The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Written by Zanza

          Luke bolted upright out of a sound sleep, his heart racing as Mark’s screams rang through the bedroom. He rushed to his son’s side, pulling him into his arms. “Mark! Mark, wake up, son! It’s just a bad dream!”
The boy gulped and clung to his father as he came awake, sobbing and trembling. “Pa, it was coming right through the wall!”

“What was?”

Mark peered fearfully around his father’s shoulder. “A vampire.”

“A vampire!” Luke was exasperated but he strove to keep his voice soothing. “There’s no such thing as a vampire.”

“Oh, but there is, Pa!” Mark said eagerly, “Mr Griswald loaned me a book…”

“Show me.”

Luke lit the lamp while his son got the book, an innocuous looking hardcover volume of yellow. Bold red lettering spelled out the word Dracula, with the name Bram Stoker beneath. He leafed through the book, frowning at the lurid illustrations of wolves and bats and a man in a cape crawling down a wall headfirst. “Mark, I don’t want you reading a book like this.”

“But Pa, I’m almost done with it!”

“And you’re waking both of us up with nightmares over something that’s not even real.” The big man snapped the book shut. “I’ll be returning this to Mr Griswald tomorrow.”

“Couldn’t I finish it?” Mark wheedled. “I’ve only got four more chapters to go. Mr. Griswald said it’s destined to be a great classic. Those were his very words. And Freddie read it first and he said it was really good.”

Luke considered. It wasn’t often that Mark was fascinated with a book. “I’m willing to make a compromise with you, son. You can read the four chapters, but you have to read them out loud to me.”

“Oh, Pa.” The boy’s face fell.
“It’s that or the book goes straight back to Mr. Griswald.” Luke grinned, his eyes twinkling. “I don’t want you to read it any more at all, so this is a good compromise. Neither one of us is happy.”

Mark laughed. “All right.”

“Now can you get back to sleep?” asked Luke. “I promise no vampire is going to hurt you.”

“I know that, Pa,” said Mark drowsily. “I forgot a vampire can’t get into the house unless you invite him in.”

His father was freshly exasperated but the boy was already curling up under his blanket. Luke tucked him in and then sat watching him sleep. It was something he had done through the years from the time Mark was a tiny baby resting in Margaret’s arms. He smiled a little, remembering how Margaret had teased him about it. Darling, you act like you’re afraid he’ll disappear if you take your eyes off him! Go get some sleep. He’ll be here when you wake up. The big man’s eyes stung. It had taken a long time for him to get used to being a father. The precious life that came from the love Luke shared with Margaret would never be something he took for granted but he had finally become accustomed to the child being there every morning when he woke up. Luke gazed at his son as images drifted across his mind’s eye, Margaret feeding Mark, bathing him, playing with him, the first time Mark called him Pa...There were sorrowful pictures too, Margaret sick, and the desolate look on Mark’s face when he stood by his mother’s grave.  The big man sighed. “What am I going to do with you, boy? There’s enough bad in the world without being scared of something that’s not even real.”

Mark stirred and reached out his hand, then as if even in his sleep the touch of his father reassured him, he smiled a little and turned over. Luke bent over and softly kissed his son, then blew out the lamp and went back to bed.
“What did you think?” Mr. Griswald took Dracula from Mark and put it on the shelf.
“It was interesting, sir.” The boy fidgeted. “Pa said to let you know next time you have a book for me to read, he wants to see it first.”

“Hmmm.” The teacher regarded his pupil. “Perhaps that would be wise. I believe this book will have a great impact in the years to come but it is rather stimulating to the imagination.”
“Yes, sir.” Mark smiled sheepishly.
“Very well, Mark. You may tell your father that I will meet with him should I wish to recommend another book.” Mr. Griswald raised his voice. “Children, you are dismissed. Remember there will be a math quiz tomorrow.”

Freddie walked out with Mark. “Dracula was pretty scary, wasn’t it?”

“Not really.” Mark shrugged. “It’s just a story. Vampires aren’t real so there’s nothing to be scared of.”

“I know that!” Freddie looked skeptically at his friend. “You mean to say you weren’t even a little bit scared?”

“Well, what about you?” challenged Mark. “Were you scared?”

Freddie struggled with himself. “Maybe a little.”

