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 Man Upstairs by Ray Bradbury
The October Country
“He remembered how carefully and expertly Grandmother would fondle the cold cut guts of the chicken and withdraw the marvels therein; the wet shining loops of meat-smelling intestine, the muscled lump of heart, the gizzard with the collection of seeds in it.”
We started this celebration of October with Ray Bradbury’s The Jar. It seems only fitting to include another fabulous tale by the great master of dark October stories. The Man Upstairs hails from the same collection. If you’ve never read The October Country, and especially if you have enjoyed the stories covered this month here at Black Cat Moan, then my humble suggestion is that you should track down a copy of Bradbury’s masterpiece. It’s well worth your time.
The Man Upstairs opens with a somewhat grisly scene: a careful description of the gutting and butchering of a chicken, an activity the eleven-year-old Douglas Spaulding rather enjoys. Indeed, he has many questions for Grandmother concerning the inner workings of animals. People too.
“Grammy,” Douglas said at last. “Am I like that inside?” He pointed at the chicken.
Grandmother runs a bed and breakfast. It’s the slow part of the year, but a new visitor arrives asking for a room. A man.
“Cold gray eyes in a long, smooth, walnut-colored face gazed upon Douglas. The man was tall, thin, and carried a suitcase, a brief case, an umbrella under one bent arm, gloves rich and thick and gray on his fingers, and wore a horribly new straw hat.”
Douglas doesn’t much care for this odd-looking gent, but Grandmother is an old hand at taking borders. She doesn’t turn away money. The man takes an upstairs room.
The new guest is a bit odd. He eats with his own silverware, for example. Except it isn’t silver. His forks and knives and spoons are made of wood. And when Douglas brings his bags upstairs, the man pays him a tip…in pennies. In fact, he has no silver change at all, only copper pennies.
Strangest of all, however, is what Douglas sees the following day when peering through a stained glass window in the upper levels of Grandmother’s house. The window is built with six-inch panes of glass, each a different color. Douglas gazes out the window at the world below, and who should happen to stroll by but the new tenant, Mr. Koberman.
“The red glass did things to Mr. Koberman. His face, his suit, his hands. The clothes seemed to melt away. Douglas almost believed, for one terrible moment, that he could see inside Mr. Koberman. And what he saw made him lean wildly against the small red pane, blinking.”
Mr. Koberman spots Douglas spying, and though Douglas does his best to pretend he was doing know such thing, Mr. Koberman knows better. Later int he day, as Douglas is playing outside, something crashes through the that same window, shattering the colored panes. Douglas is blamed, but the boy knows the truth. About who broke the panes, and about Mr. Koberman too.
That night, Grandfather comes for dinner. The family and the boarders eat together, and Grandfather, who works at the newspaper office, enlightens the guests with the local news.
“It’s enough to make an old newspaper editor prick up his ears,” he said, eyeing them all. “That young Miss Larson, lived across the ravine, now. Found her dead three days ago for no reason, just funny kinds of tattoos all over her, and a facial expression that would make Dante cringe. And that other young lady, what was her name? Whitely? She disappeared and never did come back.”
After dinner, Mr. Koberman excuses himself and leaves. He works nights, another oddity. Sleeps all day, works all night. In fact, he’s a pretty heavy sleeper.
“As was his custom every day when Grandma was gone, Douglas yelled outside Mr. Koberman’s door for a full three minutes. As usual, there was no response. The silence was horrible.
“He ran downstairs, got the pass-key, a silver fork, and the three pieces of colored glass he had saved from the shattered window. He fitted the key to the lock and swung the door slowly open.”
Inside the darkened room, Douglas takes a closer look at the sleeping Mr. Koberman, another look through the various colored panes of glass. And he confirms what he saw before. Mr. Koberman looks like a man on the outside, looks just like you and me, but on the inside, which is made visible through the colored glass, Mr. Koberman isn’t like you and me at all. No sir. Huh uh.
Over everything was a blue glass silence.
“Wait there,” Douglas said.
He walked down to the kitchen, pulled open the great squeaking drawer and picked out the sharpest, biggest knife.
Very calmly he walked into the hall, climbed back up the stairs again, opened the door to Mr. Koberman’s room, went in, and closed it, holding the sharp knife in one hand.
Turns out, young Douglas has paid pretty close attention to Grandmother in the kitchen. And he performs a rather rudimentary but more or less successful gutting and butchering of odd Mr. Koberman. What he takes out of the man looks nothing like the organs that should be there. In fact, Douglas brings them down and shows Grandmother when she returns, and she confirms that she’s never seen anything like them before.
Then he asks for his piggy-bank.
A while later, he tells Grandfather he’s got something to show them. They march upstairs and into Mr. Koberman’s room. Grandfather, shocked, quickly calls the coroner.
The coroner shivered and said, “Koberman’s dead, all right.”
His assistant sweated. “Did you see those things in the pans of water and in the wrapping paper?”
“Oh, my god, my God, yes, I saw them.”
The coroner bent over Mr. Koberman’s body again. “This better be kept secret, boys. It wasn’t murder. It was a mercy the boy acted. God knows what might have happened if he hadn’t.”
“What was Koberman? A vampire? A monster?”
The coroner isn’t sure. He’s only sure Koberman wasn’t human. Especially given that Douglas claims Mr. Koberman remained fully alive during the dissection. What killed him wasn’t being disemboweled. What killed him was the couple pounds of silver coins Douglas dumped from his piggy bank into Mr. Koberman’s open body.
“I think Douglas made a wise investment,” said the coroner…
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 Nelson Hernandez