March, 2022

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Issue #150

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!

High Time at Peer's Point
by Tom Sheehan
A powerful rancher finds one of his cattle killed, finds who he thinks is the guilty party, and hangs him. Later, he is visited by sons of the hanged man who says their father was innocent and begin to wreak havoc on the self-appointed hangman. Will right prevail—or might?

* * *

To Everything There is a Season
by Jesse J Elliot
Sheriff Iragene Jones has devoted her life to protecting the citizens of La Madera, New Mexico. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you run up against something you just can't fight. What do you do then?

* * *

by AJ Baker
Lawrence Godby is running away from his mistakes, but his past is beginning to catch up to him. While dodging bounty hunters, the accidental outlaw seeks a meeting with the ruthless gang leader Rick Carlton, who offers him a life-changing deal. But will this deal change things for the better?

* * *

The Adventure of the Old West Murders
by Nolan Yard
Sherlock Holmes and Watson come to the old western town of Las Cruces, New Mexico to help in a case involving Watson's railroad magnate brother-in-law and favorite niece. Will Holmes and Watson be up to the challenge of the wild American west?

* * *

The Bird-Studded Sky
by Eva Schultz
On the outskirts of a small western town, the birds have stopped in the sky. What does this strange apparition mean? The townsfolk are mystified as reclusive old John Ambrose watches on in silence. What secret is he keeping?

* * *

McAllister Happening
by Robert Gilbert
The Civil War was long ago, but Moses Fitch and his trio are hunting those who wore the Union blue. Their kill list included Charles McAllister and, after graveside services, Marshal Brothers and Deputy Bounds go after them. But Moses slips past them. Will he escape justice again?

* * *

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

All the Tales

To Everything There Is a Season
by Jesse J Elliot

"Okay, I've had enough, Cruz! Too much heat and too much humidity. I'm covered with sweat—I'm tired and itchy. Seriously, I couldn't be more miserable than this. I don't know where or how I can cool off. If there were a river running by town—I'd jump in, clothes and all," moaned Iragene Jones, the Sheriff of La Madera.

Cruz smiled at the image of this unconventional woman doing just that. Cruz was Iragene's deputy, and through a series of horrific events, he was now a family friend and her deputy. He had been through births, deaths, and violence with the Jones's family, and he was now an official little brother of the two scions, Iragene and Daniel.

"Sheriff, let's see if we can leave a day earlier than usual and head for the ranch and some relief. We've already planned the week-end off. Let's see if Bert and Levi, can come in a day early. Give them an incentive of some sort. We've got some cash in the kitty—enough perhaps to entice them into working an extra day."

"Sounds good—if you could drag them away from their farms."

"Won't have to—the two families are in town. Levi's wife, Lorena, is expecting again, and he wanted her to see the doctor. Bert and his wife, Joy, joined them. They're all staying at The Hotel—giving Lorena a week-end off, hoping to save this baby with the Doc so near by."

"Oh, Lord, how many has she lost?"

"I'm not sure but I would say too many for one women"—he stopped abruptly and bolted from his chair. "Dios! Sheriff, look at the sky!"

She took her cue from him, noticing that the hue of the room had turned a ghastly green in a matter of minutes. They looked out of the window together, and then they ran out the door. The sky, usually a periwinkle or lapis blue sky was now a sickly green. They didn't see a funnel cloud yet—but that didn't mean there wasn't one.

"Ring the bell!" she shouted.

Cruz didn't hesitate. The ringing of the bell meant only one thing: DANGER! Danger from fire, attack, flood, or tornadoes. People ploughed out of buildings and saw the greenish sky. No one had to explain the danger. Everyone ran to a designated spot that was set up by the town council just weeks earlier. The shelters included springhouses, root basements, and The Hotel's main dining room, backed up solidly into a played-out, old quarry.

The wind now picked up quickly. The sound of the oncoming storm was coupled with a chorus of screams, as the funnel cloud suddenly appeared, looming in the far distance.

Tornadoes weren't usual in this New Mexico town, but most of the citizens knew them from having lived in Texas or the Midwest, and townspeople knew how deadly they could be. The wind continued to increase, and a painful shower of dust and hail inundated the town and its citizens.

