A scary story for Halloween with creepy illustrations. The October Game by Ray Bradbury. It’s about a traditional Halloween game, played in the dark, that has a terrifying ending.
The October Game by Ray Bradbury
He put the gun back into the bureau drawer and shut the drawer.
No, not that way.Â Louise wouldn’t suffer. It was very important thatÂ thisÂ thingÂ have,Â Â aboveÂ allÂ duration.Â Duration through imagination. How to prolong the suffering? How, first of all, to bring it about? Well.
The man standing before the bedroom mirror carefully fitted his cuff-links together. He paused long enough to hear the children run by swiftly on the street below, outside this warm two-story house, like so many gray mice the children, like so many leaves.
By the sound of the children you knew the calendar day. By their screams you knew what evening it was. You knew it was very late in the year.Â October. The last day of October, with white bone masks and cut pumpkins and the smell of dropped candle wax.
Things hadn’t been right for some time. October didn’t help
any.Â If anything it made things worse. He adjusted his black bow tie.
If this were spring, he nodded slowly, quietly, emotionlessly, at his
image in the mirror, then there might be a chance. But tonight all the
worldÂ wasÂ burning down into ruin. There was no green spring, none of
the freshness, none of the promise.
There was a soft running in the hall. “That’s Marion”, he told himself.Â “My’little one”. All eight quiet years of her. Never a word. JustÂ herÂ luminousÂ grayÂ eyesÂ andÂ herÂ wondering little mouth. His daughterÂ hadÂ beenÂ inÂ and out all evening, trying on various masks, askingÂ himÂ whichÂ wasÂ most terrifying, most horrible. They had both finallyÂ decidedÂ onÂ the skeleton mask. It was ‘just awful!’ It would ‘scare the beans’ from people!
Again he caught the long look of thought and deliberation he gave
himself in the mirror. He had never liked October. Ever since he first
layÂ in the autumn leaves before his grandmother’s house many years ago
andÂ heardÂ theÂ windÂ andÂ sway the empty trees. It has made him cry,
withoutÂ aÂ reason. And a little of that sadness returned each year to
him.Â It always went away with spring. But, it was different tonight.
There was a feeling of autumn coming to last a million years. There
would be no spring.
He had been crying quietly all evening. It did not show, not a
vestigeÂ ofÂ it,Â onÂ hisÂ face.Â It was all hidden somewhere and it
The rich syrupy smell of sweets filled the bustling house. Louise
hadÂ laidÂ out apples in new skins of toffee; there were vast bowls of
punchÂ fresh-mixed,Â stringedÂ applesÂ inÂ eachÂ door, scooped, vented
pumpkins peering triangularly from each cold window. There was a water
tubÂ inÂ the center of the living room, waiting, with a sack of apples
nearby,Â forÂ dunkingÂ to begin. All that was needed was the catalyst,
theÂ impouringÂ of children, to start the apples bobbing, the stringed
applesÂ to penduluming in the crowded doors, the sweets to vanish, the
halls to echo with fright or delight, it was all the same.
Now, the house was silent with preparation. And just a little more
Louise had managed to be in every other room save the room he was
inÂ today.Â It was her very fine way of intimating, Oh look Mich, see
howÂ busyÂ I am! So busy that when you walk into a room I’m in, there’s
alwaysÂ somethingÂ IÂ needÂ to do in another room! Just see how I dash
For a while he had played a little game with her, a nasty childish
game.Â When she was in the kitchen then he came to the kitchen
saying,Â ‘IÂ needÂ aÂ glassÂ ofÂ water.’Â After a moment, he standing,
drinkingÂ water,Â sheÂ likeÂ aÂ crystalÂ witchÂ overÂ the caramel brew
bubbling like a prehistoric mudpot on the stove, she said, ‘Oh, I must
lightÂ theÂ pumpkins!’Â andÂ she rushed to the living room to make the
pumpkinsÂ smileÂ withÂ light.Â He came after, smiling, ‘I must get my
pipe.’Â ‘Oh, the cider!’Â she had cried, running to the dining room.
‘I’ll check the cider,’ he had said. But when he tried following she
ran to the bathroom and locked the door.
