Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter 2012 Writing Contest: Sign Up!

After the fantastic success of the Autumn "shootout" at the Pill Hill Press forum, I've been given the green light to run the next adventurous writing contest!  The Wild Winter Shootout will begin January 28, 2012, and it'll be similar to the previous competition I hosted, with a few tweaks from participant comments and suggestions.

These contests are always fun, and they spur the creation of highly publishable works.  Many shootout stories over the years have found homes in various anthologies and zines, and every participant receives valuable insights into their stories during the review process.

The shootout concept is simple.  Participating writers are given a prompt and one week to write a short story based on that prompt.  The subsequent week, the stories are reviewed by the participants.  Story authors remain anonymous until the reviews are final, and the reviews are kept anonymous for fair and unbiased opinion.

Yet again, we'll be setting up a team system, where 2 or 3 groups of writers will be competing head to head.  There won't be eliminations, so each writer will get the chance to write and review in 3 regular rounds.  After those 3 rounds, the top scoring writers on each team will compete for a Grand Prize, which may involve free books and/or cash!

Contest Caveats:

Participation Requirement:  If you sign up, please be sure you can handle the workload.  You'll need to write a short story in one week and then review 5 to 8 stories the following week (number of stories reviewed will depend on the number of participants we end up having).  This will happen 3 times in a row (write then review), so do your best.

Negative Feedback:  While reviews are expected to be considerate and constructive, they're also supposed to be honest.  It is possible someone may provide actual criticism of your story.  Be prepared to receive a modicum of negative feedback.

Document Format:  Your stories/comments will have to be sent via email in either a .doc or .rtf format.  No .docx files!  Please make sure you can submit in the stated formats.

Well, I think that covers everything major.  Let's see some volunteers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hits, Flops, and What I Should Be Writing

Things sure have been busy lately, but you can understand that with the holidays and everything.  Though, the life of a writer is never lackadaisical.  I have more stories to write than years to live, and I expect to be around a long time to come!  There is only so much you can get down on the page, and ideas come to me on a daily basis.  It's a curious process to balancing what should get written and what shouldn't get written, which is often sidelined for whatever I feel like writing (which can go either way).

Of course, there's no telling what will and won't work until after you put it down and start marketing it.  Just look at some of the most successful works out there, and try to think like the writer beforehand, considering their potential.  Who would ever buy a book about a boy sorcerer, or an evil clown who turns out to be an alien spider?  Yet, Harry Potter and It are indisputable hits in the marketplace.  The same can be said of any famous work of fiction.  Nobody knows what will sell until after it does.

Over the last few weeks, I've managed to work on several different stories, and a few film scripts.  Beyond the West of the Warlock television project, I'm also planning a few other series which I'll try to pitch, including one based on my Rogue Investigations stories, and a little something called The Last Patriot, which will be based in the feudal future world I created in this summer's Independence Day special, The Patriot Awakened.  Any one of these shows could be a big hit, if they're picked up by a wise Hollywood producer.

So, moving to my sneak peek of the week (which dovetails with my comments about writing a hit), here's the start of a story that was recently accepted by Hall Brothers Entertainment for their forthcoming anthology, Untold Tales of the Past.  It's a quirky story that I put together one summer afternoon, based on a tongue-in-cheek fantasy theme.  One early reviewer mentioned it read like a Monty Python skit (whether that's good or bad is up to you).  Either way, you'll have to get the HBE anthology to find out, but here's the setup to A Bridge Too Near:

            Sir Chelmsford Chase knew he was the best.  Everyone told him so.  Whether it was the thrill of jousting, or the art of swordplay, he could win out every time, yet it was all fun and games.  He was tired of being kissed by noble ladies and adorned with superficial ribbons after staged competitions.  It was time he proved his mettle, and did something only "the best" could.

