December, 2022

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Issue #159

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!

Truth Alone Lives on Forever
by Jeffrey Kedrick
The lawman put on the mask and rode alone into Wild Ridge. His trusted sidekick was gone, buried just three days ago. The town was ablaze and its sheriff dead at the hands of a notorious outlaw. But was the lawman too old, too slow, and too alone to set things right?

* * *

The Shooter
by Don Lawrence
While fly fishing on Cherry Creek in the Arizona Territory with his horse as his only companion, Pete Hill is suddenly ambushed by "Two Guns" Johnson, a notorious gunslinger. Pete must use everything he'd learned about guns, shooters and the sounds of nature if he is to avoid being shot and killed.

* * *

Papa's Pistol
by Kenneth Newton
Most folks felt like somebody ought to shoot the crooked gambler named Huston Walker, though nobody ever did. But when he murdered sixteen-year-old Sis Mallory's Papa, she was ready and willing to perform that task. Now, how would she get her hands on Papa's pistol?

* * *

by John Porter
A young man prepares himself for a showdown with an old gunfighter. His honor is at stake, but he knows that his youth and courage are no match for experience and cunning. How can he avoid facing the gunfighter, yet keep his honor?

* * *

The Southern Pacific Job
by Ash Kingery
Cassie, a career bandit, wants to give it up and live an honest life. Rosemary, her partner in crime, convinces her to take on one last job. Of course, no job ever goes perfectly.

* * *

The Swimming Pond
by Ralph Souders
Young Seth Morgan meets a stranger at the swimming pond on his family's farm. This chance encounter initiates a chain of events that affect the local community while allowing the boy to learn much about his father and himself.

* * *

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

All the Tales

The Southern Pacific Job
by Ash Kingery

The small, sad house stood alone amidst the scrub and cacti. Inside, Cassie tightened the roll of gauze around Rosemary's upper arm, the blood staining her fingers.

"Goddamn, Cassie, can't you be a little gentler?" Rosemary gasped out.

"Do you want this done right, or not at all?" Cassie said as she pulled on the gauze again. Satisfied, she tore the end of the gauze off with her teeth and tucked it into the wrapping.

"It hurts," Rosemary said, sounding much like a petulant child.

"What did you expect? You're lucky the bullet didn't get stuck in you," Cassie said as she brushed a lock of Rosemary's reddish-brown hair to the side.

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not. You escaped death by an inch," Cassie said, her face growing red.

"That's the risk you run when you rob trains for a living," Rosemary said.

"Exactly!" Cassie snapped as she flung the roll of gauze aside. "I've had it with robbing trains and banks and stagecoaches and innocent people we stumble across. I'm tired of living in the middle of nowhere; I'm tired of spending whatever money we make on the next job, and then screwing that job up. I'm tired of the endless cycle that puts us back here. I want an honest life, Rosie! I can't do this anymore!"

Rosemary staggered to her feet, one hand clenching her wound. "I've never stopped you from going elsewhere."

Cassie shot up after her. "I haven't gone elsewhere because I need you. Haven't we been together long enough for you to figure that out?"

Rosemary glared at nothing in particular. "Look at me," Cassie said. After a long moment, Rosemary finally looked back at Cassie, who continued, "Rosemary Perkins, you know I love you more than anyone in the world. But I don't want to live a life without you. I'm torn here, don't you see? I can't stand the work we do, but I can't imagine living the honest life if it's not with you. If I walk away, I lose you, and if I stay, I might still lose you. What the hell am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know," Rosemary mumbled.

"Please, Rosie. Come with me. We can go to Phoenix, that's not too far. We can go further—San Diego, Los Angeles, even Fresno if you want. Or we could go back east, to Santa Fe or El Paso or all the way past the Mississippi. Anywhere you want, just as long as it's not here."

"This is my life, Cassie. This is all I know," Rosemary said, reluctant to look Cassie in the eyes. "There's no room in honest society for me."

"We'll make room," Cassie said as she reached for Rosemary's hand.

"But how?" Rosemary said. "We're broke."

