Autumn has truly descended upon our northern climes (this week is starting to feel more like mid-November -- but perhaps we are spoiled by last week's glorious last-gasp of summer). As the chill settles with the dying leaves, one's thoughts may turn to decline and fall of civilization as we know it... or one may find diversion in a good ghost story and other tales that celebrate the macabre. So here is a list, in no particular order, of some of my favorites:
The October Country by Ray Bradbury: a short story collection that fascinates with its exploration of childhood loss ("The Lake"), paranoia ("Skeleton"), the dark side of the carnival ("The Dwarf"), and fear of infants ("The Small Assassin.") You can't go wrong with any book that contains descriptive language such as this:
“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 linger, and midnights 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.”
Dracula by Bram Stoker: The classic vampire story. Just thinking about re-reading the scene in which Jonathan Harker finds himself in a carriage hurtling along the winding passages of Transylvania gives me chills... and that haunting phrase "Denn die Todten reiten schnell" - ("For the dead travel fast").
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving: I have an audio version of this narrated by Glenn Close (from the Rabbit Ears recording series) that is simply mesmerizing. You can hear the crackling leaves, the menacing hoofbeats and smell the fog rising from the fields... all through the power of her incredible voice.
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice: Their side of the story... told with elegance, wit and, of course, quantities of blood. New Orleans never seemed so luscious as when seen through the eyes of Louis, Lestat and Claudia, that unholy trinity...
Carrie by Stephen King: The Master of Creep... he writes a lot longer now... but he doesn't tell a story any better than he did in this creepy, bloody, soaked in the '70s tale of the tragedies that happen when high school bullying meets telekinetic powers.
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant: for a short story that was published in 1887, this chilling tale has a surprisingly modern theme of vampiric possession by an evil alien intelligence. But we are not talking little green men descending from the skies or Transformers transforming. This malevolent force comes from some unknown dimension to establish its reign of terror. Major shudders from the reader ensue!
The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke: This short science fiction story from 1954 is an engrossing doomsday tale that sucks you in with its run-of-the-mill descriptions of the Tibetan monks going about the business of listing all the possible names, including enlisting a computer and two Western programmers to help expedite the process, with the belief that the Universe will end when the task is achieved. The scientists are skeptics, but go along for the pay. The real kicker, of course, comes at the end, as the Westerners are flying back home... they notice "that overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out." How masterful to end it all with a whisper, rather than a shout...
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