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 let’s welcome Nate Southard, author of numerous novels, novellas, short stories and comics. Nate has a few things he’d like to share with you…the kinds of things you don’t want to turn your back on….
The first book I remember being a vital part of my Halloween came to me as an audiobook. When I was in the fourth grade, my school library had one copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. I desperately wanted to read it. The cover alone had me shivering. You try beating six grades worth of kids to that one book, however, and you quickly learn the mean of disappointment. Even the local Walden Books couldn’t keep copies on the shelves. They did have it on tape, though. Lucky me, I was flush with saved allowance cash, so I plunked down the coin and then begged my mom to stop looking at books (as was typical with my mother, she already had a stack three feet high that she intended to purchase) and take me home so I could give the tapes a listen.
Yikes! Maybe it’s just the filter of memory and nostalgia, but the way George S. Irving read those stories still haunts me. For me, his voice defined the word ‘Chilling’ for a long time. I still get little ripples up and down my arms when I think about him screaming, “You’ve got it!” at the end of “The Big Toe.”
Years later, a trio of short stories became a Halloween tradition to me. Two of them: Stephen King’s “The Boogeyman” and “Graveyard Shift,” lacked any overt Halloween theme, but they had that dark, creepy feeling that made me think of October air and the chill that comes with dark nights and full moons. Those stories had a deep, dark atmosphere that settled right into my bones. The last was Robert R. McCammon’s “He’ll Come Knocking on Your Door.” From the collection Blue World, “He’ll Come Knocking on Your Door” tells the story of a father who learns on Halloween the devil will come for a tribute, that it happens to every member of the community. When he refuses, the devil still comes to collect, and what follows is one of the most terrifying Halloween tales I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Finally, I can’t talk about essential Halloween reading without mentioning Norman Patridge’s amazing novella Dark Harvest. This one also deals with the world of local rituals, this time involving a creature called The October Boy and a bunch of teenagers who have spent a few days fasting in preparation. The kids take to the streets with nail-studded bats and other improvised weapons as the lurching, Frankensteining (a verb I swiped from Partridge) spirit of Halloween races toward the center of town. Whoever can stop The October Boy gets a one way ticket out of town and a dead end life. Dark Harvest is a perfect slice of both horror and noir, a love letter to both genres and to the wonderful time of year that is Halloween. It’s become a book I read before Halloween every year, and I’ll be doing the same this year.
Nate Southard lives in Austin, Texas, and writes a lot of stuff. His latest releases include his second fiction collection Something Went Wrong, and the paperback edition of his debut novel Red Sky, coming soon from Deadite Press.