What is the season for frights and horror?
The obvious answer is autumn. Halloween lurks at the end of October, the spooky carnival season.
But it’s easy to see why the autumn would be a natural fit for scares. The nights grow longer and longer, shadows stretch out as the sun sinks into the south. Fogs are frequent visitors in the mornings and evenings. The nip of cold air at noses and fingers remind us that Mother Nature is not always benign.
But if those make autumn a season of scares, why isn’t winter just as scary?
There are plenty of scary stories and movies set amid ice and snow, frostbite and jagged icicles. Personally, I can’t think of anything scarier than the cold, leaching the heat from your body.
But Christmas and New Year’s seem designed to chase away any terrors of the darkest time of the year. We encourage almost frantic levels of joy, real or artificial, in an effort to get us past the winter solstice.
Spring seems a poor fit for scares – unless you live here on the Pacific Coast.
In most of the Northern Hemisphere, spring is seen as a time of renewal and growth and new life.
Here, we do get those things, and there are glorious days when you can feel the warmth of the world washing away the winter blahs.
But for us, it also means rain, and cloudy skies, fog and the occasional storm. Spring can still mean late frosts and sudden floods, damp and low skies that hover just above the tops of the dark and shadow-casting evergreens.
For me, summer is the season best suited to scares.
I know that seems odd, but it probably goes back to my childhood.
When we went camping, my parents would hitch the old tent trailer to the brown ’79 Buick, and we’d head out of town. Maybe not so far – just down to a campground at Crescent Beach or up near Chilliwack. We kids would be allowed to roam around by day, swimming in the ocean or lakes, skipping stones, finding the best sticks for light sabre battles.
At night, though, we read books by flashlight. Since I inclined towards science fiction and fantasy and anything that promised the unusual, I took along more than a few books of scary stories and horror tales.
I remember reading Homecoming, by Ray Bradbury, the creepy-comforting tale of a mortal child in a family of vampires and ghouls gathering for a family reunion. I remember the grim fear of reading It! by Theodore Sturgeon, in which a shambling plant creature lurches out of the swamp, and Slime by Joseph Brennan, the tale of a blob monster from the ocean’s depths.
After the lights were out, it was easy to imagine that unseen horrors were lurking just outside the flimsy canvas walls of the trailer.
Though I knew better, I continued by bad habits as a teenager. In hot summers, I would often pitch my old pup tent or just toss down a tarp and sleeping bag in the back yard. I’d wake up, dew in my hair, a copy of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot tucked under the pillow to keep it dry.
Autumn has its terrors, but it also has its comforts. It’s a time to keep the night at bay with warm drinks and hot soup, with good books (scary or not) read while propped up on the couch. After the lights go out, a thick blanket and some double-glazed windows provide some protection from anything you might imagine waits outside. The dark of autumn isn’t quite so scary as the warm, breezy dark of the summer.