My Favorite Collection of Creepy Short Stories—Greener Pastures—by Michael Wehunt. You Gotta Read These!

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“This book travels with me wherever I go. It’s that good.”

– Mick A. Quinn, Poet and author of the award-winning Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Unburied Hatchet, and The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told


I am thrilled to have found the work of this author. Michael Wehunt is more than just a writer–he is a “poet of the weird;” you can hear it in his sentences; see it in his word choices; these stories are like architecture, each one an exquisite little mausoleum built for something that has yet to pass on . . . because the inhabitants of these tales . . . linger.

Wehunt opens this stellar collection of short fiction with a quote from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver:

“If I take you with me into the woods, I must love you very much.”

The usually beneficent-seeming quote begins to morph into something else once Wehunt grips your hand and begins to lead you into Greener Pastures. There are stories here that chill. They are clever stories. They are beautifully written stories, and they share with Wehunt a respect for setting and tone–atmosphere, the accomplishment of which is always a challenge when writing in the shorter form. This is quality fiction that leaves a scent in the air when it passes by–very much like the fiction of Truman Capote . . . and Shirley Jackson . . . and Flannery O’Connor. And that’s some spiffy company to keep.

Welcome to Greener Pastures…you may never want to leave…if you’re even given the choice, that is…

Contents, Sample, Praise, Intro, Author & Link (Ebook=$3.99!)

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness
  • Onanon
  • Greener Pastures
  • A Discreet Music
  • The Devil Under the Maison Blue
  • October Film Haunt: Under the House
  • Deducted From Your Share in Paradise
  • The Inconsolable Dancers
  • A Thousand Hundred Years
  • Bookends Story
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Author
  • About the Artist
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Isn’t this cover wicked? Artist is Michael Bukowski—visit him here: https://lastchanceillustration.wordpress.com/

Excerpt from “Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness”

Sissa died last year, just shy of our hundred and thirtieth birthday. I ain’t talked much to folks since, excepting Mr. Pearl. Me and Sissa was both childless. But I’ve shook it off and traveled such a long way at my brittle age. I’ve come home to this nameless mountain pouring blood from its bowel.

Mr. Pearl stands beside my wheelchair watching the bloodfall. It’s closer to a trickle now, whether through time clotting some wound or through holes in my memory I can’t be sure. I’m humming snatches of hymns Sissa and me made up in our girlhood. Mr. Pearl takes this last chance to ask my age—he’s been mighty curious these last two decades—and I tell him. He gives a sly look, then whistles and says he thought I was at least forty years younger. I say thanks but that’s still old as bones. He laughs, though it’s a laugh with a shiver inside.

This far up in the Georgia wilderness you can near enough spit clean into North Carolina. The air smells of recent snow and pine and spruce. It still seems a quiet land, but when I was a child any folk in these mountains was little more than a mote in the world’s eye.

I spent just shy of a month here. Sissa and me had just turned seven and shared one button-eyed doll between us. Mama moved us nearby after Daddy got crushed under a locomotive down in Atlanta. We was supposed to start afresh in the new township Mama’d heard tell of. They had plans of a lumber mill down at the mountain’s foot and a town hall and even a school for us little ones. Such life that would’ve bustled not half a mile from where I’m sitting withered in this chair.

But it wasn’t long before somebody found the bloodfall. It spewed forth in them days.

A man called Jessup come tearing into the village, what had of late been christened Adepine, his mouth dripping red. Two of the elders had to put him down with buckshot. Folk set out to find what it was he’d got into and within days there was screams tearing at the trees and settlers strung dead across the mountainside, Mama among them. Winter of 1889. I don’t recollect the exact date. I miss Sissa fierce, but there’s times I can’t hardly remember Mama. Faces from before the blood are swallowed up.

Mr. Pearl looks down at me, and I see the place eating at him. The smile on his lips is that of a starved wolf. His glasses like new pennies in the blood’s glare. I can’t say what it is bleeding in that rock, but I know how it pulls at you. A magnet tugging at the meat in your head. How the taste of iron gets in your throat and makes you powerful thirsty.

So I dismiss him before he can step over to the pool. I’ve left him the money I got from all six of my husbands, for he’s done fine by me. Never was I in want of better caretaking. He carted me four hundred and some-odd miles from Charlottesville, even pushed me the last few of them. He’s reluctant to leave, but with a troubled “You take care now, Miz Alma,” he starts picking his way back down to the car.

A slow hush falls. The pool stains its rim of snow and the land presses around me. It is bitter cold.

CA5C5019-6B51-4F08-ADCA-9D8E653D81BAWords of Praise

This is a whole lotta praise from some of the top writers in the field. In fact this list of writers reads like a list of some of my own top favorites. Their work is highly recommended.

“Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures is a wonderful collection of quietly creepy tales that are mature and smart enough to let their effects linger. An impressive debut. Just stay away from that house where your favorite weird horror movie was filmed, okay?”

Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

“With Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt creates visions of creeping dread and transfiguration that lift a trope-heavy genre into the realm of existential poetry. There are things in here I’ve never seen before, some of which I devoutly hope to never see again. The stories thus collected trace a journey through the heartland of an America that’s unfamiliar yet primordially recognizable, stripped down to its red-soaked roots and bones–the squirming heartstrings of a nation founded by heretics and outlaws, in all its irreligious ecstasy. Occasional spasms of regret and terror aside, you’d kick yourself for not coming along.”

Gemma Files, award-winning author of Experimental Film and the Hexslinger series

“Moving through landscapes rendered with a poet’s precision, the characters in Michael Wehunt’s compelling stories confront deep mysteries of the self and the world. In the process of plumbing the unremembered and the unknown, Wehunt’s characters undergo transformations catastrophic and sublime, occasioned and spurred by their growing contact with the hidden portions of themselves and their surroundings. Wehunt skillfully invokes the history of horror fiction and film even as he is at work crafting the genre’s future, in one of the more remarkable debuts in recent memory.”

John Langan, author of The Wide Carnivorous Sky, The Fisherman, and Mr. Gaunt & Other Stories

“Weird, emotionally complex, Kafkaesque, dread-filled: I might apply all these terms and more to Michael Wehunt’s collection Greener Pastures. It’s one of the finest debuts I’ve read in years. Wehunt understands that true strangeness comes out of the personal, and that true horror is what happens during the complex interactions between real human beings. Greener Pastures is outstanding work.”

Steve Rasnic Tem, author of The Man on the Ceiling, Deadfall Hotel, Blood Kin, and Ubo

“Michael Wehunt’s stories are a landscape of the strange and uncanny that his characters navigate with compasses fashioned from loss, sorrow, and solitude. Often, the true horror is not what they find at the end of the journey, but what they discover within themselves along the way. Unsettling, emotionally resonant, and beautifully written, Greener Pastures is an impressive debut.”

Damien Angelica Walters, author of Sing Me Your Scars and Paper Tigers

“Most fiction can be categorized by its preoccupation with either form or content. Devotees of both camps claim superiority. Yet the best fiction—that which moves and challenges in equal measure—pushes the limits of form while fearlessly plumbing the depths of experience and consciousness. Michael Wehunt is tackling enormous, timeless questions about human life—our impulse toward conflict, our lust for immortality, our endless need for connection and communication—and simultaneously exploring the boundaries of written expression. His experiments with structure and language will attract notice but it’s the unsettling yet recognizable desires driving his characters that will resonate and linger in memory. This delightful debut collection represents the early days of what will no doubt be a remarkable career.”

S.P. Miskowski, author of the Skillute Cycle

“Occasionally the Horror genre sees authors who simply emerge out of the aethyr fully formed, their vision striking and their voice unique. Michael Wehunt is one such specimen. His fiction is a delicate wedding of Raymond Carver-style humanism and the authentically nightmarish. Greener Pastures is a book that stirred in me feelings of awe, terror, and envy. Wehunt is an astonishing talent.”

Richard Gavin, author of Sylvan Dread

“Michael Wehunt understands that terror and grief are necessarily conjoined—and in these stories, he draws them nearer still, employing deft skills that recall those of Peter Straub, Robert Aickman and Jorge Luis Borges. Watch out for this one: Wehunt will break your heart and chill your bones.”

David Nickle, author of Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism

“A deft and subtle collection of terrors, full of precise observations and chiseled language, and shot through with genuine dread. Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures strikes me as how it must feel to be watching a sunset and suddenly realize you’re being bitten all over by something you can’t see, softly at first, and then harder and harder as whatever it is realizes you can’t move. These tales have a remarkable, almost pastoral sense of calm at moments, which lulls the reader and makes their disturbances all the more palpable.”

Brian Evenson, author of A Collapse of Horses and Last Days

“The stories in Michael Wehunt’s collection, Greener Pastures, move from quietly tender to coldly vicious effortlessly, like the gentle breeze of a fall before hitting the jagged rocks below. These stories are united by the author’s beautiful mastery of evocative language and darkly elegant imagery. Whether bathing in blood falls, listening to ghosts reveal terrible secrets hidden in the insides of jazz, to the monstrous footprints of a beast carrying inconsolable sorrow, Greener Pastures is a virtuoso performance of everything there is to love in dark fiction.”

Bracken MacLeod, author of Mountain Home and Stranded

“As though sprung from the forehead of Zeus, Michael Wehunt has come abruptly onto the scene with the seasoned maturity of a veteran. His stories are lighted way-stations in the dark and unnavigable territory between the beautiful and the horrific. If he’s this good now, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us in the future.”

Nathan Ballingrud, award-winning author of North American Lakeside  Monsters

Introduction

Of Insects, Angels, and

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that nothing is really cyclical. We like to talk about what’s old being new again, and consider our culture to simply be a series of rehashes of what came before. But it doesn’t work that way. Life is a continuum, where everything before builds up to everything now.

It’s this way with the Horror genre. We talk about it having waves, about how interest in it fades during years of prosperity and increases during periods of social upheaval. We mention that even if the vampire is replaced in the cultural zeitgeist by the zombie, it’s only a matter of time before the vampire returns to reclaim its throne for another term.

