This week, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History drops us in 1877 in Ellsworth, Kansas, and we’re on a cattle drive. I feel like I say this over and over, but I adore the settings and time periods of this anthology, and especially the attention to detail the authors paid in doing so, and this particular story really hit the mark—the scent and food and feel of grit practically fell off the page.
We meet a young black woman, Lil Bit, traveling with her father in a cattle drive, and right off, we know something is different about her. She hides her scalp for some reason—we learn first it’s because she has no hair, but later because she has something other than hair below her skin—and next, the venom of an accidental snake bite does nothing to her.
What unfolds is a slow reveal of this young woman who—like her mother—is unique in a different (and dangerous) way, and has learned early to hide that difference, but who might be forced to rely on these hidden abilities because she is not the only different one around, and someone—or something—is killing cowboys and leaving nearly emptied bodies for them to find. The juxtaposition of the two of them also being on the run from bad business chasing them down, and worried about how her mother hasn’t managed to catch up with them draws a second tension across the story, and he whole is immensely satisfying as things finally come to a head.