February, 2023

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Issue #161

Welcome, Western Fans!

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
You're at the right place.


Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Showdown at Silver City
by James Ott
Silver City had lost its shine. Gangs ruled. Banks closed. The gleaming metal became local currency. But mined silver was loaded with impurities. No deal was certain. Every transaction on gaming tables was suspect. Will a pistol-packing assayer from the East put a shine back into Silver City?

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by John H. Dromey
A man who does odd jobs around town may seem like an odd choice for a sheriff in need of an extra deputy. Can Homer prove himself right for the job?

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On National Road, 1869
by William Baker
Elijah prepared for life in the West by practicing with horse and gun, reading the literature of the time. But his first encounter is not as he anticipated.

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The Dangerous Type
by Austen Burke
Harrison Frittata has been run out of Arrow Creek County for some extra-legal career aspirations. Thinking, "Perhaps it's time for Mexico" he follows the time-worn tradition of escaping south of the border—right into a civil war.

* * *

Feckful Mirror
by Ginger Strivelli
A broken magic mirror with multiple personalities comes in handy on the wagon train.

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Rolle's Rangers
by George Kotlik
May, 1777. British loyalist Rolle, disgusted by the lack of organized protection from the French, decides to form a militia that comes to be known as Rolle's Rangers. What could possibly go wrong?

* * *

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

All the Tales

Feckful Mirror
by Ginger Strivelli

Cormac clutched an envelope and a key as he dashed up the stairs almost glowing with excitement. He used the golden fancy key to open up his Uncle's bedroom. When he got inside he looked around quickly spotting what he was looking for. It was an old broken mirror in a gussied up frame. It was hanging innocently on the wall across from his dead uncle's golden bed.

"Hello, boys!" Comac said standing in front of the mirror on the wall. "I'm your new owner. Ole Uncle Ian, bless his soul, is dead and buried. He gave you three to me.

One of the three pieces of broken mirror in the frame, fogged up a bit as a face appeared there. "Ian is dead? We feared as much when we'd not seen him in days, indeed bless his soul. Lovely man, I will miss him. Pardon my boorish manners, I should introduce myself. I am Anterior Dimitri."

"Yes yes, Uncle Ian told me."

Anterior Dimitri faded away and was replaced by a similar face in one of the other two shards of the looking glass in the frame. "Ian could not have told you about us. Only the one who owns us can know of us. Furthermore, I will not miss him. He was a disappointment."

"Ah, you're the grumpy one. Named Posterior, like a horse's backside. He did tell me about you right here in this wee note from his will. I was given one broken mirror that hung in his room. I felt more than a good bit put off, as my sisters and cousins were given boats, houses, and champion racing horses. Then the lawyer told me all I got was one mirror, a broken one at that. However, then I read this note, telling me you boys were magic, like genies living in the mirror. You can help me make my dreams come true, Ian said. He told me all about you. Anterior the nice one, Posterior the grumpy one and Superior the smart one are all brothers living inside the broken magic mirror." Cormac laughed waving the envelope around in front of the mirror. "Now then, Superior, come on out here and say hello to your new owner like your nice and grumpy brothers have already."

The face faded away and was replaced by the same face more serene in the last piece of mirror in the frame. "We aren't strictly speaking brothers, more like . . .  oh never mind it is too hard to explain to a human. Hello, son. What is your name?"

"Cormac McMahon, at your service or I should say you boys are at my service."

"You want gold and riches, and women of course,"

"No Posterior Dimitri, I don't want that. I want adventure, excitement, and fun!"

"Fun?" Posterior replied, shaking his head. "We are not a toy to be played with."

"Of course not, You are a feckful mirror my uncle says." Cormac waved the envelope in his hand again.

Cormac stuffed the envelope into his vest pocket and started taking the mirror off the wall. "Now boys, for your first trick, we are getting a wagon and supplies for us to join up with one of them there wagon trains headed west to California. That will be an adventure, exciting, and fun. Right boys?"

"We can't just make a wagon and supplies appear out of thin air, you silly child."

"Oh Posterior Dimitri, I don't care how you do it. Just do your magic stuff and get on with it."

