Kill the Curdler

📅 Published on August 15, 2022

“Kill the Curdler”

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek and N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.00/10. From 4 votes.
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The poster was simple. Someone had done their best with it, but their best wasn’t very good.

MONSTIR HUNTIRS WANTED, read the boldly misspelled words at the top. Below that was a drawing straight out of a child’s imagination. It showed a hunched creature with big, staring eyes and a drooling mouth. It had pointy ears and spines running down its back. Clutched in its huge claws was something that was probably supposed to be a cow, judging by the horns. Other lumps at its feet suggested that it had killed more than one.

The large print beneath the picture was the interesting part: $300 DOLLAR REWORD.

“What do you figure, Walt?” asked Joe. The two men were among the dozens who had gathered around when the stranger began nailing copies of this sign to posts all around the train station. When asked, he’d said only that his town, Evota Falls, was desperate to find whatever was killing their cattle, and that proof of the money would be shown to any would-be hunters who arrived.

“Hmmm,” said Walt, drawing the syllable out like stretching taffy. “Seems fairly suspect to my mind. A couple of days out there by train just to find out that they’re planning to short you on the payment, like as not. Maybe splitting it between folks, maybe charging for room and board, maybe flat-out paying less than the poster says. ‘Nother couple of days back, still out of your own pocket, and you’ve lost a week’s worth of work for nothing.”

“But the reward! That’s a year’s wages, Walt. You’re talking about losing a week, but this is more’n fifty weeks’ pay. For what? A couple of train rides, one sleepless night and one single bullet.” Joe eyed his friend slyly. “Maybe a few more, if you’ve been lying about how good you are.”

“I don’t lie,” said Walt. “You’ve seen me shoot.”

“Cans, sure. Anybody can shoot a can. You telling me your hand would be just as steady staring down that thing?” Joe tapped the picture.

“If it’s there, I can shoot it. I don’t miss what I set my eye to.”

“C’mon, Walt. Let’s go check it out. I got the money for the train on me. If it don’t pan out, you don’t have to pay me back.”

“So we’re a team on this, huh? You know they’re splitting the money ‘tween us if we’re a team. That’s half of your fifty weeks gone right there.”

Despite Walt’s words, Joe could hear from his friend’s tone that he’d already won. Walt wanted to go investigate this as much as he did. “Gripe all you want! I’m buying the tickets unless you’re stopping me.”

“Throw your money away however suits your fancy,” Walt told him.

Joe grinned and scampered off to the ticket booth. Walt watched him go, then tore the poster from the wooden pole.

“Hey! I was reading that,” complained another man.

“You already read what you need to read,” Walt told him. “If you’re coming, go buy a ticket like my fool friend over there. I’m taking this with me to prove when I get there that they offered a bounty of three hundred. I won’t have them cheating me by claiming maybe I misremembered.”

For all of Walt’s complaining, he was intrigued. He’d always had a fondness for the stories of monsters growing up. He had been disappointed as an adult to learn that they were nothing but tall tales. Deep in his heart, he still harbored hope that some day he would discover something truly unknown and bizarre, the sort of thing that others had believed existed only in fiction.

He knew the likelihood of this was small, but this poster appealed to that hidden part of him. Logically, it was certainly going to be a waste of their time and Joe’s train tickets. And yet—what if it wasn’t? What if there really was something strange and new in Evota Falls?

Walt shrugged his knapsack higher on his shoulders and looked over to where Joe was waving two paper tickets at him from the booth. He had nothing in particular tying him to this town, anyway. He folded the poster into a small square, tucked it into his pocket and sauntered off to catch a train with his excitable friend.

The train ride was hot, loud and uncomfortable, but soon enough Joe and Walt found themselves standing on a ramshackle wooden platform declaring itself to be the Evota Falls train depot. A half-dozen other men disembarked along with them, and the whole group exchanged wary glances at they took in their surroundings.

“Not much here,” said Walt to the world in general. A murmur of assent arose from the men around him.

“Look, there’s a welcome sign!” said Joe, running forward to read it. “‘Welcome monster hunters. Ask for Mayor Ackerman at the boarding house.’ Shoot, let’s go!”

