Centered around the most wonderful time of the year (and by that I don't mean Christmas), October Dreams is a collection of 55 short stories, essays, poems, and personal memories of Halloween by some of the genre's most impressive talents. All ranging in style, but not in subject, the stories you'll find within will not only scare you senseless, but at some points will make you laugh or even shake your head in bewilderment.
The idea here is incredible. As a horror fan, I wanted to read this book for the entire month of October but soon found that, even though it sits heavy at 648 pages, it was easy to take down in a matter of days. The story selections are superb, leaving not a single story to dislike. If I were pressed to pick favorites, they would include:
The Black Pumpkin by Dean Koontz, which tells the story of a young boy that meets an old and grizzled pumpkin carver who seems just a little off kilter. His pumpkins feature grotesque and malevolent faces, but that's not even the worst of it. His pumpkins are also black. When offered one of the pumpkins, the boy - Tommy Sutzmann - is quick to decline, but his big brother, Frank, is not. The old man warns Tommy that the pumpkin will change into something other than what it is now, and come nighttime he will find out what.
Ray Bradbury, the KING of all things Halloween, brings us the short story, Heavy Set, which is by all rights a creepy little tale about a relationship between a mother and her seemingly juvenile, yet grown up, son. It's not this story that Bradbury will ultimately chill you with, but his entry in My Favorite Halloween Memory, where he tells us of the incredibly sad loss of a dear friend and his inability to celebrate Halloween since then. Very sad, indeed.
Trumping all of the other stories is the novella length Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub. Straub's lyrical mastery is amplified ten-fold with this one, in which the narrator recounts a very long discussion with a jazz legend he will only identify as "Hat". This story spins so beautifully, and so smoothly, that it's hard to nail down exactly what it is about it that sets it apart. The rich tapestry of visuals that "Hat" weaves while telling the story of his memories of Halloween is so thick that it feels like you're sitting there in the hotel room with him. Of course, "Hat" is telling us about the last time he ever went out for Halloween and when he stopped being a little boy, and believing in little boy things. It's a coming of age story, I guess, but a dark one at that.
Other notable stories include: Boo by Richard Laymon, Gone by Jack Ketchum, The Circle by Lewis Shiner (which is so haunting a beautiful, I was surprised that I had never heard his name before), Masks by Douglas E. Winter, and Lantern Marsh by Poppy Z. Brite.
A very worthwhile read for fans of short horror stories, done by the masters of the genre.