Evil grows in the dark. And, sometimes, Halloween comes to town.
hhorror, as a genre, works in weird ways. There are murderous clowns and gruesome torture to test the mettle of teenagers. Then, there’s the calm, inquiring silence. by Ray Bradbury Something bad is about to happen it is the latter. His poetry stands out, a majestic manor all creaks and cobwebs, timeless and terrifying. It’s a story about growing up and getting old—Something evil it’s a story about living forever.
When Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to town, it comes with a lesson for 13-year-olds Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. The carnival master, Dark, the oldest of all, offers the solution; another man, old but not hopeless, will drag the problem into the light.
I won’t go through the whole plot, but suffice it to say that evil comes to the city and its tools are terror. The shadow shows that arrive overnight and pitch their tents in our own lives may not bring a carousel or a calliope, yet they put on the same tired acts. The people are as they have always been, on the coasts or inland: the same fears, the same regrets and the same dark desires. The creepiest shadow, stalking behind and stretching ahead, is rooted at our very feet.
A suitably dark thought for Halloween or election season, I think.
Participating in politics in 2020 seems to be an exercise in fear, like Dark’s calling in Ray Bardbury Something bad is about to happen.
The problem with shadows, though, is that even when they shiver Dance of Death, the light is never far away. What is regret if not the desire to have done better, to have been better? What is even the smallest ambition but the desire to use what has been given? Jim Nightshade wishes to grow up without growing up. He hates waiting, the middle way of becoming. Will Halloway doesn’t want his childhood to end and Charles simply wants back the time he wasted. The Pandemonium Shadow Show makes promises to everyone.
wWhether we pine for a gilded past or an imagined future, we are vulnerable.
Getting involved in politics in 2020 appears to be an exercise in fear. We fear decline and regression because we love growth and progress. We fear self-denial because we have placed self-respect as the greatest good, a right and a responsibility that short-circuits common life. We cling to the promise of strength out of fear; do we want what we had or do we just want what we want.
It is here, in the in-between space, the space of the no-now, where evil operates. He divides to conquer, dividing the grievances so that the great mess of loves inside longing hearts fight for air. For every love there is a fear.
Inside, it’s just us and everything we’ve ever wanted, whole worlds, but no land to stand on. Alone, with every possibility. Everything there was endlessly reflected in the mirror maze of Cooger & Dark. This fear, this terrible desire to linger but move forward, to find the next prize and the next, only to hold them until they rot, is what evil exploits. This is the move of sin, whispering: « Did God really say? » and winks at whatever is at hand.
At heart, the temptation to build makeshift kingdoms and elect pretending kings is distrust.
INo something evil, the dark carnival uses its curiosities to lure two friends and an over-aged father into the darkness. He blows in the autumn that clings to the summer but it’s falling fast, always too fast, into the cold dark winter. He does it by putting us alone; evil frightens us, and then isolates us.
While it is a strategy with terrible power, ultimately, this isolation is an illusion. The wishes in our heads, the encouraging words and the undeserved affirmation; friends and lovers; the nameless, the reaching desires and bottomless comforts; each one is a potential wrong turn in a maze of mirrors. Illusions to the last, until they are no more.
Jim Nightshade wants a good thing the wrong way. He wants to be strong, provide and protect; he wants to be grown up, Total. But we, like Jim, don’t want the long road or the work of clearing and tending the soil. So we chase rootless fruits, the quick fixes. Every opportunity to run towards a good thing is sought and exploited. Just a short ride on the carousel, just one more judge in court, and it will all be worth it. We delude ourselves that we can have the fruit without the vine.
The only edge from which we rightly see our longings is at the foot of the cross – the bloody horror and wonder of Christianity. The iron truth of death and the inevitable death-like loss of life compels us to seek out the dark promises of sin and the curiosities of the Shadow Show. But only the hope of resurrection and the love that bought it can repel the lonely darkness.
AIn my 30s, I had the curious experience of identifying with the book’s father-son duo. The eldest and the youngest, Charles and Will, each with different fears that fit perfectly when I tried them on. Fears that past failures of omission or future surprises — both blanks — have permanently crippled my only life. This is what darkness does. It makes you stand alone. Only with selfish desires, or only with fear.
Charles Halloway, near the climax of something evil, he is crippled by Dark and only narrowly escapes death. But for his son’s sake, he is sustained by hope even on the brink of despair. Dark, with both boys under his spell, remains a showman and draws a crowd for his final act: The Bullet Trick. The carnival master calls a volunteer, one last chance to make the townspeople tremble before his power. He doesn’t expect a dead man.
« Here! A volunteer! » The crowd turned. Mr. Dark backed away, then asked, « Where? » « Here. » Far off, at the edge of the crowd, an earth heaved, a path opened. Mr. Dark could see the man standing there very clearly, alone. Charles Halloway, citizen, father, introspective husband, night wanderer and keeper of the town library.
The crippled old man, full of new life, stands defiantly. He will destroy Dark’s illusions: “’I will,’ he said. « With one hand. » The crowd cheers. « Hooray! » cried a boy below; « Come on, Charlie! » a man called, beyond.
“Mr. Dark blushed as the crowd laughed and cheered even louder now. He raised his hands to fight back the refreshing wave of sound, like rain falling from the people.”
The power of the dark exists in the dark, between the shadowy mirrors of fear and doubt. But out in the light, when a soul refuses to be alone, something happens. Joy lights a candle, and even if hope wavers in the wind, it doesn’t go out. The Christian cross says that our hope is not within us. Hope precedes us and leads the way.
cChristian hope is bold and appears foolish to those who still fear the dark.
Like the believer, Charles Halloway does the unexpected; he doesn’t hide and he doesn’t wallow. Hurt and in pain, he walks up to the main stage. But he needs help, a volunteer. Charles Halloway calls a boy, then goes one step further: calls his boyfriend, Will Halloway. Having discovered joy, the hope of glory, Charles no longer fears death, and so he scoffs at the powers that oppose him. He calls his son prisoner and the crowd supports his cause.
The Witch raised a hand to feel the shape of this boldness that came out of the fifty-four-year-old man like a fever. Mr. Dark spun around as if he’d been shot with a rapid-fire pistol.
Charles and Will perform the bullet trick together, the elder leaning on the younger, and though the gun contains only a wax bullet, Charles scores it with glee, Hope so deadly he feared. It’s a dark story full of unhappy deeds, and some are lost, never found. Something evil it’s a dark story for long nights, but it’s also a story for clear skies at dawn. Will Halloway is saved, but Jim can’t resist the seductions of the carousel, to skip the pain of time and arrive without taking the road. Still, Jim is loved and Will pulls his friend out of the darkness, but not before Jim tastes the lust for him. Some wounds will not heal within time limits. A dark thought, yes, but only for so long.
“Because sometimes good has weapons and evil none. Sometimes tricks fail. Sometimes people cannot be eliminated, led to failures. Nothing divide and conquer tonight [!]In Christian history, the darkest night in the world was the crack through which light filtered. Death swallowed up in life, but not immediately. The resurrection hope remains an invitation to fearless love, both on All Saints’ Eve and on election night.
Something bad is about to happen it’s a story about living an autumn life with a summer heart, trembling to the limit. Yeah, but not yet.