Halloween has descended upon us once again like the blackness beyond our world’s shores reaching high tide. It seeps into our bones and infects our grim little imaginations. Zombies and maniacs and ghosts and aliens and demons. Clowns, perhaps. There are more flavors of horror stories than your nerves can handle, and part of the fun of the season is devouring one while salivating each morsel. Or two. Or ten.
There are so many classic authors to choose from: Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, and so on. You’re sure to find a story from one of these authors that hits the spot for you. Running through their bibliographies is like sorting through a treasure chest, so make sure you do. Most of their works are well-known, but I wanted to offer a look at a less-known but just as well-crafted and exciting title: Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge.
Childhood is wrapped up deeply in the DNA of Halloween. Setting up scary decorations, assembling a frightening or hilarious costume, creeping about from house to house, running and careening about the streets, collecting and consuming a myriad of different treats. But in Dark Harvest, a dark spin is put on that childhood exuberance as on Halloween night all the male adolescents in a small town set about the streets on a vicious hunt for a pumpkin-headed monster. Throughout this hunt, called the Run, there will be death, blood, revelations, heartache, growth, and a potential prize at the end of it all for the winner.
The story’s main character Pete, one of the kids participating in the Run, is struggling with his deadbeat father, yearnings of escaping a small town, and a sinister town cop. But the narration jumps around to key members in the night’s events: such as the cop, insidious town elders, other kids participating in the Run, and the pumpkin-headed monster himself called the October Boy.
Despite how much we wish we could have held onto those joyous moments of childhood, children have to become adults eventually–an often bittersweet process. It can happen both gradually and all at once. Partridge plays with that transition to exciting and dramatic effect, and as you can probably tell this small town is not going to make it easy. Things are going to be awfully tough for Pete and the other kids. It’s a shame loss of one’s innocence is associated with becoming an adult, but it’s interesting to see how Pete and others struggle with just that in this violent and grim Halloween night.
Partridge also utilizes a very engaging narrator, one that addresses the reader often in ways that will make you grin.
So that’s Mitch’s game. You remember how it feels, don’t you? All that desire scorching you straight through. Feeling like you’re penned up in a smalltown cage, jailed by cornstalk bars. Knowing, just knowing, that you’ll be stuck in that quiet little town forever if you don’t take a chance.
So you know what it’s like to want to fly down that road and see what lies beyond it…to want that so bad, you’ll do just about anything to make it happen.
This novel reads quickly, keeps your attention, and keeps you turning the page. The language is a pleasure to read. Partridge employs great metaphors such as: “Seen in the bright light of an autumn afternoon, the brick church is the color of faded roses, but by moonlight those bricks are as ugly as old scars.” How awesome is that. The characters are compelling and likeable, and I found myself just wishing this book was longer so that their characters could be explored a bit more.
This is not just a fantastic Halloween read, but a very well-written and good story to read anytime of the year. Go ahead and creep out into the shadowy streets, passing by the other monsters and ghouls and witches searching for intoxicating treats. Run wild, laughing and hollering. Carve a pumpkin, construct a costume, play a trick on your friends, jump in a pile of red and orange golden leaves, crinkling and cracking them in your breathless leap, adventure out into the fog-shrouded cemetery hills, laugh until your stomach aches, and add Dark Harvest to your collection of Halloween treats.