The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

No Greater Love
by Abby

The thunder of two galloping horses resounded across the hills and valleys as Mark McCain and his adopted younger sister Anna hurried home from school. Both children were hunched over in their saddles, urging their tiring mounts onward to their home. As they were swiftly approaching the yard, their father, Lucas, strode out onto the front porch and leaned somewhat lazily against one of the posts.


His right hand was resting casually upon his hip, and a dishtowel was flung across his left shoulder. His eyes were sparkling, like sun on glass, and his lips were curved into a smile, although he was trying to disguise it and seem stern. Anna and Mark pulled their horses to an abrupt halt in front of the house, and hastily dismounted.

"Why were you running those horses so hard?" Lucas questioned, feigning hints anger towards his children.

Mark and Anna blushed, remembering the dozens of times he had told them not to gallop like there was no tomorrow unless it was an emergency.

"Sorry, Pa, but weíve got something to tell you!" Mark said breathlessly.

Reaching deeply into their saddlebags, he and Anna pulled out the book reports they had both been working on for weeks.

"We got Aís, Papa!" Anna announced excitedly.

"Good girl!" Lucas said, delighted, before hugging her and Mark. His shining smile disclosed his evident thrill with his children'sí achievement. He gazed proudly at the neatly written papers, each with the considerably-sized red A in the top right corner.

"Pa, the teacher said ours were the best ones sheís ever read on Ivanhoe!" Mark grinned, ecstatic that such an awesome grade be given to such a horribly hard paper.

Lucas ushered his two children toward the door.

"Go show Milly what you made."

With that order upon their ears, Mark and Anna darted into the house.

"Look Mama!" Anna cried, waving her paper in front of Millyís face.

"Hold that still! Let me see," Milly behested, her hands reaching to nab the moving paper from her daughterís tight, excited grip. When the crumpled paper was still, she took it in her hands and looked quite pleased as her dark eyes briefly skimmed the paragraphs.

"Well, Iíll be. Lucas, did you see this? An A!"

Mark then handed his report to Milly, still gratified that his paper had on it the best grade you could get.

"See mine, too, Milly. Itís got an A on it too!" he smiled jubilantly, rather proud of himself.

"Yes, it does. Good for the both of you. Now, Iíd say this would call for a celebration. Anna, honey, have you got any ideas?"

Anna jumped up and down until both of her feet were off the ground, and each time she landed as gently as a cat thrown from a hayloft.

"Oh yes yes! Letís all go to town for supper!"

Lucas, Milly, and Mark all laughed at her enthusiasm, and Anna bounced off to her bedroom to change her clothes and brush her hair.

"Well, come on, will you? You all need to look nice, too. Now scat!" she commanded, sending the rest of her still-laughing family off to spruce up some.

****

Sometime around fifteen minutes later, the McCain's piled into their well-worn buckboard and trotted away to the small New Mexican town of North Fork. As the wagon rattled along, the happy children sang "Old Dan Tucker."

"Olí Dan Tucker was a fine olí man.

Washed his face in a fryiní pan!

Combed his hair with a wagon wheel,

And died with a toothache in his heel!"

Anna and Mark sang the words expertly, laughing at the same time. Lucasí strong baritone voice joined them for the chorus.

"So, get out the way, for Olí Dan Tucker.

Heís too late to catch his supper.

Supperís over and breakfastís cookiní

But Olí Dan Tucker just stands there lookiní."

****

When they arrived in the growing little town, it was busy and bustling, for the afternoon stagecoach from Santa Fe had just rolled in.

"Whoa," Lucas called to the two horses drawing the wagon.

He jumped from the buckboard and tied the horses to one of the multiple hitching posts in North Fork. He then helped Milly from the wagon seat, and she smoothed out her full maroon-colored skirt.

Mark and Anna hastily jumped from the back, and scurried off toward Hattie Dentonís general store to expend the nickels Lucas had given them for making good grades on their book reports. Lucas and Milly laughed heartily at the anxiousness of the two youngsters to spend their money on candy.

A couple of moments later, North Forkís marshal, Micah Torrance, ambled towards Lucas and Milly, tipping his hat towards one of the ladies he passed.

"Hello, Micah." Lucas said, lightly leaning upon a hitching post.

"Afternoon, Lucasboy. Knew youíd be in sometime today." the marshal responded.

Lucasí eyes began to twinkle.

"Oh, you did, huh?" he said, smiling.

"Sure did. When school let out, Mark and Anna jumped on their horses and galloped out of here whoopiní and holleriní like nothing else. I asked their teacher what it was all about and she said theyíd both gotten Aís on some real tough book reports. So, I figured theyíd run off like that to tell you and Miss Milly, and I expected you all to come back to celebrate or something."

Lucas grinned and placed his hand upon Micahís shoulder.

"You know something, Micah? Youíre absolutely right. Weíre heading off to the hotel to eat supper right after Anna and Mark get their promised candy. Care to join us?"

Micah did not have to ponder long to make up his mind.

"You know, I think I just might."

Lucas smiled and said,

"Good. Letís go."

The light-haired rancher took his wife by the hand, and the three companions strolled leisurely to the hotel to meet up with Anna and Mark.

****

Somewhere around ten minutes later, the McCain's and Micah were gathered around one of the hotelís round tables, laughing and enjoying themselves. Anna was chatting rather lively, telling of various subjects, even though most of the time she was not being listened to.