"If I may?" Anterior Dimitri began. "Superior is excellent at conjuring spells, he may indeed be able to help you get a wagon and supplies."

"I can, of course." Superior Dimitri said his words laced with pride and self confidence.

"Go on then, conjure me up a wagon and we can set off for California." Cormac was carrying the mirror down the steps of the fancy house that Cormac's sister, Eileen, now owned.

"You shall need three animals. Goats, sheep, or cows would be best." Superior Dimitri said.

"Brother, animal sacrifices have gone out of favor in the last couple thousand years." Anterior Dimitri said as he appeared in his piece of the mirror looking a bit worried and more shocked.

"No, no, not for a sacrifice. I know this horrid place isn't ancient Rome or mystical Atlantis. Cormac will trade one animal for the wagon, one for the horses to pull it and the third for supplies to pack the wagon with."

"Well boys, my father owns several sheep. I am sure he'd give me three."

"Good, fetch them, then head to the stables and barter a trade of one sheep for two horses to pull the wagon and a sheep for the wagon. Then take the wagon and horses and third sheep to the general store and trade the third sheep for supplies to fill it with." Superior Dimitri bowed his head like he was on stage being given a standing ovation for some impressive performance.

"I can do as you say Superior Dimitri but not even a fool would trade me so much for so little."

"Unless he was under the influence of an unfiguring spell and couldn't figure out the unevenness of the trades. Which they will be if you get a smoking pipe and fill it with a pinch of tobacco, a pinch of Forget-me-nots, and a sprinkle of sugar. While you are making those deals, smoke the pipe and blow the smoke out in the face of those bartering with you."

Cormac laughed, and smiled even bigger. He stuffed the mirror into a burlap feed sack and slung it over his shoulder and almost ran to his father's house. Cormac was indeed able to talk his father into giving him three sheep. He did indeed talk the stables into trading him a sturdy old wagon for just one sheep, and two strong horses for the second sheep.

Cormac loaded the last sheep and the mirror into his wagon, hitched horses to it, and took off for the general store. There he made another unbelievable trade of one sheep for fishing and hunting supplies, barrels of dried fruit and beef jerky, bags of carrots and potatoes, jars of jam, honey, along with cooking gear, a bedroll, blankets, an oil lamp, and several other things. He loaded up the wagon. Cormac started out west right then. He was smiling ear to ear, driving into the sunset.

Cormac drove till midnight before setting up camp for the night. He asked the Dimitris to tell him how to magic up a wolf pup, to take west with him. Anterior Dimitri told him a very ancient old song to sing. As he sang it the third time, a mother wolf appeared out of the forest with a pup hanging from her mouth. She brought it over to the campfire and dropped it in front of Cormac before running back into the forest. It was as simple as that. Cormac was flabbergasted.

He consulted the mirror about a name for the pup. Anterior Dimitri suggested Beauty, Posterior Dimitri suggested Fool, and Superior Dimitri suggested Loyalty. Cormac however went with his own suggestion and named her Explorer.

Bright and early Cormac was up packing up the wagon to set off. Explorer stayed right on his heels like a shadow. Anterior Dimitri kept calling Explorer a good dog, to which Superior Dimitri would pop in and correct his brother saying that she was a wolf. Then Posterior would loudly add that she was not a good one either. Cormac was chuckling at the mirror arguing with itself, as he loaded it back into the wagon.

Cormac just turned down a random westerly headed road and asked the mirror how to find and join a wagon train to travel with. Superior told him to draw a wagon train in the dust in front of his wagon and draw his own wagon in the dust behind it. Afterwards he was to tie a magnet to the front of his wagon and take off westward. Cormac said it sounded silly to him, but the smoking trick worked on the guys he traded with the day before. He had used their magic song to get a wolf pup like he always wanted. So he'd try that spell too.