“Don’t suppose you have any idea where the boarding house is, do you?” asked Walt as they left the station. Joe’s eagerness had positioned him as the leader, and the rest of the group trailed behind them.

“Can’t be but so hard to find. Bet it’s that big house over there.” Joe pointed across the strip of dirt that could loosely be called a street to a multi-story wooden building. It looked to be new construction and relatively freshly painted, and was easily three times the size of any other building in the tiny town.

“It had better be,” said Walt, “as it’s the only place ‘round here likely to fit us all in at once. Otherwise we’re gonna be monster-hunting in shifts.”

The man who greeted them at the door was tall, rangy and looked more like a cattle rustler than a politician, but he introduced himself as Mayor Ackerman and invited the motley group into the house.

“Looks like you folks are our last batch of the day,” said the mayor, “so I’ll give you all the rundown that the others got and then we’ll get you sorted. First of all, the question that’s on all of your minds: yes, the money’s good. Show ‘em, Delia.”

An unsmiling woman across the room opened up a leather satchel that was stuffed with coins and paper notes.

“You can count it if you like,” said the mayor, “but it’s three hundred, sure enough. We all dug deep to pitch in, but it’ll be well worth it if you can get rid of whatever’s been killing off our livestock.

“Second, I’m gonna give you the bad news. There’s eight of you here and that many again upstairs, and that money’s only going to one of you. The one that brings back the corpse of the Curdler walks out with the bag. The rest of you get a hearty breakfast and a fond farewell at the station. It ain’t fair, but it’s how it is.”

Walt nudged Joe. “Told ya.”

“Shh,” Joe said. His eyes were fixed on the leather satchel like he was trying to count the coins from where he stood. Walt rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the mayor.

“So grab seats and the food’ll be out shortly. Delia’s made up a batch of beef stew to let you know what we’re defending out here, and I think you’ll agree it’s something special.

“Once you’ve all ate, we’ll get you guides and you can head out to find it. Curdler’s never been spotted before midnight, so there’s no rush, but I know some of you are gonna want to scope out a few areas, probably settle yourself in before that thing comes sniffing around.”

Delia clanged a large brass bell, and the other bounty hunters the mayor had mentioned began to make their way downstairs. The dining room seated the entire crowd, but space was at a premium and Delia had to elbow more than one man out of her path as she made her way through with bowls of soup.

Walt cast an eye over the group as he waited for his food to arrive. He judged that he was the oldest of them all at nearly thirty. Joe was probably the youngest; he swore he was twenty-two, but Walt would have been surprised if he’d seen his eighteenth birthday. The rest were somewhere in the middle, and their attitudes ran the gamut from excited anticipation to aloof detachment. All of them carried their guns casually, and the holsters showed signs of regular use. None of them were strangers to violence.

Joe, of course, was the most excitable of them all. “What did he call it, the Curdler? Do you think it looks like the poster?”

“Mayor said we’re getting a guide, Joe. Ask him your questions instead of bothering me when you know I don’t know.”

“Where should we go to shoot it? We gonna go hide out in a barn and wait?”

“We’ll ask the guide, Joe. And we’ll do it away from these gentlemen so we don’t all end up in the same place. May be a small town, but I’m sure that there’s more than enough territory for sixteen men to find their own space and not have to worry about who shot the beast first.”

Joe looked shamefaced. “Sorry, Walt.”

“Soup’s here. Put your mouth to good use instead of flapping your gums.”

They ate in relative silence aside from the slurps and the scraping of spoons on bowls. The mayor was right. The beef stew really was something special. It was rich and tangy, with a flavor Walt couldn’t place. Evota Falls was right to be proud of their cattle.

He flagged Delia down to ask for a second bowl. If the soup might be his only payment for coming out here, Walt was going to make the most of it.

After dinner, the mayor clapped his hands to get their attention. “All right. We’ve gathered up a bunch of folks who’ve seen the Curdler. They’re waiting for you outside, so file out and we’ll get you paired up.”

The group outside was mainly made up of young women, to Walt’s surprise. There were a couple of boys in their teens and a few kids as well, but ninety percent of the town guides were female.

