May, 2017

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Issue #92

All The Tales

The Fire
by Robert Collins

The boy sitting by the fire heard a horse scraping it shoes along the hard ground. He got up and backed into the shadows.

A voice in the darkness said, "I'm coming to the fire. Don't shoot."

The boy, holding a Colt forty-five watched a man on foot leading a horse, come into view. He stopped about fifteen feet from the fire.

"Is it alright if I come close to the fire?" the man said. "Once that sun went down, it surely got cold. The wind 'bout cut me in two."

The boy stepped out of the shadows with the pistol pointing at the man. "Tie the mount to the sapling. Then come to the fire."

"You don't have to point that cannon at me, son. I mean no harm. I'm just cold and hungry and I need somewhere to bunk down for the night."

The boy looked him over and then placed the gun into the holster tied to his right leg. He watched the man hobble his horse and remove the saddle from the tired animal. He walked towards the fire, dropped the saddle and blanket. He squatted down and held his gloved hands over the flame. On a make-shift grill sat a pot of coffee, steam coming from the spout.

"Do you mind if I have a taste of that coffee? The smell is making my belly rumble." The man said.

The boy tossed him a cup that clattered on the ground. The man picked it up, blew out the dust and poured himself a cup.

"That"s very tasty. I see you haven't yet cooked any supper. I got some venison in my saddle bag. How 'bout we cook it up." The man went through his gear and came out with a brown piece of meat and laid it on a stone in the fire.

The boy stood and watched as the man pulled a knife from his hip and turned the deer meat over. It sizzled and the aroma filled the fireside.

"You scared me walking in like that. I 'bout shot you dead." The boy said, breaking the silence. "What are you doing out in the dark like that?"

"The night came quick once I got into these hills. It got real cold so I headed for these rocks to get out of the wind. That's why I shouted when I saw the fire. You got a real good spot here; big rocks all around. I almost didn't see the fire"

"I mean. What are you doing here?" the boy said.

The man stood up from his squat, took off his hat and slapped it against his leg. A dust cloud billowed out and disappeared into the night. Even in the firelight, the boy could see his features. He had black wavy hair, brown eyes and a drooping mustache. His face was clean shaven that day but weathered. He was wearing an unbuttoned black canvass duster that came to his knees. The boy could see he wasn't wearing a gun and thought he was very brave for walking in on him like that or very stupid.

"Yeah, I see what you're asking. I'm headed for Silver City. There's a job waiting for me there. Do you know how long of a ride it is from here?" He looked at the boy across the fire. He was around sixteen or seventeen, medium height and lean. He was several inches shorter than the man and had dark hair and blue eyes; the kind that jumped out at you when you met him for the first time. He thought the boy looked too small for carrying such a large gun.

"Silver City's a good day's ride west of here. The trail is easy so you should make it by dark if you leave at first light."

"Good. I've been ridin' for four days and I'm 'bout spent. Do you mind if I bunk here for the night?"

He could come back in the night and ambush him the boy thought. "You're welcome to stay mister. Let's eat that venison. It sure smells good."

"Much obliged." The man said.

They split the meat and ate it with their fingers and the boy shared a tin of peaches and they feasted on the juice.

They sat by the fire and were quiet for some time. Then the man stood up.

"I've 'bout had it. I'm turning in." He got his saddle and pitched it closer to the fire and laid his horse blanket on the cold ground. The boy watching began the same exercise and set-up on the other side of the fire.

"I think we should keep watch tonight." The boy said. "There hasn't been no trouble with Indians lately but you never know. I'll take first watch."

"I thank you for that." The man said. "I don't think I could keep my eyes open another minute."

The boy kept the fire hot with goals and tried not to make the fire too bright.

After several hours he tried to shake the man awake. "Hey mister, it's your turn to watch." The man was on his side, facing away from the boy and didn't budge so the boy gave him a hard shove to the shoulder. The man rolled over so fast the boy almost fell into the fire. He was pointing a small revolver at the boys face. His eyes were wide in surprise. Neither moved and the man finally said angrily, "For the love of God, kid, don't ever do that again. I almost blew your head off."

The man dropped the pistol to his side and said. "Sorry 'bout that. You scared me silly."

The boy gathered himself and said. "It's your turn to watch." He thought that the man wasn't so stupid after all. He was the stupid one for not considering the possibility of the man having a hidden gun.

"How long was I out?"

"For a long time, it's only a couple hours till daybreak."

"You should have waked me earlier." The man said.

"You looked worn, so I let you rest." The boy said.

"That was kind of you."

The man was awake and tended to the fire and the boy fell fast asleep in his roll.

The boy woke with the sun in his eyes and the smell of bacon on the fire. The man was turning a chunk of bacon on a stick and coffee was boiling on the rocks. He woke famished.

"That smells good." The boy said.

"Have some coffee. It's leftover from last night but it's hot." The man said.

They ate in silence and cleaned up the site. The man poured the remains of the coffee on the fire and kicked dirt on top of it. They saddled their horses and walked them out of the rocky enclosure. They stood looking at the mountains in the distance.

"Well, kid, I'm headed west. Which way are you going?"

"I'm headed for Hurley. It's just south of here."

"I appreciate you letting me share your fire." The man said.

"I enjoyed the company." The boy said.

"We shared some food and a fire and I don't even know your name." the man said. "I'm Pat Garrett."

"Nice to meet you Mr. Garrett, I'm Billy Bonney".

They shook hands and exchanged warm smiles.

"Nice to meet you Billy, call me Pat." The man said. "Maybe our paths will cross again some time."

"Maybe?" Billy said.

They both mounted their horses, waved and rode off in different directions.

The End

Robert Collins is an avid writer who dabbles in different types of fiction. Espionage and Westerns are his favorites. He's been inspired by such writers as Owen Wister and Louis L'Amour. The growth of the western frontier and the hard men and women who shaped it is the center points of his stories. He has been published in other Western sites but this is his first for Frontier Tales. Mr. Collins lives with his wife Rose in Connecticut.

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Dr. Death
by James R. Sheehan

Part 1

The killer looked down the sights of his Winchester Model 1873 rifle and chuckled to himself. Two wranglers on their cow horses, their lariats coiled neatly within reach, bobbed along a rocky path at the bottom of a ravine. It had been dry for a month, and the day was clear. The wranglers would never know what hit them. Well, the first one wouldn't know. The second one would be watching the first one die, and be wondering what had happened, and would hear the report of the rifle. And just as he figured out what had happened, then the killer would shoot him, as well. But before the second wrangler died, he might know that he had been killed by a sniper.

But he wouldn't know why he had been killed by sniper. To the killer's sensibilities, that was exciting, because he was sure that everyone would assume that the motive was robbery. Certainly, he would rob the victims, once they were dead. There was no sense in wasting the opportunity. The killer would be wanted for murder whether he robbed the wranglers or not, so he might as well rob them. After all, the killer enjoyed the occasional bottle of whiskey, and he needed to buy ammunition for his Winchester and bolts for his crossbow, so he could keep on killing. And he had other expenses. You could eat only so many jackrabbits and so many rattlesnakes before you started wanting some real beef, maybe with some gravy and rice and some beans, and maybe cooked by somebody who knew what they were doing. So it was good to have some money and to go into town, especially now before there was a witness, before he had made some mistake to give his identity away, and he would rob the wranglers, if they had anything of value, that was for sure.

But that was not the reason that the killer killed. The reason that the killer killed is that he liked it. It gave him a sense of power, an intoxicating sense of superiority, to bushwhack strangers and take their life from them. Just for the hell of it.

With that thought, the killer squeezed the trigger, and the first wrangler fell out of the saddle, dead before he hit the ground. The killer moved his sights to the second wrangler, who turned out to be smarter than the killer had bargained for, because he was already sliding out of the saddle and yanking his rifle from its saddle scabbard, and trying to sidle away off the path, which told the killer that the second wrangler had already figured out what was happening, much faster than the killer had imagined. But it didn't do the second wrangler any good, because the killer was a good shot, and he had a quick hand, a quick finger and—most important—a quick mind.

With both cowboys lying dead on the path below, the killer packaged his Winchester and led his horse down into the barren ravine. He scuffled over rocks and slid down the gravelly slope, urging his horse to follow. The mournful cawing of a chicken hawk echoed off the boulders. The killer poked each dead man with his boot to see if there was any life, but with two shots he had taken two lives, and that's the way the killer liked it.

