April, 2024

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Issue #175

Welcome, Western Fans!

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!

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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

All the Tales

The Short Fuse
by J.B. Stevens

Chewie didn't know how fast the smoking fuse would burn down. But—he did know that the dynamite was within spitting distance and things were about to get spicy.

The dead mare's corpse pinned Chewie's leg, holding him in place next to the explosives. The horse-crushed appendage ached, acid tickled his throat, and he smelled the animal's tinny blood.

Chewie sighed, leaned back, and pulled off the ten-gallon hat. He was blue about the mare. She didn't deserve this.

He listened to the bacon sizzle of the fuse and knew—he did deserve this—he had it coming.

The entire job had been a disaster, he'd behaved like a greenhorn, riding into the bank, purple bandana strapped around his face, stolen scattergun on his hip. A two-bit Jesse James. It was dumb and exciting and made life worth the pain.

Hell, at the end of the day, there were better ways to make a living, but robbing banks was just a damned fun time.

But this job was a bust. Things went sideways quicker than a circuit preacher in a distillery. The bank's clerk had pulled a six-shooter. Chewie's partner, Jeb, shot the clerk in the gut. As the clerk fell, he popped one off at Jeb—that one caught the mare in the head. She dropped and Chewie was pinned.

Jeb hopped over the mare, skipped over the clerk, got next to the vault, and set the dynamite. Then, he took the clerk's smoke wagon and tried to move the mare, but that was a non-starter.

After pushing on the dead animal long enough to clear his conscience, Jeb skedaddled.

Chewie was stuck, the fuse burned down, and the fat lady warmed up.

* * *

Chewie looked to the clerk, pulled his bandana off, and dropped the scattergun. "What's your name?"

The clerk's hands were over his gut. Blood flowed through his fingers. It darkened the man's purple silk vest and white shirt.

He raised his blue eyes. "Nephi."

"I'm Chewie." He dipped his chin. "Nice to meet you."

"I can't say the same."

"That's fair."

Nephi looked to the bank's entrance. "Why'd your partner leave you?"

The sparking snake of a fuse was a quarter of the way down. "Jeb cares more about getting in that vault than saving my backside."

"That's unfortunate."

"For us both." Chewie reached into the saddle bag on the side of the dead mare. He found his opium pipe, pulled it out, sparked a match on his stubbled chin, held the fire to the bowl, and sucked. After a spell, the pain in his leg retreated, and the world became a happy cloud.

He offered the pipe to Nephi. "This'll take care of that gunshot."

The clerk waved a red hand.

Chewie lowered the pipe. "Nephi's an odd appellation."

"I take it you aren't from Salt Lake."

"I claim Missouri."

The bleeding man looked to his gut and sighed. "Nephi's a common name in Utah. It's from the Book of Mormon."

"Never read it."

"I imagine you're not much of a reader."

Chewie sucked his pipe. "Why Nephi, I think you might be picking at me—just when we're becoming friends." The smoke took hold and his mind morphed into a blissful rainbow. "A few winters back, in Dodge City lockup—that's where I met Jeb—I read Eddie Poe's stuff."

"You like it?"

"Nope." He spit. "Too damned creepy."

Nephi looked to the damp spot, closed his eyes, and shook his head. "You're scared of ghost stories?"

"Not exactly scared. I just don't like all that negativity and violence."

"You're a bank robber."

"I'm not a bad man, I'm just forced to do bad things."

Nephi unbuttoned the vest, pulled up his shirt, and glanced down.

Chewie looked. The wound was an angry blossom of fresh. It made Chewie think of buzzing hornets. "Tell me about your Mormon book."

"You've read Poe, he's entertainment." Nephi closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "The Book of Mormon is truth. The answer to eternity's mysteries."

Chewie peeked at the fuse. Six more inches had burned off. "I'd like to know the answer to that one." He mouthed the pipe.

Nephi's head was still back. "Let me tell you about Joseph Smith . . . "

* * *

Five inches of fuse later, Nephi wrapped up. "And those Golden Tablets became the Book of Mormon."

