It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us.
Today we welcome Adam Cesare, author of the excellent novella Tribesmen (now out in paperback from Ravenous Shadows), sharing the storybook that started him on the path to all things dark and twisted.
When Blu approached me about divulging my “Essential” October Read, I was hesitant. Mostly because I didn’t have a good enough answer. I read voraciously, but I’m still very much a movie guy. When I want familiar, “comfort art” to get me in the mood for my favorite season, I reach to my DVD collection and pull down something like Halloween or The Monster Squad.
But that’s not entirely true. There’s one piece of literature that I’ve revisited multiple times in October. I may lose some hardcore horror cred for this, because it’s not Poe or Lovecraft or King: it’s a children’s picture book named The Tailypo.
Let’s back up. Remember story-time? Yeah, “let’s all go down to the school library for an assembly” story-time. That’s where I was first exposed to horror literature. It was October, of course, and the school librarian had selected a tonally-appropriate story for the season. Notice that I didn’t say age appropriate, because this thing scared the bejesus out of every kid at that assembly. Myself included.
I can’t remember the grade (either kindergarten or first, I’d guess), I can’t remember the librarian’s name, I can’t even remember where I was going to school at the time, but I do remember the book’s final line: “Tailypo, Tailypo, Now I’ve got my Tailypo.” I’m betting every other kid who was there does too.
The Tailypo is a picture book adaptation of an Appalachian folk tale by Joanna Galdone with illustrations by Paul Galdone. What’s great about The Tailypo is it’s, as far as I can tell, a pretty exact retelling of the story. This means that it’s Dr. Suess with a body count.
Most scary stories for kids wuss out in the end, preferring to leave tots with an “everything’s going to be okay” ending that undercuts whatever jolts the book may have provided. Not The Tailypo, which is the story of an old man’s encounter with a strange creature. The old man cuts off the critter’s long tail and eats it for dinner. Foolishly believing that his three dogs will protect him (spoiler: they don’t), the old man is harassed nightly by the creature. “Tailypo, Tailypo, I want my Tailypo!” is the monster’s repeated refrain, a line that gets creepier in direct proportion to how intent your school librarian is on frightening children.
This story stuck with me for a long time, until I was old enough to go seek out the book myself. The cutesy illustrations only serve to enhance the dark edge of the story, disarming the young audience before terrifying them with various implied-mutilations.
If you don’t have kids and have never read it before, I doubt it’s worth it to seek out The Tailypo, but if you have little ones that you want to indoctrinate into the sickness: there’s no better place to start. Just make sure they can handle it.