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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

The Last Mountain Man
by Francisco Rey Davila

We were living in Osage, Kansas. It was where my Mary and I had been living for the last two years. We were Virginia born and raised, but Kansas had good soil and it was a growing land. My Mary and me, we had a dream to have the best farm in the state. Kansas land was rock bottom cheap and it was open land. A man could build grand if he had the will and gumption. Me and my Mary had more will and gumption than most and we had each other. Yes sir, Kansas fit right into our dream.

As soon as we got our land, we went to work. The first thing that we did was cut down some trees and built us a good house. We dug the foundations deep and we built our house strong and sturdy. Mary wanted a wood floor and even if it was a chore to split them logs, we made us a wood floor. It was the best house in all of Kansas.

Even as we were building our house, we were breaking soil for our crops. We were going to grow wheat and corn. Wheat and corn were money crops and the good Lord willing we were going to have a good crop our first year and a better one the next year and a better one every year after.

Them first two years were the hardest. We worked the land seven days a week from first light till after dark. We had us a small garden for fresh vegetables and I hunted wildlife for our meat. Back then they used to call any meat that was in the cooking pot wild turkey. Calling it turkey made the meal sound high class and special. My Mary had the gift. She cooked the best wild turkey stew in the whole state of Kansas. She cooked it with a touch of spice, our homegrown vegetables and a whole mess of love. The good Lord gave my Mary a heart bigger than the sky.

The summers were red hot and the winters were bone cold. Kansas winters have no mercy. They were full of wind and snow and freezing cold that would numb you right down to your bones. Me and Mary, we had our struggles but we had each other. That was our gift from God.

It was right at the end of that November when this mountain man came riding his bay horse right toward our front door. He rode his horse tall and proud like he had some injun in him. I had seen him riding in from a distance and I went and stood right on our front porch. We kept a rifle just inside the front door. A man had to be careful of strangers.

The mountain man was wearing wool and furs and he had on him some hard worn boots. Most of his face was covered in a full beard. He had a length of hair that went past his shoulders and right down his back.

When he got about fifteen feet or so from our front porch, he asked for some water from our well. He never got off his horse until I said yes. He went to our well and filled the bucket three quarters full just so he wasn't going to spill any water. A man doesn't waste someone else's water. The first thing that he did was to fill his hat and give his horse a drink. A man like him prides his horse like it was a part of him.

My Mary had been in the house. She was smart and cautious when it came to strangers. My Mary had more sense than most and she had good instincts. Mary came out and handed him one of our tin cups just so he could have a respectful drink. He drank his water slow and easy. Wouldn't you know Mary had gone into the house, but she wasn't gone for more than a heartbeat. Mary handed that mountain man a plate of her turkey stew. It was chuck full of our fresh vegetables and it was fresh cooked. That mountain man kinda looked at my Mary like he had a mind to say no, but Mary just handed him some of her fresh country bread to dip into the stew.

I had the notion he was hungry, but he was a prideful man and a prideful man doesn't ask for his supper. He took that plate of stew from my Mary and he ate his meal real slow and easy. When he got done with his eating, he handed the empty plate to my Mary and then he said "obliged". He didn't say a word more. He wasn't a talking man but he had respect.

He just got on his bay and rode away. Me and Mary stood on our porch and we watched him ride away until we couldn't see him anymore. The truth was that the time of the mountain man was almost gone. They were a vanishing breed. It made us both feel a real deep-down pride to see one of his kind before they were all gone.

That coming winter was a mean and cold one. The snow came down like it was in buckets and it seemed to keep right on coming with no letup. Mary and me had managed to cut our crops and take them to market. We even bought us a milking cow. It was a special time for me and my Mary because we were expecting our firstborn.

We had stocked up on enough food to last us till the snow was gone and I had enough feed in the barn for our horses and for our new milk cow. It was my chore to feed the animals every morning. It was a mighty cold walk from our house to the barn and back, but a man takes care of his property the best that he can. We had two plow horses that had strength and grit and our new milk cow didn't need no coaxing to share her milk. She was our reward for going without for two years. A man takes pride in all the things he worked hard to earn.