Cassie's hand fell. She forced herself not to say And whose fault is that? Then she cursed herself for such thoughts, reminding herself that she went along with Rosemary's schemes as well. "You're not wrong," she said. "But there's got to be another way."

Rosemary's hand twitched as she slowly lifted it to meet Cassie's. "I . . . I have an idea."

"Tell me," Cassie said.

"One last job. You and me. It'll be different this time. No more dynamite or anything like that. Just confidence and our pistols. We'll make the people inside open the safe instead of trying to blow it open ourselves. If I know one thing, it's that all you need to get along in life is confidence, and everyone else will fall in line." Rosemary's eyes were aglow as she paced back and forth. "This could work, this could really work," she said to herself.

Cassie watched with hollow eyes. Of course, she thought. She wanted to yell until her voice died, to shake Rosemary by the shoulders and beg her to give it up. She wanted to fall to her knees and cry until Rosemary listened to her. And yet, when she looked at Rosemary's shining eyes and excited smile, she saw the woman she had fallen for nearly five years ago. She saw the dashing, devil-may-care bandit who had swept her off her feet one fateful night outside the saloon in Albuquerque. She never wanted to be apart from Rosemary Perkins, but Rosemary didn't always make it easy.

Cassie grabbed Rosemary's hand, and Rosemary stopped talking and looked at her with her deep brown eyes. "Listen to me," Cassie said. "We're going to eat dinner and go to sleep. When we wake up, I want you to explain your plan to me in detail. Convince me that it's worth going along with. If you can, then I will do this with you. And it will be the last job, no matter how successful we are. Okay? Can you promise me this will be the last job?"

"I can," Rosemary said. "It will be, I promise. Don't worry, though. We're going to succeed, and we're going to be rich, and we're going to live the life you want, and I will enjoy it because I'll be with you." She pulled Cassie into a kiss, and Cassie couldn't help but return the favor. Every time, it was like walking on air.

In the morning, Rosemary explained her plan to Cassie over the last of their breakfast of thin oatmeal. Cassie had to admit it was, if nothing else, less harebrained than some of Rosemary's other schemes. It seemed like it could work, generously speaking. "Alright," she sighed. "I'll do it."

Rosemary's eyes lit up, and she threw her arms around Cassie, nearly knocking her bowl off the table as she did. "Thank you," she whispered. "You won't regret it."

"I better not," Cassie replied.

Three days later, they left the little shack behind for good. Their packs contained their few material possessions—clothes, utensils, the gauze, a can of beans, a battered book that Cassie's mother had given her when she was a little girl. It wasn't too hot out yet, and her hat did wonders, but Cassie was sweating nonetheless. Probably just nerves, she thought.

They reached the outskirts of Yuma around noon. The train was due in less than twenty minutes. There was a small crowd milling around the train station, most of them humble folk holding their satchels and trunks. Cassie and Rosemary joined the crowd, standing near the end of the platform. Cassie glanced over at the ticket office. There was a sign in the window that said, "Out to Lunch."

The train pulled into the station at precisely 12:23 p.m. according to the station clock. Its deafening horn blast caused even the most grizzled passengers to jump slightly. The high whine of the brakes filled the air as it slowed to a halt. The doors opened, and a few people exited, dragging their luggage behind them.

A conductor in a neat suit and cap stepped out and said, "All aboard! Form a line, and have your tickets ready!" The boarding passengers shuffled their way into an approximate line, with Cassie and Rosemary at the very back. Cassie stared at the back of Rosemary's head and drummed her fingers on her thigh. Rosemary looked over her shoulder and gave Cassie a grin.

Time slowed down as each passenger handed over their ticket and stepped aboard, moving as if through a sea of molasses, but when Rosemary reached the conductor, Cassie saw that only two minutes had passed.

"Ticket, please," the conductor said, his face stoic.

