The 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 stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
In celebration of fall, I am always drawn back to the fiction of the late Ray Bradbury—it’s a gross understatement (quantitatively and qualitatively) to say Bradbury taught a generation to write…he’s still teaching us to write. His style lightly macabre, flickered like a candle; it was also wondrously garish, carnivalesque. Ray Bradbury, like Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson, was a stylist. And we don’t see many of those in any generation. I relish them. I envy them. I yearn for them, innocent—like that shiny red apple bobbing in the basin—its poison silent, and resting.
The Man Upstairs
Ray Bradbury, 1947
Originally appeared in Bradbury’s 1947 collection Dark Carnival. It was collected eight years later in The October Country (1955). (See book cover images above.)
‘The red glass did things to Mr. Koberman. His face, his suit, his hands. The clothes seemed to melt away. Douglas almost believed, for one terrible moment, that he could see inside Mr. Koberman. And what he saw made him lean wildly against the small red pane, blinking.’
He remembered how carefully and expertly Grandmother would fondle the cold cut guts of the chicken and withdraw the marvels therein; the wet shining loops of meat-smelling intestine, the muscled lump of heart, the gizzard with the collection of seeds in it. How neatly and nicely Grandma would slit the chicken and push her fat little hand in to deprive it of its medals. These would be segregated, some in pans of water, others in paper to be thrown to the dog later, perhaps. And then the ritual of taxidermy, stuffing the bird with watered, seasoned bread, and performing surgery with a swift, bright needle, stitch after pulled-tight stitch.
This was one of the prime thrills of Douglas’s eleven-year-old life span.
Altogether, he counted twenty knives in the various squeaking drawers of the magic kitchen table from which Grandma, a kindly, gentle-faced, white-haired old witch, drew paraphernalia for her miracles.
Douglas was to be quiet. He could stand across the table from Grandmama, his freckled nose tucked over the edge, watching, but any loose boy-talk might interfere with the spell. It was a wonder when Grandma brandished silver shakers over the bird, supposedly sprinkling showers of mummy-dust and pulverized Indian bones, muttering mystical verses under her toothless breath.
“Grammy,” said Douglas at last, breaking the silence, “Am I like that inside?” He pointed at the chicken.
“Yes,” said Grandma. “A little more orderly and presentable, but just about the same. . . .”
“And more of it!” added Douglas, proud of his guts.
“Yes,” said Grandma. “More of it.”