should help her sleep through the night. I think we should also try to get her over to the hotel tomorrow. I'll ask Lou if there's any way she would need a little extra help with Maddy… hopefully that will help keep her mind off Mark.”

“I think it will. How are things at the office?”

“Oh, same as always. But I think it's about time I put in a request for a replacement. I'm getting too old for this.”

“Whoever they send will have big shoes to fill; you mean a lot to this town.”

“Not as much as she means to me. I'll be here for a while yet, you can't get rid of me that easily.”

“Well are you two going to sit there and yak, or can I get this examination over with?” Catherine asked as she came from her bedroom before giving a slight cough.

“Well, that's sounding much better than it was a few days ago,” Doc replied. “Take a seat. You need out of that stuffy room anyway.”

After a thorough examination, Doc said he didn't see any reason why Catherine wouldn't be back on her feet in the next week.

“You just take it easy,” Doc added as he started collecting his things.

Milly walked Doc out and was headed over to the hotel when she caught Rachael running down the street.

“What are you doing out of school?” Milly asked with raised eyebrows.

“We're on lunch, Mr. Griswold said I could come by and see if there was any news,” Rachael replied.

“Not yet, I'm afraid,” Milly said as she put an arm around Rachael.

“Aunt Milly… do you think Uncle Lucas will find Mark in time?”

“I know he'll do everything he can to.”

“...And if he doesn't?”

“We'll deal with that “if”... if it comes to be. Until then, we just have to pray.”


9MC9


 

“Gibbs, Oliver!” Marshal Anker called.

The two men made their way to the Marshal and waited for instructions.

“There's a small town about four miles east of here. I want you to run for supplies. We can't make it to Las Cruces on what we have, and I don't want to risk bringing Allen close to any towns.”

“Yes sir,” the two men replied as they began to mount up.

“And no stops at the saloon!” The Marshal added.

“Who, us?” Johnny innocently asked with a grin.

“So that's where Mark gets it from,” Anker chuckled. “Be quick about it.”

“Yes sir,” Johnny replied.

As the two men rode from camp, Deputy Oliver couldn't help but ask about the Marshal's comment.

“Who's Mark, and what does he get from who?”

Johnny laughed as he shook his head before replying.

“Mark is my nephew, and he inherited my grin.”

“How does Anker know your nephew? I thought you were just a small town deputy coming in place of your marshal?”

“I am. My nephew also has a knack of getting himself into scrapes, and is well acquainted with Anker.”

“How'd he end up on the other side of the law?”

Johnny let out another bout of laughter.

“Mark? On the wrong side of the law? Not in a hundred years! You remember what happened to Marshal Osborne, right?”

“Who could forget?”

“My nephew-”

“Is Mark McCain??” The man asked in astonishment. “Gibbs, you were right. Your nephew does have a knack for getting himself into trouble!”

“Don't I know it.”

“So did your nephew have a thing for Osborne’s daughter, or was that something the press worked up?”

“What'd Anker tell you when you asked him?” Johnny replied.

“That romantics have nothing to do with justice and I should keep my nose out of it.”

“It's safer that way.”

“So they did have something going on?”

“Take it whatever way you like. Now let's get a move on!”

The men made good time to the town and stopped by the general store, but no one was there so they could pay.

“Let's leave a note and money and get on back,” Oliver suggested.

“No, this just isn't normal for a store to be left completely unattended. And did you notice how bare the streets were? It's almost like a ghost town.”

“What do you suggest? Anker expects us to be back soon.”

“Let's try the sheriff's office.”

“Do you know where that is?” Oliver asked.

“No, but this town can't have more than three streets, I'm sure we can find it.”

The men began their search and located the sheriff's office within a few minutes, although Oliver did point out that he counted five streets.

“I'll be more careful with my estimating next time,” Johnny shot back as the two entered the office.

The sheriff was coming out of the back room where the men presumed the cells to be and closed the door as he greeted them.

“Well howdy. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I'm Deputy Gibbs, this is Deputy Oliver.” Johnny said as they showed their badges. “And we're a bit concerned.”

“Concerned?” The sheriff asked.

“Your general store is open but there's no one there to help us. We also noticed that your streets are deserted. Not exactly what we'd call normal.”

