READ IF YOU DARE: Scary reads for the season

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Despite the wildfires blowing smoke across the Front Range and expelling carbon into the atmosphere, the temperature has finally dipped in Colorado and fall feels like it’s truly underway. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, many quintessential autumn activities — apple picking, hay rides, Oktoberfests, heck, maybe even trick-or-treating — are on hold this year or carry a higher risk of contracting a deadly disease than you might not be comfortable with.

As COVID-19 cases rise again across the Denver metro area, now is the perfect time to curl up with a good book to get in the autumn spirit. Even if you aren’t a blood-and-guts horror fan, there’s plenty of literature to choose from to get you in the Halloween mood. Here are the Sentinel staff’s recommendations of some of our favorite spooky reads.

Read then watch: Daphne du Mariner’s Rebecca

The classic gothic horror novel Rebecca has arrived to the small screen again via a Netflix adaptation starring Lily James and Armie Hammer. While serving unhappily as a lady’s maid in Monte Carlo, the nameless protagonist meets the dashing widower Maxim de Winter. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and she returns with him to Manderly, his regal estate along the English coast. But the house is haunted by memories of the previous Mrs. de Winter, the mysterious and beautiful Rebecca. As the narrator struggles to adapt to her new life, she can’t help but wonder what happened to Rebecca and why everyone on the estate — especially her husband — is so reluctant to talk about her. The psychological thriller is just as much of a page-turner as it was when it was published in 1938. Give it a read and then watch the Netflix movie, which dropped Wednesday. If you’re a real film buff, also check out the 1940 adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock and see how the two compare.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic

If election season isn’t already filling you with enough existential dread, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic is another horror novel to sink your teeth into this fall. Released in June, the novel transports the familiar gothic horror pastiche into Mexico. Mexico City socialite Noemí Taboada is busy avoiding marriage proposals and trying to convince her father to let her attend graduate school when she receives a frantic message from her recently-married cousin Catalina, who claims that her husband is trying to murder her. Worried, Noemí travels to the remote mining town where her sister now lives to find out what’s going on. Catalina doesn’t remember her missive but is sick with a mysterious illness, and her husband’s family, the Doyles, is none too happy about Noemí’s arrival. As she spends more time in their remote mansion, she discovers the Doyles are hiding dark secrets and that Catalina was right to fear for her life. Will she be able to save her? Mexican Gothic is the perfect read for fans of Crimson Peak, and if you feel like your house is making you go crazy after seven months of sheltering in place you’ll be sure to relate.

Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind

New York City couple Amanda and Clay and their two adolescent children go on vacation to a remote part of Long Island. They’ve splurged and rented an upscale home to stay in, looking forward to a week of lounging around the pool and the beach. But several days in, they receive a surprise visit from the owners of the home, who drove in from NYC after a citywide power outage they fear is connected to a larger crisis. Clay and Amanda don’t know how to respond to this intrusion into their vacation from the pair — who happen to be rich and Black. Cut off from the internet, the two families have to learn how to coexist and negotiate how much they can trust each other. The narrative follows the two couples closely, divulging only scant information about the growing disaster unfolding in the background. The hints it does reveal makes Leave the World Behind, which has already hit the bestseller list and been optioned for a movie starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, as suspenseful and difficult to put down as any horror story.

Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians

Stephen Graham Jones, celebrated horror writer and professor of English at CU Boulder, returned this year with another spine-tingling novel. One winter, four teenagers from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana go hunting in a part of the reservation reserved for tribe elders. They get lucky and stumble onto a herd of elk, one of which is unexpectedly hard to kill. One of the boys, Lewis, kills the elk and discovers that it is carrying a calf — something that he feels guilty about long after he’s grown up and left the reservation. A decade later, one of the men has been killed and Lewis starts to feel like his past is coming back to haunt him. Are he and the other two survivors in danger, or is he losing his grip on reality? The Only Good Indians is a blood-soaked meditation on the way that violence and trauma is intergenerational — something that’s also true of the ongoing mistreatment and disenfranchisement of Indigenous people across the United States. As William Faulkner famously said: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And sometimes the past has hooves and antlers.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death

Some fiction too eerily emulates reality, so is the case with Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Masque of the Red Death.” I remembered the piece when somebody pointed out on Twitter how familiar the story  line, written in 1845, is to today’s news: A gruesome plague is ravaging a country, but the leader, a prince called Prospero, downplays it all and eventually throws a masquerade ball in his extravagantly-decorated castle. A mysterious guest too scary to confront arrives at the party and before the end of the night everybody is dead from the Red Death. Poe’s allegory would be delicious if not so depressing this spooky season. Nevertheless, like most of Poe’s short stories, it’s a haunting read that hits the spot in one sitting.

On Reddit: The Spire in the Woods

Modern writing can be found in places far beyond IndieBound and your local bookstore. In fact, no shortage of good storytelling had debuted on the vast and sometimes malignant communities making up Reddit, where the system of “downvoting” trash and “upvoting”  good reads sometimes sifts solid literature to the top. There, a whole community is dedicated to the craft of writing horror stories. This Sentinel staffer’s personal favorite originally debuted as a ten-part series in r/nosleep, the community delivering reliably bone-chilling prose. But the piece, “The Spire in the Woods,” transcended the internet and ultimately became a legitimate, published book. (That’s how you know it’s good.) In the read, a local teen’s suicide creates an unlikely frendship between two kids sharing a theory: the suicide was tied to an old townie legend involving betrayal and a master clockmaker, they say. Just writing this is sending chills up this Sentinel hack’s spine. The denouement will stick with you.

Web Series: Ted the Caver

While not a novel, per se, this is another genre-bending horror series that originated on the World Wide Web. What “The Blair Witch Project” did for cinema, “Ted the Caver” did for the horror blog. Written as non-fiction on a series of web pages, a spelunker named Ted chronicles his experience exploring an unnamed cave in an undisclosed location. After meticulously chiseling a passageway and literally squeezing through it, Ted finds a pitch-black cavern and what can only be described as primal horror. And unlike the usual novel, the format itself of this chronicle actually lends to its creepiness: a Google search of “Ted the Caver” quickly leads one to an all-black, bare-bones web page that looks like it was created in 2001 (it actually was, according to our anonymous Ted). “Welcome to the page of Ted,” it reads in red script. Below, an unnerving photo of melting and oozing rock is overlaid with a link to enter Ted’s domain. Unfortunately, something else entirely dwells here. Good luck sleeping.