“Haunted” by Joyce Carol Oates
Card picked: Queen of Spades
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz
Haunted houses, forbidden houses. The old Medlock farm. The Erlich farm. The Minton farm on Elk Creek. No Trespassing the signs said, but we trespassed at will.
This is a rare case of a Deal Me In reread for me. I own Joyce Carol Oates’ anthology Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque, which is named for this story. I started reading it in 2010, but I’m not sure I finished it. 2010 seems long, long ago. At that time, I wasn’t ready for Oates’ manner of telling stories. Rarely are they directly told and almost always there is a feeling of corruption and decay.
In “Haunted,” Melissa, now an old woman, tells of the sins of her youth and of her best frenemy, Mary Lou. One of the girl’s favorite activities was visiting the abandoned farms in their area. All had sad stories of deaths and bankruptcy behind them, but none quite as intriguing as the Minton farm. There, Mr. Minton beat his wife to death before committing suicide.
Adolescence intrudes on the girls’ relationship—beautiful Mary Lou suddenly has an interest in dangerous boys—and Melissa visits the Minton farm alone. There she has an encounter with something that might be the ghost of Mrs. Minton. The spirit demands that Melissa send Mary Lou to visit. Mary Lou goes missing, her body eventually found in Elk Creek. As is usual in a Joyce Carol Oates story, what happened is open to interpretation. The world is a dangerous place, especially for girls.
I’m starting the year off with a Deal Me In repeat offender. Last year, I read through Oates’ Wild Nights! for Deal Me In, as well as reviewing one of her latest anthologies, The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror as an ARC. I think there’s been a story of hers in nearly every genre anthology I’ve read for this challenge. In fact, her “The Man Who Fought Roland LaStarza” was my Week 1 story in 2015. Oates is very prolific and the winner of many awards both literary and genre.
Much of “Haunted” takes place in deserted farmhouses, full of objects left behind or discarded. Maybe such object as these: