DOUR CUTLER • by J.C. Towler

The fellow before me was unusual. When I get to this point in the encounter, most are begging for mercy. Many plead to their deaf God for deliverance from my blade. There have been a few that hold my gaze, unflinching, until the final thrust when wide-eyed surprise erases brave arrogance. Did they think stoic virtue might stay my sword? Perhaps they mistook me for that green-clad idiot from Sherwood who tweaked the nose of his betters, all for a merry laugh. That one is dead and gone a score of years or better, but unfortunately he lives on in the minds of fools. I only regret that I hadn’t the honor to plant him in the ground. He gave real highwaymen a bad name.

“You’re Dour Jon Cutler,” the boy said. Perhaps his impertinence came from his youth. He could not have been more than twelve, though his voice had a timbre that made him sound older. The two of us stood in the middle of the rutted path, he with hands on hips, head barely higher than my shoulder; me with my sword tip pressed against the hollow of his throat. His tone stayed my hand for the moment. He spoke to me in the manner of knight addressing a common foot soldier whilst his parents lay ten feet from where we stood, their blood leaking into the dirt path. Some minor nobility judging by their dress; clothes that would have been worth much more had I not been so exuberant during the slaughter.

The recent skirmish had silenced the forest sounds, but now the trill of the wood thrush began anew. Before long, foxes and wolves would slink from their hiding places and begin their grim work on the dead. I wondered if the lad was trying to delay me. Had I missed a servant or bodyguard who was even now circling the dense undergrowth to gain an advantage?

“I am Dour Jon. What of it?” I asked.

“I was hoping to find you,” he said. “My name is Roger Shamrock and you are part of my destiny.” I laughed. This boy’s tongue might yet earn him a few more minutes of breath.

“You don’t say? Sorry, never heard of you.”

He thrust his chin forward as if to parry my blade. He was a sturdy boy; his right forearm noticeably muscled, probably from long work with the quintain and wooden sword. Tan skin was scored with thin scars, likely from where some maestro drew blood during practice with steel. I judged the boy would have put up more of a fight than his recently departed father.

“Of course not, for my destiny lies before me,” he said.

“Roger, you begin to bore me. What is this destiny you speak of and be quick about it. Amuse me, and I may yet spare you.”

“A blind soothsayer told me my future, and it is to be a champion of the people,” he said. “These are dark times. Lawless roads are unsafe to travel and the countryside quails in fear of bandits such as yourself. Justice is sold to the highest bidder. Good Christian men forget their duty to God and King and damn their immortal souls to Hell through impious living. I am going to change all that. You are going to help me.”

This time I didn’t laugh. His voice mesmerized! There was something about the way he spoke, the conviction of his words, that made my limbs tremble. I had an instantaneous urge to repent, to drop to my knees right there in the mud and beg his forgiveness for my wicked deeds.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and ran him through. The last thing this world needed was another bloody hero.

J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest sci-fi/horror story “Experimental Blues” will appear in the upcoming Dreamspell Nightmares II from L&L Dreamspell. Two of his flash stories, “Legends Collide” and “Purse Things”, were selected for EDF’s The Best of Every Day Fiction Two.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Possums? Where is this?

  • Cat

    I liked this one, mostly. Interesting how this never seems to happen in other stories with heroes…

    A couple of quibbles, though. First: “timber” is a piece of wood. When talking about the tone or quality of someone’s voice, the spelling should be “timbre”. Second of all, given the references to Robin Hood, highwaymen, and the King, I presume this is set in Britain – we don’t have possums here.

  • tigerlily

    What Cat said. 🙂

  • So glad he kept his head! Loved this, brought a smile to my face. Peace…

  • Definitely made me smile.

  • Must admit the odd typo and the possums put me off this piece.

    Also, ‘highwayman’ is a 17th century term as far as I know, whereas Robin Hood was about in the Middle Ages.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more positive.

  • JB

    I don’t know exacting particulars about Middle Age terminology or British fauna, but as far as stories go, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hate the stereotypical “Chosen One” so any chance I get to see him eat it I’m ecstatic about.
    That alone probably taints any criticism I could have about structure or style.

  • I liked the story though the ending made me wonder what could have been had Dour Jon repented. Did Dour Jon kill the Buddha/savior on the road? Just a thought.

  • Bloody entertaining story. Didn’t even notice the “tech” things some mentioned. Enjoyed! Loved the ending.

  • WLC

    “Tech” issues mentioned aside, I was drawn into this piece and throughly enjoyed every word. Such speaks to the quality of the writing. One of the best I’ve read on EDF.

  • John, I thoroughly enjoy your doomed “saviors”. Christ in a baja, now a boy with more bravado than he has minutes left to live. You never disappoint!

    And I totally agree with DeborahB and not just because our initials are the same: I didn’t noticed the timber/timbre issue and I don’t know whether there are oppossums in Britain. I was too engaged in the story to care about those details.

  • I really enjoyed this. Being inside the bandit’s head was a little terrifying, but in a good way.

    — SPOILER —
    And the ending, though gruesome, made me laugh.
    — SPOILER —

  • Jen

    Not my type of story. Sorry.

  • Cat

    I think it’s great that some people can be so engaged that they don’t notice mistakes. I can’t. I really did enjoy the story, but for me little technical issues do detract enjoyment, especially when they’re easily fixed. Even a quick google would tell you that opossums are only found in North America. It isn’t an exacting detail for me because I actually live here (i.e. in Britain).