“Well you don't need to worry, I own the general store. I was just going to head over there when my prisoner started giving me some trouble. As to why the streets are deserted, no one's around this time of year. They're all up in Sante Fe for some big shindig or something.”

“Well that-” Johnny began, but he was suddenly interrupted by a bunch of banging and muffled shouting from the back room.

“You said you got someone locked up back there?” Oliver inquired.

“Yeah, some no good bank robber.”

“Sounds like he's been a handful...” Johnny commented.

“He’s been trying convince me that he's got to get out of here to save someone's life. He's probably out to kill someone,” the man stated as shook his head. “He's given me more trouble than I've ever had my entire time as sheriff!”

“Sounds like you've had an enjoyable last few days,” Oliver chuckled.

“Anyway, let's get over to the store and I can help you get what you need,” the sheriff replied.

“Thanks,” Johnny began. “We just need a few supplies for the trail and-”

Johnny stopped short as his eyes fell on a rifle in the corner of the room.

“Sheriff, just who do you have locked up back there?”

“Matt Coleman.”

“Are you sure?” Johnny asked.

“Fits the description. I have someone checking out his story, but it'll be a few days yet.”

“The man come into town with that rifle?” Johnny quired as he gestured.

“Yeah. Seemed mighty protective of it, too. Why?”

“Because either someone killed my brother-in-law, or you have him locked up in your jail!”

“Your brother-in-law is Matt Coleman?” The sheriff asked nervously.

“No, he's Lucas McCain!” Johnny replied. “Ever heard of the Rifleman?”

“McCain… the Rifleman… but he's dead!” The sheriff declared.

“No, he's not,” Oliver interjected. “The U.S. Marshals Service faked his death to capture some criminals. He's very much alive.”

“Can you make a positive identification?” The sheriff asked.

“Of course I can!” Johnny snapped back as he made his way to the back room.

Lucas sat up as the door swung open.

“Johnny, thank goodness you're here!” Lucas declared. “Will you please tell this idiotic sheriff who I am?”

“That's Lucas McCain, alright,” Johnny affirmed. “Where are your keys??”

“I'm getting them…” the sheriff replied before finally unlocking the cell. “Mr. McCain, I am sorry. It's just you fit the description and-”

“We can sort this out later,” Lucas coldly replied. “Johnny, can I trade you horses? Mine threw a shoe and I've got to get to Belen!”

“What's going on, Lucas?”

“I don't have time to explain, Mark's in danger!”

“Mark?” Johnny asked in alarm.

“I’ll explain later. Please, Johnny, your horse!”

“Tied up out front. Let me ride with you.”

“No!” Lucas shouted. “They'll kill him for sure if I don't come alone. I just hope I'm not too late!”

The three lawmen watched in confusion as Lucas grabbed his rifle, ran outside, and took off.

As Lucas disappeared from sight, Johnny slowly turned to the sheriff.

“Just what did he say to you about saving someone's life?” Johnny demanded.

“It all started with this poem…” The Sheriff replied as he handed Johnny the piece of paper. “Believe me, I thought it was a lie!”


10MC10

“Lou, have you seen Cassie?” Milly asked as she entered the hotel.

“Not since I dropped by the other day, is something the matter?”

“Everything seems to be the matter,” Milly sighed.

“Any word from Lucas?”

“Not a thing. This whole ordeal is taking a toll on everyone… but Cassie…”

“It's like she's given up hope.”

“Exactly,” Milly replied as she nodded her head. “A long time ago, Cassie lost a very dear Indian friend. Her friend, Aiyana, was murdered by an extremist. It was several months after the incident before I saw her, but I could still see the lack of life in her eyes. She got a little better over the years, and did a good job of pretending to be fine… but deep down… she was still hurting. When my mother died and they all came for the funeral, I expected Cassie to react the same way… but she had come to terms with everything and handled it quite well. Catherine said Mark was the one who walked her through it. Then Cassie almost lost her mother and Mark disappeared. Catherine is on the road to recovery and there still is very good hope for Mark, but Cassie is closing herself off more than I've ever seen. She's making herself sick from lack of sleep and worry. She's not just hurting… it's almost like she's dying inside and I can't help her. I thought I got through to her a few days ago… but things just seem to be getting worse. She hardly touched her supper last night, and when I got up this morning, her bed was made and she was gone… I've been looking all over town.”