"Here you—oh!" Rosemary said as she dropped her ticket (a carefully-torn piece of newspaper) on the ground. She bent to pick it up. "Sorry about that," she said to the half-stooped conductor, who had instinctively bent over to pick it up as well. As she quickly pulled herself to her full height, she slugged the conductor in the jaw with that knockout punch of hers. The conductor grunted and staggered, his hands flying to his jaw, but it wasn't enough to lay him out. Cassie swooped in to shove the conductor off the platform and into a creosote bush. The train horn sounded once, and they hopped aboard the observation platform. Cassie couldn't help but linger there as the conductor staggered to his feet, his suit catching on the bush. Before he could get his bearings, the train had pulled out of the station. By the time he regained his faculties and started to run, the train was going too fast.

Rosemary was already walking down the center aisle of the passenger car. She moved so quickly and confidently that no one tried to stop her as she left the car. Cassie hurried after her and tried to imitate her confidence, but she pulled her hat low over her eyes anyway to avoid prying eyes. They passed through the two sleeping cars and the dining car in quick succession, unbothered by any conductor.

The trouble started in the first boxcar, where they were surrounded by crates of dry goods, mainly new clothes for well-to-do ladies. As Cassie passed by a stack of crates, a crewman who was picking his teeth startled and jumped to his feet. "Hey!" he said. "No passengers allowed back here."

Rosemary whipped around to face him. She pushed Cassie aside and drew her pistol from her bag. "You'll keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you."

"Is this a stick-up?" he said as he raised his hands. His eyes flicked towards his gun, which was lying on a crate.

"Some guard you are. No, we don't want any of your junk," she said. Then she socked him in the side of the head. This time, her knockout punch actually knocked him out.

Cassie winced as Rosemary turned around and continued towards the end of the car. "I wish you didn't have to throw so many punches," she said. Rosemary didn't reply, but Cassie could see her shoulders tense. She pulled her bandana out of her pack and tied it around her nose, and Cassie scrambled to follow suit.

They barreled through the second boxcar before anyone in there could react and finally came upon the third boxcar. This one was much emptier, containing a few crates and the prize: the safe belonging to Wells Fargo. There were three men; one paced in circles while the others sat on the floor playing cards. One was bald, one had a shock of blond hair, and one had longish red hair. Before Cassie could gather herself, Rosemary drew her gun and roared, "Hands in the air!" With fumbling hands, Cassie drew her own gun and pointed it wildly at the nearest man. She noticed that at least one of the men had a holster, but their hands were all raised. Why wasn't he drawing?

"Let me guess, missy, you want me to open the safe," the bald man said as he slowly got to his feet.

"You catch on fast," Rosemary said. Cassie could tell she was smiling under her bandana. "Make it quick."

The bald man stepped over to the safe, not even fazed by Rosemary's gun as she moved closer to him. Cassie's eyes bounced between the other two men, who stared at her, unblinking. One of them leaned to the side like he was about to take a step, and she swung the gun towards him. He clicked his tongue in annoyance and stopped where he was.

"You're taking too long," Rosemary said, and in that moment, Cassie knew they were doomed. The jobs that went wrong were the jobs where Rosemary got impatient.

"Don't rush me, missy," the bald man said in a low voice as he continued to fiddle with the lock. "You want this done right, don't you?"

Rosemary pressed the muzzle against the man's back. "How hard is it?"

"Rosie, don't—" Cassie said as she instinctively turned, and all hell broke loose.

Everyone yelled something, though it was all incomprehensible. One of the men tackled Cassie, and she wheezed. Her gun flew from her hand as her head hit the wall and then the floor. Stars exploded in her vision before it all went black. At nearly the same time, a shot rang out, deafening in the closed space, and then she was gone.

She woke to the sound of the wind rushing past the train. She surely hadn't been out long, but her throbbing head muddled her thoughts. Someone was dragging her by the wrists towards the open car door. Her vision was still hazy, but she could see Rosemary standing over the open safe, with the bald man sprawled out at her feet. Blood oozed from his leg. She had her hands in the air, though she still held her own pistol. The blond man was pointing Cassie's gun at Rosemary; that left the redhead to hold Cassie by the wrists. She glanced to the side and saw the ground rushing past her.

