August, 2016

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Issue #83

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

A Dragoon's Adventure
by Tom Sheehan
When a foreigner of any rank, resume or resign takes on a leader's position in a new land, his task may test him to the utmost. Some men will fail, certain men will rarely fail their assignments. The dragoon herein is a soldier no matter what uniform he wears, what tactics he avows.

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Death Rides a Slow Horse
by Robert Perret
A lone drifter rides hard across the deserts of San Velasquez, always aware of a pale rider on the horizon. He prolongs his ride with a whip-smart mix of wit and gumption, before the final, inevitable showdown. Who will draw faster when Death finally confronts its prey?

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GW Galony
by Martin Slusser
In 1864, escaped from a POW camp, Galony is determined to stay free. But between an eager posse and the Mescalero, life is a little too exciting. Worse, his horse has a mind of his own and that pesky, whiskey-drinking raven—who might be old Grampa—has come back to haunt him.

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Likeable Old West Swindler Ben Hodges
by John Young
Benjamin wanted more out of life than just being a cowboy and he figured Dodge City was the place to make that happen. Dodge was a melting pot of nationalities, races and people . . .  good and bad. But, it was also the gateway to a new frontier where all types businesses were born.

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Chasing a Killer
by Larry Garascia
Moss was a killer of men, women and children. When he murdered a jailer, fled the Montana jail and headed to Canada, marshal Cody Justus was hot on his trail. But then Moss ran into an old miner, and everyone's plans went up in smoke.

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They Were Cowboys
by Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
When two cowhands, fresh off a cattle drive, decide rob the stage, complications arise. One of them falls for beautiful woman who, along with a famous bounty-hunting gunslinger, is riding in the stage. And when the cowboys steal the bounty hunter's reward money, he vows revenge.

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All the Tales

Chasing a Killer
by Larry Garascia

His name was Moss Cotton and he was a killer of men, women and children. He was sentenced to hang for his killings and in 1890 was being held in the Jago City, Montana jail. It was not a legitimate jail, housed as it was in the back of the general store. There was just one cell and a small hallway where an old wooden desk was jammed against a wall. There was a .50 caliber sharps rifle on the desk and a holster with a .45 pistol hanging from a peg. The weapons belonged to the sheriff and his deputies and were kept in the jail while the men were off duty.

The occasional prisoners were drunkards and never caused any trouble. But now there was Moss Cotton in the jail and he was real trouble. Except the old jailer couldn't appreciate that as he shuffled through the store carrying a dinner tray.

"Bout time you was getting here", Moss said, rising from his bunk. "Come on you old gizzard! Let me have my eats!" he said, angrily.

"Just you settle down!", the old jailer hissed at Moss. "Now step back. All the way back", the old man said as he watched Moss step to the back of his cell. Then he opened the door and Moss sprang at him. He was on the old jailer in a second. He grabbed the old jailer and pushed his head against the cell door, knocking him out. Moss grabbed the holster from the peg on the wall and fastened it about his waist, then took the rifle, opened the desk drawers and took out several boxes of cartridges. Then he went through the back door into the alley. It was cold and the wind was blowing but Moss never hesitated as he ran for the distant hills.

It was three hours before the old jailer was missed and by that time Moss Cotton had a good start. The mayor wired for the marshal and Cody Justus received the telegram in Flat Head. He looked at a map and found the small town of Jago, realizing it would take most of the night for him to get there.

And now it was late the next morning and he was in Jargo and the hills were there in front of him. They were gray and black in the early dawn. Dark smudges against the sky. He could not climb the hills on horseback; the trail was too narrow and treacherous. A mule could negotiate the trail but Cody didn't have a mule.

It had been cold in the night and the wind was up and a storm was coming and he wanted to make it to the top of the hills before the storm began. So he set off up the trail, carrying a .50 caliber rifle.

He started with carefully measured steps. His pack was heavy and it felt good to be walking up the trail in the cold morning with the heavy pack and his rifle in pursuit of Moss Cotton.

