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?