The October Country: Oct. 16th: “The Glass Eye” by John Keir Cross

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 16:

The Glass Eye by John Keir Cross

Found In:

The Other Passenger

Opening Line:

There are things that are funny so that you laugh at them, and there are things that are funny but you don’t laugh at them at all—at least, if you do, you aren’t laughing because they amuse you: you are doing what Bergson says you do when you laugh—you are snarling.”

It’s unfortunate that John Keir Cross, one of the great writers of offbeat and eerie fiction of his era, is not well-known here in America. I imagine his reputation may be better in his home country of England, but here in the States his name draws a blank. Like Henry Kuttner or Don Robertson, limited success in his own time has not translated to renown in our own.

Pity.

The Glass Eye is a fine piece of writing. Excellent story told in perfectly executed sentences which twist and turn with the grace of a true master of the language. Like many British writers, Cross has a lyrical bent to his prose, as well as a gift for sharp bursts of insight.

The Glass Eye focuses on the unfortuante Julia, a thirty-seven-year-old spinster who has lived her life without companionship and without being loved.

Now, I want to tell you a story about Julia. Is it a funny story? I don’t know—I just don’t know. There are two people concerned in it, and in a sense they were both funny—Julia and this man, Max Collodi, I mean. But I don’t think the story is funny. It is grotesque.”

Cross is quite good at staging a story. He sets things up nicely, giving us a bit about Julia, who is clearly an odd and sad sort of woman. And then in describing Julia’s flat, he tells us about a peculiar object Julia keeps on her mantle: a Glass Eye.

This is to be the story of how she came by the Glass Eye, and why it matters.

The loneliness and desolation of Julia’s life were appaling.”

Indeed. Julia has no friends. No lovers. What love she has within her she focuses on her nephew, a “large-headed child, with eyes like balls of putty” who visits only once a year. In her youth, Julia had a few shots at love: she was seduced by an older man when she was eighteen; she was engaged but her fiance broke it off; and she was in love with a man who eventually disappeared.

Three strikes. You’re out.

So while it is somewhat fantastic, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Julia should one day turn her attention and infatuation to a stranger, in this case, a stage performer: Max Collodi, a ventriloquist.

The curtain rose, and in a moment Julia forgot everything. She forgot Bernard, she forgot the little room with the yellow wallpaper, she forgot Mr. Maufry and the high stool on which she sat in his office. Only one thing in the world existed for her—the figure of Max Collodi.”

Collodi is a youngish man of extraordinary beauty. He performs his act night after night with an ugly and grotesque looking doll he calls George. And night after night, Julia’s obsession grows as she attends one performance after another. When he takes his act out of town, Julia quits her job and follows.

In short order, she begins writing Collodi letters, telling him about herself and begging to meet him in person. Cross displays genuine skill in creating empathy for Julia rather than disbelief at the way she more or less flings herself at a man she has never met. It’s a fine line, and Cross manuevers his tale deftly.

Collodi refuses to meet at first, but eventually gives in. And the meeting occurs (where else) in a dimly-lit hotel room, where the truth finally tumbles into the light. Julia, overwhelmed with an intense tactile desire, strides forward and puts her hand upon Collodi’s brow.

Then she screamed—or she made the movements of screaming, though no sound came from her but a terrible dry croak. For Collodi, with the fixed professional smile still on his face, toppled sideways and fell from his chair with a crash to the floor.

There was one moment of beastly silence and then there was a scream: but not from Julia or the someone else who seemed to have taken possession of her body. No. It came from the chair where George had been lolling grotesquely. Now, as she stared, it was to see George standing up on the chair, his hedeous painted face twisted with rage and fear and sorrow. And, as she stared, she realised that at last she had met Max Collodi, the ventriloquist.”

Enraged by the discovery that the object of her love is nothing more than a dummy, Julia stomps the poor doll to pieces, knocking loose its glass eye, which she retrieves from the floor and takes with her, where it eventually makes its way to her mantle.

There are plenty of tales of misdirection out there in the world, and more than one that are cleverer in their final flourishes. But few stories are finely crafted as The Glass Eye, or as emotionally moving. It is Cross’s adept weaving of the character of poor Julia that elevates this odd and eerie little tale from a gutter joke into an honest depiction of the lonely byways of broken hearts and waylaid dreams.

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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