December, 2015

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Issue #75

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Streets of Gold
by Nancy Peacock
The bank has been robbed of twenty-dollar gold pieces. Billy can't convince the sheriff he found the one he spent. Then another fellow finds one. Will this start a gold rush? Running a saloon in this town is always exciting.

* * *

Desert Chase
by Larry Garascia
Thaddeus Deaver had shot and killed a sheriff, two deputies and a woman while trying to rob a bank. He had also shot and wounded a young boy. But now marshal Cody Justus was on his trail and vowed to bring him to justice.

* * *

The Reprieve
by Rene Vega
Silas left Missouri for a better life out West. He'd heard stories of rogue cowboys, Comanche, and such, but didn't figure they'd bother him. When his luck turned and he got lost in the desert with Apaches on his trail, he knew only the same extreme of luck might keep him alive.

* * *

Legendary Marshal Bass Reeves
by John Young
Overcoming the harsh conditions of a slave's life in the 1800's to rise to a position of particular note would be a noteworthy accomplishment for anyone born into that life. But to become the most famous U.S. Deputy Marshal West of the Mississippi and greatest frontier hero would be an impressive feat.

* * *

The Ghost of Flamingo Flats
by J.C. Hulsey
Do you believe in ghosts? Some do, some don't. I'm not sure which I believe. In this short story, you will have the opportunity to make up your own mind as to what you want to believe.

* * *

Blackwater Station
by Mark Wilkinson
A frontier tale straight from South Africa.

* * *

Want all of this month's Western stories at once? Click here –

All the Tales

The Reprieve
by Rene Vega

Silas couldn't remember if it was day two or day three that he had been lost out here in this desert. This desert that burned away its enemies and made friends of those critters that could survive the unrelenting heat and then the biting cold of night. He stepped carefully over rocks to make his way to what looked like a shady spot near a nook in the side of a large hill, or small mountain depending on how you looked at it. The sunlight was bright and white and you could almost hear it. The thirst had gone from being a physical sensation to being a type of dull sadness that permeated Silas's whole body. Yet he kept on walking because sitting down to die was too difficult. At least the breeze of moving would be there.

Where was he? He wasn't used to this type of country. Not that Arkansas was a paradise but at least he knew Arkansas and it wasn't this hot, the earth wasn't angry that you were there. In Arkansas you were just there. Here you were at odds with the land. He knew that from when he got on the stage coach back in El Paso. He had heard all of the talk about how hellish the trip was. How one had to sit in a cramped coach with a bunch of hot smelly strangers who were all equally uncomfortable and brace yourself against the heat, the bumpy road and lack of sleep. Mostly he heard of the Indian attacks which hadn't happened in a while. It was hot and uncomfortable and he had to mentally prepare himself for the long journey west but nothing could have prepared him for what ensued. Indians, Comanches he was almost certain but again he was a novice to the dangers of these parts but he had heard of them before. Comanches, Mexicans, Rogue white men, there was all manner of unsavory characters that could kill you out here. There were four passengers on the stage coach. The driver and the shotgun had been killed first. That was obvious from when they jumped out of the coach in a panic. From the looks of one of them, the driver, they had been hit at close range with arrows. Not a thousand shotguns could save you from a well-launched arrow. The arrow was deep into the stunned man's torso, who was still alive with a look of shock and fear on his face. He had obviously fallen hard and fast onto the ground after he was hit which added to his injuries. He didn't look worth even helping. The one with the shotgun was not around. He had probably fallen off some yards back. A shotgun blast was never heard during the whole attack. They probably didn't have time to react. The stage coach lost control as the Indians attacked and veered into some rocks where there was a frightful impact and it flipped sending all the travelers into a big sweaty, uncomfortable pile of panicked people on the right side of the coach. Then the horses were heard and the shouts of the Indians. It was one thing to hear of Indian raids around a fire or at a Saloon but to hear their shrieking voices outside the coach just feet from him sent a wave of unbelievable horror through his body. Silas thought of MaryBeth as soon as the coach flipped over and he could hear the first of the Indians. He felt a profound disappointment for her. But there was no time to think. The other three passengers began to claw and climb their way out in a panic. The other three were the Brewers, Mr. and Mrs. He in his mid fifties and she in her early thirties and the awkward nebbishy business man Mr. Langley. They climbed out of the stage coach and jumped onto the dirt not as a team but as scared individuals all fighting for themselves. Silas had the advantage of being alone and young. Mr. Brewer violently yanked Mrs. Brewer off of the ground and the two ran to hide behind some rocks but unluckily for them two Indians on horseback revealed themselves from around the same rocks just as they approached. Silas didn't wait to see the horrible outcome; he ran wildly in the opposite direction as fast as his feet would carry him. As for Mr. Langley, who still ran with his brief case, only god knows what happened to him. It was bright and hot outside, hotter than he had been so far on his trip. Where they had been attacked made immediate sense. It was a craggy part of the desert between two dry mountains that formed with all its rocks and uneven terrain a type of desert labyrinth of nooks and crannies.

