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
The Boar Hunt by Jose Vasconcelos
The Realm of Fiction: 61 Stories (edited by James Hall)
“We were four companions, and we went by the names of our respective nationalities: the Colombian, the Peruvian, the Mexican; the fourth, a native of Ecuador, was called Quito for short.”
Few readers, at least in America, are likely to have heard of Jose Vasconcelos today, which is a pity. He was a fine writer, as The Boar Hunt shows. It is possible he is better remembered in his home country Mexico, where he was also a professor and statesman (he even ran for president in 1929).
The Boar Hunt is the very first piece of fiction I read in high school. It is, I think, notable that it left such an impression that I never forgot it, though I barely remember any of the other short stories I read at the time. All the more remarkable, given that the story is a mere five pages.
I recall distinctly closing my English textbook at the end of the story and thinking: holy shit, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. There are few stories as effective at drawing the line between the kid-lit you read in middle school and the adult-lit you’re going to read in high school and beyond.
The Boar Hunt begins with a trip. Four friends venturing through the Andean wilds in search of good game to shoot.
“We came to be tireless wanderers and excellent marksmen. Whenever we climbed a hill and gazed at the imposing range of mountains in the interior, its attractiveness stirred us and we wanted to climb it. What attracted us more was the trans-Andean region: fertile plateaus extending on the other side of the range in the direction of the Atlantic toward the immense land of Brazil.”
Their journey takes them up the Maranon River, where they are told they will find immense herds of wild boar: easy killing as long as the herds are scattered and grazing. The four companions make landfall upriver and venture into the interior, where they make camp as night falls. They hang their hammocks high in the trees, so as not to sleep on the ground.
In the morning, before they embark again, they hear a sound crashing through the jungle. Waiting in their hammocks, the four companions watch as a herd of wild boar stream through the trees.
“Black, agile boars quickly appeared from all directions. We welcomed them with shouts of joy and well-aimed shots. Some fell immediately, giving comical snorts, but many more came out of the jungle. We shot again, spending all the cartridges in the magazine. Then we stopped to reload. Finding ourselves safe in the height of our hammocks, we continued after a pause.”
Easy pickings. For hours the hunters shoot at will, delighted with the simplicity of the killing, as well the apparently unending flow of game.
But the day wears on, and a realization slowly grows in their minds:
“At 4:00 PM we noticed an alarming shortage of our ammunition. We had been well supplied and had shot at will. Though the slaughter was gratifying, the boars must have numbered, as we had been informed previously, several thousands, because their hordes didn’t diminish. On the contrary, they gathered directly beneath our hammocks in increasing groups. They slashed furiously at the trunk of the tree which held the four points of the hammocks.”
Bad news, boys and girls. The four companions determine to hold their ammunition and wait out the herd. Surely it must pass. Day dies out into night, and the hunters fall into uneasy sleep. In the morning, they are certain the boar will have moved on.
But dawn breaks…and the herd remains.
In fact, the boars have been busy in the dark.
“The boars were painstakingly continuing the work which they had engaged in throughout the entire night. Guided by some extraordinary instinct, with their tusks they were digging out the ground underneath the tree from which our hammocks hung; they gnawed the roots and continued to undermine them like large, industrious rats.”
Our narrator is able to make a leap from his own hammock to a nearby tree branch, and from one tree to another after that. But his companions are not so lucky. The boars bring down the tree, and they collapse from their hammocks into the herd.
Our narrator waits far away at the banks of the river, and returns when the herd has moved on, hoping that one of his friends somehow survived. But of course, they did not. All three were eaten by the boars.
Not exactly a pleasant ending. Vasconcelos weaves a tight, terrifying story not all that dissimilar in theme from a tale reviewed earlier this month: Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game. Here, however, the danger is nature itself, which Vasconcelos is particularly good at describing and turning from an innocent backdrop into a vicious foe.
Just the right kind of story for a fourteen-year-old.
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…