    Anyway. As I said in my review, those two (small!) details aside, I really liked this. The writing was very engaging – I got an excellent feel for the highwayman’s attitudes within the first paragraph, and his characterisation stayed true throughout – I was pleased when he chopped the poor kid’s head off because although it was brutal, it was true to character!

    The little details, for instance the comment about the value of the parents’ clothing, really added depth and helped to paint a picture of the times.

  • J.C. I like this a lot. I was engaged through out and love the ending. It has a kind of reverse Princess Bride quality to it.

    No issues for me because you said it was a fantasy so why can’t it not be in Britain and have possums and highwaymen. Perhaps you might consider adding something about Dour John that makes him a time-traveling, universal highwayman? I’m not kidding. This is excellent fantasy in so many ways, and the issues that come up could easily be dealt with.

    I guess I saying this for the future adventures of Dour Cutler. We do see things better when people find the bits and pieces that we didn’t think of and Dour John is worth more tales.

  • kathy k

    Possums or not, I liked this story. Well done.

  • Bob

    I liked this story, but think it was one good edit from being ready for release.

    It wasn’t the possums that kept me from rating this more highly – I don’t know where the darned things live. For me it was this:

    – The transition from the end of the first para, in which he’s talking about Robin Hood, to the first sentence of the next, in which his focus has returned to the boy. At first I thought it was Robin Hood saying “You’re Dour Jon Cutler”, and I had a brief moment of cognitive dissonance.

    – “He spoke to me in the manner of a knight addressing a common foot soldier whilst his parents lay ten feet . . . ” – another frisson for me; on first read, it seemed the dead parents where part of the common foot soldier description, not the boy’s reality. I think a comma after “soldier” would have fixed this one.

    Just a couple of minor technical points, but they do make a difference in the flow of the narrative for the reader.

    . . .but I loved the ending!

  • I *loved* this, John- a twist of fantasy and philosophy.

    This is John’s story, his imagination, he can stray from real life and write fantasy *any* damn way he wants. 😉

  • J.C. Towler

    Thanks all for the comments and guilty as charged on all counts for the word mixups and the illegal importation of possums into England. I’d swear I peeked at one of those “range maps” that show where critters live in the world, but perhaps not. It’s embarrassing and frankly I hold myself to higher standards. I appreciate the reads and comments. The honest exchange that occurs here is of immeasurable help to writers.


  • Timber/timbre fixed, and I can easily change the possums to some other creatures if the author would like that.

  • Possums are now wolves, and the second paragraph transition back to the boy has been clarified, at the author’s request.

    While we can’t and don’t want to allow for massive rewrites after publication, simple single-word corrections like these are a benefit of web publishing that we’re happy to embrace.

  • Feel of a story is most important for me. A good tale that kept me reading. An unexpected end. Thank you.

  • Er… We don’t have wolves wild in the UK, either. Haven’t for several hundred years, anyway.

  • Wolves aren’t quite such an anomaly. The last wolf in England (not counting any re-introductions) was killed in the 15th century and the last in Scotland was killed in the 18th century, as was the last in Ireland.

  • tigerlily

    Oscar – but we used to, once upon at time, and this story isn’t modern. 🙂

  • Aside from the research discrepancies, I did enjoy the story. I’ll agree with what Gay said, also; I appreciated the character, and I wouldn’t mind reading another Dour Jon Cutler tale in the future.

  • I liked it. Mayeb the punch line flet a little quick. There was a lot of really good narative here between the start and the end that made the ending feel a little ‘sudden’ maybe. But I honestly relaly enjoyed the writing. thanks

  • I was looking forward to another JC story. Unfortunately, if there is one thing that makes me squirm it is the mock-formal tone of someone trying to sound Olde Worlde.
    I’m sure I’m not a representative reader in this instance, but all that “stay my hand” and “score of years” makes me want to wriggle out of my own skin.

  • Kim/Kenaipi

    JC –

    Loved the fantastic elements in this story as well as the dialogue. I like how the first person narrative works so well for tale’s ending.

    This is a superb *fictitious* Flash and you can have a possum jugband playing on the River Thames if you want to. I find the quibbling distracting. 🙂

  • Marg S.

    Great story John! And so well written. I felt I was right in the forest with Dour John and Roger. How scary is that. Enjoyed it immensely.

  • Good story, John. The end made me laugh. While I have to admit I would have glossed over the errors it is nice to see simple edits are possible here. I think that is one of the strong points of e-publishing in general – it’s never too late for a good edit.

  • I like the ending of this one. It’s a reminder that in the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, sometimes it’s the bad guy who wins. (Especially when he has a sword and the other bloke doesn’t)

    Congratulations on another successful story, John.

  • Wow, this was just freaking awesome. One of the strongest last lines I have read on this website.

    Pay attention, ladies and gentlemen. This is real, realistic storytelling that relates to real life with a valuable lesson. This story is a direct metaphor for “the way things are,” meaning that you should tell your kids that the world is a scary place. There is no utopia. There is no paradise on earth.

    I would say on any given day, I would normally rate the average EDF story at 3 out of 5, and I have read very few five star flash fiction pieces in my lifetime, but this is one of them.