The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

Test

Written by Judith Schaefer aka Stargazer

    The three sat at the table, talking and laughing, well into the evening. Micah thought he had best be getting back to town before too long. He was glad, though, that he had come out to spend some time with his good friends, Lucas and Mark. He had promised Mark he would help celebrate the boy’s half-birthday, which had been Micah’s idea. Mark’s real birthday was in the middle of December when they couldn’t always get together. Besides, who gives someone a fishing pole in the middle of winter? And, with school letting out tomorrow for the summer...well, it was even more cause for Mark to celebrate.

Mark enjoyed having dinner with his pa and Micah, and he sure was looking forward to the summer and no school. But the best part of the night for him was receiving a copy of Mark Twain’s new book, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. He was so excited when he removed the wrapping of brown paper to find a book from his favorite author. His pa knew how much he admired Mr. Twain. The shirts Pa had given him were nice, too.

Lucas didn’t have enough money to get the book for his son’s actual birthday, but he had saved up enough to buy it for him now and thought he could read it over the summer. He wasn’t about to let Mark get away with a whole summer of no studies. And, the two new shirts were a necessary gift…the boy was growing like a weed.

“Pa, that sure was a good supper. And, that chocolate cake!” Mark patted his satisfied stomach as he pushed back from the table. “Oh, and uh, Pa… thank you for the book and the shirts. I like the color blue.”

“Glad you like ‘em, son.” Lucas smiled at his boy thinking to himself, 14 going on 15, when did that happen?

“Well, I hate to leave good company, but I better be headin’ back to town,” said Micah, yawning, as he rose from the table.

“Micah, I’m glad you came out tonight. Thanks again for the new fishin’ pole,” Mark said as he held up his gift and grinned from ear to ear.

“Why, you’re welcome, Mark. Say, while your Pa’s gone to Las Cruces, maybe we can go up to the lake and see if you can catch any fish.”

“I sure would like that! Would it be alright, Pa, if…if I make sure to get all my chores done?”

Yes, Mark, I think that would be okay.” Then pointing a finger at his son, Lucas added, “As long as I don’t come home to find you’ve neglected anything.” He cast a knowing glance at Micah who raised a hand to his mouth to try and conceal a grin.

“Oh, I’ll check up on him, Lucasboy, don’t you worry. Good night, Mark.”

“Good night, Micah. I’ll stop in to see ya after school tomorrow,” said Mark as he began clearing away the dishes.

“I’ll walk out with you,” Lucas said to Micah as he pushed his chair to the table. He wanted to talk to Micah before he left and without his son overhearing the conversation.

“Mark, when you finish there, why don’t you get ready for bed, son. I’ll be back in after Micah leaves.”

“Okay, Pa.”

Lucas followed Micah out and closed the door behind him, then stopped at the edge of the porch. Micah walked to his horse and loosened the reins from the rail.

“Lucas, don’t worry about the boy. He’ll do just fine while you’re gone. Besides, you’re only gonna be gone two days. Mark’s got school tomorrow and on Saturday, well, we’ll go fishing when he’s finished his chores.”

“I know, Micah, I can’t help it. This will be the first time leaving him overnight by himself. I told Mark this was a test to see if he can handle things while I’m gone…even if it’s only for one night. After Mark leaves for school in the morning, I’ll go over to the Severs’. They should be ready to head out by that time.”

“So, Ben and Cora are moving to Las Cruces?” questioned Micah. “They finally had enough of ranching?”

“Well, after losing their herd to hoof-and-mouth, they just didn’t feel like trying to build it back up again. Ben thinks he’ll do better with a grain and feed store. They’ve been good neighbors…I told them I wouldn’t mind helping them move.”

“You’re a good friend, Lucas,” said Micah as he climbed into his saddle.

Lucas smiled up at Micah, “So are you, so are you. Thanks for keeping an eye on Mark for me. Hope he doesn’t give you any trouble. I’ll see you tomorrow night in town for supper. I should be back before nightfall.”

“Alright, Lucas, see you in a couple of days.” With that, Micah turned his horse towards town.

Lucas pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket and lit it. He took a few puffs and looked about the ranch. He looked up into the clear night sky and said a little prayer…please watch over my boy while I’m gone and keep him safe from harm. With that, he snuffed out the cigar and stepped back inside. Mark should be about done with those dishes by now.

*****

It was a fine, early summer morning thought Lucas to himself as he surveyed the milky, blue sky. The horses were saddled, but he checked the cinch around Razor once more as Mark bounded out of the house with the canteen.

“All filled up, Pa!”

“Thanks son. Now, you sure you can handle things while I’m gone?” Lucas asked with a slight wrinkle to his brow. “If you have any trouble, you let Micah know.”

“Oh, Pa, I’ll be fine. I’ll do my chores, and…and I’ll check the fencing in the south section tomorrow morning,” promised Mark as he grabbed the reins and hopped up on Blue Boy. “Have a good trip and tell Ben and Mrs. Severs good luck in their new home. I’ll sure miss ‘em.” As Mark swung his horse around he shouted, “Last day of school, wha-hoo!” He nudged Blue Boy and waved his hat in the air as he took off. “Bye, Pa!”