He rifled through the pockets of the dead men, and then through their saddle bags. He found their money. They had probably been paid in Dodge City; they were probably going back to Texas. They probably had big plans to buy their own ranch and build their own cattle empire, but the killer had ended all of that for them.

The killer stripped their horses and checked the brands. Both horses sported a C with a distinctive tail mark. It would be child's play to add another C and eventually re-sell the horses, as well, but the killer didn't want to fool with it. Nothing attracted the attention of the authorities like horse thievery. The killer knew that the authorities would take an interest in him for his murders and his robberies, but being a good horse thief required more time and patience than the killer wanted to put into it. He released the cow horses. Maybe they would find a herd of wild horses to join. Then they would be free to roam as they pleased. The killer smiled. Not everything he did was bad. It was good to free the horses, to let them live the life they were designed to lead.

The killer mounted his own horse. He left the dead men where they lay and headed north for Dodge City.

* * *

Saber Shadowblood poured his friend Ajax "Jack" Brane another drink of whiskey, but didn't top his own off. Saber didn't have the head for whiskey that Jack had. He had to pace himself, where Jack could rip through a whole bottle in an evening all by himself.

"Where's Hinkle?" Jack was asking. "We come all this way, now where is he? Where's their horses? Where's their gear?"

Saber had no answers. He understood his friend's impatience. When they heard that Andrew and Martin Campbell had been killed and robbed south of Dodge City, they had veered off their return path to the JA Ranch. So far, all they had seen were the fresh mounds in the cemetery where their friends were buried.

They drank in silence for a while, enjoying the freedom to do so now that they were not under Charlie Goodnight's thumb; or, rather Jack drank in silence while Saber took only a sip or two. Few other customers lingered in the Long Branch Saloon. When at last a tall, lanky figure with a star pinned prominently on his vest strode in, the two friends rose from their table and went over to greet him.

"You two boys friends of the deceased?" asked George T. Hinkle, sheriff of Dodge City. His steady gaze sized the two cowboys up. He didn't wait for an answer. "If you boys can draw the brand on those horses, I'll release them to you, and the saddles and other gear that we recovered, under the condition that you take them to the Campbell family down there on the Llano. You understand?"

Jack started to say something, but Saber, who was less drunk, put a firm hand on his friend's shoulder and stepped forward. Without a word, Saber adroitly traced the C with the distinctive tail into the dust that liberally coated the surface of the table on which their bottle of Cutter's whiskey sat. Hinkle nodded and said curtly, "Come with me."

* * *

Charlie Goodnight rode with his itinerant preacher brother, Richard, through the Palo Duro Canyon. Muted greens and browns combined with spectacular views of cliffs and rock formations across an expansive, mountainous landscape. The abundant water at the canyon's bottom was lined with mesquite and juniper trees, the leaves and branches of which tossed about in a dance with a cooling breeze. But neither man was interested in the beauty of the canyon. Charlie was explaining to his brother how John Adair had funded his efforts to establish the first outpost of civilization in the wilderness of the Texas panhandle. And that's how the ranch got its name: JA.

It was a rare delight for Charlie to see his brother, who roamed from place to place spreading the Word of God. Charlie was so proud of his brother, and so proud of the JA Ranch. It wasn't the opportunity of just anyone to come out into a God-forsaken wilderness and found a ranch. That took something that only somebody like Charlie Goodnight had. Now Charlie was the boss of hundreds of men, most of whom, he well knew, were drunken louts, though there was the occasional decent human among them. Charlie Goodnight did not permit strong drink on the JA Ranch, which is one of the reasons that he would succeed.

Even though the ranch had just completed its first cattle drive north and east, there was still plenty to do on the JA. Fences needed mending, the breeding stock needed tending. With the proceeds from the first drive, Goodnight was building barns and dormitories for the cowboys. The echoes of hammers pounding on planks echoed across the wide canyon floor. But of course Goodnight's pride, and his first priority, was the church.

As the brothers rode up to the nearly completed edifice, Charlie broached the subject of needing a preacher. "You know, a roughened wrangler needs a strong hand to guide him through the temptations of this wicked world, brother. Having a church to worship in is just the beginning. I need someone who can speak God's word to these cowboys on Sundays and Wednesdays, and probably other days of the week, too."

"Well, brother," said Richard. "Let me tell you, there is evil on the land."


"Meaning it is my calling to be out there amid the evil on the land, and not pent up in a church."

"Is that your final word? There's many a traveling preacher would give his arm to settle onto the JA and preach in its brand new chapel."

"The Lord has called me into the wilderness, Charlie. He calls me there, still. The heathen beckon. They are needy for the word of God, and it is my calling to speak it to them."

"Well, amen to that, Richard," replied Charlie. "And it's so good to know that you're out there trying to spread the good word among the savages and the cowboys."

Richard Goodnight was amused by that thought, and clutched his Bible tighter to his chest. He wondered how long his stupid brother would continue to believe he was really a preacher.

* * *

The killer was having a prolific day. At dawn he had sighted a puff of dust far from any settlement and far from any prying eyes. Careful not to raise any dust himself, he had tracked towards the telltale evidence and before lunch had located its source. A family of three in an open wagon, going west. All by themselves. Like idiots. And, like idiots, the killer quickly surmised, they were being followed not just by himself, but by two Red Indians on ponies.

The killer wanted to kill both the Red Indians and the settlers. After all, he had decided to be a killer; killing was now his thing. He wanted to kill any human beings who crossed his path in his wanderings, as long as there were no witnesses.

For situations like this, the killer carried an unusual weapon: a crossbow, with which he had practiced and practiced until he was quite proficient, both at shooting the weapon and at reloading it quickly. Thus it was that two members of the Kiowa nation silently met their end on the Llano Estacado near the Canadian River. The settlers, plodding along up ahead, probably thinking erroneously that they were on the Chisholm Trail, had no idea that behind them two murders had occurred. If killing Red Indians could actually be considered murder, a fact about which the killer had his doubts. But if it wasn't murder, at least it was killing, which is what a killer was supposed to be doing.

So the killer was satisfied in his own mind, at least.

The killer riffed through the belongings of the dead Kiowa men, finding only a few coins in their pockets. The Indian ponies had no brands, so the killer roped them and would use them as pack animals until he could find a buyer. Or if hard times came, he could eat them.

He pulled the bolts out of the corpses, wiped them clean, and replaced them along with the crossbow in his saddle quiver. Good killing, the killer reflected, requires one to be organized, methodical, and thoughtful.

He turned his attention to the settlers, who, pathetically, had made only modest westward progress while he had been attending to the Red Indians. He made quick work of circling far around the two plodding plow horses that were hauling the rickety wagon that contained Papa, Mama, and Waif, and all their earthly belongings.

The northern escarpment of the Llano Estacado was no place for a family of solitary travelers, thought the killer. The canyon dug by the Canadian River was rocky and precipitous. Here and there were weather-carven slopes where you might be able to get the horses down to the water, but they were few and far between. The Kiowa and the Comanche knew of small springs on the Llano, but few white people knew where they were. Occasional large pools of dark brown muddy water dotted the Llano and drew water fowl, the so-called playa lakes. But no significant spring water was available until you got to Monument Spring, which was still three days ride to the west. In the case of the plodding settlers, it was five days away. The killer became more and more amazed at the very existence of this family in such a place at such a time, and he decided that they deserved to die for their ignorance and their impudence and that he was just the man to do it, and so he would do it, but after all he really needed no reason to kill them, because he had decided he was a killer and that killing is what he did. So he would kill them, just as he killed the two cowboys and the two Red Indians. And after he killed the family of settlers, he would kill anyone else he came across out here in the wilderness. That was his ambition.

The killer chose a likely ambush spot near the canyon and waited for the settlers' wagon to haul into view. He sighted down Papa first, fired, and watched the man drop the reins and tumble off the wagon. Mama grabbed Waif and stuck him under a tarp on the bed of the wagon just as the killer fired again. He hit Mama in the shoulder and spun her around, so he had to fire again to kill her. She slumped but did not fall from her perch on the wagon. The two plow horses slowed down and stopped. They stood stupidly waiting for somebody to tell them what to do.

The killer thought about just firing on the lump in the tarp where Waif was, but decided that it would be more fun to go see what the kid was like. He left his horse where it was hobbled, and strode with his Winchester in hand towards the wagon. He yanked the tarp aside. The Waif was burbling and snot was running from his nose, but he had a large handgun and he had it pointed right at the killer's face, and he was trying to pull the trigger. The killer snatched the gun from the kid's hands.