Lucas heard the sound of two horses canter into North Fork, and, still chuckling, turned and glanced out the window. His face fell when he saw the horsesí riders. He remembered them, but only too well.

The riders were two men he had known back in the Nations. They had joined up with a very infamous outlaw, and they had known Lucas had disapproved of their choice, but they did not care.

One night in Enid, Oklahoma, the small town where Lucas had lived, the outlaw leader and Lucasí ex-friends broke into the townís bank to try to steal fifteen thousand dollars. Lucas had fortunately heard noises coming from the bank, so he had sneaked in the back door to try to stop them.

The three men had become defensive when Lucas entered the bank, with his rifle pointed straight at them. "To the sheriff," he had said, but the outlaws did not seem extremely alarmed. They foolishly thought that three men could easily take down one.

Their leader had drawn his gun upon Lucas and started firing, but to no avail. Lucas was faster on the trigger, and with a stumble forward, the outlaw had fallen. Lucasí old friends were scared senseless, so they quickly mounted their horses and fled for Mexico, before Lucas could shoot them, too.

Now they were after him for revenge, not to mention the money Lucas had gotten for saving the bank. Lucas shook his head, transferring himself back to the present. Milly, Mark, and Micah had stopped laughing, and were looking at him worriedly, but Anna was still chattering along happily, not knowing that anything was wrong, or that anyone could be in danger.

The two outlaws entered the hotel, and glanced around. Lucas turned in his chair so he might see their faces. The men had looked into the hotelís dining room, so their eyes caught Lucasí. For a long moment, they just stared at each other, and Lucas could see their eyes well enough to be able to tell they wanted blood. The yellowish glow in them sent a strange chill up his spine, and he shuddered. One of them leaned over to the other, and Lucas strained his ears to catch what they were whispering.

"You sure...him...ainít...we...kill...or..." was, unfortunately, all he caught.

Still, the word "kill" made his ears perk up. By now, Anna had caught on, and was not laughing happily anymore.

"Whatís wrong, Papa?" she whispered, worry clouding her beautiful bright blue eyes.

Lucas tried to smile, but his daughter knew that it was just not a real smile, because his forehead was furrowed slightly. She hastily grabbed his left arm in her small, warm hands.

"Please, Papa. Tell me," she begged.

Her father sighed, longing to keep his daughter from knowing how terrible the outlaws really were.

"Theyíre outlaws. Theyíre killers. Theyíre after me."

Both Mark and Annaís eyes widened, and they quickly looked at each other in worry.

"What for, Pa?" Mark wondered aloud.

Slowly, Lucas told the story of why the men wanted to kill him. His children, wife, and best friend listened intently.

"But Papa, you havenít told us their names!" Anna exclaimed, anxious to know the identities of the scoundrels who would dare try to murder her beloved father.

Lucas sighed, and said reluctantly, "Their names, Anna girl, are Rex and Pine Morgan."

Micah sat up straighter in his chair, recognizing the names as those of deadly outlaws.

"The Morgan Brothers! I shouldíve known. Thereís a two thousand dollar price tag on their heads. I ought to go and lock them up so they donít bother you none, Lucas."

Lucas motioned with his hands for Micah to not do that.

"It might make trouble, Micah."

The marshal resumed his relaxed sitting position, but only because the look in his friendís eyes was one that said, "No bloodshed, Micah. Not with my family here."

In silence, the family and marshal finished their meal, before rising from the table and exiting the hotel. The Morgan's watched them go, before signing the hotel register and retreating to their room to plot against Lucas.

As the two mercenaries rudely stomped up the stairs, their attire was extremely noticeable to anyone who cared to see it.

Their clothes were ragged and worn, and the leather on their gun holsters was beginning to crack. Rexís pants had rips and tears in them, and the cuffs of Pineís were faded out and frayed. Their hats were dusty, and their boots were covered in caked-on mud and......blood. The blood of others they had brutally murdered.

They looked just like the evil they were. Their eyes burned with anger, and if one looked closely enough, it was possible to see the years of hate that had eaten away at their merciless souls.

Once in their room, Rex Morgan collapsed on the crisp, clean, wrought iron-framed bed and sighed before laughing hysterically. His beady eyes darted around the cheery blue and white room, noticing even the smallest detail.

"Whatís so funny?" His slow-minded brother asked.

"Oh, nothiní. Just weíre gonna get back at that McCain for what he done, killiní the Boss aní all," Rex replied.

"I say we find out where he lives, get out there, and just kill him!" Pine exclaimed impatiently.

"You worthless brother!" Rex said, leaping from his lounged position on the bed and cuffing his brother in the jaw. "Whatís the matter with you? I say we just hang around. Make him sweat a little, you know? Rile him up a bit. Then, we can kill him."

He laughed an evil laugh, and Pine massaged his jaw, which now had a red mark on it from where Rex had thoughtlessly slapped him.

"Sure, Rex. Whatever you say."

****

The next afternoon, Lucas rode into North Fork to retrieve his children from school. School had not ended yet, so while he waited for Anna and Mark, he decided to talk to Micah.

He dismounted his horse, and strode into Micahís office. The marshal was filling out his paperwork, and there were stacks of "WANTED" posters to his left. He looked up at his friend, and put down his pencil.

"Howdy, Lucas," Micah said.

"Micah," Lucas replied, nodding a return to the greeting.