“Don’t forget, I’ll meet you and Micah in town Saturday night,” yelled Lucas after his son waving to him as the boy rode away. He smiled, shook his head, and raised one eyebrow thinking that boy of his was getting too big for his britches. Why, it didn’t even seem like Mark was going to miss him. With that, Lucas climbed atop Razor and rode off to meet with the Severs.

*****

Micah stepped through the doorway of his office holding the latest wanted posters. He glanced up and down the street which seemed to be bustling with activity this Friday afternoon. As he turned to tack up the posters, he caught a glimpse of old Mr. Forsyth approaching.

“Marshal, say Marshal…”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Forsyth. What can I do for you?” inquired Micah.

“Well, Marshal, we had a bit of trouble up at our place last night. Something got five of my chickens, tore ‘em up pretty good, too. I heard a lot of commotion outside and grabbed my shotgun. Chased whatever it was away, but not before they made an awful mess. Scared the Mrs. half to death.”

“Sorry to hear that, Dan!” exclaimed Micah.

“Something else…I was just over to the saloon and Mr. Jackford’s boys said they’ve lost three head of cattle over the past week. They seem to think it’s wolves.”

“Wolves!?” questioned Micah. “We haven’t had any trouble with wolves around here for quite some time.”

“Jackford’s men said it’s probably because the herds are building up again, and the wolves can’t find any other big game around these here parts to prey on.” Dan Forsyth rubbed his whiskered chin and said, “Well, just thought I’d tell ya what I knowed. I best be gettin’ home before the little woman starts to worry. See ya later, Marshal,” said Mr. Forsyth as he walked away.

“Fine, Dan, tell your wife hello for me,” said Micah.

Just then Mark rode up, jumped from his saddle, and tied Blue Boy to the rail. “Howdy, Micah!” There was an excitement in the boy’s voice.

“All done with school?”

“Yep, all finished,” said the boy as he followed Micah into his office. “For six whole weeks!”

As Micah poured himself a cup of coffee, he asked, “What ya gonna do with all that time, boy?”

Mark leaned casually against Micah’s desk and folded his arms across his chest contemplating the Marshal’s question. “I don’t know, I…I hadn’t thought about it much ‘cept fishin’ and swimmin’, maybe some arrowhead huntin’. Oh, and I, I’ve got that new book to read too!”

Micah chuckled at the boy thinking, ‘Hadn’t thought about it much?’ “Well, that sounds fine.” Micah couldn’t help but chide the boy, “Course your Pa will be expectin’ you to do some chores now and then. As a matter of fact, don’t you have some to do tonight and tomorrow morning before we can even go fishin’?”

“Oh, Micah, you’re just funnin’ me now,” said Mark as he tipped his hat to the back of his head. “Say, what was Mr. Forsyth talkin’ about?

“He was just tellin’ me about something gettin’ his chickens and Mr. Jackfords’ cattle. They’re suspecting wolves.”

“Wolves!? Around here?” asked Mark with a puzzled expression.

“Yes, but you don’t have to worry none. Say, I think I’ll head over to the hotel for an early supper. Care to join me?”

“Sure!” said Mark gleefully. Besides, he didn’t cotton much to having dinner at home without Pa being there.

“Alright then, let’s go.” Micah put his arm around Mark’s shoulders as the two walked over to the hotel. “This way, I can see you home before dark.”

“You don’t have to do that, Micah,” said Mark knowing his pa had asked the Marshal to watch out for him.

“But, I want to.”

Somehow, Mark didn’t seem to mind Micah’s insistence.

*****

Morning light streamed into the window waking Mark from his restless sleep. The boy rubbed his eyes, stretched, and rolled over to see his pa’s empty bed. He hadn’t slept very well with Pa gone, but he was comforted by the thought that Pa would be home tonight.

Mark quickly dressed and padded out from the bedroom. He stoked the fire in the stove and unconsciously put a pot of coffee on to brew. While the mush warmed, he washed his face taking care to get behind his ears. He pulled on his boots, tucked in his shirt, and combed his hair…checking the mirror to make sure it looked just right.

Mark then set out the dishes and poured a cup of coffee. “Now, why did I do that?” he asked himself out loud while scratching his head. It sure smelled good. Looking around, as if to check to see if anyone was watching, he lifted the cup of coffee to his lips and gingerly took a sip of the hot liquid. Scrunching his nose, he stepped to the sink and dumped the black brew down the drain. “How can Pa and Micah drink that stuff?” He poured himself a glass of milk instead and sat to eat his breakfast before going out to do his Saturday chores.

Just thinking about fishing with Micah got Mark moving faster. Soon, with his chores done around the barn, he saddled Blue Boy and headed out to the south section as his pa had instructed. He’d check the fencing, look for any strays, and get back into town by late this afternoon. Why, he and Micah could get in two, maybe three hours of fishing before Pa arrived in town for supper. Yahoo, he thought, Pa would be home tonight.

No, he didn’t miss him…much.