What seemed like hours but was only a matter of minutes, the streets now cleared, Iragene turned to her deputy. "Come on Cruz, let's get to The Hotel! There's nothing else you or I can do!" and they took off down the street, barely able to stand as the wind picked up. A few horses had been left tied up to the posts, and Cruz ran to untether them. His own horse followed him, and Cruz led him gently between two buildings. No guarantee that he would be safe, but better to be sheltered within two solid brick walls than out in the open.

"Go, Iragene! I'm staying here with Leonardo. I don't want him to be alone."

"Are you sure?!" she screamed. "Cruz, we can always get another horse, but we can't get another you!"

He nodded, "I'll be all right, Sheriff," he responded in his soft but reassuring voice. Reluctantly, she ran into The Hotel alone.

* * *

Once inside, she helped cover the windows with the indoor shutters. The outside shutters were already put in place by the staff. Placed there mostly for dust storms or the impenetrable cold of winter, the shutters were certainly the one last pìece de résistance against the power of a tornado—if it chose the hotel as its random victim, everyone knew nothing could stop it. Some of the citizens had seen homes plowed down as if a giant hoe had passed through their town, flattening a line of homes like a row of radishes.

Shaken, but putting on a brave face for the citizens, Iragene walked into the dining area, looking for her adopted sister, Cassie. The room was darkened with only a few kerosene lamps lighting it, but she was able to spot Cassie, working along side Dr. Stein. Already, the storm was taking its toll on the citizens, and it hadn't even hit yet. She could hear cries, groans, and prayers.

She walked over to Cassie who was next to a handsome, well dressed man leaning over a prostrate, old one. The younger man was speaking lowly to the woman. "I'm sure it's his heart. He was having irregular heart rhythms the last time he came to see me, and his heartbeat now is even more pronounced. Take a listen, Cassie," Stein then turned to his patient. "You won't mind if Cassie listens to your heartbeat, do you Tommy?"

"Jest as long as I don't need ta take off ma pants," he retorted. "Don't need no female oglin' ma privates!"

"I promise, Mr. Callahan. No ogling," and she smiled at the cantankerous old man.

She bent over and listened. The two then thanked Callahan and moved away. "I'm surprised there's not more pain," Stein said softly for Cassie to hear. "He has classic symptoms such as shortness of breath which is dyspnea, fatigue, light headedness, and edema. He's a walking deadman."

The two medics paused for a few moments and looked up at the woman who had come toward them in the dark. "Iragene! I was wondering if you were here or deciding to fight the tornado on your own." Cassie grinned.

Both women walked toward the other to embrace. "I came as soon as the streets were cleared, and then I helped close the interior shutters. MacDonald doesn't do anything half ass when it comes to his hotel. If this building doesn't survive, nothing will."

"That's for sure—especially since his daughter Marnie showed up. He'll do anything to protect her," and she looked over at the father and daughter talking together nearby.

The wind continued to increase in sound. Luckily the tornado was slow moving, perhaps only ten miles per hour, yet it seemed like hours since she and Cruz had left the office. Iragene looked around her at the others taking succor in the unusually dark dining area. The wind now increased, sounding like a train—combined with a high-pitched shriek or keening.

"If I was home in Ireland, I'd be sayin' that was a Banshee out there," cried Simon Kavanaugh. Iragene looked around and saw some of the citizens from Ireland shaking their heads and crossing themselves. The sound was not only frightening; it was eerie—seemingly not of this world. "I jest know that someone is gonna die. That Banshee crossed the Atlantic and followed us here!" Mumbles and prayers could be heard.

"That ain't all," said an unfamiliar voice. Yesterday near the mines, Ol' Joe claimed he saw a witch in the form of an evil lookin' coyote. He claimed the witch looked him directly in the eye."

"What does that mean?" wailed another voice.

"I don know, but I think something evil might come of it," responded the first voice in a low and terrified whisper.

"An' that ain't the worse of it. My wife's mother is living with us now, and she said she heard the owl sing."

"So?" asked a puzzled voice.

"That means someone is gonna die!"

"Damn! And here we be—crammed all together with that tornado out there, jes waitin' to land here and tear us all apart."

"It be worse," a voice spoke out in the dark.

