May, 2024

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Issue #176

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!

You Lincoln County Son of a Bitch
by Virgil Cain
When two killers ask you to take a ride, saying no is harder than you might think. Pony Diehl was given the choice between riding the trail with outlaws—or not. One seemed to lead to an early grave, the other to an instant death. He knew which one he preferred.

* * *

by John Blanchard
Frank Ivy hungers to take his revenge on the deputy who killed his younger brother. But Frank is locked up in Yuma Territorial Prison and can't make things right—or can he?

* * *

And Some Will Be Gray
by Chere Taylor
Our young hero simply wants to live in peace with his difficult father and unpredictable brother. When his father orders him to shoot all Confederate Soldiers—will our hero find the strength to murder his own brother?

* * *

Banks of the Rio Grande
by Joe Stout
Abigail journeys across Texas only to find her brother has been murdered. Her only hope is to win a shooting contest run by a former Confederate soldier searching for the Union sniper who put him in a wheelchair. But is this the first time Abigail and the contest sponsor have met?

* * *

Stubble Wind
by Marc Neuffer
Noah and Jeremiah are trapped by bandits. The desperados want the supplies the pair are mule-packing to a wagon stop. Outgunned and low on water, will the pair stay alive in the harsh desert?

* * *

The Cold Heart of War
by James Burke
As the Civil War rages, a vicious blizzard grips New Mexico. Confederate soldiers huddle against the cold, while a corrupt landlord exploits his daughter to curry the invaders' favor. A small band of local militia members brave the bitter cold to dispense their own brand of justice.

* * *

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

All the Tales

Banks of the Rio Grande
by Joe Stout

The sound of a gunshot sent birds flying out of the desert scrub.

A figure approached the victim, a rabbit, bending over to pick up the animal and place it in a leather game bag. The calico shirt and jeans couldn't hide the female figure beneath them, and the freckles and ponytail peeking out from under the Stetson hat confirmed it.

She walked back to her horse as her baby babbled on her back. Agnes could handle anything now, she thought with a smile. The train to Dallas, the horseback ride across Texas, and now the gunshot as her mother killed their evening meal.

They were headed for El Paso, where her brother was waiting. It had been a hard journey, but the Guadalupe Mountains were fading away in the distance, and El Paso was less than a hundred miles away.

* * *

It was raining the day they rode into the border town, the only rain they'd seen on their trip.

Agnes was awake, peeking out of the slicker over her mother's shoulder. Jumping off the horse, the woman tied it to a post before stepping onto a wooden boardwalk and opening one of the doors.

Behind the desk, a man looked up at her. He had stringy brown hair and looked like he needed a bath. "Help you, ma'am?"

"I'm looking for the Marshal."

The man stood. "You found him. I'm Marshal Ike Tucker."

The woman shook her head. "No, not you, Mr. Tucker. I'm looking for Roy Miller."

Tucker looked down at the floor. "Reckon you'd be Roy's sister, then."

"Yes, Abigail Blackburn," she said.

"He done told me about you, how you dressed up as a man and fought in the war, taught him to shoot, all kinds of stuff."

She blushed. "I'm glad Roy's proud of me, but it doesn't tell me where he is."

The Marshal looked down as he kicked the toe of his boot against the floor. "Well, Miss Blackburn, I ain't exactly sure how to say this, but Roy's dead. Got killed in a shootout with some bank robbers last week."

Her eyes went wide. Roy. Gone. The last hope for her and Agnes after her good for nothing husband had walked out on them. She sank into a chair against the wall.

"Can I get you something, Miss Blackburn?" The Marshal asked.

"No. Er, thank you," Abigail said, her mind racing. She was down to the last of the money her brother had sent, and what she had left wouldn't be enough to get her and Agnes back across Texas. They'd risked everything to get here, skirting the border of Comanche territory and traveling alone across open country some men didn't survive.

"I'm sorry I had to be the one to break it to you."

Abigail took Agnes off her back, holding the girl in her lap. She babbled and cooed, the soft noises calming her mother. "It is what it is, Marshal. Now that Roy is gone, Agnes and I will have to find a way to get by."

"Your brother had a special fondness for Louella Birch, who runs one of the local, er, parlors." Tucker blushed when he said it, and she picked up the meaning. "I'm sure if you needed work, she would be happy to help."

Abigail shook her head. She didn't want to consider that kind of work, but in a frontier town, her options would be limited.

Her eyes wandered to where the wanted posters and other bulletins were hanging, drifting over them as she thought. Maybe she'd become a bounty hunter, like Roy had always teased her about.

"The way you can shoot," he'd told her, "It wouldn't be fair, and they usually pay as much for 'em dead as alive." A smile crept across her face at her brother's memory.

Suddenly, her hand shot forward and plucked one of the papers from the wall. "What's this about a thousand dollar shooting contest tomorrow?"

Tucker raised an eyebrow. "The Judge Gibson prize? No one's ever claimed that."

"Tell me about it," she demanded.

He shrugged. "Judge Gibson was a sharpshooter in the war. He claims he's the one that killed the Union General Reynolds at Gettysburg, but . . . " Tucker shrugged to show his skepticism.

"What about the prize," Abigail pressed.

