Fantasy Western Fiction

(Author note: Contains violence.)

“Anger is like bamboo. If it takes root, soon that’s all your garden will grow.”

-Proverbs of The Forgotten. 


Stub was damned near to the point of exhaustion when he stumbled upon The Wrinkle. A small town that made other small towns look like the capital of Uto that was said to scrape the heavens. Stub knew that was some horse shit; Uto had tall buildings alright, but only a few out of thousands. They were the old ones, left behind by The Forgotten after they were, well, forgotten. The big brains in Uto had been trying to recreate those behemoths for centuries but never came close. 

The street Stub walked down now didn’t have a building over one story, although calling The Wrinkle ‘a town’ was an oversell. It probably got its name ‘cuz it’s location. Squeezed in a narrow valley between plateaued mountain ranges, it looked like a tiny wrinkle indented into the land from a distance. As if someone had tried to flatten out a piece of paper but couldn’t quite get all the creases out. Just looked like a small mistake, a real small one. Hell, Stub could count the number of rotwood homes on one and a half hands. 

Ain’t much room for anything else, I reckon

He walked down the only road in town, and the dried-out ground cracked with each step. It sounded like shattering bones beneath his weight. Stub wasn’t close to being considered small, regardless of his name. If anyone in one of them houses were taking a look outside, they’d figure him to be some sort of monster. A hulking, broad-shouldered man with hair down below his shoulders and a beard that carried some remnants of the hare he’d caught for breakfast; Stub looked every bit a monster. Not his fault though, he didn’t ask to be tall. Didn’t ask to be strong either, but it wasn’t his choice to make. There had been times when others used his size for choices of their own. Things he could have said no to, but he didn’t. Back then, he didn’t mind being the big man and the chores that came with it. The kind o’ chores that he’d been trying to wash his hands clean of lately, but those stains never went away. Best he could do was do nothing. And The Wrinkle    looked like a town where doing nothing was easy.

“Who’d ya eat to get that big?” A small voice asked. 

Stub turned his scar-lined face down and found a little lad with a wicker straw hat staring up at him. The boy held two straw dolls with sticks in each hand, though Stub imagined the boy would call ‘em swords. 

“A lot of folk ask me that,” Stub replied. “But never a kid.”

“My ma says I ask too many questions.” The boy took off his hat, and Stub got a look at his pox-marked face. Faded scars, almost like the one’s Stub had, but the boys didn’t come from the end of a blade. 

“Your ma sounds awfully smart,” Stubs replied softly. He always kept his voice low. Not like anyone listened to him anyway. 

“Smart enough to raise a knight.” The boy moved his dolls, stick swords clashing against one another. 

“That’s good.” Stub started to walk away, no use spoiling the kid’s dreams. 

“You a knight? Sure look big enough, but I always thought knights weren’t ugly.” 

“Your ma’s right,” Stub turned back to the boy. The sun reflected off the black’s of his eyes. “You ask a lot o’ questions.” The boy gulped so loud it echoed in the valley. A ping of regret swelled in Stub’s stomach. He’s just a boy. “But you’re not wrong; I ain’t no knight. Gotta leave those seats open for good folk like you.” 

The boy smiled now, probably dreaming of glinting armor. Stub left him there without another word. Best to let folk try to do good, even in a world where there ain’t much of it left. You swing a sword at somebody. You already did wrong. That’s the way Stub saw it—always gonna be some unlucky bastard’s family crying at the blood dripping off that steel. Only metal Stub carried now was an axe, but he only swung it at wood. He patted his side and felt its cold ore on his calloused hands. Hated carrying it, well, not the axe itself, but what it could do in his hands. 

And it could do an awful lot. 

Stub scratched at his greasy hair and found himself standing in front of a shithole of shitholes. Held together by rotwood and some cakemud where the rotwood had gone particularly rotten. The Wrinkle   ’s tavern had no name to mark it, just a crap drawing of a mug with ale in it. Stub walked up its rickety steps and was shocked when they didn’t snap beneath him. The place looked as though it had been years since the last time anyone took a mop to the floor. That suited Stub just fine. A few men sat at the sole table in the corner playing Forgotten Wrinkle    with a deck of hand-drawn cards. They peered up at him with dusty faces lined with age. Old-timers, probably born and raised in this dump of a town. One gave him a nod before turning back to their game. Stub nodded back and took a seat at the bar. The bar itself looked as if someone placed a log on a stand and shaved it down to a point where it was almost flat. Almost. 

Behind the bar stood a one-eyed woman a few feet shorter than Stub. A long pale scar went straight from the top of her forehead down through missing eye and all the way to her chin and then some. Looked like someone had tried to slice her down to her knickers but got stopped before they could. Aside from that, Stub had to admit she was a sight for sore eyes. Or eye. Depend on who was looking.  

“What can I get ya?” She asked, her voice harder than Stub’s. “And before ya ask, we only got two things: house ale and hunter’s stew that my great granddaddy started cooking when he was my boy’s age.” 

“Both,” Stub replied and put a coin o’ Uto silver on the splintery bar.    