“Hey, all right!” whispered Joe. “I’m not gonna mind sitting up all night with—hey, what are you doing?”

Walt had crossed directly to one of the teen boys and clasped his shoulder. “What’s your name?”

“Samuel. And this is my brother Roscoe,” the teen said, indicating a nearby boy of perhaps ten.

“Perfect, two guides for the two of us. I’m Walt, and this is my friend Joe.”

“What’d you pick him for?” asked Joe.

“Because we’re supposed to be keeping our eyes out for a monster, and you showed me exactly where your eyes were going to be if I let you choose the guide. Quit sulking and let’s move. We got our guide, so now’s your time to ask those questions.”

“Fine,” said Joe, falling in with the small group as they moved away from the boarding house. “So what can you tell us about this Curdler?”

“Ooh, it’s huge!” Roscoe piped up. “I’ve seen it in lurking off at the edges of the fields. It can step right over the fence.”

Walt looked at Samuel skeptically, but Samuel was nodding along with his brother. “Moves on all fours a lot of the time, but it can rear up on two when it wants to. Does that mainly right before it feeds. Scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Just this dark shadow looming over a cow, with two big eyes way up at the top reflecting back at you out of the night.”

He shuddered. “It’s nothing I ever want to see again. No offense, mister, but I’m hoping we’re not the ones who find it tonight.”

Joe snorted. “Some guides you picked.”

“Don’t worry,” Walt said, ignoring him. “I promise you that if we see it tonight, it’ll be the last time you ever have to see it.”

“Or hear it,” added Roscoe.

“What’s it sound like?”

“When it’s moving? Nothing at all. It’s quiet as a ghost most of the time. But it can scream like—” Roscoe inhaled deeply.

“Don’t,” said Samuel, quickly putting his hand over his brother’s mouth.

“All right, all right,” Roscoe muttered, shoving Samuel’s hand away. “Anyway, it’ll freeze your blood solid to hear it. It does that to stop the bulls fighting back. It stops them dead in their tracks. Might even kill them, that’s how bad it is.”

“It’ll do the same to you, if you’re not careful,” Samuel said to Walt and Joe. “Lock your finger right there on the trigger, scare you so bad you can’t move.”

“I think I’ll be okay,” said Walt. “Where was it seen the last two times? Just point in the general direction.”

The two boys pointed, settling on the same direction after a moment. “That was two nights ago, and then last night it was at the neighbor’s ranch out this way.”

“It shows up every night? And no one’s been able to stop it?”

“We didn’t put together that reward money for fun,” said Samuel. “I told you. It curdles your blood right there in your body. There’s no thought in your head but staying perfectly still so it don’t notice you anymore. Once you hear that scream, you’ll understand.”

“Then I guess we’d better shoot it before it opens its mouth,” said Joe. “Hey, Walt? You think we’re gonna get this thing?”

“We might, if we’re smart. Come on, let’s go get set up. If it’s been moving this way for the last two nights, might just be that it’ll keep going that way. Take us to the closest field in that direction, Samuel.”

With the boys offering direction, Walt and Joe found a low hummock overlooking the prairie. A few scrawny cows wandered around, chewing desolately at the sparse grass.

“Not much of a herd,” Joe remarked.

“The Curdler’s been feeding for some time,” said Samuel.

“Surprised you can keep cows out here even without something eating them,” Walt said. “That grass is mighty thin, and there’s been no water source that I’ve seen neither.”

“We’ve got wells,” said Samuel. “There’s enough to keep things alive out here if you’re willing to do the work.”

The late evening slid away into night. The stars and moon cast everything in a dim silvery veil. The two men and their guides waited patiently, flattened on their stomachs on the small hilltop.

Conversation died out. Walt was content to wait in silence, and Joe thankfully followed his lead. Roscoe was antsy, though, squirming from place to place, and Samuel’s patience seemed little better.

Eventually Roscoe fell asleep. For a moment, Walt thought they might finally have stillness, and then Samuel rose to his feet and stretched.

“I’m gonna—” he began, only to be cut off by a sharp sibilance from Walt.

“Hst! Get back down!”

