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Fiction Western

Wynonna Belle struggled with the several volumes of books she carried across the main thoroughfare of the once bustling Arizonan town of Canyon Diablo.

Since the closure of the town’s library, Wynonna had made several deals with store owners to house some of her books, where she could provide places for townsfolk to gather and read or take needed lessons in literacy.

Precariously balancing the heavy books in her arms, Wynonna’s steadfast resolve held strong as she crossed the aptly named Hell Street – now void of its once rough reputation of wandering scallywags, thieves, ladies of ill repute, and common murderers.

Catching her breath in the warm afternoon sun, she rested for a moment, then watched as a gnarly looking man exited the doors of The Last Drink Saloon, acting like he was in a mighty hurry to be somewhere. His manner of dress caused an instant summation in Wynonna’s thoughts. Most dapperly attired in a way only a city slicker could pull off, his shiny brown boots matched his beige suit, and a recent shoeshine glistened off the leather from the glare of the sun streaking its way down the town’s only street. For a moment, Wynonna blushed as the bearded and handsome man approached her. She was about to greet him, when the stranger rudely brushed against her, knocking the books from her grasp, sending them tumbling onto the dusty street.

“God-dang it!” Wynonna exhaled in frustration, as she looked back over her shoulder at the stranger - who responded by slowing his pace to turn and look back at her.

“Why don’t you watch where yer goin, Mister,” Wynonna disparagingly chided him using her adopted cowboy vocabulary.

“Do forgive me,” he said while politely tipping his brown Derby hat and apologising with a lilt of an English accent. “I honestly did not see you,” he cheekily smiled – his brashness causing Wynonna to lose her composure.

“There’s a whole damn street out here empty of anyone but old men’s mules,” Wynonna grumbled. “You could see I was carrying these books. It would have been easier to have gone around me,” she continued to chastise him.

“Where are you headed with such a heavy load?” The stranger asked – attempting to change Wynonna’s mood.

“Well, we ain’t got no library no more,” she barked, struggling to gather up some of the manuals. “So, I was aimin’ to drop them off here and there for people to borrow. But you just put a halt to that, exiting the saloon in all flusteration - like you was on some kind of French Leave.”

“Then I must apologise for my impoliteness, Miss?”

“Belle,” she abruptly replied.

“Miss Belle,” he repeated. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is August Love… from England.”

“Well, Mr. Love from England. You better watch where you’re steppin’ in the future. These books are rare in these parts, and they don’t come cheap.”

“Aha!” The Englishman grunted his stirring recognition. “Oh, my goodness. You’re she, aren’t you? The famous gunslinging librarian.”

The mention of her name attached to a supposition of a reputation, raised a concern in Wynonna’s mind. She had been confronted before by lunk-headed cowboys looking to create reputations as gunfighters, trying all kinds of tricks to distract her. Secure in the knowledge and fact that those making the mistake of taking her on, never fared well, Wynonna took her time to look the stranger over, but couldn’t quite categorise him. This was no ordinary hombre, she thought. His gentlemanly appearance concealed the swagger of a mail-order cowboy, a tenderfoot in dapper attire. These types of men, Wynonna surmised, usually smiled with one hand outstretched, then plugged you with a single shot Derringer, previously hidden up their sleeve.

Straightening herself up, Wynonna strategically turned her body at a right-angle to the Englishman’s position. This defensive posture was known to reduce the size of a human target in case there was a fight at hand.

Slowly flicking her tailcoat behind her preferred left side, a reflection from the sun hitting her shiny sheriff’s badge, temporarily obscured the Englishman’s vision.

“My goodness,” he declared. “You’re also the law in this town.”

“Hell, mister,” Wynonna rebuked. “There ain’t never been no law in Canyon Diablo, and if there ever was, they didn’t last long.”

It was a running joke with the town folk. Before Wynonna reluctantly took the position as town sheriff, there had been a revolving door in the undertaker’s parlour of those that wore the tin star for varying lengths of time, before being gunned down by one Bad Man or another. The longest reign in the law’s attendance was thirty days. The shortest was four hours.

