April, 2024

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Issue #175

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!

Five Points of Light
by Scott MacLeod
An aging sheriff haunted by the death of his son tries to solve two problems at once when dealing with a another troubled boy.

* * *

Start With a Horse
by Alexander J. Richardson
Gun hands Elliot and James are hired to track down a stolen horse. But their task takes a complicated turn when they come across the thief dead on the trail, and the steed in question missing.

* * *

The Short Fuse
by J.B. Stevens
Chewie always figured robbing banks would end poorly, but he had no idea how explosive that ending could be. When a job goes wrong and the bullets start flying, Chewie ends up trapped. As he stares at a burning fuse and a pile of dynamite, Chewie must find a way out—and fast.

* * *

The Devil in Foreign Boots
by Myles Robb
Cornelius Cain and his cousin Sidney English set off from home and their families to hunt gold in California. On the way, the two become outlaws and terrorize communities. Until a group of strange and mystical men begin to follow the cousins—but why?.

* * *

Texas Town
by Tom Sheehan
Sheriff Tollivan watched over Texas Town. It wasn't the kind of place that needed a constant law presence every minute of the day, but it had its moments. Right now was one of those times, and Tollivan knew a rancher's wife was involved. But how deeply was the question.

* * *

A Cowboy's Elegy
by James Lee Proctor
Silas Cain is a man driven by a strong sense of tradition and duty, both to his fellow man and the country they occupy. When his neighbor lets a horse thief go because the money doesn't add up, it's a calculation our hero just can't make.

* * *

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

All the Tales

Start With a Horse
by Alexander J. Richardson

He wore a bolero hat and matching poncho, two holes in the chest of it serving as floodgates for the blood pooling beneath him, staining the dirt path, the two riders' shadows masking it from the sun.

James scratched at his beard. "Appears we have found us Nolan's horse thief."

Elliot nodded. His shirt was checkered yellow with black squares, interrupted only by a brown vest, while the hat he wore was wide and crooked and silver, a strap holding at his jaw.

"Is that Clay Delgado?"

James eyed the corpse before turning to his partner.

"Jesus, Elliot. How many times I gotta tell you ain't ever' Mexican we seen is Clay Delgado?"

Elliot rubbed his horse's flank. "Sure looks a bunch like him."

"'Cept this one ain't a day past sixteen, and Delgado's pushing forty. And I ain't never heard a' him wearing no bolero hat."

Elliot's mustache shined like gold in the sunlight.

"A feller could buy hisself some land, with plenty more to drink after, turning Delgado in for the reward."

James shook his head. He gestured at the dead man's holster.

"Shooter got him quick. He didn't even clear leather."

"Gave himself a right headache stealing that horse," Elliot said, "only to get bushwhacked for his trouble."

Elliot brought one leg over his horse and dropped from the saddle. He lifted the dead man by his belt and collar and lifted, setting him on the horse's backend.

"What're you doing?" James said.

Elliot turned to him, one boot in its stirrup.

"Fixin' to take our deceased bandit here to town."

James rolled a cigarette. His black coat hung long on him.

"Don't waste your time on giving some nobody Mexican thief a burial and such. We was hired to retrieve Nolan's property."

He struck a match against the pommel of his saddle and brought the smoke to life.

"Ain't for such purpose that I would return his body," Elliot said. "My effort's for the reward."

"And who told you there's so much as ten dollars on this fool's head? Such time could be spent in pursuit of our latest thieves."

James smoked. Elliot pushed himself up onto his saddle and patted the horse's flank.

"Vanilla here's faster'n all get out. I'll be back on your hide 'fore you can make water."

James finished his cigarette. He turned his horse towards the trail.

"Do it quick." His back was to Elliot. "Don't want to catch no lead while you're gone."

* * *

They were three days outside Whisper's Creek, and five days past the bloodbath that started their journey, when Luigi's horse brought her hoof down funny in a gopher hole, breaking the leg and sending her rider flying with a yelp, silver spurs jangling as he landed. Thomas brought his steed to a quick halt and dismounted.

"Hellfire. You okay, Luigi?"

The crooked cowboy rolled over, his bearskin jacket dusted and prickly bits in his pants and boots, staring at the clouds before pushing himself up. A slit punctuated his gray vest, though his chaps and boots suited the occasion.

"My aching-a bones."

The horse lay on her side, whining sharply, writhing about in the face of her injury. Luigi kneeled next to her.

"Oh, no. Such a terrible-a way for mia fideli Beauty to-a go."

He walked over to Thomas's horse, retrieved a carbine from the saddle, and shot Beauty in the head, her agonized moans punctuated by the boom of the gun, then silenced.

Neither man spoke for a long moment. Luigi handed the weapon to Thomas and started unstrapping the late Beauty's saddle.

"This'll slow our progress," Thomas said. "Demeter ain't acquainted with bearing two riders."