“I’m sorry, I haven't seen her. Milly, I know things seem pretty dark all around, but at least she's out of the house.”

“I don't know if that's a good thing…” Milly slowly stated. “I'm worried that if she's off by herself…”

“You don't think she'd-”

“I don't know what to think, Lou. If she really thinks Mark is dead… I'm afraid that she'd have it in her to kill herself.”

“Well have ye talked to Micah?”

“No, he wasn't in the office and I haven't seen him around town yet.”

“I'll keep an eye out for Cassie and Micah, and I'll let you know as soon as I see either one of them.”

“Thanks, Lou. And thank you for letting Rachael stay with you, as well.”

“It's my pleasure. Catherine's is crowded enough and you have enough on your mind. Besides, I've enjoyed having the company while Johnny is away.”

“What about me being away?” Johnny asked as he came through the doors.

Lou hurried to her husband and wrapped her arms around him before giving him a kiss.

“Why didn't ye tell me ye were going to be home today?”

“I didn't think I was going to be, it's a long story. I ran into Lucas… and he didn't have time to explain what was going on, but said Mark was in danger. The sheriff that locked him in jail gave me-”

“Lucas was in jail??” Milly worriedly asked.

“All I know is that another deputy and I went for supplies for the posse. We came to a town and while we were talking to the sheriff, I caught sight of Lucas's rifle. The sheriff thought he was Matt Coleman and arrested him. I gave the sheriff a positive identification and Lucas was gone, saying he didn't have time to explain. The sheriff still had that disgusting poem and told me what Lucas told him. Once I explained things to Marshal Anker, he said I could go home due to the circumstances and the fact that they had plenty of men to guard Allen.”

“Papa!” Maddy exclaimed as she came toddling in from the office.

Johnny scooped her up in his arms before continuing.

“Milly, how are you handling it?”

“I'm hanging in there… it's difficult, but as long as they're alive, there's hope. Cassie's the one I'm worried about.”

“Yeah, she didn't seem too good when I saw her on the road. Didn't even acknowledge me.”

“What?” Milly asked.

“I was coming into town and saw her heading out to the ranch. I called to her, but she didn't say anything.”

“How long ago?”

“I don't know… half an hour ago, maybe?”

*****


Cassie stopped the horse in front of the barn and dismounted. She hesitated before going inside… she didn't know why she had come to a place that held so many of his memories.

Storm neighed as soon as she entered the building, wanting Cassie’s attention. Cassie walked to her horse’s stall and patted her horse's neck.

“Rachael been taking good care of you?” Cassie asked the horse.

Suddenly, Cassie could hear BlueBoy from the other side of the barn and she hesitantly walked towards him. Once she reached his stall, Cassie gently petted him before putting her forehead down on the horse’s nose.

“I miss him too, boy,” Cassie whispered as a tear trickled down her cheek. “...But Uncle Lucas is out looking for him, and he won't stop…” she swallowed before going on, “...He won't stop until he finds Mark.”

Cassie gave the horse one last pat before she reached up onto the ledge where Mark kept a stash of sugar cubes for BlueBoy. She took a few down and fed them to the horse before leaving the barn and beginning a slow walk up the hill towards her home.

Cassie stood in the front room, allowing memories to flood her mind. Never had the house felt so empty.

Cassie stood there for several minutes, wishing that by some miracle Mark would come up behind her and wrap his arms around her as he had done a hundred times before.

But the arms that brought her comfort and security never came.

Cassie looked on the table and saw the Bible laying right where they had left it, what seemed like years ago.
Cassie hesitantly stepped forward and reached for it, hoping to find some comfort from within.

Cassie sat down in Mark's chair, and as soon as she opened the Bible, the list they had made on New year's Eve fell onto her lap.

After reading it, Cassie turned her attention to the passage she had opened the Bible to.

 

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

*****


“That's one of the livery horses,” Milly commented as Johnny brought the buggy to a stop in the McCain’s yard.

The two jumped down from the buggy and checked the barn, but didn't see anyone.
They then checked Lucas and Milly’s home before hurrying up the hill to the second house on the property.

“Where do we check if she's not here?” Johnny asked as he opened the door for Milly.

“We- she's here,” Milly replied before letting out a sigh of relief.

As Johnny came into the house, he saw Cassie curled up, asleep in Mark's chair, Bible in her lap.