He stood outside the bathroom door, laughing strangely and
senselessly,Â hisÂ pipe gone cold in his mouth, and then, tired of the
game,Â butÂ stubborn,Â he waited another five minutes. There was not a
soundÂ fromÂ theÂ bath.Â And lest she enjoy in any way knowing that he
waitedÂ outside,Â irritated,Â heÂ suddenlyÂ jerkedÂ aboutÂ andÂ walked
upstairs, whistling merrily.
AtÂ theÂ topÂ of the stairs he had waited. Finally he had heard the
bathroomÂ doorÂ unlatch and she had come out and life below-stairs and
resumed,Â asÂ life in a jungle must resume once a terror has passed on
away and the antelope return to their spring.
Now, as he finished his bow-tie and put his dark coat there was a
mouse-rustleÂ inÂ the hall. Marion appeared in the door, all skeletons
in her disguise.
‘How do I look, Papa?’
From under the mask, blonde hair showed. From the skull sockets
smallÂ blueÂ eyes smiled. He sighed. Marion and Louise, the two silent
denouncersÂ ofÂ hisÂ virility,Â his dark power. What alchemy had there
beenÂ in Louise that took the dark of a dark man and bleached the dark
brown eyes and black hair and washed and bleached the ingrown baby all
duringÂ theÂ periodÂ beforeÂ birthÂ untilÂ the child was born, Marion,
blonde,Â blue-eyed,Â ruddy-cheeked? Sometimes he suspected that Louise
hadÂ conceived the child as an idea, completely asexual, an immaculate
conceptionÂ of contemptuous mind and cell. As a firm rebuke to him she
had produced a child in her own image, and, to top it, she had somehow
fixedÂ theÂ doctorÂ soÂ he shook his head and said, ‘Sorry, Mr. Wilder,
your wife will never have another child. This is the last one.’
‘And I wanted a boy,’ Mich had said eight years ago.
He almost bent to take hold of Marion now, in her skull mask. He
felt an inexplicable rush of pity for her, because she had never had a
father’sÂ love,Â only the crushing, holding love of a loveless mother.
But most of all he pitied himself, that somehow he had not made the
mostÂ ofÂ a bad birth, enjoyed his daughter for herself, regardless of
her not being dark and a son and like himself. Somewhere he had missed
out.Â Other things being equal, he would have loved the child. But
Louise hadn’t wanted a child, anyway, in the first place. She had been
frightenedÂ ofÂ the idea of birth. He had forced the child on her, and
fromÂ thatÂ night,Â allÂ through the year until the agony of the birth
itself,Â LouiseÂ hadÂ livedÂ inÂ anotherÂ partÂ ofÂ the house. She had
expectedÂ toÂ dieÂ withÂ theÂ forcedÂ child. It had been very easy for
Louise to hate this husband who so wanted a son that he gave his only
wife over to the mortuary.
ButÂ – Louise had lived. And in triumph! Her eyes, the day he came
toÂ theÂ hospital, were cold. I’m alive they said. And I have a blonde
daughter!Â Just look!Â And when he had put out a hand to touch, the
motherÂ had turned away to conspire with her new pink daughter-child –
awayÂ fromÂ that dark forcing murderer. It had all been so beautifully
ironic. His selfishness deserved it.
But now it was October again. There had been other Octobers and
when he thought of the long winter he had been filled with horror year
afterÂ yearÂ to think of the endless months mortared into the house by
anÂ insaneÂ fallÂ ofÂ snow, trapped with a woman and child, neither of
whomÂ lovedÂ him,Â for months on end. During the eight years there had
beenÂ respites.Â In spring and summer you got out, walked, picnicked;
theseÂ wereÂ desperateÂ solutionsÂ to the desperate problem of a hated
But, in winter, the hikes and picnics and escapes fell away with
leaves.Â Life, like a tree, stood empty, the fruit picked, the sap run
toÂ earth.Â Yes, you invited people in, but people were hard to get in
winterÂ with blizzards and all. Once he had been clever enough to save
for a Florida trip. They had gone south. He had walked in the open.
But now, the eighth winter coming, he knew things were finally at
anÂ end.Â He simply could not wear this one through. There was an acid
walledÂ offÂ in him that slowly had eaten through tissue and bone over
theÂ years, and now, tonight, it would reach the wild explosive in him
and all would be over!