*****

Micah had just raised the shades on the office windows when he saw someone rein in a horse and stop out front. A moment later, Oat Jackford barged through the door, “Morning, Marshal. Sorry to bother you so early this morning, but we lost another couple from the herd last night. I know it’s a pack of wolves, maybe four or five of ‘em. Do you think you could come out and help me and my men flush them out? I know they’ve been plaguing some of the other ranchers around here. We need to get ‘em before they do any more harm. I suspect they’re out around the bluffs…plenty of rocks and small caves for them to hide in there.

Micah didn’t hesitate and grabbed his shotgun. “Okay, Mr. Jackford, let’s head down to the livery to see if Nils would mind the office.” He wanted this problem with the wolves taken care of before anything else happened.

Nils, always ready to lend a hand to his friend, Micah, was sitting out front of the Marshal’s office with the deputy’s badge pinned to his shirt pocket. As Micah and Jackford rode by, Micah called out, “I should be back by sometime this afternoon. When Mark comes by, you tell him to wait for me. Maybe you and he can play some checkers.”

“Okay, Micah, sure thing,” said Nils as he watched the men ride out of town.

*****

Lucas shook Ben Severs’ hand and gave Cora a hug. “You’ve got a mighty nice place here, but we sure are going to miss you in North Fork,” he said as he stepped from the porch of the Severs’ new home.

“Lucas, thanks so much for helping us move over here. We are mighty grateful. And, you tell Mark that both of you are welcome to visit us anytime,” said Ben as he placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder. Cora then wrapped one arm around Ben’s and waved good bye to Lucas.

Stirring Razor to a lope, and waving farewell to the Severs’, Lucas turned toward North Fork and home.

*****

Mark rode Blue Boy slowly up and along the fence that bordered the southeast edge of the ranch. The fencing continued for a few miles except for where it stopped on either end of the bluffs along the ravine and stream that separated their place from the Jackford Ranch. The trouble between Pa and Mr. Jackford had ended a long time ago, but still Mark knew his Pa didn’t want their cattle mixing in with Oat Jackford’s.

The boy again pushed his hat back on his head. Despite the breeze, it sure was turning out to be a hot one today. Maybe he should have planned to go swimming with Freddie instead of fishing. Oh, well, he wanted to try out that new pole Micah had given him.

Mark pulled up on Blue Boy and slid down to the ground thinking he’d walk his horse for a spell especially across the top of the bluff. He removed his leather gloves and stuck them in his back pocket, then unbuttoned his shirt and fanned it to try and cool off some. Checking his pocket watch he discovered it was well after noon, no wonder he was hungry. He grabbed a cloth from his saddlebag and unwrapped the piece of bread he had brought along to eat. After downing that, he took a few swallows of cool water from his canteen and returned it to his saddle. Mark hooked the thumb of one hand in his front pocket and held Blue Boy’s reins in the other as the two started moving up the smooth rock floor of the rim overlooking the ravine. He glanced back and forth and whistled a tune as he thought about fishing at the lake, and then dinner with Pa and Micah. ‘Gee, what could I have for supper?’ he thought to himself.

*****

After stopping by the ranch house to pick up a couple of his men, Jackford led Micah and the others out across the range. It would be an hour before they reached the tree lined bluffs, but Micah still figured on being back to North Fork in time for Mark. He didn’t want to disappoint the boy even though he knew they had plenty of time over school break to go fishing. The sooner they got out to the bluffs, the sooner they could find those wolves. When they finished the job, Micah figured he could cut across Lucas’ place to get back to town more quickly. Maybe Mark would still be at his house and they could ride in together.

*****

Mark squinted into the sun and raised a sleeve to his brow to wipe away the beads of sweat forming across his forehead. He hadn’t found any breaks in the fence, so no strays to find. He was thankful he was almost finished…he just had to get to the other end of the bluff. The ground and rocks were fairly smooth here and made for easy walking. He looked down the rocky walls of the ravine to the stream below which was still about half full with runoff from the mountains to the west. He then looked up across the ravine to the other side where the bluff loomed higher. Mark could see the tops of the trees beyond and below the boulders there. He remembered Pa telling him about a few small caves on that side as well and thought it would make a fine place to go hunting if it wasn’t for the fact that it was Jackford land. The ravine was just wide and deep enough that the cattle wouldn’t cross here and made a natural border between the two ranches.

The boy slowed and stopped as he spotted something…something about 30 yards straight ahead in the pile of rocks at the top of the bluff. He shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun so he could get a better look. Leading Blue Boy, he climbed higher and closer to the objects. Then, letting the horse stand, he walked a few more steps, stopping just short as he gasped. The fly-infested remains of a steer lay strewn about the blood stained rocks. Mark winced at the sight and turned for a moment raising his arm to his face to try and block the awful stench. He then turned back, still holding the crook of his arm to his nose, and inched closer to get a better look. What could have done such a thing, he wondered. Whatever it was, it had dragged parts of one of their steers up here for a feast.