The trail made a turn and there was a stream rushing with clear white water. He looked for fish but there were no fish. Then he waded across the stream and back up onto the trail. As he climbed higher the air grew colder and the wind stronger and now he was climbing in earnest when a sudden burst of snow flew towards the ground. Snow began to gather on the trail and made walking more difficult. Then he heard wolves baying as dark shadows began to settle over the hills. He picked up his pace and walked for another hour and at last he mounted the crest of the trail and there was the cabin.

He took off the heavy pack and set it in the snow and looked carefully for foot prints, just in case the killer had found the cabin too. There were no prints in the snow and the cabin was empty. He walked back to the heavy pack and lifted it and went to the door.

He sat down at a small table and lit an oil lamp and rolled out a cigarette, glad to be out of the storm. In the morning he would begin to hunt Moss Cotton again. As the storm grew stronger the wind moaned outside the cabin and he sat and drank coffee and smoked his cigarette. He ate a can of beans and a piece of bread. Then he unrolled his sleeping bag and took off his boots and climbed inside the bag.

When Cody woke in the morning the storm had passed and the sun was bright and powerful. All around the cabin the terrain was steep and the hills kept rising. And Moss Cotton could be anywhere between the cabin and the other side of the hills.

Meanwhile, high up in the hills, Moss was cold, wet and almost frozen. All night he had climbed in the dark through the blowing snow and had not stopped. He was hungry and shivering from the cold and to make matters worse, he was lost. He tried to think clearly but it was hard to do when all he could think of was food. He knew he had to find something to eat. So he stood by a tall fir tree, rifle at the ready and waited for a rabbit or deer to come by. He waited an hour and shot two rabbits and made a fire and roasted the rabbits over the fire and ate them greedily. Then he kicked out the fire and started up the hills again.

Cody heard the rifle shots, way out in the distance towards the east, high up in the hills. He looked at his map and noted an old mine up near the crest of the hills. He folded the map, stuck it inside his shirt pocket and made ready to leave.

It was cold and bright outside as Cody began climbing the snow covered trail up towards the crest. His boots crunched in the snow and the going was slow as the trail twisted and turned awkwardly.

Out ahead of him, working his way up the crest, Moss was shivering. The sunshine felt good but it was not strong enough to warm him and he knew if he didn't find protection from the cold he was done for. He was lucky he had survived this long and not frozen to death. So he kept at it, his breathing heavier as he climbed higher. The trail ran off to the right and finally leveled off onto a flat plateau. There were a few scrawny trees to the right of the plateau and then he saw the entrance to a mine shaft. Moss walked quickly toward the mine shaft and stood and looked down into the shaft. The sunlight illuminated a wooden ladder and Moss could see about ten feet down. Gingerly he turned, put the rifle over his shoulder and stepped onto the ladder and began descending. The sunlight faded and he was in the dark, feeling his way carefully down the ladder until he touched firm ground and stepped off the ladder and turned and looked around. He lit a match and found an oil lantern on the floor near the ladder and lit the lantern and turned up the flame. There was a shaft leading off to the right and he took a few cautious steps. Holding the lantern high in front of him he walked forward, the walls of the shaft squeezing inward until he was rubbing shoulders with the rough hewn granite. It was dark and smelled musty but he kept going. A thin stream of water ran down the middle of the floor, black and cold. Moss kept going, not knowing exactly what he was looking for or hoping to find. He made a right turn with the shaft and the ceiling suddenly grew higher and there was an old desk pushed up against the left wall. He went quickly to the desk and pulled open drawers and sighed in frustration as all he found was a box of matches. As he moved away from the desk he saw a splash of yellow light from the oil light fall onto something and he went forward and was excited to see a large metal box. There was a folded blanket in the tin box and a can of beans and a tin of crackers and he unfolded the blanket and draped it over his shoulders. Then he picked up the lantern and began looking beyond where he had found the tin box. There was a broken axe, a shovel with a bent head, a cask of iron nails, some dirty rags and another tin of lamp oil. Moss went back to the desk, stuffed his pockets with the tin of crackers and the can of beans and took up his rifle and climbed the ladder up to the surface.

A mile away, leading two mules loaded with boxes of supplies up a steep rise towards the mine, August Gunner walked in the bright sunlight. He was a tall old man with broad shoulders and gaunt features. He walked stooped forward, his shoulders burdened by a heavy pack. His face was narrow and tanned and he showed a growth of white whiskers on his sunken cheeks. He was used to walking and to hard work. Once not too long ago he had made real money from the mine and lived well for several years. He had lived in a fancy room in the best hotel in Nixon and ate three full squares a day. But he had spent the money and now was going back to the mine to search for more silver. He knew it was a risk, but his entire life had been a risk and now as he walked up the green hills in bright sunlight he felt confident. He could find silver where others could not. He would go far back into the first tunnel and mine some older veins until he exposed a new vein. As he continued up the hills under the bright morning with his two mules and enough supplies to last several months, August Gunner was sure there was more silver in the abandoned mine and he was going to find it.

Now he paused and removed his pack and took a long drink from a canteen worn on his left hip. He rolled a cigarette and smoked and looked behind him down the green slopes at a small lake, glistening emerald blue under the brilliant sunshine. He had lived for sixty eight years and most of them had been good years and now he had the beautiful hills and the emerald blue lake and the new sunshine. Those were riches nobody could take from him, even if he didn't find any silver.

Before he had been a prospector August had been a sheriff. He was twenty-nine years old then and had been very good with a handgun. He worked in the town of Zayden. It was a small town of five hundred people up near the Canadian border and he was the only lawman for more than two hundred miles. He earned forty dollars a month and was sheriff for three years. Now he wondered what life would have been like if he had stayed a sheriff. But he had no regrets. Even though he was in his sixty-eighth year he still had keen eyes and was good with his handgun which he wore on his right hip, just as he did whenever he went out. Long ago when he had been sheriff he had carried the big Colt and twice he had been forced to shoot men to death. One man he shot through the heart and the other he shot through the head. The men had called him out one cold winter night in front of the saloon and he had killed them. He killed them quickly with two well-aimed shots. He had not wanted to kill them but they left him no choice and so he had done it. And that was the way it was, no more and no less. There was nothing more to say or think about what he had done. But it was why he quit being a sheriff.

Out in the distance off towards the east, August heard the wailing of the Santa Fe as it raced westward around the little town of Nixon. He had heard the train hundreds of times and knew that if he turned and looked in just the right direction he would see the train. But he didn't turn. He had seen many trains and they no longer held his interest. He kept his head bent, leading his mules forward.

Moss heard the train too. He was standing looking down over the hills towards the line of black smoke billowing out behind the engine. He would make for the tracks and hitch a ride on the next train and be shed of these hills and Montana. He would go Canada where he was unknown and start a new reign of terror.

Cody was just cresting the top of the hills and he looked down the other side and saw Moss Cotton and below Moss a man leading two mules up the hills towards the mine. Cody raised his rifle and took careful aim and squeezed off a round which struck Moss in the right leg.

Moss felt the sting of the round impact his right leg and his leg went limp and he pitched into the dirt, going down hard. He reached for his pistol and took it out but he was too late. "Drop it Moss!" Cody called out and Moss knew he was had.

Then August Gunner was there with his mules and Moss could see the old man was holding a pistol in one of his hands. Sunshine fell down on the scene and Moss blinked at the bright sunlight and raised his pistol a few inches off the ground in the direction of the old man. "I'll kill you old man and take your mules and all you have," he thought. But the old man surprised Moss and shot him. Moss saw a puff of blue white smoke and felt a terrible pressure in his chest, a hard, gigantic squeezing and then he went limp and was dead.

Cody came running and stopped and spoke earnestly with August for a few minutes and then the two men walked over to where Moss lay dead.

"He was aiming to shoot me," August said. "Had his pistol pointed right at my heart. He didn't give me no choice so I shot him. Knew I wasn't gonna miss," August said, with finality.

Then under the bright sunshine Cody and August did right by Moss and carved out a grave and buried him. "Well, be seeing you", August said, grabbing the reigns of his mules, setting off towards the mine.

The End

Lawrence Garascia is a retired sales professional who lives in Cincinnati. He has traveled the West extensively, including Texas, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, and has always been interested in western themed fiction. His work has only been published in Frontier Tales and he plans to send more stories for publication consideration.

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