The Marksman was clever, but darkness is a hard thing to catch, even for the Fable-verse’s best hunter. We now have another great hunter, a stalker of evil-doers, a gun for hire. However, tonight the hunter will become the hunted, the Gunslinger will meet a seemingly innocent threat, but insidious in nature…
Dust kicks up from under the boots of the bounty hunter as he walks across the main street of town. The feeling of cottonmouth dominates the mouth of the Gunslinger. It had been days since the Gunslinger had laid down to rest, or sat down over a hot meal and a cold drink. His latest bounty has proven to be the most elusive.
Several towns in the Southwest had reported strange incidents from dying crops to mutilated livestock, to strange deaths of the townsfolk. The murdered townsfolk were found with unexplainable gashes and stab wounds. Some were found set on fire and others still found poisoned. None of these events could be explained. The stench seemed to follow a mysterious drifter. Some believed him to be a sly murderer. Others believed him to be a warlock, a dabbler in black magic. Either way, the towns through which the drifter passed believed that he was responsible and had placed a bounty on his head.
To be honest, the Gunslinger didn’t much care what the drifter was. After all, the Gunslinger had not yet met a problem that couldn’t be fixed with a bullet. He was starting to wonder, though. Scouring the Southwest for months, the Gunslinger hadn’t been able to pick up any trace of the drifter, even with the help of his bionic eye.
What the Gunslinger is searching for at this moment isn’t a bounty but a cold drink and a place to lay his head. He’s utterly exhausted and needs to regroup. The Gunslinger walks into the saloon, ready to lose himself in the nightlife for a while.
The sun begins to fall in the sky, casting a pale glow across the town as the Gunslinger walks out of the saloon. A warm meal and a few cold drinks were just what the doctor ordered. The Gunslinger continues down the main street, heading to the boarding house where he had a room reserved for the night.
As he was walking down the boardwalk a storefront catches his eye. A whimsical display with a wide array of toys graces the window of the shop. The Gunslinger, his attention captured by the store, crosses the street to give the store a look-see.
A bell rings as he opens the door and steps into the store. The sinking sun’s rays illuminate the front of the store, but the back is secluded from its light. All manner of toys line the shelves. Pop guns, jump rope, and hoops and sticks stocked the shelves. The most prominent toys in the shop were the dolls. There were all kinds of dolls: baby dolls, porcelain dolls, women in dresses, cowboys, clowns, and stuffed animals. All the pristine dolls sat neatly on the shelf overlooking the toy store.
“Can I help you?” rings a voice from behind the counter in the back. The voice belongs to the store owner, a tall man dressed in a bright navy jacket with a pale yellow shirt. An eccentric teal top hat graces the toy maker’s head and a soft white beard encompasses his jaw. To the Gunslinger it looked like Santa meets comical chocolate factory owner.
The Gunslinger picks up a cowboy doll. He thought of his only son. His precious son that was stolen from him, murdered in cold blood. His son that he would bring back.
“I’ll take this cowboy,” replies the Gunslinger gruffly. “It’ll be a fine gift for my son when I return.”
“Very good sir, where is home?” asks the friendly store owner.
“Far far away,” replies the Gunslinger, a touch of sadness in his voice.
“Well I do hope you enjoy this doll,” replies the owner.
The Gunslinger found the reply odd, the doll being for his son, however, the Gunslinger dismissed the comment as a mistake and carried the doll on to his room.
The Gunslinger lay in his bed, deep in sleep, tired after the many days of searching. The light from the full moon washes into the Gunslinger’s room. The night is still and quiet. Suddenly a crashing jerks him awake. The Gunslinger lights a candle and looks around his room. He sees no sign of breaking glass at the window or anywhere else for that matter. He then turns to his nightstand and sees the issue. A glass of water he had sat next to the bed had fallen to the floor, probably as a result of the Gunslinger bumping the stand in his sleep. It was right next to the bed after all.
The Gunslinger dims the light and rolls back over in bed, determined to clean the broken glass up the next morning. The Gunslinger closes his eyes and drinks in the stillness of the night. As drowsiness begins to creep into his brain he feels one of his bedsheets shift, even as the Gunslinger lays still. The Gunslinger rolls quickly to see a small figure raising an object over its head, the object glinting in the moonlight. The Gunslinger quickly swipes at the figure, slinging it against the wall. The Gunslinger rolls over and grabs his pistol laying on the nightstand and brightens the lamp.