All of this masks a truth that every Horror fan really ought to know by now: when things come back, they come back different.

What I’m trying to get at is this: what we call Horror changes. What came before is a foundation for what we have now, just as what’s now will be a foundation for the future.

Horror grows. It evolves. And how it does this is by invading other genres and styles of storytelling. Horror absorbs and transforms everything into itself. We come up with different names for it—Dark Fantasy, Magical Realism, the Weird—but it’s a single dark and twisted lens, one capable of revealing great insights about ourselves… assuming we can bear to open our eyes long enough to peer through it.

The current state of Horror is interesting. Granted, there are still adherents to the old tropes of the genre, who enjoy telling and reading the same sorts of stories they grew up with; but there is also a new wave of Horror that builds upon that past, while increasingly fusing with other genres toward the future. As a result, some of Horror’s newest and brightest practitioners find themselves detouring from the cosmicism of Lovecraft to visit the hyper-and super-realities of Kafka, Borges, and Aickman, where fantastical elements are used more metaphorically, and with a gentler, subtler brush, to illuminate the inherent strangeness of our postmodern existence.

Which brings me, finally, to Greener Pastures, the debut collection from Michael Wehunt you hold in your hands. As one of those aforementioned newest and brightest practitioners, he has only been active in Horror and Weird circles for a few short years, but in that time he’s 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. The fact that he considers himself one of us—a Weird Horror writer—is evidence of the growing trend of respect Horror is receiving at the tail end of this decade, and how that respect is trickling down to new writers. It’s authors like Wehunt that help show the world that Horror is more than the set of tropes that has defined it for too long, and instead is a transformative mode of writing that stretches out and affects all serious forms of literature.

My attention was first drawn to Michael Wehunt’s work by C.M. Muller, editor of Nightscript journal, who directed me to a piece of fiction posted online. Muller was enthusiastic about this unfamiliar writer, and his enthusiasm prompted me to read the short piece. By the end, I understood precisely why Muller had been so excited. I mentioned this tale to Michael Kelly, editor of Shadows & Tall Trees, who reminded me that he, too, had published a piece by Wehunt in that Word Fantasy Award-nominated journal, and urged me to immediately read “Onanon.” Reading that story concretized my belief that there was a serious talent in our midst.

Wehunt’s work is emotional and complex. He understands both the excruciating pain and the exquisite beauty of being alive. Take “A Discreet Music.” Here is a story about a man who lives at odds with his love for his wife, his commitment to her, and the torch he has carried for years for another. And while he’s dealing with this, and the guilt it brings, he is also undergoing a physical transformation that threatens to at once both free and confine him. Wehunt’s willingness to eschew easy answers to this tumult of emotions brings to mind the work of writers like Steve Rasnic Tem, who understand the inherent power of the personal, and how the surreal and fantastic can be used to amplify that power to greater affect the reader. This doesn’t come easy to most, and it cements the importance of emotional honesty in Wehunt’s work.

But when Wehunt decides to frighten, which he does a number of times in these pages, he doesn’t hold back. His horrors are not of the gruesome variety, but instead resonate with terror and dread. Look no further than at the sweeping history of “Beside Me Singing in the Wilderness,” a tale that spans a lifetime, starting with a strange encounter in the mountains, and ending in blood. The immediate scope of the story is contained between those two points, yet the implications of what has happened and what it means speaks to something far older and ancient. It’s cosmic horror without the cosmos. Or, perhaps, “October Film Haunt: Under the House” will press more of your buttons. It certainly presses all of mine. I don’t think I’ve encountered a story that brought me such unadulterated terror outside of an Adam Nevill novel. The trappings are familiar, but the pacing and reveal are communicated with intensity and deft skill, clawing their way into your psyche. It’s certainly a standout story in an already standout book.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Standing out? As fringe culture’s influence on the mainstream grows and dominates, many areas in its corona that were once written off or ignored are suddenly finding new popularity. It’s certainly happening to Horror. The number of new writers entering the field has not been rivaled since the height of last century’s Horror boom, and I can only assume it’s because the idea of writing in the Horror mode is losing the stigma it once had. Younger writers are understanding that they no longer have to hide their love of the dark. They don’t have to abandon it. Writing Horror is a legitimate path for the serious author at the moment, even if not yet a financially viable one. With this increased number of writers entering the field, it’s getting harder for authors to get noticed. It takes serious work and dedication, and commitment to the craft. After reading Greener Pastures, it’s clear Michael Wehunt has all this. But he also has something else: a unique vision and way to express it. That’s a rare gift, and it helps elevate him from the crowd.

So pour yourself a drink, sit back, and enjoy what Mr. Wehunt has to show you here. There are stories about insects, about angels, about people too tired to go on. There are stories that will disturb you. But you won’t be able to look away. These tales will get into your head and change you in ways you won’t expect. That’s just what Wehunt does. Nothing you can do about it now but give in and accept the consequences.

Simon Strantzas
Toronto, Canada
November 2015

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