The Rifleman
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8 Hours to Die (an alternate ending)
by Michelle Palmer

There are a lot of questions left unanswered at the end of this episode. We saw Mark so lovingly care for this wicked judge when he fell off his horse, having no idea that there was anything evil about him. Then we see Lucas try to choke this man to death. Then Mark is confused, wondering what happened. We can leave this just the way it is, with Lucas saying “I don’t know rather to kill you, or thank you.” But did you ever wonder how much of a part Lucas’s rough treatment played in contributing to this man’s death? What if there was dialogue between Lucas’s question and the man’s death. Only a slight variation would have to occur in this ending. So, with that said, now the rest of the story:

 Lucas, still holding Mark walked toward the ailing judge. “I don’t know rather to kill you or thank you!” Lucas stated with a relieved expression on his face. Just moments before, he was sure he had watched his little boy die. Now he was holding him in his arms and staring into the eyes of the man who wanted to kill both him and his son.

“You can help him, pa.” Mark stated as he laid a gentle hand on his father’s face. “I don’t understand what’s going on here, pa. This man fell off his horse. He’s hurt bad.”

“Help him?” Lucas allowed Mark to slide out of his arms, but he couldn’t let go of such a precious gift, so he kept his arm around his shoulders. Mark grabbed his free hand and led him over to the judge.  Lucas stared at the man for only a minute before his senses came back and he bent down to help the man.

 Judge Zephaniah began gasping as another pain shot through his head. “Just relax, judge. I’ll help you.” Lucas stated. “Mark, go get me some water.”

 Mark obeyed his father and brought some water. Lucas helped Judge Zephaniah take a long drink. Finally, exhausted, the judge laid his head back against the tree and closed his eyes. Lucas didn’t know if the judge would make it or not. “Son, ride it for the doc. Hurry!”

While he waited for Mark to get back with Dr. Burge, Lucas continued to wipe his forehead. Neither man said anything. The judge managed to open his eyes back up, and the men only stared at each other. There was so much unspoken. Finally, the judge stated, “I didn’t used to be a bad man.”

Lucas looked away. Too much anger lay in his heart to forgive this man. “I tried to teach my son the difference between transgressions and blessings. I preached to him everyday of his life. In the end, though, they grow up to have a mind of their own.”

“Maybe you were too strict with him. Treated him as one you were judging.” Lucas stated as he angrily shook the kerchief free of excess water and wiped the man’s brow again. “Maybe all he needed was a little love.”

 The judge closed his eyes. “Yes, I guess judging these transgressors day in and day out just hardened my heart. I forgot how to love my son and I lost him. I’m a killer and I deserve to die.”

Lucas remained silent, knowing he didn’t have to tell the man he would die – either now, or at the end of a rope. “You love your son,” the judge stated.


 “Why did you save him?” Lucas suddenly asked, needing to know the answer.

“I saved him because he is an innocent soul. I saw in him everything my own son wasn’t. That’s when I knew…my son got what he deserved. And now, I’m getting what I deserved.” Lucas occupied himself with rewetting the kerchief and wiping the judge’s forehead with it. “You have a well-mannered, God-fearing child, McCain. Don’t ever stop teaching – your way. I wish I was half the man you are.”

Lucas couldn’t stop a smile. Before, the man had spoken in an educated, reserved voice with a peculiar way of using words. Now, he spoke like a man. “What about the others you killed?”

The judge shook his head. “I was wrong.” That’s all he said. Lucas heard Dr. Burge coming in the wagon they had no doubt borrowed from the livery. “The doc’s here.” Lucas looked down, but the judge was no longer with them. Lucas took off his hat and stood up. Mark and Dr. Burge walked up and stood in silence as they honored this man’s passing.

 Mark watched Dr. Burge leave with the Judge’s body in the buckboard. “I don’t understand what’s happening here, pa.”

Lucas bent down and picked up his son. “That judge came here to kill us, Mark.” Lucas quickly told Mark what had happened, only telling him the details he needed to know. “He was filled with hate – not for us, but for himself. You see son, he didn’t show his son that he loved him. He ruled his son like a…well, like we train a horse. He tried to control him with words on everything he wanted his son to do. When his son grew up, he resented him for it. Now, I may be stern with you…and strict at times, but I try to be fare and show you I love you.”

Mark sighed. “So he was coming to…kill me?”

 Lucas nodded. “In the end he knew he was wrong, son. In the end, he knew that he couldn’t control his son like you can control a horse. You are different from me in some ways, and I have to allow for that. Judge Zephaniah realized that in the end. He said he knew you were a good boy and I was a good father.”

Lucas sat Mark down as they started for home. “Oh by the way, what’s this about you pitching spit balls today, son?” Lucas looked down at his son and grinned.

Mark shrugged and grinned up at his father. “Sometimes it pays to be mischievous, don’t it, pa?”

Lucas stopped walking and looked down and raised his eyebrows at his son. Then he shook his head and laughed as he mounted Razor, and lifted Mark behind him. “Let’s go get your horse, mischievous one!”

Eight Hours to Die episode #6

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!

The Rifleman Stories
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