The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 95 - Words of Warning
Written by Deanne Bertram

Having traveled through Conway, Lark, Jericho, McLean, and Shamrock, Texas, Mark prepared to leave Erick, Oklahoma, realizing how far behind he was from Archie Turpin and his Pa.

*****

Approaching Hext, Oklahoma, Mark took note of the brightly painted symbols on many of the barns he rode past. He came across one homestead and stopped in the shadows of a stand of trees, watching several children laughing as they played. The scene brought to mind those he had left behind; he saw the smiling face of each member of his family. Without fail, Mark blocked out those thoughts and returned to trailing after Lucas.

Stopping early for the night, Mark was feeling the more than four weeks of being in the saddle and the toll it was taking on him and Rainmaker. Before leaving the livery, Mark paid the manager to give extra rations to his horse.

As he had hoped, the town Sheriff confirmed that Archie Turpin had passed through Hext, “I even ended up keeping him in jail overnight, three nights ago.”

Mark’s hopes bolstered as he was still on the correct trail. Later that night, Mark wrote in his journal of his guilt in how today was the first time in a long time that he thought of his own young family. In his attempts to write of his feelings, he struggled to keep his eyes open. Sleep soon won out. However, just after midnight Mark woke and listened…trying to hear whatever had caused him to wake.

He heard the noise again. Reaching for his rifle, Mark stepped from his bed and walked to the door, placed his ear against it, and listened. He sensed someone was on the other side and quickly opened it. In the dimly lit hallway, an old woman waited with her hand raised as if to knock again.

“May I help you?” Mark asked.

“It is I who can help you. You seek a certain man?”

“I do,” answered Mark.

“This man… he is not wanted by the law… Why does the law seek him?”

“I have my reasons. Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but it is late…”

“May I come in? There is more I need to tell you,” the woman spoke as she lowered her shawl from over her head to her shoulders.

Mark stepped aside for the woman to enter. He walked to the table, set down his rifle, and turned up the wick to the lamp.

“So tell me, what is it you have to tell me?” asked a curious Mark.

“My name is Marnie. The man you seek is a tall man…taller than many others who walk. Am I correct?”

“You could have overheard me talking to your sheriff…”

“That is true, but the tall man is special to you, that information you have not divulged. The two of you have a special bond, that of a father and a son?”

“Go on…” Mark warily encouraged.

“You need to know that I have seen him, and you, in my dreams. He is still alive… But know this, when you find him he will no longer be standing tall. Take care that the spider does not pull you into her web of death.”

“A spider…” Mark stated, putting little stock in her comments.

“Your father you will find, of that I am certain. I have seen your arrival and have patiently waited.”

“I appreciate your concern, but…”

“I also know he is not the only one you choose to seek. IF you continue…”

“If I continue? Ma’am, if you think you know me, then you’ll know there is no ‘if’ to my continuing,” Mark interrupted.

“If you continue to follow the path I’ve seen, it will bring you heartache. You will seek another who is much dearer to your heart and a divide it will cause. Beware the truths you seek, for you may not like what you find,” Marnie told.

“Your Halloween riddles of spiders and webs might frighten children, but not me,” a skeptic Mark replied.

“My words are not meant to frighten, only as a possibility of what may come...your future. Know this, your wife and sons grieve your absence, but have hopes of your return. Your daughters are too young to understand. Watch your steps or they will grieve for more than just your absence. Listen with your ears, but believe with your heart. Do not trust your eyes, for they will see… a clouded truth. Your heart will know the truth, if you believe.”

“Thank you, but I really do need to leave early in the morning,” Mark stated as he opened the door.

“I do have one word of warning; the spider does not easily give up those that become its prey.”

With that, the old woman draped her shawl over her head and left the room. Mark watched the woman walk down the hallway and turn the corner.

*****

Mark turned the lamp down before he crawled back into bed. “Spiders and webs…” he mumbled as he fell back asleep.

*****

The following morning, Mark walked into the lobby of the hotel and was met by the Sheriff who asked if he could speak with him.

“I was hoping to get an early start,” Mark answered.

“I think I have information that you need to know.”

“Okay,” Mark stated and motioned to the Sheriff to follow him to a corner table in the restaurant. The waitress poured each man a cup of coffee.

“I did some wiring last night and received a couple of responses. I received word from Sayre that Turpin has passed through there and word from Elk City is that Turpin arrived last night.”

“That is good news,” Mark replied.

“Marshal, I’ll warn you. If you head on to Elk City, watch your step. I’d hide that badge of yours.”

“Why?”

“Best to go in quiet like. Elk City and some of the surrounding areas are reporting men missing… Now I’m not saying anything about my counterpart, but there are plenty of rumors getting spread around. He’s not a marshal or a sheriff, calls himself a constable. Like one of them British lawmen. Elk City is getting the reputation of being welcome to the lawless.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Mark answered as he stood to leave.

“I take it Marnie came to you last night?” the sheriff asked.

“She did.”

“If I were you, I’d keep all she said fresh in your mind. Don’t know how she does it, but she’s right more times than she’s wrong. She knows things… things that she just shouldn’t know…”

“I’ll remember what you both have said. Sheriff, thank you for your help.”

“I wish you luck, marshal.”

Mark headed to the livery, saddled Rainmaker, and headed for Sayre.

*****

The quiet, sleepy town of Sayre greeted Mark as he arrived at a little past midnight. Finding no one in the livery, Mark helped himself to an empty stall and promptly removed Rainmaker’s saddle and bridle. From his saddlebag, Mark wrote a note to the livery manager saying that he would be staying at the hotel.

Taking both rifles and his saddlebags, Mark walked to the hotel. As he approached, he saw one lone person sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, smoking a cigar.

“Evening, Marshal,” the man greeted Mark and turned up his coat collar to show his Sheriff’s badge.

“Evening,” replied Mark.

“I’m Sheriff Gusstafson, I won’t keep you, I take it the Sheriff in Hext has warned you about Elk City?”

“He did.”

“I’ve a number of families arriving here and the stories they’re telling, if true, it’s going to take the U.S. Army to clear out those outlaws that have been calling it home.”

“You said families… from what the Sheriff said, quite a few men are missing.”

“Some families with their husbands and some families with an elder son take care of their ma. You watch your step.”

“You saw Turpin?”

“Ya, but no one was with him,” Gusstafson stated as the stood. “Got rounds to make. If you want, meet me at the café for breakfast in the morning. You look too tired for me to give you any other information that you could understand.”

*****

The roosters around town were just beginning to crow when Mark made his way to the café. Over breakfast, Sheriff Gusstafson drew for Mark a layout of Elk City and its surrounding ranches, and answered any questions that he could.

“If you’re looking for someone to share your confidence, Doc Brubaker can be trusted,” Sheriff Gusstafson stated as Mark bid his leave.

“Thanks for your hospitality.”

*****

Upon leading Rainmaker from the livery, Mark overheard firsthand the account of a woman reporting her husband missing to the Sheriff.

“I begged him to find my husband…for two nights he’d been gone,” the woman wailed as she told her story. “All I got for my worry was for that constable to tell me, ‘Lady, I’ve things to do to keep the people of this town safe and that don’t include traipsing across the countryside looking for your drunk of a husband. He’s probably sleeping off a good drunk somewhere.’ But I tell you this, my husband does not drink!”

*****

Keeping both sheriffs’ words of warning in mind, Mark removed his marshal’s badge and pinned it to the inside of his pant leg, “This seems to keep happening,” Mark commented as he put his foot back in the stirrup. Casually he rode towards Elk City and hopefully, his Pa.

Next Step — Battle for Burns Flatt

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

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