“…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. 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…” From The October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury.
According to Mr. Bradbury, there is a country called “October.” I am sure Mr. Bradbury has visited it many times. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen glimpses of it, and have read much of its literature.
Some of the best literature of the October Country ever written are ghostly tales. I’m not talking about horror tales, with blood and axes and maniacs. I’m talking about suspenseful tales told in whispers about things behind doors, under beds, maybe in your closet. I’m talking about stories of revenants, ghouls, ghosts, and residents of Purgatory and Hell who come and go quietly in the dark shadows of our lives, from the grey corners of tombs and mausoleums and crypts. I’m talking about tales of moral judgement for the damned, who you cannot pity, because they have been given chances to repent, and rejected them time and again.
Without argument, the best of these stories are the ghostly fictions of Russell Kirk, the Wizard and Sage of Mecosta, Michigan, man of letters, Stoic, Christian, American Patriot, and literary genius. As you catch glimpses of the October Country this month, and on through the Autumn and Winter months, traditional seasons for Anglo-American ghost story telling, I heartily commend to you Dr. Kirk’s ghost stories: morbid, creepy, understated, beautiful tales reminiscent of the moral stories of the Old Testament, with no delay for judgement for the damned, but with mercy aplenty for the righteous.
If you want to read all 22 of his ghost stories at a reasonable price, and your library cannot help you, you need to buy two books:
Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, which contains 19 stories, plus an essay called “A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,” and The Surly Sullen Bell: Ten Stories and Sketches, Uncanny or Uncomfortable, With a Note on the Ghostly Tale, which contains the three tales not in Ancestral Shadows, plus an essay called “A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,” which is not the same essay in Ancestral Shadows, though it has the same title. Both of these books can be found used at very reasonable prices. I’ve been able to find new copies of Ancestral Shadows over the years at huge discounts.
Beware! These stories are not for the faint of heart. Kirk himself writes in Ancestral Shadows: “Elaborated from certain encounters of mine with life and death, these stories were not written for children.” Indeed. And though fictional tales, they are truer than most of what passes for real life in our dark, neo-Barbarian Age.