“What do you figure we should do?”

“Let her sleep, first and foremost,” Milly replied. “Why don't you take the livery horse back, and I'll bring her into town with the buggy later?”

“I don't know if it's a good idea to leave the two of you here alone.”

“We'll be fine, we're here alone all the time while Mark and Lucas are working. Besides, I have the extra rifle if I need it.”

“Are you sure?”

“You need to go spend some time with your wife. This week hasn't been easy on her, either,” Milly stated as she started pushing him out the door. “Thank you for bringing me out here, Johnny.”

“No thanks necessary. If you need anything, let Lou and me know.”

“I will.”

Milly shut the door behind Johnny and started a stew on the stove. As Milly waited for her niece to wake up, she took a seat at the table and began praying.

“...Aunt Milly?” Cassie called as she sat up. “What are you doing here?”

“We were worried about you when you left without leaving word. How do you feel?”

“I'm fine,” Cassie said as she stood and walked over to the table.

“Don't you give me that,” Milly replied sternly. “You've hardly slept at all and you either skip meals or end up throwing them up.”

“I don't know what's going on… I know Uncle Lucas is out there, looking for Mark. I know Ma is doing better… but inside all I feel is pain and loss… and I don't know if I'll be able to go on. It hurts, Aunt Milly. Why does love have to hurt?”

“Because too often we let fear of losing the ones we love control us. We let it consume us… and that's never good. We have to have faith that God is protecting them… whether that be through life… or death…”

“Why do I feel like He's choosing death? Why do I feel like it's too late?”

“Those are your emotions talking, Cassie. You've got to take this one day at a time, and hang on to the very good possibility that Mark could be home tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Don't give up on Mark.”

“I'm not giving up on him, Aunt Milly-”

“Then what are you doing?”

“I… I just wish he was here… safe…” Cassie said through her tears. “But I don't know if he's safe or even alive… what if-”

“We can't live in a world of “what ifs,” Cassie.”

“Right now, it's the only world I have.”

Milly looked deep into her niece's eyes and could see the pain and grief within them.

“...Let's get you something to eat, and maybe a little rest before we go back to town.”

“I'm not going back to town.”

“Cassie-”

“This is mine and Mark's home, and I'm staying here. If I would've been here when that mad man took Mark-”

“Cassie, you were taking care of your mother, I'm sure Mark wanted you in town... you could've easily been killed, you can't go blaming yourself!”

Cassie broke down crying before she got up and ran to her bedroom.

“Cassie…” Milly tried calling after her niece, but it was no use.

Cassie locked herself in her bedroom and wouldn't let her aunt inside, ignoring Milly’s pleas.

After several hours of trying to get Cassie to come out, Milly gave up and did a little work around the homestead. She tried again that evening to get Cassie to come out and eat, but her attempts were futile.

Milly stayed in the guest bedroom that night, but got little sleep. She tossed and turned, worrying about her husband, son, and niece. How was she going to explain Cassie's condition to Mark when he got home? Why couldn't she reach her own niece?


Finally, Milly heard Cassie come from her bedroom shortly after the rooster crow the next morning.

“You look a little more rested this morning,” Milly commented.

“Aunt Milly… I'm sorry to be such a burden…”

“Not in a hundred years,” Milly assured as she wrapped her arms around Cassie. “Do you want something to eat?”

Cassie simply shrugged, knowing Milly wouldn't take no for an answer.

“I'll fix some eggs.” Milly paused before going on, “Cassie, I know you want to be here, but would you please come back to town with me? That will probably be Lucas and Mark's first stop anyway.”

Cassie simply nodded. She did want to be at the ranch, but she also didn't want to keep worrying her aunt so much. Milly had so much on her mind already… Cassie didn't want to add to it.

“I'll ask Lou for a room at the hotel,” Cassie stated.

“Why not stay at your mother's?”

“She needs rest… I know she won't get much with me there.”

“Cassie-”

“I'm fine, Aunt Milly.”

Milly’s heart sank as the words hung in the air. They were back where they had started.


11MC11

Lucas rode into Belen exhausted, and with no idea of what to expect or where to go. It was late… actually, it was early. Even the saloon had shut down until later that day. Catching sight of the hotel, Lucas urged his horse forward and was soon talking to the desk clerk.

“You don't happen to be McCain, do ya?” The man asked just a few sentences into the conversation.

“Yes, I am. Why?”

“I had a man give me your description and said to give this to you when you arrived.”

The man handed Lucas an envelope with his name on it. Lucas quickly tore the envelope open and found a simple map on the paper inside. On the backside side of the map were the words, “Come and get me.” Lucas turned around and headed for the door.

“Do you want a room?” The man called.

Lucas didn't hear the man's question, all he could hear were rifle shots Hazlitt had intended for Lucas years before. Lucas knew he was walking into a trap. He knew he probably wasn't going to see Milly again. But if it meant his son was going to live, that was the way it had to be.

Lucas rode for two hours before reaching the cabin, but found no one there. He lit one of the lanterns and searched around the cabin… horrified to find blood by one of the doors.

As he stepped out of the building, the sun was just beginning to rise, making the wagon trail visible.

Lucas began following the tracks, praying he wasn't too late.

*****


Mark could hardly process what was going on; he didn't even remember what had happened the last few times he had woken up. Mark could only sense two things: movement and pain.

 

Mark felt his hands being tied behind his back before he was laid down on the ground. But then there was something more… he felt something being put around his neck. Mark didn't dare open his eyes, knowing any sort of light would make the pain in his head more unbearable than it already was.

A voice was saying something to him again, but Mark couldn't understand him.

Suddenly, the man began shouting something… and someone started shouting back. Mark fought hard to make out their words, but everything sounded so distant. Yet he would recognize his Pa’s voice anywhere. Why was his Pa there? In fact... why was he tied up?

Mark suddenly felt something tightening around his neck and pulling him off the ground… he couldn't breathe!

Mark used every ounce of strength he had left to try to free himself, but it was useless. He then heard several gunshots before he was dropped to the ground and again entered a world of darkness.

*****


Lucas came over the rise, and to his horror saw what could only be a badly beaten Mark laying on the ground, a noose tied around his neck.

“Your choice McCain!” A voice yelled.

Lucas looked around, but saw no one. His eyes followed the rope tied around his son's neck and saw it lead behind a group of trees.

“It’s me you want, let him go!” Lucas yelled back.

“You didn't honestly think I'd let him go, did you?” The man sneered.

“Hazlitt, I'm warning you-”

“McCain, because of you, both my boys are dead! I'll give you the choice I didn't have- do you want him to go by gunshot or hanging?”

“You do one more thing to him, and I'll use my bare hands to kill you!” Lucas yelled.

“Choose, or I'll do it for you!” Hazlitt ordered. “You have three seconds!”

“Come out and face me like a man, you coward!”

“One…”

“Hazlitt!”

“Two!”

“I'm warning you!”

“Three!”

Lucas watched in horror as his son's body slowly lifted off the ground. Suddenly, Lucas realized all that was putting Mark in danger was a rope. Lucas shouldered his rifle and carefully aimed before he opened fire. The bullets severed the rope and Lucas breathed a slight sigh of relief as Mark fell back onto the ground.

As Lucas ran towards his son, Hazlitt came from his hiding spot and shot in Mark's direction. Lucas fired three shots from his hip and watched Hazlitt drop before running the rest of the way to his son.

“Mark!?” Lucas desperately yelled as he knelt beside his son. “Mark, can you hear me??”

Lucas worked to remove the rope from around his son's neck, continuously calling Mark’s name. There were bruises and scratches all over Mark’s face and neck… Lucas didn't know if he wanted to know what it looked like underneath his son's shirt.

Lucas kept calling to Mark, trying to get his son to wake up and open his eyes.
But Mark just lied motionless, barely breathing.

Lucas caught sight of the wagon he had tracked and worked at getting his son in the back of it. He tied Johnny’s horse to the back and raced for Belen.

It was an agonizingly slow ride to the town, and Lucas was thankful for the sunlight. As he drove the wagon, Lucas couldn't imagine what his son had gone through and prayed Mark would survive.

Upon finally reaching the doctor’s office, Lucas tried explaining what had happened as he and the doctor carried his son to the back room.

“Is he going to be alright?” Lucas asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

“I don't know. Nurse Carter, take him out to the waiting room.”

“Wait a minute-” Lucas began, only to be interrupted.