Micah returned to his work, the pencil making little scritch-scratch sounds as it swiftly moved across the paper. Lucas perched himself upon the marshalís desk and began to roll one of Micahís pencils in his hand. Micah looked up from his paperwork to Lucas and said,

"You look worried."

Lucas dropped the pencil back into the pencil jar, and replied,

"I hate to admit it, Micah, but I am."

"Want to talk it over?" the lawman questioned.

Lucas nodded slightly, and answered bluntly,

"Iím worried about the Morgan's, Micah."

Micah nodded, agreeing, and looked at Lucas to tell him to continue. Lucas needed no hints, and kept speaking.

"I want to get them out of town, but I donít want to have any gunplay around Mark and Anna. More than anything, I want to keep them out of this."

Micah stacked some papers on his desk, then stood to tack some of the "WANTED" posters to his bulletin board.

"I know how you feel, Lucasboy. Iíd like to see those Morgan's locked up as much as you would. You know, maybe theyíre....."

He left his sentence unfinished. He did not have to say anything. Lucas knew what he was going to say. He was going to suggest that maybe they were just passing through. Lucas made no response, but the look on his face spoke for him. It said that he knew they were not just passing through.

A few moments passed in silence before Lucas rose from his perch upon Micahís desk and stepped towards the door.

"Well Micah, Iím going to go wait for Mark and Anna to get out of school. Maybe Iíll meet up with the Morgan brothers and talk to them."

Micah followed him to the door as he left.

"Be careful, Lucasboy. Try not to rile them."

"I know, Micah. I know."

****

After Lucas left Micahís office, he strode down North Forkís streets to wait until Anna and Mark finished school, but the Morgan brothers appeared from the hotel first.

"Well! Luke McCain," the oldest, Rex, exclaimed upon seeing him. "Ifín you ainít a sight for sore eyes!"

Lucas turned apathetically and eyed them cautiously.

"Yes, Morgan, itís been a while."

Rex seemed to be slightly insulted by Lucasí curt reply.

"Why Luke, ainít you glad to see me aní Pine?"

"Letís just say I didnít think Iíd ever see you two again."

Pine Morgan approached Lucas and tried to warm up the chilly atmosphere by saying,

"Why donít you join me aní Rex in a little drink, hm?"

Lucas nodded slowly, and Rex Morgan said blithely,

"All right then! Letís go."

The three of them strolled down the street to North Forkís saloon, and when they strode up to the bar, Rex rapped upon the counter with his knuckles to call Sweeney the bartender to their service.

"Hey barkeep, get me a bottle of whiskey aní three glasses."

Lucas cocked an eyebrow at the outlaw, then turned to Sweeney and said,

"Make that two glasses, Sweeney, and get me a beer."

He looked over at the surprised looks on the faces of the Morgan brothers, and lifting an eyebrow again, added,

"And Iíll pay for it."

Sweeney nodded and turned away to retrieve the order.

"No whiskey?!" Pine Morgan asked, in shock that a man the size of Lucas McCain did not drink what he called "the best stuff two bits can buy".

Lucas nodded, and noticing that his drink had come, picked it up and took a small sip from it. Rex Morgan moved a little closer to him and said,

"Do you know what we come for, Luke?"

Lucas just stared at his glass, and focused on it. His eyes moved neither to meet Rexís in a cold stare, nor once did they blink.

"I know," he said, his voice low and deep.

"Good," Rex continued. "And youíre going to cooperate?"

"I didnít say I would."

"You know whatíll happen if you donít....?"

Lucas quickly snapped his head around and glared at Rex, his eyes flashing.

"Is that a threat?"

Rexís face seemed defensive now, and he took a slightly frightened step backwards.

"Did I say it was?"

"Well if it is," Lucas muttered. "youíre not going to shoot me down in cold blood right in the middle of the street where the lives of you and your brother will be in jeopardy."

Pine Morganís hand went for his holster. Lucas saw him, and stood up straight. His right hand quickly grabbed his rifle from the counter and pointed it directly at the outlaw.

With his left hand, he motioned for the outlaw to drop his gun upon the counter, which he did as fast as he could.

"I wouldnít try that if I were you. And, I advise you and your brother to get out of this town and my sight before you make a mistake youíre both going to regret."

Tossing some money down upon the bar counter to pay for his drink, Lucas glared at the brothers and strode out of the saloon. Rexís face burned with hate, and quickly moving to the saloon doors, he clenched his fists, and looked out into the street to watch Lucas stroll down the street towards the schoolhouse.

"Iíll get you good, Luke. Iíll get you good."

****

At exactly three oíclock, Mark and Anna sped from the schoolhouse along with many other children. They ran a little ways to where their father was waiting with their horses, and when they reached him, effortlessly jumped on their gentle "steeds".

"Anything bad happen, Pa?" Mark questioned, hoping all was peaceful and quiet.

"No, son. Nothing bad." Lucas replied.

Anna studied her fatherís face for a few moments before saying knowingly,

"Papa, you talked to them, didnít you?"

Lucas knew he couldnít hide the truth from his sometimes startlingly acute daughter, so he sighed and answered,

"Yes, I talked to them."

Anna glanced momentarily at Mark, then looked back to her father.

"And they said....?" she prodded.

Lucas sighed again, and replied,

"They didnít say it right out, but they meant to say they would kill me if I didnít hand over the money the sheriff gave me when I shot their gang leader."

