June, 2024

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Issue #177

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!

The Sergeant and the Irish Lass
by W. Wm. Mee
Mary is newly widowed, with two small children, and in the middle of the Great Plains in a Conestoga wagon. The Indians are on the warpath, the local minister is eager to get her married off, and a crude, drunken mountain man wants her. Can the cavalry rescue her in time?

* * *

Tricks of the Trade
by Sharon Frame Gay
A young stranger ambles into town and meets his match at the poker table. His stake gone, all seems lost—or is it? Sometimes the lamb hunts the wolf.

* * *

by Jennifer McMillan
Shiloh Hart arrives at the Platt River Ranch, Wyoming, after surviving a great blizzard, a pack of wolves, and the worst crime of all—being a Yankee in the post-Civil War West. But will he survive Confederate veteran John Stonewall?

* * *

Renegade Sheriff
by Tom Sheehan
The town was young and growing, but the Proulx ranch has taken up robbing and killing with impunity. Blackwater Carrigan is hired on to be the law, but the Proulx crew decide to show the town who is really in control. Will the law prevail against chaos?

* * *

The Truth About the Incident
by J. R. Lindermuth
An old man reveals the truth about a famous gunfight. Will his listener take his word for it?

* * *

More Good Luck and Less Good Faith
by Eric A. L. Axner
Being a recent arrival in Good Faith City isn't easy, as Elwood Erskine finds out the hard way. When a ruthless outlaw threatens to take both his money and his life, it is up to his only friend in town to help him. But will he be in time?

* * *

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

All the Tales

More Good Luck and Less Good Faith
by Eric A. L. Axner


Good Faith City wasn't really much of a city; it was a collection of wooden buildings erected in a straight line across the Diamondback Basin, below the windswept peaks of the Sidewinder Range. A grocery store, a hardware store, a saloon, a sheriff's office, a bank office and a few other structures, most of them hosting residential quarters on the second floor. By naming it a city, the founders hoped the railway would soon reach their outpost, but there was yet little sign of any steam blowing on the horizon. Despite the settlement being young and its inhabitants all more or less recent arrivals, newcomers to this dustbowl of a town were still met with suspicion and constant whispers of often malign rumors. That was not least true of its newest resident, who for some reason had left the fertile farmlands of the Ohio Valley to try his luck out west.

The gossip surrounding Elwood Erskine wasn't helped much by the fact that it very soon became a well-known secret that he had received a hefty inheritance from a childless aunt back in Cincinnati. A man with money to spend naturally drew much attention from those who had something to sell - and those who didn't mind offering nothing in return. One day, after stocking up on goods from the local merchants, he spotted a gorgeous-looking chestnut roan mare standing tied up outside Good Faith Saloon; lean, toned and probably quite young. Just the kind of horse he wanted and needed. As almost all heads turned as he entered, he found it somewhat easier to ask aloud who the owner of that horse outside was, after having reinforced his nerves with a few drops of bourbon. His eyes met with almost all the patrons, none of whom said a word until a tall, slender man with a reddish mustache stood up from a poker game at a table near the far end of the room. Slowly the man walked up towards the bar where Elwood stood, and said, just as slowly:

"That's Cahoots, my horse."

In contrast to his otherwise leisurely manners, he pulled out his right hand so fast, that Elwood only noticed the open hand waiting to be shaken once the man had nodded slightly, letting his eyes guide Elwood's.

"I'm Caleb Ryder. I suppose I'll have the honor of welcoming you to Good Faith City. You're Mister Erskine, am I right?"

"Yes, Elwood Erskine. A pleasure."

Their handshake was quick but proper.

"All mine, I assure you. You must excuse your new neighbors for not being more welcoming, you see the last people to settle here were, might we say, bad eggs. "

"Are they still around?" Elwood asked, still feeling the gazes from many suspecting eyes.

"Only one", replied Caleb and grinned. "So, new in town and asking about a horse, not looking to buy her from me are you?"

"If the price is fair. And she's as good as she looks."

"Let's go outside and you can have a better look for yourself. And leave your neighbors so they can finally finish their drinks."

* * *

It was practically a done deal. After only a few minutes and for a good sum Cahoots was his and Elwood was noticeably pleased.

"I bought her in Wichita," said Caleb, "and she's never had a bad day as long I've had her."

"She's in for some tough work, I won't deny that. But she'll manage it just fine I reckon."

"Hope you don't mind me asking, but where exactly do you live?"

"Up on Anthill", replied Elwood, "if you know the place?"

Caleb nodded gently. "It's quite a desolate place up there. Not the easiest to build a homestead on surely. Or safest, seeing as it's not far from the main route north into town."

"Do you want some more dollars to keep it a secret?" countered Elwood laughing.

"No, I won't spill the beans. Besides, those bad eggs I told you about have left."