"This is a Smith and Wesson 32 Double Action handgun," the killer explained. "The safety is right here." The killer showed the Waif where the safety was and showed him how to slide the safety to off. "Now the gun will work," the killer said, and fired it into the air.

The kid cooed and burped and hiccupped and coughed. The killer grabbed the kid by his hair and flung him from the wagon. The child landed roughly and stopped moving. The killer kicked the Waif in the head and left him for dead.

He took the traces off the plow horses and shooed them away. He leisurely went through the pathetic belongings of the settlers, but found nothing of value. He went through Papa's pockets and found a few dollars, which he stuffed into his own pockets. All the while he kept an eye on the Waif, and there was no sign of life.

With a feeling of satisfaction at a good day's work done, the killer went back to his horse, released the hobble, mounted, gathered the Indian ponies, and rode slowly away.

* * *

Pecos Pete watched the two white men from hooded eyes. They were examining the site where the two Kiowa had been killed and murmuring to one another. Occasionally the sandy-haired one, the one named Shadowblood, would look at Pecos Pete and then look back at the crime scene. The smaller, dark-haired white man, the one named Brane, didn't even get down off his horse.

The white men had two horses each, and yet Pecos Pete could make better time on foot than they could with their four horses. This was a fact that the white man named Brane found amazing and which he could not refrain from remarking on. Pecos Pete, if asked, would explain that he left early and marched late, which is why he could make better time on foot than a white man could on horseback, but no one ever asked him. He could also say that instead of stopping for lunch, he just ate a handful of jerky as he walked, and that's how he made such good time. But they never actually asked him; instead they asked each other questions like this, late last night, after Pecos Pete joined them at their campfire:

"How's he do it?" Jack asked.

"How's he do what?" Saber said.

"How's he keep up with us when he don't even have a horse?"

"I don't know. Takes short cuts, I reckon."

"Short cuts? How can you take short cuts across the Llano Estacado? Look around you! It's flat as fry bread. How do you take a short cut across a plain?"

The white men couldn't stop without making a fire. They had to have their coffee in the morning and they had to have their firewater in the evening. These things slowed them down, but they couldn't figure out how Pecos Pete could keep up with them.

Now, Pecos Pete wondered if the white men would be finished looking at the dead Kiowa, because the dead white people were just ahead, and the little boy that needed help. Finally, he signaled to Shadowblood. Shadowblood understood and mounted his sorrel and followed slowly after Pecos Pete. Brane lagged behind.

The canyon rim curved ahead, and around that curve was Death's next surprise, as Pecos Pete thought of it. The two white men had hired him to help find the man or men who had killed their friends. Sheriff Hinkle had told them that Pecos Pete was the best tracker in the west, and the two white men paid Pecos Pete up front and promised more when they caught the killer. So Pecos Pete went to the first murder site and saw the hoof prints that no one else could see, the hoof prints that led back to Dodge, and then the hoof prints that led back out of Dodge, all the way down to the Canadian River, where the hoof prints crossed the river, and then the hoof prints had led Pecos Pete to the two dead Kiowa and the dead settlers, and the little boy that wasn't quite dead, but who would be dead soon if he didn't get some help from the white men's medicine. Pecos Pete, when he found the boy, had given the boy some water to drink, because the little boy needed it. But Pecos Pete knew that the little boy was a white little boy, so he needed white man's medicine, though a red man's water would do for a while.

So Pecos Pete had sprinted, Pecos Pete had jogged, Pecos Pete had shuffled until he caught up with the two white men, who had once again misunderstood his instructions and had wandered further south than he told them to go. Pecos Pete spoke to the white men by moving his arms and making gestures and grunting the occasional white man word, and he thought the one named Shadowblood understood he was to go west and follow the canyon rim, because that's what the killer's horse had done, but instead the white men had strayed northward from the canyon's rim, and last night at the camp fire when Pecos Pete caught up with them, he tried to make them understand that they should march through the night to try to get to the little boy in time, but they had insisted they were too tired and couldn't go on, even though all they had done was sit atop their horses all day long.

Pecos Pete liked horses, but he had never learned to ride a horse, and he never intended to. People all around him were obsessed with horses; they rode horses even when walking would do. In Dodge, he had seen Sheriff Hinkle get up on his horse and ride it across the street and dismount, a thing which Pecos Pete thought was just a wonderful piece of sloth. But Pecos Pete was all right with it, because he liked horses, he maybe even thought that horses were spirit-beings, and Pecos Pete liked looking at horses and liked the way that horses looked at him with their big eyes.

Then the white men had seen the dead Kiowas, and they still didn't understand that the little boy needed attention, and fast. They lollygagged and dithered and wasted time, even though Pecos Pete told them over and over with his body language that he was anxious that they come with him on up to where the little boy was dying. There was a white medicine man in Dodge City, and they needed to get that little boy up there as soon as they could.

When Saber found the little boy and realized he was alive, he understood suddenly why the Indian named Pecos Pete had kept saying "Dodge! Dodge!" He called to Jack, "Look at this, he's left behind a live one."

Jack joined him, took one look at the Waif, and said, "Gotta get this kid to Dodge, pronto. I'll stay here and bury the dead. Saber, you and Pecos take the kid to town. I'll camp here and wait for you to come back."

Now, after all their delay and dallying about, the white men were suddenly very vigorous and energetic and focused. The change was really quite stunning. But white people were always surprising Pecos Pete, the same way Death surprised him at every turn. With the white people around, Pecos Pete was learning that wherever you went in this life, Death was waiting and wanting to surprise you.

* * *

Early in the morning, Dr. Heath Jones, dressed as usual in his grave, black suit, gave another bottle of laudanum to Sheriff Hinkle's wife, Alexandria, and escorted her out of the examination room. She continued to prattle on about her weakness and her stuffy nose, but she had got what she wanted—the laudanum—and so she wasn't quite as emphatic as she had been before she had entered the doctor's offices.

At the door, Dr. Jones pointed meaningfully at the plaque hung there, which stated, in bold Gothic style lettering:

Payment is due at the time that services are rendered

Thank you.

Dr. Heath Jones, M.D.

"Oh, of course," cried the embarrassed Mrs. Hinkle. She wasn't altogether an unattractive woman, but she wasn't combing her hair and she wasn't keeping her dresses clean and pressed. And that's about what you would expect from an addict. She lifted her purse up right under her nose and dug about in it until she found a hefty Seated Liberty silver dollar, which she placed in Dr. Jones's expectant, outstretched palm. He kept his hand outstretched and lifted it up and down very subtly. Mrs. Hinkle resumed poking about in her purse and produced two Shield nickels. Dr. Jones nodded and bowed.

Mrs. Hinkle darted out the door, no doubt headed for her boudoir, where she would gulp down half the bottle of laudanum and then pass out. At least she would be out of George's hair for a while.

Dr. Jones went out the door with Mrs. Hinkle, lit a cigar, exhaled its fumes, and then leaned back against the wall to watch the morning traffic in Dodge City. At once he spied trouble, in the form of a cowboy and a Pueblo Indian coming towards his office. The cowboy carried a bundle wrapped in a blanket on the pommel of his horse's saddle, while the Indian jogged along next to the horse. Heath Jones had developed what amounted to a sixth sense for trouble during his years as the sole physician in Dodge City. Perhaps it was the tense look on the cowboy's face, or the rigid way he held his bundle. At any rate, Dr. Jones knew it was trouble.

And it was.

The cowboy dismounted fluidly from the horse, expertly handling his bundle as he did so. The Indian—Jones recognized him now as Pecos Pete, the tracker—took a position next to the open door of the doctor's offices.

"Excuse me, you're Doc Jones, ain't ye?"

Jones removed the cigar from his mouth and exhaled impatiently. "Yes, yes."

"I'm Saber Shadowblood, work for old Charlie Goodnight down on the Llano. Got an injured child here."

Jones extinguished his cigar by dropping it onto the wooden sidewalk and crushing it under the heel of his snakeskin boot. He made it a point to gesture to the sign on the door:

Payment is due at the time that services are rendered

Thank you.

Dr. Heath Jones, M.D.

He arched his eyebrows meaningfully at the wrangler named Saber Shadowblood.

Shadowblood narrowed his eyes to express his irritation at the doctor's gesture. "Look here, doc, you just take care of this child; I'll see you get your fees."

"That's fine, Mr. Shadowblood. You have to understand my requirement, that's all. I can't provide any services unless I'm paid. I have to have that policy here, or I just couldn't stay in business."