After he had inspected the sight, he backed up and turned to get his horse. Just then, he heard it…a wolf’s howl, followed by another. The eerie sounds seemed to come from across the ravine on the other side of the bluff. Mark swallowed hard as he remembered Micah telling him about the trouble out at the Forsyth and Jackford ranches. He felt a bit safer that the sounds came from across the way, but he would hurry back and get to town to let Micah know what he had seen and heard. As he climbed down towards Blue Boy, a low growl came from a dark figure crouched in the rocks where the partial carcass lay. The noise stopped Mark dead in his tracks. He turned slowly to see the wolf’s snarling teeth…it was trying to protect its food source. Fear gripped his body, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t get to Blue Boy before the wolf would be on top of them both. His mind raced as he tried to think…Pa, what do I do?

Making a swift decision, he waved his arms and jumped up and down. “Yah! Yah!” he screamed hoping to spook the horse to run and scare the wolf at the same time. Mark watched as his horse reared up on its hind legs, pawed the air, snorting and neighing, and turned to run. The wolf, startled, ran up and over the rocks. Mark tried to run down the bluff but caught his foot between two rocks which sent him falling back over the edge and down the rocky side of the ravine. He yelled as he started to fall.

The boy tumbled, at first trying to catch on to something and break his fall. It was as if he was falling in slow motion, but he couldn’t stop. He felt the rocks tearing his hands and arms as he plummeted. A branch of a dead, snarled tree caught his back, slowing his descent, but tore away Mark’s shirt and gashed his skin as he fell further. The floor of the ravine was coming closer…

*****

The men crossed the Jackford Ranch and neared the base of the bluff. After hearing at first one howl and then another, they spread out to make the climb to the rocky ridge above. With his shotgun ready for any sight of the wolves, Micah ascended slowly weaving his horse back and forth among the trees. He searched for tracks while keeping a wary eye.

A short time later, Micah heard gunshots, followed by a few more, about 150 yards away. One of Jackford’s men had found two of the wolves and put them away in short order. He yelled to his boss, who relayed to the others, to be on the lookout. The rest of the pack would be close by.

As the men climbed closer to the top of the bluff, Jackford spotted two more of the animals in the rocks up ahead. One was just to his right and one was nearing the rim closer to where the Marshal sat atop his horse. Jackford whistled to Micah and pointed up to the left. He then dismounted and raised his rifle to his shoulder to fire. With one shot the wolf was hit and lunged, falling to the rocks just 10 feet in front of the rancher. He turned to check on Micah.

Micah was now leading his horse as they climbed to an outcropping of rocks. He took his shotgun and got the wolf in his sights. He panned left, following the wolf as it moved up the face of the bluff. Micah pulled the trigger and the wolf fell dead where it stood. Micah breathed a sigh.

As the men reached the top of the rim with their horses in tow, they couldn’t help but wonder if they had gotten them all. They searched along the top of the bluff for any signs of more of the pack but didn’t find anything. Micah huffed and puffed, taking a few moments to catch his breath. He muttered to himself, “I’m getting too old for this."

*****

Lucas pulled up on Razor and swung down from the saddle while grabbing his canteen. It was turning out to be a hot, dusty ride back from Las Cruces. Summer was definitely here. Just a couple more hours, though, and he would be back in North Fork. He was working up quite an appetite and looked forward to dinner. It had been a long time since eating breakfast with the Severs. And, though he had just seen Mark yesterday morning, it seemed like much longer ago. Securing his canteen, Lucas climbed back on his horse and continued on his journey.

*****

As Micah, Jackford, and his men gathered together on top of the rim, Micah wiped his brow with his kerchief and placed it in his back pocket. “Well, looks like we got ‘em, Mr. Jackford.”

“Good job, men. If there are any of them left, we’ll know before too long. But for now, let’s get back to the ranch. Micah, thank you for coming out with us. I’m beholdin’ to ya,” said Jackford as he and his men mounted their horses.

Micah said he was glad to help. Besides, now he wouldn’t have the ranchers, in particular Mr. Forsysth, complaining to him. “Oat, I think I’ll just head across at the end of the ravine and stop by Lucas’ ranch to see about Mark on my way back to town.”

“Okay, Micah, see ya soon,” said Jackford. The three men prepared to head back down the bluff and cross the range. But, just as the rancher was about to leave he caught sight of something whipping in the wind, hanging from a tree on the opposite side of the ravine. He yelled out to Micah, pointing, “What’s that over on the other side?”

*****

The boy lay silent, face down in a heap on a ledge in the side of the bluff about 30 feet from the top. The sun blazed hot on his bruised and bleeding body. Dust encrusted cuts and scrapes covered him. The gaping wound to his back was open to the elements and blood ran down his side. Mark stirred and moaned under his breath, moving slowly with great effort. He slid his left hand to the side of his head which was pounding with pain. He could hear the rush of water just below where he had landed and he tried hard to open his eyes fighting the blinding light of the sun. He felt the gravel and dirt below him as he strained to breath. He wiped the dust from his mouth and gasped for air. Where…? What…?