* * *

Silas ran like the devil. He didn't have a gun on him. He had taken out of its holster and set it down underneath his seat for more comfort. During the first leg of the trip the colt was kept in his side holster. The discomfort and the tight quarters made him put the gun across his lap discreetly then when that also proved to be uncomfortable he set it under his seat, thinking that in the event of a hold up or Indian attack he could easily access the pistol. Little did he know the celerity with which the Indians would attack. Now the gun would belong to the Indians. As he ran he heard gunshots and shouting. How could those three, the Brewers and Mr. Langley stand a chance? They had none and they were probably dead as he thought it. As he considered this a thought entered his mind that despite the intense heat made him feel like cold water had been thrown over him; the Indians were expert trackers. He was only buying more time. He too, did not stand a chance.

He ran and ran until his run turned into a trot. Like this he covered what felt like a large swath of land but on foot with no horse it was probably nothing. His entire body was covered in sticky sweat. The sun began to go down. He was at the side of the same range of razorbacks where they had been attacked. There was no sign of them coming. No noise or dust off in the distance. Maybe he simply wasn't worth the trouble them. He hoped anyway. He climbed up a ways, his legs rubbery from fatigue and found a nook in one of the razorbacks and rested a while. Everything went black. He thought he saw MaryBeth tending her garden then making lemonade and offering him some. He felt profoundly grateful for the lemonade and gulped it down. MaryBeth walked around her garden and smiled at him. Then all of the sudden he woke up from his dream and found himself again in a vast dark desert. Carefully he climbed down and took advantage of the darkness to continue walking. It was cold but the movement kept him from concentrating too much on the discomfort. He walked all of that day heading east in hopes of coming across Columbus or another small settlement. He continued all day and into the next.

* * *

On the second day of walking east he found the trail where the stagecoach had originally headed west. The thirst was unbearable. He walked along the trail and wondered how far he had to go with no water and no food. He would not make it except by dint of some miracle yet he kept on. He thought of MaryBeth and he felt a profound disappointment. At least he had tried to come out west and do good for himself and his young bride. He wondered what she was doing right now at this instant. Was she thinking about him? Or chatting away with some neighbor? Reading perhaps? At least he had tried. He would be remembered for having at least being a dutiful husband and trying to improve their situation.

