Haunted October, Part I: Hungry Worms, Bobbing for Apples, and Why You Shouldn’t Build Your Big Box in Cleveland

The first half of October (or #hauntedoctober or #spooktober or #scaretober. Also: follow me @respekt1111 on Litsy!) is through, the Cubs are in the World Series and I’ve knocked a goodly amount of my October TBR. Ghosts, gore, and ghastly murders characterize the following books, all of them with important life lessons to be gleaned along the way:

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Nobody likes me/everybody hates me/I’m going down the garden/to eat worms”

Lesson: If the skinny dude that shows up on your island is so hungry that he’s eating dirt and also there are things moving under his skin, maybe don’t do surgery on him in a cabin with a boy scout as your impromptu nurse. 

A group of boy scouts go on a retreat to deserted Falstaff Island. A mysterious stranger shows up. Horror ensues. Unbeknownst to the group, the stranger is infested with a biological weapon known as a modified hydatid. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I wouldn’t recommend reading this book over a plate of spaghetti.

The book mashes up Cronenbergian body horror, Lord of the Flies social order, and all sorts of adolescense/hunger metaphors. The book is absolutely saturated with similes, some of which land, some of which are just obnoxious and distracting, the author obviously pleased with his cleverness. Most of the gory descriptions land, however; for a book about an infestation that renders its victims with a devastating hunger, it has the opposite effect on its readers.

One lasting legacy of this book is that I’ve been giving my dogs the side-eye every time they try to lick my face.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Lesson: If you really like apples, a murder in the bobbing for for apples bucket is going to ruin apples for you forever. 

The queen of murder mysteries (and namesake of my dog) is shooting fish in a barrel with her Halloween themed book that doesn’t really have to do much with Halloween other than the murder taking place at an otherwise wholesome children’s Halloween party.

The method of murder is appropriately fall-themed: drowned in the bobbing-for-apples bucket. The murder victim is a 13 year old girl whose boasting ways likely caused her downfall.

Perhaps not the most intricately plotted of her novels, the book features the famous mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot asking annoying questions and wearing inappropriate shoes and ultimately solving the mystery through a series of far-reaching deductions.

I picked up my copy of Hallowe’en Party at a garage sale for 25 cents, kept it in my car console for an unspecified amount of time, and have at least twice spilled coffee on the poor thing. It has a phone number and address scribbled on the inside cover, and many of the names in the cast of characters have been crossed out; evidently a previous reader was carefully deducing and eliminating suspects alongside Detective Poirot. This particular version, published in 1970 by Pocket Books.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Lesson: Haven’t we learned our f@%king lesson about building over mass graves?

Consumerism is dangerous. Corporations are ruthless and evil. Retail is a mind-numbing, dead-end job. Dur. Thanks for playing. Move on.

Fortunately, Horrorstör doesn’t hammer to heavily on the moralizing that often accompanies stories about evil Big Box stores (Hello, The Store). A rather clever take on the whole genre, Horrorstör tells the tale of a group of employees working in a big box called Orsk (Need help? Just Orsk!), a satirical take on that cheap furniture retailer masquerading as a “lifestyle” guru.

Is it a horror novel? Is it an IKEA catalog? What’s the difference?

Hendrix effectively captures the marketing schemes behind retailers, exploiting the manipulative nature of design and layout to create a nightmare maze once the lights go out and things get really weird for the group of employees camping overnight to catch a vandal.

It turns out the Cleveland location of Orsk is experiencing some weird occurrences due to a certain sadistic prison that once rested on the same sight. A la The Shining and Poltergeist, the dead aren’t resting easy, despite the prolific Brookas and Müskks that dot the display rooms.

The book sure does paint some unflattering portraits of retail workers, as lonelyhearts with nothing else in their lives, itinerants with no ambition or direction, or desperate people with no skills other than reciting policy and bossing people around. As a longtime retail worker myself, I can’t say these stereotypes are unfair or untrue.

The book is silly with a silly conclusion, but it evokes that thin line between sanity and madness that in retail personifies.

*added value – I have to make some objections based on my own retail experience. The following contains mild spoilers.

  • This type of store would have an alarm system with motion detectors. No alarms are mentioned at any point.
  • Ditto on Loss Prevention. There is a single mention of LP, and if any employees were going to conduct a sting operation, it would be LP, not a single manager and some hourlies. The liability is horrifying.
  • Automatic sliding doors are designed to breakaway even if they are locked. The fire code violations in this book are expensive.

3 thoughts on “Haunted October, Part I: Hungry Worms, Bobbing for Apples, and Why You Shouldn’t Build Your Big Box in Cleveland

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