April, 2024

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Issue #175

Welcome, Western Fans!

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!

Five Points of Light
by Scott MacLeod
An aging sheriff haunted by the death of his son tries to solve two problems at once when dealing with a another troubled boy.

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Start With a Horse
by Alexander J. Richardson
Gun hands Elliot and James are hired to track down a stolen horse. But their task takes a complicated turn when they come across the thief dead on the trail, and the steed in question missing.

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The Short Fuse
by J.B. Stevens
Chewie always figured robbing banks would end poorly, but he had no idea how explosive that ending could be. When a job goes wrong and the bullets start flying, Chewie ends up trapped. As he stares at a burning fuse and a pile of dynamite, Chewie must find a way out—and fast.

* * *

The Devil in Foreign Boots
by Myles Robb
Cornelius Cain and his cousin Sidney English set off from home and their families to hunt gold in California. On the way, the two become outlaws and terrorize communities. Until a group of strange and mystical men begin to follow the cousins—but why?.

* * *

Texas Town
by Tom Sheehan
Sheriff Tollivan watched over Texas Town. It wasn't the kind of place that needed a constant law presence every minute of the day, but it had its moments. Right now was one of those times, and Tollivan knew a rancher's wife was involved. But how deeply was the question.

* * *

A Cowboy's Elegy
by James Lee Proctor
Silas Cain is a man driven by a strong sense of tradition and duty, both to his fellow man and the country they occupy. When his neighbor lets a horse thief go because the money doesn't add up, it's a calculation our hero just can't make.

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

All the Tales

Five Points of Light
by Scott MacLeod

Philo was fixin' to rob the 3:45 stage. Now it did not take any great feat of police work to suss this out. He had been telling just about anyone who would listen. Slurring it over his cups at The Gardenia saloon. Boasting about his future windfall as surety for his losses at Beulah's pool hall. Whispering it into supine ears to bolster his courage at her house of ill fame. Some of this was clearly the young man trying to talk himself into the deed; he had never done anything remotely close to such a job.

Naturally word of the heist had filtered to Gandy as did all matters impacting the town.

Gandy had just finished sitting through another silent breakfast.

"Guess I'll head out now," he said to his wife.

"Fair enough," she said.

"Have you seen that Philo boy downtown on your marketing days," he tried, looking to start any small spark conversation.

"Not much need for provisions with just the two of us," she answered, flatly but without reproach. She appeared drawn and worn by something beyond a hard life of ceaseless farm chores in the baking sun.

"OK then," he said giving her a long hug before heading for the door.

Before leaving for his office, he limped out to the barn as he did every morning. He still carried fragments of a bullet shot through his boot at Shiloh and the foot tugged at him well before the onset of cold weather and its accompanying aches and pains. To compound his troubles, yesterday he had discovered one of his young cows acting disinterested at feed time. He scanned the pen and convinced himself that the baby was no more hollowed out looking than the day before. He had lost two calves to scours already and feared contagion. Satisfied for now he walked out back to the small neatly trimmed plot of sod 100 yards behind the barn and gazed at the small wooden cross. It had only been up for a year, but he noted it already needed a new coat of whitewash. His boy would have turned 19 next Christmas. Just about Philo's age.

Gandy had been sheriff long enough, heck, had been on this planet long enough, to know the difference between a bad man and one caught up in the cosmic shuffle. He had really learned that in the war.

He tried to keep thoughts of Antietam from his mind but thinking about Philo and his dead son had put Gandy in a recollecting mood. Today his thoughts drifted to a farm boy in his regiment. The kid had no more sense than the horseflesh he mooned over. He was constantly trying to sneak a snack from his own meager provisions to the officers' mounts. He had never been away from home even on a hunt and Gandy could hear him crying quietly some nights after lights out. The kid put him in mind of Philo. He never really had a chance either.

When the Rebel fire started, Gandy saw the fear in the kid's eyes. The boy momentarily ran back into the woods, but then reversed course and quickly resumed his place on the line. But it was too late. The desertion, even if momentary, had been seen by officers beyond Gandy. Gandy had no choice but to line him up in front of a skinny pine and have him shot.

Gandy snapped back to the present. For now, it was enough that with the Philo affair he had a new headache for the day besides his perennially sore heel and a sickly calf. He was tempted to think he was too old for this grind, but he knew he had no such luxury. Now Old Curley, his faithful deputy, really was too long in the tooth. He used to snort to attention from his napping rocker when Gandy swung open the office doors but now, he just peacefully snored through the boss's arrival.