“I need to focus to try to save your son's life! I can't do that with you in here. If you care about his well being, I suggest you at least go to the waiting room.”

Begrudgingly, Lucas grabbed his rifle and stormed out of the room. As the minutes passed, Lucas anxiously paced in the waiting room. Finally, Lucas let himself collapse into one of the chairs. He held his head in his hands and begged God for his son's life.

Nearly an hour later, the doctor came into the waiting room.

“He's stable.”

“How bad is it?” Lucas asked.

“Bad,” the doctor honestly replied. “He has a few cracked ribs, and severe bruising on his face, but I'm most worried about his brain. It looks like there's been quite a bit of damage done to his head and I won't know how severe the brain damage is until he wakes up.”

“...You should know he's fractured his skull before, and has been prone to seizures; although he hasn't had one in a while,” Lucas informed the doctor as the possibilities of what could happen flooded his mind.

“It'll be a while yet before he wakes up, I'm sure. Why don't you head to the hotel and get yourself some rest?”

“I actually need to settle things with the sheriff first… if anything changes…”

“I'll know where to find you.”


12MC12

Mark slowly opened his eyes and looked around the room. At first, everything was blurry and all he could see were patches of color, but ever so slowly, things came into better focus. Things were still a bit hazy, but Mark could make out his Pa and another man Mark presumed to be a doctor across the room. The doctor turned towards him and brought Lucas’s attention to Mark before both men walked to the bedside.

“How do you feel?” Lucas asked.

The men watched closely as Mark opened his mouth to reply, but then a look of confusion shadowed his face.

“Son?”

Mark furrowed his brow as he concentrated, but he couldn't figure out how to put his thoughts into words. After several attempts, Mark finally just shrugged.

Lucas looked at the doctor with concern, not understanding why his son wasn't answering him.

“Can you understand what I'm saying?” The doctor inquired.

After much concentration and several agonizing moments for Lucas, Mark slowly nodded his head.

“Do you know who you are?” The doctor asked.

There was still slight hesitation, but again Mark nodded his head.

The doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out a notebook and pencil.

“Can you write your name for me?”

Mark took both, but stared at them for a long time before putting the pencil to the paper. Again, Mark stared before suddenly putting them down and shaking his head no with an apologetic look in his eyes.

“That's alright, it's to be expected.”

Mark’s eyes slowly began to close as exhaustion began to take over. The doctor slightly shook him before going on.

“Just a few more questions, and then you can sleep.”

Mark nodded and fought his heavy eyelids.

“Do you remember what happened?”

Mark held his thumb and index finger an inch apart to indicate that he remembered a little bit.

Lucas took a step back and watched The exchange between his son and the doctor. He didn't know what to do. He felt helpless… he felt responsible.

“Where do you hurt?” The doctor asked.

Lucas was glad to see the slightest smile fall on Mark's lips as he pointed from his head to his toes.

“Everywhere?” The doctor replied with a chuckle.

Mark nodded as he again forced his eyes open.

“Alright, that's enough for now. We'll let you get some sleep. Mr. McCain, why don't we step out to the waiting room?”

Mark gladly let sleep take him as Lucas followed the doctor into the waiting room.

“Why can't he talk?” Lucas asked in defeat.

“His brain has been damaged, and sometimes when that happens, seemingly easy task to us become near or completely impossible for the patient.”

“Is it permanent?” Lucas asked as fear gripped him tighter.

“I don't think so in his case. Even while we were talking he was making improvement. He was able to process and answer each question faster.”

“How long until he fully recovers?”

“There's no way to tell. It could be a month… it could be a year.”

“When can I take him home?”

“I would like you to wait until he can stay awake for several hours at a time. I could very likely be wrong, but I'd give it three or four days.”

“Does this town have a telegraph office? I'd like to wire home and let them know what's going on.”

“We do, but the lines are down from here to Albuquerque.”

“What happened?”

“Another Indian uprising. They're starting to take out the lines all over the territory.”

“I thought that was all over with?”

“So did everyone else. A certain tribe decided not to cooperate.”

“...Thanks, Doc. I'm going to head over to the hotel. If he wakes, would you get me?”

“Of course.”

Lucas left the doctor's office and headed to the hotel before settling in his room. He lied on the bed, not feeling guilty that he hadn't been there to protect his son… he couldn't be everywhere at once.
He felt guilty that Mark was lying in that doctor's office… because of him.


