The Drabblecast kicks off the Weird West event, with Avra Margariti’s story “Headhunting” and 100 word Drabble Quickdraw Contest winner “Taming the Larvalands” by Matt Blairstone. Enjoy!

Cover art by Tristan Tolhurst


by Avra Margariti

The tinfoil sun scorched the desert road as a figure rode on horseback, carrying a disembodied head by its long hair.

“You could let me go, you know,” said the head, which belonged to an old man.

“If I do that, you’ll dine on dust,” came the headhunter’s reply. “And I won’t be eating tonight at all.”

“Better than going back there,” lamented the head.

The headhunter looked in the direction of the town, although the old man was currently in no possession of fingers with which to point. The sparse wooden buildings resembled stage props in the hazy horizon, as if a strong gust of wind would send them crumbling.

“Have you always been a headhunter, then?”

“You’re talkative, for someone without vocal cords.”

Still, the headhunter considered the question, even as the old man’s errant head fell silent near the outskirts of town. Had he been anything else before he was a headhunter? Was he ever a runaway? A dreamer? Best not to think too much, especially with a job in hand. Wistfulness had a way of latching onto people in the desert, like vultures onto carrion. Loneliness, too.

Children played outside the saloon and the sheriff’s office. Instead of a ball, they used one of their small, pig-tailed heads. The exposed neck bone gleamed diamond white in the sunlight. It was fine; children’s heads still came on and off easily enough. Their bones would harden as they aged. The children’s restlessness would either settle, or give the headhunter more jobs in the future.

The old man’s family lived across the town square. The headhunter tied his gray mare to a post and made sure she had clean water before knocking on the rough-hewn wooden door.

“Oh, thank you for bringing him back home,” cried a woman. From the doorway, children peered at their grandfather’s scowling head. “Come in. We have his body and your bounty right here.”

The headhunter placed the coins inside the pouch affixed to his belt. The woman poured him a whiskey and offered him a washcloth with which to clean the gritty sand from his spurred boots and cowboy hat.

The old man’s body sat at the kitchen table, meek and motionless. The body was nothing like the head, which had been happily hopping between the cacti toward the mountains and what lay beyond until the headhunter lassoed it earlier today.

When his daughter screwed his head back onto his neck, the old man sputtered and spat petulantly.

“I hope you’re happy. Now I’ll never see anything outside this godforsaken town.”

“Dad,” sighed the woman, twisting her apron in her impatience. “You’re lucky the good hunter caught you before you crossed the mountains. Don’t you know it’s no man’s land out there?”

When the man’s glare showed no signs of fading, the headhunter tipped his hat and took his leave. He mounted his horse, riding toward the burnt sienna landscape of sagebrush and canyons. Toward no man’s land.

Beyond the town, the desert road, and the mountains; dust and sand turn to eraser shavings. The rest of the world stretches into a blank canvas. It’s a thing in progress, an incomplete picture drawn by a small child. Crayon canyons, macaroni railroad tracks, a sun with each ray separate and distinct like the spokes of a carriage wheel in ocher and rust.

This world’s godling hasn’t yet decided what to do with the Old West town they’ve created. More and more the godling’s dreams accidentally seep into the towners’ heads, filling them to the brim with wanderlust. It’s the headhunter’s job to ensure the disembodied heads don’t reach no man’s land when they stray.

Night falls quicker here, where the stars are felt-tip dots, white and equidistant. The headhunter lies on his back over empty, blank nothingness.

He raises his flask to salute the paper moon wearing the face of the godling.

“Hurry up and create something new,” he says. “People are getting bored fast.”

The crinkled paper moon doesn’t reply, but that’s okay. The headhunter is used to his own echoing voice. Even the coyote song is quiet here.

“I have an idea for you in the meantime,” he continues. “How about a second town where it’s the bodies who run away instead? Then there’d be a body hunter riding around, too.”

Then I wouldn’t have to be alone, he thinks.

“Wouldn’t that be something?” He rasps with laughter deep into the desert night.

The gibbous godling moon winks, in mirth or in thought.