"How kin it be worse?"

"Well, me 'n a dozen miners were still underground, when that new supervisor's fool son brung his new wife to the mine to see it. Well, she had one foot on the platform afore someone grabbed that woman and marched her off to the office along with her beau. I hears they both be removed from the mining area. Now it be only a matter of time afore any of us who were there at the time dies."

In the corner, Iragene, Dr. Stein, and Cassie heard a "phoo, phoo, phoo," the sound now used in lieu of spitting three times on the ground to avoid evil. Cassie giggled quietly. "The Ukrainian family obviously won't be left out."

When one of the Italian miners began talking about some stranger in town giving him the malocchio, the evil eye, Iragene had enough. "Stop now! Everyone is scaring the other. We're too crowded, too frightened, and too . . . well, we're just not in a place where we need to find more reasons to scare each other."

A traveling preacher raised his voice and began, "Quiet! This is a Christian town. No more of these heathen comments. 'Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End . . . '"

At that moment the tornado seemed to become louder. Unknown to the citizens, the tornado had passed by and then circled back and struck! People screamed, and loved ones held each other tightly though the majority of children had been in school where they had sheltered under the church. Those who were parents were now crying out for themselves and the fate of their children as well. The heinous sound continued, and they heard things landing against the walls and the roof in addition to the horrible squall.

No one could hear anyone speak, although the occasion scream came through loud and clear. In addition to the horrible wind, the rapidly falling air pressure caused ears to pop—some quite painfully. Though Dr. Stein tried to reassure everyone, no one could hear him. The sound intensified. Some of the people were on their knees, while others stood and embraced.

Time now moved slowly, and no one was sure of how long the tornado's attack continued. But if one listened closely he or she would have heard the sounds of a mother attempting to give birth. Piercing cries could occasionally be heard from one corner, then silence. Cassie and the doctor now made this corner their station as they bent over the distraught woman. They all wondered the same thing: would all this pain, effort, and fear end the same way the previous five had?

"It's looking good, Lorena. I'm about to deliver the head, ah, beautiful hair, just like its mother . . . now, push with all your might! Push, push, Ahhhhh!" the doctor crooned as the baby came out screaming in competition with the storm. A woman took the child and cleaned it up.

Finally the tornado slowly began to move away. The freight train and banshee slowly moved on, and silence replaced the horrific sounds. Fearful, some people began to stand up and move about. That is, everyone but Tommy Callahan. No one seemed to notice except Cassie and Dr. Stein. Cassie moved slowly so as not to draw attention.

No one watched as Cassie bent over the still figure. She reached over to feel his pulse, but there wasn't one. Tommy's heart had stopped, and by the expression on his face, he had died happily. His last thoughts were of himself as a child, climbing his favorite rocks in his small village in Ireland.

Dr. Stein was about to join her when someone frantically grabbed his hand and pulled him.

"Huh?" Stein turned quickly to see who had pulled him. It was Levi, and by the frantic look in his eyes, no explanation was necessary. Lorena was in trouble. He signaled to Cassie, and she walked quickly to join him.

The storm no long generated sound, but Lorena did as she pushed out a second screaming infant. There were two children, and both of them so healthy that their newborn lungs overcame any other sounds. Rather than be annoyed, the people in the crowded dining area rang out with applause and laughter.

* * *

Finally, the sound of wind and rain died out completely, and the all clear was given. People moved quickly and emptied The Hotel, thanking the owner. They then ran to where their children had been succored in the church's basement and to their shops.

Finally when the hotel emptied, Iragene walked directly over to where she left Cruz and his horse. There he was, safely standing between the only two brick buildings in town.

"Cruz! I am so relieved to see you! You weren't hurt—thank God!" and she looked around her. "Please join me."

"I'm fine, Sheriff. I just felt I would be all right if I stood between these two buildings, and I worried about Leonardo. I put a scarf over his eyes and sang to him. We survived it together. But how," he asked turning toward her, "did the town folk do? Were they in a panic?"

"Mentally they were pretty bad, and looking around now at the damage, they were justified." In the middle of the street was a dead cow and part of someone's red barn. Almost all the windows on one side of the street were broken, and right in front of the church were two outhouses, no longer attached to their bases.