            Touring the tournament circuit, he'd heard lots of rumors; tales of evil sorcerers, demonic knights, and even hobgoblin-infested forests, but one task appealed to him more than all others.  The cursed bridge at Bannocksburg Crossing was said to be home to a troll, one notorious for eating the gentry.  This was the best chance for Chase to show everyone he really was the greatest combatant in the land.  To slay the troll, why, they'd sing songs about him until the end of time!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas, 1922

I hope you're all having a wonderful day!  As everyone's ripping open presents and getting ready to feast, here's a look back 89 years.  On December 25, 1922, this is what my grandfather, John Julius Kirton, and his sister, Mary Alice Kirton, found when they woke up.  John was almost 5, and Mary was a little over 18 month old at the time.  It's a rare look at Christmas Past.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Gift

This Christmas will be really tight for a lot of people.  With the economy still on the downturn (despite illusory media hype), money is something many of us don't have.  While I'm not as bad off as some, I can't say I have a lot of disposable income at the moment.  I'll get by, as always, and the kids will have some gifts under the tree, just nothing extravagant.

With that said, I know many of you are also feeling the pinch.  But whether you're strapped for cash or swimming in riches, there is a Christmas gift you could bestow upon me; something that won't cost you a cent and will only take a short amount of your time.

West of the Warlock needs reviews!  If you haven't read it yet, 75% of the book is available to read for free online, and it will entertain you.  Once you've read the free portion, head over to its page at and post a review.  Word of mouth advertising is the only way to sell books these days, and it doesn't cost you anything.  It would mean so much to me if just a few of you would bestow such a blessing upon me this festive season.

Buying a single book and putting it on your shelf is always appreciated, but actually telling others about it does so much more.  Don't be a Scrooge with your opinions, keeping it all to yourself.   Spread the word about my stories.  Telling others about my works is the best gift you could give!  It would mean a lot more than some knickknack made in China or a fifty-cent Christmas card.

Yes, it really is the thought that counts!

While you're at the giving stage, perhaps you could bestow another special gift to me by pointing people toward my blog.  I've noticed reader activity has dropped a bit over the last month, and this is likely due to the holiday season.  People are so busy this time of year that little things like my weekly insights get sidelined.  I hope to see increased traffic in the New Year, and I hope you'll help me with that.  Again, don't feel that speaking up is a dangerous thing, or will somehow cost you anything.  If I'm worth reading, tell others.  It's all I ask.

Here's wishing all of my readers a very Merry Christmas!  Be sure to drop by on December 25th for another rare family history photo.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Psycho Christmas Massacre

In the grand tradition of farce, here's a cynical bit of poetry for the Christmas season.  Something of a Bob Dylan meets Frank Zappa, with a little Spike Jones and Weird Al mixed in; it's wild, crazy, and mismatched to reflect the chaos of the season.  Don't be offended by the mad rambling.  Have a merry freakin' Christmas!

Get your shotgun ready
you know it's gonna snow
We've seen the last of
green, green grass
so the end is sure to come.
It's not another solstice,
it's the end of days.
Make sure you've got
your stocking full
before you kneel and pray.

Christmas time's a-coming
get ready to spend, spend, spend.
The world is made of money
so your credit card says.
But watch out when you go shopping
'cause granny's on the warpath.
She needs to buy those new designer jeans
for her grandson in the pen
and you know she's gonna hit you
with her psychedelic bat.

Keep your shotgun ready
to claim that final turkey.
An angry mob of mothers
will take the skin off your back
They'll bludgeon you for kicks
and use your blood
for decoration.

Ho, ho, ho,
You know that's a
hateful thing to say.
Don't you know
the prostitutes now have
a union of their own?
They ain't no hos anymore.
They're all legally licensed for resale.

Santa Claus,
more like Satan's Claws
They don't call 'em sleigh bells
for nothing.
The man in red
will have your head
on a pole to terrorize his elves.
Keep the greenies
sweating in the shop,
cranking out hunks of plastic
laced with lead and arsenic.
You know his workshop was
outsourced to China.
Now he's really red!
No more Rudolph,
they farmed him out
to the butcher's shop,
for no one really knows
if there's a reindeer in the stew.
Beware the store brand;
it may be you you're eating!

Shop 'til you drop
onto the icy pavement slop
and give up your soul and toil
to the man next door
with the mortgage a mile long.
He doesn't care if he sells out
his wife and kids' future to
afford that fifty inch wide screen
so long as he's fat and happy,
he can watch the football game.
Credit is free money
nobody has to pay!