He shouldn't have doubted it and would never doubt another spell the magic mirror gave him again, because by noon he had caught up with a wagon train headed to California. He asked the guides on horseback with that line of wagons, if he could join in. He didn't even have to light the pipe and blow magical smoke at them. They agreed right away, saying they could use another rifleman as they were heading into Indian territory. Cormac assured them he had a rifle and would use it, as that was one of the hunting supply items he had in his wagon. He failed to tell them he'd never shot one before though.

Posterior Dimitri was saying Cormac's ugly face was going to hurt from all the smiling. Explorer was happily playing peek-a-boo with Anterior Dimitri who was fading in and out of his mirror piece amusing the wolf as Posterior Dimitir faded in and out of his piece complaining. It was just a glorious day. One of many. Cormac was having so much fun heading west. He'd even started courting one of the single girls who was traveling with her family in the wagon train. He was having an adventure, living exciting days, and having fun, just as he'd always dreamed of back in the boring little town he grew up in. He said a prayer for his Uncle Ian every night. He was so thankful for the mirror.

The wagon train was making good time but summer was wearing and fading away. The guides said they had to get over the Rocky Mountains before the snows started. They were worried, pushing the wagons to travel faster, stopping later each night, and starting earlier each morning. One morning while fetching water for his horses Cormac overheard the guides telling each other they were too far behind and would surely get snowed in atop the mountains and all die. Cormac snuck back to his wagon after overhearing that dire destiny and asked the mirror's help of course.

The three Dimitris squabbled among themselves a while over what type of magic would best speed them up. Finally they agreed on two spells instead of just one. They had Cormac bring them a big bucket of the oats that they fed the horses with. Then they had him add some bird seed, dried cherries, and told him to spit into the mixture thirteen times. Cormac eyed the mirror suspiciously but followed their instructions nonetheless.

Anterior Dimitri told Cormac to go around and give each house on every wagon and each of the guide's horses a mouthful. Cormac had stopped doubting the feckful mirror's strange magic spells and just did as he was told.

As the wagons broke camp that next morning, the riders mounted on horses were having a hard time staying in their saddles because their mounts were running so quickly and they were barely keeping up with the wagons, as all the wagons' horses were also seeming to fly across the prairie.

That day the wagon train didn't even have to slow down in the afternoon as usual. The horses never got tired, they seemed to be going even faster into the sunset than they had gone out of the sunrise that morning.

However the second spell, the better spell, the Mirror had Cormac work to get them over the mountains before the snow started, took place that night while everyone was sleeping. Superior Dimitri told Cormac to get a needle, thread it with silk thread, then dip it in honey. Then using only three stitches on each wagon cover, link them all together by those silk threads. He traded the girl he fancied a jar of canned blackberry jam for the needle and thread. He had not even had to use the pipe smoke, as it was a fair trade. It took him almost an hour linking each wagon to the one in front of it and the one behind it with the delicate silk thread. Explorer had trailed him around the wagons obeying the command to not howl or bark. When the circle of wagons were all stitched together, Cormac reported to the mirror they were ready.

The spell the mirror used was an ancient one. One that had been used by the Pharaoh Zoser in Egypt four thousand years before to rescue his whole family from the Nile flood when it arrived a moon cycle early and about washed his Lower Egypt Palace away. The Dimitris had told him to stitch up seven carpets for his family to fly off to their other Palace in Upper Egypt.

The spell worked just as well on the wagons as it had worked on the carpets thousands of years and thousands of miles away before. While everyone was asleep and none the wiser. Cormac had flown the circled wagons three hundred miles in one night.

In the morning, that prairie he had landed them in looked pretty much like the one they had taken off in, to all the pioneers On the other hand, the guides had figured out they were further west by the time they reached a river mid day that they should not have reached for several days. They couldn't figure how they'd gotten there so fast, even accounting for the horses all still running like they were in the Belmont Stakes horse race.

Cornac and all three Dimitris laughed but didn't give them any clues. Cormac couldn't tell anyone about the mirror anyway per the rules that had kept Uncle Ian from telling anyone about them until after he had died. Had Cormac been able to tell them they'd not have believed him anyway. So everyone was none the wiser but much less worried about the snowy Rockies. The horses continued to race westward at their supernatural pace.