13MC13

The next several days were a struggle for Mark. He was in so much pain when he wasn't asleep, but knew he needed to try to stay awake for longer periods of time.
Although they tried to hide it, both Mark and Lucas were becoming frustrated with how little they could communicate. Mark wanted to talk; he could understand the questions he was asked and had come up with a hundred questions for Lucas, but Mark couldn't turn his thoughts into words.

Finally, the doctor said it would be alright for Mark to take the train home. As they were getting ready to leave the doctor's office, the doctor gave Lucas instructions on how to care for Mark on the trip home, and a letter for Doc Burrage.

“...It will explain his injuries and what I suggest for recovery. I hope all goes well,” the doctor concluded.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Lucas offered.

“Mark, you take it easy.”

Mark nodded in response; he knew he was going to be sore for a few weeks, and was also aware that the head pain could be there for quite some time. For once, Mark didn't think it was going to be too hard to take it easy.

The train ride home seemed to take an eternity. Mark was eager to get back home and see his wife, to take her in his arms, and press his lips on hers.

Lucas looked over to see a wishful smile on his son's face, and knew exactly what his son was thinking about.


It was late when the train pulled into North Fork; the platform was nearly deserted before the passengers poured onto it.

Lucas and Mark saw Johnny directing a few passengers to the hotel and waited for him to finish before making their way towards him.

“Mark? Lucas?! Why didn't you send word you were coming?? We've all been worried sick!”

“Lines were down, or we would've.”

“Well it sure is good to see the both of you alive!” Johnny declared. “Mark, what did you get yourself into?” He asked, noticing the bruises.

“We'll explain later.” Lucas said as Mark shrugged with his boyish smile.

“You oughta get over to the hotel, Mark. Cassie's been… well, she's taken this hard.”

Without hesitation, Mark nodded and started that direction, but Lucas caught his shoulder.

“Mark, let's get over to Doc's and then I'll get Cassie. I think it's best if I explain things first.”

Mark adamantly shook his head no.

“Mark, it's better this way.”

“I can get her,” Johnny offered.

“Johnny, it's complicated.”

“...What's going on?” Johnny asked.

“Mark can't talk,” Lucas bluntly stated. “He suffered brain damage and although it doesn't seem like it should be permanent… Mark hasn't spoken a word since he woke up.”

“I can walk Mark over to Doc's while you get Cassie,” Johnny suggested.

“Thanks.”

Lucas headed over to the hotel and had no sooner stepped inside the building than Lou and Milly were rushing towards him.

“Lucas, are you alright?” Milly asked as she embraced her husband. “Where's Mark??”

“I'm fine, Mark's at Doc's.”

“Is Mark-” Lou began, fearing the worst.

“He'll make it, but there were complications.”

“What kind of complications?” Milly asked in concern.

“There’s a bit of brain damage and I can explain more in a few minutes, but Mark needs Cassie-”

“Cassie!” Lou suddenly exclaimed. “She's right upstairs in room ten. Lucas, she's been beside herself with worry and will hardly talk to anyone…”

Lucas nodded and headed up the stairs. He knocked on the door, but didn't receive a reply.

“Cassie?” Lucas called.

Within a few seconds, Cassie had unlocked the door and was staring at Lucas.

“Uncle Lucas! Where's Mark?? Is he alright??”

Lucas could tell that Cassie hadn't been doing well. There were dark circles under her bloodshot eyes, she looked extremely pale, and as he looked into her eyes, all he saw was fear.

“Mark's at Doc's-”

Cassie immediately tried to get past Lucas, but he caught her arm.

“Cassie there's something you need to know.”

Cassie looked into Lucas's eyes and could see the seriousness there. She stopped, but didn't take any steps back.

“What happened?”

“Right now there's a lot that's gone wrong in his head. He can understand you and reply with a nod or shake of his head, but Mark can't put anything into words.”

“He… can't talk?”

“I'm afraid not.”

“But he's going to be alright, isn't he?”

“The doctor in Belen thought so. He’s in a lot of pain, but he can function,” Lucas said as he released his hold on her arm.

Cassie nodded and fought the tears as she hurried down the stairs and left the hotel. Her feet couldn't move fast enough as she ran down the street.
Upon entering the office, Cassie called for Doc Burrage and followed his voice to one of the rooms.