Luigi was crouched with his back to Thomas, the back of his open jacket hiding the frayed holster. He edged his left hand over, resting it on the butt of his revolver. Thomas's sleeves were rolled up, forearms sweaty as he raised the carbine.

"Juan's waiting for us, like you said. Whole gang's ready to head west. Something big's coming since you and the boys killed that posse. Pinkertons. Maybe the army. Gang can't afford to stick around. Me? I ain't getting caught on my lonesome, trousers down in the thick of things, a shrew against eagles. No sir."

Luigi's teeth were clenched. Like a snail racing, his thumb pressed against the hammer of his gun.

"Hold up a second," Thomas said. "Just what's that?"

Luigi looked up. In the distance, past cacti and brush, a racing shape slowed its charge near the foothills.

"What do you-a know. A lone rider."

"Well," Thomas said, "might be we've found us a way outta this fix."

He eyed Luigi's back.

"We of an accord?"

Luigi didn't speak at first. After a moment, he rose, releasing his gun as he turned.

"Si," he said, and when he faced Thomas the barrel of that man's carbine was aimed at the sky.

* * *

Getting ahead of their unsuspecting quarry was an unremarkable excursion, and Luigi greeted him the traditional way of a robber-murderer. With two bullets fired and the spooked horse chased down, he and Thomas put miles behind them, riding with purpose until they made camp at nightfall.

Luigi had strapped Beauty's saddle to the newly acquired one upon stealing the horse, and he rummaged through the latter now by firelight, stopping fast when he found the cloth.

"Spettacolare!" he said, unfolding it as Thomas turned from his cooking hare. "Look at what I have-a found."

Laid out before them, with its markings and a sizeable X just below the center, was a treasure map.

"Mama Mia indeed," Thomas said, running his fingers over it. "You reckon she's the real thing?"

"I do not say no mama mia." Luigi brushed his fingers along the map's edges. "She looks-a real to me."

A coyote howled in the distance. After a moment, another followed, this one softer to their ears.

"Wait, I know that butte." Thomas jabbed at the map. "It's practically between us and the hideout. Only a few hours outta the way."

Luigi scooped some cornmeal from his tin cup, chewing softly.

"Of course, what if this-a treasure is no more than spazzatura sentimentale? No value."

Thomas raised an eyebrow. "And you with all that Mama Mia bunk. Ever met any fellas in the business of making fake treasure maps?"

"Not in America."

"Good enough. I say we treat this like it ain't no exception. Just a few hours ride. Worst case, we don't get nothing for our lost time."

Luigi ate more cornmeal. Thomas dug his hare out from under the flames.

"Only got a day or so on the trail left. Might be this would serve as a lucrative stop."

"Okay," Luigi said, nodding several times. "I am-a convinto."

Thomas cut the hare's skin. "To fame and fortune."

"Si. To fame and-a fortune."

* * *

It was just hours past daybreak when James and Elliot halted their horses next to the discarded saddle bag.

"Reckon we're on the right track," Elliot said. James spat in the dirt and pointed.

"Had themselves a little fire. Might be we ain't all that far behind."

"Might be." Elliot eyed the saddle. "Why you figure they tossed a quality saddle like that? Sorta thing a rich so-and-so rides with, and they drop it like rollin' paper used? That don't sit."

James shrugged. His navy vest paired with the tailored, gray shirt.

"Could be the man likes his own fine."

Elliot shook his head. He dismounted, gator-hide boots planting in the dirt, and unstrapped Vanilla's saddle before walking over to the one left behind.

"Hell you doing?"


"Why is it you're switching?"

"Said it clear." Elliot set the saddle on Vanilla's back and reached for the strap. "This here's a rich man's saddle."

"And? Might be you've got a touch a' the sun. We was hired to retrieve Nolan's stolen property. Such would include that saddle."

Elliot finished strapping it on. He mounted Vanilla.

"Won't be no concern," he said, resting his hands on the pommel as he leaned forward, his yellow-square patterned shirtsleeves complementing the saddle's dark shades. "I'll spend my share of the reward replacin' it. Get me one real fancy from Albuquerque or somewheres like it. 'Til then, this one'll do nice."

They rode in silence for a while. James pointed at the soft earth.

"Seeing this?"

Elliot looked and nodded.

"Multiple tracks for multiple riders."

James rested one hand on his shotgun.

"Keep extra watchful. I don't feel good about none a' this."

* * *

At the base of the butte, half shaded from the noon sun by a towering saguaro, Luigi and Thomas retrieved spades from their saddle bags and started digging.

"I tell you-a something," Luigi said after a while as he wiped his brown, sweat soaked into his striped shirt and thick jacket. "Every silver and jewel in the west hold-a nothing compared to cold water on a hot-a day."

"We'll drink after." Thomas untied his bandanna and pressed it against his face. "I aim to see this loot 'fore anythin' else."

They dug in silence for a while, sun moving ever-so-slowly overhead. One of the cacti bore prickly fruit, positioned like gleaming, dangerous gems against it. A hawk flew overhead.