It was the week before Christmas when we began to hear a wolf howling. This was a lobo wolf and he was howling because he was hungry. His hunger was pushing him right to our house. A wolf like that could kill all of our livestock. I kept a good watch out for that wolf, but it wasn't good enough. It wasn't no more than two nights later that I was laying asleep in our bed when I heard our milk cow mooing and bellowing in the barn. That lobo had got into our barn and he was getting at our cow.

I yanked on my boots and grabbed my rifle, but by the time I got to the barn that lobo had killed our milk cow. He was tearing at her belly when I ran in, but he didn't run away when he saw me. That lobo came right at me. I turned my rifle on him and took a shot. The truth is that I didn't have time to aim. I just got scared. That lobo he must have got scared too because he slammed into me and ran out of the barn. I got up as quick as I could but he had run off. I wasn't rightly sure that I had shot him till a I saw some specks of blood on the ground. That wolf had a bullet in him. That made him the most dangerous critter on earth. He was hurt and he was in pain, but he had tasted meat and that meant that he was coming back.

I cut up our milk cow as best I could and I buried the meat. That lobo could have been rabid. The only thing left to do was to go after that lobo and put him down before he came back. I saddled up one of our horses and got me some supplies from the house. Mary kept wishing that I didn't have to go out after that lobo but it wasn't like I had a choice. I kissed my Mary goodbye and went out after him.

I chased after that lobo for almost a full day. That winter wind and cold made it slow going. At first, I followed his tracks, but the snow got heavier and buried all the tracks. I just kept figuring where he was headed and kept pushing. I never was a man to kill just for the killing but that wolf had come to our house and he was sure to come back.

I was riding into a patch of trees when my horse reared up on me. He reared right up and threw me off his back. He threw me so hard that I slammed against them trees. It was then that I saw that lobo charging right at me. He was coming in hard and fast but I couldn't get to my feet. That old horse of ours saved my life because he started jumping and kicking and got in between me and that wolf. That lobo slammed him into ground and tore into his throat.

I turned my rifle on that lobo wolf and kept firing right at him. He jumped off our horse and came charging right at me. That wolf was a murderous thing to see. He was snarling and growling and was covered in blood. I lay on my side and just kept pulling the trigger on my rifle, but that old lobo kept charging at me like he wasn't feeling no pain. I swear that he was no more than a foot in front of me when he fell down dead. The truth was that I had a bit of pride in me for that lobo. He went down fighting and he had no quit in him. A man can't fault an animal for being what the good Lord made him.

That horse of ours had thrown me into the trees and my right leg had slammed into one of trees and the bone had snapped right below my knee. The pain hadn't hit me until after I had killed that lobo, but it hit me mighty hard right after.

Our horse was laying on its side and his throat was open and bleeding something awful. I could see the pain in his eyes. That horse and me had done some good hard work together. I never had cause to say a hard word against him. The only thing that I could do for him was to stop his pain. I crawled over to him and took my side knife to him. I cut him clean and quick. I touched his head for a moment and I said a prayer to help him on his way to heaven.

It was then and there that I saw the fix that I was in. I was stranded in the middle of a snowstorm without a horse and I only had one good leg to get me home. Our house was a good days ride away and more than that on foot. I wrapped up my right leg just as tight as I could. The doing of it caused me a heap of pain but I had to keep the broken bone from moving as best as I could. The only thing to do after that was to get to my feet and get myself back home.

It was a chore getting to my feet and considerable more to get myself moving. I used my rifle as a crutch, but the going was slow and hard. I can't say how long that I kept trudging in the snow. It was more than some hours. I kept going the best that I could, but the wind and the snow kept working against me the whole way.

The wind kept slapping me in the face and the cold air was stiffening me right down to the muscle and the bone. I prayed to the good Lord to keep pushing me. I had a good woman waiting for me and we had us a baby coming. No snowstorm was going to stop me from being where I had to be. Me and Mary and that baby in her belly, we had us a ways to go yet. We had us a future.