A shadow moved beyond the cows, creeping along in the silhouette of the fence. Walt leveled his gun, taking careful aim.

“Wait!” Samuel cried, fear in his eyes. He dropped to his knees, reaching for the gun, but Walt had already fired.

Roscoe startled awake at the gunshot. Out by the fenceline, a figure reared up briefly and dropped. Roscoe screamed and scrambled down the hill toward it, shouting, “Pa! Pa!”

“What’s—get your hands off my gun, boy!” Walt’s feeling of satisfaction vanished as Samuel snatched at the gun, trying to wrest it away from him.

“Drop it! What’s he doing, Walt?” shouted Joe.

Walt slugged Samuel, sending him reeling. “What’s gotten into you?”

Suddenly an unearthly howl went up, a loud, cacophonous shriek that seemed to just keep gaining volume as it went along. It came not from one location but from everywhere, ringing the town.

“How many of ‘em are there, Walt?” Joe’s eyes were wide and frightened. A gunshot rang out, and then another.

“I don’t know. Something’s—ulch!”

Walt staggered toward Joe, hands clutching his side. In the moonlight, the gushing blood looked black. Behind him stood Samuel with a knife. His expression was feral as he darted in for another stab.

One more gunshot sounded as Walt fired again. Samuel crumpled to the ground with a hole in his chest. His eyes were blank and empty before he hit the dirt.

“It’s a setup, Joe,” Walt wheezed.

“C’mon, we’re getting out of here.” Joe tried to lift his friend, but Walt pushed him away.

“No, we ain’t. You still are, though. Run. Stay low.” Walt swallowed painfully. “I’ll watch you from here for as long as I can. I may be going, but I ain’t gone yet. What I set my eye to, I don’t miss.”

Joe started to say something, then stopped. He nodded to Walt and took off down the hill in a crouched run.

Slumped on the hillside, Walt steadied his arm on the ground ahead of him and focused along the barrel of his gun. A dark figure slipped from the night and pursued Joe for several steps, but Walt’s gun spoke once and the shape tumbled to the ground in an untidy tangle of limbs.

Walt’s side burned. The recoil had kicked the gun from his limp hand. He had not seen his target fall, but he knew he had not missed.

“What I set my eye to….” he whispered. His head slumped forward. His eyes saw nothing but darkness.

Joe heard the gunshot and the thump of a falling body. He redoubled his efforts, willing his feet to run faster. He fled with no thought of where he was going, only that he needed to escape.

Abruptly Joe spotted another shape running toward him. He grabbed for his gun before he realized that not only was it not a monster, it was one of the young women from town. He slowed to wait for her.

“Help me! Help!” she shouted as she ran toward him. Her hair was in disarray and her clothes were spattered with blood. “They’re dead! They’re all dead!”

She threw herself at him in a violent embrace, wrapping her arms around his back and burying her head against his shoulder. Joe held her to him.

“Who’s dead?”

He never saw the knife in her hands. He barely had time to feel it stab through the side of his neck.

“Everyone,” she said softly, extricating herself from his grasp as he collapsed. “Everyone who’s supposed to be.”

The mood back in town was somber. The pile of corpses in front of the boarding house contained not just the sixteen monster hunters, but also five of their own. Roscoe was weeping on the porch, while Delia tried to comfort him.

“They got my pa,” he sobbed. “And Samuel, too.”

“If his pa hadn’t screwed up, none of this would have happened,” muttered one man. “That first shot put them all on their guard, made this ten times as hard as it needed to be.”

“Shut your mouth, Francis,” said Mayor Ackerman. “That’s nothing the boy needs to hear right now. Let’s get these bodies to the smokehouse and get this mess cleaned up. We’ll have more coming in on the early train, like as not.”

“What about Samuel and Earl and them?” Francis asked, jerking his head at the bodies.

“Meat’s meat,” said the mayor. “Put ‘em all in. No sense letting any of it go to waste.”

Francis set his mouth in a thin line, but nodded. It could get tough feeding a family out here, where even the cows struggled to find enough grass to graze. But there was always enough to keep things alive if you were willing to do the work.


Rating: 9.00/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek and N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Micah Edwards

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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