There was a mad ringing of the bell below. In the hall, Louise went
toÂ see. Marion, without a word, ran down to greet the first arrivals.
There were shouts and hilarity.
He walked to the top of the stairs. Louise was below, taking cloaks.Â She was tall and slender and blonde to the point of whiteness, laughing down upon the new children.Â He hesitated. What was all this? The years? The boredom of living? Where had it gone wrong? Certainly not with the birth of the child alone.Â But it had been a symbol of all their tensions, he imagined. His jealousies and his business failures and all the rotten rest of
it.Â Why didn’t he just turn, pack a suitcase, and leave? No. Not withoutÂ hurtingÂ Louise as much as she had hurt him. It was simple as that.Â Divorce wouldn’t hurt her at all. It would simply be an end to numbÂ indecision. If he thought divorce would give her pleasure in any wayÂ heÂ wouldÂ stayÂ marriedÂ the rest of his life to her, for damned spite.Â No, he must hurt her. Figure some way, perhaps, to take Marion away from her, legally. Yes. That was it. That would hurt most of all. To take Marion.
‘Hello down there!’ He descended the stairs beaming.
Louise didn’t look up.
‘Hi, Mr. Wilder!’
The children shouted, waved, as he came down.
By ten o’clock the doorbell had stopped ringing, the apples were
bittenÂ fromÂ stringedÂ doors,Â the pink faces were wiped dry from the
appleÂ bobbling,Â napkinsÂ were smeared with toffee and punch, and he,
theÂ husband,Â withÂ pleasantÂ efficiencyÂ had taken over. He took the
partyÂ right out of Louise’s hands. He ran about talking to the twenty
childrenÂ andÂ the twelve parents who had come and were happy with the
specialÂ spiked cider he had fixed them. He supervised pin the tail on
theÂ donkey,Â spinÂ the bottle, musical chairs, and all the rest, amid
fits of shouting laughter. Then, in the triangular-eyed pumpkin shine,
allÂ houseÂ lights out, he cried, ‘Hush! Follow me!’ tiptoeing towards
The parents, on the outer periphery of the costumed riot, commented
toÂ eachÂ other,Â nodding at the clever husband, speaking to the lucky
wife. How well he got on with children, they said.
Â Â The children crowded after the husband, squealing.
Â Â ‘The cellar!’ he cried. ‘The tomb of the witch!’
Â Â More squealing.Â He made a mock shiver. ‘Abandon hope all ye who
Â Â The parents chuckled.
One by one the children slid down a slide which Mich had fixed up
fromÂ lengthsÂ ofÂ table-section,Â into the dark cellar. He hissed and
shouted ghastly utterances after them. A wonderful wailing filled dark
pumpkin-lighted house. Everybody talked at once. Everybody but Marion.
She had gone through all the party with a minimum of sound or talk; it
wasÂ allÂ inside her, all the excitement and joy. What a little troll,
heÂ thought.Â With a shut mouth and shiny eyes she had watched her own
party, like so many serpentines thrown before her.
Â Â Now, the parents. With laughing reluctance they slid down the short
incline,Â uproarious,Â while little Marion stood by, always wanting to
see it all, to be last. Louise went down without help. He moved to aid
her, but she was gone even before he bent.
Â Â The upper house was empty and silent in the candle-shine. Marion
stood by the slide. ‘Here we go,’ he said, and picked her up.
Â Â They sat in a vast circle in the cellar. Warmth came from the
distantÂ bulkÂ ofÂ theÂ furnace. The chairs stood in a long line along
eachÂ wall,Â twentyÂ squealingÂ children,Â twelveÂ rustling relatives,
alternatively spaced, with Louise down at the far end, Mich up at this
end,Â near the stairs. He peered but saw nothing. They had all grouped
toÂ theirÂ chairs,Â catch-as-you-canÂ inÂ theÂ blackness.Â The entire
Â programÂ fromÂ hereÂ onÂ wasÂ toÂ beÂ enactedÂ in the dark, he as Mr.
Interlocutor.Â There was a child scampering, a smell of damp cement,
and the sound of the wind out in the October stars.
Â Â ‘Now!’ cried the husband in the dark cellar. ‘Quiet!’