"Hang on," Thomas said, the tip of his spade crunching against something sturdier than dirt.

He kneeled, pawing at the ground, brushing dirt aside, revealing two thick branches crossed over each other. The outlaw turned to his partner, grin wide, eyes alive.

"Ex marks the spot, mi amigo."

"Such a good-a resting point for water." Luigi gripped the reins of his new horse with one hand. "Il torrente is close. Let us take-a the horses and refresh ourselves."

Thomas waved him off. "Oh, hell. Go yourself. We're on the edge of finding who knows what in treasure, and all you can do is bellyache about your drinky."

"You are-a most unfair." Luigi threw his spade aside. "Have I not-a proven time and again that I am so very-a rugged and rough?"

Thomas's back was to him. He started digging again.

"You gotta go, go. Take Demeter first. She gets priority over some stolen nag."

Luigi stared down at his treasure-eager companion. He shook his head, switched reins, and started leading Demeter to the creek, taking slow, deliberate steps down the narrow path.

* * *

They'd put time and miles behind them when James raised his fist. Both men stopped their horses. James pointed ahead.

Down just a ways, bookended by cacti and beneath a looming butte, was Nolan's horse, hitched next to a man digging with vigor.

"How about that," James said. "We have indeed found our horse thief."

Elliot lifted his repeater from the saddle. "I only see one."

"Might be the other feller's lit out for greener pastures. Don't matter. Keep a keen eye."

Elliot dismounted, hitching Vanilla and aiming his repeater at his quarry as he advanced in a crouch. James followed suit, standing tall as he approached from the right, shotgun raised.

The American Southwest isn't known for its quiet earth. As the two men drew closer, their quarry paused, then straightened as one hand dropped to his holster.

"Don't even try it," James said, his voice a yell. "Not 'less you're fixing to get back shot."

The man froze. Elliot advanced several steps.

"Run while you can," the man said, back to them, voice muffled. "Just so happens you've come across the best shot from here to Lincoln."

"Might be fact," James said, "but there ain't no eyes in the back of your skull. Draw iron, you die."

Maybe it was that he'd only heard one man's voice and didn't know he had two gunslingers to contend with. Maybe his greed for treasure outweighed his sense. Or maybe the man you and I know as Thomas Burns truly believed he was the best shot from here to Lincoln. Whatever the reason, he turned fast—raising his revolver as he dropped into a crouch—and Elliot's one shot sang true, his repeater's bullet striking Thomas square in the forehead, splattering brains and blood across the butte as Nolan's stolen horse bucked and whinnied in the aftermath of sudden violence.

* * *

Luigi had drunk his water and was allowing Demeter her fill when he heard Thomas shouting, followed by a single gunshot and silence. He drew his revolver, watching the path. Chatter from other voices made its way down to him. Luigi shook his head, signing the cross with his free hand.

"Arrivederci, Thomas. So much for your silver and jewel."

Without another word, he hoisted himself onto Demeter, crossing the creek and digging in with his spurs, raising dust as he made for the hideout.

* * *

Elliot spoke softly to Nolan's horse while James turned the body over.

"I'll be. Thomas Burns." He turned to Elliot. "Looks like we bagged a member of the Juan Rojas Gang after all."

Elliot whistled. "Count on that corpse for coins that shine."


James unhooked the man's gun belt. Elliot eyed the hole.

"What have we here?"

He kneeled, pressing his hand against the dark surface within—and brushed his fingers against a wooden chest.

"Holy Hannah!"

Elliot dug in with both hands, wrenching the chest free from its grave and setting it in place. He drew his knife, slid it outside the lock, and forced the lid open, revealing four gold bars, rectangular, even, and glimmering in the afternoon light.

"We done it." His voice was hardly a whisper. "We found us a treasure."

James had gone through Thomas's pockets.

"Might be we ain't, partner."

Elliot turned from the gold, staring at him.

"What's that now?"

James held up the map. "Got Nolan's initials in the corner. See? This is his property, same as the saddle and horse."

Elliot frowned. "That a joke? This here gold's buried for any sort of somebody to dig up." He gestured at Thomas. "Hell, just like he done."

"You taking your lessons from bandits now?" James laughed. "Pop them bars in a saddlebag while I load the late Thomas Burns onto this horse."

He turned, gripping the dead man by his belt and collar. Elliot rose behind him. As his partner took a deep breath and lifted, Elliot struck the base of his skull with a gold bar. James fell, dropping Thomas's corpse, and Elliot kneeled over him, bashing his head again and again with the treasure while Nolan's horse bucked and whinnied again in the butte's shadow.

The End

Alexander J. Richardson is an author of speculative fiction, crime fiction, horror, and westerns. His work's been published on Fiction on the Web, 96th of October, and Frontier Tales, among others. When he's not working on short stories or his novel, there's a good chance he's reading.

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