Madmen climbing the wire
of their store-bought prisons.
You know Uncle Sam
would be ashamed
of the farce this world's turned into.
Cats are eating the flesh off
the fingers of the frozen
hobo on the street corner
all for lack of a restaurant.
Dogs are mating under
cardboard boxes in the
alley, beside the lonely
astronaut who's had his
shuttle grounded by the President.
There are cowards in the street
waving switchblades and firecrackers
wishing they were Jesse James
or O.J. Simpson.
There's blood in the air
and smoke in the water
and everyone's crying crocodile tears.
Does anyone really care?
This was Christ's season
once upon a time,
but that's all over now.
Don't forget to pray to your
pagan idols on the stage.
They might put Cocaine in your stocking!

Everyone knows it's the end times,
so make sure your shotgun's loaded
Zombie apocalypse may be
just around the corner.
Just ask the tabloid man.
When it comes down to it
you can never be too ready.
Buy ammo, and whatever comes,
you'll know the score.
Have a happy holiday.

A Merry Christmas to all,
and hope you survive!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jenna's Father

Branching out in my genealogical research, I've also been looking into my wife's bloodline.  There is quite a bit there in some aspects, and a lot to be uncovered in others.  The biggest hurdle in my research is the fact that Jenna was technically a bastard.  Her parents were never married, and her father ran off before she was born.  This makes for limited information on her paternal side.  What little I do know has come from her mother, and I hope to someday find further leads.

Jenna's father was Wilford Lemke (b. 16 Mar 1953 /Died circa 1990)   His parents were Robert Lemke and Anita Hildebrand from Frankfurt, Germany, but their names and city of origin are about all I have on them.  My mother-in-law claims they are both deceased, but when and where is still another mystery.  Wilford apparently had at least one sibling and some nieces and nephews, though yet again information is limited.

So, if anyone has any pertinent information about Wilford or his parents, let me know.  I have found quite a bit on Jenna's mother's side, and will share some of that at a later date.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jack Fir Misery (Minstrel Mondays)

In today's Minstrel Monday selection, we have a philosophical poem I wrote when I was twenty-one.  Take whatever you can from it.

It seems that everything
is coming down around me,
and nothing stops
the burning of my eyes,
or the harsh sting
of the wind-blown jack fir
as it tumbles down about me.

The smack and the crack
of a splintering timber,
forced to the ground
by nature's breath.
I stand beneath the behemoth trunk
and limbs of softwood that tumble
and remind me of the pains in my heart.

Life's not easy for me,
as I see our children
reeling with pain.
Yet death never comes,
for it pleases me so.
This life may be pain,
but better we go on
to make it a pleasure for others,
if we cannot partake of it ourselves.

Life never tastes bitter
to a fallen man.
And the trees still make sounds
even though no one's around,
because there's always air
to resonate vibrionic waves.

Only man could be
so arrogant to believe
that sound only exists
when he hears it.
Just as feelings only exist
if the memory persists
and he can feel them.
That is why children don't understand.
They've never felt the pain.
So is it so wrong
that I go on
protecting them now?
Should I stop to care?

Those who don't know pain,
don't know they're not feeling it.
If ignorance is bliss
let the idiots shine
if only for their fleeting moment
amongst the brilliant sky.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another Forthman Photo

Here's an interesting photo from the vault.

Taken about 1940, here we have my great-grandparents, William Edward Forthman, Sr., and his wife, Anna Louise Littlefield Forthman (left).  The other ladies in the picture are two of their five daughters.  The one standing behind them is my grandmother Nadine (about 20 at the time), and the one sitting is Aunt Anabell.  I recently discovered that Anabell got married on January 10, 1945 to Martin L. Dawson.  I don't know if they had any kids, but they were both in their early forties at the time of the marriage.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The West of The Warlock Television Project

As I wrap up the first draft of "The Six-Gun Conjurer," I have begun work on my next writing endeavor.  Over the next few months, in between other projects, I will be writing a series of scripts based on the world and characters in West of the Warlock and its precursor, the short story "A Dwarf at High Noon."

Formatting a script is far different than writing a novel, and it is quite a learning process.  I'm using several authoritative resources to aid me, and it seems scriptwriting is much easier than crafting a book.  It's like writing a detailed outline with dialog.  Once I had the formula down, and got used to the new formatting, things moved right along.

