Halloween is just two weeks away and I can barely believe it's that time of year again, when one holiday will follow relentlessly on the heels of the other until we pop the spumante at the chimes of midnight on December 31 and ring in another year in this journey we call life. But for now, Halloween looms and it is time for me to take out the few knick-knacks with which we tentatively decorate the house during this season. Despite the fact that my husband is American, Halloween is a low-key affair in our house. We take the Mischief Maker trick or treating - but strictly to family only. Halloween is not a traditional feast in Malta but, during the past ten years or so, it is increasingly becoming part of the local calendar. Whether that is good or bad I cannot say. For the time being, most people still celebrate the traditional feasts of All Saints and All Souls, that fall on November 1st and 2nd respectively, but I have a feeling that this will change in the not too distant future. The world is what it is. Change is constant, not matter how much we may resist it.
But there are other ways, apart from decorating the house and trick or treating, that can help conjure up that spooky Halloween mood. And I find that one of the best ways to do it, if you are so inclined, is to plop down in a comfy armchair with a mug of hot chocolate, a plate of Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, the obligatory candle ( I love Yankee Candle's Cinnamon Stick and Pumpkin Pie at this time of year) and, of course, a spooky book. I am aware that there is a never-ending list of books in the horror genre and what may scare the living daylights out of me may leave you unfazed, but I thought it would still be fun to share the books that have given me many a sleepless night. So here they are, in no particular order, the books that should guarantee a spooky Halloween to all those that choose to read them.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
This has to be the quintessential horror book of all time and, while I am sure that it needs no introduction, let me just say that Dracula is not one of these affable vampires that seem to be all the rage these days. Count Dracula is a malevolent, evil vampire. His impulses and desires are so horrifying that I could not help but feel appalled at his very existence - although he only ever existed on the pages of the book. But Stoker's imagery is so masterful that I could almost feel the most famous vampire of them all breathing down my neck.
“I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.”
A Portrait of Barbara by Robin Squire
Charlotte, a young bride, is abducted on her wedding night by a madman and taken to a derelict house in a desolate, moorland wilderness. Here she is kept prisoner, with a decaying corpse for companion, and a portrait of a lady called Barbara. But who is Barbara and what plans does she have for Charlotte? This book is quite horrifying and the climax is truly something out of the worst possible nightmare. A Portrait of Barbara is definitely not a tale for the faint-hearted.
The Ghosts of Malta by Joseph Attard
This book is a compilation of ghost stories that are part of Maltese folklore. I had heard quite a few of the stories before actually reading the book but that didn't make it any less scary to read - Mmybe it's because, give or take a couple of miles, most of the haunted places mentioned in the book are not more than 20 miles from my house. So that made it so much more personal, which may explain the number of sleepless nights that I went through while I was reading it. It's my fault of course, because in spite of my skepticism, my imagination ran away with me and kept creating apparitions behind every closed door even though I kept telling myself not to be so silly and superstitious.
Ghosts and Haunting by Dennis Bardens
This book is also a collection of short stories - except that this time it is about the ghosts of the British Isles. There is one particular story in this book, involving a black skull, that I thought was particularly scary and is imprinted in my brain to this day - which does not mean that the rest of the stories were less spooky.
Misery by Stephen King
After a traffic accident, writer Paul Sheldon is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a nurse who describes herself as his number one fan. There's nothing wrong with that except that Annie is very angry with Paul Sheldon because he has killed off her favourite character: Misery Chastain and, by hook or by crook, Annie is determined that Paul will revive Misery. This book is a reminder that horror stories do not have to be of the spirit kind. Misery is a study in psychological horror, the sort of horror that human beings can inflict on each other without the need to resort to vampires and grinning skulls.
“I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.”
So what do you think? Is your curiosity piqued? If you haven't already, would you read any of these books? Or do you prefer something less horrifying for your entertainment?
To be honest, horror is probably my least favourite genre but, every now and then, a good, spooky book is the best thing to get my heart racing. On second thoughts, maybe I should consider taking up jogging.