May, 2024

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Issue #176

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!

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.

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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

All the Tales

by John Blanchard

The whole time in prison, Frank Ivy kept thinking about his younger brother, Pete. And getting more and more angry, 'cause those deputies had put a bullet in his little brother's back; and the more and more he thought and even dreamed about it, the angrier he got and planned his revenge; so that planning his revenge became the only thing that kept him going in that hell hole in Yuma.

In his mind, he kept living the whole thing over and over and how it might've turned out different—how when the deputies showed up (who pretended they weren't deputies) and he began to suspect who they were, he tried to come up with a plan as to how he and Pete might get out of it. In prison, realized it was too late; only he couldn't help himself—how his mind went wild and he tried to fix it, to make it turn out better. Maybe it was the heat in those little jail cells on top of that rock in God-forsaken Yuma.

He thought about the whole thing, from planning his escape to planning his revenge—how he would track down them deputies.

But at the same time something gnawed at him, some sense that mebbe it was his fault after all. Hadn't his ma said, "Now that your pa's dead, it's up to you to take care of Pete, 'cause you know he ain't got no more sense than a yearling calf, and he'll do whatever you say."

Sometimes he just wanted to put a bullet in his own brain. He even tried to get a pistol, with just one bullet, so's he could stop the picture show in his brain that ran over and over.

He and Pete had come so close, so close to their dream.

Over and over, he kept thinking about that lonely grave out there in the desert which them deputies had dug and buried his brother in, then covered it over with rocks so that no wild animals could get at his brother and tear him to pieces. They all had waited there for the burial. One of them had even said some words, but it wasn't satisfying at all to Frank. He didn't have no confidence that what they had done was in any way a proper Christian burial. But most of all he worried that they hadn't dug that grave deep enough or piled enough rocks on top of it; and he had tried to say so. But they had just told him to shut his mouth, and so he had just let it go. But he shouldn't have let it go, although he couldn't have done anything else.

He might've known it would come back to haunt him later, as he lay on one of those cots in that small hot jail cell in Yuma. He couldn't get it out of his mind, how some animals might come along, hungry, because they were always starving out there in the desert, where there wasn't nothing to eat. They were so determined—so he imagined it. They had found a way to push them rocks off that the deputies had put on top of the grave. Then it wasn't hard at all to dig down two or three feet to find his brother's body and drag it out of there and tear it to pieces. He didn't like to think about it, but he couldn't help it. Every night it came back to haunt him—the same terrible vision of them wild animals tearing his brother's body to pieces out there in the desert. The awful sound of them animals snarling and ripping and tearing.

He felt bad, because he'd talked Pete into the scheme that led to him gettin' kilt—the plan to steal a couple of horses and join up with a cattle drive to California, where they could start over and maybe find a gold mine. He never imagined that the rancher in Arizona would miss his horses so bad he'd follow them all the way across the border and bring along a whole posse, too, and catch up with them out in the middle of nowhere.

For a time everything had went well. They had each a fine horse to ride and a six shooter and Frank had a rifle, too. Then they got lucky and met up with a cattle drive that happened to need a couple of extra hands and took them on. They sort of blended right in with the other cowboys, and no one suspected what they had done.

Pete trusted his older brother and had no sense of his own, but seemed to settle down on the drive and mind his own business and keep quiet. The only thing Frank really worried about was that Pete might shoot his mouth off and brag about things he oughtn't to have mentioned, like how they came by those two fine horses. It made Frank nervous the way one of the cowhands kept looking at him and Frank over his plate of chow when they all sat round the fire and et, how he looked up sneaky-like from under his hat brim and asked questions that he should have kept to himself, like "That's a mighty fine roan you got there, Frank. Where'd you get him? Seems like I've seen him somewheres before."

One day some men in wagons and on horses showed up at Carrizo, where the cattle drive had laid over to water and rest the stock, and said they were prospectors and could they share their mess with them a night or two. Pete started in gettin' skittish right away, pacing back and forth and mutterin', acting like a guilty man. Frank had to take him aside and whisper harsh words in his ear—to calm down and "don't act like no criminal. Just keep smilin' and don't say nothin' lessen someone speaks to you, and even then let me answer 'stead of you." Then Pete seemed to calm down a little, while the newcomers talked about mining and assays and some folks who had struck a rich vein in these parts. In this way, as it turned out, they tried to put him and Pete off their guard. "Just stay calm," he told Pete. "Don't do nothin' foolish." But he was like a young colt, and he bolted when all of a sudden them deputies—that's what they were in truth—jumped them both and took away their pistols and tried to cuff them. Then just like a contortionist at the circus, Pete slithered free and ran for it; and one of them deputies went after him and called for him to stop, stop. But he never would; and he ran with the deputy after him till they were both out of sight over a hill, when Frank heard the rifle shot and the echo that came back at him down the canyon.

