Table of Contents

To make it easier to find all this in the future (and just in case you missed something), here’s a list of all the October Stories posts.

If I promise that this will be the last Hallowe’en post until next September*, will you go back and read some of the entries you might have missed in the final days of the month? And maybe even comment?

*Keeping in mind, of course, that many of my posts year-round are vaguely Hallowe’enish, and that isn’t going to change.

October Stories: Departure

Carefully wiping clean the tools of his trade, the improbably tall man in the cream linen suit considered his sojourn in Miami. It had been hard work, much more difficult than he had anticipated. These people proved to be so indifferent to the fates of those around them that it took extraordinary measures to generate any significant amount of fear at all.

He glanced through the kitchen window to the pool, silver and black and indigo, and at the neighbor’s home beyond it. Most people attributed his work to a variety of sources; this year one detective had seen the signature he had left behind at each workplace. She had been fearless, and for that he credited her. She seemed to grasp something of his nature, what he was, his methods, his purpose, and yet she still continued her pursuit. When eventually trapped, her tendons sliced to prevent her escape, she had spat at him.

You won’t get what you want from me, she snarled. I will not fear you.

A slight smile flickered as he reflected on her crushed expression as he quietly explained his complete indifference to her fear. His interest was the terror her end would distill in her associates, in those who looked up to her. Her death was simply raw material.

She remained defiant for quite a while. Of course, once his work was complete he had arranged her features into a more appropriate expression of horror.

He drew a thick cigar from a silver case as he walked though the still, suburban house to the front door. He did not stop to review his handiwork as he passed, but he did pause a moment at one bedroom doorway. As he looked inside the moon-cast shadow of a Disney mobile slowly crossed his no-longer-pale face. Extraordinary measures, indeed, he thought. But hardly the first time.

Even though this season had been less productive than he wished, he enjoyed his visit to Miami. He had become rather fond of the rich cigars, for one, and even though he did not swim, he did enjoy the ocean. Its primal nature suited him.

However, now he must return to the cooler climates of the north, far from the sea. After a glance at the mirror beside the front door he changed his linen suit for black wool, an indistinctly old-fashioned cut. His deeply tanned skin paled, and his eyes lightened from brown to grey. But as his hand touched the doorknob he hesitated, and looked in the mirror again. Why not? he thought. I’ve just spent a month in Miami.

As he stooped to enter the waiting limousine, he looked at the reflection of his freshly sun-bleached hair in the tinted glass, and smiled. His driver shuddered.

October Stories: Renewal

Previously, on Hidden City…

10/31/1999: scary stuff

So we’ve registered a domain name. It would be the proper thing, I imagine, to talk a bit about how we labored for months, agonizing over the decision to use hiddencity.net as our first formal site. But those would be more than just lies, they would be damnable lies. Truth is, we waited too damned long, and all the good, easy names are taken by squatters. HC isn’t too bad, though, and I suspect it’ll grow on me.

For the curious, here’s how we arrived at the name. We wanted to use something fictional, and literary. We also want to cover a lot of territory here, so a city metaphor seemed appropriate. Off the shelf comes our battered copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, to provide a little inspiration. Sadly, while it was inspiring (and a great way to kill a few hours), anything in that temperate zone between “literary but obscure” and “recognizable but banal” was already registered. Secret City turned out to be a porno site, so it was Roget’s to the rescue. A legend is born…

I’m really rather astounded that Hidden City has survived so long. Death and divorce, heartbreak and hospitals, love and loss and magic and marvels and all the other components of our complex lives — it’s all been a part of the City. I could no more stop writing than stop breathing, and I consider myself fortunate to have found a channel to bring me such a marvelous audience. Unfortunately, the self-imposed obligation to keep writing — to put something out there as often as possible for those of you generous enough to visit — well, it’s been an emotional drain sometimes. There have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to hang it up, shut down the site and move on to a more normal life, just working and watching television and drinking, to finally give up on this muse-spawned madness.

And you know, seven years is a long time, almost forever in Internet years. Perhaps this is the right moment to start driving away, watching Hidden City recede in my rear-view mirror.