Anna and Mark gasped, and her eyes widened.

"No....no! They canít do that!" she exclaimed decisively, furrowing her eyebrows and pounding her fist on the saddle horn.

She leaned to the left from her saddle to clutch her fatherís arm.

"You....you wonít let them, will you?" she asked, worried.

Lucas smiled slightly, and said,

"No, Iíll try not to, Anna."

Temporarily reassured, Mark and Anna spurred their horses into a gentle, rocking lope, and Lucas followed as they left North Fork for home.

****

For two more days, the Morgan brothers antagonized Lucas whenever he went to pick up his children from school, or went to do anything at all in North Fork. Sometimes it was so terrible that Lucas just wanted to clench his hands around their necks and squeeze.

Other times, their nerve-wracking actions and crude remarks just about drove Lucas to the breaking point. The presence of the galling outlaws was even driving Anna and Mark to the brink of insanity, and the entire town of North Fork to extreme fatigue and annoyance.

On the night of the third day, after Anna and Mark had, of course, reluctantly gone to bed, Lucas and Milly stayed up talking. Lucas was nervously pacing the floor, knowing that after so much antagonization, the Morgan's would try to murder him.

Milly sat by the roaring fireplace, quietly patching up a hole in one of Markís work shirts so it might last another six months or so.

"Lucas, youíll wear a hole in the floor. And I canít stitch that up so itíll last another six months."

Lucas sank into his armchair, and, putting his forehead in his hand, breathed a huge sigh of anxiety.

"Iím sorry, Milly. Itís just that Iím so worried."

"About what, Lucas?"

"About the Morgan brothers. Theyíve been real nuisances for the past three days. And I know that they know theyíre wearing me down, so when they want to kill me, itíll be real easy for them to make it look like I was annoyed and tried to draw on them."

"Lucas, you donít mean that?"

"Iím not sure. Why else would they try to force my hand? Oh, Milly. I donít want to have any gunplay when we go to town tomorrow for supplies!"

Meanwhile, Anna had been awakened by the conversation and had crept from her room, down the hall from the bedroom extension to the main part of the house, and had hidden behind the bookshelf that separated the kitchen from the living room.

"Oh my goodness," she said to herself. "Papaís afraid! He doesnít want to go to town tomorrow because heís afraid of those darned Morgan's."

For the first time in her life as a McCain, she was doubting her father. Why? Because of the tone in his voice. She listened carefully to the rest of the conversation, being cautious not to let herself be seen or heard.

"Milly, I never thought Iíd hear myself say this, but Iím actually a little bit afraid of the Morgan's."

Anna, having known it all along, leapt up from behind the bookshelf and rushed into the living room.

"I knew it! Youíre afraid of them, Papa! Youíre afraid of two men. Two men who arenít as good as you!"

Milly sharply spoke.

"Anna, go back to your bed! Youíre not supposed to be up!"

Gently, Lucas quieted his wife, and turned his attention to Anna.

"You know what Anna? Youíre right. You are right."

Only then did Anna realize the raw fierceness of her words, but it was too late. The words had left her mouth and had landed on her fatherís heart. She desperately wished she were not such an impetuous girl, but there was nothing to be done about it. At least, there was no remedy for it that she had heard of.

"Oh, Papa, Iím so sorry for saying that! I didnít mean it! Honest I didnít!"

Lucas held up his hand, a command for her to be silent.

"Of course Iím afraid of them. Theyíre threatening my life and the lives of my wife and two children. Why shouldnít I be afraid?"

He leaned against the mantle over the fireplace, and ran a hand through his hair, a clear picture of his stress.

"You shouldnít be afraid of them, Papa!" Anna exclaimed, her blue-grey eyes flashing and red hair sparkling supernaturally. "Why, theyíre just a couple of no-good outlaws! Wicked men is all they are! Youíre better than they are, Papa!"

Lucas turned quickly and spoke sharply.

"How many times have I told you that no man is better than another, girl?"

Annaís eyes stung with tears as the piercing tone of her fatherís voice sank in. She turned to go back to bed, her shoulders slumped. Lucas realized the harshness of his tone of voice, and held out his arms.

"Anna, come here."

Anna obeyed, and walked into her fatherís strong arms.

"I didnít mean to speak that way, Anna." he said quietly, smoothing her hair.

"Itís all right," she answered quietly, trying to at least sound cheerful.

But, it was obvious her spirit had been broken. The tone of her fatherís usually kind voice had pierced through her heart like William Tellís arrow through an apple.

"No, itís not. No father should ever speak to his child that way. Itís just that...well...."

"I understand, Papa," Anna said, looking up at him, trust and love shining, and Lucasí spirit burning, in her eyes. "Really I do. The only thing is that you ought not be afraid of them. Theyíre just a couple of no-good outlaws that long for the blood of others. Youíve no need to be afraid of lousy scum like that."

Millyís eyes flashed at the words "lousy scum," and her lips quivered with some kind of reprimand. Anna noticed her face.

"Sorry, Mama."

Lucas pondered her words, and said thoughtfully,

"Anna, youíre right again. I shouldnít be afraid of them. Because, if I am, itíll make them think that they can make me fear them, and that will make them feel all-powerful. So tomorrow, weíre going to North Fork to get those supplies and not worry about the Morgan brothers!"

