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a Short Story by Jonathan Fortin
Genre: Fantasy Western
Tags: Magic, cowboys, medallion, desert, town, isolation, starvation, revenge, vengeance, love, doomed love, amnesia, psychological, fantasy, western, guns, shooting, tragic, sorrow, sunlight, crunch, death, bullying, horse, fire, tragedy, death
Release: October 26, 2012
Editor: Julie Hayes
Line Editor: Valerie Haley
Cover Designer: Delilah K. Stephans
Butcher’s Knoll is an isolated town that you can only visit once: as soon as you leave its borders, you will lose all memory of having come to it, and will never be able to find it again...no matter what—or who—you left behind.
Years ago, Maxwell Cruncher came to town as a child, seeking refuge from his abusive father. Now, as an adult, he is hated by the townsfolk—including the woman he loves. But leaving town will mean losing all memory of half his life. His heartbreak is only exacerbated by the arrival of the Goodwins, a happy couple whose nighttime pleasures become legendary...and who Cruncher becomes desperate to separate forever.
The first law of Butcher’s Knoll is that what happens here must stay here, and I’m speaking literally.
Everything you bring into Butcher’s Knoll stays with you when you leave, but anything you buy or make or experience will be gone as soon as you leave its borders. You won’t remember having been there at all. And while you can’t take things from Butcher’s Knoll, it can take things from you—your possessions, your limbs, even your life. If you leave, you won’t remember how you lost your hand, or the wedding ring that was on it. All you’ll know is its absence. This isn’t a terribly convenient thing for travelers, because Butcher’s Knoll is in the desert, and there’s nothing but rocks for miles in any direction.
Most people would describe Butcher’s Knoll and towns of its ilk as “lawless,” but speaking as someone who’s lived there his whole life, I believe that’s a poor choice of words. While our little town most certainly defies the laws established by the federal government, it does follow natural laws—those established by the peculiar region it was built in—and it enforces them effortlessly, without needing to fire a single bullet.
Us folks who’ve been here for years, we’ve seen a lot of people pass through this town. Most don’t stay long enough to notice anything amiss. Maybe they come for food or drink, and leave feeling less famished or thirsty than before, but don't remember having been to town. You see, as a man digests his food, it becomes a part of his body, so, unlike his memories, it’s allowed to leave with him.
Other visitors stay for months before going on their way. Some try writing themselves journals, but the journal entries disappear as soon as they leave town. Some try giving themselves tattoos, but those fade, too. Perhaps scarring messages onto one’s body would work, but given how painful the process is, I’ve never encouraged visitors to try it.
On occasion, someone comes to town and decides to stay. One such someone was Maxwell Cruncher, who was just a boy when he arrived.
I remember when he came stumbling into the inn, looking around fearfully, before boldly asking for a free room. “I only need it for a minute,” he explained. “My daddy has an affinity for the whip. I need a place to hide until he calms down. I won't be no trouble, I swear.”
Now, most of us who were eating at the inn watched this with fascination, because we didn't often get children running into town. When we heard he wanted to hide, we all laughed. It was Old Frumpo—the poor bastard who got his head kicked in by his own horse a couple years later—who told the boy, “If you need to hide, then you're in the right place. This town's special, see? If you leave it, you can't ever come back.”
Now, young Maxwell Cruncher was a sharp boy, and once he heard this, the idea came into his head to stay hidden until his daddy left town. Old Frompo let the boy have his room for the rest of the day. It was all he needed—before long, Daddy Cruncher decided his boy must have run out of town, so he went looking for him.
From that point on, Maxwell Cruncher was a citizen of Butcher’s Knoll.
Perhaps it was the way his daddy had treated him, but the young Mr. Cruncher was a tough one, and as he grew into adulthood, the rest of the town began to speculate that he aspired to trouble. Now, he wasn’t about to go kill the mayor or anything, but Butcher’s Knoll, despite its name, has many kind folk, and many would agree that Mr. Cruncher was the most menacing figure to stay in town for a while. He never did enough to get kicked out of the town, but he spoke harsh words to children, and on one occasion, when a dog happened to growl at him, he beat it half to death with his bare hands. To be blunt, he was a bully, and his bulliness grew as his body did, until he was a tall, glowering man of thirty with a crusty mustache and a gun he had out more than any of us were comfortable with. Some of the townspeople were so bothered by his presence that a few of them met with Mayor Mumford to request Mr. Cruncher's removal from town. I went to the meeting more out of curiosity than anything else.
“All he needs is a spark to his fuse,” said Biff, the youth who owned the dog Mr. Cruncher had beaten. “He probably doesn't even feel welcome here. It's plain as day that everyone hates him!”
But Mayor Mumford shook his head. “I'm not much for pre-emptive strikes,” he said. “Maxwell’s been living here for more than half his life. I don't think we should kick him out of town without cause. It would be condemning him to insanity.”
“Isn't my damn dog cause enough?” snarled Biff. “She's only got one eye now.”
“He practices with a handgun every day,” said Mrs. Fiddlesteff, “like he's itching for a fight. And the sound of gunfire always startles me.”
“To be fair,” said the mayor, “it pays to have protection in this town. We never know when bandits will ride in, tryin' to raid our supplies. Biff, you may be too young to remember, but it's happened a few times before, and we would starve for weeks. Thank God they didn't take the medallion.”
I wasn’t sure which side of the fence I stood on at the time; I didn’t imagine Mr. Cruncher felt particularly at home at the Knoll, but now that he was an adult, I couldn't blame him for staying, lest he lose memories of half his life. Of course, he might have left anyway, if Mrs. Styx hadn’t come...
About the Author:
Jonathan Fortin is a writer of dark fantasy, steampunk, satire, horror, and more. As well as being a summa cum laude graduate from San Francisco State University, he is also a founding member of its Speculative Fiction Writer’s Group. Aside from writing, Jonathan also enjoys acting (both on the stage and in front of the camera), video games, graphic novels, making fun of things, sickeningly adorable baby animals, a variety of different kinds of metal, bizarre Japanese music videos, awesome fight scenes in otherwise boring movies, and all things dark and macabre. He lives and writes in the San Francisco East Bay Area in California, where a diverse mixture of overlapping subcultures feeds him constant inspiration for his tales. You can follow him online at https://twitter.com/#!/Jonathan_Fortin
Author's Other Works:
-"Thrice Times Torn," first published in Allegory E-Zine, Volume 17/44
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