Shadowblood was curt in his response. "Bank opens at 10, I reckon. I deposited my wages for a cattle drive from Mr. Goodnight just a week or so ago. So I'm good for it. Far as that goes, when word gets round there's an injured orphan here, there's going to be plenty good folk stepping forward to help out. So I reckon you'll get your fee. Just get to work."

Heath Jones shrugged and led the cowboy into the examination room. Shadowblood gingerly laid his bundle on the table there and backed off.

"Do you know what's wrong with him?" the physician asked, as he unfolded the blanket to take a look.

"Looks to me like he got kicked in the head, but I ain't the doctor." Shadowblood was virtually snarling. He had taken an instant dislike to Dr. Jones the moment the payment policy had been made plain to him. Dr. Jones didn't care. He had seen too many doctors in too many towns cheapen and weaken their economic position by consistently doing pro bono work. In a place like Dodge, you would end up doing pro bono work for drunks, whores, rapists, killers and other assorted ne'er-do-wells if you did any pro bono work at all, so Dr. Jones had no doubts—no doubts at all—that his payment policy was correct. Few others saw it that way, but he didn't care. Did they expect the stable to feed, groom, water, and shelter their horses for free? Did they expect to go into the Long Branch and drink their Cutter's for free? Did they expect to go over to the general store and buy sacks of flower and slabs of bacon for nothing? The answer was, no. So why did no one anticipate or expect that the medical doctor might also want to get paid, just as the farrier was paid for shoeing a horse?

Shadowblood stood by, watching as the sawbones examined the patient. Jones opened the boy's closed eyes, peered into the boy's mouth and ears. He took a small rubber hammer and whacked the boy's knee with it. The doctor sighed and stood back.

"This boy's in a coma. He's going to need pretty much constant attention, or he will die. He may die anyway. The only thing I've got for him is to watch him, try to get sugar water down his throat five times a day, and clean up the messes he's going to make. That's going to cost a dollar a day for who knows how long. You'd better to take him over to the school and see if Miss Downager will take care of him. She don't have nothing else to do right now, bein' as it's summer."

"A dollar a day? Are you out of your mind?"

"My time is valuable, Mr. Shadowblood. Much more valuable than yours. If you want him to stay here, it'll be a dollar day. Otherwise, take him somewhere else."

"Why, you mean, heartless, hateful swine. Can't you see there's a child in need here? And all you can think about is your stinking dollar a day?"

"You can leave now, Mr. Shadowblood. And take the kid with you, unless you plan to leave a dollar for the first day. As it is, you owe me fifty cents for the examination and the instructions about sugar water five times a day."

Shadowblood clenched and unclenched his fists several times. "I already told you. The bank opens at 10. I just came in off the trail. My money's in the bank. I'll be back with your fee directly after 10."

Pecos Pete glided into the examination room on silent moccasins, two coins in his hand. Without a word, he put the coins next to the limp body of the boy on the examination table, picked the boy up, and carried him outside to the busy traffic in Dodge City.

Shadowblood left in a wordless, stiff-shouldered huff. Dr. Jones picked up the two coins and put them in his pocket.

End Part 1

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The Ruthless Outlaw Cullen Baker
by John Young

Cullen Montgomery Baker was without a doubt, one of meanest, cold blooded killers in the Old West. He once shot and killed a black slave woman simply because he didn't like her looks and Cullen Baker did not like black people. At least a dozen dead men were left by him and those who rode with him. Some have even said hundreds.

Baker was born in Weakley County, Tennessee, in June of 1835. He was one of seven children. When he was four years old, his family moved to Texas. As he grew Cullen became known as a smart hard working lad. Many commented on his kindness, a trait that would soon change. At this time, his only peculiarity was, he preferred riding a mule rather than a horse.

Between the years of 1854 and 1856, Cullen drifted aimlessly around Texas and Oklahoma. He tried to settle down on several occasions but always managed to get into trouble. He would have to pull up stakes and move again. After 1856 he wandered into Arkansas and Kansas territory.

When he was 15, some boys teased him about his ragged and ill fitting clothes. One of the bullies stomped on his foot. The bully would most likely have been killed if the others hadn't pulled him off.

In 1851 Cullen turned 16. He was 5' 9" tall five feet nine inches tall and weighed about 160 lbs. He was described as having sandy hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion.

At the age of 18 years old, he started a fight with another man in a saloon. Somehow the incident turned into a full scale barroom brawl and Baker was knocked unconscious by a tomahawk. For sometime afterwards Baker tried sticking to the straight and narrow and even got married to a pretty girl named Jane Petty in 1854.

However, it wasn't long before Baker was back to his old ways, drinking and getting into fights. In one fight he came close to beating his opponent to death. Several others had witnessed the altercation and he was soon arrested. Later, Baker assaulted one of the witnesses who had testified against him, shooting him in the leg with a load of buckshot. The man died a few days later. Dodging the law, he took off for Arkansas where he stayed with an uncle.

His wife gave birth to a baby girl, Loula, in May of 1857. Jane died about 3 years later and Baker took the child back to Texas to live with his in-laws. He remarried in 1862 to Martha Foster and shortly thereafter enlisted in the Confederate Army. Little is known of his military service, except he was considered a deserter.

In 1863, Cullen and Martha were farming, but Cullen wasn't cut out for that kind of life. He got the old wanderlust again and began to roam around Northeast Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. While he was in Perry County, Arkansas in March of 1864 he was captured by a lawless band of marauders called the "Jayhawkers." After they realized Baker was no threat to them, and actually a prospective recruit, they accepted him into their gang. He later became their leader.

In November, 1864 Baker led his group of Jayhawkers to intercept some Arkansan's, mostly old men, women and children who were fleeing the state and heading west. Some believe Baker thought this was unpatriotic, others believe more than likely he just wanted to rob them. Baker caught up with the group crossing the Saline River in the Ouachita Mountains. When the group's leader refused to return Baker shot and killed him. Baker promised the others they would not be harmed, but once they had returned across the river, the gang shot and killed 9 more men. The incident became known as the Massacre of Saline.

Baker's second wife Martha died on March 1, 1866 leaving him a sorrowful, inconsolable wreck. It is thought he actually went mad from grief. Cullen was known to whittle exquisite carvings of squirrels, birds, rabbits and other animals. His next project was to carve a life-size replica of his dearly departed wife. The completed figure was so incredibly lifelike it shocked his neighbors who at first sight thought she had risen from the grave. Cullen dressed the wooden effigy in Martha's finest clothes and jewelry and practically made a shrine to her memory.

One day Baker returned home to find his house had been plundered by federal troops and Martha's fine clothes and jewels were stolen. They also used his wife's picture for target practice. Enraged, he immediately went in pursuit. In town he learned there were eighteen of them camped nearby. Cullen asked for volunteers but no one seemed interested in becoming involved in this particular venture. Only a lone one armed man stepped forward. However, the pair succeeded in killing most of the federal troops.

On one occasion in October 1867, Cullen encountered government troops hauling supplies to the federal garrison at Boston in a wagon. The wagon was under heavy guard. Cullen stopped to chat with the officer in charge and during the conversation the officer remarked "We are on the look-out for Cullen M. Baker. We hope to meet him someday." Baker smiled and replied, "I've been anxious to meet that man myself."

As they parted, Cullen impulsively decided to capture the wagon in spite of the heavy guard. He headed the convoy off at a ferry known as "Hubbard's Bridge." Baker could be quite ingenious at times. Baker charged the troops dragging cane and brush behind him and yelling, "Come on, boys! We've got 'em! Let 'em have it!" The squad of soldiers thought they were being attacked by an entire gang. After Cullen shot the driver the rest scattered in terror, leaving the wagon which contained food supplies.

Baker then forced a black man named Charles Johnson to drive it. Cullen distributed flour, bacon, and coffee to folks along the road until the last of the food was gone. Then he unhitched the mules, burned the wagon and later sold the mules in Louisiana.

By the fall of 1867, Cullen had organized a guerrilla militia. The man who had become his closest confederate was Matthew Kirby. Kirby was also known as "Dummy" Kirby because of his ability to imitate a deaf mute. The militia disbanded in December of 1868, when Baker and Kirby split up.

In early January of 1869, Cullen and Dummy were riding together again. They discovered Thomas Orr, an enemy they thought they had killed, hadn't died. They decided to return to Arkansas and finish the job not knowing the decision would end with their deaths.