Anna smiled happily, and as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss Lucas good-night, whispered in his ear,

"Make sure your rifle is loaded, just in case."

Lucas laughed, and shooed her off to bed. She scurried off to her room, and a few moments later, he and Milly heard her door click shut. Assured that both children were asleep, they too went to bed for some shut-eye of their own.

****

The next morning, Lucas awakened before the rest of his family to prepare the buckboard wagon for the supply trip to North Fork, and to complete his chores.

Somewhere in between fifteen and twenty minutes later, he gave the horses pats on their backs before plodding up to the house for his breakfast. When he entered the house, he found it was almost complete chaos.

Anna and Mark were running around as fast as they could to try to set the table, and Milly was wearing out her skillet to try and make enough pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon to provide her children and husband with an adequate meal.

Millyís soft black hair was not fixed up like it normally was, Markís light brown shirt was only half tucked in, and Annaís copper-red hair was tousled and falling out of her lavender hair ribbon. Lucas looked somewhat shocked, and Mark noticed him.

"Oh, hi, Pa. We were wondering when youíd come in. Sorry we all look like this, but we got up later than we shoudda, and we want to hurry up and have breakfast so we could get to town."

Lucas nodded, understanding, before heading towards his and Millyís bedroom. On the way, he tousled Markís hair so it stood up like unkempt grass, and kissed Anna on top of her head. She giggled, then continued to set the table.

"Iím going to wash up before breakfast," he said.

"All right, Lucas," Milly answered. "No hurry here."

"It seems there is!" he exclaimed, causing Anna and Mark to laugh together.

Smiling, he turned and exited into the bedroom, and shut the door.

****

Only a couple short minutes later, Lucas returned to the main part of the house. His strawberry-blonde hair was neatly combed back and a fresh, powder blue cotton shirt had been put on.

The hustle had slowed down by now, and his wife and children were sitting at the table, waiting patiently for him.

"We wondered when you were gonna get here!" Anna giggled.

Lucas smiled and sat down at his place. Milly gave him a plate of steaming pancakes, complete with a pat of butter on top.

"Looks good, Milly," he said.

"Thank you, Lucas," Milly replied modestly, before serving Mark, Anna, and herself.

The family said Grace together, then they began eating.

"Well, I guess todayís supply day," Lucas began.

"Oh Pa, do we have to?" Mark cut in.

Milly eyed Mark, warning him not to interrupt, but he seemed as though he did not notice.

"Yes, Mark, we have to go. Milly needs some material to make you a new shirt, and we need some oats, flour, wire, and gun polish." Lucas answered.

Noting Markís worried expression, he continued,

"Thinking about the Morgan's?"

For a moment, the room was quiet. Then Mark nodded. Anna grinned and piped up,

"Donít worry, Mark. Nothing badíll happen."

Mark was then reassured, and breakfast continued.

****

When the meal was finished and the dishes washed and dried, and Milly was satisfied that her children looked all right, the McCain's piled into the buckboard. Well, Mark and Anna piled. Lucas, being the gentleman he was, helped Milly ascend to the wagon seat. The children were indeed raring to go.

"All set?" Lucas asked.

"Ready!" Mark and Anna chorused.

"Okay, then," Lucas replied, slapping the lines across the backs of the horses.

With a lurch, the family set off towards North Fork and what awaited them there.

****

When they arrived in town, the streets were very quiet, except for a few brave souls zig-zagging between the buildings.

"Where is everybody, Papa?" Anna asked, carefully eying the almost empty street.

Lucas jumped from the wagon and tied the horses to a hitching post before answering.

"I donít know Anna. You, Mark, and Milly go get what we need, and Iíll go see if Micah knows anything about this."

He grabbed his rifle from the floor of the wagon and started towards the marshalís office.

Anna and Mark jumped from the back of the buckboard, and Mark helped Milly slowly descend from the seat so her skirt would not become entangled in the wagon.

"Shouldnít have worn a skirt, Mama," Anna laughed, teasing her mother.

Milly placed her hands on her hips and replied,

"You know darn well I always wear a skirt when we come to get supplies!"

Anna and Mark skipped into Hattieís store, and Anna called over her shoulder,

"Unlike me!"

Milly sighed, knowing it was impossible to get Anna to dress up, except on Sundays and special occasions, before following her and Mark into the store and proceeding to purchase the supplies they needed.

****

Meanwhile, Lucas was talking to Micah inside the small marshalís office. One of the windows was cracked open some to let in some cool air, and the cafť curtains Micah had on his windows were blowing gently in the breeze.

Sunshine streamed in through the door, but all that light was not enough to shoo away the dark feeling that was hanging over North Fork.

"Whyís the street so quiet, Micah?" Lucas asked.

"Why?" Micah replied. "The Morgan brothers."

"The Morgan brothers?" Lucas exclaimed, mixed emotions shadowing his face. "Whatíd they do?"

"They got real drunk last night and ran around bragging to kill you today. Most folks took them seriously and left town in fear of them."

Lucas sighed and nodded affirmably.

"I shouldíve known. They were wanting to get their hands the cash that I got when I shot their gang leader."

"You be careful, Lucasboy. I donít want you to get hurt."

Lucas nodded, agreeing to be as careful as possible. He opened his mouth to say something else when a gunshot rang out.

Quickly he and Micah grabbed their guns and rushed out of the office. Standing in the middle of the street were Rex and Pine Morgan.

