Saturday, October 10, 2009
The witch cut apart, and this is her heart...
Great Tales of Horror - THE OCTOBER GAME by Ray Bradbury
Originally published in Weird Tales, March 1948
Over at B-Sol's monumental and indispensable blog The Vault of Horror (which I predict will one day grow to such proportions as to achieve sentience, wrest itself from the confines of the Interweb, and attack a major city...or one in Connecticut), he orchestrated the admirable task of canvassing a number of noteworthy horror bloggers and asking them for their lists of the finest in published horror fiction (you can see the results here). He believes, and I heartily concur, that horror blogs simply don't pay enough attention to the written word, the foundation for almost everything dark and diabolical which we hold dear.
Before launching Heart in a Jar, one of the ideas that I toyed with was doing a Horror Story of the Day blog - and I may still do this - for I've been a rabid purchaser of dark fantasy anthologies for the last (ulp!) forty years, picking up my first when I was only eight years old. The primary drawback that keeps me from doing this is that I so very much want to be able to place the story in your hands, gentle reader, and impress you to read it...all of which would be a major no-no as far as the copyright laws are concerned. I will always tell you in which book(s) these stories can be found, and given their increased accessibility through the net, leave you to your own devices. And should I just happen to find the text of one somewhere online...well, you can't blame a guy for linking, can you?
I first encountered Ray Bradbury's "The October Game" in the collection Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do On TV, originally published as one volume in 1957, issued as a pair of paperbacks by Dell in April and June of 1978. Now, doesn't that title just sound intriguing? Granted, there was a lot that television wouldn't let Hitch show in the late 50s, and even if he did present evil and malicious activity, NBC forced him to attest during his closing narration that, yes, justice prevailed and, yes, the bad people paid for their dark deeds. But admit it; we knew better, right? In the book's preface, Hitch (actually editor Robert Arthur) tells us
"This particular selection of tales is primarily aimed at those of you who find television fare too bland. You may not care for some of these stories because you think them too shocking, macabre or grotesque, but I am confident that you will not find any of them bland or dull...I trust that this book will not be interpreted as a criticism but merely an admission that there are a number of taboos and that there are some stories to which TV cannot do justice."
While most of Hitch's anthologies contain stories of crime and murder, there are a few of the titles which veer toward actual Horror, and while Bradbury's tale seems to start in the former genre, it certainly resolves itself deep in the terrain of the latter. He has often admitted that it is the grisliest piece of short fiction that he has ever written, and if you have ever read his work from either Dark Carnival or its reworking, The October Country (which oddly enough does not include this story), you know that's a very high hurdle to clear.
"The October Game" tells of the collateral damage that occurs when a marriage has reached the point of bitter break-up; in the six decades since its publication, it has not lost a scintilla of its relevance or potency. (The illustration above is from the EC Comics adaptation of the tale in Shock SuspenStories #9 from the summer of 1953, with artwork by Jack Kamen.) It has what is regarded as one of the most memorable final lines in the history of short horror fiction. And consider this: In the 1980s, when HBO launched The Ray Bradbury Theater, they adapted 65 of his stories for cable television...and they still were too timid to tackle "The October Game."
And you get to read it here.