“State your intentions, Mr. Love.” Wynonna demanded – her defences on prickly alert. “I’ve come to not trust smiling strangers.”

“I assure you, Miss Belle. I’m just an admirer. My clumsiness was merely due to a certain affliction of short-sightedness. You see, before my inquisitiveness took hold of me, urging me to explore the saloon, I had been at the telegraph office, sending my latest story back to London. In my haste, I may have left my spectacles with the telegraph operator, so I was headed straight back there when I accidentally bumped into you. I’m afraid, the world is a little blurred without my aide visuelle.”

“Story, you say. You a writer, Mr. Love?”

“It would give me the greatest of pleasure if you called me, August,” he requested while stooping to gather up a few of the books. “Yes, I’m on assignment for the Illustrated London News, delivering tales of the Wild West into the drawing rooms of Hampstead, Mayfair, and I dare say, the haughty house of Lords. I’m to understand that royalty also peruses our pages.”

“Now, August,” Wynonna pondered. “Why would folks so far away be interested in what goes on in a hot, dry, and godforsaken place like Canyon Diablo?”

“Well, simply put, Miss Belle. For the tales of adventure in your wild corner of civilization.”

“And they don’t get bored reading about our way of life?”

“On the contrary, Miss Belle. We sell over three hundred thousand copies per week. That’s a very large inquisitive audience hungry for fresh stories.”

“I ain’t no schoolteacher, so please call me Wynonna, or Sheriff Belle – if you prefer to remain formal.”

“What a wonderful Western name. Wynonna,” he admiringly repeated. “To many in the high society of London,” he continued. “The West is full of heroism, cowboys, and – may I say… chaos. The tales of deepest, darkest Africa and the exploits of Stanley and Livingstone are pale in comparison to the adventures of General Custer, Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, and such. You see, your way of life represents fantasy, danger, adventure, and dare I say it, escapism.”

“I met Wyatt Earp some years back,” Wynonna dreamily confessed.

“How exciting! What was he like?”

“He was a man you’d prefer was with you rather than agin you. Fearless, tough, and determined, but ever so gentle to women folk. He passed through here on his way to California - after that bad business at the O.K. Corral and the episode with the Clantons.”

“How marvellous.”

“He stopped by the library to see me, or at least to see what the fuss about the Gunslinging Librarian was all about. That is your general description of me, isn’t it?”

“Forgive me, Wynonna. That was just a dollar writer looking for a ten-cent headline.”

“Shucks! Nuthin’ I ain’t heard before.”

“Did Mr. Earp stay long?”

“Long enough to figure out this place wasn’t worth his concern. Hearing the famous lawman was in town, the town’s leaders rushed to gawk at him – even offering him the immediate job of Sheriff. But he declined, saying Canyon Diablo was meaner and wilder than Tombstone and Dodge City combined. Can you believe that?”

“Fascinating.”

“I personally think he saw this place for what it’s worth. Nuthin. The railroad bridge had not long been completed, and so many people were already packing up and moving on to the next boom town, that the place had taken on the atmosphere of abject abandonment. Personally, I think Wyatt was just plain done with being a lawman and was lookin’ for other opportunities unrelated to killing people.”

“How interesting,” August noted. “A town notoriously dangerous that even the great Wyatt Earp wouldn’t police it, but you – a young woman - of all things, gladly accepted the position of town Sheriff.”

“Hell, I didn’t want the job. But the dwindling population forced the town’s leaders to close the library on account of a lack of funding, leaving some of the good folks here without a window to the rest of the world. So, I made several deals with the traders to mobilise and fragment my library into sections that they could fit into their already crowded spaces. I spent so much time on this street, solving fights between drunks and preventing daylight robberies, that the town’s leaders pinned a tin star on me for thirty dollars a month. Most troublemakers had pulled in their horns and moved on, meaning the risks that came with the position had mostly disappeared, so I took the job. Heck, this ain’t nuthin’ but a town for the dying, anyway. It used be the gun that racked up the numbers on Boot Hill. Now, it’s just tumbleweeds.”

