The Big Read IV: The Lottery and Other Stories -- Shirley Jackson "The Witch" and "The Renegade"
"The Witch": In which we have either a nice, sweet, possibly confused old man OR a nice old man with a strange sense of humor OR a crazy psycho killer old man.
She was strapped securely to the seat so she could sit up and look around, and whenever she began to slip slowly sideways the strap caught her and held her halfway until her mother turned around and straightened her again.
and a four-year-old boy:
The few other people in the coach were sitting at the other end of the car; if any of them had occasion to come down the aisle the little boy would look around and say, "Hi," and the stranger would usually say, "Hi," back and sometimes ask the little boy if he were enjoying the train ride, or even tell him he was a fine big fellow. These comments annoyed the little boy and he would turn irritably back to the window.
• La la la, on the train. The boy sees a witch outside (or so he says) and then a nice-looking old man comes by and he and the boy spar for a bit and THEN the man tells the boy about HIS little sister:
"I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops," the man said, "and then I took her and I put my hands around her neck and I pinched her until she was dead."
• Actually, I didn't find the guy all that creepy. If I'd been the mother, well, YEAH, of course I would have, but I thought the focus of the story was on the little boy, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. But then there's the whole danger-in-very-normal-places thing... I think spooky happenings in everyday places are way scarier than spooky happenings in very obviously spooky places. Maybe because the spooky is intruding on our world? Anyway. I really do like these little no-real-explanation-slice-of-life stories.
"The Renegade": In which I was just happy that I wasn't Mrs. Walpole.
• I'm glad I don't live in the 1950s:
He said, "Morning," without glancing up and Mrs. Walpole, her mind full of unfinished sentences that began, "Don't you think other people ever have any feelings or--" started patiently to set his breakfast before him.
• And then the phone call:
"The dog," the voice said. "You'll have to do something about the dog."
A sudden unalterable terror took hold of Mrs. Walpole. Her morning had gone badly, she had not yet had her coffee, she was faced with an evil situation she had never known before, and now the voice, its tone, its inflection, had managed to frighten Mrs. Walpole with a word like "something."
I thought that was good -- that the vagueness of "something" might be worse than specifics.
• The us vs. them/country vs. city/locals vs. people-from-away mindset is one that I know I suffer from. I live in an area where the population doubles (literally) in the summer. So while I sympathize with Mrs. Walpole, I sympathize with the lady on the phone, too.
• Did you notice that the chicken people are named Harris?
• Except for the caller, Mrs. Nash and, obviously, Mrs. Walpole, everyone seems to be enjoying the situation, giving nasty advice and whatnot. I'm with Mrs. Walpole on this one -- I don't see the humor in it.
• And the kids. Rather similar to the last story, what with the kids relishing the idea of violence and the mother being understandably sickened. These last two stories reminded me quite a bit of Ray Bradbury.