Part 1: A Brief Forward
Autumn is here. Hold on, sorry…..
Autumn is here! It’s my favorite time of the year; always has been. Some of my favorite memories are from autumn. Let’s collect a few:
Here I am, under the apple tree in my grandparent’s backyard, raking leaves but not really wanting to. Some of these are for filling up a plastic bag in the shape of a pumpkin. You remember these? I’m not even sure they’re legal anymore, unless they are more biodegradable than I remember:
But not all of the leaves are for bagging. We rake a bunch into a huge pile and take turns jumping in. There’s a smell, something like nothing else, of lying in a pile of freshly fallen leaves. I sink in, close my eyes, and listen as they crunch under and shake around me. Other than this and the sound of my brother squealing as he takes another turn, it’s quiet for a few moments. Then I roll up and pop out, running away just to circle back and jump back in. We do this for as long as we’re allowed; it’s only after we’re exhausted from the fun that we realize that these leaves are, regretfully, also for bagging.
And now, years later, in middle school: I walk outside the back door of my school. There’s a small hill standing in front of me and I have my cleats in my hand. It’s an hour before my very first soccer match, and for a while, I am by myself. I’ll join my team in a few minutes, but for now, I slowly bend and start lacing my cleats on. There’s a buzz in the air, something electric; anticipation. I walk to the field alone, watching my shadow bounce alongside me on the hillside.
And this book, from when I was a kid. No, not Something Wicked This Way Comes, I didn’t read that until much later. This one:
The Ghost-Eye Tree is a 1985 children’s book written by John Archambault and Bill Martin, Jr. You may know Bill as the guy who wrote the Brown Bear series of books with Eric Carle. The Ghost-Eye Tree is really something special, though, and it all comes down to the illustrations by Ted Rand, which are absolutely fantastic for a children’s book.
The Ghost-Eye Tree scared the living shit out of me when I was a kid.
The plot is pretty simple. Two kids go out at night to run some errands, and they encounter the titular “Ghost-Eye Tree”, which justifiably scares them, because it’s a tree, at night time, with knots in the shape of eyes. I got a copy from the Scholastic Book Club because I thought ghosts were cool and I liked the cover. I couldn’t look away from the book. You know how people refer to things as “haunting”, but that word never really represents the feeling they are trying to describe? The Ghost-Eye Tree quite literally haunted me. I’d think about it all the time, but especially on trash night. I was old enough to be tasked with certain chores, and among them was taking out the trash. Our trash cans resided under a gigantic weeping willow tree, all the way on the other side of our property. I’d be lugging the garbage across the driveway, trying not to look at the weeping willow. I’d get under it and do a quick inspection for “ghost eyes”, whatever those are. Inevitably, I’d find one and hot-tail it back to the house.
You’ll be happy to know that it never caught me.
Maybe this is you: “Matt, how is that a good memory, and what does this all have to do with Something Wicked This Way Comes?”
It’s a good memory because The Ghost-Eye Tree was my introduction to something mysterious in the natural world; something just on the fringe between what the world truly allows and what our imaginations can make it be. It was dangerous. Not dangerous like a car crash, but dangerous like something unknowable and yet sitting right in front of you. Like how your favorite climbing tree could somehow eat you at night time. Dangerous like Halloween, when the streets that are so familiar during the daytime are now dark and twisted; you visit a neighbor and maybe hear their voice, but they no longer look like themselves. And you? You get to play along, too. It’s my favorite holiday.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a Halloween story that, for a very long time, I was scared to read. Not scared in the literal sense; I had grown up quite a bit in between discovering The Ghost-Eye Tree and gaining an awareness of Something Wicked, so there was no fear that I’d be scared of the dark again if I read it. Yet that seemed to be the exact problem. I was scared of the possibility of disappointment. I wanted to be impacted to the degree that Archambault and Martin’s book had stirred something in me. I was afraid that, as an adult, this would be impossible. Yet there was something about that title, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which filled my imagination and left me curious.
I talked with a friend of mine about my relationship to the book I had never read. She said she had read it, it was excellent, I should read it, and she would find me a copy. And then she did.
I read Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time last year, and made a promise to myself that I would read it again this year, just before Halloween. My copy of the book has 54 chapters, an introduction, and A Brief Afterword, so I’ll be reading about 2 chapters a day until Halloween. If you’d like to read along with me, please do. Also, I’d love to hear about any special autumnal memories you have, any thoughts on these books or others, or any Halloween stories in the comments! I’ll be writing about the first few chapters soon. See you then!