Just off the Yellowhead Highway, about an hour east of Edmonton, sits the world’s largest pysanka. Even if you’ve never driven by it, you can probably picture it. The Ukrainian Easter egg, painted an intricate gold, black and white pattern, towers 10 metres above the small Alberta town of Vegreville.

Just off the Yellowhead Highway, about an hour east of Edmonton, sits the world’s largest pysanka. Even if you’ve never driven by it, you can probably picture it. The Ukrainian Easter egg, painted an intricate gold, black and white pattern, towers 10 metres above the small Alberta town of Vegreville.

The small-town giant statue is a "Prairie thing." And in the latest collection of speculative fiction from editors Darren Ridgley (a Free Press copy editor) and Adam Petrash, it’s also a supernatural egg about to hatch.

But in Wayne Santos’s Yet Another Roadside Manifestation, whatever is about to break out of that egg isn’t the scariest thing in the small town. For the paranormal investigator returning to her hometown to deal with the celestial creature, it’s the painful memories of being the only Filipino in a "sea of white students."

The 12 stories in Alternate Plains explore the darker side of life on the Prairies, from drug overdoses in the shadows of the Manitoba Legislative Building to a prehistoric entity deep in the farm slough demanding sacrifice to ward off drought.

The collection is a followup to Parallel Prairies: Stories of Manitoba Speculative Fiction published in 2018. These new stories expand to alternate versions of the familiar farm, small town and city life across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. That includes, of course, the local hockey rink.

Like a Prairie version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes, Sheldon Birnie’s protagonist spins a tale of haunted skates to his teammates over beers in the locker room.

In Bauer Selects, Birnie (a regular Free Press book reviewer) flips the outdoor hockey rink of our collective childhoods into a chilling death scene: "But I do know that when the lake’s frozen solid, covered in snow as it most often is, and the wind takes to howling something fierce those nights in darkest February, I think of Eddie out there, just skating and skating and skating into the darkness."

The stories range in style and tone, some more gory and gruesome then others. David Demchuk’s Bloodbath features a "found footage" VHS nightmare of chopped-off heads and scooped-out eyeballs that horror fans would die to get their hands on. In The Good Girls, S.M. Beiko digs up the tortured and dismembered bodies of the women who disappeared over the centuries in a small Prairie town. Their ghosts haunt the young heroine, who pushes through her terror to avenge their deaths in equally gruesome ways.

The writers, who have all called the Prairies home, offer more than a good scare. They tackle subjects from the refugee diaspora to suicide, from the climate crisis to mental illness.

Stories such as Summertime in the Void are great book-club fodder.

In it, Patrick Johanneson creates a post-apocalyptic vision where almost all of humanity transcends to the afterlife, but God has left a few people behind: 4,229,000 people, to be exact. When the main character demands to know why, God tells him: "Your mind, John. It’s misshapen. Its scent is wrong. It’s coloured outside the lines… your thoughts, your emotions, are too far divergent from the rest of the people. You live too far outside the norm."

The 12 stories will give you, in most cases, the creeps and a few good jump frights, while also offering some challenging and thought-provoking visions of life on the Prairies — now and in the future.

The launch for Alternate Plains is at McNally Robinson Grant Park tonight at 7 p.m. with readings from Birnie and Linda Trinh, who will be interviewed by editors Ridgley and Petrash. The event also streams on YouTube.

Joanne Kelly is a journalism instructor at Red River College Polytechnic who talks books on the Weekend Morning Show on CBC Manitoba.

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