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The summer sun beats down savagely on the little village of Speculation, somewhere south of the Borders and north of the Amazon. A hawk cries in the distance as a tall man in a white hat, his face obscured by […]
| May 31, 2011 | No comments |

The summer sun beats down savagely on the little village of Speculation, somewhere south of the Borders and north of the Amazon. A hawk cries in the distance as a tall man in a white hat, his face obscured by a narrow black mask, pushes through the swinging doors of Cantina Biblioteca, spurs jingling on the wooden floorboards.

The bartender is polishing glasses. In the far corner of the room, a thin man sits at a battered piano, playing “Nearer My God to Thee.” Several patrons sit at tables, talking and drinking. As the tall man in the white hat enters the room, all eyes turn to him, and the music and conversation cease.

Bartender: Ah, the Lawful Stranger! Amigo, it has been far too long. Welcome back.

Stranger: Thanks, Juan. I’ll take the usual. Powerful hot today.

Juan: When is it not? One iced milk coming up.

The piano player strikes up “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and the patrons resume their socializing.

Juan (sliding a tall glass of milk down the bar): So, what brings you to Speculation on such a miserable day?

Stranger: Same as always. Setting the example, drawing folks back to the straight and narrow, providing a haven of peace and security for the faithful. Showing the world how life ought to be lived.

Voice from Outside: Now, hold on just a consarned minute there!

The talking and music stop again as a short young man clad in black, sporting an impressive waxed mustache, bursts through the swinging doors.

Man in Black: Lawful Stranger, I’m-a callin’ you out! I’ve had my fill of yer beepity-beeping, sanctimonious, self-righteous beepity-beep!

Female Patron: Aaaieee! (faints)

Old Prospector: Holy frijoles, it’s the Potty Mouth Kid!

Kid (throwing hat to the ground in disgust): No, no, no! Just “The Kid!” Nothin’ more, nothin’ less. You yokels have been so sheltered by this so-called Lawful Stranger that you plumb forgot what regular folk talk like. Hang fire, I’m a model of restraint!

Stranger: Young man, we don’t cotton to such unrefined language in these parts. You see the effect it has on our more delicate citizenry. Somebody start fanning that lady! Prospector, put something soft under her head. Juan, we’ll need some cold water.

Prospector: Yessir.

Juan: Coming up.

Kid: This is exactally the sort of flippity dippin’ hogwash I’m talkin’ about. There’s a whole planet full of people y’all can’t even communicate with ’cause he’s convinced you to always mind your p’s and q’s, and look down yer noses at plain speech, less’n you singe yer fragile consciences. Yer livin’ in a dadblamed fantasy world!

Another patron: Aaaieee! (faints)

Kid: Oh, for the love of pete. Stop that!

Prospector: Stranger’s right, Sonny. Our womenfolk in particular are pale flowers what wilt clean away when scorched by salty language.

Kid: That last one was a man.

Prospector: Oh, so he was. Can’t rightly account for that.

Kid: Enough of this falder-dee-rall. Stranger, it’s time you and me stepped outside and settled this once and for all.

Stranger: I’ve got nothing to prove to you, Kid. I stand for all that’s good and true. You’re a disruptive influence.

Kid: I’m fighting for the good and true, same as you. Difference is, I’m not preaching to the choir using the vocabulary of a ding-busted kiddygarden Sunday Schoolmarm. I go out into all the world and meet the broken and confused where they live.

Stranger: Potty mouth.

Kid: Milksop.

Just as the two men are about to come to blows, a shot rings out, and a fine mist of plaster drifts down from the ceiling.

Woman with Gun: I heard tell there was trouble brewin’ in the Cantina. Lo and behold, what do I find here? A pair of lawless vigilantes.

Stranger: Now hold on a minute, my good woman. I am not lawless.

Kid: Who the blinkety dinky dink are you, anyhow?

Patron: Aaiiee! (faints)

Stranger & Kid: Juan, get that man some cold water.

Juan: Coming up.

Woman: I am the Sheriff of this here town, Carlene Booker Armstrong, and this here is a gen-you-ine Matthew Henry rifle, with which I will perforate both your sorry hides if ever you show your little black masks around here again.

Kid: I ain’t broken no blad-ratted law.

Carlene: You’re a blasphemer. That’s all I need to know.

Stranger: Sheriff, I stand for everything you value. I don’t see why I should be lumped together with this juvenile delinquent.

Carlene: Oh, I know you, Mister High and Mighty. You talk the talk all right, but you’re always dabblin’ in imagination and metaphor and fantasy to make a point. You think you know what my townsfolk need better than I do. The citizens of this here town are simple souls who need simple, unvarnished goodness, told straight and direct. I’ll have no confusion runnin’ amuck here whilst I’m Sheriff. Now, scram. I’ve a quilting bee to preside over this afternoon, and I won’t be late on account of the likes of you two. (cocks rifle)

Stranger & Kid: Yes, ma’am.

They exit the cantina, and the sounds of conversation resume from within, accompanied by “Marching to Zion” on the piano.

Kid: Tarnation. Now what do we do?

Stranger: Find a more hospitable town, I expect. Maybe somewhere further south of the Borders and closer to the Amazon.

Kid: Mind if I join you?

Stranger: They do say misery loves company. Can you keep your mouth shut?

Kid: Nope.

Stranger: Fair enough. Neither can I.

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.

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That was great. Absolutely great.

E. Stephen Burnett

Great stuff. For a moment, though, I thought I would be taking the lady-sheriff’s side …

And for those who do want to take up the issue, though not as a bar-room brawl, here’s some more material from SF about swearing in stories:

– All posts tagged controversies / language.

– My own recent series about $#@£₣! my Christian fiction doesn’t say.

SMASH! (Breaks a gol-durn whiskey bottle ovur yer hayud …)

Kaci Hill

Turkey buzzard. 😛

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Fred, you framed the argument in such an amusing way. I especially love the fainting patrons! 😆 I thought like Stephen did — you brought in a sensible, third position hero in the sheriff. Sadly she let me down in the end.  But as far as story twists go, it was interesting to see the black and white hats ride off together.



These Black and White characters remind me of con artists. They may not necessarily believe what they are saying, but they are saying  what they think a particular segment of the population wants to hear, as well as what they know will rile up another segment of the population. Like it’s a staged performance to stir up an audience. Two Charlatans playing off of each other, trying to sell their wares. It doesn’t matter that neither side is right, what matters to them is that they are causing a ruckus that they hope will polarize the regular middle-of-the-road type folks into one camp or the other… and then buy the products they are selling.

Jessica Thomas

You are CRACKING me up.  I’m so glad I’m not the only one who appreciates satire.


[…] at Speculative Faith, Fred Warren did a very entertaining parody of our debate in a post entitled Showdown. Thanks Fred for the much-needed levity! Interestingly enough, a forum of Christian filmmakers also […]

Robynn Tolbert

Fred, you have a real gift for dialogue. Loved it in The Muse, and loved it here. Thanks!


[…] Reading the discussion on Mike Duran’s and Becky Miller’s blogs this past week, I had a walloping sense of deja-vu. Anyhow, it inspired me to mangle some Shakespeare. Below is Hamlet’s Soliloquy, as it might be delivered by one of the combatants in the most recent dust-up over profanity in Christian fiction. As for my personal take, you can find it here and here. […]