I envision this to be a television series, though it could serve as a miniseries, or the first few episodes could be merged into a stand-alone movie, as well.  There's no sense limiting my options, as it'll be difficult to break into Hollywood at any rate.  I have high hopes but low expectations.  Still, having a slim chance at getting this project optioned is better than no chance, which is what I'll have if I don't write a script.

This isn't something that has come out of nowhere, as I've thought about doing a script for many years with different stories.  Too often over the years, I've sat down and watched television, only to think, "What crap!  I can write better stuff than this!"  So, it's high time that I did.  The "Dwarf at High Noon/West of the Warlock" universe is one that I feel has the best potential for television or cinema.

I've already written the "Pilot" episode.  We'll see what happens.

The first of many!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Prisoner of Time (Peek 2)

Prisoner of Time, the second volume in my "Virtual Saga," is only 99 cents for Kindle at the moment (Tell Your Friends!).  If you don't have a Kindle, the print edition is also affordable at my AuthorStore.  Spread Christmas cheer by giving books, or be good to yourself and get my writings for your own reading pleasure!

Okay, enough with the sales pitch.  Here's another free peek at Prisoner of Time.  This is the start of Chapter 6:

One never forgets the memory of having their mind downloaded into a virtual system.  The experience of being pure thought, then having your body reconstituted around your mind, and flying through the virtual ether toward a new reality seemingly as real as the one you just left; it was simply beyond anything imaginable.

            Morgan found that the second time around it was no less amazing.  If anything, the entire process was better, for he knew what to expect, and it didn't scare the heck out of him.  He was able to enjoy the fantastic sensations all the way, until that sudden snap of reality hit him, and he found himself lying down on the floor of a mausoleum.

            The first time he'd done this alone, but today he found a helpful hand reaching down to pick him up, though it caught him a little off-guard.  The man staring down at him was hard to recognize in the regal wizard's robes, and his face was no longer as youthful as it had been a few hours before.

            The young flesh of Alan Polansky was now replaced with more middle-aged features.  The once charcoal hair was half gray, the bulbous forehead was more pronounced by a receding hairline, and there was extensive wrinkling at the temples.

            "You sure got old quick," Morgan said, as Alan helped him to his feet.

            "Oh, yes.  I could never get used to being twenty five again, so I opted for fifty as a nice compromise.  It beats being ninety, but still provides for some seniority."

            Staring outside the mausoleum, Morgan saw a scene quite dissimilar from the one that had greeted him during his first visit to Fantasan.  Instead of a sunny day with grassy hills, here there was a steady drizzle with ragged trees blocking distant views.  It would be a wet walk to find shelter, but they couldn't linger in this access kiosk all day.

            "All right!" a youthful cheer sounded.

            Morgan turned around to see Baxter Redhawk dressed in glorious Ivanhoe armor.  The medieval suit made the ranch hand hardly recognizable.

            "Well, that's bound to be trouble," Alan said, examining the conspicuous youth.

            "What do you mean?  I'm a knight!  Stand forth, knave, and deliver!" he said, drawing his long sword.

            "Be careful with that thing, Baxter," Morgan warned, keeping his distance, fearful of losing an arm to the clumsy lad.

            "I'll have you know I'm an expert swordsman," Baxter replied, waving his blade about to get the feel of it.

            "That would be your first expertise," Morgan mentioned.  "Come on, let's get out of here."

            Stepping out into the rain, Morgan felt his leather boots sink half an inch into muck.  The dirt surrounding the mausoleum was recently upturned, as if something had attempted to dig under the structure.  Perhaps a wild animal seeking grubs, or some fortune-hunter dreaming of buried treasure.

            Finding the chilly spring rain to be unpleasant, Alan decided to put a stop to it.  Reaching up his arm and summoning the magic at his command, he attempted to activate a deflection screen over his body to prevent the moisture from touching his form.  Strangely enough, a field did not appear, but there came a burst of flame that covered his body for a split second and set his hair on fire.

            Morgan and Baxter stood in silent shock as Alan stomped around, smacking his hair with his damp palms, trying to snuff the flames.  Before his flesh could be burned, the hair was extinguished, leaving black soot oozing down his forehead with the rain water.

