Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt
Shock Totem Publications (April 2016)
238 pages; $12.59 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black
With stories in publications like The Dark, Nightscript, and Shock Totem, Michael Wehunt has been making a name for himself and his own brand of dark, weird fiction. I hadn’t read anything of his before this, but if Greener Pastures is any indication, readers have some fantastic stories to look forward to. It’s a highly impressive debut collection; chock-full of imaginative plots, flesh and blood characters, and universal themes, all delivered through prose so lyrical it practically sings.
“Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness” is a story of blood ties, blood frenzy, and the blood which pours forth from a cursed mountain near a small southern village. The mountain calls for the villagers to imbibe, and the story’s focus is on two sisters who are immune to the madness it brings, but not the longevity. It’s a vampire story for people who are sick of vampires, told in gorgeous, distinctly southern prose.
A long haul trucker is faced with the inexplicable in “Greener Pastures.” It’s a story of lonesome nights, haunted souls, and mysterious voices on radio waves luring unwary folk into a darkness from which they may never return.
“Deducted from Your Share in Paradise” begins with a group of women falling from the sky into Twin Furs trailer park. The mute survivors quickly heal and set to work building a strange spire. The residents of Twin Furs each deal with these events in their own way, while from their backs bulbous growths begin to emerge. Through a fantastical lens, this story looks at human nature versus humanity, the often slippery distinction between the two, and where the nature of sacrifice fits in with them.
After his fiancé leaves him, a suicidal man struggles with depression and with the faith he lost long ago in “The Inconsolable.” It’s one of the shorter pieces in the collection, but no less emotionally affecting than the rest.
A desperate man searches for his missing daughter in “A Thousand Hundred Years.” Guilt nestles deep in his mind alongside an irrational yet powerful hope. This story drives home the fact that looking away from the world for one moment is all it takes for it to slip away from you. But maybe, just maybe, tucked away inside that moment is the potential to bring that world back.
“Bookends” offers a different take on loss. After his partner dies in childbirth, a man is left with a newborn in his care and thirteen years of happy memories cut short in an instant. Grief affects people in various ways, of course, and in this case things take a pitch-dark turn. It’s a harrowing story, but ultimately a redemptive one, and a fine coda for a collection built on the balance of light and darkness, pain and hope.
As Simon Strantzas says in the introduction, Wehunt has “… managed to garner a reputation for delivering strange and bizarre stories that exist in the overlap of Horror, Fantasy, and Literary fiction. Any of these camps could reasonably claim him.” Reading the first story is all it takes to confirm this. Wehunt takes all the best aspects of each, discards the worst, and lays out eleven of the most haunting stories you’re likely to read this year. Greener Pastures is highly recommended.