The boys were on their way to the marshal’s office when they were distracted from their conversation by the arrival of the stagecoach. It was always diverting to see who was coming to North Fork and Freddie and Mark watched with mild interest until the last man stepped down into the street.

Freddie started. “Mark, do you see…”

Mark’s eyes were round as saucers. “I see it but I don’t believe it!”

The man reaching for his suitcase was as tall as Luke. He was almost painfully thin and pale, with gleaming dark hair brushed straight back from his forehead. His clothing was dull black, unrelieved by a single ornament and half hidden under a long cape. He glanced around, his eyes piercing, and when he saw Freddie and Mark and smiled, it seemed to them that his teeth were unnaturally white and sharp.
He walked over to them. “Good afternoon.” They stared at him, speechless, and he frowned slightly. “Are you boys all right?”

Freddie nodded once and Mark managed to say, “Yes, sir.”

“Good!” The stranger glanced at the Madera. “I take it this is the best hotel in town?”

“This is the only hotel in town,” said Mark faintly.

“Then I will bid you good day.” The man inclined his head and went into the Madera.

Mark pulled on Freddie’s arm. “Come on!”

They followed the stranger into the Madera, ducking into the parlor and watching with bated breath as he signed the register. Eddie peered at the name. “Will you be with us long, Mr. Ruthven?”

“It’s Lord Ruthven.” The man waved his hand. “A foolish conceit, particularly in your country where titles have no meaning, but in my land it’s an ancient and honorable name.”

“You hear that, Freddie?” breathed Mark. “Ancient!”

Freddie shushed his friend and they watched Lord Ruthven climb the stairs. For all his pallor and emaciation, he took them easily, two at a time with his suitcase in his hand.


The boy jumped guiltily at the sound of his father’s voice, then smiled brightly. “Well, hello, Pa.”

Luke strode into the parlor. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you at Micah’s office.”

Mark was debating whether or not to say anything about the mysterious stranger when Freddie blurted out, “We saw a vampire, Mr McCain!”
Mark rubbed his ear. “Pa, if you would just let me explain…”

Luke fixed his son with his sternest stare. He had hauled Mark out of the hotel by his ear and up the street to the marshal’s office and now he appealed to Micah. “What am I going to do with this boy?”

The boy in question had his own appeal. “Micah, vampires are dangerous! Why, in Dracula when the vampire came to town people started dropping like flies!”
Diplomatic as ever, Micah shook his head. “I’m not getting in the middle of this.”

The door opened and Ruthven walked into the impasse. “Marshal?”

Micah came forward. “I’m Marshal Micah Torrance. What can I do for you, sir?”

“My cousin Ianthe is missing. I am on my way to San Francisco to give a series of lectures on mythology. Ianthe lives in San Francisco and when I wired her that I was coming, she offered to meet me here. She is not here.”

“Well, Mr. Ruthven…”

“Lord Ruthven.” The man smiled, showing his sharp white teeth. “It’s a whim of mine to insist upon my title.”

“All right, Lord Ruthven.” Micah traded glances with Luke. “Have you considered your cousin might be late arriving here in our town?”

“I have considered that possibility and dismissed it.” Ruthven’s tone was lofty. “Ianthe is always most punctual. She was to have been in North Fork a week ago. Have you not seen her? She is a tall woman, with pale skin and dark hair.”

“Um, no, I can’t say a woman fitting that description has arrived in North Fork.” Micah looked at Luke. “What about you, Lucas boy?”
“I haven’t seen anyone like that.”

Mark was staring at Ruthven and the man raised his eyebrows. “Have you seen Ianthe?”

The boy didn’t respond and Luke gave him a gentle nudge. “Answer Lord Ruthven, son.”

“No, sir, all I’ve seen is you.” Mark swallowed hard. “Are you...are you going to leave now?”

“Mark!” Luke tapped his son’s hat. “That’s not very mannerly.”

“That’s quite all right, Mr…”

“McCain. Lucas McCain. This is my son, Mark.” Luke put out his hand and was startled at both the strength of Ruthven’s grip and the icy coldness of it. “Will you be staying at the Madera?”

Ruthven said thoughtfully, “I suppose I will until the next stage out of town.”

“I thank you.” Ruthven inclined his head in a courtly bow and left.

