February, 2016

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Issue #77

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 Deadly Substitute
by Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
Teenager Billy Barker watched Emmett Lee goad his pa into a gunfight before gunning him down. The sanctimonious Parson Chandler offered advice, as did Marshal Smith. But the marshal refused to disobey the law and simply call Lee out. With revenge deep in his soul, Billy needed a plan.

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Buzzard Bait
by Jeffrey A.Paolano
Life carries those of adventurous heart through rigors and trials which build character and strengthen soul. Theirs is a light upon the world different than that illuminating mere mortals. To accurately reflect their lives, their endings must be calibrated in grit and emotion. So it is in this tale of last requests.

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A Gunfighter's Last
by Christopher Davis
Cold and alone, Mont Morgan lies in bed knowing that the end is near and wishing that he could see the boy—his boy—just one more time.

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Betrayal, Part 2 of 2
by Jesse J Elliot
Bobby and Alonzo had been friends forever. Now both were involved in a life-and-death struggle over prize horses, as well as surviving the blizzard that caught them all in its deadly wake. Sheriff Jones and her deputy Cruz finally arrive, but are they too late?

* * *

The Amazing Demise of Old Jerry
by Robert Cameron
In this whiskey-fueled yarn, a long-standing dispute flares into gunplay, three men die—and our narrator says he knows how it came to pass, who killed them, and what happened to the corpses. It's a gripping tale, and plausible enough, but can we believe anything this storyteller says?

* * *

Hell Found Me
by Jim Pickens
The story of a cavalry trooper who survived an Apache ambush in Arizona in the 1870s, while the other members of his group were being tortured and killed by the Indian warriors.

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

All the Tales

The Amazing Demise of Old Jerry
by Robert Cameron

I heard you boys wondering about Old Jerry and whatever happened to him. That was a big mystery awhile back, and still is, about his mysterious disappearance, and nothing ever found of him. Well, I happen to know the truth about that, and I guarantee you won't believe it, but it's true; I was there. And I'll tell you something else—it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Just unbelievable. If yall'd care to hear the tale? And if you could spare a splash of that whiskey, friend . . . thank you very much.

This was back in ought-six. We was up at deer camp, the one by Killair Lake, by Coyote Ridge. Jimmy and Georgie—remember them two doorknobs?—were there, supposed to be helping take care of the camp. And Old Jerry was there too, just for hangin' around, cookin' and whatnot. Enjoying life—he loved the camp, loved having people up there, but loved being alone, too, got old-man snarly sometimes and everybody knew to leave him be. You'll recall there was a lot of speculation about somebody maybe killed him for his loot—he owned quite the spread in the old days, ran cattle on it, but he was retired by then—or if he just lit out, went off lookin' for his lost youth or whatever. Or couldn't stand his shitty kids and just had to get away from them and left all his money for them to squabble over. Nobody knew, but there was this speculation.

So we were sitting by the fire, and Old Jerry had a pot of stew going—what was it, rabbit or something? We didn't have any deer yet, being as we'd just arrived. And Old Jerry didn't hunt no more, having that thing with his shoulder. He was getting on, getting a little wobbly—if he shot a rifle the kick'd probably knocked him over. And plus he had this seriously rotten tooth, just driving him crazy, and he said it was so painful he couldn't hardly see, his vision was all blurry from it. I believe it too, 'cause his breath? My God. Gag a maggot. Smelled like something crawled in his mouth and died, and he forgot to pull it out. But more about that later.

So we's sitting there, waiting on the stew, and Jimmy and Georgie start yarlin' away at each other, you know how they got. Been brawling since the cradle, those two. They start cussin' and bitchin' at each other about some goddam thing. It was about that gal, what was her name? Shawna? Sheila? I don't remember. She was from town, worked in the tannery. Always looked like she was wearing gloves, but really wasn't. Sherry, that was her name. Georgie and Jimmy were both sweet on her. Frankly I never quite understood the attraction. She wasn't much to look at—about as wide as she was tall in her boots, and a face looked like she fell out of a ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

But who cares. Don't matter what she looked like—the important point is: She put out. Hence the conflict.

Anyways, Jimmy and Georgie. They start calling each other names, all "You basterd," and "No, you're a basterd!" and like "Screw you and your mother, basterd!" Blah blah blah, on and on. Just epithets, didn't mean nothing. But it just sounded extra stupid, them being brothers.

So it's basterd this and basterd that, blah blah bloody blah. I'm getting annoyed at their bullshit, and so I pipe up, in my very clever "keeping the peace" kind of way, "So, sounds like yuz both a couple of basterds! Haw haw." And well, that was maybe not the best thing to say in that situation, because they both stand up and turn on me, all "Don't you talk to my brother that way!" and I'm all, "Gosh golly, take it easy . . . basterds." I thought this was pretty funny, but maybe my timing was off, thinking back.