But no. I would be fooling myself to think letting go of the site would change anything. The same restless curiosity and relentless creative urge that make a shambles of my attempts at a normal life won’t evaporate with a final sign-off here. At best I would get a brief reprieve from my sense of duty, but it wouldn’t take long for my in-born and unquenchable story-telling drive to start keeping me up nights, searching for a way to spin yarns for the world.

So I’m staying put. Whatever industrial-strength weirdness may come a-calling, where ever my nocturnal wanderings may take me, you’ll be able to find me here, in Hidden City.

Thank you for being a part of it.

October Stories: Masquerade

Last night I left the house and went to see Rocky Horror at the Colony on Lincoln Road. This is a big deal for me, as I have been struggling with some wholly irrational fears for quite a while, and leaving my home and possessions unattended on Hallowe’en was extraordinarily difficult. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends — you know who you are — for providing me with the incentive and support I needed to enable me to turn the key and walk away for a few hours.

As far as RHPS goes, here are three observations. First, I was astounded to realize that it has been at least twenty or twenty-five years since I have seen it, and yet I could still recite all the dialogue by heart. Second, it really is a funny movie, even without the audience participation, but it is even funnier when the audience is primarily drag queens. Third, there were people in attendance who were still peeing in their Pampers the last time I saw the movie. (Okay, this being Hallowe’en on South Beach, some were probably peeing in their Pampers last night, too.)

Once the film ended we decided to go for a stroll on Lincoln and watch the freak show. Unfortunately happy strolling was not an option; as we left the theater we were swept along on a time of flamboyant sexual expression. There were more people than I can possibly make you understand, even with photographic evidence, and they were all crowded together in the narrow space between the storefronts and the restaurant tables. Add the 80° heat, and it was indeed a Hallowe’en nightmare.

But that is definitely nit-picking. The costumes were outrageous, if occasionally redundant. (There were many, many, many couples featuring an over-inflated woman in stripper-cop attire and a man in striped pajamas and handcuffs, for example.) There was a sense of camaraderie among the revelers, and a refreshing openness and sense of humor overall that made it a lot of fun for me. I did note one man and his young son, though, who looked as though they had just fallen off the turnip truck; the look of amazement in the boy’s eyes and the father’s obvious terror at seeing such things paraded openly on the street spoke volumes. I admit that I could have been perfectly happy without seeing the Mankini, though.

October Stories: Revisited Fear

Today I watched the 1959 version of The House on Haunted Hill. When I was a child this film was shown at my middle school, and something about it scared the hell out of me. Well, okay, I know exactly what it was. There is a scene where a woman opens her closet, only to find a human head hanging by its hair from the clothes rod. It freaked me right out, and it took me years to be able to open my closet door at night, even with the lights on.

I picked up the DVD on a budget rack somewhere for a couple of bucks, as part of a Vincent Price double feature with The Last Man on Earth. I was not expecting it to scare me, and for a change I was correct. (Full disclosure, however, requires me to tell you that I did watch it during the day, just in case.) The movie is not exactly frightening, by today’s standards.

However, it is actually pretty good, in a B-movie way. Vincent Price chews the scenery like a dog worrying a bone, yet gracefully walks the tightrope between dry humor and self-parody. The plot is surprisingly intricate for a cheap movie, and the dialogue is witty, if often delivered rather stiffly by the lackluster supporting cast. I admit, I was a bit surprised at how well I was entertained by this movie. Since you can probably pick up the DVD at Walgreens for a dollar, you can’t go wrong.

Meanwhile, I will try to convince myself that the times were different then, and that it wouldn’t really take a loser of epic proportions to be scared of that obviously fake paper maché head hanging in the closet.

October Stories: Grey Wisdom

I looked across the dark lawn from my porch at the silvery-green eyes peering from under my car.

“You may as well come out, I can see you. Why are you staring at me?”

Why are you outside during our time? The sleek grey cat stretched as he strolled out of the shadows. You should be sleeping.

He doesn’t sleep much these days, the fatter of the pair replied as she waddled out. The one he calls Goblin told me.

“Is that any of your business? And why are you talking to my cats, anyway?” It irritates me that these nameless and nosy outsiders are prying into my life.

We inquire after you because it is in our interest. You leave food out for us, and then we don’t have to chase down our own prey. We like that. But why aren’t you sleeping?