Mark struggled, fighting the pain he felt all over, but managed to get his right arm out from under him and push up with his hand. Reaching out, he propped up on his right side and leaned against the wall of the ravine. His shirt was gone except for the right sleeve which had slipped down around his wrist and forearm. He felt the knot on the side of his head and tried to slowly shake away the throbbing. His observed his hands and arms which were covered in dust and blood, and his right ankle ached something awful. But the most frightening thing was the stream of red coming from his left side. He tried to reach around and feel for the wound, but the pain was overwhelming. He cried out in agony. He pulled his hand away from his side and saw it was now dripping with blood. He cringed at the sight and a sickening feeling formed in his gut, he felt cold.

Mark tried to reason what had happened but his thoughts were going every which way. He remembered riding Blue Boy…where was his horse? He had been checking the fence, and then walking along the bluff. The wolf, where was the wolf? Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought…please God, please let Blue Boy be okay. Mark struggled to stand, but couldn’t find the strength. His breathing became more labored and his body started to shake. He wanted to yell out…Help! But, he couldn’t form the word. He could only think as he fought back the tears…Pa, please find me. It hurt too much to think and pain and nausea overcame him.

Everything…faded…to black and the boy slid down the ravine wall and slumped over. He couldn’t hear the animal approaching.

The wolf moved quickly and silently down the side of the ravine, then stopped and waited, looking straight at its prey, straight at Mark.

*****

Hearing Jackford, Micah turned in his saddle and looked across to where the man had indicated. He saw a blue cloth attached to an old tree jutting out from the side of the bluff. His eyes strained as he tried to see, he couldn’t quite make it out. It looks like a shirt, a blue shirt. Familiarity crept over him…why, that looks like one of Mark’s shirts. But, how…?

One of Jackford’s men shouted, “There’s a horse further down on the bluff, but no rider.”

The Marshal looked up and down the rock wall. There was a figure on the ledge just above the stream bed, and it was then he was sure it was Mark. The boy wasn’t moving. He couldn’t…he couldn’t be…

Oat suddenly yelled, “Wolf!”

As fast as he could, Micah pulled out his shotgun and trained it on the animal as it readied to pounce on Mark. His aim was true. The shot rang out and echoed off the bluff as the wolf fell lifeless into the stream below.

*****

Lucas arrived just before dusk, but with thoughts of seeing his son, he didn’t notice the stares of the townspeople as they watched him approach the hotel. He tethered Razor to the hitching rail, stretched and dusted himself off, then walked inside. The sight of Micah made him smile, “Hello, Micah, where’s Mark? I bet that boy couldn’t wait to eat. I’m kinda hungry myself.” Removing his hat, Lucas strode across the lobby and peered around the corner to scan the dining room as he asked, “Is he in there already?”

“Lucas,” Micah said in a low voice as he followed him to the doorway.

Turning to Micah, Lucas grinned and asked, “Okay, what did ya do with him? Did you get fed up with the boy and throw him in a cell? I was hopin’ he wouldn’t be any trouble…”

“Lucas!” He grabbed his friend’s arm to get his attention. “Lucasboy…”

“What is it, Micah?” Happy anticipation suddenly turned to fear. Something was wrong, very wrong…where was Mark?

“There was some trouble, trouble with wolves getting to the cattle.

“Wolves? But…”

“I rode out with Jackford and…and a couple of his men to the bluffs on the south section of his ranch. We hunted down the pack and killed them…killed them all.” His voice was shaking and Micah was having a hard time forming his words, how could he tell Lucas what had happened to his son. “I was going to cut across your place and…”

“Micah, Mark was supposed to go out to check the fence bordering Jackford’s…” A cold wave swept over Lucas as he tried to ask, “Where’s my boy, where’s Mark?”

“Lucas, we’ve got him out at your ranch. Oat Jackford and his men stayed with him until I could get into town and send Doc Burrage out there. I waited here for you.”

Lucas felt drained and a kind of panic overcame him. He leaned back in the doorway to brace himself, closed his eyes, and asked, “What happened…is he…?”

“He’s alive, Lucas, but somehow…somehow he fell from the bluff and he’s got a lot of injuries. I don’t know how bad it is. We were lucky we were up there hunting those wolves or we wouldn’t have found him when we did. Jackford and his men helped me get Mark out of the ravine and back to your place.”

“I don’t understand, I don’t…Micah, I’ve got to get to Mark.”

Micah took Lucas’ arm and guided him towards the front of the hotel. “I’ll get my horse; you wait right here and I’ll ride out with you. Lucas? Lucasboy? Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Micah…I’ll wait right here.”

*****

Darkness had fallen and Oat Jackford lit the lamps on the table and over the sink. He paced in front of the fireplace as he waited for the doctor to come out of the bedroom. He had sent his men back to his ranch as there was nothing they could do to help the boy. The rancher hoped McCain would get here soon. His boy needed him, and he wanted Lucas to get here before something happened. Without any children of his own, Jackford envied the relationship between the man and his boy, and had since the first time he met them. Lucas was a strong and just man with good values, and he was raising his boy right. The sound of horses coming fast down the lane caused him to turn and step out the front door. Thank God, Lucas and Micah had arrived.

