A compilation of speculative short stories with a Western theme, written by 13 outstanding authors. The fun part is that each one agreed to step up to the challenge of writing a story with this theme without going over 3000 words. Not an easy feat. Each story is unique unto itself, with its own personal theme and flavor and is followed by a short bio of the author. Gunslingers, corrupt sheriffs, a woman who keeps her husband around even though he is practically dead and a carousel that is quite unusual as the animals you ride sound almost alive. The book is filled with so many different types of characters making the time period come alive as we enter the worlds created in The Nettle Tree.
The story that I want to showcase first is titled the Sheriff of Hog Waller with Bill the Sheriff and Jonas the deputy. The town is poor and the economy needs a boost otherwise the deputy might be out of a job. But, a great enterprising idea is created by the author as we learn the meaning of reducing the deficit of a small western town by having the criminals agree to being arrested, enjoying the food from the best cook, Jenny, in town and sharing half the reward money. Would you take the deal if you were an outlaw? How do you convince the outlaws to agree to be arrested? The townspeople go along with the scheme and everyone profits until they don’t.
The story that follows is quite interesting as it focuses on a movie director who has decided to change the existing scenes to fit a futuristic western type movie. Since he decides to include a red Chrysler, a smart watch on one of the actors and even robots you begin to wonder just who is creating the scenes–the director or the designer who is in charge of handling that. Someone is looking for a woman named Tracy Marshall and here is where it gets interesting as a man named Graves decides to enter the town knowing he might not come out alive and the scenes play out in a unique way as the author and the designer realize that this just might be a unique way of presenting a different kind of Wild West.
The next story is Tears on the Prairie dealing with Zombies and then comes the title story The Nettle Tree by Clayton Bye. Meet Brent Maston as he enters a small western town looking for anyone that is seeking to collect souls. I wouldn’t want to be in his path or same direction. Don’t even try to double cross this guy or you will be lower than cattle fodder. But, he’s come for a purpose and when directed to the one person he thinks is collecting souls what happens is a battle of wits, magic and you have to read the rest to decide the winner. When equal powers come into the same room somehow and magic is in the mix you won’t believe the ending.
Author Ken Weene writes a story of second chances as one woman made a choice and chose the man her father wanted her to marry only to regret it in more ways than one. Smart, astute and finally able to find her way away from Thorton, she manages to hopefully find her children, get the money she is entitled to and possibly change her life for the better. A touching story with a special romantic flavor as only Ken Weene can deliver.
Wild Turkey by Robert Godwin is interestingly enough about two gunslingers that are poor and what happens when they both dream. One wants to be a movie actor and has the plot outlined in his head. In fact, we see the reel come alive when he relates his dreams and fantasies to readers as the other relates his goals in a movie in a different way. Meet Larry and Murphy as they relate their fantasies Western style, go in to commit a robbery and … the rest you have to be there along with the police to appreciate the poetic junstice.
The final story is titled A Hero Comes to Town by James L Secor. Samson O’Merde is not your average hero. And Gyorgy Yabu and Clyde Moyen want to hire him to take care of the trickster, Hellecchino, and his pal, Chokepoint Piste. A member of the defunct Gorin Noshow, Samson now advertises for work in newspapers, using different slogans that he feels would apply to him. So it happens that Samson is in Total Wreck and unemployed when Golu Devata rides in on his Mexican Saddle along with his extra large Colt Python, intent on hiring him. But, first you have to read page 145 to appreciate the sight Golu beholds when seeing this man. Samson’s job is to save Yabu’s holdings and rid the Brazo’s River Basin of the people’s trickster hero named Hellecchino. But Samson gets sidetracked on the way as he is asked to deliver a mysterious letter, and he meets an old woman who uses his special hero skills to take her to buy nine pounds of butter in the hot sun. You have to picture it to appreciate it. Poor Samson delivers the letter, has no idea what’s in it, and then he winds up in the Barons’s Roadside Inn and would you believe who he bumps into? You got it, Hellecchino the trickster hero himself. Wait until you hear the dialogue these two have. And the ending? Well, you decide just who fits the term Hero or who doesn’t. Filled with humor, sarcasm and definitely an ending that will make you wonder what is the definition of a hero? James L. Secor delivers a fantastic final western send off to the outstanding collection.
The Nettle Tree: How close do you want to get to it? Find out more about the power of this tree when you read the title story The Nettle Tree by Clayton Bye, and make sure to read the rest of the stories as the wild west has never been the same since these authors came to town.
Edited by Kenneth Weene and Clayton Clifford Bye. Cover is by Chris Wilson. And the interior artwork is by graphic artist Eduardo Cervino.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine