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’re bringing the series to a close with an author whose name you might recognize from some previous entries – Norm Partridge. Norm’s own Dark Harvest has become a perennial Halloween read for many (including myself) since its release, so I was thrilled when he agreed to tell us a little about the book that helps define Halloween for him.
Before we jump in, I’d just like to thank all of the authors who took time to write about their “Essential October Reads” for us this year. Reading and sharing these has made this a truly special Halloween season for your humble host. Happy Halloween!
When I think of books that spelled O-C-T-O-B-E-R for me as a kid, I always come back to Ghosts Go Haunting by Scorche Nic Leodhas. A collection of Scottish ghost stories, it always gave me a shiver no matter how many times I read it.
Ghosts Go Haunting would often be in my hands on rainy afternoons when I was alone in the house, and it was always part of the menu when Halloween rolled around. Of course, I owned other horror books — a couple of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies produced for the sixties kid’s market, a big stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland, plenty of post-EC horror comics. But none of them got under my skin the way Ghosts Go Haunting did. That one came at me from a different world — and since I was an American kid growing up in the suburbs, that shouldn’t be a surprise. With its “braid Scottish” /Gaelic glossary in the back, and creepily primitive woodcuts that were unsettling in a far different way than the splashy comic book illustrations I was accustomed to, the book set me on unfamiliar ground.
The stories were the great-grandads of the tales my father told on summer nights in the backyard. There were ghosts aplenty, and haunted houses, and coffins that needed carrying. One story in particular, “The Wild Ride in the Tilt Cart,” would set me on edge every time. It was a vanishing hitchhiker tale in reverse, about a kid who’s picked up at a train station one rainy night by a ghostly driver. I can still see the illustration of the cart’s shaggy owner in my mind’s eye, his black eyes on paper gone slightly tan, the heavy beard below that hid all expression and (I was sure) damned up a whisper you’d never want to hear.
I dreamt that story on more than a few October nights, standing in for the main character, waking up in a sweat just as the tale reached its climax. And I’d get pretty much the same reaction reading it while fully awake in a house that seemed full of creaks and whispers on an October afternoon.
I was what they used to call a latchkey kid — both my parents worked, and after school I’d come home to an empty house. Especially around Halloween, without the shackles of adult supervision I’d overdose on horror movies and comics… and Ghosts Go Haunting. I’d read one story. Then I’d read another. Then I’d tell myself: You’d better not read the next one, Norm… but I’d inevitably do the job. My eye would follow that typeface road and nudge me across the next story’s threshold, and before long I’d slap covers closed on the book and shove it deep in a drawer, and I wouldn’t breathe easy until my parents came home.
These days around Casa Partridge, we call those kind of shivers “getting Borley-fied” — a tip of the hat to the old tales about the Borley Rectory that always seemed to raise a chill. When October rolls around, those classic ghost stories still do the trick for me in a way that modern horror never can… and so does Ghosts Go Haunting.
Norm Partridge writes books, short stories and the occasional comic. He’s published suspense, noir, and horror, and he’s not afraid to mix and match the genres when it suits his mood. His classic Halloween novel Dark Harvest was named one of the 100 Best Books in 2006 by Publishers Weekly. His most recent release was a short story collection from Cemetery Dance, Johnny Halloween, which contains a prequel to Dark Harvest.