Here we find ourselves in October again, dear reader, The Observer still hanging in there and you still hanging in there the best we all can.
October is The Observer’s favorite month and has been for as long as we can remember. Not just for the costumes and free candy from any stranger well-off enough to leave a porch light burning on Halloween, either. We also love October for the sort of cultural permission slip America gives itself one month out of the year to consider darkness and dark things, witches and spooks, moonlit gardens where every leaf is spotted with blood and a werewolf prowls. Other than in October, we find that most people don’t like being reminded of their own mortality. Most don’t like to dwell on those sorts of things.
The Observer, however, is different from most. Your correspondent is a moody old fart and was one waaaay before we got our official Old Fart Card. Given that, we are prone to loving spooky things, shadowy corners, horror films and the like, not just in October but year-round. Our clothing options range from black to slate, and, like Stevie Nicks, we wear our boots all summer long. All our favorite writers growing up were horror novelists and they clearly warped The Observer good: Stephen King and Graham Masterton, Ira Levin and Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz and Anne Rice, all of them weaving their black baskets full of snakes. We simply had no time for fantasy’s sword and sorcery nonsense or sci-fi’s spaceships and crystal-domed moon bases. Not when Mr. Dark’s evil carousel was already beginning to turn in Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Not when Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John was out there, stalking the hills with his silver-strung guitar, a young Johnny Cash doing battle with all manner of Lovecraftian horror set loose by human folly from the innards of the earth. Not when Rod Serling told us we could have the keys to a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man, the middle ground between light and shadow.
In time, we came to know the sometimes wonky guts of the dark rides our literary horror heroes built, the often-clumsy tricks and gags that a writer plays on you to push those crude buttons marked “fear” and “apprehension.” We eventually turned to other writers — Will Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Mary Gaitskill, Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many more — who showed us that what can lurk in a human heart can be so much more terrifying than any vampire or ghost. But even so, we find that in this distant and uncertain future, we have come back around to some of the old horror novels and films we loved as a kid. They still hold their charms for us, all these years later. Stephen King, for one, is a better writer than we gave him credit for in the depths of our 20-something book snobbery.
The difference now, of course is that we are reading and watching all these films and books having grown to an adult mind. Now, we know there is no leathery horror lurking in the shadow-strewn attic of The Observatory, among the boxes of old dishes, winter sweaters and Christmas tree ornaments. We know there is no black-eyed thing just inside our bedroom closet at 1 a.m., the door standing three inches ajar and that void as dark as a closed casket. We know that no matter how much you might imagine it, if your hand dangles off the edge of the bed in your sleep tonight, no icy claw, corpse-white, yellow nails soft as rind, will emerge, slowly, to clamp your sleeping wrist and pull you screaming into a murderous netherworld. Right?
See what we mean about tricks and gags writers play? Maybe The Observer just played one on you. Whatever the case, we bet you won’t be letting your hand dangle over the edge of the bed tonight.
What is it about some of us that wants to be scared? What part of us wishes to experience seeing the eyes of a leopard in the tall grass, or the dark torpedo of a crocodile cutting through the murk an instant before the strike? Something primeval, no doubt. Primordial. The same thing that makes you glance behind you at night as your key goes into the lock of your dark abode. The same thing that makes us ready to believe everything from hook-handed maniacs on lover’s lanes to Satan making deals for souls to dead prom queens flagging rides down on Woodson Lateral Road south of Little Rock. Which is to say: something mysterious, that maybe we are not meant to understand, lest it prove too appealing to resist.
A fine October to you, dear Reader. Don’t eat too much candy. And be sure to tuck that hand under the covers tonight, lest you meet the downstairs neighbors. They’re friendly, but always so hungry. Happy Halloween!