Cassie stopped in the doorway and covered her mouth to try to hush the sobs when she saw her husband. There were bruises and scratches, his ribs were bandaged, and his eyes looked so tired… but he was alive.

Against Doc Burrage’s orders, Mark didn't hesitate in walking to his wife and wrapping his arms around her.
He wanted to tell her it would be alright; he wanted to tell her how much he missed her… he wanted to say, “I love you,” but the words wouldn't come. So he stood there, holding her, hoping his grip could communicate what he was thinking.

Doc Burrage gave the couple a few moments to reunite before interfering.

“I know this has been hard on both of you, but Mark, you need to get back in that bed!”

Cassie looked up at Mark with worried eyes. He simply have her a gentle kiss before taking her hand and walking back to the bed.

 

Cassie stood next to Mark as Doc Burrage conducted his own examination, and came to the same conclusions as the doctor in Belen.

“... It'll be a hard few weeks, but you'll recover. As to when your ability to talk will return… we'll just have to see. Johnny and I will give you some privacy, but Mark, you really need rest.”

Mark nodded in reply as Burrage and Johnny left the room.

Cassie crawled onto the bed beside her husband and laid her head on his chest. She felt him kiss the top of her head as he had done so many times before, but it had never felt so precious.

Mark could sense how much his wife had been hurting in the way she clung to him. There would be a lot to talk through… but right now, the silence was welcome.

Cassie spent all night in the doctor's office with Mark and woke the next morning to sense Mark looking down at her. She sat up and locked eyes with him, only then realizing how hard she must have been pushing on his ribs.

“Mark, did I hurt-”

Mark put his index finger to her mouth and smiled as he shook his head no, telling her not to think a thing of it.

“I'm sorry, Mark-”

Mark reached up and pulled her close and gave her a long kiss.

When they separated, Cassie looked deep into her husband's eyes, trying to fight the urge to wrap her arms around him and never let go.

“...Are you really alright?”

Mark could see the concern and heart ache in his wife's eyes and wished he could voice words of comfort.
Mark gently smiled as he tucked a golden strand of hair behind Cassie's ear and nodded, telling his wife that he would be.


14MC14

Two days after returning to North Fork, Mark was finally allowed home. Cassie seldomly left the house, wanting to stay close to Mark.

Although they were thankful to be back together, Mark and Cassie struggled with not being able to communicate.

 

Mark knew his wife needed to talk to him and wanted to pour out her feelings, but Cassie wouldn't, not wanting to put pressure on Mark. She knew he would want to do more than listen, and couldn't imagine how difficult it would be to listen to what she had to say without being able to talk back.

One evening, Mark was in the bedroom while Cassie was turning down the lamps in the front room when Milly knocked on their door and came inside.

“How are you, Cassie?”

“Better than I was a few days ago. How's Uncle Lucas?”

“Tired… and grumpy,” Milly chuckled. “But I'd rather have a grumpy husband than no husband. How are things between you and Mark?”

“...I am more than thankful that he's alive, but… it's honestly been hard. I can only ask him yes or no questions, and I can't get very far with those. Aunt Milly... I need him to tell me that he's going to be alright; I wish we could have a conversation. I miss hearing him insult my cooking and teasing me about all the time I spend fixing my hair. I just need to hear his voice again.”

“Give it time. Doc says he's getting stronger by the day.”

“I know… it's just difficult.”

“I understand,” Milly said as she reached out and gave Cassie's hand a slight squeeze. “I know Mark is still having issues with balance, but you both are welcome down the hill anytime.”

“Thank you, I hope things can get back to normal soon.”

“So do I,” Milly replied with a smile. “I'll let you get to bed, but know I'm here for you and we're praying for you two.”

“Thanks, Aunt Milly.”

After seeing her aunt to the door, Cassie finished up in the front room and headed into the bedroom.
When she entered, she saw a very concentrated look on Mark's face that worried her.

Cassie closed the door behind her and went to sit down on the bed.

“Mark, what is it?” Cassie nervously asked.

Mark shook his head as he reached over to turn down the lamp on his night stand.

Cassie crawled under the covers as Mark draped an arm around her and planted a kiss on the back of her head.

“I... love you… Cassie.”

Rifle Shy

Morgan's Corner

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

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