            "Why in God's name did you do that?" Morgan asked, trying to keep from laughing.

            "I don't understand.  That was a simple spell to deflect the rain.  It should not have set me ablaze."

            "Feeling a little rusty?" Morgan asked.

            "Nonsense!" Alan snapped.  "I am a master of the highest order.  Such a mediocre spell is well within my abilities.  Something is wrong here.  Things do not feel right."

Also, if you've read Prisoner of Time already, be sure to post a review of it at  Thanks!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Snail (Minstrel Mondays)

The United States Postal Service has generally been good to me, but like any huge organization there have been instances where they fell short.  There are times when you can get a media rate package from Maine to California in three days, and others where it takes two weeks to get the same size parcel to New Hampshire.

About ten years ago, there was a spate of really slow deliveries, packages and letters that came to me several weeks late.  I had one first class letter take almost a month to reach me, and it irked me.  During this slowdown, I wrote this little piece of poetry to vent my frustration.

They sit there laughing
as you try so hard
to get an answer.
Perched atop piles of
unanswered letters
they refuse to forward.

They shake your hand
take your money,
then spend it against your soul.
All the while smiling
a sickening pasty smile
white fangs waiting to dig in.

Prices go up, quality goes down,
the process speeds to a slow.
Yet nobody seems to care anymore,
for they've found something better.
A trick of technology,
or a slide outside of society.
Either way, they've no use
for the mediums of yesterday.

The quality of life,
does it ever get better?
Perhaps for those in the system.
They're set for life
living off your hard toil,
while you're stuck waiting
for undelivered correspondence,
they're supposed to handle.

The civil servants work so hard,
milling about in blue coats.
In lieu of their labor,
they light their cigarettes
from burning stacks of sedentary letters
we will never get.

Dear Mr. Postman,

Don't shred my mail in retaliation for this cynical poem!  I only bring it up because I've had an Amazon package sitting in a Massachusetts processing depot for an entire week, untouched.  Its "estimated" delivery was last Friday, and it's annoying to wait still longer for this particular item, so this poetry piece seemed appropriate.  Yes, I know the holidays are a busy time of year, but the thing hasn't moved for 7 full days, and it's only a few hundred miles away.  Could we get it on the truck sometime in the next couple of days, please?


Martin T. Ingham

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Edward Stebbins Ingham

Over the past few days, I've had the chance to acquire a few fresh documents pertaining to my adopted great-grandfather.  Being one of the few relatives I actually had the chance to meet and talk to (albeit when I was very young), I'm always interested to learn more about the man and add it to the growing pile of family data.  I'll share a little of that knowledge here, and hopefully it will be of interest to some of you.

"Ned" was born on July 2, 1896, the son of John Albertson Ingham & Mary Bartlett Stebbins.  His father was the pastor of the Irvington Presbyterian Church in Irvington, New York, and later at the Second Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Ned therefore came from a strong, Christian background. His ancestors were almost entirely of English origin, with a few Dutch genes thrown in for good measure.

Edward Stebbins Ingham
Circa 1917

Ned graduated from Rutgers College in 1916 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  From there, he worked as an insurance salesman for Connecticut Mutual, until WWI called him to action.  Unable to qualify for the regular U.S. Army due to "poor eyesight," he signed up with the American Ambulance Corps, and later transferred into the French Army.  Serving with the French was a defining moment of his life, and he made many pilgrimages back to France later on during his lifetime.

Moving ahead to 1926, Ned married my great-grandmother, Effie K. Robinson, in Hillsborough, Florida.  They honeymooned in Cuba, which at the time was a prime tourist destination (and it still would be, if not for those dirty commies!).  After their honeymoon, they settled into life on Charevloiy Avenue in Detroit, and in the following few years he officially adopted my grandfather Ray, giving him the Ingham name.

During the roaring twenties, Ned made a literal fortune, and on Black Friday he was worth two million dollars on paper.  He lost ever cent of it in the crash, but that didn't make him give up or jump out a window, as some other hard-hit investors of the day did.  Instead, he packed his bags on Monday morning and went out to get a new job.  While never wealthy again, he always made a decent living after that.  He was a very talented salesman, or as one relative once told me, "He could sell iceboxes to Eskimos."

