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
Child’s Play by Villy Sorensen
Fine Frights: Stories That Scared Me (edited by Ramsey Campbell)
“Two boys who were brothers because they had the same parents had an uncle in common too, who had to have his leg taken off.”
In a lifetime of reading creepy stories, there aren’t many that really make me squirm. Horror tales have a range of effects upon the reader, but I think true discomfort, the kind where you find yourself gritting your teeth, is rare.
But this is one of those stories!
I don’t know that Sorensen has ever gotten his due here in the States. He’s Danish, and I imagine he’s better known in Europe. But in America? Nadda.
Which is unfortunate. Because the man can write.
The makings of Child’s Play are simple enough. Sorensen starts by recounting an accident that happened to the uncle of two brothers. Bacteria infected a wound in the uncle’s leg, and the leg had to be removed. Simple enough. The boys are told the truth: if the leg remained, the uncle would die.
Shortly after this, the brothers are meandering down a road where they see a young boy stub his toe hard enough to draw blood. They help the boy up, and they inform him, quite authoritatively, that the wound will almost certainly become infected.
“Bactilla,” his elder brother corrected him sagely. “If they reach your body, you’ll die. So you must have your leg taken off.”
“I want to keep my leg. It’s mine!” said the little boy and took hold of his leg with both hands.
A typical childish argument ensues as the brothers attempt to explain how bacteria work and how a doctor can surgically remove the leg to prevent the infection from spreading, as happened with their uncle.
At which point, things go rather south.
“Never mind,” said the eldest, “we will do it. We’ll take him home and saw off his leg. We can use my fretsaw.”
“But…we can’t do that.”
“Of course we can. A thin leg like that’s nothing after the tree trunk I sawed up as easy as anything the day before yesterday.”
Impeccable logic, for sure. Which is exactly what makes Sorensen’s tale so utterly gruesome. Sorensen executes the story in a deadpan style, like a joke told straight. In the reader’s mind anticipation builds, because we sense that this is a joke, it must surely be a joke, and we keep waiting and waiting for a punchline that never comes.
Mid-operation, we get throw away lines so black the humor and the horror are inseparable:
“Phew,” he said. “It’s strange stuff to saw in. You try.”
The language and style Sorensen employs are simple, closer to fairy tale than to modern narration. And there is an otherworldly feel to the piece, too, such as when the mother arrives home to find her sons bathed in blood. She has heard that a boy was run over in the street, and she asks them if they were the ones killed.
“Tell me, are you alive…was it you who were run over?”
That she might be talking to ghosts doesn’t strike her as odd in the least.
Child’s Play is a strange and awful bit of dark magic, a story that lingers in the back of your mind long after you’ve put it away and gone back out into the better-lit parts of the world. A perfect tale for October.
More October Stories
For the month of October, you can download
Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door
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…
Artwork above by Jannik Hastrup