To the Gunslinger’s surprise, he sees the cowboy doll climbing up the window ceil, pushing the window open, and jumping out. The Gunslinger runs to the window and sees the silhouette of the doll running back towards the toy store. The Gunslinger, confused by what he just saw but determined to get to the bottom of it, runs over to his bed, sitting down to put on his boots. He feels a sharp pain in his but and he springs off the bed. Reaching back, he picks up a shard of glass, and then it clicks. The mysterious deaths, the animated dolls, the bounty, they all click together in the Gunslinger’s mind.
The bell sounds as the Gunslinger opens the door to the toy store. It’s pitch black. The Gunslinger’s bionic eye switches over to night vision and that’s when he sees it. The halls are crawling with twisted dolls. What earlier were pristine and beautiful dolls were now demented abominations running towards the Gunslinger. The Gunslinger opens fire, blowing the heads off of several of the dolls. The dolls release clouds of black sand as they are hit, confirming to the Gunslinger that these were products of black magic, minions of the bounty he had been hunting. Despite the Gunslinger’s efficiency, his twin pistols only held six shots, but there was a mob of charging dolls. As the Gunslinger tries to reload the dolls close in. He stomps and kicks trying to keep them away.
In all the action, the cowboy doll carrying a ball pin hammer sneaks up behind the Gunslinger and smacks the hammer into his ankle. The Gunslinger falls to the floor in pain, still kicking and swinging at the mob of demented toys. The cowboy doll waddles up to the Gunslinger’s head, straining to raise the hammer above its head. As quick as a flash, the Gunslinger grabs an Arkansas toothpick from a sheath dangling from his belt and bisects the doll.
The Gunslinger gets to his feet and continues to fire at the dolls. He makes his way over to a table displaying a tea set and turns it over, creating a barrier to hide behind.
“I know you’re in here!” cries the Gunslinger to the Dollmaker, as he continues shooting at the dolls. He knew he had to be, but the strange thing was that the bionic eye wasn’t picking up any trace of the Dollmaker.
The Gunslinger goes to reload again but realizes he only has thirteen bullets remaining. He reloads his pistols, kicking and stomping encroaching dolls the whole time, and then picks up the table and rushes the onslaught of dolls; breaking, crushing, and tossing them with the effort. The Gunslinger crashes into the store counter with the table, then turns and fires at the remaining toys. While shooting, the Gunslinger feels something climbing up his jeans. He looks down to see the upper torso of the cowboy doll relentlessly climbing his pant leg. The Gunslinger kicks the doll off and turns to release a bevy of bullets.
*CLICK* *CLICK* *CLICK*
The Gunslinger realizes that his pistols are empty and instead stomps the cowboy doll, but then realizes that all the dolls have stopped. They all stand at attention as the Dollmaker steps out of the shadows. His face is the definition of deranged, a necklace of doll eyes hanging around his neck, and several doll faces are pinned to his teal hat. His eyes are as black as coal. In his hands sit a knife, a spool of thread, and a sewing needle.
“Bravo, braaavo Mr. Bounty Hunter,” crows the Dollmaker, “What a spectacular performance, although it seems you are out of bullets. Time to see what kind of doll we can make out of you.”
The Dollmaker moves forward but the Gunslinger gives a sly grin.
“But don’t you want to see my last trick,” asks the Gunslinger boldly.
The question causes the Dollmaker to falter briefly, and that is all the Gunslinger needs.
The Gunslinger holsters his left pistol pulling out the last remaining bullet and flicking it into the air. With his other hand, he flips open the gate on his cylinder and angles his gun down. The bullet arcs and descends, landing right in the cylinder.
The Gunslinger, in one fluid motion, flips the cylinder gate shut and fires a shot.
The Dollmaker looks down in shock, seeing a hole in his chest. Sand begins to flow out of the hole. The Dollmaker falls to the ground and simultaneously all the other dolls do too.
The Gunslinger exhales a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad that worked,” murmurs The Gunslinger to himself. He walks over to the fallen Dollmaker and lights a match. Sure enough, the face on the wanted poster matched the face lying face-down in the floor match.
He turns and strolls out of the store. Time to wake the sheriff and collect the bounty. The Gunslinger is concerned that the sheriff won’t believe the story, but the bounty poster and the Dollmaker’s face will be enough to get the Gunslinger his payday.
The store is dark and quiet. Pieces of disembodied dolls lay everywhere. The Dollmaker lies on his back, dead. The sheriff had come and investigated the scene, rolling the Dollmaker over to identify him, and has gone off to wake the coroner.
A small scuttling cuts through the silence. A small doll with a bright navy jacket and a teal top hat hobbles across the floor. It pulls a spool of thread and sewing needle over to the body and climbs atop the Dollmaker’s chest.
*STITCH* *STITCH* *STITCH*