Saddle up for some Wild West reading
"Cactus Country Anthology III" is a delightful collection of short stories and flash fiction, all set in the Wild West. If you love good ole cowboy heroes, heroines with some spunk, gun-slinging bandits, stagecoaches and shootouts, then you'll really get into the stories in this new anthology from High Hill Press, located in St. Charles, Mo. Many of the writers are award winners, and this includes recipients of the Spur Award, which is the most prestigious award from the Western Writers of America.
Brett Cogburn, who won a Spur Award for his book "Panhandle," is featured in Cactus Country with the story "Cabin Fever."
In this tale, Old Hutto is stuck in a cabin, starving and waiting for the spring thaw, so his friend Ned will return with food and supplies. At the beginning of this dark but wonderfully written tale, the reader discovers that Old Hutto is losing his mind, talking to a rat and to Jack, who is clearly no longer alive. As the story unfolds, the reader finds out the man's secret and why Old Hutto is ashamed to even go outside. The ending has a twist with a clever last line — perfect for this genre.
Also featured is Dusty Richards, who has won Wrangler and Spur awards and is an inductee in the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. For this anthology only, he has written a western novel in serial form, which is chapter one. "The Man From Texas" is the story of young Frank Donovan, who looks for work in 1868 in Nebraska. He's hired to supervise the Bar 07 Ranch and, of course, runs into a heap of trouble.
Besides other lively and entertaining short stories by writers, such as Johnny Boggs and Velda Brotherton, this book contains flash fiction — complete stories, sometimes told in four lines or fewer.
Take this one by Faye Adams from DeSoto, Mo., that starts with "Slim stepped square in the middle of a cow patty." Then Slim hops around on one foot until Sally uses her petticoat to clean his boot.
To end this short tale, Adams writes, "Slim grabbed Sally, wrapped her tight and gave her a huge smack on the lips."
Many of the flash fiction pieces have a humorous ring to them. But some are downright deadly, such as this one from writer Chris Bauer in St. Louis:
"'It's you or me,' said the bounty hunter. The chase ended in the desert, sun burning ... The outlaw reached for his gun only to have the bounty hunter shoot first. 'Now it's just me,' the bounty hunter said."
If you like to read western writers, like Larry McMurty and Elmore Leonard (before he wrote about crime), or you spend Saturday afternoons watching reruns of "Gunsmoke," then you will truly enjoy Cactus Country's latest anthology. It's fun, it's heartfelt and it's good old-fashioned storytelling.
Margo L. Dill is celebrating the release of her second novel, "Caught Between Two Curses," a young-adult novel exploring love, family and the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Cubs. She also is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She lives in St. Louis with her family.