“Fascinating,” August noted. “You must be the only female sheriff around. If I may, would you honour me and my readers, by allowing me to write an article about you?”

“Can’t say you’d have much to write about,” Wynonna quickly dismissed the idea. “Unless you count the run-ins with the Henderson clan, the fight I had with the most ornery, well-read drunk, who, it turns out, killed my daddy back awhile. Or the time I saved the Mexican immigrant and her son from a lynch mob.”

“I’m sure my readers would devour those stories.”

Contemplating August’s request, Wynonna dusted down her coat and rawhide pants, as if like Annie Oakley, she was preparing for her image to be posted on a Woodburytype cabinet card.

“We used to carry some copies of your periodical at the old library back during that Whitechapel Ripper escapade. I used to read the articles to those that weren’t blessed with literacy and show them those wonderful drawings that accompanied each story. That Jack was quite the terror. It’s one thing knowing who’s itchin’ to fight you and entirely another thing not knowing who’s hiding in the shadows waiting to bushwhack you.”

“Indeed,” August agreed. “A very nasty business made more sinister with the failure to apprehend him.”

“Yeah well, for every one Jack you had, we had ten. ‘Cept, our Jacks didn’t necessarily wait for darkness to kick up their own shindy with you. Tell me, do you illustrate your own articles, August?” Wynonna asked, changing the subject.

“Heavens, no,” he surprisingly perked up. “I do have an illustrator travelling with me, but he’s gone native – as you say. As a matter of fact, I’ve just seen him drunk and swinging from the chandelier inside the saloon, singing Blow the man down. Without my spectacles, I couldn’t do or say anything constructive to talk him down, so I rushed out of there to retrieve them. The rest you know.”

“Well, hell,” Wynonna sighed. “Best we get him back on his feet, then, before he does himself or anyone some deviltry.”

Helping Wynonna gather up the remaining books, August led her to the doors of the saloon. Then, placing the books on a wooden bench beside the entrance, he motioned her inside using a ladies-first chivalrous gesture that included a subservient bow. Whether it was the stranger’s manner, his intelligent sounding accent, or his handsome looks, Wynonna couldn’t help but smile at him as she passed through the swinging doors. However, upon entering the saloon, she noticed the chandelier hanging from the ceiling was stationary, with no drunkard in sight swinging from it. The second peculiar oddity she noted, was Henry Calhoun, the proprietor, quietly staring blankly at her from behind his bar. The third odd fish, arousing her suspicions was a lack of the usual ruckus normally associated with the only saloon in town still operating supervised card tables. Even the usual clientele seemed to be absent from the bar. In fact, the whole place resembled the quiet atmosphere of a library – her inner thoughts mused.

“Finally, she has arrived,” an impatient sounding male voice broke through the silence. “I thought you’d never take the bait.”

Stepping into the light, the voice revealed its face to Wynonna.

“Henderson!” She exclaimed - using a distasteful tone in her voice - before the recognizable sound of a rifle being cocked, upped a different kind of stakes amid the surrounding gaming tables.

“I’d be careful. This little fish bites back.” She warned. “That was a darn good distraction sending a handsome Englishman to collect me.”

“My sincere apologies, Wynonna,” August regretfully explained. “This relieves me from my gambling debts to Mr. Henderson.”

“You little Muck-Snipe,” Wynonna growled.

“Sometimes,” Henderson lectured. “You need a soft touch to remove an irritating thorn in your side.”

“Need I remind you what happened the last couple of times we crossed paths?” Wynonna crowed.

“You bested me once, that was shame on me. You bested me twice, that was shame on…”

Realising his analogy started off wrong, Henderson became a little flustered.

“Well, you ain’t never gonna best me agin,” he flapped.