“Aye, that, er...should cover it.” She tried to hide her surprise but did a shit job. 

“Hope so,” Stub patted at his pockets, “that’s the last piece I got.” 

“Well, in that case, I’ll throw a few more ales in on the house.” She turned around, picked up a dusty cup, and filled it to its brim with some surprisingly fine-looking ale. He took a sip. 

“That’s some damn fine ale.” 


“Thanks,” the bartender snorted. “Probably the only thing that ain’t shitty in this town.” She eyed Stub down with the one that was left. It shined yellow like amber in the sun. “What brings you to The Wrinkle   ?” 

“Work,” Stub took a long pull this time. “I hope.” 

“Ain’t much of that going around here, unless you’d work for ale and food.” She said, laughing as though he’d never considered it. 

“I could that.”   

“You could do…” She furrowed her brows. “I was fucking around, mate. I don’t even know your name.” 

“It’s Stub.” He finished off his first ale. 

“Stub? Realy?” 

“Only name I got.” Stub pushed the mug towards her. She picked it up and refilled it. 

“And you’d work for food and a roof?” Again, disbelief danced on every word. 

“Aye.” Stub replied. 

“You ain’t no pervert or killer, are ya?” 

“No ma’am, I ain’t no pervert.” He itched at the scars on his face. “I’ve done my fair share o’ killing for all different kinds of reasons. Won’t deny that but never because I wanted to.” 

“Reckon you’re too big not to have got your hands a little bloody,” she said, though she didn’t know how big of an understatement that was. “Okay.” 

“Okay?” Stub replied.

“That’s what I said.” She reached her hand out across the bar. “Name’s Lin, and I bet you met my boy Kent outside.”

“Sure did,” Stub took her hand. “Seem’s like a good kid.” 

“Eh, he ain’t the worst thing I ever made,” She smiled a mouthful of crooked teeth. “Just wait till you try the stew.” 

Stub laughed. It had been a while since he’d done that. A real long while. 

The following weeks were the most peaceful days Stub could remember living. He helped Lin clean up the tavern, which mostly entailed mopping and dusting the entire place as she brewed ale outback. The boy Kent kept asking him questions about knights and sword fights, but Stub lied to him again and again about how he never saw no action. Still, he liked the kid. The lad made him think that there could be some good in the world one day. Stub slept in a spare room they had in the basement, which wasn’t much, but he’d sure as hell take it over the cold woods. All-in-all, The Wrinkle    turned out to be the quiet town he’d been looking for, and a little bit more. The Forgotten be damned, Stub was content. Real damned content. 

Too damned content. 

The strangers came riding in with the rising sun. All dressed in black sitting atop even darker horses. They looked like midnight come alive. Their horse’s hooves clapped against the caked roads of The Wrinkle    with each stomp. It was the one day Stub had slept past dawn. The one day Stub felt comfortable enough to let Lin open up the Tavern alone. The one day Stub didn’t keep an eye out for Kent on the only road in town. 

By the time Stub walked up from the basement, the riders had already dismounted and tied their mares up. Stub thought he heard a scream out in the distance, a real sharp one, but he figured it was just the stairs creaking again as he walked up ‘em. He was a big man, after all. When he got into the main hub of the tavern, he found Lin sitting at the lone table with a man he’d never seen before, standing behind her seat. The man was nearly as tall as Stub, but lean and wiry, whereas stub was a broad brute in all dimensions. Dressed in all black, the man looked like Death’s Keeper came by for a drink. It’d scare most men, a get-up like that, but Stub barely gave it a second thought—he was to busy focusing on the man’s hat. It was made of straw and clearly too small for the guy’s head. Stub knew that hat. Knew it was sitting on the wrong head. 

“Stub, I take it?” The man asked. His voice was calm. He almost sounded happy to Stub. “Hearing a lot about you.”  

“Where’s the boy,” Stub replied. 

“To the point, eh?” The man had one hand on Lin’s shoulder and the other grasping a blade. He turned toward the door. “Bring the boy inside, fellas.” 

A group of seven men dressed in the same attire walked in, one after the other, laughing as they did. The last one was dragging Kent by the neck. Tears were streaming down the boy’s little face.  

“We’re just keeping an eye on him until my business is done.” The leader holding Lin smiled something wicked. “It’s dangerous for a kid to be alone on the streets these days.” 

Keep your head. Keep your head. 

“What’s your business,” Stub did his best to hide the anger building in him. Or maybe it was anger that had just been asleep. Hard to tell. “Might be I can help speed it up.” 

“Might be you can.” The man spat out the side of his mouth, grinnin’ as he did. “You see, my boys and I have been riding for some time now, and we have...urges that need seeing to.” Lin squirmed in his grip and tried to bite at his hand. He tightened his hold, digging yellow nails into her shoulder.

“You fucking prick,” She screamed. “I’ll bite yours off if you put it near me.” 

“See what I mean?” The man laughed. 

“I see.” Stub’s nails were slicing into his palms. His were fist clenched so tight his fingers could’ve broken. 

