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Horror

Halloween is tomorrow, but Halloween parties had begun Friday night. It’s been a parade of alter-personalities all weekend. A mummy behind the wheels. Alice with long eye-lashes walking through la-la-land. Cross-dressers and people of ambiguous gender. The walk up Buena Vista Park with the dogs this morning afforded some dreadful sights: stilettos with gnarled straps, lacy underwear, spray cans, broken beer bottles…

My kind of Halloween is to barricade myself at home with the lights off. The room is dark except for the cold glare of a lamp on my night table. I would sink deep within the covers, only my head poking out from the blanket. Everything is quiet. (Too quiet.) There is only the sound of pages turning, and my heart beating, hammering, echoing in your ears. I have been reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of the Hill House and An Anthology of Horror Stories.

“Hear the tolling of the bells—
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!” (The Bells, Edgar Allan Poe)

“It was the devil that was omnipresent. It was the dead who squeezed the living between fragments of time, on both sides, the past and the future, making of humanity a ghoulish sandwich of doomed meat that had yet to learn to stop kicking.” (The Cold One, Christopher Pike)

“Th (e most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” (The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft)

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” (The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson)

“He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it.” (The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson)

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.” (The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson)

“At first cock-crow
The ghosts must go
Back to their quiet graves below.” (The Neighbors, Theodosia Garrison)

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.” (One Need Not Be A Chamber To Be Haunted, Emily Dickinson)

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft)

“The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present, and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain — a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” (Supernatural Horror in Literature, H. P. Lovecraft)

“True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them.” (The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe)

“It’s from the mysterious that we make the leap to godly grace or evil.
And only from there.” (When the Penny Drops, Jack Ketchum)

Have a fun and safe Halloween.

[411] The Night Country – Stewart O’Nan

” Didn’t I tell you? There’s a reason we call on you, why this night comes again and again, bad dream within a dream. You think it’s torture but you know it’s justice. You know the reason. You’re the lucky one, remember? You live. ” (Something Wicked, p.7)

My first Stewart O’Nan novel, unexpectedly, turns out to be a timely ghost story set in a quaint, sleepy town in New England on Halloween. Midnight on Halloween, while the town of Avon sleeps, three prank-happy ghosts come back to haunt the survivors of a terrible car accident that claimed their lives a year ago. Danielle, Toe, and Marco return in spirit to keep watch over three unlucky, and emotionally wrought souls. They observe their thoughts, drift in and out of the fringes of their consciousness, and taunt them with eerie déjà vus.

The road’s invitation to revisit it, another opportunity to pay tribute and admit what rules their lives, and for that reason they have to pass, let it slide by as if it means nothing. (Day of the Dead, p.116)

Tim is a survivor of the crash. He is still the quiet kid that he was before the accident, except the teenager has drained out of him. He matures quickly over time and takes care of Kyle, who also survived but underwent face reconstruction surgery. While Kyle exists in an ambulatory twilight of severe brain injury, Tim contemplates a grisly act of remembrance as the first anniversary approaches. By the same twist of fate, Kyle’s mother has gravitated to anxiety over her son’s future. Will he outlive her? The accident and its aftermath have drifted her away from her husband. She feels separated from the town, which itself is swept by grief and guilt. Then there is Brooks, the well-intentioned police officer who first responded to the crash, and whose life is in shambles. Memory falls on him like weight, his conscience purged.

There are moments we don’t show you, things we leave out for our reasons. (Mercy, Spirit, show me no more!) Danielle’s sisters have called her all day, our parents and grandparents have summoned us one by one. There’s nothing we can do for them. By now you’ve figured it out: We’re visitors, our powers limited. (Halloween, p.174)

The ventriloquism makes it a funny read; but The Night Country is an intense, spooky, and sad ghost story with a contemporary setting. The pranky ghosts return for justice, but they only exist as long as they are remembered. The sad part is the expired pledging to remember them forever. As the ghosts flit in and out of the narrative, banality of small town life affords a glimpse to how people cope with loss: denial, avoidance, separation, urgency to nail a scapegoat, justification, explanation. The memory of the survival is much longer than the loss. As the novel somersaults toward a tragic end, I realize the book is more chilling than spooky, for it explores and plumbs the darkness of suburban dystopia.

229 pp. Softcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]