November, 2017

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Issue #98

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!

The Barefoot Odyssey
by James Burke
Kit Carson, the famous mountain man, answers the call to arms as the Mexican-American War breaks out on the frontier. But after a bloody battle leaves a hundred American soldiers surrounded, Carson must trek across an unforgiving wilderness alone, unarmed, and barefoot to find them help.

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The Estep Incident
by Michael Bellman
Ezra knew gold when he saw it, and so did Jim and Ben. He worked years to accumulate his fortune while the brothers schemed how to get it. Perhaps there could be an unfortunate accident on the Estep Trail this year . . .

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Sourdough's Cabin
by A. Elizabeth Herting
Conditions on Santa Fe peaks can turn on a dime, making every step an epic battle for survival. Two kindred souls are brought together by extraordinary circumstances, joined in their love for the mountain and their fight against the elements. Who will win this age old battle—man or mountain?

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What's Grey and What's Gold
by Ian Thompsett
Follow a young man struggling with what is good as he leaves home with a bounty hunter, hoping to make money that will allow him to care for his aging mother.

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The Tunnel of Blood
by Dave Barr
Engine No. 66 was trapped inside a mountain tunnel by an avalanche. Mike Murdock, the engineer, thought the passengers and crew would be safe until the railroad could dig them out. But an ancient evil bumming a ride got hungry . . .

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Last Words of Barney Wiggins
by Lawrence E. Cox
One thing you could say about old Marshal Maher–he gets things done. One thing you could say about young Barney Wiggins–if he can't find trouble, trouble will find him. On this day trouble was about to meet with an old hand at getting things done.

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All the Tales

What's Grey and What's Gold
by Ian Thompsett

I was tired and waiting for Dill to bring the good news. I sat atop Mush, my horse, until I realized that we would soon leave for a long ride so I swung my leg heavily over the side of him and stepped off to the ground. Dill had advised me against naming Mush but it just didn't seem fit to spend such a long amount of time with another being without a name to call it by. That's just how my Momma raised me. I glanced down the road and spotted a woman with golden hair placing something in a bag on the ground. Once she noticed I was looking she threw the bag over her shoulder and disappeared between two buildings. I wasn't offended by it though. It's not uncommon for men who look like me to do unspeakable things to pretty women like her. If I'm being honest I would like to do those things to her, I just would want her to want me to do them. I hope that doesn't make me sound like a bad man. I'm not. I wouldn't be very good any of that though, at least I don't imagine I would be. I've never really had the chance.

My Momma used to tell me that I would grow into being handsome. She always said I had a man's features, which is why the girls in town didn't like me. She'd say that once those girls realized that they wanted a man, instead of a boy, they would come running. They never really did. I'm not sure if she was lying to me or if I was just too different but I guess it doesn't really matter. I once had a date planned with a girl named Penny, but when I was supposed to meet her I got the idea in my head that the whole thing was just a mean joke being played on me so I never showed up. Momma is a kind woman. I hope that at the end of this journey I will have enough money to set her up real good. I'll head back home to her and take over her farm so she can rest in her old age. She is part way through sixty but still works every day. It was tough to leave her but she swore she would be fine. Momma is a strong woman. Dill is an old friend of hers who needed a partner to ride with him as he traveled to California and back to check in on some family. He told me that I would make some good money along the way and at the end of it all I could keep the horse so I agreed to join him.

It was late in the evening but the streets were much quieter than I had imagined they would be. The sun was low and cast a soft and warm glow over the buildings. The town was called Cripple Creek which is a bit strange but at the time I didn't think much of it. Dill and I had been riding together only a few weeks then, mostly working bounties. It's not the most enjoyable work I'd ever done, but it pays well and Dill does the hardest part of the jobs. The killing. He's got great stories from the war. Dill fought in the big battle over at Palmito Ranch about seven years ago, but he told me not to tell everybody about it because he said that even though the war is over, people still have their sides. I had never seen a man die before Dill and I completed our first bounty, and I have still never killed a man. I don't look forward to it but I have a gun and I understand that this is dangerous work. I still struggle with visions of the first time I saw a man die.

After Dill shot him in the stomach, he fell to the ground and heaved out all the food he had along with a fair amount of blood. Dill could have shot him in the head and killed him much more quickly, the man was unarmed and we were only a few feet away, which always bothered me but I never brought it up. The man lay there, crying and coughing, spitting out blood and bits of food for a few minutes before he eventually collapsed to the ground. His face landing squarely in the pile of wretch on the ground. The hole in his abdomen continued to leak a stream of thick dark blood like. I turned away from the body and then I threw up as well. I had guessed Dill would be cruel to me about this but he was not. He placed his hand on my shoulder and handed me my canteen. He told me that the first man he saw die was the first man that he killed in the war. Dill was in training when he misfired a weapon and blew a hole through another confederates face. The bullet hit him in the back left side of his jaw and blew his teeth out of his mouth. Dill said that he fainted when he saw what he did, and when he woke up they had taken the body away but the teeth were still there. Dill tied the bounty to the back of his horse and drug him the few miles from where we found him to town. I asked Dill if I could ride in front of him but he said I had to stay behind and watch the body, make sure it didn't come unhitched from the horse before we turned it into the sheriff. A lot of the images I see are from that ride to town. How the body looked as it quickly became covered in dust.