Ned Ingham on his 92nd Birthday
July 2, 1988

I had the chance to meet Ned in 1985, when he came up to Maine with Grandpa Ray.  During the trip we toured around Washington County and saw many of the sights.  However, when it came time to go to Canada and see the Roosevelt Museum on Campobello Island, Ned would not go.  He refused to visit the "Roosevelt Shrine," as he was a lifelong Republican and he abhorred Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  However, his dislike was not purely political, as he'd actually known the man.  During World War II, Ned served on the Rubber Production Board, and attended regular meetings with the President to discuss wartime matters.  During these meetings, he gained a general dislike for Roosevelt on a personal level, which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

Of course, Grandpa Ray was a lifelong Democrat (as were my parents at the time), so we went along to visit Campobello without Ned, though today I would much rather have spent a few more hours with a remarkable man, to hear an old story or two.  FDR's vacation home is still there to visit, and will be in perpetuity, but the same cannot be said for Ned, who passed away on July 5, 1991.  He celebrated his 95th birthday, and toward the end of the party he excused himself, saying he was feeling a bit tired.  He went to lie down, and passed away quietly with class.  He was still fit and able up until the end, without the major infirmities that often plague people of advancing years.

So, here's to Ned Ingham, a red blooded American who truly exemplified the spirit of his generation.  He understood the rights and responsibilities of a free man, and also knew how to enjoy himself in moderation.

Before I go, let me leave you with a mildly amusing story of my own research into Ned's life.  The other day, as I was picking through online documents, I found his 1917 Passport Application, and along with it was a photograph that I quickly realized was not his.  I looked at the thing and said, "Who's this? That's not Ned.  It looks more like John Panozzo of Styx!"  As it turns out, the photographs of the passports are stuck on the back side of the applications, so Ned's picture was actually with the subsequent application on the following page.  Remember this if you're ever picking through passport applications on Ancestry's site.  Your ancestor might not look like the attached photo for good reason.

Photo of "Ruth Joslin"
incorrectly paired with
Edward Stebbins Ingham's 1917
passport application.

John Panozzo
Drummer for "Styx"

Friday, December 2, 2011

'Tis The Season... To Spend!

A lot of people think of Christmas as a time to spend, and for ages we've heard the other people decry the commercialization of the season.  I'm somewhere in-between.  While there's nothing wrong with the mad shopping sprees and the spirit of giving, there are some aspects of the practice that get out of hand and go beyond common sense.

Too many people spend what they don't have.  You see them scrimping and saving all year, so they can buy everything all at once, or worse, they max out their credit cards and spend the next eleven months paying them off (or not).  All this, just so they can say they bought a gift for every last person they can think of.  This isn't something I would ever do, but that's just me.

In my household, we buy what we can afford when we can afford it, and we don't wait until a special time of year to get our stuff.  If it's something we can use and we have the money, we get it.  If that happens to be July, we don't stuff the thing in a box and hide it away until December 25.  That may mean the tree doesn't have as many presents, but we feel its worth having the months of enjoyment of things, rather than the thrill of a massive pile of stuff at the end of the year.  There are always some gifts under the tree, but it's not a huge mountain of gifts.  Those are already in-use.

In these hard economic times, a lot of people are considering a more frugal spending policy this year, but others will no doubt enjoy their Christmas shopping as usual.  Feel free to buy what you want, but do try to be sensible.  If you need to mortgage your house for that new big-screen, it might be time to seek therapy...  But before you do, make sure you buy every one of my books from or my AuthorStore!  (Yeah, that's shameless, but if they're going to spend the money anyway, they should at least have the courtesy to send some my way.  Forget the white; make mine a green Christmas!)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Time Traveler's Illegal Harem (Peek 1)

As NaNoWriMo 2011 comes to a close, I'd like to take a moment to look back at last year, to the novel I was writing at that time.  I won the NaNoWriMo 2010 with a convoluted hard science fiction piece called "The Time Traveler's Illegal Harem," which is currently waiting for a thorough revision before I place it on the market.  I expect to get around to polishing it sometime this winter, but in the meantime I'll share this opening scene that doesn't need too much work. I expect it will pique your interest!