On the night of January 5, they camped out at Forest Home, a former stomping ground of Baker's. The following morning the two bought a bottle of whiskey and rode to Cullen's former father-in-law, Billie Foster's home. On the way, they met Foster and told him he had returned to settle some financial accounts left over from his marriage to Martha. The three of them returned to the Foster house not knowing Orr was inside. Orr saw them coming and escaped out the back door and hurriedly set off to inform his "Band of Six" Cullen was back.

What exactly happened after that is uncertain but there are at least two versions of the story. The first version says Foster and some friends had laced a bottle of whiskey and food with strychnine and Kirby and Baker both died from poisoning. Their bodies were then shot several times.

The second says Orr had an affair with Baker's second wife Martha and Orr and his men ambushed Baker and Kirby at the Foster home.

In either case, Baker and Kirby ended up dead and being shot numerous times. Their corpses were then dragged through town and later taken to an army outpost near Jefferson and put on display.

The End
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Gold Dream
by Connie Cockrell

Part 1

Zeke Stanford pushed open the doors to the Oxbow Saloon and stopped to let his eyes adjust to the dimness. His donkey, carrying what he needed for the trip into town, was tied to the hitching post in the mid-day Arizona sun but Zeke wanted a beer. Right now.

He left the door and walked to the bar. "Beer."

"Just get in, Zeke?"

"Yeah, Earl. Just want to cut the dust before I go to the assay office."

Earl put the mug of beer, foam dripping down the side, in front of Zeke, his eyebrow raised.

Zeke picked it up and drained half of it in one swallow. "Oh." His eyes closed as he savored the brew. "That hits the spot."

"You find something?"

Zeke opened his eyes to look hard at Earl. "Maybe." He drained the rest of the beer. "See ya later." He dropped a coin on the bar and left.

Back out in the sun he untied the donkey and pulled the lead rein. The donkey snorted and balked. "Come on, Jenny. We go to the assay office, then the barn, all right?"

The animal shook itself, dust rising from it in great clouds. Jenny snorted again then allowed herself to be led. Zeke had an itch between his shoulder blades. He looked around the dirt street. There were a few men on the porches of the Oxbow and the bar next door and the one across the street. It didn't seem as though they were watching him any more than anything else moving on the hot, dusty street. Earl's question had raised his hackles, though. It didn't happen often but claim jumpers could be anywhere and Zeke had worked too hard to trust anyone right now.

He tied Jenny to the hitching post outside the assay office, then glanced up and down the street once more and went inside. A man sat at a wooden table with a ledger open in front of him, making an entry with a fountain pen, the gold tip glinting in the sunlight coming through the dusty window. "Howdy." The man capped the pen and looked up expectantly.

"I have a sample for you to test." Zeke glanced out the window, then at the door behind him before he put a dusty burlap sack on the desk. It thudded on the wooden surface then slumped over as the contents inside shifted.

"Well, young man." The assay man stood up. "I'm John Markum. Let's see what you have."

"Zeke Stanford." Zeke watched as John took the bag to a workbench where there was a scale and glass-stoppered bottles of liquids.

John opened the bag and pulled out a fist-sized chunk of quartz. He put it on a scale and added and took away weights until the scale balanced. He turned to look at Zeke. "Could be gold. The weight seems right." He picked up the rock and placed it in a metal pan. "I'll have to run a test, of course, to tell you how rich the strike might be. I'll keep the sack and run a test on several samples."

Zeke's heart was racing but he wanted to keep a clear head here. He'd seen men whoopin' and hollerin' about their strike. Next thing they were dead a few miles from town, their pack animals and equipment gone. Zeke eyed the assay man. "Good. You have the papers here to file a claim?"

"I do, young man. I do." He walked to his table and the filing cabinet underneath it. He opened the top drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper, placing it on the table top. John pushed his ledger to the side. "Have a seat son."

Zeke sat down in the wooden chair opposite Markum.

"You read?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well this says that you're filing a mining claim. You have to put down the location or it won't be official."

Zeke nodded. It made sense but he was still reluctant to reveal the mine location. He picked up the fountain pen and studied the tip. Someday it might be my gold that makes these nibs. John pointed out where to put the location. Zeke hesitated, pen hovering over the spot on the paper. He handed the pen back. "I think I'll wait till you can tell me how the tests come out."

"Fair enough, Mr. Stanford. Will there be anything else?"

The miner pulled a small leather sack from his inside coat pocket. "I'd like to get some cash for this." Zeke placed it gently on the table top. He watched Markum study the sack. The afternoon sunlight came through the dirty glass window and made the dust motes around the assayer sparkle. Zeke had spent long hours panning the cold creek, searching for the mother lode the gold dust and tiny nuggets had come from. The sack of gold-bearing quartz was proof he'd found the spot. The dust would, hopefully, pay some bills until better arrangements could be made.

Markum reached for the sack and hefted it in his hand. He nodded and stood up, walking over to the scale once more. He poured the contents onto the bowl of the scale. He adjusted the weights until the scale balanced. He turned to look at Zeke. "Could be gold. The weight seems right." He picked up the bowl of the scale and took a pinch of the contents and placed it in a glass bowl. John selected a glass bottle from the bench and, with great care, poured a little of the liquid into the glass bowl. It began to fizz, the gold specks dancing around in the few drops of liquid, a little smoke coming from the bowl.

"Is it supposed to do that?"

John grinned. "It is if you want your sample to be gold."

Zeke grinned back. "I'd like to cash that in."

Markum frowned. "I'd like to help you out, son, but it's what they call a conflict of interest. You can take that sack to the bank. Albert Hennesy is the banker, he'll give you an honest price. Tell him I sent you." He handed Zeke the sack. "The money you get should last a while, if you're careful." He raised an eyebrow and glanced out the window toward the bars.

"I understand, Mr. Markum. I have plans, but they don't include buying drinks for the town." Zeke stood and shook hands, with the assayer, a little light-headed. It seemed too easy after all of the digging and shoring up and cold nights.

"That'll be twenty dollars. You know where to stay?"

"I usually stay at Mrs. Entrada's boarding house. It's clean and not expensive. She gives a dinner along with the room." Zeke pulled out the coins and handed them to Mr. Markum. "Appreciate the help. I take it this business between us is private?"

"Aye. I wouldn't be in business long if I told everything I know."

They shook hands again. "Thanks."

Zeke left the office and pulled Jenny along the street. He wanted a bath and a good dinner. He thought about all the things he could do with the gold. A nice house for his ma. Ranch hands for his pa. Yep, that was something to look forward to in his gold dream. But first, a stop at the bank.

* * *

Zeke walked to Mrs. Entrada's house after talking with Mr. Hennesy. The weight of the coins in his pocket was reassuring. Before he'd died, Mr. Entrada was a rancher. Mrs. Entrada had sold the ranch and all of the stock and had a three-story Victorian house built on five acres of land here at the edge of town. Zeke would board Jenny there, out of mischief's way. Mrs. Entrada's man, Cesar, was a fine hand with the donkey. Zeke tied the donkey to the hitching post in front of the house and went to the front door, twisting the bell in the center. He could hear its ring echo through the house.

Cesar's wife, Pia, answered the door. A huge grin lit up her face when she saw him. "Oh, Mr. Zeke!" She waved him inside. "So good to see you. Mrs. Entrada will be so pleased."

Zeke pulled his hat off and instantly regretted the cloud of dust that flew from the hat onto the polished wooden floors. He blushed. "I'm so sorry, Pia."

"Hush." She flapped a hand at him. "Easy to clean. Are you here for the night?"

"For a few nights, if Mrs. Entrada has the room."

"Good." She looked out of the side panes of glass. The door window was stained glass and difficult to see through. "You take Jenny to Cesar. He'll take care of her. I'll get you a bath. The same room as always."

"You are most kind, Pia, as always."

"I'll tell Missus that you are here." She opened the door. "Go on, take care of Jenny. Then come in through the kitchen."

He nodded. "Thank you."

Pia took the door and shut it behind him. He liked staying at Mrs. Entrada's but it made him a little uncomfortable it was so fancy. Zeke untied the donkey and walked her around to the barn in the back of the house. "Cesar!" The ranch hand came out of the barn door, pitchfork in hand.

"Mr. Zeke! Welcome back!"

"Good to see you, Cesar." The two men shook hands. "I'll be here a couple of days. Where do you want Jenny?"

"Last stall on the left, Mr. Zeke. Same as always."