Â Â Everybody settled.
TheÂ room was black black. Not a light, not a shine, not a glint of
Â Â A scraping of crockery, a metal rattle.
Â Â ‘The witch is dead,’ intoned the husband.
Â Â ‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,’ said the children.
Â Â ‘The witch is dead, she has been killed, and here is the knife she
was killed with.’ He handed over the knife. It was passed from hand to
hand,Â downÂ and around the circle, with chuckles and little odd cries
and comments from the adults.
‘The witch is dead, and this is her head,’ whispered the husband,
and handed an item to the nearest person.
‘Oh, I know how this game is played,’ some child cried, happily, in
theÂ dark. ‘He gets some old chicken innards from the icebox and hands themÂ aroundÂ andÂ says,Â “These are her innards!” And he makes a clay headÂ andÂ passes it for her head, and passes a soup bone for her arm. And he takes a marble and says, “This is her eye!” And he takes some cornÂ andÂ says,Â “ThisÂ isÂ herÂ teeth!”Â And he takes a sack of plum puddingÂ andÂ givesÂ that and says, “This is her stomach!” I know how this is played!’
‘Hush, you’ll spoil everything,’ some girl said.
‘The witch came to harm, and this is her arm,’ said Mich.
Â Â ‘Eeeeeeeeeeee!’
Â Â The items were passed and passed, like hot potatoes, around the
cirle.Â Some children screamed, wouldn’t touch them. Some ran from
theirÂ chairsÂ toÂ standÂ in the center of the cellar until the grisly
items had passed.
‘Aw, it’s only chicken insides,’ scoffed a boy. ‘Come back, Helen!’
Shot from hand to hand, with small scream after scream, the items
went down, down, to be followed by another and another.
‘The witch cut apart, and this is her heart,’ said the husband.
Six or seven items moving at once through the laughing, trembling
Â Â Louise spoke up. ‘Marion, don’t be afraid; it’s only play.”
Â Â Marion didn’t say anything.
Â Â ‘Marion?, asked Louise. ‘Are you afraid?’
Â Â Marion didn’t speak.
Â Â ‘She’s all right,’ said the husband. ‘She’s not afraid.’
Â Â On and on the passing, the screams, the hilarity.
Â Â The autumn wind sighed about the house. And he, the husband stood
atÂ theÂ headÂ of the dark cellar, intoning the words, handing out the
Â Â ‘Marion?’ asked Louise again, from far across the cellar.
Â Â Everybody was talking.
Â Â ‘Marion?’ called Louise.
Â Â Everybody quieted.
Â Â ‘Marion, answer me, are you afraid?’
Marion didn’t answer. The husband stood there, at the bottom of the cellar steps.
Louise called ‘Marion, are you there?’
No answer. The room was silent.
Â Â ‘Where’s Marion?’ called Louise.
Â Â ‘She was here’, said a boy.
Â Â ‘Maybe she’s upstairs.’
Â Â ‘Marion!’
Â Â No answer. It was quiet.
Â Â Louise cried out, ‘Marion, Marion!’
Â Â ‘Turn on the lights,’ said one of the adults.
Â Â The items stopped passing.Â The children and adults sat with the
witch’s items in their hands.
Â Â ‘No.’ Louise gasped. There was a scraping of her chair, wildly, in
the dark. ‘No. Don’t turn on the lights, oh, God, God, God, don’t turn
them on, please, don’t turn on the lights, don’t! .Louise was shrieking
now. The entire cellar froze with the scream.
Everyone sat in the dark cellar, suspended in the suddenly frozen
taskÂ ofÂ this October game; the wind blew outside, banging the house,
the smell of pumpkins and apples filled the room with the smell of the
objectsÂ inÂ theirÂ fingers while one boy cried, ‘I’ll go upstairs and
look!’Â andÂ heÂ ran upstairs hopefully and out around the house, four
timesÂ aroundÂ theÂ house, calling, ‘Marion, Marion, Marion!’ over and
overÂ andÂ atÂ lastÂ comingÂ slowlyÂ downÂ the stairs into the waiting
breathing cellar and saying to the darkness, ‘I can’t find her.’
Then …… some idiot turned on the lights.