"The Morgan's," Lucas muttered under his breath.

"Well, Luke! We wondered how long it would take!" Rex said, laughing menacingly.

"Morgan, youíd better not be shooting that gun off," Micah said warningly.

"Aw, shut up Marshal!" Rexís brother Pine yelled, hints of the previous nightís drunkenness still obvious in his movements.

Rex turned sharply and smacked his brother.

"Didnít I tell you to shut up once today?" he yelled, his index finger pointed in his brotherís face.

Pine put up his hands in defense of himself, and stepped back a few steps.

Of course, the Morganís gunshot had attracted the attention of the folks that were in town. Anna and Mark were standing outside Hattieís store, watching the scene with wide and frightened eyes, like those of a scared jackrabbitís.

"What do you want, Morgan?" Lucas asked.

"You know what we want, McCain."

Lucas rocked back and forth on his feet and answered,

"Yes, I do, but youíre not going to try to get it right here and now, are you?"

Pine Morgan went for his gun, but his brother whispered,

"We wonít get anywhere by shootiní him right out."

Rex walked closer to Lucas and said,

"You know somethiní, Luke? Maybe youíre right. Maybe itíd be better if we just dropped the whole subject."

He lifted his hat from his head, and swept it in front of him as if making a polite and gentlemanly bow. He quickly looked up while feigning the bow, and seeing he had Lucas off-guard with his words, he pulled his fist back and punched Lucas in the stomach.

Lucas yelped, reeled backwards, and sank to his knees. His rifle fell from his hand and clattered on the wooden boardwalk.

The jab had caught him off-guard because his thoughts had been centered on how to get the outlaws out of town, and how to keep his family safe.

"Lucasboy!" Micah exclaimed, kneeling to see if his friend was all right.

Lucasí hair was fallen into his eyes, and he coughed, trying to regain his breath.

"Iím all right, Micah," he whispered, for the wind had been knocked from him.

Micah tried to help Lucas to his feet, but Rex pushed him away.

"He can get up on his own, Marshal,"

Lucas staggered to his feet, but before he got a chance to regain himself, Rex Morgan threw his fist at Lucasí jaw, and Lucas tried to shake the punch off.

The sharpness of the outlawís knuckles had been just enough to draw blood, so a tiny trail of it was now trickling down from the corner of Lucasí mouth. His hand touched the corner of his mouth, and when he drew it away, he saw the red on his gloved fingers.

"You think youíll get the money this way, Morgan?" he asked, out of breath.

Rex laughed cruelly.

"Nothiní gets past you, huh?" he taunted.

Meanwhile, his brother had sneaked up behind Micah and had brought his pistol down hard on the back of the marshalís head. Micah groaned and slumped to the ground. Anna and Mark made a dash for Micah, but Pine spun around, his gun drawn on them.

"I suggest you get back by that store, kiddies, cause you might not want to be around when things get nasty."

Anna and Mark glanced frightendly at each other, then looked towards Lucas for instruction.

"Do as he says," Lucas said, rubbing his throbbing and bleeding jaw.

His children glanced at each other again, and turned around to return to the store.

Lucas turned his attention back to Rex Morgan, only to be greeted by another punch in the jaw.

This time, Lucas retaliated, and shoved his fist into Rexís stomach. The outlaw tumbled into the street, and Lucas followed him, grabbed him by the shirt collar and hit him in the jaw, just like he himself had been punched.

Pine watched the fight, his pistol pointed at Micah to be sure he would not get up and defend Lucas. Anna and Mark also watched, scared to move anywhere.

For what seemed like hours, the fight continued, until Rex got the upper hand and almost beat the life out of Lucas.

"Pa," Mark whispered, his voice breaking and eyes filling to the brim with tears.

Anna could not speak. Her eyesight became blurred by oncoming tears as she watched in horror what had happened to Lucas. The outlaw had hit her father so hard, he was just a crumpled pile in the middle of the street.

She thought quickly and hard, trying to think of some way to help her father. As she thought, both Micah and Lucas began to regain consciousness.

Lucas sat up, and shook his head, trying to shake off the cloud of pain and dizziness that hung over him. He blinked, and looked around. He noticed that the Morgan brothers were laughing at him. Micah was also awake now, but he pretended to still be knocked out.

"Well, Luke! That didnít keep you out of the game, I see," Rex Morgan taunted.

"You call this a game?" Lucas asked weakly.

He tried to stand, but he had been hit so hard, he was too weak. So, he just crumpled back to his knees. Mark hastily sprinted towards Lucas, and gently tried to help his father rise to his feet.

"Are you all right, Pa?" Mark asked in a hushed whisper.

Lucas patted his sonís shoulder, and replied just as quietly,

"Yes, Mark, Iím all right."

Mark gently helped his father stand, his hand tightly gripping Lucasí elbow. He then kindly made sure Lucas could stand on his own two feet without toppling over, then returned to the general store, casting a loving glance at his father .

The outlaw brothers were laughing brutally at the slight damage theyíd done so far. Suddenly, Rex turned to his brother and said,

"Pine, itís your turn,"

Pine smiled evilly and drew his gun.

"My pleasure."

Pulling the trigger, he began to shoot at Lucas. As best he could, the rancher tumbled to hide behind a water trough as bullets ricocheted off the water. Micah then quickly sat up, and threw Lucasí rifle towards him as hard as he could.