Zeke liked that stall. It had a door to the corral and Jenny could go in or come out as she pleased. He led her in and unloaded the gear and the pack saddle. It would be safe here in the barn. Cesar brought feed and hay while Zeke filled the water bucket. They led the donkey out to the yard and tied her to a post. Cesar began to curry the donkey. She stood, back left foot slack, ears relaxed as the man loosened her sweat-matted coat and rid her of the dust.

"You have a gentle hand, Cesar."

"Thank you, Mr. Zeke. Jenny's a good girl." He scratched behind her ears. The donkey opened one eye, then closed it again.

"Appreciate the help, Cesar." Zeke dug into his coat pocket and pulled out two dollar coins. "This is for you. I wasn't able to offer you anything last time."

Cesar waved off the money. "Is not necessary, Mr. Zeke. Missus pays good."

"Just the same. I feel bad. Please take it." He held the coins out.

Cesar sighed. "Very well. But just because you feel bad. There is no need."

Zeke felt better. His last trip into town for supplies was hard. He hadn't panned all that much gold and still hadn't found the mother lode. Money was needed for beans and salt port, dynamite and some grain for Jenny. "You let me know if you need something, Cesar."

"I will do that, Mr. Zeke. Now you'd better go and get cleaned up. Missus won't like you coming to dinner all dusty."

Zeke grinned. "That is the truth, Cesar."

Outside the back porch, Zeke beat as much dust off of his hat and clothing as he could before knocking on the screen door. "Pia?"

She opened the door. "Come in, Mr. Zeke. You know the room. Go on up. I'm filling the tub for you. Just put your boots and clothes outside the door. I'll get them clean for you."

"You have a bucket ready, Pia? I'll carry it up."

The middle-aged woman grinned. "You are such a gentleman, Mr. Zeke." She pointed to a bucket beside the woodstove. "It's full. I'll bring another in a minute."

In his second-floor room, Zeke poured the hot water into the copper tub and put the bucket outside his door. He pulled a clean set of clothes—his town clothes, he called them, as they were moderately better than his everyday set—out of his saddle bags and laid them out on the quilt-covered bed.

He looked out the window. It was a good spot. The creek flowed through the property, and a line of cottonwoods marked its path. Five acres was too small for a ranch but Mrs. Entrada had a couple of milk cows, chickens, and out behind the barn, which he couldn't see from here, he knew there was a pig pen with four fine sows. Mrs. Entrada sold eggs and milk to the general store and a pig or two as well, in the winter. She had a big garden, watered with irrigation from the creek. He hadn't heard of irrigation before. She had walked him around the grounds and showed him how it was done on his first visit. Even more amazing was her turkey run. The birds were a welcome addition to the menu over the winter and the birds, still more wild than not, were a thing of beauty. This was what he was working for. This was the kind of place he wanted. A knock on the door broke into his reverie.

"More water, Mr. Zeke."

"Thank you, Pia." He dipped the dressing table pitcher into the bucket, filling it halfway. "I'll save some for shaving."

"Take your time, Mr. Zeke. Dinner is at six."

"Chicken and biscuits?" He wagged his eyebrows at her.

She laughed. "Only for you, Mr. Zeke." She left the room, closing the door behind her.

At dinner, Zeke held the chair for Mrs. Entrada. "Nice to see you again."

"Nice to see you, too, Zeke." She pointed out the others at the table. "This is Mr. and Mrs. Pike. They're on their way to Flagstaff. This is Mr. Porter, a salesman for the Gold Bond insurance company."

Zeke took his seat. "Nice to meet you."

"Zeke is a miner," she told the group at the table.

"How interesting," Mr. Porter leered. "Successful?"

"Not so much." The hair on Zeke's neck stood up.

"Oh, that's too bad," Mrs. Pike said.

The questions were broken when Mrs. Entrada said grace. Dinner was delicious and Mrs. Pike and Mrs. Entrada did their best to keep the conversation light. Sometime after dinner, Zeke was surprised to find Mrs. Entrada knocking at his door.

"Mrs. Entrada? Everything all right?"

"Certainly, Zeke. I just wanted to deliver your mail."

Zeke's heart began to beat faster as he took the two envelopes. "Thank you. I hope it's not an inconvenience for you to hold my mail for me."

"Not at all, Zeke. I'd hope that if I had a son, some kind soul would help him."

"I appreciate it. I know my ma and pa do, too."

"They wrote me a letter saying that very thing. They speak highly of you, Zeke, and expressed their gratitude for my helping you."

Zeke's heart swelled. He had hated leaving his parents but that ranch just wasn't going to be successful. He needed to do something else. "I appreciate it, Mrs. Entrada."

"I'll let you get to your letters, son. Sleep well."

"Thank you, Mrs. Entrada." Zeke closed the door and hurried over to the bed and turned up the oil lamp. He tore open the letter from his parents first.


It's a dry summer here but we're keepin' the horses watered and fed. There's more people moving into Santa Rosa but the Mescalero Apache are kickin' up a fuss. Mostly cattle rustling and ranch burning. The cavalry are keeping them in check but nerves are frayed. I made a sale to the fort, twenty horses. That'll keep us in good style for the next few months. Me and your ma worry about you and hope you're stayin' well. Your Mrs. Entrada is a fine woman and we're happy you've found a place to go when you come into town. We pray for you daily.


Zeke read the letter through twice more trying to milk all of the meaning from it. Pa wasn't one to complain and he'd said they'd made some money. Even so, Zeke worried. The news about the Apache was worrisome. He put the letter back in its envelope and picked up the second one.

The return address was from Mary Younger. He stroked the envelope, smoothing the wrinkles from its hard journey. He finally cut the top of the envelope with his knife and eased the single sheet of paper out of the wrapping.

Dearest Zeke.

He paused and read and reread the salutation. Dearest Zeke. That had to be good, right? He continued.

I hope this missive finds you well. I had a summer cold a couple of weeks ago but have recovered and am doing fine. I see your ma and pa in church on Sundays and always stop to say hello and ask about your welfare. Mother and Father are also well and have been inviting Thomas Drew to dinner every other week. I believe they are trying to make a match for me.

Thomas is a fine young man and they appreciate that as a lawyer, he'd be a wonderful provider. Zeke, you've been gone over a year. They always speak highly of your parents but they'd prefer I marry an educated, professional man. I miss you, Zeke. I'm holding off my parents but I don't know how long I can delay. If we are to marry, you must come back soon.

Dearest regards,


Zeke's heart constricted in his chest. Thomas Drew? The man was a dandy from back east! What did he know about living in the wild west? Zeke re-read the letter, worried about Mary's cold, grateful that she was polite to his parents. Angry with her parents. He'd always known they didn't approve of him. He could feel it. Zeke carefully refolded the letter along its lines and put it back in its envelope. What was he going to do? How long could Mary hold out against her parents and that . . . that dude!

He stripped down to his long johns and crawled into bed, blowing out the lamp. Visions of Mary and Thomas in the Younger family parlor filled his head. Zeke wondered how long it would take the assayer to get him an estimate on the value of his mine. Would it be in time?

End Part 1

Connie Cockrell grew up in upstate NY, just outside of Gloversville, NY. She now lives in Payson, AZ with her husband: hiking, gardening, and playing bunko. Connie Cockrell began writing in response to a challenge from her daughter in October 2011 and has been hooked ever since. She writes about whatever comes into her head so her books could be in any genre. She's published fourteen books so far, has been included in five different anthologies and been published on Connie's always on the lookout for a good story idea. Beware, you may be the next one.

She can be found at or on Facebook at: or on Twitter at: @ConnieCockrell

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The Deathwish Kid
by Walker McTimberwolf

The Deathwish Kid rose shortly after dawn.

His mouth was parched.

When he coughed to expel the phlegm collected in his lungs, his bloody lips cracked painfully apart.

He sat up. The fire was cold, damn near out.

He stirred the coals with his boot, caught a passing tumbleweed, and tossed it on to kindle the flame.

The rest of yesterday's coffee in the pot, the long brew he called it. He nestled the pot near the fire to warm up while he rolled himself a cigarette.

He coughed again and hawked up another wad of green snot, this time flecked with bits of red. No telling what caused blood in his spittle, but it wasn't good, he knew that for sure.

He stirred a little and gave a groan. He scratched his beard and farted. He closed his eyes and scratched at his balls a while.

He scratched his head and thought about how he'd let it get too long and the lice were back. It was time for a shave.

The coffee was steaming now and he poured off a cup. He lit the loose cigarette and took a drag, followed by a deep gulp of coffee. Damn good cup of coffee, he thought, as his hands rested on his crotch again.

Today was going to be a good day, he thought. It's not everyday a person like himself gets to meet a prince.