They walked together now, looking at joyful families reuniting with their children and friends. Though trees and dead animals lay randomly in the street and on roofs, the damage to the town was not as bad as it had sounded while in The Hotel. The damage appeared fixable, but by the look of the partial barn and multitude of dead animals, all indications seemed to suggest that some of the farms outside of town had not fared as well.

Iragene described the townspeople and their fears and comments to Cruz who was always interested in people and their reactions. She attempted to draw a picture of the townspeople's behavior. He was silent as he listened to the multitude of takes on the situation. Then he asked Iragene a question that stunned her.

"Was there a birth and a death?"

"Why, yes, how did you know? Lorena and Levi had twin babies, and Tommy Callahan died quietly. Cruz, how do you always know?"

He merely looked at her, not really needing to explain.

They had reached the bell and rang it for those who had not yet left their shelter. Apparently the eighteen bars had not been badly damaged, though some of the windows would need to be replaced. In the distance, she and Cruz saw Levi being carried on the shoulders of some friends. The new father beamed with joy and pride—as if it were he that had given birth to a baby boy and baby girl and not his sore and exhausted wife who was now in the process of delivering the afterbirths.

"Cruz, do you recognize any of the dead cattle and other farm animals that the storm distributed on our streets and buildings?"

"I saw the brand KC on several of the cows, and the horse on the roof of The Hotel looked as if he might have been one of Clancy's as well. He was a black appaloosa—not too many of them around."

"You're right, and I sure hate to see that beautiful creature dead. Cruz, I'd like you to ride out to Clancy's place and see if he and the family are all right. Now that you've identified the cattle and horse, it looks as if Clancy's farm took a real beating—even part of his barn is in the middle of the street. And I wonder if those two outhouses are his—talk about losing everything!"

"Talk about losing everything . . . and goodness, is that a kitchen sink?"

"I'll check out other farms that might have been hit, and take an inventory on what everyone needs. I'll definitely head out first to Clancy's. This does not look good for that family."

* * *

After Cruz had gone, Iragene walked down to the doctor's office to see how many people were injured. Apparently very few. Except for the horrific wind, broken windows, and the dozen or so Clancy cattle, the tornado had left the town relatively unscathed. She had heard stories of tornadoes wiping out an entire town, but leaving one untouched building. She heard one tornado leaving an entire town in tact, but completely demolishing one building. Capricious and as deadly as tornadoes were, La Madera had miraculously been spared an Armageddon.

Earlier, Iragene watched Lorena bravely walked across the street and into the doctor's office with some help. She was now happily ensconced behind a curtain with her friend, Joy and her new family. The little girl snuggled up to and nursed from her mother. The baby's brother was asleep in Joy's arms.

Dr. Stein and Cassie were busy cleaning minor cuts and broken bones. Iragene quietly approached Cassie. "I've contacted the mortician, and he'll pick up Tommy."

"What a day! I know I'm going to collapse tonight, but the exhilaration of watching new life come into this tawdry world has kept me going all day." Cassie explained.

"Why is it that every birth is so exciting? And why is every death such a loss? I barely knew Tommy and yet .  .  .  " Iragene whispered.

"It's just the way it is, and maybe the way it's supposed to be? Same questions and answers from thousands of years back. King Solomon also attempted to deal with life and death." Cassie said.

1 To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

"Yes, maybe so." Iragene smiled at her friend and headed toward the door, hoping that Cruz would bring some good news about the Clancy's. Today, La Madera had escaped Armageddon, had two births and one known death. And now, what does time have in store for this small town that Iragene pledged to protect?

The End

Jesse J Elliot writes about what she has loved to read all her life—the Old West—except her stories always have a strong female protagonist. She has published seven stories in Frontier Tales Magazine, and four of these were voted short story of the month. Another short story, "Timeless" was published in A Mail-Order Bride for Christmas. Her novel about a woman sheriff in New Mexico in the 1880s, Death at Gran Quivera was published in 2017. Her most recent book (04/18) by Outlaw Press is called Lost in Time.

In her previous life, Jesse taught K-6, community college classes, and Educational Methods at the University of New Mexico. In her free time, she reads, travels, C/W dances, and visits her family ranch in New Mexico.

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