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
So here we are, come to the end of our journey. We’ve looked at a new short story every day this month, each of them stories that inhabit that twilight world Bradbury called the October Country. Some of them you knew well and greeted like old friends. Others were like odd looking strangers shown up upon your door.
Hopefully these stories treated you well. Hopefully there weren’t too many sleepless nights.
One of the benefits of reading so many spooky stories one upon another is getting a feel for how it is done well. While we can quibble about differences of style–the straightforward approach of Richard Matheson as opposed to the slinky subtlety of Steven Millhauser–that is a discussion which would lead us nowhere fast. If we’ve learned anything reading 30 creepy tales this month, it should be that there are many paths to fear.
Ah, yes. What about fear?
If there is any link in the chain from one story to the next, it is certainly fear. The spooky story, regardless of the style of its author, is a story of fear. And, as the man once said, it is the tale that matters, not the teller.
So let us talk about fear, you and I.
A fine October tale is, more often than not, a simple story. Because fear is simple, is it not? It is elemental. Fundamental.
You fear the dark. The unknown. The stranger. Death. And worse.
But these are not complicated. They are not quantum mechanics.
No. Poe’s narrator in The Black Cat feared his own perverse desire to do wrong. Young Douglas Spaulding in Bradbury’s The Man Upstairs feared the stranger at his grandmother’s door. The hunters in Vasconcelos’s The Boar Hunt feared Mother Nature, red in tooth and claw.
And yet, fear is not the only element here. Our October lineup is a gathering of something else as well: transgressions.
Yes. Are these not tales of lines crossed and prices paid?
The young boys who force a small child to accept an amputation against his will in Sorensen’s Child’s Play. The lunatics who break free from their asylum in Bloch’s Home Away From Home. The teenagers in King’s The Raft out for a swim long after the swimming season has ended.
It is perhaps King’s story that illuminates the most disturbing fear: that the line crossed may be piddly and, at first glance, unimportant. What line did Lydia cross in Stefani Miller’s A Hand to Hold, aside from being an overprotective parent? Is that so awful? Is that really such a sin?
The beating heart of the horror story drums out a single steady message: in this world, my friend, you never know the price of the ticket.
Sometimes you pay a little. Sometimes you pay a lot. Sometimes, all you have.
Thanks for reading.