“How the once mighty cattleman has fallen,” Wynonna countered. “Bushwhacking the law. Now, ain’t that just as desperado as your brand artist men cattle-rustlin’ at night.”

“There ain’t never been any law in this town,” Henderson countered. “And if there was…”

“They didn’t last long,” August’s verbal realisation caused him to cringe.

“You’ve been in town for what, four unsuccessful gambling days?” Henderson chuckled. “And you’re already up on our local sayings. We’re done here, Mr. Love. You may go. My man on the stairs pointing that Winchester at the Sheriff, will take over from here.”

“What of my debt?” August enquired.

“Toodle-loo, Mr. Love. Be on yer merry old English way.”

“And, Miss Belle?” August concerningly asked.

“No longer your business,” Henderson laughed. “You can take some flowers up to Boot Hill later, where she’ll be buried alongside the other failed tin stars.”

“You told me to just get her in here. You said you just wanted to talk with her,” August protested. “Murder is not what I agreed to.”

“No sirree, it sure ain’t,” Henderson laughed. “But that’s life out here in what you newspaper folks call, the Wild West. Lawless. So, we just do what the hell we want. Now, stand aside and let me conclude some unfinished business.”

Wynonna swiftly scanned the saloon. The four other men standing were most likely Henderson’s men, she thought – recognising his main cowhand, Jake Colter as one of them.

“Easy, Sheriff. Throw your pistols down,” Henderson instructed. “Your jig is up.”

“I won’t let you do this,” August shouted, as he moved into the line of fire between Wynonna and the rifleman’s aim.

The delay, coupled with August’s brave and defiant action, riled Henderson beyond tolerance. His patience wearing thin, he motioned to his rifleman, then issued a cold-hearted order.

“I ain’t got time for this. Shoot ‘em both!”

“NO!” August shouted above the crack of a rifle shot, as a bullet ripped through his left shoulder, felling him. Before the rifleman could shoot again, both of Wynonna’s colt pistols quickly blazed away in her hands. The rifleman slumped dead on the stairs - two bullets lodged in his cranium - a small trickle of blood seeping down his forehead. In response, the remaining three of Henderson’s men drew their pistols, only to be cut down by Wynonna’s lightning-quick and deadly aim. The whole melee lasted five seconds. In the aftermath, four men lay dead. The one still left standing was Henderson himself, who during those five seconds of deadly explosions of fire, had nimbly worked his way around to Wynonna’s blind side on her right and was now stood an arm’s length away pointing his gun directly at her head.

“I reckin’ you’ve got the little end of the horn, Sheriff,” Henderson icily declared.

He was too close for Wynonna to swiftly pivot on him without her getting hit first. However, Henderson needed to cock his pistol before firing. That allowed an extra moment to think. Preparing to meet him at point blank, Wynonna turned to fire, but was too late. A shot rang out. It sounded light in its explosion and soft in its impact, but Wynonna’s keen sense of hearing heard it hit something hard and heavy. While examining herself for a bullet hole, she was surprised to see Henderson staggering sideways - a look of shock and pain scouring his face, before collapsing face-down dead to the floor.

Below her, she noticed a wisp of smoke wafting up from the barrel of August Love’s Derringer pistol - held aloft in his shaking hand. Helping him up onto a chair, Wynonna grabbed a bar towel from Henry and quickly made a makeshift sling for August’s wounded arm.

“Well, I guess you got your own real-life adventure to write about, now,” Wynonna pointed out. “And I suggest it should have a hero named, August. I knew there was more to you than those pretty looks.”

“A lady must always be protected from harm,” August nobly stated.

““I ain’t no lady,” Wynonna corrected him. “I’m just a tired librarian in a burnt-out ghost town.”

“No,” August contradicted. “You’re not just a librarian. You are also the law in this town.”

“Hell,” she rebuked while removing her sheriff’s badge and throwing it to the floor. “Haven’t you learned this yet? There ain’t never been no law in this town. Now let’s get you down to Doc Thornton. You’ve got a story to write.”

