The October Country: Oct. 6: “I’m Scared” by Jack Finney

In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.

The October Country

that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

— Ray Bradbury

October 6:

I’m Scared by Jack Finney

Found In:

About Time

Opening Line:

I’m very badly scared, not so much for myself—I’m a gray-haired man of sixty-six, after all—but for you and everyone else who has not yet lived out his life.”

It’s truly unfortunate that Jack Finney is not as well-known today. His most popular novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has sunk into the cultural conscience, but like Frankenstein or Dracula, most people are familiar with the creation but not the creator. Finney wasn’t prolific (his total works can rest comfortably on a narrow shelf), but he did turn out some of the finest short stories of his era.

Of which, I’m Scared may be the best.

The tale is told by an elderly gentleman who has collected, in his way, a series of odd occurrences which he feels compelled to relate to the reader. The occurrences are not connected, at least not directly. The people invovled are not related, nor do they even know each other. They do not live in the same place, shop in the same stores, or attend the same schools. They’re not of a similar age or disposition.

And yet…

The narrator feels certain there is a connection. An underlying cause, which he cannot quite discern.

He begins with an oddity of his own: one day our narrator is sitting listening to the radio. The program cuts out, and a moment later is replaced by another. No big whoop. It is only later that he realizes what was odd about it:

Then, undressing in my bedroom, I remembered that Major Bowes was dead. Years had passed, a decade, since that dry chuckle and familiar, ‘All right, all right,’ had been heard in the nation’s living rooms.”

Odd, for sure, but our narrator brushes it off, considering it little more than a story to tell for a chuckle and laugh.

But slowly, he begins to hear of other stories not so dissimilar to his own.

Like the tale of Mr. Trachnor, who comes out one morning and finds a still-wet streak of gray paint on the side of his house. Assuming some kids have been playing a prank, he dutifully gets out his ladder and carefully clears off the streak of gray.

Later in the year, Mr. Trachnor decides it’s time to paint the house altogether. He decides to paint it gray. The morning after he has finished the job, he comes out and finds that along the house, in the exact same place as before, there is a long streak of paint on the side of the house. This time, the streak is white instead of gray. But upon inspection, Mr. Trachnor discovers it’s not a streak at all. Someone has carefully removed the new gray to reveal the old white beneath.

Do you see the link between this story and mine? Suppose for a moment that something had happened, on each occasion, to disturb briefly the orderly progress of time…Suppose, then, that no one had touched Mr. Trachnor’s house but himself; that he had painted his house in October, and that through some fantastic mix-up in time, a portion of that paint appeared on his house the previous summer.”

What Finney pulls off so well is the entirely rational, calm and believeable voice of his narrator. He builds the story eerily in a minor tone, and though each occurrence is wholly outside the realm of possibility, it is that placid tenor that creeps into the back of the reader’s mind, thrumming: what if?

Few stories are as successful as I’m Scared at leaving the reader not horrified but rather disturbed, awash in a new kind of doubt.

More October Stories

For the month of October, you can download

Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door 

FREE.

In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.

Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…

Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.

I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?

Except a little sleep…

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