Anyways. Now things start excalatin'. They'se mad as shit, spittin' like a couple of farm cats, and they start coming at me, ready to whup my ass. But see, I'm packin', so I pull my gun. And I point it at them, and I'm all, in my Wild West voice, "Which one a you basterds wants to die first?" Again, I thought it was hilarious. And it was. But not to them so much.

So Jimmy says to me, "You're gonna die, basterd!" and I says,"Wait a minute, I thought he was the basterd!" and Georgie's all, "That ain't me, that's him!" and Jimmy's all, "Shut up, basterd!" And it was just so stupid that I start laughing and I let my guard down, and they's so stinkin' mad they draw their own weapons! (Cause they're packing too, see.) Georgie's just fumin', all red like a beet; he points his gun at Jimmy, ready to settle this old matter once and for all, and meanwhile Jimmy's already drawn on me, not realizing the situation, thinking they was drawing on the common enemy, which was me, and I, I guess just needing something to aim at, point my piece at Georgie.

So there we were—classic Mexican standoff. Georgie's got a bead on Jimmy, Jimmy's got a bead on me, and I got me a bead on Georgie's right ear, ready to shoot it off his damfool head—just give me an excuse.

Well this kind of situation can last awhile. You just stand there, pointing your weapon, because the first one to shoot is also guaranteed to die, that's how it works. Cause if Georgie shoots Jimmy, I shoot Georgie, not wanting to take the second bullet, so to speak. If Jimmy shoots me, then Georgie shoots him, same idea. And so on. So there we stood, tied up in this knot of guns and fear and pride.

So we're all tensed up, waitin' for someone to make a move, eyes eyeballing trigger fingers, muzzles tremblin'. Squintin'. Sweatin'. Adam apples luggin'. Dust. Fear. Old Jerry is there stock still, watchin', and he lets out a breath, like as halfway between a sigh and a whistle, and we all relax a little, but not too much.

He was no fool, Old Jerry. Not like us. And Georgie wasn't quite as stupid as Jimmy, and I was not quite as stupid as the both of them. But we was all three of us proud. And we was cornered, three-ways. So the guns stayed up, waitin'. Out the corner of my eye, I could see the corner of Jimmy's eye, and he's lookin' at me, lookin' at him.

Jimmy was young, and also stupid, and he didn't know even the basics of how this situation works, and at this rate he wasn't gonna live long enough to learn. He must've figured, Ooh, I got the bigger gun, I'm the bigger man. But actually? He had the dis-advantage—he wasn't quite as built as the other two of us, me and Georgie. Also his gun, an old long-barrel Peacemaker—I used to shoot that gun, and I remember how it was a great gun, shot real straight, could really knock stuff down. But it was a heavy mother. Pointing it was like holding a brick at arm's length—not something you want to do for a long time. Just point it and shoot it, then put it away. Don't hold it out like you're a big hero or something. You can hold it at your hip, of course, that's easier but not so accurate. Not that it would matter at that range. But Jimmy didn't think of that, him being young and also stupid, as I said before, and by then it was too late for that kind of thinking, with the tension and all. Me and Georgie had brought lighter weapons, just for plinkin' and whatnot. And plus, we had nothing to prove.

So Jimmy's arm's starting to tremble, and the Peacemaker is starting to wobble down and up and here and there, all over hell's half acre. And Old Jerry, he's standing behind Georgie, see, opposite Jimmy. Old Jerry was pretty old—hence the name—and his eyes didn't work so good no more, all rheumy, and his bad tooth was making them water even worse, but still, he could see a dis-advantageous line of fire when he saw one, and with Jimmy's piece all wobbly, I guess he got nervous and figured he should get out of the way. Out of the line of fire. And so he starts to move, ever so slow, so's not to startle the situation.

But he's looking up, at all the guns, not down at where he's steppin', and he steps on this stick or something, and it cracks out like a rifle shot, and he's startled, and his knee buckles, and he falls flat on his face! Clamps down on his sore tooth and lets out this shout, all "Ah, Jesus flapjackin' Christ!" and then as he's falling he kinda lashes out with his foot and kicks Georgie in the leg, and Georgie, his back is turned to all this, and I guess he got startled, and he jumps and just by accident lets off a round. It hits Jimmy in the chest, knocks him on his ass.

Then Georgie's all agag, mouth's gapin', like "Oh mah gawd, I jes' kilt my brather," and starts to turn on me, but hesitatin' slow, and I figure I'm dead if I don't do something, so I fire off a round too, just in his direction, just to warn him off like, and a-Whoops! I hit him, but just graze him. And Jimmy, just in his whatchamacall, his death throes, lifts the Peacemaker and BLAM! Shoots it right at me! Point-blank almost! But he misses! And then he falls back down in the dirt.