"Here, Lucasboy!" he cried as he released the rifle into the air.

The rifle twisted through the air, and landed only a few feet away from its owner. Lucas quickly reached out to get it, and no sooner than he had, a bullet bounced off the dirt. He cocked the gun, and began firing at Pine Morgan.

Now there were bullets whizzing through the air and making holes in the windows and doors of the buildings on either side of the street. Strangely though, neither man fell. Not yet, anyhow.

Micah ducked as a bullet sailed through one of his windows, and quickly ran to where Anna and Mark were standing. Anna was still thinking of something to do. As she thought, Mark and Micah were trying to think of their own ways to get rid of the Morgan's.

As the bullets from Lucasí rifle and Pine Morganís pistol crossed paths, Rex was just standing around watching, an evil smirk upon his face.

Micah and Mark were still trying to think of ideas, but one by one they were decided against.

Suddenly, the shots stopped, and Anna looked up, fearing for the worst, but saw exactly the opposite.

Pine Morgan was lying dead in the street, and his brother was standing over him, blood glowing in his eyes. He turned like a savage dog towards Lucas, yelling through clenched teeth,

"My brother! You killed my brother!"

In an instant, his gun was drawn from its holster, pointed at Lucas, and again bullets began to fly towards Lucas.

"No!" Anna cried, and jumped up, wondering why she hadnít done anything before.

"Anna, donít!" Mark yelled, but she was already trying to wrestle the gun away from Rex Morgan.

All the muscles in Annaís small, slender body were straining against two-hundred pounds of outlaw to try to get the gun from his hand so he could not shoot her father, because she knew he would.

"No! Donít shoot my Papa!" she cried, childhood fear and Lucasí stubbornness covering her face.

The outlaw pushed her away, and pointed the gun at Lucas, but Anna regrouped and charged back into him, again reaching for the gun. Twice it was just within her reach, but every time it was jerked back.

Lucas, who had been resting from the fight and shootout, heard his daughterís yells, stood up, and ran towards the outlaw. He grabbed Rexís wrist, and began to wrestle the gun away himself.

"Go, Anna, go back to the store," he commanded.

Anna obeyed, and let go of the gun, but as she turned away, Rex Morgan managed to free his wrist from Lucasí grip and pull the trigger.

The world felt so quiet and still, the gunshot seemed to echo off the buildings as if the town were deserted.

Annaís eyes closed tightly in pain, and she slumped to the ground, her tiny frame crumpled into a ball. Blood appeared on the back of her shirt, just beneath her shoulder blade, and she lay still.

For a moment, Lucas stared in shock as his daughter fell to the ground, then, realizing what had just happened, turned on Rex Morgan. His hands clenched tightly around the outlawís neck, choking him.

"You lousy scum, you shot my daughter!" he yelled, teeth clenched and hair again fallen over his eyes.

His brilliant blue eyes were flashing. They seemed full of lightning and fire. His pulse raced, and his mind only thought about hurting Rex Morgan. He did not even think of going to Annaís side yet. Mark was there. He only thought about hurting the outlaw who hurt his daughter.

His grip tightened around Rexís neck, and when the outlaw could hardly breath any more.....Lucas let him go.

Morgan fell to the ground, and Micah jumped up and dragged him to a jail cell.

"He wonít be going anyplace for a while," Micah muttered to himself.

Lucas did not make any response to Micahís remark, because now he had to attend to Anna. He knelt beside his daughter, and gingerly picked her up. Mark looked up at his father and down at his sister.

"Pa! Will she be all right?" he asked, concerned for his sisterís welfare.

He had never worried about anyone other than his father before, but for some reason it felt natural to worry for Anna. Perhaps it was because he was three or four years older than she, but he did not know. All he knew was that she had been hit by a bullet, and he worried over her.

Lucas looked Anna over, then his face turned grim.

"That Rex Morgan shot her in the left side of her back."

Markís heart sank to his boots. Sheís dead, he thought to himself.

"Is it really.... that bad?" he asked, fearing the worst.

Lucas gently laid Annaís head in his right arm, picked up her limp and barely-breathing body, and stood up.

"I donít know, son. Itís pretty deep somewhere in there. Itís going to be close," he said worriedly, before trudging down to Doc Burrageís office to see what he could do for his daughter.

He entered the office, and Doc Burrage exclaimed,

"Luke! What happened to Anna?"

"She got mixed up in the gunfight out there."

The Doc prepared his equipment, and put his stethoscope around his neck.

"I heard it. Is she hurt real bad?"

Lucas laid his daughter on her stomach upon the bed in the office, and replied,

"I donít know. One of the outlaws out there shot her in the left side of her back."

Doc Burrage looked her over, and said,

"Itís probably real close. I canít tell yet."

By now there was, of course, a hole and a huge red spot on the back of Annaís sage green shirt where the bullet had gone in.

"Iím going to need to get started right away, Luke. You mind waiting outside?"

Lucas shook his head, and opened the door to leave. Milly ran to her husband and cried,

"Lucas! Is she all right...?"

Lucas put his arm around Milly, and answered,

"I donít know yet. Doc has to check."

Just then, Mark, who was sitting in utter shock by Hattieís store, jumped on his horse and galloped out of town. Lucas and Milly looked up, and Lucas said gently,

"Iíll go see whatís bothering the boy. Why donít you go sit with Anna?"