Finally the Rockies were in sight, way off in the distance one rainy Thursday. They circled the wagons to camp for the night. No one got a lick of sleep though. In just minutes a couple dozen Native warriors showed up on the ridge to the north above the wagon train. They were all painted and feathered in glorious outfits. The sight of the Natives in their strange finery terrified the pioneers, as they'd all been told exaggerated outrageous tales about the Natives being violent. The Natives were just as fearful of the settlers as they had all been told similar tales about them.

The guides and men of each wagon were getting rifles out and the women were all setting up to help the men reload the weapons. Cormac did retrieve his rifle and stood by the back of his wagon as the others were . . .  but he was whispering to the mirror inside his wagon, asking the spirits inside it for a spell to save them all from any bloodshed on either side.

Superior Dimitri argued with Posterior for a bit then proclaimed they had a spell that would keep the Natives from attacking. Cormac told him to spit it out because there were twenty at least gathered looking down at them, waiting to pounce like a cat on a mouse.

The Brave in charge of the hunting party above on the ridge was praying to the Earth Mother Goddess of his tribe, asking Her for help. He in some cosmic coincidence had used the same metaphor telling Her the Settlers below his men were about to pounce on them like a cat on a mouse.

"Get your frying pan and ladle out and start beating out this tune." Superior Dimitri hummed out a thirteen note tune. It really was not a pleasing piece of music, but Cormac obeyed nevertheless. The men on both sides of his wagon started shouting at him asking him what on earth he was doing. Before he could make up some lie to cover the fact that he was doing magic, everyone on the wagon train and everyone on the ridge turned their faces upwards to see a huge bird swooping down from the stars.

The bird was glowing like it was made of gold and flames. As it reached just a few yards or so from the ground, it stopped diving and somehow floated there. Showing it was the unbelievable size of forty or fifty yards wing to wing.

Half of the wagon train people were shrieking in fright upon seeing this. A few were frozen still and silent in shock. A couple were shooting at it with their guns, though the bird seemed totally unperturbed by that.

Up on the ridge, the Natives were all off their horses, throwing down their weapons and kneeling on the ground with their arms raised up toward the bird. It looked like they were praying to it, Cormac thought.

"What kind of blarney trickery is that? It's not real, just something your magic has made us think we see, right?" Cormac whispered to his magic mirror hiding in the back of his covered wagon.

"No, Sir." Anterior Dimitri answered. "That is a Thunderbird. A magical creature that the Natives know is sacred. They won't attack now. They know the Thunderbird came to stop the battle."

Anterior Dimitri was right. The thunderbird hovered a couple more minutes, then suddenly launched itself back skyward. It quickly reached such heights the humans could no longer see it.

The Natives all turned back from where they came and left the wagon train unharmed. The people of the wagon train had taken the Natives and the Thunderbird as bad omens. They hitched up the wagons and left off in the middle of the night, leaving the nearby tribe's village unharmed as well.

As the wagon train crossed the Rockies, the snow did, alas, start falling nightly. They were magically able to make it across before it piled up deep and trapped them there for winter. The group of settlers reached California and started their planned homesteading as winter arrived in earnest.

Cormac didn't want to homestead a farm though. He was of course still after adventure, excitement, and fun. So with a spell from the feckful mirror he turned a water barrel full of salt water into silver. He used that silver to buy himself a saloon in a little port town overlooking the Pacific Ocean that he was so excited to see.

Cormac hired dancing girls, piano players, and some Chinese ladies who told fortunes by reading tea leaves all to work in the saloon. Cormac's saloon was soon the most trafficked establishment in town. It was visited by those coming from back east and those coming across the sea from the far east. Cormac's saloon quickly became the most adventurous, exciting, and fun place on the west coast, all thanks to Cormac's feckful mirror.

The End

Ginger Strivelli is an artist and writer from North Carolina. She has written for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Circle Magazine, Third Flatiron, Autism Parenting Magazine, Silver Blade, Cabinet of Heed Literary Journal, The New Accelerator, and various other publications. She loves to travel the world and make arts and crafts. She considers herself a storyteller entertaining and educating through her writing.

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