Sunday, October 30, 2016

Death Is a Lonely Business

"Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad."

It's almost Halloween. October is Bradbury Country, that country where it is always turning late in the year, the demesne of that thousand times great grand-père of Salem blood who looms over so much of the best of our worst, floridly penned and thoughtfully strained to its grim conclusions. In 1993 I squatted on a rancid faded musty sofa on the third floor of a Little Italy student apartment in Chicago and I'd just learned what a fire escape was and watched a few fleeting images of the cartoon adaptation of The Halloween Tree on a black and white TV with an honest to goodness antenna (ask your parents what one is) and what bothered me most about the whole arrangement was that the TV's little futuristically curving yellow plastic casing had a large crack on one side. But that's neither here nor there.

I'm old now. Then again I've always been old and that's how I picture Bradbury, perpetually old and knowing the world too well for anyone's good, a mind steeped in the flow of time. The horror of tomorrow and tomorrow.

"Then it is time for the wall.
The wall of a little room, that is [...] there's that wall near your bed to be read with your watered eyes or reached out to and never touched, it is too far away and too deep and too empty.
I knew that once I found the old man's room, I would find that wall.
And I did.
For there his name was, on the wall. I almost fell, leaning down to squint.
Over and over, his name was repeated, scrabbled on the plaster on the far side of his cot. Over and over, as if fearful of senility or oblivion, terrified at waking some dawn to find himself nameless, over and over he had scratched with a nicotine-stained fingernail.
swam in and out of focus as I stared, for it was all the nights I ever dreaded to see somewhere up ahead in the dark ages of my future. Me, in 1999, alone, and my fingernail making mice-sound graffiti on plaster..."

It's almost Halloween. It's turning late in the year and like the past several years I'm getting the urge to revisit and finish once and for all my short story about the ephemeral vampire. I probably won't. Instead I'll probably split the difference and head down not to Bradbury's Venice but to the Santa Monica, California of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, a game I played ten years ago, and from there I might remember a past containing an immortally immaterial future. Tomorrow it'll be me, in 2049, alone, lying not on a metal cot but on my futon on the floor, my fingernail making mice-sound graffiti on plaster...

Death is a Lonely Business gets classified as a mystery novel, but that superficiality twists around the same thread vibrating with the dust-witch's dry cackling in Something Wicked This Way Comes, the fate thread, the simple taboo horror of impermanence. If, as a child, you ever loved the sight of weeds grinding their way up through cracked concrete, read it. False futures, bright pasts darkening the present, the macabre drama of human failings, signs advertising canaries dead for half a century, an entire crumbling town where the wagon trains finally stopped and fog, fog, fog, plenty of fog. It's deliciously indulgent, it's noir, it's much of madness and more of sin, and horror the soul of the plot. There's no mystery to it. It's a cavalcade of existential misery and while it's not the best thing Bradbury's ever written, it's still beautiful work.

Tomorrow, at midnight in October Country, the veil between this world and the next will thin and the monsters of human memory will pour forth, the over-stretched eidolons of our own worst natures dressed in fur and white bed-sheets. Those of us for whom this holiday is every day are haunted by the grimmest of all, the abyss itself staring back and through us at the world, that we might grow to hate everything, all, anything in the world.

Fellow proprietors of the Apocalypse, read Death Is a Lonely Business.

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