A few minutes after Gandy had settled at his desk, Curley ambled in for the daily report.

"What do you know about young Philo?" the sheriff asked the old timer.

"Nothing bad," said Curley. "Want me to round him up?"

"No, but head over to his place and tell him I want to see him."

"Will do, boss," said his deputy.

A few minutes after Curley departed, Gandy strolled to the front door of the sheriff's office and craned his neck to watch his assistant branch off the path in the opposite direction of the way to Philo's shack, heading towards the saloon instead, Gandy guessed.

The town was no Tombstone but did present a steady stream of workaday demands on a peace officer. And while you were more likely to fall victim to typhus, like Gandy's son, than to a bullet, there was the occasional unexpected flash of blinding violence typical of the day and place.

Curley was clearly no longer a solution. Yes, Gandy could add an impending staffing problem to his list of daily grievances. And he would not exactly be fishing from a deep pool in looking for any replacement.

The plan had been for Gandy's boy to take over as deputy. He could ride better than his father and shoot the eye out of a rattlesnake from 100 yards. He was tough enough to outwrestle any of the boys in town but also, thanks to his mother, he could read and write and drink lemonade out of a glass in a way that comforted the more civilized townfolk. In other words, he was tailor made for the job of a modern lawman. Until the hacking dry cough and backache. Gandy figured that was just the grippe and would pass in time. But then he noticed the dull red rash spreading from the middle of the body. Gandy knew what that meant from his time in field hospitals: all of their plans were ended.

Gandy thus understood from personal experience that nobody had it very easy in this part of the world. But poor Philo seemed particularly far back in the line, excepting the poor Natives of course. All dads drank in these parts, if you had a dad at all, but Philo's was a particularly mean drunk. After his mother passed, Philo was set loose on the dusty streets to find his way. He took to wearing a tattered overcoat year-round to hide the jutting bones resulting from lack of food. And the bruises. And while the occasional missing chicken was something Gandy could look past, a stickup of the Wells Fargo was quite a different matter.

Gandy stopped by the station after breakfast and greeted Floyd who was polishing his watch behind the ticket window.

"Floyd, I need you to wire the home office that the 3:45 is not to make its scheduled stop today."

He also instructed the wizened stationmaster to post a notice downtown alerting the townfolk to the change in schedule and advised him to take advantage of that lull to distance himself from the station and kill an idle hour or so in the mainway himself.

"Mrs. Catterwall will surely gripe about missing her expected delivery of crinolines," remarked the wizened stationmaster, "but I suppose law enforcement must demand some sacrifices in a civilized society."

"I'm obliged for your and the widow's understanding," said Gandy.

At quarter 'til four Philo sat on a bench at the empty coach station nervously fidgeting with his rusty sidearm. He had never used it in anger, beyond with rabbits of course, but was prepared to do what he needed to do. He was having second thoughts about his plan but had broadcast it so widely he now feared the repercussions of an embarrassing retreat more than he did the legal and other possible dangerous consequences of an attempt. He looked back and forth between the clock and the horizon, waiting for the arrival of the prairie wagon that would change his life. Finally, he saw the coach approach the station. He felt a huge force weighing him down and struggled to find the strength to get to his feet and seize his moment. He never even had the chance to leave his seat, though, as the stage hurtled through at full speed quickly leaving the lad behind in a cloud of puzzlement and dust.

"I guess you haven't been to town this morning to check the new timetable," said Gandy ambling around the corner from the indoor waiting room. "No afternoon stage today."

Philo blinked up at the sheriff with a combination of surprise and relief.

"I should have done this a long time ago," Gandy continued, reaching past his holster into his back pocket as he approached the boy on the bench.

Philo extended his wrists for the handcuffs and looked away as a single doleful tear slalomed across his downy cheek.

But the cuffs did not come.

Gandy gently pulled open the young man's tattered elk skin vest and carefully pinned the tarnished Deputy star just over Philo's hammering heart.

"Don't make me regret this, boy," the lawman said.

The End

Scott MacLeod is a father of two who writes in Central Florida. His work has appeared in Gumshoe Review, Short-Story.me and The Yard: Crime Blog. He can be found at www.facebook.com/scott.macleod.334.

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