“That’s in a week,” said Micah. “While you’re waiting, I’ll make some inquiries about your cousin.”

“See, Pa?” Mark’s voice brimmed with suppressed excitement. “I told you there was a vampire!”

Luke’s jaw tightened. “Son, I’ve never had occasion to take my hand to you but if you do or say anything to that man…”

“I won’t,” said Mark hurriedly. “Are we going home now?”

“Why?” asked his father suspiciously.

“I want to go over to the store and see if Miss Millie has any garlic.”
Freddie and Mark peered around the corner of the hotel. Ruthven was standing at his window and they quickly withdrew.
“Did you get the garlic?” Freddie asked.

Mark pulled two bulbs of garlic from his pocket and handed one to Freddie. “What about the crosses?”

“Here they are.” Freddie produced two small crosses fashioned from twigs. “And I got holy water!” He held up two little bottles.
“Where’d you get that?” Mark took a cross and a bottle.
“From the pump. After I filled the bottles I said ‘God bless this water.’ That makes it holy, you know.” Freddie looked smug. “You didn’t even think of that.”
Mark looked annoyed. “No, I didn’t, but I remembered we need silver.”

“Silver is for werewolves!” Freddie shook his head. “There was one other thing they used in the book. The wafers, but I don’t know what those are. Do you know what they’re talking about?”

“Oh, sure.” Mark waved a hand. “Those are cookies. They hand them out in church so people’s stomachs don’t growl during the service.”

“Are you sure?” asked Freddie skeptically. “That doesn’t sound like something a vampire would be bothered by.”

“Sure I’m sure!” said Mark hotly. “The preacher hands them out, that’s what makes them holy.”

This seemed reasonable to Freddie. The boys contemplated their vampire-fighting equipment, then Mark asked, “What about a stake?”

“A stake!” Freddie looked queasy. “Did you forget that you have to catch them sleeping in their coffin to use a stake?”

Mark gulped. “Maybe we better skip that part and just keep an eye on him. He’s leaving on the next stage.” He craned his neck to look around the corner again.

“He’s not at the window anymore!” There was no answer from Freddie, and Mark said urgently, “Did you hear me? He’s not at the window! He could be anywhere!”

He turned around and found himself looking up at Ruthven. Freddie was standing next to him, studying the ground, and Mark gave his friend an annoyed look before turning his attention to the strange man.

Ruthven bent down to look the boys straight in the eyes. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“No, sir,” they mumbled in chorus.

“Very well.” Ruthven straightened up. “I’m going over to the marshal’s office to see if he has any news of my cousin. After that I will be in the parlor of the hotel, having an aperitif before dinner. There is no absinthe, but one takes what one can when one’s preferred drink is not available.” He smiled at them, his teeth gleaming, then walked away.

Mark wiped the sweat from his forehead. “That was close!”

Freddie sat down hard. “It’s a good thing we were ready.” Mark looked puzzled and his friend elaborated. “If we didn’t have the crosses and the holy water and the garlic, we’d be goners!”

“That’s right!” Mark brightened. “He didn’t kill us so that proves those things work! Come on!”

They ran out of the alley and straight into Luke, almost knocking him off his feet. “Steady there! You boys are in an awful hurry.”

“Yes, sir,” said Freddie. He and Mark were peering in all directions. “Mr McCain, did you see anybody come out of the alley?”

“No.” Luke frowned. “Were you chasing somebody?”

Mark frantically shushed Freddie but his friend ignored him. “We were right behind a vampire!”
“Pa, do you always have to grab the same side?” Mark rubbed his ear, scowling.

Luke just looked at him for a long moment, then shook his head and went to the window. “I wonder where Micah is.”

“Maybe the telegraph office?” The boy came to stand beside his father. “He sent out a lot of telegrams about that lady.”

“Maybe.” Luke frowned at the sight of Oat Jackford coming up the street. He had never forgotten Jackford’s men dragging him behind a horse and burning down his house when he first came to North Fork and he regarded the man with a dour expression as he came into the marshal’s office. “Something I can do for you, Mr. Jackford?”

“Not unless you’re deputized. I want the marshal out at my place. A cow was killed last night and I’m not talking about four-legged predators.”
“I don’t know where Micah is but I can check out what happened and give him a report.” Luke shrugged at the look on Jackford’s face. “Or you can wait.
No telling how long it’ll be.”