Lucas pushed past Jackford, “Where is he?”

“The doc’s got him in the bedroom, but I wouldn’t go in there just yet, McCain…”

Lucas didn’t hear Jackford’s cautioning words. He opened the door to the bedroom to find Doc Burrage standing over the bed that held his son. Taking a few slow steps forward, he noticed a golden light filling the room. The doctor had requested as many candles and lanterns as the men could find to light the room as he tended the boy. Micah and Jackford stood in the doorway.

“Doc?” Lucas said in a low, pleading voice.

“Lucas, he’s in a bad way…but it’s a good thing Micah and the others got to him when they did. They probably saved his life. I had to suture a nasty laceration on his left side. It was a deep cut, but there doesn’t seem to be any damage to his internal organs. He broke a few ribs, so he’s bandaged all the way around. His right ankle is busted and he’s got numerous scrapes and cuts. They’ve been cleaned and bandaged, and I administered something to fight any infection. He’s going to have a lot of bruising, too.” Lucas stepped closer to the bed with his eyes on his son as Doc continued, speaking in a quieter tone, “The worst thing is the head injury, Lucas. Your boy sustained a concussion. There’s no skull fracture, but we won’t know for sure the extent of the injury until he wakes up. I won’t administer anything for pain until then.”

Lucas knelt down beside the bed and looked over the boy. He picked up his son’s hand and held it gently as he brushed the hair protruding from under the bandage Doc had wrapped around Mark’s head. “I’m here, son,” he said in a soft voice. “Mark, please wake up.” Lucas felt helpless; he didn’t know what he could do for his son. He laid his head on the bed next to his the boy and was overcome by grief.

Doc Burrage laid a hand on Lucas’ shoulder and said, “I’ll be right out there if you need me.” He then put out the flame of the candles and the lanterns around the room, leaving the lamp on the table burning. He motioned to Jackford and Micah to step back out. The two men complied, and the doc followed, and then gently closed the door to the bedroom.

“Doc, will the boy be alright?” Micah asked.

“I just don’t know right now, Micah, I just don’t know. All we can do is wait and pray.”

*****

Micah wasn’t going to leave his dear friends when they needed him most and made the decision to stay the night. He knew Nils wouldn’t mind. The doc wasn’t going anywhere either. So, Micah enlisted Oat’s help before he left to bed down the horses and bring in a couple of cots from the barn.

With the cots set up and the fireplace lit Jackford felt he was now in the way. “I better be gettin’ back to my place before it gets too late, Micah. I don’t think I’ll be much good here otherwise.”

“Oat, I can’t thank you and your men enough for helping with the boy. Lucas will understand… you get on home, now. Doc and I will stay.”

“I hope everything turns out alright. I’ll be saying a prayer for them, and I’ll stop back by in a day or so,” said Oat as he turned for the door. “Good night, Doc…good night, Marshal.”

Doc & Micah stood in silence, looked about the room and at each other. Doc then stirred the fire in the fireplace as Micah put on a pot of coffee.

“Doc, why don’t you try to get some rest? I’ll wake you if you’re needed and I’ll stay up a bit in case Lucas comes out.

Doc Burrage didn’t protest. He was worn out from tending to the boy and knew he needed to get some sleep while he could. He laid on one of the cots and turned towards the wall. His prayers that night were for Mark and Lucas.

Micah poured himself a cup of coffee and sat back in the chair next to the fireplace. He couldn’t help but wonder how in the world they all had managed to be on the bluff at the same time. What if he hadn’t ridden out with Jackford? Micah looked down at the coffee cup in his hand and thought of his conversation with Mark in his office just the day before. What if he had made different arrangements with the boy, maybe he could have saved this from happening. Micah placed the cup on the hearth and stared into the fire.

*****

Sometime during the night, Lucas woke. He didn’t know when sheer exhaustion had overtaken him and he had fallen asleep. He was still sitting in a chair he had slid next to Mark’s bed, and still held the boy’s hand in his own. He placed his son’s hand on the bed and gently pulled the blanket up under the boy’s chin. He placed his palm on top of Mark’s head and gently stroked his hair, then leaned over to kiss his son on the forehead.

He leaned back in the chair and with his elbows on his knees, leaned forward and let his head fall into his hands. He rubbed his eyes and sat quiet for a moment. He was hungry but couldn’t eat. He was thirsty, but he didn’t want to leave Mark’s side. He needed answers, so he forced himself to stand, then walked over and quietly opened the bedroom door.

The sound of the door opening stirred Micah from his sleep. He turned in the chair to see Lucas standing there. Rising, he said in a hushed voice, “Lucas, Lucasboy…let me get you some coffee. Here, sit at the table and I’ll pour you a cup.” Micah pulled the chair out from the table and motioned Lucas to have a seat. He couldn’t help but notice how tired and pale his friend appeared. It was if the life had drained out of him.

Micah returned to the table with two cups of coffee and placed one directly in front of Lucas, “Here, drink this.” Then he sat across the table from Lucas and said, “What can I do for you? Are you hungry?”

