by Sofi Heuchert
If it’s a good day, he’d come in twice. If it’s a bad day, only once.
On this summer afternoon, Barnes sat inside The Bounty, flipping through a catalogue in front of the register when Grimsbane strode through the door. The bell jingled from the top of the doorway alerting Barnes of the hunter’s arrival and seeing that it was that particular hunter, he immediately rose to greet him.
No one in the town of Deadwood knew Grimsbane’s real name. He’d just appear one day and no one ever dared question where he came from. Since his arrival, the creatures stopped coming close to town. Small favors.
Everything in his appearance looked ragged. His tall frame, always wrapped in a tattered olive-green trench coat revealed dark underclothes― stained with mud and blood. That wasn’t even the worst part about him, though. His face remained concealed by a mustard handkerchief, only his bloodshot eyes unveiled. They seemed to always stare at the townspeople accusingly. Any visible skin was burnt and scarred. He seemed to never rest, always looking for monsters.
Grimsbane’s discolored bag thumped against the counter as he took a seat. Barnes swallowed noticeably. The smell coming from the bag was unbearable, like sewage and rot.
“Grimsbane! How you doing, big fella?” Barnes said. “What’d you bring in that bag of yours?”
The man in question unknotted the top of the sack. It didn’t take Barnes long to notice two green-tinged severed arms. Then he noticed the other appendages. Half hidden by the body parts was a pair of translucent wings.
“Faerie,” grunted Grimsbane.
Barnes looked at the contents of the bag in revolting awe. His fingers hovered over the body parts before snapping back into attention.
“Yes, yes, I can see that,” nodded Barnes. “Roger! C’mere boy, look what Grimsbane brought us!”
Roger pulled the curtain that separated the backroom from the entrance and walked in. He wiped his hands on his apron, blood staining his skin.
“Lookie here, boy!” Barnes said. “A faerie! Why, no one has been able to catch one of these bastards for years. What can you do with this, eh, Rog?”
Roger examined the contents, not caring that green faerie blood smudged his hands.
“Where’s the head?” he asked Grimsbane.
“No head,” Grimsbane answered. “Body.”
Roger and Barnes learned early on that asking Grimsbane for more details led nowhere. Roger nodded and picked up one of the arms. The hand flopped lifelessly out of the bag. Barnes noticed the small size of the arm and the unusual green-tinge. The arm could have belonged to a human if Barnes hadn’t known it belonged to a faerie.
“Well, have we got something to work with?”
Roger laid the arm to rest. “I can remove the insides and stuff it up to display it before the shop. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of clients wanting to pay for the ingredients— especially pieces of those wings.”
Barnes grinned at Roger and clapped him on the back. The boy started working for him five years ago, and he’d been the best asset to the shop Barnes could ever hope for.
Grimsbane put a hand on the bag before Barnes or Roger could do anything else.
“Pay first,” Grimsbane demanded.
“Of course! Now, a faerie is a rare find. How about we say 80?” Barnes bartered. “200.” The hunter gave him his awful stare with no room for argument.
Barnes winced at the large sum. “There’s no head, Grimsbane. The head’s the most impor-”
“200,” interrupted Roger, “Is a fair price. You’ll get your money right away.”
He walked over to the register and handed the money to Grimsbane. His hands were heavily scarred, just like every other visible skin. His nails were sharp and caked in dried green blood. Grimsbane grunted in farewell and exited, returning to the woods where his next prey resided.
“Boy! Are you trying to make me go bankrupt? No body is worth that much!”
Roger hefted the sealed bag and carried it with no struggle. Barnes enviously remembered a time when his body didn’t fail him.
“Trust me, old man,” the boy replied. “This thing will make up for the money wasted once people find out what we have.”
Barnes settled back in his seat and narrowed his eyes at Roger.
“It better. Or they’ll be hell to pay. Ya hear me, boy?”
The boy simply grinned, waved him off, and vanished into the back room. The shop was quiet as the afternoon bled into the evening. Barnes sat back on his stool and looked at his entire collection hanging from the walls.
At night, Barnes regaled the bar with the story of how he acquired a faerie when a question from the barmaid made him pause.
“What?” Barnes frowned. She was very pretty, and always reminded him of his wife.
“If there’s no head,” the barmaid repeated, “how do you know it’s a faerie?”
The rest of the bar attendants murmured in agreement. A faerie’s features were distinct: pointy ears and rows and rows of sharp, large teeth. Without that, they could easily pass off as human if they hid their wings.
Barnes sputtered trying to respond. “Come now! This is Grimsbane, the best hunter out there!”
Mentioning Grimsbane caused many of the hunters to scoff bitterly. No one knew where Grimsbane hunted to get these rare creatures. While everyone caught the same elves, golems, and satyrs, Grimsbane brought in werewolves, gorgons, and demons. Sometimes, Barnes worried. What if they hunted all the monsters to the point of extinction? Back when he still hunted, some monster types became extinct.
Barnes knew he shouldn’t complain. Every hunter went to him with their bounty. But he wanted to expand his collection. The thought made him gulp his beer down. Another hunter chimed in before Barnes could diverge the conversation.
“Never mind that. Didn’t you men hear about the disappearances in Shadow Hills just days ago?”
“A man a couple of towns over was found ripped in half. It was said that his lower body was missing,” another one said.
“There’s been killings and disappearances for months now. Nothing was found,” a third reported.
“Could it be the same monster?” someone else asked.
Barnes’s mind was racing. This sounded like a big monster, a possible new asset to his collection.
“Well,” Barnes announced. “I don’t know anyone more capable of finding that creature than all of you men right here. I’ll give good money to whoever finds it, too.”