“Good, so either you tell your woman here to be kind to some friendly strangers, or…” he took his knife and carved a line into Lin’s cheek. She grunted. Stub saw red tears drip from the wound. “I kill everyone in this dusty shithole you call a town, starting with the k–” 

Stub had his axe out before he let that fucker finished. He threw it hard as he could but didn’t wait to see if it hit, but he heard the bastard yelp like a wounded pup. The others were too busy looking at their boss that they reacted too slow to stop Stub. He rushed at them like a bull seeing red. Hell, red was all he saw. He tackled the fucker holding kent and slammed his massive fist into the man’s dirt-covered face until some more red came out. The others tried to kick at him, stab at him, but he didn’t feel a thing. 

He just saw red. 

“Someone kill that big bastard!” one of them shouted. But Stub had already grabbed another by the back of the head.

He slammed the man into the old wood floor face-first. The floor gave, shooting splinters and more blood jumped into the air. Stub felt the handle of something on his back and pulled it out. It was a knife, a nice one too. He jumped at the next person he saw through the red haze of his vision and shoved it through their skull. Lin was shouting something in the distance, but Stub was too far away to hear anything now. The world was red, and he kept painting it that way. He snapped a man’s arm in two before doing the same to the man’s neck. Another had fallen to the ground, and his jaw met Stub’s boot over-and-over before nothing but pulp remained. 

His hands searched the floor and found a blade again. He lept into the air and swung it wildly with all his might, jumping at the outline of figures in red. Flesh screamed and sprayed more blood around the tavern. He stabbed and sliced and punched and kicked and stabbed and cut and stomped and—

“Stub!” Lin shouted so loud that it hurt his ears. He dropped his blade and wobbled for a moment. He started to hear his labored breathing. Feel the pain of the wounds in his body. “Stub, stop!” She shouted again, and the red began to dissolve. 

His vision cleared. 

“Oh,” was all he managed to say as he surveyed the carnage.

Lin was on her knees, holding something. No, he thought, someone. She looked up at him with tears running from her good eye. They were pink from the blood that covered her face. In her lap, she cradled Kent...or what was left of him. The poor kid had open wounds on just about every part of his body. He looked like that cheese with the holes in it; only this was a boy. A boy he had cared for—a boy who was now dead. 

“Lin,” he reached down to hold her, but she swatted his hand away. 

“Don’t you fucking touch me,” she spat the words at him. It stung worse than any blade.  

“They...they would’ve done it anyway, I was just tryin’ help,” he said softly. 

“They?!” Lin looked up at him with wild eyes. “They didn’t do this.” 

“No…” Stub backed away. No, no, no, no. “No, I’d never meant to lay a ha—”

“Get out, Stub,” her voice cracked worse than the bones around her. “Get out, and don’t you ever dare come back here.” 

“Lin, I…” Stubs stopped talking. 

There was nothing to say. Instead, Stub nodded his head and grabbed his axe out of the tall stranger’s neck. He broke the handle over his knees. It cracked louder than he wanted it to, but there was no helping that. The broken pieces dropped to the floor, and Stub walked out of the Tavern, leaving Lin to mourn. 

The dusty road of The Wrinkle cracked beneath his feet, echoing through the valley. 

It sounded like shattering bones.

May 31, 2021 19:46

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K. Antonio
00:29 Jun 08, 2021

Western is so hard to pull off, it's one of the few genres I avoid completely, I don't read western tales or write them, because I feel there are certain parameters and prerequisites that I simply can't pull off in that type of environmental setting in literature. This seemed believable, I thought The Wrinkle was clever and the language really helped solidify the setting for me. The dialogue was good, I kind of wanted even more violent descriptions, though. Aside from that I think this piece is really interesting and I enjoyed the nuance of...


Alexander Katz
13:01 Jun 08, 2021

Thanks, K! Appreciate the support and feedback. Never went for a Western before this, but may revisit the genre and spend some more time on the violence.


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Gracie Farrar
19:44 Jun 08, 2021

I really liked this story. Stub is an awesome character, and the descriptions of him and The Wrinkle were well done, and I especially liked the line, "Best he could do was do nothing. And The Wrinkle looked like a town where doing nothing was easy." The dialogue coming from Lin was witty, and I enjoyed the interactions between her and Stub. Poor Kent! The ending was sad, but not all endings can be happy, unfortunately. Anyways...great story!


Alexander Katz
00:14 Jun 09, 2021

Thanks, Gracie! You chose one of my favorite lines as well, and I'm glad you liked it despite the not-so-happy ending :)


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Karen McDermott
17:30 Jun 05, 2021

Damn, this was so good. The Tarantino/Dark Tower mashup I didn't know I needed. I thought there were one too many mentions of Stub being tall perhaps ("Stub thought he heard a scream out in the distance, a real sharp one, but he figured it was just the stairs creaking again as he walked up ‘em. He was a big man, after all." - You could lose that last sentence, for example). Looking forward to reading more from you :)


Alexander Katz
01:35 Jun 07, 2021

Thanks Karen! Really appreciate the feedback. Repetition is my bane, and definitely something I’ll continue to keep an eye on.


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