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Early Halloween


I’m starting to get notes from people asking if I’m all right, and I am, though for the last few days I’ve been fighting an anomalous migraine headache and haven’t felt much like writing. Lots to catch up on, now that I’m feeling better.

First off, I guess, would be the fate of our closest Borders. No sooner did it close its doors than a crane hoisted a banner for Spirit Halloween Stores across the name. I’m not a big Halloween fan (my sister got that gene) and so haven’t paid much attention to Halloween retailing, but Spirit is a national chain with an interesting business model: lie in wait for a big-box store to go belly-up, and then quickly reanimate the corpse for a couple of months prior to October 31. We have at least one other Spirit outlet here in the Springs, up on the north side inside the vacated remains of Ultimate Electronics. They may have year-round stores somewhere, probably in larger cities with more of a Halloween culture than we have here. The new store (in Southgate Plaza) hasn’t opened yet, even though there’s only 30 shopping days left until You Know What. Somehow they make it work.

And while we’re talking about reanimating corpses, I want to recommend a short story to zombie fans who may not have heard of it: “Impulse” by Eric Frank Russell. It first appeared in Astounding in September 1938, but it’s been reprinted many times since then. I found it in my decayed and dustbound copy of Groff Conklin’s 1962 paperback horror anthology Twisted. That’s a little remarkable, because “Impulse” is not a horror story as we usually define it. It’s pure SF, and remarkably prescient SF at that. Consider this excerpt:

It was a space vessel that carried us from our home world of Glantok. The vessel was exceedingly small by your standards–but we, too, are small. Very small. We are submicroscopic, and our number is myriad.

“No, not intelligent germs.” The ghastly speaker stole the thought from his listener’s mind. “We are less even than those.” He paused while he searched for words more explicit. “In the mass, we resemble a liquid. You might think of us as an intelligent virus.”

Basically, Russell’s talking about a colony of nanomachines living inside a dead human body that it stole from a morgue. The nanons got it running again, and even accessed memory proteins in its brain. So we’ve got a zombie here, a real zombie that doesn’t rely on supernatural machinery to make it go.

The story is better than typical pulp, although it respects all the usual pulp tropes including a mostly unecessary damsel in distress. I’m a fan of the story for an odd reason: It was the first story I ever read to a group. In the summer of 1964, my scoutmaster at Camp West in Michigan tapped me to read the story to Troop 926 while gathered around the evening campfire. It was fun, if a little tricky, because I had not read the story before sitting down to read it, and didn’t know myself how it would turn out. I remembered the title but not the author, and it took some googling to find it–else I would be flipping through the hundred-odd anthologies I have on the shelves downstairs.

By the way, Conklin is a superb anthologist, possibly the best out of the 1950-1975 era, and if you ever spot one of his books, it’s worth grabbing. (Kingsley Amis is another; his Spectrum books should be stalked and devoured.)


One more note about ghosts, albeit of the sign variety: While in Chicago last week I visited the strip mall retail complex at Harlem and Foster, which was an early shopping center (circa 1960) and when built contained the closest department store to where I grew up. (Turn Style, long-gone but the precursor to Target and K-Mart.) The strip mall contained the bank where I got my first account, and the Walgreens where I got my first job washing dishes at their grill. It also contained a slightly freaky windowless lower level divided into four small stores, one of which was the Arcade Bookshop. It was the first bookstore where I recall spending my own money, and I probably bought Conklin’s Twisted there. I also ordered several books on the fourth dimension from the very patient lady behind the counter. It opened when the mall as a whole opened. It became a Christian bookstore in the 1980s, and closed in the early 1990s. You can’t see it in the photo shown above, but the upper right sign space is the old Arcade Bookshop sign, reversed so the back side is out. However, if you’re there in front of it you can clearly read the store’s name through the plastic–backwards, sure, but that’s no real trick, and seeing the old store where I spent so much of my allowance in the 1960s was definitely a treat.

One Comment

  1. Erbo says:

    From Spirit’s Web site, it looks like they have no full-time retail locations; they set up inside old big-box locations that open around Labor Day weekend and close in early November. But they do have online sales the rest of the time.

    A similar shop called “Gott-A-Costume” just opened recently in what used to be the Blockbuster over in the Safeway shopping center at Monaco and Leetsdale. There are probably other examples, too.

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