“Beware the autumn people,” Ray Bradbury said, and indeed, the changing of the seasons means it’s time for horror. Fall doesn’t just mean leaves changing; it means Halloween, fog, and reminders of death all around us. If the world is too sick this year for trick or treating, that doesn’t mean the season has been canceled! It’s still time for horror, and what is a better kind of lingering horror than that which lurks between the pages of a book? Try one of these, or try them all. Read by the light of a candelabra and the full moon.
Where better to start than with one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th century? The mad genius H. P. Lovecraft wrote many stories of varying quality, so go straight for the collection The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. You’ll find “The Call of Cthulhu” (a tale of an old god rising and spreading insanity in his wake), “The Dunwich Horror” (in which a woman has a child with a being beyond our imagination), “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (a story of villages hiding dark secrets and shattering revelations), and many others. With an introduction by Robert Block, author of Psycho, this is a great place to start with cosmic horror—or to complete your journey!
Pet Sematary has spawned two film adaptations; reading the book, it’s easy to see why. In Stephen King’s classic story of a family’s disintegration right nearby an old burial ground, death itself is the monster. It’s humanity’s great unconquered enemy—but what if it could be conquered? Animals buried in that ground come back mean-spirited, and humans...well, that’s a bigger risk to take. Would you take that risk, to save the ones you love?
Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Silk is a great counterculture novel, set in the midst of young southern goths and punks, but there’s something deadly at the center of it. Are you afraid of spiders? Are you afraid of witches? Are you afraid of loneliness? Kiernan has you covered in any of those cases; she is the queen of gothic lyricism and weird monster biology. It can take a lot to send chills down the spine of a dedicated horror buff, but Kiernan manages it every time.
Let’s take a look at Ray Bradbury’s autumn people in The October Country, his collection of horror stories. If you only know Bradbury from his science fiction, you might be surprised at how dark his imagination could get. What older sibling or expectant parent hasn’t shivered at “The Small Assassin”? You’ll feel more than a little unpleasant within your own body upon reading “Skeleton,” and no matter what you think you know about vampires, you’ll get a shock from “The Man Upstairs.”
And if you’re in the mood for something a little more modern and gonzo, Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is the book for you. An avant-garde rock star is releasing her album one track at a time, and it’s the kind of music that can really change your life. Unfortunately, it’s changing everyone else’s life too, and the crowds grow ever more maddened at each concert. And what happens when you play the tracks one after another? Like Ziggy Stardust from hell, this rocker is here for the sake of the whole planet—but what are her intentions?
In a scary world, horror can offer a strange kind of refuge. So grab one of these books, get yourself a mug full of something warm, and try to believe those strange sounds are totally natural and innocuous. Season’s greetings from the autumn people.