"All except one."

"You don't have to worry much about him. He's rather trustworthy."

"So you know him quite well?" Elwood couldn't help but look a bit surprised and curious.

"So do you. Good day, my friend, and good luck. I'm sad to say you'll most likely need it", Caleb quipped as he went back into the saloon.

Elwood loaded Cahoots with his newly bought goods and headed off home, up to Anthill, convinced that Caleb was absolutely right that he needed all the luck he could possibly get.


The following weeks were as tough as predicted, but he made genuine progress. Soon Anthill had the foundations of a ranch on its flat rocky expanse and Elwood's conviction grew that he had made the right decision. In the evenings he often looked down on Good Faith City from the north from his high vantage point. Unbeknown he, in turn, was being looked down on from the tableland of the Coachwhip Plateau to the east, not far from the easternmost border of his land. To the west began the complete wilderness of the Rattler Desert. It's a well-established truth that word spreads fast in a small town and plenty of people who had been in the town the last couple of weeks knew plenty of things about Anthill and its owner; without Caleb Ryder even having to open his mouth.

* * *

It was early Saturday morning, Elwood had just fed Cahoots and his dozen hens, his sole company, until now. Back at the farmhouse, he found another horse and, after having a look around the side, a man peeping through the front door. Startled, but giving the stranger the benefit of the doubt, he simply asked in a rather mocking tone:

"Found what you're looking for there, friend?"

The stranger quickly found himself in the situation and replied with a broad Texan accent and the strong smell of hard liquor emitting from his heavy breath:

"I hope you will excuse my brashness, kind sir. My name is Briggs, Clarence Briggs, I work for the National Land Survey Agency. I take it this is your house?"

Elwood didn't know what to answer, only that he had to answer something. Hopefully, something that would make the stranger go away. There were a lot of things he might be, but a federal bureaucrat wasn't one. Still struggling to find words, Elwood turned around and started walking back the way he had just come, thinking he might add both some distance between himself and the stranger—and, if needed, be closer to the hunting rifle he kept on the wall in the stable. As a man of peace, he hoped it wouldn't come to that. Immersed in a whirlwind of thoughts spinning around his head, he was first truly awoken by the painful sensation of his fall backward onto the hard ground of solid bedrock coated with pebbles. First then did he feel the course fibers of a rope cutting its way into his throat, choking him.

With a lasso tied around his neck like some unruly cattle, he was dragged towards the stable, the skin on his back getting ripped and competing with the ache caused by the noose. Now his mind had cleared up with only two thoughts remaining: if he wasn't going to hang to death, then he was confident the revolver he had seen hanging from the stranger's hip holster would do the deed.

* * *

The ooze of old booze was about the only thing keeping him somewhat awake, as his neck was freed, only to have the rope tied to his hands and feet and around the tie stall. Sitting on the floor next to Cahoots, he looked helplessly on as the stranger, obviously a ruthless outlaw, in a hurried pace broke down the door to his house and started rummaging around. If there was one positive thing in all of this it was that, after a bit of a struggle, Elwood got his hands loose, thankful for this drunken mistake on the outlaw's part. His feet however were tied so hard and good his toes were already going numb. At least now he knew he was going to be kept alive for as long as the outlaw deemed suitable.

With his hands free he stroked the front legs of Cahoots in an attempt to calm both of them down. Damning himself for not carrying a knife, a spark of hope was ignited when he realized he might just be able to stand up. After a few attempts, he was on his feet and set Cahoots free, pulling her reins as far as he could, urging her softly to go outside. Maybe just maybe, if she wandered off a bit, someone might see her and bring her back to the ranch. Everyone in town knew she now belonged on Anthill Ranch. Whatever would happen if his plan worked was written in the unlucky stars, but it was a chance he had to take.


Caleb Ryder and three other men formed a clique one might rely on almost always finding in the back of the saloon in Good Faith City, occupied with poker, cigars and the occasional tall tale. It was therefore no problem for Pilar García, the wife of the grocery store owner Alvaro and one of the worst local gossip mongers, to find him and tell him she had seen his old horse roaming around below Anthill as she had just arrived in town.

"That Erskine was nowhere to be seen, however. I think you could take her back if you'd like, señor Ryder!" she remarked slyly.

"No thank you, I've got myself a new mare" Caleb responded nonchalantly, not letting his eyes slip for a moment from his cards.

But he couldn't really let it pass: it wasn't like Cahoots to break loose, and Erskine was clearly both a careful and diligent man. Leaving after he had lost the round they were playing, he headed straight for the sheriff's office. He found the sheriff buried in a newspaper, feet up in dirty boots on the desk.

"Is that what they call Irish manners, is it?"

