I read Ray Bradbury’s The October Country slowly, alternating back to novels in between, which you can do because novels belong to a different chamber in the mind. I can’t flip right from one story to the next without feeling like I’m clipping the last before fully knowing it. So the slim collection was on my person for a few weeks, a freaky little friend with no shortage of tales, and now that we’re through I miss it.
Ray Bradbury’s short stories are their own species. A monster of extremes with no interest in the quiet moments that allow readers to orient themselves. These guilty pleasure were originally written for lucky pulp magazines like Weird Stories. Today they stand alone as great gifts. Reading them was uncomfortable at times and always fun – the next best thing to spending a few nights in a shuttered amusement park where the dark sky breathes life into rides you thought burnt down five years ago.
There are 19 tight stories in this collection, 15 of which were originally published in the Dark Carnival collection. With three exceptions, I was painfully impressed. Stories like these are what gives the entire horror genre its edge. Some are good for a giddy thrill while others will get under your skin and fester there until you can relate to his characters, driven to their end by a fleeting glimpse of a side of our world that doesn’t bother to hide its darkness.
The Next In Line
This is one of the longest in the collection, but also one of the best shorts I’ve ever read. A disconnected couple vacationing in Mexico visit a haunting graveyard a few days after Cinco de Mayo. They’re there not to see the tombstones, but the dug up bodies removed from their plots when the family failed to pay the monthly rent. Such a close look at the loneliness of death proves to be an experience the wife cannot come back from.
The entire floor of the yard seemed a ballroom after a night of wild dancing, from which the participants have fled; the tables askew, confetti, candles, ribbons and dreams left behind.
This story first introduced me to Bradbury back in high school. The concept – a man afraid of skeletons pushed over the edge when he realizes he has a skeleton inside him – still stuns me with its clever simplicity. It’s just as cerebral and creepy as it was all those years ago. One hundred years form now people will still read and marvel.
This is one of my favorites because it reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone. The narrator returns to the lake where his childhood friend Tally went into the water one day and never came out. Bradbury doesn’t romanticize childhood. In fact, he freely draws on its potency to create an ending sure to haunt your next waterside stroll.
Being alone is a newness to a twelve-year-old child. He is so used to people about. The only way he can be alone is in his mind.
The Small Assassin
Required reading for all parents.
A dark, dark tale of a man who’s luck finally turns, but not for the better.
There Was an Old Woman
Another favorite about a woman determined to beat death at its own game. And she does, kind of.
I get to have as many favorites as I want. This one is a classic example of horror that doesn’t rely heavily on plotting. A woman watches the rain out her window as she tells her sister of the people she sees out there, a world within a world.
It takes death to make a woman really beautiful, and it takes death by drowning to make her most beautiful of all. Then all the stiffness is taken out of her, and her hair hangs up on the water like a drift of smoke.
Bradbury’s style grows on you. Beware.