October Observed

“October Country ... that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay.”


Those are the words of sainted science fiction master Ray Bradbury, and I just stuck them there at the top of my note because they look and sound better than anything I could’ve written. And they perfectly set the mood for this, our magazine foray into October, the moodiest of months.

Bradbury’s works, like his eclectically  creepy collection of short stories, “The October Country,” from which that quote was taken, all seem rooted in autumn — the season when things start to end.

And endings, we know, are sometimes much to be desired. Take the pandemic. Please. Or how about an ending to whatever cultural centrifuge is spinning people out into two irreconcilable camps, each with its own facts and “narrative” (a word that has become mildly threatening). Maybe it’s aliens. We’ve finally admitted they exist, right? Or did I just imagine hearing that news between impeachments, killer viruses and murder hornets? Maybe the Tic Tac UFOs are engaging in the separation of the liberal yolks and the conservative albumen of humanity for some big cosmic baking project, akin to that “Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man.” If that’s the case, I guess, at least it will bring us all together in the end.

One of my childhood Halloween traditions was to have some friends over to listen to my old vinyl album of Arch Oboler’s “Lights Out” radio skits. His horror stuff was the audio version of gory pulp comic books like “Tales From the Crypt.”

In one particularly disturbing skit, the listener enters a dim room with other people, and a closet opens allowing a fog to emerge and creep along the floor. Any person the fog touches drops to the floor and begins the horrific process of being turned inside out. The listener is allowed to imagine how such a grotesque phenomenon might look, but is provided with a helpful a sound effect — something like a person pulling off a long rubber glove in a tank of Jell-O (they had such great sound effects back in the radio days).

Sometimes it seems like people look at one another like they would that fog. They worry that, if they let the other person’s ideas touch their own thoughts for a second, their brains might twist and invert like sea cucumbers upon their brainstems, and they would never be the same. The interesting thing is that it’s true. Maybe we should all try it more often.

October is the month when you can think things like this, and say things like this, and even dress kids up like some blood-sucking nightmare from a Victorian author’s opium dream and no one blinks an eye. Walk around demanding candy, and the neighborhood complies.

The rules all start to fray in October because the year they were written for is passing. You can sometimes cut a whole new deal or plant a fall garden and have one more harvest/payday before the snow says to pack it up, but you know you’re working on the precipice. It’s like dancing on your own grave. Sounds creepy, but then you realize that it means you’re still above ground and able to dance, and you’ve already got a grave picked out, so aren’t you in effect way ahead of the game?

And in the end, a year is a kind of a game, isn’t it? Winners, losers, spectators, disruptors, reporters and critics all agree, 2020 is a year that needs to end. And this October is the beginning of that end.

Boo! Or is it “Yay!”?

Categories: Editor’s Note