Dill came out of the building and motioned for me to approach him. He said that there was a bounty here but we would stay in town for the night and head out with the sun. This sounded wonderful to me since we had been sleeping in the dirt for weeks. I also thought that perhaps the comfort of a real bed would make it easier for me to block out the visions and get some real sleep. Luckily Dill had asked me to stay awake through most of the last night for fear of being robbed since we were so close to the next town so I was sure I could fall asleep quite easy now. I remounted Mush, and Dill and I rode a few buildings down the road to the inn. If Cripple Creek had one thing of note, it was the Inn. A large wooden sign, embellished with ivory and copper, hung over the front door: The Grey Mare. We dismounted our horses outside of the inn and I took a moment to hitch them to the post outside. The ropes we used for hitching were largely stained with blood because they were the same ropes we used for dragging the bounties in. Dill said that would keep people from trying to steal the horses. I had a short image of the unarmed man and his pile of retch and blood. The way he would bounce off rocks and holes on the ground as we drug his lifeless body into town, at some points almost looking to be alive and struggling. Inside of the Inn was just as impressive. A large chandelier hung from the roof and filled the room with a warm light, much like the light that filled the town just as the sun set. Behind the bar were a few large cabinets with paned glass to show the bottles of gin and whiskey that were held inside. The tables and chairs were made with a fine and dark red wood. The legs of each had intricate patterns carved in them, also accented with copper just as the sign that hung outside. Dill handed me a key with a small piece of wood hanging from the end. On the wood was a carved number four which was, of course, adorned with copper. I slung my bag over my shoulder and climbed the stairs to the rooms. I walked down the hall and stuck my key into the hole on the door of my room. I spun the key and pushed the door in and walked inside. There was a bag of clothes on the bed and some toiletries on the dresser. I turned to look back at the door and I noticed the number three on the door. Dill stood in the doorway glancing around the room as I rushed out and closed the door. I moved to the next door down and as I stepped inside Dill grabbed my shoulder and asked for the key. I handed it to him and moved into our quarters. The room was clean and looked unlike any inn I had ever seen. There were nice paintings on the walls and fine crystal ashtray next to the bed. As I dropped my bag to the ground I fell into the bed and went to sleep almost instantly. I was awoken some time later by gunshots.

I rose from my bed and rushed out the door and down the hall. A crowd of locals and other guests of the inn stood staring out the windows and out of the front door. The gunshots continued. More sounds came from the confrontation. The smashing of glass. Screams and cries and shouts of anger and pain. More gunshots. Dill rushed past me and down the stairs with his rifle in his hands and his bag on his shoulder. I reached down for my revolver and remembered that it was still in my bag in the room. I turned and ran back for my gun. Down the hall I entered the room and grabbed my bag, removing the pistol from the side pouch. I threw the bag over my shoulder and turned back and headed down the stairs. As all the locals stared out the window, I noticed Dill, crouched behind the bar passing bottles of booze from the cabinet to his bag. I know I have seen Dill kill an unarmed man but I still was surprised to see him take advantage of such a situation. When he noticed me heading for the door he pulled his bag back over his shoulder and stood up, moving out from behind the bar. Dill then pushed past the small crowd and moved outside. I followed and when we got to our horses Dill tossed his bag on his mare and told me to take the horses and head around the back side of the inn. I guessed that we must have been taking a different angle of attack. Perhaps Dill was sending me to flank. I wasn't quite ready for a fight anyway so I was fine taking the indirect route since it would allow me time to prepare for what I may have to do. I reminded myself that these innocent people were being taken advantage of by some outlaw scum. I would have no problem killing them. For an instant I even thought I may keep one alive and drag him behind my horse until he passes on, but then I knew that was too cruel.

I led the horses quietly around to the back side of the inn when I saw a small bag land on the ground. I glanced up at the second-floor window and I saw Dill peering down and pointing to the bag on the ground. I opened the bag and noticed a bit of clothes, some simple jewelry, two candlesticks and a crystal ashtray. It took me a few moments, but just as Dill opened the next window over I realized that he was stealing from the rooms while the occupants were distracted with the events happening across the road. I never agreed to steal from anyone. Up to this point, we had only hurt people who were wanted by the law, murderers and even some people just wanted for robbery. The same crime that he was committing at that moment. Dill tossed down another bag. This one made a much louder, more metallic sound. I stared into the window, waiting for Dill to appear so I could signal him to stop. Anger pulsed through my veins causing my hands to clench involuntarily. Dill opened the fourth window and I heard another gunshot, followed by a scream, this one from inside the inn. Then I heard a shot from Dill's rifle which smashed through the top pane of glass of the window. I recognized the scream. It was Dill. I ran quickly and hid against the wall so that if the shooter looked out the window they would not see me. There was more commotion up above, one guest shouted to the others that they were being robbed. I was unsure what to do for an instant before I realized something. I had both of our horses, both of our shares from all the jobs. I thought for a moment that I may leave Dills horse and bag behind as a sort of payment to the patrons who had almost been robbed by Dill. My next thought was of my mother. It didn't take long for me to climb onto Mush, grabbing the hitching rope that still hung Dill's horses neck to pull him along with me. I rode out of town as gunshots continued to ring.

The End

Ian Thompsett is a student at Cal State Northridge studying history, with a passion for writing. His love for both subjects combine and push him to write pieces in the many periods of history he loves, including the American Civil War and gold rush.

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