 

May 25, 2023 10:33

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26 comments

Anna W
19:13 May 31, 2023

Really love this story! I love the twist in the story, but I also love Wynonna's grit and determination. Great job!

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Chris Campbell
01:04 Jun 01, 2023

Anna, Thanks for the great feedback. Glad you liked it. This is Wynonna's fifth appearance. The other Wynonna Bell stories (in order): 1. Afterclap: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/o5sqn0/ 2. Sanctuary on Hell Street: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/bwzs6w/ 3. The Last Scupper: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/b606xn/ 4. Maladie: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/6pjbcb/

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Marty B
05:12 May 30, 2023

Great Hero in Wyonna Belle, the Gunslinging Librarian. I liked the set up and rousing gun battle conclusion.

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Chris Campbell
05:46 May 30, 2023

Thanks, Marty. Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked it. This is Wynonna's fifth appearance. The other Wynonna Bell stories (in order): 1. Afterclap: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/o5sqn0/ 2. Sanctuary on Hell Street: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/bwzs6w/ 3. The Last Scupper: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/b606xn/ 4. Maladie: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/6pjbcb/

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Wally Schmidt
16:58 May 26, 2023

My first western read on Reedsy and I'm glad it was this one. Now I will have to go back and read about the other adventures of Wynonna. This rough and ready western has so much attitude and it really throws the reader into the setting and the characters. Well written Chris like all of your work.

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Chris Campbell
01:43 May 27, 2023

Wally, Thanks for your great feedback and lovely comments. Westerns are a favourite of mine, and Wynonna helps bring that time to life. So glad you liked it.

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Delbert Griffith
13:32 May 26, 2023

Another Wynonna tale! WooHoo! I really like your western tales, Chris. They are very immersive, and a joy to read. The action never stops, the wit of Wynonna flows generously, and the bad guys are always very bad. What's not to love? A minor critique: Wynonna speaks as if she has no education. I can buy that; she's fitting in, and maybe her dialect is too much to overcome at such a late age. But then you have phrases like: "that the place had taken on the atmosphere of abject abandonment." This seems a little out of place with the rest of...

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Chris Campbell
13:52 May 26, 2023

Delbert, Thanks for the objective feedback. I was wondering if anyone would catch Wynonna's speech pattern changing. This was an intentional attempt to portray Wynonna as going slightly native herself. Her first story goes back at least ten years to where she spoke more eloquently. However, after living amongst a class of people that have a rougher way of expressing themselves, she has assimilated to blend in. Living on my third continent in life, I find my accent has changed along the way, so I've used that experience to evolve her. That s...

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Delbert Griffith
14:22 May 26, 2023

Absolutely, it makes sense. And I agree: maybe make it a little clearer that she's trying to retain some semblance of vocabulary in the face of western, uneducated slang. Still, it didn't take away from the tale, my friend. Riveting!

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Chris Campbell
15:00 May 26, 2023

Cheers, mate. Dusted and done!

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Chris Campbell
01:40 May 27, 2023

I revisited it and changed the ending a little. Thanks for your great feedback.

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Tommy Goround
05:47 May 27, 2023

Novel size? Works SS? Maybe not. I just edited my character's speech transition out , today, in fact. Seems like the detail could slow the read unless it is a top 3 detail

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Chris Campbell
07:17 May 27, 2023

Yeah, I've managed to work around it.

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Mary Bendickson
18:51 May 25, 2023

🤠🍻 A rousing, raucous western! Well done. Check spelling on 'civilisation'.

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Chris Campbell
23:45 May 25, 2023

Thank you, Mary. I had used the British/Australian spelling, but after conducting a little research, I learned that the Oxford-English dictionary spells it with a "Z," so I have corrected it. I found the following guide online: The main difference between British and Oxford spelling is that the latter uses -ize (and -ization) instead of -ise (and -isation) (organize and organization instead of organise and organisation, for instance). This use of z instead of s does not apply, however, to words ending in -yse, such as analyse, which are w...