Chewie grinned. "So, Joey got to marry all the young women and he took all the donations for his church. Then he told everyone only he could see these magic plates, and he was God's chosen man?"

Nephi coughed. Flecks of blood rose and fell. "That's not exactly what happened, but that's the gist."

Chewie slapped his non-horse-crushed thigh. "Ole' Joey is a better crook than me."


"That fella didn't just take your money, he also took your women, and all he traded you was your own soul. Smart."

Nephi wagged a red finger. "It isn't like that."

"Like what?"


Chewie smiled. "It always is. Joey sold snake oil and you bought it." He spread his arms wide. "This whole city bought it. Where's Joey now?"

Nephi wiped his bloody hands on his sleeves and put them back to his gut. "Joseph Smith has moved to his eternal reward."

"What about the next big man in charge? Who took over?"

"The current Prophet?"

"Yeah." Chewie sucked the pipe. "He have a big house on a hill and married a bunch of them pretty young ladies?"

"I don't see why that matters," Nephi said.

Chewie laughed. "Tell me you're a rube without telling me you're a rube."

"You think you're wiser than me."

"Think, no? I don't think it. I know it."

"I know I've had a happy life full of righteous purpose. Can you say the same?"

"I cannot. But I can say no minister took my woman and my donations and told me I got the better end of the deal. And now, you're bleeding on a dirty bank floor, next to a two-bit crook because you work for a living to hand over those donations."

"I'm here because your partner shot me." Nephi looked away.

"You're here 'cause you clerk at a bank. I bet The Prophet doesn't have to stand on his feet all day—dealing with customers from behind a counter."

Nephi closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "I suppose he doesn't."

* * *

Chewie sucked the pipe and peeked at the bomb's fuse, only a few inches were left. He blew a smoke ring towards Nephi.

Nephi coughed and waved his hand in front of his face. "Why'd you rob this bank?"

"I didn't."


Chewie winked. "You shot my horse before I got far enough for this to be a robbery. Hell . . . " He swept his hand at the trapped leg. "This was just a sad attempt."

Nephi grinned. His eyes were filled with tears. "Why'd you attempt it?"

"Back in Missouri, Jeb said he'd heard that whores and rustlers banked here. That always means lots of cash. That true?"

Nephi frowned. "I don't ask where the money comes from. It's not my place to judge."

Chewie laughed. "Either you're the only non-judgmental bible-thumper I've ever met, or you care more about money than principle."

Nephi began to weep.

* * *

The clerk wiped his eyes and began saying a quiet prayer.

Chewie coughed—Nephi looked up.

Chewie pointed at the explosives. "That's gonna be some boom."

"All for naught. That vault's empty."

"Come again?"

"It's conference week."

"I don't know what that means."

"The vault's cleared out. The contents were moved north four days ago."

Chewie grinned. "Seriously?"

"Yes." A smile came across Nephi's face. "We needed to make room for incoming travelers. Faithful from all over are arriving and they need somewhere to store their valuables."

Chewie hooted. "Empty?"

"As your soul." Nephi spasmed and crimson mist filled the air.

Chewie looked at the fuse, it was very short—almost time. "I apologize for getting you in this mess."

"God's will—I accept it. If you take your savior into your heart, the next step will be much easier."

Chewie sucked his opium. "I'm glad you believe that. Even if it is all bull."

It was time. He looked at Nephi and winked. The banker was pale, but his smile was wide—he sang a hymn.

A hot wind came, and Chewie learned the answer.

The End

J.B. Stevens lives in the Southeastern United States with his wife and daughter. His war poetry collection The Explosion Takes Both Legs is scheduled to be a September 2023 release from Middle West Press. His short story collection?A Therapeutic Death?is available from Shotgun Honey Books. His pop poetry collection?The Best of America Cannot Be Seen?is available from Alien Buddha Press.

Before his writing career, J.B. was a United States Army Infantry Officer, serving in Iraq and earning a Bronze Star. He is also an undefeated Mixed Martial Arts Fighter and a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu. He graduated from The Citadel. In addition to writing, he works as a Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal.

For more info, and a free book, go to JB-Stevens.com.

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