The Hunger of Evota Falls

📅 Published on October 1, 2023

“The Hunger of Evota Falls”

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: 9.50/10. From 4 votes.
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The funny thing about problems, Ackerman reflected, was that they never went away. They just changed into other problems. Sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, but never gone.

Problems fed on each other, just like everything else. Plenty of times he’d seen a whole bunch of little problems get eaten up by a really big, tough one. Sometimes it even seemed like that might be a benefit. Sure, the big problem was huge and dangerous, even deadly, but it threatened everyone.  The whole community could work together to take it down.

Thing is, as soon as that happened, a hundred new smaller problems would show up to feast. In no time at all everything would be right back where it started.

Take this town, Evota Falls. It had been a good town once, or at least a good idea. The railroad needed a resupply stop, a place to store things in the middle of the long trip through the desert. Someone thought the workers might pay for a little entertainment in the off hours, so then there was a saloon. That started doing well, and pretty soon came the general store, and the washhouse, and the church. Next thing anyone knew, Evota Falls was a real town.

The river had been the key, though. It was nothing but a big muddy ribbon with water that had to be boiled twice to get rid of the taste, but it grew plants all along its banks and made the desert just tolerable enough for life.

At least it had, until that canal had been dug about forty miles upstream and diverted the water. The falls were nothing but a big red cliff overlooking a dry riverbed now. The plants were dead. And Evota Falls was dying.

That had been the big problem. All of the little ones got chewed right up by that. Some folks packed up and left, but most of them—the ranchers, the store owners, the ones who’d really believed in the place—well, they were stuck. They’d sunk their money into the town, and they were well and truly sunk along with it.

The preacher swore that the Lord would provide, of course. While they were waiting for that to happen, everyone left in town kind of figured that they were going to have to make do for themselves. They had to come up with something to kill this problem before it killed them. And so, eventually, they invented the Curdler.

It hadn’t been a quick decision. There’d been a lot of hand-wringing and soul-searching and general lamentations. But day by day, as the dust got thicker and the cattle got leaner, folks started to come around.

The dead man in the saloon was what finally did it. The barman Cork found him slumped back against the wall at the end of the night, bottle tipped over in front of him. When Cork went to kick him out, though, the man was the same temperature as the wall he was leaning against. He’d been dead for hours.

He was just some rail worker. No one knew his name, or where he was from. He had no ID in him. All anyone did know was that he was a sight fatter than anyone else in town.

Even then, no one wanted to make the first move. It had been the butcher Ackerman who stepped in, pushing his way through the murmuring crowd. He’d hefted the body up over his shoulder like a side of beef, and with a challenging glare he’d dared any member of the crowd to meet his eye.

None of them had. They moved aside as he headed for the door.

“I’ll share,” he said. No one else said anything at all.

The preacher caught sight of him out in the street. He’d heard the talk. He knew how desperate things were getting.

“The churchyard’s this way!” he called. “Surely you’re looking for a place to bury that man?”

“God has provided, Father,” said Ackerman. “Be awful rude of us to dump his gift in a hole in the ground.”

“You know this isn’t right.”

“Not a lot around here that seems to be, these days. What’s one more? At least we can make this one wrong in our favor.”

“I won’t let you do this.”

Ackerman turned slowly to face the preacher. His eyes burned with fury and resentment. He bared his teeth in a mockery of a smile. “I’d like to see you stop me.”

To his surprise, the preacher tried. He grabbed the dead man’s ankles and attempted to haul him off of Ackerman’s shoulder. Ackerman pulled back, though, yanking the preacher off-balance and—well, maybe it was an accident and maybe it wasn’t. Either way, there was a scuffle and a tumble and a thump, and then the preacher was lying at the foot of the horse trough, head half caved in and blood gushing into the street.

Ackerman looked around at the crowd. They stared back at him. Tension ran its nervous fingers along everyone’s spine. They all knew that whatever happened next would determine the course of the town. They were all afraid to be the one to take action.

With a grunt, Ackerman hauled the preacher’s body up from the ground and folded him across his other shoulder. He did not say a word as he walked off. His heavy burdens made his steps slow and deliberate.

Anyone could have said anything. No one did. And so the die was cast.

That wasn’t the solution to Evota Falls’ starvation problem, of course. Two bodies, especially one as spare as the preacher, would only go so far. But the railroad brought new bodies every single day.

Naturally, most of them were just passing through. That only made it easier. Such folks were often unmoored, wandering without family or friends to worry about them. There was no one to notice or care if they went missing.

Ackerman was wary of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. He kept the people of Evota Falls from getting too greedy and taking too many travelers in too short a timeframe. It was hard sometimes, especially when the children were whining for food and some plump out-of-towner was sitting right there. It wouldn’t do to get caught, though. They’d all be hanged if the outside world discovered how they’d been getting by.

Then Ackerman came up with the Curdler. Make up a murderous monster, he reasoned, and you’d get monster hunters looking for it. Put a bounty on its head and you’d attract greedy men. Men prone to violence. The kind of men where nobody would bat an eye if they went missing. They might even consider it a blessing.

Ackerman tested the waters cautiously at first. He tried it out on a couple of men he met in a bar two cities away. A night of buying drinks and a bottle for the train ride was all it took to convince them to come along. He talked up the Curdler the whole way, describing its fearsome size, its terrible claws, the way it could scoop up a cow as easily as a man could pick up a mewling baby.

In short, he made it sound like a proper tall tale. He didn’t want the men actually worried about whatever they might run into. The Curdler was a yokel’s retelling of a mountain lion half-glimpsed. Dangerous enough to be worth the sport, but nothing to truly concern a couple of rough and ready men.

The booze he was buying them was real enough and Ackerman promised more when the job was done, so they came along willingly enough. They followed him right out to the ambush he’d prepared, and they were riddled with a half-dozen bullets apiece before their guns ever cleared leather.

Once the bullets were picked out and the meat was dressed, the town ate well again for a few days. Ackerman was cheered by how well it had gone. The hunters had been so convinced that he was just a scared hick that they’d never considered him a threat. They’d been taken totally unawares when the townsfolk shot them down. And since absolutely no one knew that they’d come here, there was no chance that anyone would come looking.

The next time Ackerman went out to talk up the Curdler, he brought back a group of five eager would-be hunters. The time after that it was eight. Someone came up with the bright idea of making flyers like “Wanted” posters, and after that the hunters just started showing up on their own.

They were always the same type: loners, drifters, the kind who’d pull up stakes and run to a new town for the chance to strike it rich. Ackerman knew they’d never be missed. He never felt a drop of guilt preying on them, either. They would have done it to him in an instant if the tables were turned.

The trickle of hunters became a small but steady stream, and suddenly the town found itself with a new and surprising problem. Far from having too little food, they now had too much. Ackerman’s slaughterhouse had never been intended for more than a few cows at a time. With the hunters coming in almost every single day, he simply couldn’t process the meat fast enough. Even with help, there was only so much room to work. He needed more space.

Evota Falls had never been a large town. Although there were a number of abandoned buildings these days, most were homesteads whose interior rooms were entirely too small for the work that needed to be done. In fact, as Ackerman looked around the town, he realized that there was only one building with the space necessary to set up a full-scale shop: the church.

A more religious man might have had an issue with turning a house of worship into an abattoir, particularly considering the nature of the meat. Then again, that hypothetical religious man might have told himself that it was providence how everything fit together. Just when the town was in its darkest hour, the Lord had sacrificed his own servant and given his people a place to pursue their own salvation. A religious man might have decided that God had provided after all.

Ackerman, an avowed atheist, had always found it best to avoid men of that particular sort of religious conviction. They could twist anything to prove that they were doing good. He was merely doing what was needed.

There was little resistance. The townsfolk, having gone so far, did not balk at this newest desecration. And so in a matter of days the church was gutted and repurposed, changed from a house to cleanse men’s souls to a hall to flense their bodies.

The statuary was packed away. The pulpit was dismantled. The pews were taken apart and remade into long tables. The solid wood planks that had supported the town through many a sermon were soon scored by knives and stained a deep, irredeemable red.

The people of Evota Falls came to work their shifts. There was no discussion, no official roster. There were simply people there when there was work to be done. Everyone took their turn.

Slowly, Ackerman found the work taken away from him. He would arrive at the church to find the bodies already separated, the offal discarded, the boiled bones being ground into meal. People nodded when he arrived, but did not step aside for him to take their place. He was in charge now. Everyone knew it.

One Sunday, one of the men greeted him with, “Hello, Reverend.”

“Absolutely not.” Ackerman’s voice rang out over the clamor of the charnel house. Knives skittered against bone. Wheels ground to a halt. Everyone turned to look.

“We did this,” growled Ackerman. “For good or for ill, this is our doing. We will live or die here by our own deeds, our own words, our own hands. This is the work of men, not gods.

“If you want to give away the credit—or the blame, I won’t presume to say which—you can leave my name out of it.”

He turned on his heel and walked out without giving the man a chance to respond. No one ever addressed it. But a few days later, when someone called him “mayor,” Ackerman didn’t object. If they needed a title to set a man apart, then so be it. This was one he could accept.

Though the physical work may have been shifted to others, Ackerman found himself far from idle. Now that starvation was no longer imminent, the thousand problems that came along with society began to reassert themselves—along with some new ones that were unique to the town’s situation. For example, there was the matter of temporary housing. All of the folks who’d come to hunt the Curdler needed someplace to stay while they were in town. Never mind that they all ended up at the church before the first night was through. They didn’t know that was how it would go down, and it would hardly do to tip them off to it. So they had to have rooms with beds, and they had to be fed. If they’d come in on the early train, then they had to be discouraged from getting too inquisitive and wandering around town, too. Most of them were far more likely to be drawn to the saloon than to the church, but it never hurt to take caution.

At first, Ackerman just had them stay with folks around town, or in the empty houses. It was inconvenient having them spread all about, though, and folks had a bad habit of laying claim to the possessions of hunters who’d been quartered in their house. He could see how things would be a lot smoother with the hunters all in one place. Only problem was that, again, no building was big enough.