     The market was closing early these days, as the chills of autumn drove shoppers away.  The lingering light of dusk grew closer, as Winona Snapwick stowed her wares inside the travel trailer she used as a shop.  The aging box on wheels was all she owned, since her father had passed away during the last flu pandemic.  Of course, he'd never been very healthy, not since catching polio at sixteen.  He'd always walked with a limp, but never complained.

     Before closing the last cabinet, Winona paused to look at her wares.  The ticking timepieces held in cheap cases were beautiful in her eyes.  Some of these modern marvels she'd built herself, and others were her father's work from before his death.  All held hours of careful craftsmanship in their design, though few people could afford such extravagance.  These days, people were relying more on the municipal clocks to tell time, if they cared at all.  Those in the country kept schedules by the sun, and had no need for fancy watches.  It all left Winona's pocketbook light.

     Stowing the final case in the back of the trailer, Winona closed the shutters and clipped the locks, ready to haul her goods back to her place of residence.  "Home" was currently a little nook in the wall downtown, which doubled as her workshop.  There was running water, and city gas, so she could keep clean and warm, and it was affordable.  Still, it wasn't much, and food could be sparse.

     With everything secured for transport, Winona walked over to the livery stable, to pick up her aging mare.  Digging into her purse on the walk over, she picked out the last few coins she had, ready to pay the horse's daily boarding fee.  That money should have been for her own dinner, and she knew if things didn't improve soon she'd have to say goodbye to her equine companion.  How would she haul her wares to market after that?

     'What a damnable existence this modern world has become!' she thought, stepping up to the open stable doors.  Before she could look inside, she found herself restrained by strong arms around the waist.  She inhaled to scream, only to find a heavy cloth shoved over her face, muffling her pleas.

     "Sweet little thing like you ought not be wanderin' alone at night," a gruff man's voice said.

     A second man giggled awkwardly at his companion's statement.

     The cloth covering Winona's mouth was yanked tight, pulling her face up to the stars.  The final rays of dusk were fading, and the twinkling specks were poking out of the night sky.  It had gotten so dark, so fast!

     Winona was used to being the last one out of the marketplace.  There was usually a straggler or two who wanted to gawk at her watches, and that sometimes proved profitable, though not lately.  Her proclivity to linger into the evening was now proving to be her undoing.

     Was there anyone around who could save her?  She doubted it.  Fate hadn't been kind lately, and there was no reason for her to think her luck would change.

     But God had not forsaken her yet.

     As Winona kicked and thrashed in a vain attempt to dislodge her kidnappers, another voice halted their movements.  "Is that any way to treat a lady?"

     "This ain't none of your business, strangey," one of the kidnappers replied with a nasally voice.

     Winona felt the arms around her chest slide away, allowing her face to turn down from the sky.  Looking forward over the gag that covered her cheeks and nose, she saw a dark figure silhouetted in the pale moonlight.

     "I'm making it my business," the stranger said, standing his ground.  "That woman's coming with me."

     The last sentence dashed Winona's optimism.  From the sound of it, her would-be savior was just competing for the chance to rape her, too.  Still, a little voice in her head said he'd be a better companion than the two thugs carrying her.

     "You ain't takin' nothing, dude," the nasally man answered.  He reached under his jacket and drew a revolver from its holster.

     Before the man could aim his weapon, the stranger shot first.  In the blink of an eye, a sliver of light streaked from the weapon in his hand.  The beam soaked into the chest of the thug, and the would-be rapist collapsed without a sound, leaving his companion on his own.

     "What in the Hell?" the gruff thug mumbled, glancing over at his comrade.

     Seeing an opportunity, Winona struck back.  Placing an elbow into her kidnapper's gut, followed with a swift kick to the groin, she managed to loosen his grasp and break free.  She didn't wait to get her bearings before running across the darkened pavement of the marketplace.  She had to get away, and it didn't matter where.  Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the thug gripping his crotch, as the stranger stepped forward and shot him with his silent weapon.

     Even as she continued to run, Winona thought about her would-be savior, and that strange weapon he employed.  She'd never seen anything like it.  No only was its shot silent, but the entire mechanism was mute.  No cylinder or slide clicking or clacking, no hammer cocking, yet it killed like lightning.  What kind of magic was that?