The sheriff, Isambard Tierney, who was a black-bearded man big in every way imaginable, simply snarled and only put the newspaper down after Caleb had seated himself in front of him.

"Irish manners is not having a seat until you're told to sit," he retorted in thick Irish English, "not that an Englishman would know that."

"I'm Kentucky born and bred" assured Caleb.

"What can I do you for, Mister Ryder?" You haven't gotten yourself into any trouble have you?"

"Not since I came to town and you know it. I've changed my evil ways. Repented"

The sheriff snarled again.

"So you've said. And true, there have been no reports of cattle rustling over the last three months or so. Or bank robberies for that matter . . . "

"I think you should go up to Anthill and Erskine's ranch", Caleb interrupted, "and bring the deputy with you. Where is he?"

"Deputy Armstrong is off today. Why, if I may ask, should I go to Erskine's ranch?"

"His horse—my old horse—has been seen wandering about on her own up there. It's not like her. Something might have happened. It's an isolated place and not far from the trail the desperados often use, you know that. Erskine would be an easy target. He's a farmer, not a fighter."

With a deep sigh, the sheriff stood up and agreed to head up there right away, bringing his deputy with him—on one condition:

"You come along too Ryder. You know this Erskine fellow best. I just hope your concerns for him are for nothing. I'm not in the mood for dealing with death today."


The first thing the three-man posse, headed by Caleb on his new horse, noticed when they arrived at Anthill was not Cahoots, but the sound of commotion from inside Elwood's house. It sounded like a fight was taking place.

"Or maybe he's just gone mad up here all by himself," said the deputy, Gareth Armstrong, tongue-in-cheek, "Lord knows I would."

The sheriff gave his fresh-faced deputy a stern glance, while Caleb dismounted and continued on foot towards the house. He thought he recognized the voice he heard loudly grunting and cursing inside, but he wasn't sure it was Elwood's. As a figure suddenly appeared in the broken-down doorway, he instantly made sense of who it was—and what was going on.

With a quick draw, Caleb held his six-shooter in his hand, making his presence known by cocking it. He wasn't expecting such a hearty greeting.

"Caleb old friend! I was wondering where you've been. How are you?"

"Good afternoon Clarence. Put 'em up will you."

"Is it afternoon already? Well, time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it?"

By now three revolvers were aimed at him, but Clarence, still noticeably under the influence of spirits, seemed totally unaffected by this threefold threat to his life.

"So you've sided with the right side of the law now have you? Kill me are you?"

"Only if I have to Clarence, only if you make me."

"Take your gun and place it on the ground in front of you", the sheriff commanded, "do it now and no one has to get hurt."

The almost unbearable tension that held them all in an exhausting grip proved too much for the young deputy, whose finger squeezed the trigger without him taking aim, shooting past his intended target by a good bit. In the tiny window that the loud and unexpected sound caused, Clarence drew and fired, followed less than the blink of an eye later by Caleb. Three bullets, two hits. Clarence dropped his gun as his right hand instinctively reached for his left arm, acutely hurting from the bullet that had gone right through it. The sheriff hastened to put him on the ground and tie him up. Caleb stood still as if in shock until an agonizing moan shook him out of it. The red sands surrounding Deputy Armstrong's fallen body were shifting to a more vivid red. By the time the sheriff kneeled before him and took his pulse, he had already left the sun-baked desert behind.

* * *

It didn't take long until Elwood was found and freed; almost asleep on his knees with his head nearly resting on the stable floor.

"I heard you talk to him . . . " he said softly as Caleb helped him to his feet and gave him some water, "and old friend was it?"

"I swear I didn't tell a living soul about you or your place up here," Caleb vowed sincerely, "I swear it on my parent's grave."

Elwood coughed as the water cleared his throat from sand, dust and hay.

"It's alright. It doesn't matter. It's over now at least."

"Didn't I tell you you'd need good luck to make it here?" jested Caleb to lighten the mood.

"But a little less trust in good faith wouldn't hurt either" Elwood snapped back, having almost found strength enough to crack a smile with his chapped lips.

By the setting of the sun, Cahoots returned on her own, seemingly having enjoyed her little outing.

* * *

With Clarence Briggs behind bars and Gareth Armstrong buried, Good Faith City was a place both relieved and in grief. Most pressing was the need for a new deputy sheriff to help uphold the thin and frail framework of law and order in a place where none of that was to be found for endless miles around. But Sheriff Isambard Tierney already had a good candidate in mind—it was mainly a matter of being very persuasive on his part. He knew he'd have to work the old Irish charm real hard to get Caleb Ryder to give up his comfortable seat at the poker table.

The End

Eric A.L. Axner is a Swedish bilingual writer, painter and musician. With a love for Westerns and wild nature, this is his first Western story, but most likely not the last. Instagram: www.instagram.com/e.a.l.axnerofficial

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