A rooming house would be just the thing, Ackerman thought. If only they had one, of course. He expected it would be difficult to do, but when the mayor spoke, things happened. Not two weeks after he’d brought up the idea, the town had one built. With a fresh coat of paint on the outside and some careful placement on the inside, it was impossible to tell it had been cobbled together from the boards of three other houses. It had beds to sleep twenty and a common room big enough to feed the same, as long as they didn’t mind cramming in a bit.

Delia took over the running of the inn as soon as it was built. With her serving food and Cork slinging drinks down at the saloon, most of the hunters were half-drunk and half-asleep by the time the nightly Curdler hunt came along. Many of them had their eyes closed when their guides stuck a knife into their throats. That suited Ackerman just fine. The last thing he wanted was a fair fight.

The boarding house took care of the hunters coming into town, but that still left Ackerman with an equally large problem: how to keep the reins on the folks already here. Everyone had been in accordance when survival was on the line, for certain. And most of them understood that there was no uncrossing the line they’d crossed. But there were some who, once their bellies were full and the money from the vigilantes’ pockets had transferred to their own, started to think that maybe it was time to move on from Evota Falls.

Ackerman couldn’t allow this. Here in a tight-knit community, they all kept each other honest. If folks started wandering off back into the world, though, where people didn’t understand the necessities life could demand—well, they might say anything, then. It would only take one person looking to expunge their guilt to bring a whole heap of new trouble down on Evota Falls.

When the first grumbles of discontent started to make their way around town, Ackerman addressed it head on. He called out the perpetrators, a family by the name of Solefield, and let it be known that leaving was not an option. That wasn’t any more than a bandage over a gut shot, of course, but at least it was something. It kept the complainers from just getting on the 12:35 train and riding right out of town in full view of everyone.

If they’d done that, there’d’ve been nothing Ackerman could have done to stop them. Too many direct witnesses, with the repercussions to themselves too far away. There would have been an outcry if he’d laid hands on them at noon.

The Solefields weren’t certain of that, though. They’d been there when Ackerman had fought the preacher. They’d worked their shifts in the red church. They knew they were turning against the town, and they were afraid to face Ackerman directly. They packed up quietly in the night and tried to sneak out of town on the 6:14 morning train.

When they stepped onto the train platform in the thin dawn light, Ackerman was waiting for them. He detached himself from the thick wooden support where he’d been waiting and walked toward the huddled trio, silent as a ghost.

Caz Solefield never even saw him coming. His eyes were fixed up the track, scanning for the arriving train, when Ackerman slipped up behind him, kicked his legs out from under him and snapped his neck.

His wife Julia screamed, but Ackerman pushed her onto the tracks and shot her in the back as she stumbled. Her blood coated the rails and sank into the sand, but Ackerman didn’t worry about it. It would be cleared away and covered over as soon as the train arrived.

Their son Luke stared wide-eyed, too shocked to move. Ackerman took the young teen by the shoulders and gently led him away from the platform.

“Come on, son. None of this was your fault. Let’s get you back home.”

As they stepped off of the platform, Ackerman slashed the boy’s neck. The blood fountained outward, falling in a crimson fan on the desert scrub.

Ackerman kicked more sand over it, pleased with his work. Not a drop had spilled on the difficult-to-clean boards.

He dragged the bodies away, piling them into a small wooden cart he had stashed nearby a week ago. Ackerman had been waiting on the train platform every morning since he’d heard the Solefields complain. From the moment the words had left their lips, this end had been inevitable.

The church was silent at this time of day. The people of Evota Falls were asleep after the slaughter of the previous night, knowing that like as not they’d be doing it again under this evening’s moon. Ackerman hauled his grim trophies inside, barred the door behind him and set to work.

Ackerman had been a butcher long before the title of mayor had been thrust upon him. The hooks and knives were familiar in his hands. He stripped skin from flesh, drained blood and separated organs with the ease of long practice. By the time the town was awake, the Solefields were nothing more than more meat on the pile.

People noticed their absence, of course. Ackerman listened for the whispers he knew would be coming. He was ready with his answer.

“The Curdler took ‘em,” he said. He held the questioners’ gaze when he said it. Every one of them dropped their eyes. They knew what he meant. They knew they as a town were responsible for this, too. They had failed to look after their own. The Curdler had been forced to step in.

There had been one or two others since that Ackerman had had to deal with. Hobson had tried to sneak off into the desert, and young Jeffries started using drinking as an excuse for violence. The Curdler came for each of them. By the time anyone noticed their absence, the church door was unbarred and Ackerman’s hands were clean.

He knew it couldn’t last forever. One of the hunters would get away, or one of the townsfolk would finally slip his grasp. In the end, the Curdler came for everyone.

But until that day, he was the mayor of Evota Falls—a little desert town that was surviving in spite of all odds. In fact, they were doing so well that he was thinking about setting up an export business for their excess meat. They had more than they knew what to do with these days. And seeing his community thrive when it should have died? That feeling justified every sacrifice.

Rating: 9.50/10. 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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