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
Mars Will Have Blood by Marc Laidlaw
Scare Care (edited by Graham Masterton)
“Too much ichor,” said red-faced Jack Magnusson, scowling into a playbook.
Too much ichor indeed.
Ichor, or blood, is the defining element in Marc Laidlaw’s exuberant and delightful story of middle school theater, unrequited love, and adolescent revenge. It’s a bloody spectacle, for sure, but not in an 80’s slasher-flick sort of way.
Mars Will Have Blood begins with a ridiculous but inventive concept: worried that the upcoming middle-school production of Macbeth is simply too bloody for conservative parents, the school principal and teachers agree that Shakespeare must be adapted and toned down. They’ll select a student to “rewrite” the Scottish play, and they’ll instruct the student to set the story on Mars.
Ray guns instead of swords = less ichor.
Or so goes the theory. But the young playwright selected, Ricardo Rivera, doesn’t see it that way.
Poor Ricardo has problems. His best friend, Neal, has just won the spot of class president. But due to some nasty bit of he-said/she-said, Neal has turned his back on Ricardo in favor of Cory Fordyce, the girl who ran against Neal and lost. Oh, and she also happens to be the girl Ricardo is in love with.
Ah, the drama of youth.
Neal is chosen to play the role of Macbeth. And, just to twist the knife into young Ricky a little deeper, Cory will play Lady Macbeth. Fiction imitating life.
Laidlaw sets up the dynamics of this adolescent world well. There’s a lot going on up front in this story, but instead of glossing over these early scenes, Laidlaw draws them out, grounding us in these characters and giving us reasons to care. He has a gift for realistic dialogue, and a sharp insight into the emotional pangs of his young creations.
Why me? he thought. Why me?
That was an old thought, worn thin over the years of his childhood. It hardly captured the present frustration, which felt like the undertow at high tide.
Why Neal? he thought. Better.
Why Neal, the sun-tanned surfer, instead of me, the brainy twerp? I’m not such a bad bodysurfer.
Is it any surprise that Ricardo decides to use his power as the new playwright of Macbeth’s Martian Revue not to impress the dismissive Cory Fordyce, but to enact his terrible revenge? Even the scorned love of a brainy twerp can be horrible to behold.
Mars Will Have Blood is, in some ways, a writer’s story. Neal and Cory are the Perfect Actor Couple, garnering all the attention. But Ricardo, the ignored and overlooked author, is the one truly in control, and he will ultimately determine the fate of his adored co-stars.
And he intends for it to be a bloody one.
That night he cried out in his sleep. His mother found him sitting half-awake in his bed, describing in a senseless rush the events of some nightmare on another world: a planet of blood where starships of rusted metal crashed into the ruins of red cities; where a bloody sun and moon chased each other round while the stars howled in a hungry chorus, and seas of blood drenched everything in red.
As practices go on, Ricardo takes to hiding along the stage, behind curtains, in the upper reaches of the catwalk. There are vibes here of The Phantom of the Opera. Even when Ricardo is eventually removed from the play by Mr. Dean after a dispute about the show’s musical numbers, he continues to sneak into the theater, lurking in the shadows.
In the end, the mashup of Macbeth and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles turns out to not be so bloodless after all. Ricardo has done his work well, and even though he is officially absent on opening night, he has left his mark (and, literally, his blood, which he has smeared in small quantities all over the set) on the script, the set construction, the lighting. This is a very red Mars indeed.
The story ends with dramatic flourish, and though we are almost expecting a kind of homage to Carrie, Laidlaw takes us in another direction. Which is one final brilliant twist in a series of brilliant maneuvers throughout this fine, fine story.
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…