Breakfast was a stale biscuit, only edible when soaked in coffee, and tough piece of cured meat, also bathed in coffee.

After he ate he loaded his things into his bedroll and gave sharp whistle. "C'mon Iron," he said.

Iron came trotting from the chaparral, like he always did when called.

Iron, he thought, that's a good horse, a horse named Iron.

He gave the gelding a handful of oats, tied his pack down, and they walked together to the river.

He filled the canteens while Iron slurped up the cool mountain stream.

He replaced the canteens and dug out from his pack, the strop and the straight razor. He honed the blade carefully and set the strop aside.

He shaved his head clean and kept shaving until he could no long feel any stubble. He checked his reflection in the water, then started in on his beard.

"Yes," he said, "Gotta look our best if we're to meet a prince. Hell, maybe we aughtta give you a shave," he chuckled, stopping to turn and look at the horse.

Iron swatted a fly off his ass with his tail, feigning amusement. That got the kid laughing but good, till he was coughing again.

"Aw, I'm only kidding, you look just fine. Look good, like a horse should."

He finished shaving and looked himself over in the reflection again.

"Looking good," he said, and he was right.

For someone who had been living on his own since he was eleven years old, being twenty-two now, he didn't look a day over thirty-five.

He cleaned up, rolled himself a fat cigarette, and climbed up in the stirrups.

"Eight miles to Ryewater, old boy. Let's giddyup."

Iron had a healthy stride and they took their time. The prince wasn't due to show until midday.

About halfway, he called a halt. Iron got water and another handful of oats. The kid double-checked the barrel on his pistols and felt the straight razor in the breast of his overalls.

They rode into town around noon. Ryewater was a small town and it was damn quiet today.

The Lonesome Loser Saloon was open, so the kid lashed Iron to post out front and stepped inside. It had been a stretch since he'd had a drop of liquor. He fished in his coin purse and wasn't sure he had enough for a drink.

He bellied up to the bar and held out the coins to the barkeep.

"This enough for a drink, Mister?"

The barman eyed the money, then eyed him.

"It'll do, don't suppose there's much trouble you could make with one drink." He poured him three fingers of whiskey in a tumbler and collected the coins. "What's your name stranger?"

"D.W. What's your's?"

"Me? Well, I'm luckiest lonesome loser you're likely to meet friend. Lou's the name."

"Thanks for the drink, Lou."

"You'd better savor it, I don't run no charity."

"Cheers," said the kid. He sipped the whiskey and rolled himself a cigarette.

"Cheers," Lou repeated. "You hanging around a while or moseying on?"

"Well, since you ask, I heard tell there was bonafide prince passing through your little town today."

"Say again?"

The kid chuckled. "Over in Casketon, a fella was spoutin' off about how y'all were expecting a visit from a prince, you know, royalty."

Lou wiped the bar. "I do believe he was pullin' your leg, friend."

"Yeah, I kinda figured. Well, in that case, anything worth stopping for?"

"Not much. Injun boy gettin' strung up for rustin' cattle."

"Well, no offense, but that ain't something I'd care to see. Nasty business if you ask me."

"Can't say as I agree. A man does wrong, a man gets what's comin' to him."

"I guess i'll be movin' along then." The kid leaned to his side and let out a fart.

The barmans mustache bristled with indifference.

Kid finished his drink, overturned his glass, tipped his hat, and walked away.

Outside, he could see the gallows erected outside the jailhouse.

He unhitched Iron and they walked down to get a closer look.

Ryewater was a damn small town. No one was gathered to watch the indian fella hang. Almost sad, nobody willing to spare the time for the last breath of a man they'd condemned to die.

He lit his cigarette and stepped into the jailhouse, leaving Iron by the water trough out front.

The sherriff hardly looked up. "Cain't smoke in here," he said and angled his attention back on his paperwork.

The kid tossed his butt on the ground a stubbed it out with the sole of his boot. He coughed up a slimy glob of snot and spat it on the wood plank floor with disregard.

The sheriff looked up again. "What the hell can I do for you?"

Kid looked at the indian and back at the sherrif.

"Now, you're gonna laugh, but, I heard tell, that there was an honest-to-god, royal prince supposed to be visiting your city this fine day."

"What's that? A prince?" he repeated, as though he'd never heard the word before.

"Yup, that's right. You know anything about that, or is it hogwash?"

The sheriff chuckled. "No son, I think you misheard."

"You sure that's not him," Kid said, pointing to the man in the cell.

"Oh, I'm sure," the sheriff replied, a bit annoyed. "I'm sure that's a cow rustlin' dirt worshipper that I'm late for hangin' on account of I'm sitting here talkin' nonsense with you."

Kid glanced at the indan boy and back to the sheriff, doing a double-take. "You're absolutely positive? If you catch him in the right light, don't he look almost noble?"

The sheriff was visibly perturbed now. "Listen, unless you want to hang around and watch me end this no good hatchet packer, I suggest you tuck dick and kick rocks."

Kid held up his hand. "I meant no offense. I can see you're a busy man. Real busy fella." He paused, lowering his hands to his holster. "You know, dead men, ain't busy men."

"Boy, you got a deathwish? Who the hell do you think you are?"

"Just a busy man, like yourself. It's funny, I been busy my whole life and I'm tired. I've been thinking it might be good to not be busy, so you see, I do have a bit a deathwish."

"You're gonna want to take that hand away from . . . " the sheriff started.

"I was busy in Omaha for a while. I stayed real busy all through Wyoming. Most recently I was busy in Prophetstown. Does that ring a bell?"

A look of realization washed the hardman act off the sheriffs face.

"Oh shit."

"Oh shit is right."

"Shit. Fuck. What . . . what do you want," he stammered.

"First, toss that gun over here."

The sheriff did as he was told.

"Now, see that boy in that cell, the one you been mistreatin', the one you was aimin' to hang?"

The sheriff shook his head up and down.

"Well, he's a royal prince and I'm here to fetch him back to his family."

"But . . . but, what do you mean? Injuns ain't got kings and queens. They ain't civilized."

"I beg to differ. As the original stewards of this land, every Iriquois or Blackfoot boy is a born king and every woman a queen, am I right?"

"I . . . I suppose so."

"You don't suppose shit. You say, 'yessir' or 'nosir' when you answer me. This ain't no time for indecision, now which is it?"

"Yessir, yessir. I believe you're right."

"Good. Now, are you going to unlock that cell and take those cuffs off my man or am I going to have to shoot you in your dumb fucking face."

"Yessir, the first option sir."

"Alright, well get to it."

The sheriff did as he was told and the bewildered Indian fella came and stood next to the kid.

The sheriff put his hands up without being told. "There you are, no harm done."

"All the same Sheriff, I'm gonna need you to step into that cell and lock yourself in. Then kick your keys and those shackles over my way."

Without hesitation, the sheriff followed the order.

"Now, put your arms through the bars so my friend here can get those cuffs settled nice and tight."

Kid motioned for the indian to grab the handcuffs.

"There we are. Tight enough sheriff?"


"Okay, you've been plenty helpful and I appreciate that. Now, before we go, there's just one more thing I'd like to say."

"Yessir, I'm listening."

"Show me you're listening."

The sheriff turned his head and strained to thrust his ear through the bars. "See, I'm listening."

The kid leaned in close and yelled, "fuck the law," and shot the man flat in his ear.

He wiped his pistol and turned back to his new accomplice. "We'd better scoot."

They ran outside. Kid jumped in the saddle and hoisted his companion behind him.

"Now, I don't know where you live, so when we get out of town, your're going to have to point me in the right direction."

Even with the load of two men, Iron was damn fast horse.

They got to the outskirts of Ryewater and the indian boy pointed toward Snake Valley.

He leaned into the kid and said, "I'm no prince."

"Ha!" Kid laughed. "Could have fooled me," he yelled. "Say, what's your name?"

"You don't have the tongue to say it, just call me Al. What do they call you?"

"They call me lots of things. Why don't you just call me Eddie."

They didn't speak again until they reached tribal ground.

Al hopped down and a young lady immediately ran over to embrace him.

They spoke in their tongue and the kid pretended to listen, though he couldn't understand a lick.

"Eddie, please, let me introduce you to my sister."

"Howdy-doo miss." He tipped his hat.

"Eddie, as thanks for your help . . . " but the kid cut him off.

"No, no, no. Don't get no ideas about marrying me off to your sister, it just wouldn't do. You're just getting home only to turn around and break her heart again."