"I'm gettin' there, hang on. After Gettysburg, he ended up down in Georgia fightin' with John Bell Hood. One day, he's running along the river toward the fight when he gets his feet shot out from under him. Hell of a shot, he's convinced it was a Yankee sharpshooter that got him. The damage was terrible, they had to amputate both his legs, leaving him in a wheelchair. But Gibson vowed revenge, and started the prize after the war to try to draw out the shooter."

Abigail shook her head. "Revenge makes people do strange things."

The deputy nodded. "Ol' Gibson is obsessed with finding the one that shot him, but he ain't having much luck. So far, no one's collected, not even your brother, and he was the finest shot I ever saw."

Abigail smiled. "Roy was a great shot, and I taught him everything he knew. Fortunately, I didn't teach him everything I know."

* * *

The next morning, Abigail was the first to arrive at the contest grounds on the banks of the Rio Grande, Agnes strapped firmly to her back. Slowly, more people arrived, until there was a crowd of about fifty shooters and a few hundred spectators behind them. At eleven o'clock, Marshal Tucker wheeled a man in a wheelchair up to the assembled shooters. A rifle lay across his lap. He smiled at Abigail, his eyes dancing playfully. "Well, boys, it's simple," he said. "You've got three shots to hit that target across the river. That's all there is to it. Make that shot, and win a thousand dollars." Now he winked at her. "And try not to get beat by a girl."

The men looked at her, standing a little bit away from them, and muttered quietly. Gibson looked around, then took a clipboard off a nearby table and called a name.

A man strode to the firing line, a tall, rangy fellow with an old black-powder musket. His first shot sailed well over the target, and the second was wide. The third splashed into the river well short, and he was done.

"Next!" Gibson called as the shooter slipped away into the crowd.

* * *

Abigail was the last name called. Stepping forward, she raised the rifle and took careful aim.

"All those men couldn't hit it, what makes you think you can," Gibson asked.

"I'm a better shot than all those men put together." The crowd roared with laughter as the rifle roared. Across the river, a plume of dust rose closer to the target than any previous attempt, and the crowd went silent.

"Sorry. Agnes bumped my arm," she said.

"I can hold her," a woman in the crowd offered.

Abigail gave her a smile. "It's been so long since I've shot without her on my back, I think not having her there might make my aim even worse!"

Turning back toward the river, she raised her rifle, resting her cheek on the smooth wooden stock as she took aim. Her breath slowed, and she pulled the gun tight against her shoulder. Agnes' familiar weight comforted her, and the baby was still, almost like she knew this shot was important. Her finger caressed the trigger, pulling evenly until it broke.

The crack of the gunshot was followed by a soft ping as the target across the river collapsed.

For a moment, no one spoke. Then the crowd cheered as Abigail worked the action to chamber a new round. On her back, Agnes was laughing at the glee that filled the air. Abigail looked at Gibson, who was grinning ear to ear.

"Helluva shot," he said, extending his hand. Abigail took it as a camera flashed. Gibson reached in his pocket and took out a wad of cash. "I never expected I'd have to give this away!"

Abigail smiled as she took the money. "You never met anyone that can shoot like me."

"Once," Gibson said, darkness clouding his face. "But you're a lot prettier than that scoundrel in Yankee blue!"

* * *

Abigail waited, standing behind the door to her hotel room. Agnes was asleep on her back, her quiet breathing comforting Abigail.

She knew Gibson would come. She'd known that as soon as she'd seen the look on his face when she hit the shot. But waiting was the hard part, standing hour after hour waiting for him to arrive.

Finally, she heard the creak of rolling wheels on the floor outside, and the clatter of a key in her lock. The door swung open, and he rolled inside.

Stepping forward, she pressed the muzzle of her rifle into the soft spot behind his ear. "Hands where I can see them!"

Slowly, his hands came off the chair. "You knew."

"I went to see the coroner this afternoon. Funny thing, the shot that killed my brother didn't come from the bank."

"As soon as he told you about me, you would have known," Gibson whispered. "I knew as soon as he told me about you."

She laughed quietly. "You give me too much credit. Shooting you was an accident. It was my first fight, I saw someone in gray and fired. Hitting you was pure luck, except an officer saw me do it. They decided I was some kind of sharpshooter, and sent me to the trenches at Petersburg. That was where I mastered my craft."

"An accident," Gibson whispered, disbelief in his voice. "A lifetime in a wheelchair because of dumb luck."

"Or in your case, the lack of it," Abigail sneered.

"So what now?"

"You murdered my brother." Abigail walked around to face him, the rifle aimed at his chest.

"I was merciful!" He spat. "Death is better than a life in a chair like this!"

"I'm glad you feel that way."

"What?" His eyes traveled down the barrel of the rifle, focusing on the muzzle aimed at him.

Abigail smiled. "Imagine the shock when people learn Judge Gibson tried sneaking into a woman's hotel room. Fortunately, the woman was armed."

"You're going to murder me?"

"I'm going to avenge my brother."

The rifle roared, and Gibson slumped back in his chair, his lifeless body sliding onto the floor.

On her back, Agnes started screaming.

The End

Joe Stout is an east Tennessee based writer who focuses on short stories and flash fiction. His work has been published by the Non-Binary Review, Literary Cocktail Magazine, and CafeLit. When he's not writing, he enjoys exploring the mountains and spending time with his children. You can follow him on Facebook at Joe Stout Writing or Instagram @joestoutwriting.



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