“Well…” Jackford hesitated. “What about your son?”

Luke raised his eyebrows. “What about him?”

Jackford motioned to Luke and the big man came over to his side. “It’s not a sight for a boy, McCain. That cow wasn’t just killed,” he said softly. “There wasn’t a drop of blood left in it. It’s...well, it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. I don’t mind telling you it gave me a turn.”

Now Luke was the one who hesitated. It certainly was an odd coincidence, all this talk of vampires and now a cow drained of blood...he shook himself. “If I go, my son goes too. I have my reasons for not leaving him alone in town just now.” He turned to Mark, who was watching the two men with an eager expression on his face. Clearly he had been trying to make out what they were saying and his father sighed. “We’re going out to Mr. Jackford’s place, son.”  He looked very seriously at Mark. “I’m taking you because I don’t want to leave you in town with the way you’ve been acting and I don’t want you to go home by yourself. I expect you to obey me and not to say a word about what we may find. Do you understand?”

Mark took a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”
The sun was setting as Luke rode back to North Fork from Jackford’s place so deep in thought Mark had to shake his arm to get him to notice Razor had a loose shoe. “You all right, Pa?”

“I’m fine, son. I’m just trying to puzzle out what could have killed Mr. Jackford’s cow.” The big man glared at Mark. “And I don’t want to hear about vampires! There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“Yes, Pa,” said the boy agreeably. “Only you gotta admit it’s mighty strange, that cow with a couple of holes in its throat and all the blood gone. It’s just like in Dracula.”

“Mark, go over to Micah’s office and wait for me.” Luke didn’t try to keep the exasperation out of his voice and the boy just nodded and rode ahead. His father watched him go, shaking his head, then dismounted and led his horse over to the blacksmith’s.

Nils bent over to examine the shoe. “It’s not too bad. I need to pull it and check the hoof but I think I can just nail it back on. You want to wait? It won’t take long.”

“All right.” Luke took off his hat and wiped his forehead. “Is it just me or is it even hotter in here than usual?”

“No, it’s hot. I’ve been working non-stop at that forge since this morning. Broken axles, bent wheel rims...seems like half the people in town needed something fixed all at once.” The blacksmith chuckled. “I can’t complain when business is good.”

“Strike while the iron’s hot?” Luke’s eyes twinkled.

Nils’ jaw dropped but he quickly rallied. “Say, that’s a good one, Lucas. Kinda like making hay while the sun shines.”

Now Luke was the one taken aback. He started laughing and Nils joined in. They had always been good friends. They worked together, Luke keeping Nils’ forge hot while the blacksmith fixed Razor’s shoe. When he was finished he took over the forge and Luke led his horse over to the marshal’s office to find Micah and Mark engaged in a game of checkers.

“Lucas boy! I’m mighty glad to see you, seeing how I’ve got a vampire in the jail.”

The big man shot an ominous look at Mark and the boy blurted, “It wasn’t me, Pa!”

“Wasn’t you what?” Micah looked from father to son. “A couple of Oat Jackford’s men got drunk in the saloon telling anyone who would listen that half his herd was killed by a vampire.”
“Jackford’s men!” Luke went over to Mark and put his hand on his shoulder. “I shouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that you disobeyed me. I’m sorry, son.”
The boy smiled that smile his father loved to see. “That’s all right, Pa.”

Luke squeezed Mark’s shoulder, then turned to Micah. “We’ve just been out to the Jackford place. He did lose a cow.” The big man hesitated, then went on resignedly. “I’ve never seen anything like it, Micah. There were two holes in its throat and it was completely drained of blood. The ground was clean, too.”

Micah nodded. “That’s what Jackford’s men were saying. They also stirred up the crowd to look for strangers. Now you know the only stranger staying in town is that Ruthven fella. He got alarmed and came to me and I put him in a cell just in case any hotheads start getting ideas. The stage is leaving in the morning so I only have to watch him tonight.”

“Did you ever get word of his cousin?”

“I did.” The marshal picked up a telegraph form. “Apparently she went to South Fork by mistake. They’re planning to meet up now in Yuma.”
“All right if I say hello?”

“Suit yourself.” Micah shrugged. “He’s not under arrest. He just wants someplace safe to stay.”