He told them deputies and the sheriff then, "You had no call to shoot a man, no more than a boy still, to shoot him in the back. You had no call . . . . "

In prison later on, Frank fed on his anger like it was food and schemed about busting out and crossing the river and tracking down the man that had gunned down Pete, who had put a bullet in his back. He saw himself, how when he finally caught up with the man (oh, but, there were many details), how the man had gone home to his wife and kids and was fat and happy and never suspected. Maybe Grimes would have heard how Frank had busted out; and word came from the prison that Frank had talked over and over about if he ever got out, he was coming for Deputy George Grimes, who had shot his brother Pete in the back, who was just a boy and didn't deserve to die. After all, it was Frank who had put him up to stealing the horses. And maybe, when Deputy Grimes heard that Frank had busted out, he'd begun to worry and start at shadows and noises, even the wind sometimes, when it whistled. Then Frank had come sneaking up on him and was even toying with him like a wild animal will do sometimes with its prey, before it closes in.

Many an hour in the stinking hot prison yard, Frank had sat there in a spot of shade and planned the whole thing out, how he would toy with George Grimes and torture him just as those wild animals had rent and tore at his brother's body. He would take his time, yes, and enjoy it, the whole thing, up to the point where George Grimes begs for mercy, saying, "Hear me out, Frank Ivy. I've got a wife and kids. I don't care about myself. But what about them? Who's going to take care of them when I'm gone?"

Then—and this was the delicious part, the supreme moment of triumph and revenge, when Frank replied, "And what thoughts of mercy did you have, George Grimes, when you shot my brother in the back, who warn't much out of boyhood, who just wanted a chance to grow and be a man and maybe someday get married and have kids himself? And what about his ma and pa? And what about me, his own brother? What about me? Did you stop to think about that, before you pulled the trigger?"

As he conjured, the sun kept moving across the yard, spoiling the shade; until Frank Ivy sat with his naked head in the sun and grew delirious, gnashing and spitting into the dust, like some wild animal. "But I won't kill him all at onc't, no, I'll kill him in little bits, until my six shooter is empty and even then he'll not be dead until I let him, until he begs for mercy, yes, begs . . . . "

* * *

Mebbe he would've done so, too, one day. Only some other feller beat him to it and killed that deputy before he did, over something else; and Frank heard about it. He even met the man when they sent him to Yuma prison; and he attended the hangin' in the prison yard, behind a cordon of guards.

They say Frank Ivy broke through the cordon that day. He got right in front of the prisoner as they drug him along in his ankle chains, the signs of a beating all over his face; and he said, "You the man that kilt Deputy George Grimes?"

The man looked back at him through one swollen eye and nodded.

Afterwards as he sat in solitary, Frank Ivy swore—to himself mostly— "I meant to shake his hand, I meant to shake it, but I didn't. Something happened, I don't know what. All of a sudden I rared back and decked him, I did, square on his chin, and he went down. Then the guards came at me with rifle butts, until I bled, and put me in cuffs, and the next thing, I woke up here.

"They tell me I'll be here awhile, in the dark alone, trying to explain it to myself, which I couldn't do to the warden, no how. The rage that come over me then, all of a sudden like, when I shoulda been happy. I shoulda been happy, no matter what, even if the prisoner had done what I had sworn to do and planned out and lived for all those years. But I wasn't."

The guards that came to bring him food could hear him moanin' and groanin' in the dark. They could hear him saying, "He stole from me, he did. He took what was rightfully mine, the thing that kept me goin' all these years."

Now that he didn't have that thing anymore, it was like the life had gone right out of him, they said. He began to wither like an old gourd in the sun that no one had ever picked from the vine; and so it just languished there and got ripe and sweet and no man ever et of it, that might have lived on for a day or two, if he had.

The End

John Blanchard is a published and award-winning short story writer with an interest in the history of the American West. He divides his time between Oakland and Borrego Springs, California. His short stories have appeared in literary journals and the anthology Best of the West 2010. In his blog, John reflects on the writer's life and posts some of his short stories as well as excerpts from his novels. John is also a photographer. Some of his photos appear on his web site.

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