Milly nodded, entered the doctorís office, and shut the door behind her. Lucas pushed his hair into place, strode to his horse, mounted, and cantered from the streets of North Fork.

He cantered about a mile or two out of town, and he saw Mark sitting curled up beside the pond where all the boys liked to go fishing.

Lucas tugged on the reins, and his horse halted. He dismounted and wrapped the reins around a tree limb, and walked over to Mark.

He sat down beside his son, and asked gently,

"Whatís the matter, Mark?"

Mark lifted his head from his hands, and Lucas saw that his sonís face was streaked with tears.

"Annaís dead, isnít she Pa?"

"Oh no, Mark. At least, I hope not. Even if she is, sheíd have died for a good reason. If sheís dead now, it was for good. She ran out there to try to wrestle the gun away from Rex Morgan because she loves you, me, Milly, and Micah, and if she is dead now, it was a perfect example of your sisterís selfless love. But no, sheís not dead!" Lucas replied.

His eyes were welling up with tears, but he choked them back. He just could not bear to think of his Anna as dead, so in his mind he told himself it could not be so.

"But what if she IS dead, Pa? I was getting pretty jealous because you'd adopted her and it seemed like you forgot all about me."

Lucas looked in shock at his son.

"Mark, you were jealous? Havenít I told you not to be?"

"I know, Pa, but when she came, I thought she was only going to be at our place for a few weeks! I didnít think you and Milly were going to adopt her! I didnít mind you adopting her so bad, but after you did, it seemed like the only person you cared about was Anna! Anna this, Anna that. You seemed like you were forgetting all about me and only loving her!"

Mark put his head back into his hands, and sighed heavily.

"Mark, I donít believe what I just heard. I didnít trade in my love for you for her! You see son," Lucas replied, putting one of his strong, loving arms around his son. "in Boston, she was living with her aunt and uncle, and they didnít give her the time of day. Her aunt only cared about her social status, and only cared about dressing up her girls to be better than anyone else. So, no one back in Boston gave her any love. I was only trying to make her feel welcome and make up for the lack of love she was given. Son, I could never love Anna any more than I love you, or you any more than her. You both hold equal places in my heart, boy."

Mark looked into his fatherís eyes, and whispered,

"I sure hope sheís not dead, Pa!"

He burst into tears, and Lucas grabbed his son into his arms in a loving, consoling hug.

****

After Mark had had a good cry, he and Lucas rode back into North Fork. The town was still quiet, and Mark was rather solemn in anticipation of learning whether or not his sister was alive. As their horses cantered into town, Markís dark brown eyes caught sight of Anna standing in the doorway of Doc Burrageís office.

The sunlight was shining through the windows and was forming a prism on the floor. Annaís shadow stretched far into the building. Her face was illuminated by a big smile, and her left shoulder was bandaged and resting in a sling. Milly stood behind her, patting her hair, and was also smiling.

"Anna?" Mark whispered, almost doubting, his eyes slightly squinting. "Anna!"

Quickly he leapt from the back of his moving horse and ran towards his sister, while Lucas dismounted and tied both his and Markís animals to a hitching post.

Anna smiled, watching her brother come to her. She knew how he had been feeling, so she walked out of the shade of the doctorís doorway to meet him.

Mark tried to stop himself before he reached her, but he had gathered too much speed. He threw his arms around his sister, and she staggered backwards, for he had almost knocked her over. Her right arm patted Mark on the back as she regained her footing, and she could tell her brother was sobbing. She knew what he was crying about.

"Shh, Mark, itís all right." Now her eyes were becoming moist, and she bit her lip to keep from crying. "Itís all right Mark, donít cry. Donít cry."

Lucas and Milly watched the tender scene, and their hearts were touched. Lucas hugged Milly, and kissed her on top of the head, and Milly wiped her eyes with her index finger.

Even Micah had been drawn from his office at Markís joyful cry. Finally the heart-tugging hug was broken up, and both Mark and Anna sniffled and wiped their eyes.

"Anna, I have something to tell you," Mark began.

Anna put her good hand on her brotherís shoulder, and replied,

"You donít have to, Mark. I already know."

Mark stared at her in surprise.

"But....how? How did you know what I was going to say?"

Anna laughed buoyantly.

"Some folks might call it intuition, but letís just say a little birdie told me, shall we?"

They both laughed, knowing she meant Milly, and Mark said,

"Iím sorry I was jealous, Anna,"

"Itís all right, Mark. I forgive you."

They hugged again, before walking to Lucas, Milly, and Micah. Micah gave Anna a grandfatherly hug, and Lucas suggested,

"How about we all go over to the hotel to get something to eat?" he looked around at everyone around him. "This time, without outlaws riding in to ruin it."

He looked down at Anna, whose eyes were sparkling, and taunted,

"Guess that shirtís ruined now!"

Anna rolled her eyes. She knew he meant that her favorite shirt now had a hole in it and a pretty good-sized spot of blood on the back, and she also knew her father was going to get a lot of mileage out of teasing her about her shirt being soiled.

"I donít think it shows THAT much," she twisted her head to try to see. "Does it?"

Everyone laughed, and Lucas pushed her hat forward on her head, and then he pushed Markís hat forward on his head, too. The happy family and Micah strode to the hotelís dining room, with Mark and Anna skipping in front.

The End


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

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch