By Dave Beauchene
Ray Bradbury found me through a crack in the floor, looking back on it. I was 11 or 12, and I had a friend who was, in most apparent ways, more intellectually grounded than I was. He got A’s in school, kept things in order, and of course he read books; not all the time, but never the less, as a leisure activity, which I found incredible (I still do, often). I do not, from any age prior to 16, have any notable memory of reading anything, let alone a notable memory of being told about a book. But, I remember my friend telling me about a story in his Ray Bradbury book, The October Country, called “The Wind”.
In the story, a man was calling his friend, late at night, frightened. “Is it the wind?” My friend quoted of the characters. “Yeah… it’s the wind.” The wind was stealing and stalking about the character’s house, in which he was alone. It was running up and down outside walls, seeking windows and doors, getting louder and more intent. The character had been off in another country, Egypt or something, and done something archeological, and now, he was sure: the wind had come after him as result.
The archeological thing was a formality of the narrative to me; what absolutely ran a hook through my imagination was the idea of wind, blowing around the outside of your house, because it wanted you from the inside. I borrowed the book, and I read “The Wind”, and a handful of other stories, and I never gave the thing back. It wasn’t purposeful, as I recall, but the fact that I still have it, among the dozen or so books I now have in total, likely holds correlation with my relaxed sense of duty to return it.
It wasn't an obsessive connection, as these new relationships with art can sometimes be. I did not begin to suddenly devour any Bradbury tale I could discover. Something about it just took, quietly and simply. I liked the length and shape of the stories. And I liked how it was called The October Country, especially. As a boy essentially learning with every month how to give up more and more of his childhood, things like my intuitive, sentimental connection with autumn and Halloween were being hollowed out before my eyes. The world once held them in highest importance, and now, it seemed, only myself; a thin diversion from the importance of life otherwise.
Ray Bradbury … Ray Bradbury gave October a country. He let those waning inklings of, I can think of no better word than magic, sprawl and take over. He put the real life that ever mounded upon itself as I grew, in the background of the rich splendor of the heart. It was only a little whisper, but he was one of the first people to tell me those intuitions of my humanity were important, beautiful, and worth hanging on to – worth filling your life with.
I would pick the book up again, at some point years later, and I believe I was 17 or 18, perhaps 19. I was at my Dad’s house out in rural Oswego, and I began reading, surely not for the first time, “The Lake”, which I would summarize if I thought it could come down to essential elements of plot, but –and I mean no bullshit here – that story is entirely nuances, entirely its every last word, and it’s short enough for that to be reasonable. I read “The Lake”, and on one of the near to last sentences, something happened, surely for the first time ever while reading anything. My eyes took on water, like someone had squeezed a sponge behind them, and then I finished the story and was quiet. Years later I would discover that Bradbury had the transcendent experience of falling to tears just after finishing writing that story, which he’d never done before. It’s a reasonable coincidence (the story is universally sentimental) but I also find this connection pretty cool. How could you not?
I had not sat there captivated and emotionally invested, pouring over it, meaning to evoke anything. But I found something - one, straight shot, to the heart of whatever I was. I’d spent a good couple years thinking Chuck Palahniuk, (Fight Club), was the greatest thing to the known literary world, and nothing like that had ever happened with his stuff. I would very soon be, or had just recently been, hugely immersed in the books of Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), perhaps the greatest literary inspiration of my life, and never once were wet eyes involved. Part of me lived on in October Country, even as I forgot it. Part of me needed to connect with that place again, and it was a part that must not have been there when I was 12 or 13 or 16.
I have, over the past 5 or so years, been compiling my own October Country – my own collection of stories where the potentially supernatural, the wonderfully fearful, glides over and through the truest intuitive sentimentality – where the feelings of October are the subversive truths of lives. I wrote my own version of “The Lake” called “No Further”, which I honestly think is great. I wrote a three part personal answer to The Legend Sleepy Hollow, called “The Old Road” which I have struggled to finish the past two Octobers, but has, I think, a great two thirds going for it. And I wrote my favorite story of all time, a story I would sooner part with favorite songs than be without, “Alice and The House” which … I wish I could fully describe, to anybody. It’s not a towering work of brilliance; it’s the part of me that would slip through my cerebral fingers otherwise, put permanently down in words. It would be good to write an amazing story (maybe it is one; few have read it) but it’s infinitely more special to write precisely the one you need.
My October Country. A small, whispered project, waiting to be finished, inspired by a small, whispered book still waiting to be fully read (there are some stories I just … haven’t read, and I really don’t know why, with what the others have offered). Both of these things, never the less, so important. So massive and essential.
By the time I got into looking into it, Ray Bradbury was in his late 80’s. It’s a perennial dismay, but old age has always saddened and frightened me. I can remember wondering what that amazing dreamer’s day was like (which is a more direct way of wondering what someone’s life is like) at that age, after the regal relaxation of one’s sixties, even seventies, has become a memory. I can remember, many times, thinking that it probably wouldn’t be very long. And you know what I mean. And eventually I read it, on Facebook, from Roger Ebert, and experienced a sensation I still don’t really understand.
For instance, is it worrisome that part of what I experienced was excitement? Rather than a symptom of cruelty, of course, there was this strange sense of a lurking shadow drawn into full light. He’d passed. In this world of things that, you realize as you get into your mid twenties, really are aging and fading permanently away, Bradbury had taken the leap, ahead of most of it. His worlds, his marvelous, magical expressions of himself, now unfettered; freed eternally. This sounds ego-maniacal, but I’m fairly certain it’s not: the world now felt it was mine. Those things he expressed, that I now channeled and expressed, were young again, somehow. The feeling seems to fit so much of what Bradbury himself was about.
I also, a year or two ago, picked up a massive collection of Bradbury stories, which I’m slowly winding through, year to year, and I love it. But my consumption of his work is as much intermittent, or it might be better to say, whimsical, as ever. And so once again, something fairly profound, enters from a fairly tiny opening – this feeling about death – this strange joy. I’ve been a bigger fan of other artists, but I can’t think of anyone who’s given me more for less of my time.