Lucas looked down at the table and pleaded for answers, “Micah, what happened? How did this happen? Why…?”

“There’s time for that later, but right now you need to concentrate on Mark and yourself. You need to get some rest so you can be strong for that boy of yours.”

“What was he doing out on the bluff?”

“Don’t blame the boy, he was only doing what you had asked him to...” replied Micah, but was cut short as Lucas shot back.

“You were supposed to watch over him for me,” said Lucas as he pounded the table with his fist.

“Shhh, you’re going to wake up the doc,” said Micah raising a finger to his lips. He motioned towards Doc Burrage who, startled by the sound, stirred and turned over on the cot.

“I’m sorry, Micah. No, you’re not to blame. I should have been here; I should have been here to protect my son.”

The two men sat and stared at one another for a moment. The only sounds were the crackle of the fire and the little snores coming from Doc. Micah was trying to think of what he could say to ease his friend’s pain, “Things happen, Lucasboy, accidents happen…no matter how much we try to protect the ones we love. Who’s to say it wouldn’t have happened even if you had been here.”

Not knowing how to answer, he said, “I’m going back to the room, Micah.” “Thanks for the coffee,” he said coldly, then got up from the table and opened the bedroom door.

“I’ll be here all night, Lucasboy.”

Lucas looked at Micah, then looked down at the floor and closed the door between them.

“God, help them both,” said Micah as his own exhaustion caught up with him. He stoked the fire in the fireplace then lay down on the other cot. Maybe sleep would come.

*****

Morning came and Mark still lay unconscious with Lucas keeping vigil. Doc quietly entered the bedroom and approached the boy’s bed carrying a tray with the medical supplies he would use. Placing his stethoscope on the boy’s chest and then his ribs, he listened. He removed the old bandages from the boy’s wounds and replaced them with clean dressing. Taking extra care with the deeper laceration, he checked the sutures and applied new wrapping.

When he was satisfied of Mark’s condition, he turned and looked upon Lucas who was lying in his bed. Lucas woke with a start, first looking at Mark and then back at Doc. “Is he alright?”

Doc Burrage whispered, “He’s holding his own, go back to sleep. I’ll check on him a little later.” Lucas obeyed the doc without any protest.

Doc returned to the kitchen with the tray and disposed of the old bandages, then washed his hands at the sink pump. As he was cleaning up, Micah came through the front door.

“How’s the boy doing, Doc?”

“Well, he hasn’t developed a fever…that’s the good news. But, he hasn’t regained consciousness, either, and the longer it goes, well…”

Micah stopped the doc from saying anything further, “He’s a strong boy, Doc. Lucas doesn’t realize just how strong he is. He always says that Mark is like his mother. Well, maybe he is…but he also has a lot of Lucas in him. He’s going to pull through this. We just…we just need to give him some more time.”

“You’re right, Micah. Of course,” replied Doc Burrage. He realized just how deeply the Marshal felt for the boy, like he was his own grandson. Just then, Mark’s friend, Freddie, appeared in the doorway.

“I got most of the chores done around the barn, Marshal. Is there anything else you need? How’s Mark…can I see him?” begged the boy.

“No, son, I’m afraid not yet. Mark still needs to rest before he can have any visitors,” Micah said a little less than honestly.

“Okay, well, would you tell him I was here and asked how he’s doin’?”

“Why, sure I’ll tell him, Freddie. Here, here’s a dime for doin’ the chores. Can you come back tomorrow morning?” asked Micah tossing the coin to the boy.

“Gee, thanks, Marshal…I can come back as much as you need me. Thanks, again!” said Freddie as he turned and ran for home.

Micah smiled after the boy, and then turned towards Doc. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Mark may not be okay.”

Doc scoffed at the Marshal, “Weren’t you just saying how we just needed to give Mark some more time?”

“Hmmpf, yes, I guess I was. Thanks, for reminding me, Doc. Say, if you don’t mind, I need to get into town and check on Nils. See if he doesn’t mind taking care of things a bit longer.”

“No, no, you go ahead, Micah. I’ll watch over things here,” said Doc.

“I won’t be gone long. You’ll tell Lucas, in case he wakes up?”

“I’ll let him know, Micah, now go,” Doc said as he shooed Micah out of the house.

*****

It was mid-afternoon, and Micah had just returned from town. The reverend’s wife had brought over some stew for the men, and Micah had it warming on the stove. Doc had just gone into the bedroom to check on his patient and sent Lucas out of the room.

“Lucas. Here, sit down, boy. You need to eat something, how about some stew? You need to keep up your strength. Mark’s going to need you when he wakes up.”

“If he wakes up…” Lucas shot back clutching the back of a chair. “What am I going to do if I lose him?”

“What are you saying? Of course, he’s going to wake up. That boy is a part of you, Lucas, and he’s stronger than you think. You’ve got to have…”

“Faith?!,” interrupted Lucas looking up at Micah and shaking his head. “Faith…how can I have faith when God lets this happen to my boy?”