Luke went to the cells and returned, frowning. “Micah, he’s not there. He must have decided to go back to the hotel.”

“That’s not possible, Lucas. I didn’t lock the cell but you know as well as I do there’s no way out except through this office and I’ve been here the whole time.”

“See for yourself.” The big man led the way to the other room, Micah right behind him and Mark bringing up the rear. The cells were all empty.

“I can’t understand, Lucas boy.” Micah went into the cell and looked around as if expecting to catch sight of Ruthven. “He was right here not more than an hour ago.”

“Micah, he must have left without you seeing him,” said Luke reasonably.

“Right past my desk where I was sitting the whole time?” The marshal shook his head. “Not a chance.”

“In Dracula, as soon as the sun goes down, the vampire can change his shape,” Mark said helpfully. “Maybe Lord Ruthven changed into a bat and flew through the bars.”

Luke glared at the boy but Micah chuckled, “Don’t be too hard on him. That’s more believable than me not seeing him walking past my desk.”
“Then how do you explain it, Micah?”

“I’m not even going to try.” The marshal bent over to straighten the cot and noticed a piece of paper half under the pillow. “Looks like he left a note.”
They went back to the other room and Micah held the note so they could all read it. 
My dear Marshal Torrance,  North Fork seems to have become an unwholesome place for me so I have decided to go on to Yuma tonight. Would you be so good as to forward my suitcase? I am sorry about Mr. Jackford’s cow but it’s rather like absinthe.
Lord Ruthven.

“Absinthe?” The two men were mystified.

Mark gulped. “He said something to Freddie and me about absinthe and drinking what you had to when you can’t get what you want.” The boy grabbed his father’s arm. “Vampires don’t have to drink human blood, Pa! They can get by on any blood!”

Luke blew out his breath. “Mark, however he left, Lord Ruthven is gone now and we’re going to put him out of our minds. I never want to hear his name again!”
“Did I hear you say Lord Ruthven?” Mr. Griswald was sitting close to Mark and Luke’s table when Micah came in to say he had forwarded Ruthven’s suitcase to Yuma. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, Mr McCain, but really, I thought you didn’t want Mark reading any more books about vampires.”

Luke scowled at Micah, then turned to Griswald. “I don’t know what you’ve heard but Mark certainly hasn’t been reading anything else like Dracula.”

“But I distinctly heard Marshal Torrance mention Lord Ruthven.” Griswald looked puzzled.

“Well, what of it?” Micah sat down across from the teacher.

Griswald shrugged. “Lord Ruthven is a character in The Vampyre by John William Polidori.” He raised his eyebrows at the rapt attention suddenly directed at him from the other three. “Why, surely you’ve heard of the contest in which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein! Polidori’s entry in the contest was a story about a vampire named Lord Ruthven.”

“Was there a young lady named Ianthe in the story?” asked Luke in a strangled tone.

“There was indeed. She fell victim to the vampire.”

“Maybe he turned her into a vampire,” said Mark in a hushed voice.

Griswald smiled. “Maybe he did. Still, it’s only a story, Mark. Dr Samuel Johnson said ‘Fear is implanted in us as a preservative from evil; but its duty, like that of other passions, is not to overbear reason, but to assist it; nor should it be suffered to tyrannize in the imagination or to raise phantoms of horror.’”

“That’s right, son,” said Luke. “Fear and superstition only work when people aren’t thinking straight.”

The conversation was interrupted by Freddie running into the hotel. “Mark, Mr. McCain, did you see the sky?’

“Is it any different tonight than the way it usually is?” Luke’s eyes were twinkling.

“I’ll say!” Freddie blurted, “There was a giant bat! It must have been the biggest bat in the whole world!”

Luke raised his hand. “Not one word, Mark. We’re going home.” 
“But Pa, it’s a long way in the dark!”
“If it’ll make you feel better, we’ll stop at Millie’s and get some garlic.” Luke told himself firmly that he didn’t believe in vampires, but it was still a comfort to know that they didn’t like garlic.
"The Vampyre" was written in 1819 by John William Polidori during the contest between Polidori, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley. Although it is not as famous as Dracula, it is considered the first vampire novel. As for Dracula, it was published in 1897. I took poetic license to allow Mark to read it, with Luke’s permission, of course.

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

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