* * *

What seemed like an eternity of walking went by in the blazing sun when he came across something that he hadn't seen on the way west. Then again he had not been looking out the window much. There was the foundation of what had once been a cabin at the foot of a hill and a pathetic attempt at what had once been a garden in front. An old abandoned settlement. It was so burnt by the sun and run down that you could barely notice it was there. What caught his attention especially was the well in front. He walked up to the well hoping with every ounce of his being that there would be water at the bottom. He got to the well putting his hands on the clumsy masonry and bending down to look. It was dark and there was no bucket to lower. He looked around for a rock and not finding one he liked he took a coin from his pocket. The experiment would cost him a whole dollar. He dropped it into the well and saw the coin vanish into the darkness. Afterwards there was the refreshing sound of a the coin smacking into water making that high-pitched gulping sound that small objects make upon breaking the surface of water. He looked around for a bucket but found none. He thought quickly. He got into the well and with one foot on either side he shimmied his way down. If he had fallen and gotten hurt that would've been the end of him but the risk had to be taken. It was a slow process but finally he reached the wet muddy bottom and cupping the water in his hands began to drink. It was cooler down there by a couple degrees so he stayed down there a while. When his thirst had been sufficiently slaked he sat waist high in the water with his back against the well wall and rested. He managed to get some sleep in the cool darkness of the well. Later he woke up when the sun was at its Zenith and began to shine into the well. The sun he thought, would eventually pass and leave him again in shade were he could recuperate his energies and hydrate more for his jaunt through the desert. As he considered this he heard something shuffling up above. A grunt and the shuffling of feet. All of the sudden his heart rate jumped. The Indians were here. Of course! And here was he asleep at the bottom of a well! He listened more closely. Perhaps there were trying to be quiet and waiting for him to surface again. They didn't have to. They could just fire a rifle or an arrow into the well and end it there. Maybe they wanted to keep the well usable? He sat there listening trying not to move so as to not make noise. He could hear someone walking about up near the mouth of the well. It only sounded like one person. Then a head appeared over the edge looking down sadly. It was a dog. The dog whimpered. Silas got to his feet smiling yet still a bit suspicious. What was a dog doing out here? Then again what was he, Silas, doing out here? He kicked one wall of the well keeping his foot there while raising his other foot to the other side. The cool wetness felt good on his horribly abused feet. He climbed up slowly little by little. When he reached the top he saw the dog sitting on its hind legs looking pathetically at him. It was all ribs and its tongue stuck out looking parched and elongated. Getting out of the well was the trickiest part. It required shifting all of his weight to the lip of the well and at the same time lifting one of his feet over, or else be left holding on with nothing but upper body strength, which would have been dicey. He negotiated it nicely and came out to lie still on the hot dirt. The dog stood there panting and holding his gaze.

"Nice puppy" was all Silas could manage to say. The dog was a grey medium sized mutt. Silas lay there panting for a moment before getting up. The water helped. He felt a little bogged down from drinking so much so fast but it was better than the alternative. He figured he better keep walking and reach some township eventually. It was a long way off but walking along the tracks he could perhaps be picked up by the next stagecoach or make it back all the way. He looked around for a container that he could carry the water in. As he did the dog followed him listlessly and shyly. He found nothing. There was nothing out there but some busted up old timber that had once been a primitive cabin and that well. He walked back to the tracks and figured there was nothing left to do but walk. Behind him the dog was still sitting by the well. It whimpered and looked at him imploringly. Silas walked along the track heading east determined to get help or come across a settlement or anything remotely civilized. When he had gotten twenty yards down he heard the dog whimper again and turned around. The dog would surely die out here. Marybeth loved dogs and it was perhaps because of this thought that he walked back to the well. When he got to it he pet the dog.

"Just hold on a second there fella. I'll get you some water."

He made his way back down carefully. It was about twenty feet to the bottom. This time he would have to make his way back up with only one hand. When he arrived at the bottom he set his hat upside down in the water and using the hat as a filter he drank some more of the water. He couldn't tell in the darkness if it was murky or not. It did make any difference; he was going to drink it anyway. When he was once again satisfied he filled the hat again and began making his way back up. It was much different with only one arm, the other arm busy steadying the water but at last he made it up and set the hat upside down on the dirt while he steadied himself to come out. The dog wasted no time in digging in to the water. It lapped up every single drop that was in the hat. When the dog was left licking the inside of the hat for any residual moisture. Silas carefully removed his boot and poured the water from within it into the hat for the dog to drink and did the same with the other boot.

"That was mighty Christian of you," a voice rang out.

Silas quickly turned around struggling to put his boot on as fast as he could.

"I'm generally not in the habit of helping stragglers out. If I did that around here I wouldn't get much of anything else done . . . but . . . I'm going to make an exception with you and take you closer to town and away from Apache pass if you'd like."

Silas looked around and saw no one.

"I sure would like." Shouted Silas, still looking around for the source of the voice. It seemed to be just on the other side of the hill besides the former cabin.

"Who am I speaking to?" Yelled Silas? His own voice sounding weak.

"The name is Turner, John Montgomery Turner." The man appeared around the hill and walked toward Silas. He was armed with two guns and a large carbine. He wore a huge brown hat and brown clothes with a long flappy duster.

"Safe to assume that you're lost or were involved in some raid or robbery?"

"Indian attack," replied Silas. He felt comforted by the fact that the man was familiar with all these unspeakable scenarios.

"I make my living out here. I take from the Indians what they took from whites like you. Now like I said I wouldn't ordinarily be helping any one out here but . . . I saw how you helped that dog and it got me all sentimental. Made me think that maybe I could do you the same favor."

"Well . . . I would greatly appreciate your assistance Mr. Turner and thank you."

"You are welcome Mr. . . . "


"Please to meet you Mr. Silas sir."

* * *

They rode two-up on the horse at steady pace. The dog followed them the whole way. Mr. Turner told his story.

"I came out here back in 60 with my wife and two daughters. We set up a house and a garden. Nothing ever grew. Them Indians were more frequent than we had previously thought and one day they came and took my family away."

"Took them where?" asked Silas from the back of the lead-colored horse.

"Killed 'em."

"And you've been out here ever since?"

"Yessir. Just killin' 'em back."

* * *

They climbed to the top of a hill then back down to a dip between two hills where Mr. Turner thought it safe to stop. He pointed to a spot.

"That looks like a good place for a fire."

Silas took that as a cue that he should start one and so he did. The dog hung around at a distance to observe the two men. The fire wouldn't have been seen by a distance thought Silas but he was still unsure.

"Won't them Comanches see the fire?"

"Apaches you mean, they're not Comanches. They probably won't see the light of the fire and it's too dark to see the smoke in the sky. They usually head back up north anyway. Of course I can never be too sure so every time I light a fire it's a gamble bu . . . after years of being out here I know that they repair to the north after a raid and they seldom attack at night."

Silas considered that if this strange old man had been out here as long as he had without being killed then the odds were in their favor tonight. This gave him some piece of mind, though not much. He, Silas, was entirely unfamiliar with this hot dry country full of death and horror. Mr. Turner reached into a leather sack then threw something onto Silas's lap. It was a piece of jerky. The two ate in silence as the dog became increasingly interested in the jerky. Mr. Turner threw a piece the dogs way which the dog made short work of.

"How did you find me?" asked Silas.

"I was tracking the dog." answered Turner without making eye contact.

"Is it your dog?"

"No . . . I saw it's tracks, they looked fresh and had no human to accompany it so I thought I would track it down to keep it company or else eat it."

Silas now began to question what the jerky was made of but thought it best not to think about too much.

* * *

There wasn't an extra blanket around so Mr. Turner was kind enough to offer his coat for Silas to sleep with. The coat smelled worse than a corpse but was better than being left without cover. For a pillow Silas initially used his boots but then put them back on fearing an attack in the middle of the night by the Apaches, if that was indeed what they were. He was cold and huddled closer to the fire to keep himself warm. The dog sat like a sphinx some feet away drearily watching Silas. As Silas became drowsy he heard something move. He opened his eyes in fear he saw that it was just the dog coming closer, at first sniffing around for a chance scrap of food then settling down against Silas's torso. In this fashion the two helped each other stay warmer. It was a fitful night of sleep. Every now and then the crackling of an ember would wake him up or the fidgeting of the lead-colored horse which was tied to a tree some yards down hill. Every noise was a potential Apache with a knife in his hand waiting to spring out and kill. He thought about MaryBeth. What he wouldn't give to hold her then. To be home. Sometimes he thought he was home in bed with MaryBeth but he would open his eyes and see that the body next to him was that of the mangy dog. He was grateful to MaryBeth for liking dogs, for it was his compassion for this one that had saved his life. He thought about that a while. If he got back to her he would tell her this story and emphasize that through helping the dog he had helped himself. There were so many stars out. Eventually they all faded into a deep darkness.

* * *

Silas opened his eyes sometime around twilight. Turner was already up and smoking a pipe.

"You two getting married?" he said. Silas unwrapped his arms from around the dog. The dog let out a big yawn that caused its pink tongue to extend far.

"Well . . . it was better than freezing."

Silas sat up and readied himself. Twilight was just beginning and it was cold and somewhat damp. The desert looked peaceful in all directions.

"Wish I had some coffee to offer you." grumbled Mr. Turner, sticking his pipe into his mouth and puffing repeatedly.

" I don't require coffee." said Silas. " The thought of being scalped is vivifying enough."

"That's very true."

Mr. Turner probably had little conversation out here by himself and taking advantage of a rare companion he thought it an opportune time to wax poetical. Looking off into the crepuscular horizon he assumed a philosophical look on his face and began.

"One thing I never get sick of seeing around here . . . despite how inhospitable this country can be . . . is the majesty of the sunrises and sunsets. It's fixin' to be a real good this morning. You can just tell by the way it feels that the sun's gonna come out with a lot of fanfare all dressed up like an arrogant peacock."

Silas indulged the man by listening but the truth was he had no heart for the poetic ramblings of Mr. Turner. He wanted to get back to a town where he could feel safe yet this man was his only chance. Mr. Turner took his saddle to his horse and as he secured it he stopped for a moment to look longingly at the horizon."Hell . . . there times when you'd think heaven—"

Silas heard a sharp noise like a hummingbird come across his ear just as the dog bolted from his lap and ran off. An arrow. He turned to Mr. Turner and saw with horror that the man had the front half of an arrow sticking out of his neck just above his left clavicle and the back half behind his neck. Blood poured out of the man as if from an overturned bottle. The stunned Mr. Turner took his right side gun out and uselessly fired it at the ground then took a step forward and fell, landing prone. The blood splashed onto the dirt in front of his visage. The hair on Silas's neck stood on end and his blood ran cold as he sprang to his feet. He was agog with fear. The arrow had obviously come from above so Silas instinctually ran down hill. As he passed Mr. Turner he could hear the man struggling for breath. Silas quickly picked up the gun Turner had dropped and ran to the horse which the Indians had apparently not taken yet. He unhitched the horse and jumped on whipping the reins and driving the heel of his boots into the animals ribs with vehemence. The horse picked up speed quickly through the cool misty air as Silas felt himself flying through brush and thicket. How long he flew he didn't know. The sun came up in the east. He headed east. Behind him was no dust, no Indians, just desert. Like this he continued in the direction of the sun. Mr. Turner had certainly been right about the sunrise. It was a riot of color painted across the sky. The sun was an enormous showy peacock now mauve, now blue, now on fire, now a bright soft orange. The clouds were like Olympian cliffs on a far away shore. When the horse could no longer keep up its racing pace Silas slowed it down to a gallop. He continued like this for a while nervously glancing behind him to see the murderous Indians who he feared were on his trail. He had a horse and a gun this time. His odds were increased. After an hour of galloping he heard yelping behind him. The mangy dog had finally caught up.

The End

Rene Vega lives in Seattle with his girlfriend Jillian.

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