May, 2017

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Issue #92

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


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

The Fire
by Robert Collins
The man rolled over so fast the boy almost fell into the fire. He was pointing a small revolver at the youngster's face and his eyes grew 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."

* * *

Dr. Death, Part 1 of 2
by James R. Sheehan
A murderer on the loose arouses the interest of two tough cowboys from Charlie Goodnight's JA Ranch. With the help of the Pueblo Indian tracker Pecos Pete, Saber and Jack go after the killer, dragging a Dodge City physician along for a rough life lesson.

* * *

The Ruthless Outlaw Cullen Baker
by John Young
A look back in time to one of the most dangerous men the West ever spawned.

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Gold Dream, Part 1 of 2
by Connie Cockrell
Tom Duffy's gang wants Zeke's gold claim and they aren't shy about it. Zeke's single shot Winchester is no match for the six-shooters Duffy's gang carries. Leaving the safety of the assay office to venture alone to the middle of the street, Zeke considers whether he'll live through the showdown.

* * *

The Deathwish Kid
by Walker McTimberwolf
Out on the prairie or up in the mountains, one thing is for sure: it's awful quiet and gets mighty lonesome. Some folk prefer it that way, men who weren't made to live within the confines society sets. Our man, in particular, has been living this way since he was eleven years old, but today there's someone he'd like to meet. A prince in fact. The Deathwish Kid.

* * *

Tall Spirits
by Kevin McGowan
A Sioux tribesman named Hanska must endure a harsh blizzard and an even harsher town on his pilgrimage to the Great River.

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

All the Tales

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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