After the Trick-or-Treaters have gone, and the candle in your jack-o-lantern has burned down to a sputtering puddle of white wax, and the wind has picked up and is howling in the chimney, and the clouds are scudding past the moon, it is time to take down a book and read aloud in your darkened house as the fire dies and sparks. Something scary, something spine-tingling, something to see October out and welcome in November, and its grimness, and its Day of the Dead.
Here are some spooky suggestions, along with their arresting opening lines:
Daphne du Maurier's classic novel, "Rebecca," is a ghost story that creeps up on you deliciously as you read about the young bride encountering the world of her dead predecessor. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
"Dracula," by Bram Stoker, The original vampire, and by far the most frightening. May. Bistritz. __Left Munich at 8:35 P. M, on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," when I read it in my seventh-grade English class, had me terrified of some day being walled in somewhere. Seriously. The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.
"Blackbriar" by William Sleator. Recommended several times by folks on Twitter, who declared it awesomely creepy and a book that had haunted the reader for years. "Danny ran in the London twilight."
"The Tale of Halcyon Crane," by Wendy Webb, a Minnesota Book award winner from last year. It's the creepy story of a woman who travels to a remote island where she confronts secrets, her past -- and ghosts. I was the only passenger on the ferry crossing to Grand Manitou Island.
"The Shining," by Stephen King. Or just about anything by Stephen King, really. Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.
"The Haunting of Hill House," by Shirley Jackson. Or her "We Have Always Lived in the Castle." Or even her short story, "The Lottery." She builds drama so skillfully; you start out entertained and end up terrified. Here's the first line of "Hill House": No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.
"The Turn of the Screw," by Henry James. Secrets, evil, ghosts, and a charming, malevolent boy. The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve, in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.
Need a little lightness, after all this spookiness? James Thurber's story, "The Night the Ghost Got In," from his autobiography, "My Life and Hard Times," is both funny and based in truth. (I lived in his house one summer. I, too, heard that ghost.) The ghost that got into our house on the night of November 17, 1915, raised such a hullabaloo of misunderstanding that I am sorry that I didn't just let it keep walking, and go to bed.
What am I missing? You know I'm missing thousands of books that could creep you out tonight. What do you like when you feel the need for spookiness? What do you recommend--Ambrose Bierce? HP. Lovecraft? Wilkie Collins? Go ahead, leave a comment--name your poison below.