"This is one hell of a standoff, huh?" the blond man said as he waved her gun, shouting over the wind and the train's clattering. "If you try to take the money, you get a shot to the stomach, and she gets thrown out. Unless you think you're fast enough to shoot me first, which I doubt." He jerked his head at Cassie. "It won't end well for either of you. What'll it be, Rosie? The money, or your lives?"

The man holding Cassie pulled her a little closer to the car door. The wind whipped through her hair and made her eyes water. Rosemary's small pupils darted around, looking at the safe, the bald man, the man with the gun, and finally Cassie. Please, Cassie thought, too afraid to open her mouth. I need you.

Rosemary's face hardened, and Cassie's heart sank like a stone. She turned to the blond man and gave him a cutting glare. Cassie tensed up, waiting for the redhead to throw her out, hoping that it wouldn't hurt too much when her face hit the ground.

Then Rosemary said, "Don't shoot. I'm putting it down." Cassie went limp with relief in the redhead's arms.

"I ought to shoot you for what you did to Jem," the man grumbled, but he let Rosemary put her gun on the floor.

"So why don't you?" she said as she walked towards Cassie, her eyes still on his gun.

"'Cause I don't feel like shooting anyone," he said reluctantly. "If you do, that's your cross to bear. I ain't having any part of that. I know I'm a good shot, but . . . Well, I thought I could for a moment there."

The redheaded man pushed Cassie to her feet, and she stumbled, nearly tripping over her own feet. Rosemary grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her upright, and she saw something different in Rosemary's eyes. She looked at Jem, all splayed out, and cringed at the wound in his leg. "C'mon," the blond man said, still holding her gun. "You're getting off at the next stop. Your guns are now property of Wells Fargo. And neither of you is getting on a Southern Pacific train ever again. I'll make damn sure of that."

Cassie was about to apologize before Rosemary cut her off. "I'm sorry," she said.

"I'll believe that when pigs fly," the blond man said. "Go on." He followed them down the length of the train. The journey back to the passenger car felt even longer, especially with everyone's eyes on her. He didn't point a gun at them, but the look on his face told a damning story. All Cassie could do was keep her head down.

At the back of the passenger car, they sat down together, and the man returned to his own car after saying something to a conductor. "Thank you," Cassie whispered to Rosemary.

"Between you and the money, there was only one real choice. I'm sorry I made you think otherwise." She threaded her fingers through Cassie's, out of sight of the other passengers. "Cassidy Stanton, I'm sorry for everything. It's over, I promise. I want an honest life. With you. It shouldn't have taken this long for me to realize that. It shouldn't have taken me almost losing you."

Cassie tightened her grip on Rosemary's hand. "I shouldn't have doubted you."

"It's not your fault. I'm the one who gave you enough reason to doubt. I should thank you for putting up with me." Rosemary grinned a little. She brushed a lock of black hair out of Cassie's face. "I forgot how nice your hair looks in the sun."

Cassie blushed and stifled a laugh. "You charmer."

"That's my job," Rosemary said. "What do you want to do when we get to . . . wherever we're going. Was it Los Angeles?"

"We'll find out when we get there," Cassie said. "There are a thousand things we could do. I don't really care, as long as I'm doing it with you."

When they disembarked at Los Angeles, Cassie saw Jem hobbling away, supported by the two men. A trail of blood droplets followed him. The blond man looked at them briefly, shook his head, and turned away. Cassie sighed and hung her head.

"Hey," Rosemary said, snapping her fingers in front of Cassie's face. "Don't be like that. That was my mistake, not yours. Look lively, now!" She swept her hand out. "A whole new city to explore. We can do whatever you want."

"Yeah," Cassie said. "And whatever you want." She gave Rosemary a quick kiss on the cheek, and Rosemary blushed. "Let's go."

They joined the bustling crowd and allowed themselves to get lost.

The End

Ash Kingery is a recent college graduate who dreams of a writing career. She did not go to school for writing, but that won't stop her. In the meantime, she enjoys reading, drawing, and making comics. So far, her writing has appeared in Bright Flash Literary Review.

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