November, 2022

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Issue #158

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!

Ma Reynolds' Cow
by James A. Tweedie
When Ma Reynolds' only son leaves the family farm in a huff all she has left is an angry husband, a beloved cow and an uncertain future. When things go from bad to worse, she is left to wonder how she will survive—and if she will ever laugh again.

* * *

by Michael McLean
Rancher Ward Wheeler teeters on the brink of losing just about everything he has to lose when he finds a mysterious note tied to a tumbleweed. A desperate plea for help chills him. Can he find the source of the message in time to make a difference?

* * *

Remington Roulette
by Raymond Paltoo
Major Charles Feathers of the Confederate Army returns home to his Louisiana plantation and his beloved wife after the war. He arrives only to find her in the arms of another man. He decides on a game of chance to settle the issue. Winner takes all, Loser dies!

* * *

A Cowhand by Any Other Name
by Lloyd Mullins
When the boss hires two new hands named Dave, the boys have a good time coming up with nicknames to tell them apart, but when Bill Morrow insists that old hand Dave, a former slave, needs a nickname too, things turn ugly fast in unexpected ways.

* * *

The Last Mountain Man
by Francisco Rey Davila
The wind and snow kept biting and tearing at us like it had a grudge against us. It wanted us to quit and die, but the man who was carrying me on his back had no quit in him.

* * *

A Twin's Revenge
by Tom Sheehan
A twin keeps dreaming about the face of the man who killed his twin brother when they were children, the horrid face staying with him until the horror is over, and the live twin finally gets revenge for his twin brother's death, years later.

* * *

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All the Tales

Ma Reynolds' Cow
by James A. Tweedie

The cow was the only thing left that really mattered to Ma Reynolds.

Her son, Alistair, mattered to her, but she hadn't seen him for three years. Not since the summer of 1877 when he and his Pa nearly came to blows over the boy's plans to leave the farm behind and seek a life of his own.

"You can't go," Pa ordered. "You're needed here. I'm not a young man anymore and I can't keep this place going by myself—at least not forever. I'm getting tired and worn and we brung you up so you could take over and  . . . "

Pa never got to finish his sentence because Alistair started bellowing and roaring like a bull working a cow in heat.

"It's my life, Pa, not yours," he countered. "I'm eighteen years old and I'm done with farming. I'm no good at it. It's the city I want, not the plains. And unless you truss me up like a hog, I'm leaving in the morning. I've saved up enough to buy a one-way ticket from Gibbon to Omaha."

"But, Son . . . "

"Sorry, Pa. It's over. I'm already packed and don't tell me you didn't leave Gran and Gramps behind in Kentucky when you was younger than me, 'cause you've told that story a thousand times. So now it's my time to write a story—a story I'll to my own son when he's old enough to listen, if'n I have a son . . . "

The two men, old and young, then stood face to face without talking for a time until Alistair broke it off by saying, "I'd like your blessing, Pa, afore I go. But if you won't give it, I'll find one in Omaha, or wherever it is I end up."

"You're dead to me, boy," Pa said with a sigh of resignation. "And I'll not bless you for leavin' your Ma and me, so just take what you need and go. I'll not be sayin' goodbye."

Those where the last words they ever spoke to each other because two weeks after Alistair left, Pa Reynolds was kicked in the head by his mule while plowing and died on the spot.

Ma grieved the loss of both men for a long time and as she grieved, the fields shriveled up, went to seed, and died.

Friends and neighbors offered to save the harvest but she turned them away, once with a shotgun.

"Leave me be!" she yelled at Pastor Salinger while waving him off the property with Pa's 16-gauge pepper-blaster. "And I'll wager you'll be in hell long before I get to heaven to be with Pa!"

It wasn't long before Ma Reynolds became known as the "Lonely Lady of Lowell."

She let the fields go fallow for two years before she leased them to one of her neighbors so the land could bring in enough money to pay for what she needed to survive.

She kept a large garden and kept the mule to pull her and the wagon five miles to Gibbon or twelve to Kearny when she had to go. She also kept chickens and, most important of all, she kept the family cow, who she affectionately called, Susie.

Susie gave Ma something to live for. Every day was organized around the need to milk the cow once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Whenever she did the milking, Ma spent the time talking to Susie as if she were talking to Alistair or Pa.

All went relatively well until one Monday when Ma went out to the barn for the morning milking and found Susie missing from her stall.

After looking everywhere she could think of and not finding the cow, Ma walked over to one of her neighbors and asked if he had seen Susie.

"No," he answered.

But in response, he spread the word around Lowell and soon everybody was searching the fields, barns and bushes for Susie, even in the tangled bottomland of the nearby Platte River.

Ma Reynolds was devasted, angry, anxious, worried and, to use her own words, "fit to be tied."

When a bucket of fresh milk appeared outside her kitchen door each morning and evening the next two days, she decided she had the best neighbors in the world and that maybe it was time for her to think about becoming part of the world, again.

On the third day after Susie's mysterious disappearance, Ma heard someone knocking on the outside of the kitchen door. When she opened it, she found Alistair, all grown up with a full beard, grinning back at her.

"Hi, Ma," he said. "I'm home."

Ma's eyes watered up right quick as she threw her arms around her prodigal son and held him as close to her joyfully-beating heart as possible.

"I heard about Pa," Alistair whispered into her ear as they hugged, "and I was right sorry to hear it. But I'd just left home and I was still angry at him and so I decided to just stay away and be 'dead' to you like I was to Pa."

"Oh, Alistair, no! You've got it all wrong! Pa loved you! And after you left, he got down on his knees with me and prayed that God would prosper you in whatever you set your heart and mind on doing. When he died, you not only lost your father, but you lost a man who would have been your best friend if he'd been given another chance."

Now it was Alistair's turn to have tears in his eyes.

"But never mind Pa," Ma continued. "The only thing that matters now is that you're home."

With that, she let go of her son and took a step back.

"And how long do you reckon you'll stay? "

"Ma, I'm done with cities. None of them were as good to me as you . . . and Pa . . . and the farm. If you'll have me, I'm home to stay. I want to be the son you and Pa wanted me to be."

Ma stopped crying right quick and started laughing.

"Well God bless us both," she smiled. "There's chores to get done and fields to plow . . . 

"And Susie to milk!" Alistair added.

"Yes . . . of course . . . Susie . . . if she were here it would be milking time about now . . . "

"What do you mean, 'If she were here?'" Alistair asked. "I just saw her out in the barn, standin' in her stall where she's supposed to be. If you want, I'll go milk her now."

"Well, I'll be . . . !" Ma muttered as she stood and stared at her prodigal cow. "Where have you been, my friend of friends?"

"She's been here the whole time," Alistair said. "Except for the three hours I hid her in my bedroom. I figured you'd go back in the barn again and find her, but you never did."

"Why would you do such a thing?" Ma demanded as she pounded both of her fists against his chest.

"It was going to be a comin' home joke but it went all wrong when you ran off to tell the neighbor's and never went back in the barn."

Ma took a deep breath and considered whether she should be angry or let the whole thing go.

In the end, she decided to start laughing again.

The more she laughed, the funnier it got and when Alistair saw her laughing, he started laughing, too."

And when Susie started mooing, they laughed even harder.

The End

James A. Tweedie has published six novels, one collection of short stories and three books of poetry with Dunecrest Press. After living and working in Scotland, California, Utah, South Australia, and Hawaii he now makes his home in Long Beach, Washington, He enjoys being a regular contributor to Frontier Tales.

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