“It’s October, and that’s a difficult month for me.”

Why? The larger shadow crouched, then pounced on something small.

“October is one of the worst months of the year for my office.” The first cat twisted to groom himself. “It’s also the anniversary of a lot of unpleasantness: my house was burglarized twice in October, I got divorced in October, Hurricane Wilma was in October…”

Hallowe’en is in October, too.

“True, but these days the holiday only stresses me out. I set my expectations too high, the world’s attitude toward the celebration has changed so much that it has lost most of its wonder for me. I end up sad.”

Your people become sad during your holidays. We know this from living with single people.

The fatter cat lifted her face from whatever she’d been gnawing. This is your holiday and you cannot enjoy it. Most do not even celebrate, so you cannot share your anger. This is why you cannot sleep.

“So then tell me, O wise cats, how I can solve this situation. How can I regain some of the spirit of the holiday and bring joy back into my life?”

Their eyes vanished into blackness as they turned away from me.

“That’s it? No answers? Just wander into the shadows and leave?”

Twin blurs leapt through the streetlight’s circle into the shrubbery and were gone. I picked up my glass and struggled to my feet. Four o’clock, I thought, as I entered the house.

Badfoot was waiting by the door. “Hey, tell me something. In August I had a conversation with Greywhite on the porch and he didn’t reply in such a direct fashion. Why’s that?”

As I walked toward the bedroom, I heard him say: It’s October now.

October Stories: Arrival

The improbably tall man stood in front of the glass wall, his ivory complexion catching the moonlight in the shadows of the lightless office. He was as motionless as marble, staring out into the night, seemingly lost in thought.

With a nearly imperceptible sigh he turned from the window and stepped back into the shadows of the office. He paused to observe the scene: blue-tinged light spilling across a well-appointed office, bookcases and credenza along the walls, massive desk facing the door, a large leather chair overturned in a struggle. Stepping carefully over the ruined areas of the carpet, he moved to the chair and bent from the waist to right it. Untidiness disturbed him, unless it served his purpose, and he had no need of it now. With age comes conservatism, or so he’d heard, and in his case it was certainly true. In his youth he’d been more flexible, his work more improvised and spontaneous, almost — but never quite — free-form. Somewhere he’d become complacent, though; he’d been following the same patterns for his entire adult career, and his improvisational youth was long past.

He crouched behind the desk and picked up the chair’s former occupant, arranging him in the seat as best he could. Surveying his efforts, he frowned. The fat and dark-suited figure slumped in the burgundy leather chair had his eyes closed. He knew, of course, that the man had died of a heart attack before he had even begun his work, but he almost failed to note that the eyes were closed. That was not acceptable, not at all.

He gently slid up the eyelids, his long fingers deftly arranging cooling muscle and skin into an aspect of stark terror. Perhaps the years of soft living had provided the man with a shortcut out of his life, but there was no reason for it to be so obvious to anyone else. The tale, pale man had standards to uphold.

When he was satisfied with the tableau the police would find, he wiped his bone-handled razor carefully on his handkerchief and slipped it into his pants pocket, then deliberately placed the cloth under the chair. As an afterthought he opened the humidor on the desk and removed several cigars. He sniffed them as if a connoisseur — though he had never before held a cigar — and knew instinctively that they were Cuban-made. Nodding to himself he slipped them in the vest pocket of his jacket. It seemed important, somehow.

He looked through the few dry papers on the blotter, but nothing felt significant, so he inspected the desk. A swift and strong pull opened the single locked drawer; he reached in, withdrew some folders, and rolled and pocketed them.

As he prepared to leave the office he allowed himself another moment in front of the window. Far below he could see the expensive cars and expensive people responsible for this neighborhood’s reputation; in the glass he saw his own pale skin and heavy black coat, and thought of his own reputation, earned long ago.

He started to turn from the window, then caught himself and turned back. Studying his reflection, he concentrated for a moment, then rewrote his heavy black clothing into a cream-colored linen suit. As he did so, his alabaster skin darkened to olive, and his thin white hair turned thick and black.

He smiled at his handiwork, taking a cigar from his pocket and trimming it expertly. As he locked the door behind him, he thought, this is my first trip to Miami. Perhaps it’s time for a change.