"But . . . "

"No, a pretty young lady don't deserve to get stuck with an ugly sack of flapjacks like me."

"If you'd only listen . . . "

"Besides, it wouldn't do no damn good. You know what me and ole Iron here got in common? I'll give you a hint, it ain't massive cocks. Naw, see, he's a gelding. He ain't got no nuts, see? And neither do I."

Al and his sister just stared dumbfounded at the stranger.

"But that's long story and I'm starvin'," he said, swinging down from the saddle. Let's have some supper first and maybe some of that strong tobacco y'all roll, then I might tell you one of my stories."

The End

Walker McTimberwolf is a Florida Native. His hobbies include woodworking, riding/repairing vintage motorcycles, and raising meat rabbits.

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Tall Spirits
by Kevin McGowan

The blizzard raged across the mesa, and down into the valley. Brittle bushes and mesquite frosted over. Ice spread on the carcass of a young prairie dog. The cold had frozen the present and, in the dead stillness, yesterday's specters moved in the snow. The painted faces of great chieftains, like ancient trees felled; children and womenfolk, spared no kinder fate.

Hanska raised a hand to greet them, but they had vanished, all of them.

Snow settled on his buffalo headdress and robes. Fierce though the storm was, he did not fear it; the land was angry, but this anger would pass. He rode not, but walked alongside Wana; he would not burden her in such conditions. Winter clung to every crevice of his face, yet he felt no chill, his skin tougher than elk hide. Some flesh withered with age; some hardened. The weather could not defeat him.

Yards ahead, a horse lay dead in a small drift. Its rider sat nearby, embracing himself. When he saw Hanska, he struggled to his feet and pointed a pistol at him."Damn nag gave up on me."

Hanska nodded, assessing the white man. "Yes. Too tired."

"Not tired, you dumb old Injun. Dead." He spat on the beast's corpse. "Couldn't cross a field without givin' up." The white man leered at him, yellow teeth between thin, blue lips. "You look mad as a hornet. What is it?"

"Horses are wakan," said Hanska.

"I don't speak red nigger tongue, but on account of y'all bein' horse fuckers, I reckon that you love horses. That right?" He waggled his pistol at him. "Well, don't you worry—I love horses, too. Matter of fact, I love your horse. Hand over those reins. Now."

The pistol shook in his frostbitten fingers. Poor aim. But Hanska always hit true. A gunshot cracked the air, its bullet wasted. The white man fell down, his brain rushing out to meet the snow; Hanska pulled the feathered tomahawk from his skull, and cleaned it.

Desperation and hatred, as they must, had led the white man to a sad fate. Sad, yes, but not without purpose. The carrion would feed, and know another day. Life and death, a circle. Hanska looked to the skies. Dark, clogged, no sun. He guided Wana onward.

On the sixth day, the blizzard thinned, and the reddened siltstone of the valley floor resurfaced. Shrubbery breathed again, birds took flight. Kestrels, an eagle, even a skein of Canada geese. A thin bobcat shepherded three cubs northward to learn the way of the hunt.

Hanska smiled. The land was a woman: it could warm the heart as well as it could throw storms. Better than to be a man, he mused, or an end would never be seen to storms. Soon, he would reach the Great River, which he then must cross. It was time to do so.

He continued on, each dusted footprint an important step in a long, long journey. His faded deerskin moccasins stuck like lichen to the weathered rocks that were his feet.

After two leagues, strange structures appeared on either side of him. Big towers that seemed to drink from the earth. Wana in tow, he passed under their lasting shadows, disturbed by their din. Ahead sat a town, in between two vast buttes. Crimson Hooves beneath the Clouds. He remembered them, yes, but not the town. The only way was through this new settlement. Wana pawed the ground, raking up dust and stones. One hand on her flank, the other brushing the tangled hairs of her mane, Hanska whispered in her ear. A horse's mind needed soothing, and often, for they saw much, and knew more. The last of the snow swirled around them while she listened to his voice, her wide eyes filling with calm.

Hanska did not like towns. When a man entered a town, and stayed too long, it became his world. Townsmen forgot about the land. Forgot about honor. Forgot about their own souls. Too busy picking at each other like starving coyotes. No, he did not like towns. Most finished in flames. He walked along the street, careful not to look at people, but still seeing everything. One's eyes must strike like lightning, was his wisdom. Only dead men stare. In the mouth of a large barn, a Mexican man polished what looked like a metal wagon. He offered Hanska a slight nod, but said nothing. Further on, two white womenfolk sat on a porch, bug-eyed, nostrils flared, watching him pass, but they, too, said nothing. Hanska, no fool, did not hope for such silence to hold.

Four white men emerged from the livery and stood in front of him. Young, rough, unclean. Maybe ranch hands, maybe drifters. Hard faces. Faces that did not value silence.

The shortest of their number spoke first. A small leader for small men, thought Hanska. "Howdy."

Hanska nodded to him, his eyes at work. All four were armed, two guns to a man.

"I said, howdy."

"Maybe he don't take to that kind of salutation, Charlie," said the man on the far right.

"Or maybe," said the man called Charlie, "his horse kicked his brains out when he was lickin' its ass." He turned to Wana. "Howdy, horse—or good afternoon, if you do prefer." The men let out rabid howls.

"She says good afternoon," said Hanska. More howls.

Their leader grinned. "What you doin' here?"


"Careful, Injun," said another man.

"Why, now, Billy Boy, there ain't no cause to threaten the gentleman. Alright, so you're walkin'—but where you walkin' to?"


Small leader Charlie laughed. "You're a funny old redskin, and your horse is real polite. But . . . well, you did come on in here uninvited, and that was bad manners."

One man, no matter the man, Hanska could defeat. Four, no. The many always won.

"Could git you your head blown off, buffalo balls," a bald man told him.

"Business before bullets, Skinner," said Charlie, "bein' that we're the civilized ones here. We'll make you a deal. I sure liked how that horse of yours returned my salutation, so you give it here, and you can go . . . on."

Hanska shook his head.

"No? Your right of passage for a horse, and you're tellin' me no?"

"She is one of the first."

"First what?"

"I took her from the yellow men. We are bound."

"He talkin' about Spaniards, Charlie?"

"I do believe he is, Billy Boy. One of the first . . . " He ran a hand through his greased hair. "You're tellin' me that you and your goddamn mare are from 1600 or whatever the hell year those spiggoty sons of bitches came on over here with their horses—that right?"

"We are bound," Hanska repeated.

Charlie frowned. "See, I thought you were funny, Injun. Now, I just think you're plain crazy."

His hand dangled beside his holster. Children were called inside. People shut their doors and windows. "Last chance, chief."

Hanska sighed, and pressed his head against Wana's muzzle. He kissed her.

"That's right, chief, say bye. Let's see if she's as good at her farewells."

He turned around, stared at each man in turn, and said: "You have taken enough." The tomahawk flashed through the air, quicker than any gun. Wana's death was swift, painless.

Seconds too late, the white men's bullets punched red holes in him. Hanska fell to the ground, where he lay, and died. He did so without a sound.

He had valued silence.

* * *

The townsfolk buried the native and his horse in the same hole, near the cemetery. Some were of the opinion that the killing cast a poor reflection on the town—that these were modern times—but most considered it an unfortunate necessity. One woman said that you would shoot a stray wolf on the street, because you could not rightly fathom such a creature and its intentions. Same with an Injun, she reckoned. Charlie and his boys had just been guarding the hearth. The Justice of the Peace agreed, and acquitted the four of them.

Two weeks later, the blizzard returned. Temperatures plummeted past minus thirty-three Fahrenheit. Snow rose to men's thighs. Trade became irregular, and folks had to ration. Young and old succumbed to pneumonia. The wind tore the livery doors off their hinges and set the frantic horses bolting toward uncertain destinies. As winter persisted, families barricaded themselves in their homes and prayed for its end. The blizzard did go, but it took its time, and countless more perished.

Those who survived, and later sought a new settlement far from there, remembered that final night like no other. The snow fell faster and thicker than before. And it was then, the survivors claimed, that they appeared.

Dark haired children and women, men with painted faces, moving out there in the storm. Among them, clearer than the others, an old man in buffalo furs who walked alongside the most beautiful horse they had ever seen.

Come morning, the blizzard, and the figures, were gone.

The End

Kevin McGowan is an English Studies undergraduate in his final year at the University of Stirling. He has a penchant for old movies, especially westerns and noirs, and often wishes he had grown up in America, rather than Scotland. His favourite author is Cormac McCarthy.

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