“You know, Lucas, you told Mark that your leaving was a test for him.” Micah pointed at Lucas and said, “Well, I think this whole thing is a test for you…a test to see how much faith you have! How much faith you have in God, and how much faith you have in your son!”

The words fell heavy on Lucas’ heart, and tears came to his eyes. Standing there, he put a hand to his head and ran his fingers through his hair. He suddenly felt weak and lowered himself into the chair by the table. As he thought on Micah’s comments, the door of the bedroom opened.

Doc came through the doorway and said, “Lucas, there’s someone in here who wants to see you.”

*****

Lucas rushed to his son’s side and knelt next to the bed. “Mark? You had me scared, son.”

“I’ve given him a sedative and something to ease his pain, Lucas, so he won’t be awake for long,” said Doc over Lucas’ shoulder. Micah stood in the background and blotted his eyes with his kerchief.

“I’m terrible sorry, Pa. I…I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble,” said Mark in a weak voice. Tears ran down his face, “Is Blue Boy okay?”

Lucas brushed at his son’s cheek, and said, “He’s fine, son, he’s fine.”

“Pa, what…what happened? I don’t remember…how did I get here?”

“Mark, it’s alright, you rest now son. We can talk about all that later.” Lucas’ words faded away as Mark fell into much needed sleep.

Lucas looked up at Doc who said, “He’s asleep. Let’s let him rest.”

He gently pulled the blanket up over his son and patted his head. Then leaving the darkened room, Lucas walked out with the Doc and Micah.

*****

Later in the day, Micah saddled his horse and prepared Doc’s buggy for the trip back to town. Doc had left medicine and instructions for Lucas on how to take care of the boy’s wounds.

“Lucas, I’ll be back out tomorrow to check on Mark and then every two or three days. I should be able to remove those stitches by the end of next week,” said Doc as he climbed into the seat of his buggy. “He’ll need to stay off that ankle for a while, but he can use a crutch to get around once he regains his balance.”

“He’s gonna be alright, Lucasboy,” assured Micah as he mounted his horse.

Doc added, “Yes, with some rest and time to mend, he should be back to his old self in five or six weeks.”

As he stood on the porch, watching his friends prepare to leave, Lucas suddenly realized that Mark’s whole summer would be spent recovering from his injuries. “Five or six weeks? Guess I’m the one who’s going to be reading ‘Huck Finn’.”

Micah chuckled, “Well, it’ll give you something to do.”

Lucas frowned at Micah, and then started to smile. “Micah, I don’t know how to thank you. And, you too, Doc.”

“You don’t have to say a thing. I’ll be back out tomorrow with those supplies you need,” said Micah as he rode next to Doc and the two left for North Fork.

Lucas rubbed his chin as he watched the men leave, then he turned and stepped inside the house closing the door behind him.

*****

Several weeks had passed and Mark was steadily improving. Most of the cuts and scrapes had healed and the bruises faded. The cut to his back and the broken ribs would need more time to heal, but didn’t give the boy much trouble now. Mark hobbled out to a chair on the porch and sat down. Pa followed behind him carrying a book and sat in the chair next to his son. They sat in silence for a few moments looking around the ranch and admiring the sunny, late afternoon.

Mark had felt the need to apologize to his Pa. He had been trying to think of something to say. He wanted his pa to be able to trust him when he was away, and…

“Something on your mind, son?” asked Lucas.

Mark looked down and scraped at the porch with the end of his crutch. “It’s, it’s just that…I…I’m very sorry, Pa. I sure made a mess of things. Why, you won’t want to leave me to take care of the ranch anymore when you’re gone. And, and…I can’t say that I blame ya. I guess I didn’t pass that test after all.” Tears formed in his eyes and he brushed them away with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Mark…Mark…look at me, son,” said Lucas. He turned in his chair to face his boy, looking straight into his eyes. He had wanted to tell his son something that had been weighing on his mind ever since the night of the accident.

“You didn’t fail the test, son. I did.”

Mark looked into his pa’s eyes and was puzzled by what he was saying.

“Mark, near as I can tell, you did everything I had asked of you, and more. What happened to you out there was an accident. You couldn’t have done anything different…”

The boy interrupted, “But, but I…”

“Listen to me,” Lucas said gently. “I know now that I can’t always be around to protect you. And, I need to trust you and let you grow up. Mark, you were being responsible, and I realize that. I didn’t have enough faith that God would watch over you. And, I forgot to have faith in you too, son, and for that I apologize.

Mark swiped at his eyes again and smiled, “I’m awful glad that you trust me, Pa.”

Lucas smiled back at his son and sat back in the chair. “You know, now that you’re getting around better, I don’t see any reason why we can’t take the buckboard out to the lake.”

The boy nearly came out of his chair, “You mean it, Pa, you mean it? Oh, boy…I didn’t think I would ever get to use my new fishin’ pole. Can we go this evenin’, can we?”

“Sure, son, sure,” said Lucas. He opened the book, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ to where he left off and started to read to his son, “We slept most all day, and started out at night, a little ways behind a monstrous long raft that was as long going by…”

These stories are 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