And Georgie, like I said I just grazed him, but I guess I must've grazed something important, 'cause he goes down, spurting all over the place. So it's curtains for them two, and their damfool bitching. In case you were wondering what happened to them, which maybe you weren't, they was such a pain in the ass. Good riddance.

But anyways, that ain't the amazing part. This is the amazing part:

So Jimmy's round misses me, like I said, but real close—I could feel the wind comin' off of it—and continues on past me. And get this, ok?: It goes on past me, hits the stewpot, and then ricochets off a rock in the fire pit and hits Old Jerry! Drills him in the face! And get this too: the bullet hits him right in his bad tooth! Knocks it right out of his head!

I mean, My God. It was the darnedest thing I ever saw. It was dentistry by bullet. I mean, God-dam! Shee-it! A-mazin'! Hah! Don't you boys agree? Guess not. Anyways . . . 

 . . . What's that? And then? Oh, what happened then? Well I'll tell you. If you would top up my glass . . . Thank you very much.

Well then the bullet, Jimmy's bullet, continues on its merry way, into Old Jerry, and blows the back of his head off. And then . . . then this silence descends upon the scene. I'm in a crouch, lookin' out for the next danger, and also in shock a bit, as you might expect, but I come out of it, and I stand up and pat myself down, checking for holes—extra holes, I mean—and finally I realize: Huh, looks like I dodged a bullet! Then I look around, and everybody's dead. Old Jerry's lyin' there, brains splattered all over, and Georgie'd stopped spurting, and Jimmy's there all bled out with his tongue sticking out like a flamin' idiot. Everybody deader'n doornails. Everything smelling like blood and gunsmoke, and weapons and brains and whatnot lying all over.

Then I sat me down and thought about what I should do. The stew was leaking into the fire from the bullet hole, which seemed wasteful, so I ate some, brought the level down so it didn't leak no more.

So I'm thinkin' what should I do? About all these dead guys. I could toss em in the lake, but I didn't want to poison the fish. There was good fish in the lake in those days. Cutthroat trout, big ones. Fine eating. Old Jerry used to fry em up in his special way, and dang, they was second to none. And plus, there was no guarantee they wouldn't just float around til somebody found them. The bodies, I mean.

Or I could bury 'em, but I wasn't in a mood for digging, and what about the next hunters that come up? They'll think, "Wull whaddaya know, fresh graves, and look, bullet holes in the dead guys." And then maybe put two and two together, which could equal me. So no. Or I could head back down the mountain and tell the po-lice, but the heck with that—they'd think I did it. Cause like I said, the story is unbelievable.

So I'm sitting there by the lake, belly full of stew—dang, Old Jerry could do up a stew, had some special spices in there, I wonder what they were—and this sweet breeze is coming off the lake, and I'm thinking Dang, life is good, let's think this through, let's not mess this up. And with the breeze comes drifting over some "yip yip yips", and I think huh, coyotes. And then some answering yips, pretty close, by the sound of them. Well sure, I thought, Coyote Ridge, must be a lot of em around here, hence the name. Guess they must probably come into camp pretty often, too, all hungry, looking for grub. Lookin' for leavin's. Guess it wouldn't matter what kind—what species, like. Human, anything. At any rate, they's awful thorough, in my experience—I seen coyotes finish off a moose overnight, nothin' left but antlers and hoofs. And then them gone too, soon enough.

And then I realize: So actually? All these dead guys? Not my problem. Not nobody's problem. They got no problems themselves no more, being dead. And I reckon, this is more of a opportunity, for the coyotes, anyway. And me, with my situation.

So I drug the dead guys into the bush a ways away from the camp, finished the stew and went to bed. Went fishing in the morning, caught some of them cutthroats, did 'em up for lunch. Then I saddled up and lit out for higher ground, took the long way home.

And that's how Old Jerry met his end. Like I said, pretty amazing, with the tooth and all.

 . . . What's that? Tell? You're gonna tell? Why heck, you go ahead, friend. You can tell whoever you like, whatever you like. 'Cause the truth is, I been lying from the beginning of this tale.

Far as you know. Thanks for the whiskey.

The End

Robert Cameron is a writer, editor and translator based in Tokyo, Japan. He has written for numerous magazines and newspapers over the years, and is now hard at work on his first novel, "The Third Cloud," out soon, God willing. Back in the day, he worked in logging camps and a sawmill, and in the Arctic doing geological exploration, as well as in London as a cook, hotel manager and bouncer. Now he works in a newsroom, which is dull, but at least he gets to sit down.

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