The October Country: Oct 31st: The Making of a Spooky Story

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.

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.

The October 2015 Lineup

The Jar by Ray Bradbury

Vampire Lake by Norman Partridge

Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

Dial Tone by Benjamin Percy

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

I’m Scared by Jack Finney

Child’s Play by Villy Sorensen

Pop Art by Joe Hill

Mars Will Have Blood by Marc Laidlaw

Dress of White Silk by Richard Matheson

Little America by Dan Chaon

The God of Dark Laughter by Michael Chabon

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

A Home Away From Home by Robert Bloch

The Raft by Stephen King

The Glass Eye by John Keir Cross

Children of the Kingdom by T.E.D. Klein

The Other Town by Steven Millhauser

The Sole Survivor by Rod Serling

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

Objects in Dreams May Be Closer Than They Appear by Lisa Tuttle

The Book of Irrational Numbers by Michael Marshall Smith

The Storm by McKnight Malmar

When the Clock Strikes by Tanith Lee

The Boar Hunt by Jose Vasconcelos

The River Styx Runs Upstream by Dan Simmons

The Bird by Tyler Miller

The Man Upstairs by Ray Bradbury

The Hitch-Hiker by Lucille Fletcher

A Hand to Hold by Stefani Miller

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