The October Country (1955) by Ray Bradbury
...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. The 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... [intro]
Ray Bradbury was just an amazing writer. This collection is excellent with just a few that are too weird or too slight. But his use of language and description is, as always, right on target, reeling the reader in and keeping us on the edge of our seats to see what happens next. ★★★★ for the collection. Synopses of the stories follows.
"The Dwarf": A dark and painful tale about a young woman who only wants to help and the jealous man who turns her good into evil...and apparently can't see what he's done that's so wrong.
"The Next in Line": A young wife becomes very fearful in a town whose cemetery has an unusual method of interring the dead of families who cannot pay for burials in full. An interesting study of her breakdown and her husband's unfeeling response.
"The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse": Poor Mr. Garvey is a terrible bore and never has had much of a social life...until the avant garde crowd decides that boredom is the latest rage. Garvey finds that he loves being the center of attention and is willing to go surreal lengths to stay there.
"Skeleton": Very creepy story of a man who has pains in his bones, convinces himself he is at war with his own skeleton, and is finally driven to consult an unorthodox specialist. The last line of the story is fantastic.
"The Jar": Another story of man looking for attention. A poor farmer buys a (kindof disgusting) "thing" in a jar which becomes the center of nightly discussions among his neighbors. His wife hates the thing and tries to ruin his fun...but he has another surprise up his sleeve.
"The Lake": An emotional piece about first love--a love lost to the cold death-grip of the water and how it all comes rushing back to the young man who will never forget Tally.
"The Emissary": A young invalid has two primary contacts with the outside world--his dog and his teacher. His teacher stops by to play games with him and the dog goes on adventures outside, bringing back the smells of the seasons as well as bringing in people he meets to visit his master. But then his teacher is killed in an accident and Dog disappears. The boy is all alone until one night Dog returns...smelling very strange indeed and bringing with him a very unexpected guest.
"Touched with Fire": Two old insurance men have made it their mission to rescue future murderees from their fate. They have learned to spot the psychological and outward signs...but with one woman their good intentions don't have the effect desired.
"The Small Assassin": A horror story built on postpartum depression before it had even been named as such. A woman becomes convinced that her baby is out to kill her....
"The Crowd": A man has a night-time auto accident and has a feeling that the crowd around him gathered much too fast. He doesn't know why it bothers him so much, but he does a bit of research on accidents in the area and comes to a startling conclusion. Before he can share his findings with authorities he has another accident....
"Jack-in-the-Box" This one is odd. A boy is raised in complete seclusion--seeing only his mother and "Teacher"--after his father is killed by the "beasts" outside (in what the reader presumes was a car accident). He is repeatedly told that if he leaves the World (house) that he will die. No wonder he thinks he's dead at the end of the story....
"The Scythe": a brilliant examination of the ways of death and the power of grim reaper.
"Uncle Einar": More dark fantasy than horror, it tells of Uncle Einar, a man with wings (one wonders if he's a vampire) who loses his night-time flying radar one night in an accident with a high tension power line and finds love. He thinks he'll never fly again until his children show him a way he can fly during the day and not be shot down as a monster.
"The Wind": A world traveler finds that he has braved the elements one too many times when the elements come after him in his own home.
"The Man Upstairs": An interesting and creepy twist on the vampire story and how a young boy with an interest in "innards" manages to defeat the man living upstairs.
"There Was an Old Woman": There was an old woman who didn't believe in death--defied it for years. And when death finally came calling and snatched her body away from her, she determined to get it back.
"The Cistern": A young woman who has lost her love describes the secret world in the sewers under the city...where lovers reunite after death. Her sister scoffs at her...until the young woman leaves the house and doesn't come back.
"Homecoming": Uncle Einar's family (all supernatural beings, but one) gather at Halloween for a Homecoming. Timothy is the lone mortal in the family and he feels his differences very much. All he wants is to be able to be like everyone else--something all children feel at one time or another.
"The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone": A reclusive author's fans track him down to ask him why he went into hiding and gave up writing 25 years ago.