This story is by Sailor Scrivner and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Quint took shelter in a barren saloon and had the intentions of waiting out the storm. Though even inside this empty and sorry building, there was only enough warmth to survive. He brought the brim of his hat down as far as it would go and it still only covered the tips of his ears. As he did this, he cursed and began to ponder on comparisons between hell and the blizzard that enveloped him and the rest of the town. Were he given a choice between the two—his answer would be a hard thing to admit.
He was asleep and only woke when he heard a loud thump in the distance. Then he sat up abruptly, a gloved hand reaching for one of his gun belts. When there was nothing but the sharp wind, he breathed. After a pause, the thump returned once more. It could’ve been the storm but he questioned just how alone he was. He put the gun belts on. Quint was so content with shelter, however, that he hesitated when nearing the saloon’s swinging paint-chipped doors.
Once he let curiosity forgo the little warmth he had, the weather flapped the ends of his cloak to one side like a flag; it was so fierce that he would’ve been knocked off his feet had he not prepared for it. It was all he could do to wrap the soil-brown wool around his body and take another step, bracing for the freezing winds. Outside and far off near the entrance of town, he could still see a sign that read GLOSSOLY flailing in the blowing snow. The sound continued on, loud, echoing, slow and lingering. Thump … thump … thump.
Quint followed it cautiously and wondered if the sound was but a door slapping noisily at its neighboring counterpart. It was hard to see through the warring blizzard but as he marched through knee-deep whiteness, he could make out the sparse buildings he passed by. He felt as though he was being watched and an uneasy urge fell on his clothed fingers. Instinct made him remove the gloves and stuff them into his satchel. His bare hands remained on the grips of his revolvers, and warily so.
The noise was loudest at a wooden barn where he finally stopped, noticing its doors entirely unhinged and lying restfully under snowy blankets several feet apart from each other. Painted over the barn’s cracks and crevices of old splintery wood was the word F E E D, read with lengthy gaps between the letters.
A thump came from inside and Quint gripped the guns tighter. He was ready to draw them at any moment from the holsters hanging on the hips of crisscrossed belts. When he entered the feed barn he found the remains of a body and its horse semi-buried within a snowy corner. Even without the cold, the corpse and carcass appeared too fresh to have decayed so quickly to the bone; there was evidence of where they had been eaten from. Quint could only see the backs of four people who crowded the corner, staring down at the bodies as if the flesh would resurface.
They’re cannibals, he thought with index fingers curved around the triggers, ready to flex and press down. He had journeyed long and far in his search for Entempa and game was scarce during the harsh winters. Occasionally he would find an elk and hunt it down, but more often than not the animals were smaller and through his experience he had learned how to lure them. But this was different; cannibalism was something a bit beyond Quint’s nod of approval. This was something gruesome and monstrously terrible, as all ordinary common folk would agree. No matter his intentions or how desperate he was to return home, he could never do that. Not that the opportunity would ever arise anyway. Excluding now, he had not seen his own kind in many, many months.
Thump … thump … thump … continued on, defiant as ever from a corner, opposite of the crowd, by way of forehead banging onto a wall. It was very disturbing to watch the woman force her skull onto the wood, where her own blood had already dried and was recoating. Underneath the heel of Quint’s boot, something crunched and the heads of five strangers turned to face him.
He was given half a moment to realize they were not cannibals at all. The second half he used to fire his guns the instant he looked upon their malicious faces. Although they were the clothes of common folk, they were far from human. All of them bore resembling features: huge broad noses, which protruded unattractively; snarling brown and rotted under bites; angry violet eyes, set into chunky deep green faces. They were unlike anyone or thing he had ever seen.
Only one managed to step forward and then he shot them all down. The woman wore a gash on her green forehead, and when he shot her down her head bumped once more against the wall. Then he backed out of the barn eagerly, only to find more of the creatures marching out of buildings, groaning of relentless hunger.
He counted as he fought his way through them and the blizzard, reloading, running, growling. There were at least twenty and when he had blown half of them away to become as dead as the winter, something tugged at his leg. He whirled back but he didn’t have time to notice. The creatures were still coming at him in a flurry. He shot one in the chest, another in the head and then looked again. The thing clutched at Quint’s leg with overgrown talons, piercing him immediately. He grew frantic as another one drew close. One gun fired at it, another shot the wrist around his leg as he pulled back. Once he was free, his voice became guttural and the revolvers arched bullets all around him.
Quint limped as fast as he could to safety until he found a snow-covered shack near Glossoly’s entrance. He hid behind it while their emotionless feebleminded groaning could not yet be heard over the sharp winds. They would find him, though; there was a trail of red that shown remarkably well in the backdrop of snow, following him to a puddle at his left leg where the creature tore a chunk of his skin away, through jeans and all.
Let them come, he thought solemnly. They’ll seal their own fates.
Quint reloaded and pulled an old tattered scarf from his satchel, wrapping it around the wound.
He hobbled from the shack when their groans were but a turn away. Just four left. They were the last of this dark and secluded town. Quint fired with deadly precision and made sure they would never grab him again. Finally, when they were gone, he holstered his guns with sore and warm hands. Shooting revolvers was a searing business.
Quint grunted as he limped through Glossoly, stopping only at a window covered in snow. With a gloved hand, he wiped the snow away. It was the first time in a long time he had seen his own reflection. He took off his hat and gazed upon the cold skin of his face hidden under a thick red beard. Long fire-colored hair fell at his shoulders, horribly matted. For a moment he thought his green eyes would weep. This was how he looked now, far from the clean-shaven man who once lived where civilization still existed.
He moved away after a long pause and turned back to the saloon, where he would need to treat his wound. He thought of the corpse in the barn and the things who ate him or her to its windswept bones. The poor person must’ve had no idea.
Quint clenched his mouth as his leg throbbed. He thought of Entempa, his purpose, and his home. Nothing would stop him from returning. Nothing could. The very thought of the grand city, where spring was endless, moved him. The winter was the very thing he strived to escape. He walked away from the bodies of those he killed, and intended on leaving Glossoly for good after the storm blew over. It was his duty to go forward.
Soon after, Quint faltered and turned back. He stared at the creatures for several moments and asked himself if he should steal their clothes. In this cold hell, he would find need of them. Quint left the strange creatures there in the end, undressed for all of the town to gaze upon their misshapen bodies. No one would see, of course; the lands had grown empty and Entempa was but a dream.
He did indeed dream of Entempa though, that night in the saloon. He dreamed of the same woman he always saw in his slumber, with her yellow dress and the rolling green hills she called home. Outside, he did not hear the groans of Glossoly.
Diane Krause says
This is much improved from the first draft I read in the workshop. Congratulations, you nailed it.