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Chris Campbell
00:20 May 26, 2023

This is the fifth Wynonna Belle story. The others (In order of appearance): 1. Afterclap: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/o5sqn0/ 2. Sanctuary on Hell Street: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/bwzs6w/ 3. The Last Scupper: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/b606xn/ 4. Maladie: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/6pjbcb/

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Mary Bendickson
01:30 May 26, 2023

And we wonder why we can't spell. (I thought I was usually pretty good but I have forgotten an awful lot) (Even had the word I wanted you to check on mis-spelled and I had looked at it more than once!) Forgive me. Seems I spend all my time reading new stories from people I follow. Will try to get back to your old ones sometime. I really enjoyed Wynonna.

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Chris Campbell
02:19 May 26, 2023

The nuances of the "English" language. 😆

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Amanda Lieser
17:16 Jun 19, 2023

Hi Chris, Three things to absolutely love about this piece include but are not limited to one, your excellent work with accents, to the way that you created these rich and board characters, three the way that you relied on some western tropes without letting them take over the soul of the piece. I thought your escalation was excellently done with just the right amount of build up while introducing the peace with a wonderfully kind act on the part of Miss. Belle. And the way you acknowledged the writer’s plight was a great addition-right to t...

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Chris Campbell
00:14 Jun 20, 2023

Amanda, Thank you for your great feedback. I did some research into Western slang and tried to not overdo it, but some of the sayings are too funny to not put into future stories. The writer's plight - you mentioned in your comments, was the perfect outro to the story. We all have a story to write and overcoming the obstacles in that journey can only make us better crafters of the written word (Not too soppy, I hope). I needed to close business between Wynonna and Henderson. From earlier Wynonna episodes, he had it coming. I also wanted ...

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Helen A Smith
17:47 Jun 01, 2023

Great character in Wynonna. I wouldn’t have wanted to get on the wrong side of her, mind, but I wanted her to succeed which she more than did. Enjoyed the story-telling and glad there was a rewarding ending.

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Chris Campbell
06:21 Jun 02, 2023

Helen, So glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting. I've noted it on other comments; however, this is Wynonna's fifth appearance. I do like writing about her. The other Wynonna Bell stories (in order): 1. Afterclap: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/o5sqn0/ 2. Sanctuary on Hell Street: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/bwzs6w/ 3. The Last Scupper: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/b606xn/ 4. Maladie: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/6pjbcb/

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Helen A Smith
06:32 Jun 02, 2023

Hi Chris I’ll definitely take a look. It’s interesting how a character hooks you and you end up wanting to write more about them. I didn’t expect that to happen when I started writing short stories.

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Chris Campbell
06:52 Jun 02, 2023

Thank you. Yes, I have another character, Anthony Pratt, Winston Churchill's Spy du jour and part-time sleuth. He is based on the creator of the board game, Cluedo- or "Clue" - depending on what side of the pond you're on. So far, five "Mr. Pratt" stories, but more to come.

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Michał Przywara
02:24 Jun 01, 2023

Very enjoyable :) I particularly like how slow and friendly the opening is, like a lazy summer's day, and how quickly things go to hell and guns are drawn. But that's the way it should be, right? Sudden, brutal violence. It fits the setting, like everyone is on edge. Wynonna's an interesting character too. Decentralized librarian, involuntary sherrif, and a gunslinger to boot. One does wonder why she sticks around. Maybe this is a lawless hell hole, but perhaps on some level it's dear to her.

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Chris Campbell
03:26 Jun 01, 2023

Michael, Thanks for the great feedback. Throughout the five Wynonna stories, I've tried to move the timeframe on. The first story is set approximately ten years previously to this one. The town of Canyon Diablo was a boom town when the railroad bridge was being built across its canyon, but within ten years, it became deserted when the railroad moved on. It's now an unidentifiable ghost town, but back in its heyday, it was the most lawless town in the West and remained so, as lawmen really did not last long there. For Wynonna, this is mos...

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