Saturday, October 03, 2009

Halloween beyond Elm Street

When I first came to live in the desert, I couldn't find
the seasons. I grew deeply depressed. As any human being, I needed the changes, the sense of reset and renewal. The changes were there, but I had to let go of my expectations and see them as they are. Seasons are very different in the desert. Not so much the fall of amber and russet leaves. It's more subtle, visually, so I didn't see the change.
I do now. It's in the air, and the birds. It's in the habits of the animals.

What affects me most powerfully is a change in the light. As an artist, light is something I'm very conscious of. Light determines the color of an object, how close or distant it seems. It can make something beautiful look frightening, or vice versa.

One rarely thinks of the desert as being a good setting for Halloween stories. We tend to want the images we've grown familiar with thanks to traditional stories and mostly, movies and television.
But Halloween stories can happen anywhere.

Let me tell you, the desert can be a very spooky place, especially when October arrives and the light changes.
So I challenge you. Let go of the Elm Streets with deep front porches and leaf strewn sidewalks. Think of a Halloween story that starts somewhere else.
Like a busy street in the heart of a city or a quiet desert house nestled against the mountains.
Let it start with a subtle change in light, a mild uneasiness. Some of the best stories written are set in ordinary places, where ordinary people have to come to grips with finding that the beliefs they held true, aren't.

I'd like to hear what you think about unlikely settings for scary stories.

Halloween Store


MzHartz said...

Oh, I agree! The best scary stories are the ones we can't predict. Halloween in the desert would be awesome!

lisa said...

MzHartz: Right---Halloween that creeps up on you, from somewhere unexpected.

Syd said...

I seem to recall reading at least one very Halloween-ish story set in the a collection called Strange Attraction... :)

But in general, yes: just because a place doesn't have the stereotypical autumnal weather--and why is it we in SoCal still seem to think our autumn ought to be like New England? Or even Bradbury's Greentown, Illinois?--doesn't mean you can't tell a story that will scare the wadding out of you!

Lisa said...

I totally agree - Halloween in the desert sounds emotionally frightening as well - the vast and open expanses could drive a person to madness. The sky can be oppressive. I once wrote a Halloween story set in Point Reyes which is a coastal peninsula. You have to put yourself out there artistically to appropriate a conventional Halloween landscape with all its familiar signposts. Angela Carter does it well in her "The Erl King."

Really_Rather_Not_Nice said...

I actually wrote a story that took place in a KFC-Style Fast food restaurant (It was terrible, and I can't really bring myself to reread it again now, but I had fun). I'm not saying horror stories have never taken place in Fast Food Restaraunts before, but I think some of the most neck-creeping stories I've ever read are ones where the mad or malicious creeps into our monotony, like chocolate creeping into our peanut butter.

Syd said...

Really_Rather_Not_Nice said...

"...where the mad or malicious creeps into our monotony..."

Which, in a sense, is where a great deal of storytelling comes from, isn't it? That one unusual factor impinging on "real life"? Done one way, it's comedy, flip it a different direction and it's tragedy, and another flip gives us the goosebumps.

It's maybe the third autumnal day in LA since the beginning of September, and the breeze is just brisk enough to moan a little around the power lines the edges of the windows. I wonder if I can come up with anything...interesting...

Miss Bliss said...

Thank you so much for mentioning the light. I spend so much time trying to explain to people who are not from here that Autumn happens when the light changes. You have to tune in for it, you have to adjust your senses so that you can notice it along with the drier air quality and the sound of the green parrots screaming their joy at being back home in L.A.

lisa said...

Syd: You got me. Can you believe I forgot writing that story? Now, thinking back on it, the writing happened before I understood the desert's seasons.

Lisa: right. It's the isolation factor, it seems. Though Palm Springs proper is highly landscaped and irrigated (overly so, in my opinion), one doesn't have to drive far to see that we're in the middle of a lot of nothing.

lisa said...

RRNN: I agree wholly. Very pleased to have your unique voice back in the mix. You've been missed!

Syd: I, for one, would love to read anything you come up with.

Miss Bliss: you're welcome. It's good to hear that you see that particular signal too. It's one of those things---once it's there, the awareness never leaves you. In the desert, the light changes fast.

spacedlaw said...

Great prompt, Lisa! There are so many things lurking in a desert...

lisa said...

spacedlaw: That's right, roadrunner. The coyote's after you.

Benton Warren said...

I was born and raised in the desert and have never found it that spooky.
Potentially dangerous. Seasonally oppressive.
But the desert itself has never put me at unease.
But Palm Springs sits at the foot of a large mountain range. And in the hills above the valley, just where the Pine trees start, is a campground in the woods. And there I once sat beneath a tree that hated me.
I could feel the hate coming at me like waves of heat felt when too close to a fire. And I quickly moved away in a panic.
And just like that, everything was normal. So much so I couldn't believe it had just happened. Especially so because I'm not the sort to ever, really panic. And the rational, 'I'm a modern man and don't go in for this sort of nonsense' side of me said "That DIDN'T just happen. You should sit back under that tree just to sort this out then!"
So I did. And once again I felt the overwhelming hate pounding out at me. Building in waves and filling me again with a since of panic and impending danger.
So I got away from that tree and went back in to the campfire and friends and everyone had a good laugh at my story.
But no one else went out to sit beneath that tree.
That was the spookiest thing that I ever experienced.

lisa said...

Bent: One of the coolest comments ever. I know you don't spook easily. Good story, and chilling because it rings so true. Thank you.