October is a month that doesn’t merely pluck at heart-strings, but scrapes a violinist’s bow across them. Sunlight like dwindling gold coins from a pursesnatcher’s best-ever score. Late afternoon lyricism, the year waning and the night gaining. Champagne-air with an ice water chaser. The last month of shirtsleeves and the first month of the schoolyear turned routine, after the adjustments to new classes and new teachers have been made. The Constitutional taffy-pull of the First Monday in October. The pine-tarry benison of still playing in October. The campaign bogeyman of the October Surprise. Robert Frost’s “October.” The demesne of our branch-denuding, Howard-evoking acquaintance, the sere and yellow leaf. Jack Skellington and Halloween Town. Pumpkin patches with nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see. Laurie Strode, still hours away from her babysitting gig, called on by her English teacher, de-abstractifying Fate as being “a natural element, like earth, air, fire, water.”
And regardless of the months in which they purportedly take place, all worthwhile horror novels and stories are honorary October events, citizens of a 31-day empire ruled from its capital, Halloween. The region first identified by, and permanently identified with, the true Mr. October in a non-baseball context, the writer in whose work “the cold hours of darkness move like autumn mists deeper and deeper toward winter.” In honor of His Pulp-Originating Eminence, The Halloween Tree, and “that country where it is always turning late in the year, that country whose people are always autumn people, thinking autumn thoughts,” here are a few of my favorite beauty-and-unease-melding, October-haunted passages:
By 7:00 the panoply of colors on the horizon has shrunk to a bitter orange line on the western horizon, as if furnace fires had been banked beyond the edge of the world. In the east the stars are already out. They gleam steadily, like fierce diamonds. There is no mercy in them at this time of year, no comfort for lovers. They gleam in beautiful indifference.
Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot
Here’s short story maven Dennis Etchison, writing as “Jack Martin” and novelizing (hell, redeeming) Halloween II:
It was that time of year when the days are short and the shadows are long. When the earth tilts still further on its axis and the seasons hang suspended between autumn and winter; when the very light seems to change and colors deepen mysteriously…
You know what it is like.
The morning sun arcs away across the sky, the afternoon rushes impatiently toward dusk, the cutting edge of darkness like the blade of a sundial pointed and turning under eaves and porches. A time of dampness and slow, flaking rust, of barking dogs that are never seen, of creaking lampposts and pale neon signs, of telephone lines that crackle as if underwater. Of distant traffic and the laughter of children fading behind you and in front of you all at once; of the broken moon drifting like a gauze-covered face. Of the dripping condensation in chattering drainpipes, of the clutching of wings in the roofs of mouldering garages. Of frost on glass; of moist, endless coughs. Of mildewed gloves and too-thin socks, of soft newspapers and food that is never hot, of litter dropped in gutters melting into paste, of laundry wilting before it can be folded away, of labels buckling from jars in the musty cupboard and of your own white breathing, alone at midnight, glazing the window and then slipping out through the screen to meet the cold steam settling in the flowerbeds below…
And here’s an author whose “quiet horror” so often registered as loudly as purposeful footsteps ascending the stairs after midnight:
The leaves were gone when the wind returned past sunset, and there was nothing left to do but help the empty branches claw at the sky. An unlatched gate fought its brown-rusted hinges. An empty silver trash can toppled off the curb, its lid clattering pinwheel until it struck the rwar bumper of a small truck at the corner. A shutter banged open, slammed shut, and froze. Curtains trembled. Shadows walked. Streetlamps grew brittle, hazed white light without a promise of warmth. The only traffic signal in town swayed like a hanged man, tugging at its guy wires until it flared just red.
And the leaves on the ground, here raked into piles and there untouched and turning brown, hunched and spun madly into man-high dervishes that slammed against hdges, exploded against porches, crested off sidewalks into the windshields of passing cars. They hissed and crackled, their edges age-sharp and stinging, and when they swept past lighted windows they were hunting bats enraged.
The late Charles L. Grant, “Eyes”
And the weirdest of current weird fictionists takes us home:
In sleep we were consumed by the feverish life of the earth, cast among a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation. We took a place within a darkly flourishing landscape where even the air was ripened into ruddy hues and everything wore the wrinkled grimace of decay, the mottled complexion of old flesh. The face of the land itself was knotted with so many other faces, ones that were corrupted by vile impulses. Grotesque expressions were molding themselves into the darkish grooves of ancient bark and the whorls of withered leaf; pulpy, misshapen features peered out of damp furrows; and the crisp skin of stalks and dead seeds split into a multitude of crooked smiles. All was a freakish mask painted with russet, rashy colors — colors that bled with a virulent intensity, so rich and vibrant that things trembled with their own ripeness. But despite this gross palpability, there remained something spectral at the heart of these dreams. It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it. Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was to that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon.
Thomas Ligotti, “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World”
Remember, little the Great Pumpkin cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not candy! Happy Halloween.