The Red Queen of Reno

Sarah Whittaker hadn’t seen her husband in five years.  Six months after their child was born he slipped his weathered pack over his shoulders and declared he was headed to the city to find work so his little girl could have everything he hadn’t.  Sarah watched through tears as his form disappeared down the path that connected their cabin to the rest of the world.  That had been the last she had seen or heard of Mr. Whittaker.  Sarah waited patiently for the father of her child, but as months turned to years, she had to admit that he wasn’t coming home.  It hadn’t been easy raising a girl on the frontier alone, but Sarah had done what she needed to do to make sure they didn’t go hungry, not all of which she was proud of.
It was a cool day when she met Lieutenant Greg Barclay.  She sat on her covered porch, tea in hand, watching as the fall leaves drifted from the trees making her long for the colors of the Northeast fall she remembered from her childhood.  Remembering better days, she didn’t even notice the man walking up the lane until he was nearly to the deck.
“Hello, ma’am,” a deep voice called out, pulling Sarah from her reveries.
She jumped, “Sorry, sir.  What brings you out here?”
“Well ma’am,” the gentleman said removing his cap, “we are now officially the 36th state in this fine Union.  I’m leading the Census through these parts.”
“That is news that warms this old heart of mine. Nevada, USA.  Won’t you stay for lunch?”

“Sarah, it's not appropriate for a woman to travel to Reno alone, especially not to get a divorce.”
They sat in matching rocking chairs watching Sarah’s daughter try to catch frogs from the small pond in front of the house.
“I know Greg,” said Sarah, “it isn’t appropriate, but I don’t see any other options.  I can’t bring her to that den of iniquity and someone needs to stay to keep the farm going.”
Greg sighed.  “I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Being made an honest woman is the best idea”
Sarah reached for Greg’s hand as he abruptly stood and strode into the small log cabin.  Sarah heard the heavy drag of suitcase that was kept under their shared bed.  When Greg emerged a few minutes later he held his service revolver in his hand.
“I will feel better if you bring this with you.  It’s not safe for a woman alone on the road.”
Sarah took Greg’s face in her hands.
“You are the best man I have ever had the honor of meeting.”  She kissed him deeply.

The Red Queen had not been Sarah’s first choice in establishments, but all the women’s hostels were booked out suffragists who sought to proposition Nevada’ss fledgling government for the vote.  The seedy hotel was home to loose women, loose pockets and an excess of red velvet.  Sarah reached for the revolver that was tucked into the folds of her skirts and was thankful for Mr. Barclay’s forward thinking.
As Sarah waited to check in to her room for the night, she saw him, his dimly lit face frowned over a pair of cards dressed in a fine suit, with a buxom blonde perched on his knee.  Mr.  Whittaker seemed to have done quite well in the five years since he walked out of Sarah’s life.
She felt outside herself as she walked across the room to where her husband sat.  He looked up from his cards as she leaned down on the card table.
“Mr. Whittaker, my dearest husband, you are very very late for dinner.”
“Sarah my dear,” he stuttered, “what brings you here?”
“Divorce,” Sarah replied.
“Oh, well I don’t think that will be nessasa…”
Blood spurted from his chest before he could finish his sentence.  Sarah looked down at her hand surprised to find the revolver there, but not entirely disappointed in the results.  She slipped the gun back into the folds of her skirt and returned to the welcome desk.
“I won’t be needing a room after all,” she said as she picked up her bags and walked out the door.

“Sarah, you are back early,” exclaimed Greg, “did everything go as planned?”
“No, I found my husband.”
“I shot that man in Reno just to watch him die.”


  1. Nice job hinting at the time setting with the word "frontier." Maybe find ways to bring details of the 1850s into the beginning? She could hold her bonnet down as she watches Mr. Whittaker abandon her. The kill happened so fast; it was shocking. Could the reader get a hint that poor Sarah had the capacity to kill someone before that scene? The story lost the thread of the daughter; consider bringing her back in somewhere. That second section tells the reader so much about the difference between the men in Sarah's life. I loved their interaction and the clear love languages being expressed by them in their own ways.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback Nathan! You make very valid points. I absolutely have to work harder to get more details into a small word count (750 is tough).

  2. You did a good job with a tough prompt. I found myself adrift slightly at the start until you anchored the story in an historical period later on. Like Nate, I thought the violence came out of nowhere. And yeah, 750 words isn't much. ;-)

    1. Thanks for the feedback. If I mess with this again, I will work on front loading some info, and making Chekov's gun a little more believable.

  3. You had some good details for the setting in this piece--the covered porch and the tea worked especially well to evoke the postbellum South. As someone who isn't particularly familiar with U.S. Civil War history, I struggled a little with the time period. A few more clues would have been helpful here. The introduction of the suffragists at the hotel was a point of interest, though I found it odd that the narrator's descriptions of them seemed disparaging--given her own experience, and what she ended up doing, I expected her to be more sympathetic to their cause. Her use of the gun made sense and introducing it early was a good plan, but her sense of outrage, her anger that led to the seemingly spontaneous violence of killing her estranged husband felt like it came without build-up--there wasn't a strong sense of building rage, or alternatively, a pre-meditated plan so it felt surprising and out of character.

    You're right, 750 words is hard to write to. It'd be interesting to play with this story a bit though, and it might mean making it longer (I've done that with more than one story I've posted to the grid).

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I think I will work on this one a bit more in the near future. It has some potential. I think even an extra hundred words would allow me to add a lot of important characterization. I'm loving this weekly challenge.

  4. Nice job with the prompt! I agree that the killing was surprising. A tiny hint that she might have that much anger would help, but I do like it. What she said to him was priceless. There's a lot of potential here, so I hope you'll keep working on it.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


Of Spiders and Mosquitoes

The Yellow Book