“Grimsbane!” Barnes called as he saw him stomp across town, hands gripping large amounts of chains. Two weeks passed and no one had been able to catch the monster responsible for the disappearances. Barnes was getting antsy and not even Grimsbane had brought back anything.
Grimsbane kept walking and it wasn’t until the third call that he stopped. Barnes caught his breath as he reached Grimsbane. The hunter looked a lot more horrifying in the sunlight; his burn marks more pronounced, his eyes colder and his body towering. Barnes tried to bravely stare up at him.
“Any news on that new monster?” he asked Grimsbane.
“Some folks are getting pretty restless, you know, and I think if it’s up on my wall people are gonna rest easy.”
Grimsbane dropped the heavy chains on the floor in front of Barnes. “Rest easy.”
Barnes looked around the deserted town square as Grimsbane echoed his words. The afternoon heat had everyone locked away in their chilly homes. “Yeah, rest easy. You know monsters, all they do is kill. We can’t let any more innocent people get hurt.”
Grimsbane loomed over at Barnes. He felt something shifting in the conversation. Goosebumps formed on his arms regardless of the unbearable heat. The hunter gave Barnes one final look before picking up the chains from the ground. “Tonight,” Grimsbane said.
“What about tonight?”
“I will give you your monster.” Grimsbane was already walking towards the woods. Elation filled his whole chest. Tonight, he’d have another prize for his collection.
“Don’t kill any other unnecessary monsters,” Barnes called out to the hunter’s retreating form. “Let them breed a bit so you have more game to hunt in the future!”
Barnes laughed at his own cleverness and went back into The Bounty. The body of the faerie hung in the middle of the back wall, right in sight’s view. It hung with its arms outstretched and wings furled out, the stitching so immaculate that Barnes could barely see it.
“Roger, get your knives ready,” Barnes said. “We’ll have a new addition tonight.”
He and Roger spent the rest of the afternoon reorganizing the collection. He liked to switch it around and give all his prizes the attention they deserved. The ghoul replaced the changeling, allowing space for the new monster. Barnes thought that it would surely have the same aesthetic. He had a great feeling about this.
By the time eight o’clock rolled around, Roger and Barnes were starving.
“Go to the diner and get us some food,” Barnes told the apprentice.
“Are you sure? Grimsbane could come any minute now.”
Barnes waved him off. The food wouldn’t take too long and the two were starving. “Don’t forget to observe their reactions. I want to know what they all say,” he demanded.
“Yes, sir.” Roger gave a lazy salute and left.
Barnes stared at the time and started pacing. Every couple of minutes he looked out the window; Grimsbane had yet to appear. Every time the clock ticked it seemed to get louder and louder, so Barnes decided to go outside for fresh air and wait for the hunter.
Outside, the crickets chirped in harmony and the heat from the day had transformed into a nice cool evening breeze. The houses were all lit up with light as people ate dinner and conversed. The diner wasn’t visible from his shop, so Barnes didn’t know if Roger was almost done. What he did see, however, was a distinct mustard color in the distance. Grimsbane was standing by the tailor shop staring directly at Barnes. The moment Barnes was about to call out his name, the hunter moved and headed back towards the woods.
Without thinking, Barnes followed. He figured the monster was big and Grimsbane needed help moving it. “What did you catch, Grimsbane?” Barnes asked as they reached the woods. “A wendigo? Nachzehrer? A Dragon?”
His heart pounded in excitement from the thought. He hadn’t seen a dragon since his wife was killed 30 years ago. Her voice came to him now, urging him further into the forest.
Grimsbane ignored him and led him to a large fallen tree. It looked completely intact and Barnes could see all the roots that had been pulled. It created a giant hole where the old tree once stood. It smelled rotten. Wrinkling his nose, Barnes looked down and squinted in the dark. With only moonlight, it was difficult to see, but Barnes noticed certain shapes that looked like a child’s head, an entire lower body, and piles and piles of other body parts. Barnes’s blood ran cold.
“Grimsbane,” he whispered. “What is this?”
‘Hunting spoils,” the hunter replied.
“This doesn’t look like monsters! These are humans. What have you done?” Barnes asked horrified as he walked slowly away from Grimsbane.
“I hunt monsters.” Grimsbane stared at Barnes expressionless. “I cut and make humans look like my people and you hang them up on a wall.”
This was the most Grimsbane had ever talked. Barnes' mind raced as he realized what the creature in front of him said. That meant that the faerie on his wall… was an actual human child… and he had it on his wall. This couldn’t be possible. Grimsbane just looked calmly on.
“What are you?” demanded Barnes.
Grimsbane reached back and untied the handkerchief that always hid his nose and mouth. Barnes noticed his long jagged fangs and the distinct features of a crocotta, a creature that killed his wife.
“You,” Barnes trembled. He fell to his knees and froze on the ground. His body failed him as his mind screamed to run. “Your kind killed my wife.”
“You killed all my family,” the creature responded. “Now I kill you.”
Barnes tried to fight, but Grimsbane was stronger than him. Grimsbane grabbed him by the neck and watched him choke as he held him off the ground. He gave one final feeble attempt to remove Grimsbane’s hand, but his iron grip never let go. Barnes dropped his hands and looked at Grimsbane’s satisfied eyes as black spots filled his vision. Barnes’s cries were lost in the woods.
“Another monster for my collection.”
Grimsbane extended his jaw, rows of pointed teeth biting Barnes’s head off. Silence reigned in the woods once more.
The next morning, Grimsbane showed up to The Bounty and presented a worried Roger with the head of a vampire, the creature that caused all the disappearances.