The first of October is the official start of two things: Halloween season and, much as it pains me, all things pumpkin spice. While I eschew all that pumpkin spice business, I love a scary read in the autumn. If you do, too, let me offer some suggestions to see you safely through October, when the nights turn cool and you read with the covers practically over your head.
For scary, creepy books you can’t do better than the two classics, “Frankenstein,” by Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” I like “Dracula” especially, because it is set in Romania and I have been there, and they drink a lot of slivovice, and I have been there, too.
There is a scene in which Dracula scurries diagonally across a vertical wall, in the mist and dark, and it makes my heart race every time I read that passage. It terrifies me so I can’t stand to watch the squirrels out my kitchen window as they skittle up my neighbor’s house, at an angle and frighteningly fast.
I swear, I swoon in fear, I’m so triggered.
Wilkie Collins is supposed to be the fellow who gave us our first mystery novels, elevating the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe from the short form. Collins was a contemporary of Dickens and his books are described as long and that right there is why I have never read him. However, I return to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” stories I first read under the covers with my Girl Scout flashlight. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a good one, too.
“Rebecca” is, at its core, a ghost story. But not one of those chain-dragging ghost stories. The ghost of the real Rebecca haunts every character in the novel in unique and unsettling ways. I have read this book several times, but always with several years in between readings. With some distance I find it surprises me and upsets me in all the darkest and spookiest of ways.
Agatha Christie can take up a good portion of your October reading, but I find I prefer to partake of her work by way of Masterpiece Theatre. I first read her books in my early adolescence but they didn’t hold my attention long. I much preferred Sir Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
I must have been introduced to “The Hounds of the Baskervilles” in junior high. Is it possible that was required reading for an English class? I don’t know, but it horrified me because I was at the time afraid of dogs, even though I hate to admit it. So, the notion of gigantic creatures howling their heads off somewhere out there on the moor sent me into spasms of delicious fear, safe as I was, still under the covers reading while my little sister slept across the room.
Junior high was also the time I was introduced to H.H. Munro, who wrote under the pen name, Saki. We were assigned “The Interlopers” and that is all I am going to tell you. Saki is the O. Henry of the disturbing twist ending, and after reading “The Interlopers,” I devoured all his short stories in quick succession. In particular, “The Open Window” galvanized me for days, even though each element of the story, taken alone, is benign and ordinary. But that ending.
You may note there is no Stephen King on my list, but if you adore him, you go right ahead and read him. I managed to read “Cujo,” which makes no sense, considering I just shared my fear of dogs. I read most of “It,” and I’m just going to say, he writes so well and at such length I am too terrified to finish his stories. My poor heart can’t take it, not really.
So, I return to Shirley Jackson, my final suggestion for you. And again, I knew her first in junior high or high school. We were assigned the short story, “The Lottery.” You have read it, usually assigned at the same time as “The Rocking Horse Winner,” and “A Rose for Emily,” although she didn’t write these two.
For a quick and spooky read, try Jackson’s novels, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” or “The Haunting of Hill House.” So classic. So satisfyingly eerie.