Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt (Published by Shock Totem Publications, 2016)
Greener Pastures is the debut horror short story collection from author Michael Wehunt. This was my first encounter with Mr. Wehunt’s work but the latest in my over year long focus on horror short fiction. What I found was a very strong variety of stories that touch on various types of horror. Everything about this book feels nothing like a first timer, but someone who is very confident in their craft, of weaving themes into narrative and building characters who react in real, human ways to terrifying situations.
Highlights from the collection were:
“October Film Haunt: Under the House”, a found footage story. Ever since I read Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, I have been a sucker for representing visual media in text for horror. There’s something so effective about reading a transcript of found footage that is much more terrifying than seeing it. There is such distinct imagery in this piece, but the meaning is left ambiguous. I read this story a few days before the release of the Resident Evil VII demo that also features found footage in a haunted house, and this story is much scarier than the decent jump scares of the video game. The cover of the book features an image from this particular story, a dog emerging from the woods holding a wooden crown in its teeth. Something that bears such horrifying weight in the context of the story.
“Deducted From Your Share in Paradise” begins with a number of women falling from the sky and crashing into a dystopian trailer park. The narrator is on the outside of the core events but he sees enough to inform us about what is really going on here. This story felt very much like one of Terry Gilliam’s darker works. Not pure existential horror like some of the others, but a bit of fantasy mixed in with the uncertainty of these women’s purpose in our world. The climax is satisfying but like all good horror leaves lots of questions on the table.
The title story, “Greener Pastures” is all the things I love in a good Reddit NoSleep piece. It’s concise, it is able to build mood in a short amount of time, when the horror is revealed it cuts right to the core of the protagonist, and we end on an open note. The setting of a lonely truckstop diner in the middle of a pitch black night is just one of those perfect settings for a good horror tale.
The final story in the collection is “Bookends” which I wouldn’t even classify as a horror story. It’s a deeply gut wrenching character piece on a man who is left with a newborn when his wife of thirteen years dies. It’s a reflection on grief and how blinded we can become when we experience a love that potent. The places the story goes are very dark and should be careful before you delve in due to the emotional weight and very real events present.
The stories here are all signs of a talent that is ready to go. Everything is polished and tight. Not a single story feels like filler and they all have shared thematic threads, grief in particular. A collection worthy of your time that will provide a satisfying experience.