The storm got so bad that I couldn't see no more than five feet in front of me. The storm kept getting stronger, but my body kept getting weaker. The good Lord kept me going, but traveling on only one good leg was working against me. It was a chore to keep my balance. When my balance gave out I fell to the ground and landed right on my broke leg. The pain hit me so hard I let out a scream like a baby calf. Try as I might, I couldn't get my left foot underneath me and get back on my feet. The more I tried the more I kept sinking into the snow. I gave it my all, but it didn't seem like it was going to be near enough. It was right then that I asked the Lord to take good care of my Mary and our baby. It wasn't like I was done trying, but the odds against me was mighty powerful. The most important thing was for my Mary and our baby to be taken care.

It was right then that I got yanked up to my feet like I was no more than a rag doll. Something powerful got hold of me and shook the snow off me. I looked up and saw that mountain man. He tossed me on his shoulder and he starts walking. The wind and the snow kept hammering at him and me, but he just pushed himself right through like it didn't mean a damned thing to him.

The pain in me had weakened me some. I was a might feverish. I can't rightly describe our traveling real well, but I can describe him. He was bear strong and full of grit. He had on those snowshoes with the webbing on them like the injuns wear. Like I said a man couldn't see no more than five feet in front of him, but the man that was carrying me on his shoulders, he was the last of his kind. He had no quit in him. He took him a path and he stayed right on it.

He fought that damned snowstorm and pushed himself one step after the other. The world seemed to stop moving. The only thing that was moving was him and me. He never spoke a word the whole time. He never did nothing but fight that damned snowstorm like it was a living thing.

We had been going for some time and then he stopped walking and stood still. He stood still in the middle of the snowstorm and then he took him a hard deep breath. He had to be bone tired and wore out. I had the notion that he didn't have the strength to carry me any further. He was swaying on his feet and breathing hard. Most any man would have dropped me and left me to die. I had the notion that if he had dropped me, he wouldn't have had the strength to pick me back up again. I didn't want to die, but I didn't say nothing to him. He had done more than most would have done. I wasn't going to give him any guilt for leaving me. No man on God's green earth could have done better.

That mountain man just stiffened his back and he commenced walking again. Me and him were moving like we were just one person. The wind and the snow kept biting and tearing at us, like it had a grudge against us. It didn't want us to keep trudging on. It wanted us to quit and die but there was no quit in him. He pushed himself like he was three man strong. There wasn't no stopping him, because stopping meant dying and a man like him wasn't meant to die easy. Twice more he stopped and twice more he started back up again. The last time he stopped he fell to his knees and put his head down and he held it there for no more than a minute. When he lifted his head back up, he let out a roar like he was a giant grizzly bear. It was like he was roaring at the wind and the snow. He was telling them that he wasn't done yet.

Him and me just kept on moving. He fought the wind and the snow and he carried me all the way to our front door. He banged his fist hard on our front door. When my Mary opened up the door, we were so bone frozen she damned near had to drag us inside.

The good Lord had been with me and him. Neither me nor that mountain man had got any lasting damage. My leg needed setting and Mary done a fine job of it. That mountain man he had gotten some frostbit on his hands and on his toes and even some on his face. Mary put lard on his frostbit areas and he didn't lose no body parts. Mary fed us and tended us. The goodness in her helped us heal right quick. That mountain man he slept on our wood floor right near the fireplace for three nights. He never said no more than five words the whole time.

My Mary asked him his name. It was a woman's question. A man wouldn't have asked, but a woman was allowed. He said his name was "Tolan". The next morning he got his gear together and he left. He never did say goodbye. He just walked right back into the middle of the snowstorm.

That was the last we ever saw of Tolan, the mountain man. I owed that man my life. When our son was born, he came into the world growling like a bear and full of grit. We named him Tolan because a good man's name must never die.

The End

Francisco Rey Davila, 71, is a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and Marine. He worked as a fruit picker, janitor, steelworker, special police officer, and hospital worker. He has a Bachelor's degree from Buffalo State College and is an admirer of the American pioneers and the wild west.

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