Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Countdown: Ray Bradbury's Top 10 Dark Carnival/October Country Stories--#3

[For the previous entry on the Countdown, click here.]

#3."The October Game" (collected in The Stories of Ray Bradbury)

"White bone masks and cut pumpkins and the smell of dropped candle fat" help set the scene in this 1948 story that takes place on Halloween.  Viewpoint character Mich Wilder, though, doesn't relish the holiday, associating it with the waning of the year.  In fact, Mich (who today would probably be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder) "had never liked October.  Ever since he first lay in the autumn leaves before his grandmother's house many years ago and heard the wind and saw the empty trees.  It had made him cry, without a reason.  And a little of that sadness returned each year to him. It always went away with spring."

In this stone-cold Tale from the Crypt, Mich plots to make his frosty wife Louise suffer by taking their 8-year-old daughter Marion away from her.  "The October Game" climaxes with a party activity in the darkened cellar of the Wilder home: the ostensible body parts of a dismembered witch (e.g. chicken innards traditionally stand in for human viscera) are passed around piece-meal.  The scene brims with suspense, as Louise steadily grows more horrified over her daughter's strange silence.  Marion, she realizes, is present only in body (not mind and spirit), because Mich has proven a fiend for realism when staging this party-ending game.

Mich's machinations lead to a shocking conclusion (and a classic final line), but upon re-reading one also appreciates just how carefully Bradbury has prepared for this ending.  Foreshadowing abounds, from a "nasty childish game" Mich plays with Louise earlier in the day, to the "skeletonous" costume Marion dons for the Halloween party.  "The October Game" is doubtless the grisliest piece of short fiction Bradbury has ever written (these days the author himself shies away from the narrative's filicidal violence), but it is simultaneously a masterpiece of technique.  When it comes to dramatizing a husband's maniacal scheme, Bradbury is crafty indeed.


Anonymous said...

I read this story when I was in 4th grade and I am 48 now. To say this story stuck with me is an understatment!

Joe Nazare said...

Undoubtedly unforgettable.