The trees are blue beneath the autumn moon;
The witches and the devils all cavort–
The creatures of the dark awake, and soon,
The King of Night shall hold his Court.

Whether in the gloom of lonely countryside,
Or on the garish neon city streets;
The Spell is felt by people far and wide,
And finds expression in saying “tricks or treats”.

‘Tis not merely some carnival of lights,
Nor yet a complicated costume ball;
‘Tis the exaltation of those magic nights
When all the world is held in Other Forces’ thrall.

The changing of the seasons brings along
A touch of the mysterious and weird.
As we acknowledge, in story and in song,
The spirit world that men have glimpsed and feared.

Be thou not afraid, my pious friend;
To hearken back to old beliefs of yore.
It would be utter folly to pretend
Such things were not here long before.

(more…)

In the gloomy, grim Midwest

One dark October day,

I rode along a hilltop crest,

Past a quarry cold and grey.

It was late that afternoon

And I turned to head for home;

When across the barren dune

I saw a figure roam.

I called to him, but no reply

From that figure reached my ear.

And I could not believe my eye

But then he seemed to disappear!

I started, then, upon the path

Down into the dark ravine,

Shuddering to think what hath

Lain long therein, unseen.

When once I reached the floor

The afternoon to night was turning,

But in the dark, I heard a roar

As of a massive fire burning.

And from the distance came a cry

That left me feeling sickened.

And feeling Duty bade me try

To help, my pace I quickened.

The night wind tore my cloak

As I passed trees all dead and rotten.

The smoky, stony place bespoke

A time long since forgotten.

The wolfpacks bayed and howled

From distant, lonely places,

The tree trunks leered and scowled

With twisted moonlit faces.

When that last fatal bend I rounded

I saw the mighty fire, and the rings

By which it was surrounded

Of leaping, grinning, cackling THINGS.

And at the center of the blaze

I saw that at which they chanted,

A sight I’ll not forget for all my days

And on my deathbed shall be haunted.

I turned and ran, in mindless fear,

My faith and reason torn in half.

As I plunged on, I nigh could hear

Those awful creatures laugh.

Now I try to live what life I can

On my lonely country farm;

A broken, shattered, frightened man

Who lies awake for fear of harm.

I will only go out in the day;

And sometimes, in my room at night,

I think that I can hear them, far away,

As they chant their Diabolic rite.

scary story

At this time  of year, I like to read scary books, watch scary movies, and play scary games. With that in mind, what follows is a list of some of my favorites of each type. I think I’ve blogged about all of these individually before, but I decided to compile them into a list for a convenient reference.

  • The Haunter of the Dark, by H.P. Lovecraft.  My favorite Lovecraft story.  I don’t know what it is exactly, but something about the setting, and the mysterious pull of the distant church that draws the protagonist’s eye really works for me.  I feel its one of his best for not over-explaining things.
  • The Omen, directed by Richard Donner. (1976) The scariest movie I have ever seen, and the only one that’s ever kept me awake at night. The opening music is, as I’ve said before, absolutely chilling.
  • Green Tea, by Sheridan Le Fanu. There are other good stories–notably Carmilla–in the collection “In a Glass Darkly”, but this is the one that stuck with me.  I like the idea of overdosing on a commonplace drink causing someone to be haunted.
  • The “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm” level of Half-Life 2. I’ve been critical of this game in the past, and even this level has its flaws.  Nevertheless, I have to give Valve credit for putting a survival-horror level in the middle of what is otherwise a sci-fi action game. That’s a great way to do horror: drop it in where the audience isn’t expecting it.
  • The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers. The best example of a “weird tale” I have ever read.  It’s so good that I recommend it even though only the first four of ten stories are actually in the horror genre. They are that good.  “The Repairer of Reputations” is particularly memorable.
  • The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise. (1963) This is cheating a bit, since it’s based on a book.  But the movie is very good.  I didn’t like it when I first saw it, but it’s an acquired taste, and after repeated viewings I came to appreciate how subtle and ambiguous it is.
  • Quake. In terms of game play, this is just a Doom knock off, which means it’s basically all fighting and no suspense.  How does it get on this list, then? Two things: the artwork, though primitive by today’s standards, is very atmospheric and ominous.  And the intriguing level names, like “The Haunted Halls” and “The Tower of Despair” evoke a more subtle fear and deserve better than the mediocre gameplay within.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. Did you think I could get through ten whole things without mentioning Gilbert and Sullivan?  You must be new here. Anyway, yes; this is technically a comic opera.  That doesn’t make the scene of the paintings coming to life or the Wagnerian “Ghosts’ High Noon” any less creepy. Gilbert complained that Sullivan’s “ghost music” was too scary for a comedy.  He was right–and that’s why it works.
  • The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce. Horror is what you don’t see and don’t understand.  This story probably packed a bigger punch when it was first written; the concept is old hat at this point.  Nevertheless, it’s still effective.
  • Spec Ops: The Line. I thought long and hard about whether to put this game on here.  Unlike everything else on this list, it contains no supernatural elements… or at least, no overt ones.  And also unlike everything else here, it is in no way “Gothic”.  But it is very dark, very disturbing and above all, a prime example of psychological horror.  It does share certain storytelling elements with The Haunting and “the Repairer of Reputations” and is just bizarre enough that I decided to include it.

“When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, 
And the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, 
Sail over the midnight skies –
When the footpads quail at the night-bird’s wail, 
And black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres’ holiday – then is the Ghosts’ High-Noon!”

“Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.”
         —The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers. 1895.
As I’ve said before, The King in Yellow is one of the better works of weird fiction I have ever read. (The first four stories, that is.) Chambers creates a bizarre atmosphere without ever letting it become tedious or over-explaining it. 
The way he establishes all the disparate characters, only to reveal them to be linked by the mysterious play, is a rather ingenious way of slowly creating a sense of dread in the reader. It is also interesting to me how the symbols of decay that crop up throughout the stories add up to give it a very pessimistic tone. It feels to me more like something that would’ve been written in the 1920s, not the 1890’s. I suppose that’s why it appealed to Lovecraft.
But enough of my babbling! The point is, it’s a good story to read around Halloween, in my opinion. 

As a kid, I didn’t generally get that excited about dressing up in a costume for Halloween. To me what was (and is) great about Halloween is the atmosphere. The chills in the air, the longer hours of darkness each night, and the general feeling of melancholy is what I love about the season. I’d much rather walk around after dark in street clothes, looking for ghosts and such. Getting dressed up in an uncomfortable costume was just a nuisance to me.

But there was one costume I had that I always loved wearing. It consisted of:

  1. Black Jeans.
  2. Black Sweater
  3. Black Shoes.
  4. Black Cape 
  5. One of these

I also had a plastic ax I would sometimes carry, but that was usually too cumbersome. And, of course, I couldn’t be bothered with such a thing as mere trick-or-treating when in this costume. In my twelve year-old mind, I was a spectral vision of terror; the embodiment of all the horror that has stalked humanity since the dawn of time; and as such, felt that it would be inappropriate to be seen asking for Snickers bars.

I realize now that I didn’t look terribly scary–anyone who saw me probably thought I’d had a mishap with an ink jar–but at the time I assumed that everyone was recoiling in terror at the sight of this sinister vision walking down the street.